Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 1:03:43 — 58.4MB)
Continuing on Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in 20th Century America (1998).
We talk more about Rorty's description of the conflict between the "reformist left" and the "cultural left." Do political-comedy shows serve a a positive political purpose? Can an enlightened political viewpoint really be a mass movement at all? Is it better to pursue specific political campaigns (e.g., pass law X) or be part of a "movement?" Can Rorty's diagnosis cure Seth's malaise?
Listen to part 1 first, though you should probably just get the ad-free, unbroken Citizen Edition.
End song: "Wake Up, Sleepyhead," newly composed in reaction to the electon by Jill Sobule. Listen to her interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #11. Check out her My Song Is My Weapon page.
Jonathan Haber says
While I’m always fascinated by the conversations that go on at PEL, this two-parter really moved me as I listened to the four of you struggle with how to make use not just Rorty, but the entire philosophical tradition to deal with a troubling historic event like the election and its aftermath.
A colleague who is also interested in spreading critical thinking skills more widely and deeply in the population once described how genuine reflection – which involves evaluating or re-evaluating your beliefs – comes from a place of vulnerability, which is why FUs and “I told you so’s” never work when trying to convince people who find themselves in a place where they are open to persuasion. Rather, they should be treated with respect, ideally by interlocutors who are equally vulnerable, and thus equally ready to rethink ideas central to their identity.
I would argue that recent events actually create more openings for such conversations than one might think. Yes, large numbers of Americans are organizing themselves into armed camps. But thoughtful people on both the Right and Left are also stepping back to reconsider their assumptions. If you read election and post-election writings of anti-Trump conservative intellectuals (the writers at Commentary fall into this camp), you’ll see some real questioning of things this group once took for granted (like the assumption that the majority of Americans agreed with and thought like them). Similarly, the fact that every copy of Rorty’s Achieving Our Country has been taken out of every library in our network is a sign that a fair number of liberals might be so desperate to understand the world they now live in that they’re ready to turn to philosophers for answers.
As a woman of color, I’ve listened to this podcast for a long time as I enjoy the, albeit pedantic, philosophical banter of the core four. And I’ve never felt compelled to comment, even when I disagreed, until now.
The transition to broader political theory and critique illuminated a fundamental problem among you: appallingly naive white, male privilege. While you intellectually recognize that such terms exist and technically apply to you, I don’t think any of you, with exception to perhaps Seth (on occasion), comprehend how that privilege contributes to your worldview, your disdain for radical politics and protest, and your admiration for a capitalist republic. You feign liberalism when you in fact embody the worst, most regressive qualities of the white moderate. I believe Mark even referred to privilege or being a white male in an ironic tone as if it wasn’t the central factor in his ideological evolution, his place in the world and acceptance of institutions that work for him as inherently just and virtuous ignoring the oppression of marginalized communities and the rural, white proletariat as unfortunate side effects. There was far too much posturing over the partisan divide with vague overtones that unity and understanding across the aisle is what’s necessary moving forward as if the corporate,state oppression of the right is different from the neoliberal, social welfare platform of the left. Or worse-as if the Democrats and the Republicans are equal distance from the ideological center point. This podcast rarely concerns itself with addressing institutional -isms, radical black and/or feminist theory, or intersectionalism, instead opting to defend its white, Western normative classical works with the excuse that these works were the most important of their time. Why not discuss anarchist philosophy such as Rosa Luxemburg or Emma Goldman? The Black Panther platform? James Baldwin? Malcom X? Cornel West? For Christ’s sake, it’s black history month. And why shy away from Marx’s most notable bodies of work? Or if you’re not familiar with the material or radical inquiry then feature a well-versed political philosopher and/or economist who is. You rarely challenge your ethnocentric, capitalist perspective, and it’s maddening. Furthermore, the bubble Seth addresses so often is ignorant at best and venal at worst, though not because you’re some bastion of progressive thought, but because you think you are. In reality you habitually uphold exploitative systems that benefit your personal fame, economic well-being and comfort under the guise of academic objectivism. Your entire ideology is embedded with American Exceptionalism, and you are nowhere near as enlightened as you think you are. I call bull shit.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Clearly, while we’ve taken several episodes of our time to confront popular figures on the right, we’ve not done the same with the radical left, for the most part. Thanks for the episode suggestions; I’m sure we’ll be mixing some of those with figures representing our other concerns. (Next up: Confucius!)
Luke T says
I know these forums are all about freely expressing one’s opinions, but this is a pretty harsh and undeserved screed, if you ask me. Indeed, if you find even regular episodes pedantic, why invest your time? You want radical left philosophers to be featured. The PEL hosts have said numerous times that’s neither their comfort zone nor their ambition.
There is a whole landscape of philosophy podcasts to choose from out there, and ones whose mission would come much closer to your ideological/philosophical predilections. Perhaps they can do a better job of honoring what you view as neglected authors.
Jillian, thank you for so powerfully and clearly expressing the problems with this (and several other) episodes and the way these four consistently refuse to address their own situatedness. Your suggestions are wonderful, and it would be great to see the gang actually do the work here. I’m not sure I have much hope for it, though. If you look back over their episodes, even when they have deigned (or perhaps they would characterize it as “stooped”?) to engage more leftist/radical thought they they immediately disregard the radical elements. And that’s when they don’t miss most of the point altogether (as they did with Adorno). Still, your long list of suggested thinkers/episodes is a very constructive step.
Jillian, your comment was far from a “harsh and undeserved screed” as a later commenter claimed. Thank you for your clarity and for managing that clarity even while rightly outraged. I remember well at least one occasion when Mark openly mocked the idea of his own privilege, sarcasm dripping.
Thank you, Jillian. PEL dudes, can you listen? You said in this very episode that you’re open and questioning. Someone has called you out on what I can confirm is for you a bad blind spot. Can you actually turn your reflection upon yourself and your assumptions? Because Jillian just pointed out the big, ugly chunk of them that you’ve thus far refused to engage. (Worse, you spent chunks of the last few episodes patting yourselves on the back for your noble view-from-nowhere refusal to stoop to engage in reflection upon them.)
Luke T says
Well, it’s a strange way to persuade. Does this earn them any credibility back?
Mark Linsenmayer says
It shouldn’t be surprising that I would be intellectually suspicious of the concept of “white privilege,” given its wide and extremely vague use in the culture.
So here’s one quick take: http://deadstate.org/youll-never-see-privilege-the-same-way-again-after-looking-at-this-comic/. The moral: don’t be a social Darwinist asshole. Check.
Here’s another: https://www.buzzfeed.com/aaronc13/this-comic-perfectly-explains-what-white-privilege-is?utm_term=.ysp8E5D7V6#.rbnWKpMoml. The moral: Admit these facts about the disparities between blacks and whites. Check; absolutely.
There are four possible practical upshots here:
1) The first, as expressed by the 2nd comic, is “educate yourself.” But what does this actually mean? E.g. the bell hooks historical book we read: there’s a lot of really redundant historical detail that does not add one iota of additional ideas to the main thesis. I fully accept the claim that there are major problems with police profiling and brutality by race, but I admit without shame that I do not read the articles about every new atrocity. I fully accept that drone strikes have killed innocents in other countries; I do not feel the need to read those specific news stories either, because my interest is not in torturing myself emotionally, but in thinking about ideas. And while I can vicariously think about the problems of combating terrorism (Homeland!), safe policing that does not use profiling (The Wire, maybe?), and how to shape our institutions to avoid future catastrophes like the Holocaust and Jim Crow/slavery, simply “being educated” in these ways (if no practical action results) is yet another form of recreation, with a side of self-congratulations.
2) So maybe the problem is not my education, but my attitude, which dwelling more and more on the horrors was supposed to change. I hope I’m treating people with respect. If you’ve got particular language games you want me to play, I’m game; I have no sympathy with the conservative overreaction to “political correctness.” I think capitalism and really the money system are a sick joke and realize how totally lucky I am. But sorry, I’m on the side of the comedians: I am fundamentally against reverence of just about any sort, which doesn’t mean I’m in all circumstances snarky, but that there are not topics that it’s not OK to be snarky about. I find righteous indignation to be a species of folly, and at least on my little podcast soapbox, I see no need to restrain myself in shaking my head at it, whether it comes from TV evangelicals or Al Sharpton. Again, merely mastering this righteous tone that is right now in fashion, without action, is just self-congratulatory puffery.
3) So what about actual political action? Well, as you may remember from our Singer episode, there are plenty of things that I recognize as legitimate moral claims on me, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to do anything about them. I do what I can: I did go out to be counted during the women’s march (albeit at my wife’s urging), but I’m not convinced enough of the effectiveness of such things to make this a way of life. I contribute (so far as this really is a contribution) via my vote, via my wallet (some charitable donations, but moreso in trying to purchase and invest responsibly), but probably can make the biggest difference via communication, i.e. slightly changing the culture. So I did this: https://www.youtube.com/user/newworknewculture. But while I have no basic problems with the SJW cause, I think the cause against all-around anti-intellectualism is one that I can help more against, and one that needs more champions. I allege that we NEED Nietzsche and Socrates more than we need bell hooks right now. Luckily, we don’t have to choose.
4) But what about revolution? Well, I’m largely with Burke here, so maybe I’m actually a conservative, even though our completely out-of-whack political spectrum doesn’t allow me that. I think whenever you think you have to actually resort to violence to achieve your aims, then you’ve been insufficiently creative with your thinking. While I don’t have the faintest clue how to fix our horrific electorate and the assholes they’ve elected, and I think it’s irresponsible to simply not vote or be otherwise snooty/purist about it, I advocate a two-pronged strategy of trying to change the culture (for me, again, I’d rather be a lonely champion of the New Work stuff than jump on the SJW bandwagon) and working towards specific, achievable political goals. I think that’s what Rorty was arguing for: not that the goals of the SJW’s aren’t admirable (reducing sadism, as he puts it), but that a focus on the social to the neglect of the economic, and in the economic realm a focus on the utopian and the expense of the messy business of negotiating with those that you disagree with, have been a recipe that does not work.
As I voiced on the episode, I do not agree with Wes’s/Rorty’s assessment of the left, and given my lack of experience as an activist don’t pretend to understand those viewpoints. I am open to hearing more, but, e.g., I’m sorry but Adorno’s story about the media/culture being a blanket that programs our every attitude to lull us into not fighting the capitalist machine, and the similar account re. how my white privilege is the fundamental determinant in how I’m approaching these issues, have so far struck me as hyperbolic and bullshitty. Do you honestly think that most white people would agree with the bulk of the analysis I’ve given here? We’re all people, with basically the same cognitive machinery, but each with a unique intellectual history… This is a point Wes has expressed explicitly on the podcast, which I agree with: We are much more (or at least much more interestingly) determined in our hermeneutics by individual idiosyncrasies than by group memberships. If I can figure out some appropriate readings, I’d be happy to road test this hypothesis. I do not share Wes’s confidence that the radical left has little intellectually to offer.
As a white person I don’t agree with the bulk of the analysts given here.
The political up-shot is: that for better or for worse talk of “white privilege” has become a big part of the talk about racism. So when you seem super-dismissive about it, it sounds like your being super-dismissive about racism, something of central concern to a lot of people, this is a problem politically because minorities are part of our political coalition and, (To borrow Wes’ formulation), this pisses them off and makes them not want to be friends with you.
this isn’t an attack on you guys’ actual politics, which I know only what I’ve gleaned from the show and seem fine, except Wes’ possible weird reactionary views about gender.
Love the podcast.
Mark Fischer’s (recently deceased) book capital realism might be a good rad. left book to do, it’s readable and short (80 pages) , and he also wrote an essay critiquing identity politics from the left “escape from the vampire castle” available online.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Thanks. Checking out Fisher now.
I guess it’s a good idea that our format involves a context, and I hope that I’ve given the impression that my making a joke about something does not mean I dismiss or even reject it. If something wasn’t important in some way, it wouldn’t be very good fodder for humor.
I think your exactly right but i also think that wes is exactly right. My interpretation of what wes was trying to say is that a common response to being pissed of in discourse is to retreat back to the tribe. Just theory but i think that the what is happening in this particular case is in an already tense atmosphere the term ‘white’ perks there ears up and the the term ‘Privelege’, particularly with the working class connotes a negative attribute which shuts down the possibility for discourse. Although to me its painstakingly clear that the term is referring to something very real that i assume most of us hear grasp. For some the term itself is causing them to run from the concept its referring to. I read an article pitching the word ‘Advantage” as a substitute. I know it seems like a cop out but with the goal of communicating a concept effectively to achieve the goal of raising awareness of the realities of WP any tool that works is a goer. btw im From Australia, whites rule here to obviously but i just wanted to clarify that ive no experiental knowledge of the states aside from all the lovely culture you guys produce.
I hope this threads right.
My point is there is no neutral ground. Talking openly about racism, and ignoring racism are both alienating to parts of our political coalition. I don’t think this can be finessed with language as “white privledge” is already such an attempt. Look at this thread Jillian is leaving because of what she is a dismissive attitude about racism, Alan is threatening to leave over to much PC, whatever that means. I know whose side I lean to, she seems to have her head on straight, and isn’t trying to talk up a political program that just lost to a total lunatic.
Alan Thomas says
“Lost”, in a sense (getting three million more votes than her opponent) that would not apply in any other jurisdiction that I know of (city, state, congressional district, or country). And it’s laughable to imagine that a party proudly flying Jillian’s red flag would do better.
It’s true that “PC” is a nebulous term. I do not mean it the way it is generally used on the right. I am a Chaitian in this sense (and many others): http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/11/can-we-take-political-correctness-seriously-now.html
I second Mark Fisher’s capitalist realism. If you cant’ do marx. Mark said: ” I allege that we NEED Nietzsche and Socrates more than we need bell hooks right now. Luckily, we don’t have to choose.” We need marx probably more than we need Socrates right now.
Paul Smith says
Jeff, I don’t feel like, culturally, we are really all that lacking in Marxist interpretation right now. True, this podcast has not covered much Marx or the progression of Marxism through successive thinkers (and I don’t think they would be bad additions), but most of the discussions of any kind of philosophy that I come across in daily life are either related to or exactly about Marxism. To some degree, Marxist interpretation seems to have even become its own field of epistemology, a lens through which all social relationships can be understood. So, I would be in support of more Marx, but I don’t think it is a necessity because there are plenty of places where that is happening rather overtly.
Alan Thomas says
If the “PEL dudes” became sufficiently less “problematic” to placate you two (if that were even possible), their podcast would become unlistenable PC pablum, and I for one would unsubscribe.
People like you, always seeking to expel apostates rather than seeking converts, or compromising with potential allies, are a cancer on the progressive agenda. And I mean the real, nuts-and-bolts agenda, like the compromise Hillary Clinton brokered that got taxpayer-funded health care for my kids over the past 17 years. Not the pie in the sky, ivory tower revolutionary “agenda” that achieves nothing except for making an in-depth survey of your own navels.
Come back we need you. How could they really know it on the level that you do. Theyre never going to know it on the level that you do. Their smart dudes they can empathise enough to a learn from you, they can grasp the shit out of it intellectually. But they are trying with the tools that they have which is alot better than many you cant change your situatedness, I imagine it is hard but it would be a shame if you don’t see at least some opportunity in this.
@wes around 13 min: i think you are in good company channeling kierkegaard on the crowd vs individual authenticity
@seth (and maybe wes): a bit of stoicism w/r accepting what power an individual actually possesses in facing _____ is helpful. activism loses its persuasive aim when applied to every possible cause.
there is a human drive to see a dualism in everything under the sun, and in politics, this leads to ideologies that cost lives (ambushing and murdering police officers, or shooting doctors who perform abortions).
political activism is seen as the need to be an extremist.
what’s wrong w/ centrism? i think it is the medicine for US and the world.
Mike Robinson says
Dismissing radical politics misses their critical role in in achieving the modest reforms you seek. FDR was able to make a persuasive case to the powers-that-be that it was either the New Deal or communism (or anarcho-syndicalism, given that the Wobblies numbered in the millions); MLK could say that it was either him or the Black Panthers…. Believe me, the approach of “let’s reach out, find our common ground and work together on pragmatic compromises” is exactly the opposite of what we need right now.
But yeah, I’ve enjoyed your podcasts, but the recent political ones have revealed another side. The snark and glib dismissals, the unwillingness to examine your own privilege, the take-it-or-leave-it approach to social change, the unquestioned preference of the privileged option to dwell in the realm of the mind. It’s all a bit unseemly to be frank. I kinda think I’m done.
Mark Linsenmayer says
I think only Wes was actually dismissing radical politics, unless you mean by this actual violence, which is right out. (And I’ll stop speaking for him, as I don’t know all his preferences.)
Being thankful that a fringe element is there to provide a counterweight to another fringe element is not the same as actually advocating for the fringe group, of course.
So much depends on the context of discourse, I think. Wes (in ep156) was addressing how you deal with your Trumpian relatives and what kind of rhetoric you think helpful. None of this precludes an absolute intolerance for the kind of crap coming out of the Trump administration.
Our goal in this episode was primarily, as always, to convey and react to the reading, in which Rorty was dismissive of the Marxist intellectual culture that he knew much more intimately than we do. Whatever initial murmurs of agreement may have come from any of us, I will always regard such things as a promissory note for future episodes.
And finally, I find it hard to understand why anyone would take the last two episodes as a unified front of smug self-satisfaction. Again possibly excepting Wes, we’re all in the same boat of despair and confusion, and I expect that means we’ll continue to devote a good chunk of our upcoming episodes to continue to chase down these themes. We have “1984” on the books, Franz Fanon tentatively planned for some time this spring, definitely some more Frankfurt school (Habermas and Marcuse among others) and are tossing around other ideas.
Politics is a tribal matter and generally, one is born into a political tribe or joins one as a teenager.
You 4 PEL people don’t seem to really belong to any political tribe, although you sympathize more with the leftie tribe. I myself have been a member of the leftie tribe for almost 55 years, since I was 17 years old or so.
As Wes points out, one of the benefits of belonging to a political tribe is the immense sense of collective self-righteousness and that’s a great high.
Although I’m a life-long member of the leftie tribe, I think that it’s positive that you people question everything, including questioning the leftie tribe. Nietzsche certainly would have thought that it was a sign of strength that you don’t seem to need to belong to a tribe, although of course you may belong to non-political tribes: I don’t know you well enough to say.
On the other hand, since most people do need to belong to a tribe, it’s better that they join the leftie tribe than the rightwing tribe. It’s not the place here to argue that leftie values are more healthy and contribute more to human flourishing than do rightwing ones, but I do believe that.
From what Mark (I believe it was him) says, he is uncomfortable with all the shouting of slogans and cliches and noise (see the Schopenhauer discussion) in demonstrations and I’m not especially comfortable with them myself. Still, lots of people enjoy shouting slogans and if they are for a good cause, what’s the problem unless you’re trying to nap? People need the slogans and the sense of collective belonging to motivate themselves to try to change the world for the better.
Bill Schaffer says
Many thoughts occurred listening to this, allow me to share two from a perspective outside of the USA (Australia). First, I was surprised how many of the arguments summoned by Rorty are anticipated in the post-structuralist philosophers he apparently opposes to his own stance to: there seems to be a rejection or at least suspicion of grand narratives (which he calls ‘movements); a rejection of historical teleologies in favour of open process; an insistence on the need to organise provisional coalitions around localised issues (‘campaigns’). etc. Even the specific celebration of the American ideal (see Deleuze, who also happened to love Whitman). My second and related thought is that something strange seemed to happen in the reception of ‘the post-whatever’ in the US academy. It seemed to be construed as a critique of representations that could directly inform a political program (which tended to take the form either of cultural policing or a kind of ontological correctness). What was often overlooked is the critique of representation as such, a deep, thorny, genuinely philosophical question that doesn’t directly lead to any political program. In different ways, most of the ‘postish’ philosophers are trying to think in terms other than representation. Seems like this forced marriage has been to the disadvantage of both the politics and the philosophy. The problem isn’t really ‘theories’ as such, it’s their inflation in the academy. They are not the kinds of ‘theories’ from which one can derive a positive political program (which doesn’t mean that such a program cannot be arrived at). If philosophy has political effects, it is probably more in the manner of poetry or music, as a way of opening space for thought, who knows when or where, not in the direct manner of political activism. Or as Baudrillard said of sex: political activism is now everywhere but in political activism. (apologies for violating the primary directive of PEL by referring to other writers in passing).
Bill Schaffer says
correction: “he apparently opposes to his own stance to” should be ‘to which he opposes his own stance’.:\
what post-structuralists is Rorty opposed to?
Mark Linsenmayer says
Also, just a point of clarification re. Rorty: A “campaign” is not a compromise. You could commit yourself to the campaign to gain reparations for slavery. The point is that it’s specific. BLM seems like a campaign to me. Occupy does not, though there were specific campaigns involved.
Thanks for doing these episodes on Rorty — I thought your discussion contained some useful insights and like Seth, felt the slight sting of worry that there have been times in my life when I mistook media consumption (e.g. The Daily Show) for political action, as you all discussed. Although I will caveat that as you four clearly know, staying informed is an important part of being able to participate in political and civic life, so. The discussion of whether the left has played an “identity politics” game to the detriment of their historical focus on socioeconomic concerns is clearly warranted following the election — so I’m glad you guys chose to do episodes on Rorty.
I wanted to specifically address what appeared to be your categorical dismissal of protest as a useful political tool. I could not disagree more. You recognized during the episode that actually making policy is not the only form of political participation that citizens can or should take (I forget which of you said this), yet seemed dismissive of most other alternatives, including movement-building work and protesting. (And more in a minute re: Seth’s question about another, crucial type of political action: “Call my senator and tell them to oppose Sessions? Is that the call to action?” TL;dr: Yes.) It’s true that a single protest rarely achieves immediate policy changes (although the pre-election anti-Dakota pipeline protests are a notable and recent exception). However, that is rarely the goal of a protest. The goals are usually more like:
– Movement-building — Protests are a way of strengthening connections between people with shared values, bringing them together in a physical space to take a stance on a shared goal. It’s true that this appeals to only a specific subset of the population, but that’s who the events are designed to attract: people who are on board with a particular shared aim. Developing this sense of solidarity is crucial to building a genuine movement that can continue to engage in other forms of collective action, such as lobbying elected officials to take particular positions or even — yes! — pass specific laws.
– Attention-getting — I agree that sometimes this unfolds in a negative way, e.g. that protesters can come across as grandstanding. But protests are *supposed* to get attention — not to get the individual protesters on TV, but to get the cause there. Protests undeniably attract media attention, which in turn affects the national conversation in mainstream media and, ideally, citizens’ living rooms. This attention can draw crucially-needed resources to the cause in question. Take, for example, the spontaneous protests that erupted across the country after Trump signed the Muslim ban into law a few weeks ago. It seems undeniable that these protests helped magnify the media attention focused on the ban, which in turn drew additional support and resources to the cause — lawyers rushing to airports to provide pro bono legal assistance, the ACLU rushing cases to federal courts — and these actions helped the affected people in a concrete way and actually ultimately *led to the judicial halt* on the ban. How’s that for policy change?
– Signaling — Finally, protests are a really important way of signaling to not-yet-committed or only-a-little committed bystanders that, if they share the beliefs and values of the protesters, they are not alone. It’s a way of showing strength and demonstrating, both to people at the protest and those who aren’t, that, hey, tons of other people feel the way that you do about this issue. That can help normalize viewpoints and perspectives that previously were considered illegitimate. Do you think people who came to DC for the Women’s March from rural PA, or the folks who organized Women’s Marches in the rural American South, would have necessarily had the courage to do so if they thought they would have had to do so alone? (Probably civil rights marches in the 60s are a better example, actually — they helped normalize the attitude that hey, institutionalized racism is truly not OK.) Further, globally, protesters telegraph that an administration’s actions are not representative of all of its people. This can have very important consequences on how citizens of other countries — and governments of those countries — view the citizens of this country, which in turn can, in some cases, affect foreign policy, at least in a soft power kind of way.
Finally, a quick note on Seth’s apparent incredulity re: lobbying. (Or maybe you’re just depressed that you feel that’s all you can do? If so, I hear you.) I would actually say that the call to action for you guys is to keep doing what you’re doing — foster critical conversations and promote analytical thinking about the current state of our politics and civil society. However, yes, the general call to action is indeed to pressure your elected officials (and how envious I am, particularly now, of those that have them — I live in DC). You have all probably seen this, but I encourage you to read the Indivisible guide if you haven’t already and if you want to hear the case for engaging with elected officials: https://www.indivisibleguide.com/
love the pods
love the open and honest discourse
and the courage/vulnerability it takes to share it all
Dan Flack says
Having actually been there during the civil right’s era in the heart of the matter.Having been to operation push and experiencing the rainbow coalition as a child,Being there to see King march and during the riots.Being there when the neighborhood was pretty much all working class white and then all black for year’s.Being on both sides of the fence as it were..,I am an asset to any conversation regarding race..having grown up in poverty and in and out of it,having been in the trades and in warring neighborhoods and war zones over seas understanding the socialization of the poor and working class populace and being concerned with their well being.Having interacted with the wealthy and various leadership and all walks of life I have what I see missing here in large part.. experiential knowledge in these regard’s…Though even with this experience I can make some rather foolish mistakes regarding political schema.
I have done so with my support of the new president.
I realize my love of the working class and my zealous support played right into the hands of the small and rapacious mind’s that would attempt to interfere with a woman’s right to choose,deny climate change and build a wall ..None of this I ever agreed with..
Though my frustration and disappointment with once again what should have amounted to a people’s president ,has seen poverty get worse by objective criteria and personal experience of the many working class I know and see..it is disheartening.I do not apologize for NOT supporting Hillary and her power structure that she belongs too..I apologize for not supporting Bernie or Stein with more zeal.(although it would probably been Stein) I originally supported
I apparently threw the baby out with the bathwater …Why? As I see a desperate need for investment in infrastructure and an alleviation of a brand of globalization that has some few feasting,…its supporters doing well… and my people defeated…Maybe it is true that the former “Necessity is the mother of invention”…is now “Invention is the mother of necessity” ………and the greed factor will create more jobs….Though without the kind of systemic repair and investment in education and with the wealthy feeding voraciously….the only repair will be that of ten dollar an hour jobs.(and I am basing this on cost to do business,the increasing power of these system’s and economic mechanizations and that very greed)..not much of a deliverance…but rather a recipe for what is trying to occur now amongst the people.for some of them….
I listened to a you tube video on poverty that made the point of the less brain surface area of newborn’s in poverty verse the more wealthy babies brain surface area…to be fair,I believe the intent was a good one…
Here is my response:
Hmmm So the poor in Africa who are malnourished may have smaller brain structures…I don’t know if this is a wise way to illustrate poverty to people with little to no experiential knowledge of it.
As people do they will twist this,but arrogance and ignorance self love and the sadist abound.
Its the guy on the other side of the equation,one who has security (and the rest of Maslow’s hierarchy going for them)and lack this experiential knowledge of living the other side of the equation.
It is these, who theorize from…. their condition’s..their socialization,the benefit’s of a strong support system and education,their high morale and all the psychological edges that come from their ecological surrounding’s..and in name and rank so to speak…and especially the riding on the shoulders of all these thing’s and people (and dont forget the spiritual part,the power of belief,when your winning is exponential) …that they take for granted ,and as their temperament and ideological constructs teach them..they are responsible for this positive momentum.Then deduce from that the poor are responsible for their negative momentum and …THAT Chicken came before THAT egg….
After my fathers (who wrote a book on math and defeated a trucking company in a civil suit pro-bono in the il state supreme court..maybe the only citizen to do so..) had 4 heart attacks and he got leveraged shall we say out of his pension by the wealthy family who owned said company.. we found beans ,rice and cornbread…and a though the poor actually can afford cheeseburgers here..(reference to they cant afford a cheeseburger etc lol).but that fat poor person who eats the crap put out for the cattle,they eat that cheese burger in lieu of the vacation and new car and luxury because the cheese burger is within reach as are all the other things that make one temporarily feel better when one is under resourced in all things not just money..And that is of course an oversimplification of the effects of our ecology)….A power structure needs its whipping boy…or think of it like what Bastiat said about the law,the morality and the equation built up around plunder…..
So I am done with support for this man..though we are left leaderless…
So I extend my apologies if I offended anyone..
Great read thanks for sharing
Mark Linsenmayer says
Hey, I’m looking into materials for an essay on White Privilege. If folks have specific essays to suggest–not just laying out the facts of disparity, but giving some philosophical analysis of what kind of claim this is, where it comes from, and how it is and isn’t justified, I’d be happy to hear them.
Alternately, we may just read some James Baldwin. I’ve ordered some of his books, but I’m thinking that more keen depictions of racism (which is just what’s suggested by the essay titles) may not address the issue of privilege as a motivational/hermeneutic claim sufficiently.
maybe look at lit from other societies for a different perspective. Jamaica, perhaps?
this rings true http://occupywallstreet.net/story/explaining-white-privilege-broke-white-person
I responded to this on Facebook, but I think you guys would really be doing us all a much more important service than an ep on white privilege by doing an ep on Marx and Marxism. Rorty’s comments on it raise a lot of questions and you guys clearly are not versed in it. Like him or not, Marx was one of the most important thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries and Marxism is alive and well in the US. He’s also considered to be an actual “philosopher” by some.
It would be just awesome if you guys would have a real, solid Marxist on to discuss Marxism’s many faces, the straw men raised by its opponents (such as Rorty?), and its continuing relevance, as capitalism tries to destroy us all! Don’t know if you could get them but Richard Wolff (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6P97r9Ci5Kg) and David Harvey are widely known and very good at splaining it. Please?
I second the idea of doing more on Marx.
The idea of doing an episode on white privilege is much less relevant for those of us who don’t come from the U.S., since while racism occurs in almost all societies, the form it takes varies. On the other hand, class explotation and privilege are remarkably similar in all capitalist societies.
David Harvey and Richard Wolff are great sources on Marxism. So is Robert Paul Wolff, and unlike Harvey and Richard Wolff, he’s a philosopher and many of his writings are free online at his website.
Harvey is (echoing Marx) good on assessing what’s going wrong but has little to nothing to offer in terms of overhauling the system or even really in terms of organizing effective resistance.
Thanks for that. I agree Harvey seems to focus on Marx’s critique of capitalism, which makes him less involved in organizing resistance. Rorty’s dismissal of Marx seems to me to avoid and or dismiss the critique of capitalism.
Alan Cook says
Rather than jumping right into “white privilege,” it might be more productive to start with looking at the notion of oppression–specifically, whether it means something over and above injustice. An important text here is Iris Marion Young’s “Five Faces of Oppression”:
Also take a look at this:
Dan Flack says
It is not a class card or race card or any sort of pity wanted from those by working people from those with a powerfully strong positive momentum…What the value maker’s want is to first start by calling things by their right name and indicating the right relations between the why and wherefore of class….the haves and have nots…call things like they are instead of using a false morality card and though Rousseau (for example)was on the mark about inequality in regards to ability and its recognition….the divergence is not wide enough to justify an elitism that feeds and then want’s to deny the other ,our doers,our strivers,when the momentum and leverage has more to do with it,than any moral concoction that can be put out there to justify the equation..
That is more significant than so many of the efforts to alleviate poverty could be…the admittance of the equation..
David Trujillo says
Loved this podcast, I used to be a typical left-wing millennial; I got my news from John Stewart and all the other jokers. But, they are so damaging to liberal values. They mock the opposition without addressing the arguments under the disguise of satire. It is as if you would paint yourself black and played the stereotypical black man character. They take the strawman approach. Then the viewers take these talking points to real life and face someone somewhat smart like Milo, or Ben Shapiro and realize they have no arguments. So, what’s left for them, nothing but violence.
totally agree. I wrote a long meandering post below, addressed to “The Despair of the Seths” which, in a long-winded way, recapitulates some of your points. I don’t, however, agree that Ben Shapiro and Milo are smart!
Alan Thomas says
You guys were sufficiently persuasive in your exhortations that I have put this book on my Amazon wishlist, with the priority set to “Highest” (which I try to be very miserly with, as opposed to just plain “High”). If it were a little cheaper, I would have just ordered it straight away.
I’ve always enjoyed the podcast because it’s a chance for me to learn about a lot of philosophical works I don’t really have the time to read. Or for that matter have the background ability or patience to approach. To critique it as as pedantic seems kind of strange. Is that a bad thing given the purpose and scope of it?
I don’t understand- why quit listening if they don’t have your favorites on- or if it’s too white and Eurocentric. How else would you discuss Hegel or Kant. Personally, I enjoy Erich Fromm and didn’t care much for the episode- and someone like him or Herbert Marcuse were much more active in politics than the way Critical Theory was dismissed in this episode via Adorno’s worldview and writings. Oh well. I guess I can go back to the episodes list, but much of it from Pre-WW2 until the last year or so. And the focus is often often ‘pure philosophy’ as opposed to sociological or about social justice.
Only ever heard Rorty’s name mentioned in regard to left politics this one time (when I first heard his name in 1998 or so): https://zcomm.org/zmagazine/rorty-the-politico-by-michael-albert/ a review of sorts from someone who spent his life on the Left since the birth of the New Left. Maybe it’s interesting to someone.
Heard a good interview with Nancy Fraser recently (she’s too white?)
And a Fanon or Dubois episode would be fun? (too male?)
Writing isn’t my thing- but I’ll hit Submit anyway.
bah, outside links seemed more relative at the time.
happy thursday 🙂
On the relevance and importance of art: Without art, the Left is nothing but shrill opposition to the Right (and “protest art” doesn’t count). Someone, somewhere has to exemplify, not just preach, ideals.
‘Inclusion’ and ‘Diversity’ are words that anyone can use. I can argue, for instance, that infighting PROVES the Right is more diverse than the Left. Without the vital and precise exemplars that a living culture (art) provides, a movement is no more than an assemblage of AdWords.
If (eloquent) words were sufficient, the Democratic party wouldn’t have cratered under Obama.
Well put, but surely the primary exemplars of the left are those people who work towards actual policies of diversity, inclusion, etc? Art is important, but it seems like the fruit of a society once the truly vital work has been done. Though of course art can inspire those liberal ideals and so they end up feeding eachother.
“Those people who work towards actual policies” are indeed “the primary exemplars of THE LEFT.” But they are not (necessarily, depending on one’s perspective) exemplars of (the benefits of) inclusion and diversity. Inclusion and diversity are broad terms of which all politically aware people like to imagine themselves exemplars.
If you are not, yourself, struggling with the definition and value of inclusion and diversity–I’m not claiming you should be–then you’re not positioned on the front lines of the idea wars. It is unlikely you will directly persuade anyone on the other side. An interlocutor can only reach so far “across the isle.”
Regardless, the relative merits of activism vs. culture are moot when the opposition is fighting on both fronts.
Agreed. I think I’m susceptible to the criticism that to try and further culture (especially in idiosyncratic ways) in times of political turmoil is gravely irresponsible. But I also see that submitting to that idea is to make oneself vulnerable to manipulation from your own side.
I think one big problem is that it is always difficult to tell to what extent we (or a certain minority group) are under existential threat from another side. If we assume we are, all ideas become subordinate to that resistance movement and we lose perspective. So maybe culture is the best way to retain perspective. Perhaps it is the highest virtue of art that it can be incredibly convincing without being shrill or overbearing.
I have a question for Wes.
Wes you are clearly passionate about Psychology, Im no academic Im 30 and work in electronics repair in Australia, but never the less what role do you think cognitive dissonance does or could play in affecting change (positive or negative). I’ve seen it change certain types of personalities for example person x has a phobia for group y but has consistently pleasant experiences with a person of group y say at work or something. They have trouble reconciling a stereotype of group y with the experience with the member of group y they become aware of the discord and seek resolution they might just google something but at least they did something. The more i think about this the more I see this phenomena around me. Particularly in young people who’s views aren’t as hard set but also in certain people of all ages. Obviously for whatever reason, fear or social or tribal ties, some people can be adept at holding multiple cognitive dissonances in there head quite well. But from personal experience i see how much it has motivated me to seek resolutions to the dissonance be it through learning from the external world, introspection, or trying to escape it and numb it with drugs. I think i have latched on to this particular concept because I’m trying like you guys, like everyone posting in this thread to think of solutions and creating a gentle, empathic CD seems to me to be a good idea. It could be from really small economic interaction or any interaction really or even interactions between abstract ideas in ones head. . I don’t know just trying to process the stuff.
Thanks for this podcast it has been a friend it has changed me at least,
At the risk of sounding facetious, there is a simple test.
Sit down and watch a few hours of “red pilling” videos on YouTube. You’ll see all the ostensible signs of cognitive dissonance: anger, stammering, name calling, obvious logical fallacies.
So after a few hours, either
A. You’re a Republican
B. This whole cognitive dissonance thing has been oversold.
This is for Seth and for anyone else who feels enervated and impotent about trump. It’s an outline of what took me from despair to hope in the last few months.
After the election, I had a very similar reaction to Seth’s. The morning of November 9, I sat in a chair before the kids got up and considered having to tell my 13-year old daughter (who had gone to bed early) and commiserate with my 17-year old son (who had stayed up long after I went to bed watching the returns in disbelief and disgust) about trump’s winning. I sat there and I broke down and cried. I like to think I was crying for them — and I was — but I was also feeling sorry for myself, my impotence and my failure as a political actor, and for what my generation is leaving for the next generation.
(I should note that I’ve always been well to the left of every Democratic candidate I’ve voted for or known about, even Bernie, but I have always felt it necessary to vote for them to prevent people like Bush, Romney and Trump from taking office. You can see how well that turned out.)
One thing I did next was to delete in my browser the bookmarks of the liberal blogs/opinion sites I’d been following (like Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos, Salon, Slate, Huff Po, etc.). I did this because these people were supposed to be experts, they were supposed to know more than me, and they had assured me for months that Hillary would win and explained why she would win. And they were wrong. About everything. I was wrong too, but I felt a strong need to hear from people who may have seen this coming and who might know how to deal with it.
I also stopped watching the Daily Show, John Oliver and Colbert because, well, I knew a long time ago Fox News is dumb and Trump is bad. I stopped clicking on facebook posts titled “John Oliver just DESTROYED Trump”. Because he hadn’t. And he never will.
Slowly, but surely, I began reading a completely different set of publications, listening to a completely different set of voices, including hard news (Times, Post, The Intercept (highly recommend the latter)), and commentary from pubs like Current Affairs, Jacobin, Dissent, N+1, and The Baffler, and individuals like Freddrik deBoer (thanks Wes!) and, of course, listening to Chapo Traphouse and Delete Your Account. I watched Hypernormalisation, a rich and provocative film by Adam Curtis. From these sources, I began to understand what I had actually known before and had set aside because of the horrors of the other side and the blindness of not-as-badism: the failure of liberalism, particularly the neo-liberal form of it practiced by most Democrats, to slow, much less stop, the march of global capitalism and the immiseration of the majority of the human population. Exactly as Hillary Clinton failed to stop Donald Trump. This is because, I came to see, Democrats (Bernie excepted) simply do not want what I want. They do not want universal single-payer healthcare, they do not want strong unions, they do not want to withdraw from aggressive war-mongering abroad, they do not want universal free quality education, they do not want to raise taxes on corporations and the billionaire 1% who are decimating the environment and impoverishing Americans. Just recall, for example, how during the primary campaign Hillary Clinton could not even support a measly $15 an hour minimum wage. This is a major reason Hillary lost: she couldn’t bring herself to give voice to the deep trouble that Americans are feeling and have been feeling for 40 years as their wages stagnate, benefits are cut and a few, including Hillary and Bill, become rich from it. (“America is already great”. Jesus fucking Christ.). Sure democrats will make lots of comforting noises about people of color and LGBQ people, but they rarely actually do much to help those folks deal with their problems. Liberals use the feel-good issues of identity politics and black civil rights to camouflage their loyalty to corporate control of the material welfare of all people. They use identity politics to cover for their love of money.
I also unsubscribed to the “liberal” email lists I’m on (MoveOn, Democrats, etc.). These are the groups that are supposed to act to protect us from the ravages of right wing ideology, and they do nothing but, as Seth pointed out, stoke (progressive) fear to get three bucks out of you. They file petitions sometimes but otherwise are pretty much useless. They are the definition of heat without light, boldness without courage.
At that point, my despair actually began to deepen because I realized how bottomless is the hole that Corporate neo-liberalism has dug for this country. I saw how for 40 years, beginning with Jimmy Carter’s rightward turn in the second half of his administration, both parties pretty much abandoned labor, the middle and working classes (and all the people of color and LGBQ people who are in those classes) for Wall Street money, de-regulation, corporate welfare. I remembered how, when Bill Clinton was first elected, I went to a warehouse party in Austin where the Killer Bees played their new song “We’ve Got Hippies in the White House.” I saw how blind I’d been, how bamboozled. I even saw how working class and middle class voters could vote for Trump, how people of color could just stay home to help Hillary lose.
Eventually, though, as a direct result of my new reading list, including reviews of Bernie’s appeal to young people who are much more open to socialism and, yes, Marxism than previous generations, I realized there is hope, especially if we listen to the kids. I began to realize I’m a socialist, not a Democrat (although I never identified as a Dem) and that what I want – and what probably a majority of Americans want – is not what the Democratic leadership wants. I began to look for new leaders, and found them among a bunch of 30-year olds, whose political views were formed by the debacle of the Iraq War, and who have no problem jettisoning neo-liberalism, which they know has failed. I began to focus less on protesting the dumb things Trump has done and promises to do, to focus on becoming involved in building a better country. That’s what gives me hope now, knowing that no matter what happens, I’m listening to the kids and can be involved in building something better, in the face of rising authoritarianism and, yep, fascism. I also joined the Democratic Socialists of America and am beginning to work locally on a few concrete issues. It’s the first political party I’ve actually joined in my life.
I think it was Seth that said on the Rorty episode that progressivism is forward-looking and interested in building a better world. I entirely agree and I also know that there are many, many people in this country who are ready for a constructive and positive vision of a better future for most people. Despite what corporate Democrats like Clinton, and Schumer and Nancy “hey, we’re capitalists” Pelossi will tell you, there is a social democratic consensus in this country around several of the issues I mentioned above.
The Rorty ep advocated “campaigns” over “movements”, so whether or not you agree with the DSA or want a form of socialism for our future, you can find issues to work on that will make things better. Protest, sure, fight. But find something to fight for, not just against. I feel like I’m fighting campaigns am also part of a movement forward.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m an idiot, politically. I mean, a lot of the folks who read and write for some of these publications would just say, “no shit man, what took you so long?” Indeed.
Josh K says
This was a moving episode for me and the movement from despair to positive action was something I knew was critical moving forward for me. A lot of the suggestions from above are great (getting out of the echo chamber is the best way to hear something new.)
For me, though, the ruse in all political debates is the division of the civic (or political) life from economic life and ultimately the discourse surrounding identity politics, as well, neglects a realistic appraisal of agency and power. I think the discussion about the efficacy of protest movements (and media and certain campaigns/political endeavors) tend to fall short if these two (civic and economic) are not reunited.
This, I believe, is what radical politics tends to focus on which traditional political discourse ignores. Without understanding the agency and obstacles to the self-realization of various groups within society, power coagulates where it’s concentrated already, perhaps expanding slightly to relieve pressure from below. The lower down the political hierarchy the more involved your life is with the decisions of the State & their policy, The bottom of this being incarceration where the state controls your life completely and the top being those whose economic position has politicians coming to them for policy, guidance and funding.
If we understand politics an exchange among the powerful with regards to the life and well-being of the less powerful (organized and resourced over the unorganized and hungry) the impetus for action becomes clear. For myself, it means engaging with local groups at a higher level, (involvement on boards and local garden projects) moving from an individual focus to a community focus (with an eye to the most marginalized), thinking about group resilience and resistance to the material effects of the the right-wing populist shift, as far as policy and on-the-ground reality.
It also means, as mentioned in the episode, to focus on the things I love (music and poetry, in my case) since re-prioritizing my life around the things that feed my self-appraisal & enjoyment (spirit or human essence) is an act that counters the dominant narrative of material accumulation.
To close, I appreciate greatly these two episodes, I hope that the discussions in the future can also tie the world of the mind into the world of relations and meaningful engagement, as I think this is the power of expanding thought is give the heart & mind legs to walk this earth with integrity.
Great conversation about an important book, however I’m struck by the constant way that all of the crew except for (maybe) Wes is unable to even think that how they think and feel about the world and its problems could be wrong. The boys and the commentators here all appear to deeply believe that the left has the truth and holds all the answers and that the right is an evil cabal. The world isn’t like that, surely you must at some level realise that you may be wrong on somethings and to blindly support one side of politics is an evil in itself.
I started out on the left, strong unionist went to protests etc but I’ve always tried to understand the other side, over the years I have become a person who supports neither left nor right but what appear to be good ideas for solutions to problems. To believe as some of the boys do that the right is intent on doing evil is a terrible thing, the same for people on the right who believe that of the left. It doesn’t seem to have been considered that the right also has similar concerns about societal wrongs and that they just think there are different ways to get results.
Like all elites who have been caught out by the turn of US politics you appear to believe that you and only you are intelligent and educated enough to direct society and that those who you disagree with are evil, thoughtless people. Well that is plain wrong it is a marketplace of ideas and in this marketplace your ideas (which have had eight years to show results) have been found to be wanting. Many of those who voted twice for Obama have decided that there is a better direction for the nation and have voted that way. If you wish to get them to support your ideas you need to explain them and convince the voters, simple.
Hubris, the PEL boys and the commenters here have it in spades. Listening over the years I thought that Seth had the makings of someone who could appreciate the trouble with knowledge and those who profess to hold it, perhaps you all need to read more Hayek. Reading Marx may reinforce your core beliefs but Hayek may shake them up.
Mark Linsenmayer says
While it’s reasonable to have humility about the positive beliefs you have (“Could I be wrong about my current cosmological theories”), it’s not reasonable to remain open-minded about beliefs that are most certainly wrong (“The world is flat.”).
“The right” is of course a huge, amorphous term, and we’ve spent many an episode picking through individual elements from Burke, Nozick, Rand, Hayek (a bit), and of course many of the roots of “the right” can be found in classical figures like Kant and Schopenhauer, and not to mention Augustine, Plato, et al.
However, the current claim that anyone who actually voted for Trump (and if you’re feeling less generous, anyone who did not actively oppose him) is committed to is that Trump is a competent, decent individual who is qualified to be President. It doesn’t take hubris to confidently claim this to be false.
There are times for questioning your underlying beliefs, but the whole “partially examined” part means you can’t question them all at the same time. The function of this particular episode was not to question our basic liberal bias, though I think there was other, legitimate self-reflective questioning going on here.
What is the inverse of “false dichotomy”?
I wanted a chance to parse the supposition. (I know its weird but i want to use the symbol X to stand in for the current president because i believe that at this stage even the guys name in written form can be a psychological barrier to dialogue please forgive me.)
” X is a competent, decent individual who is qualified to be president”. I had strong emotional reactions to the guy. I fear that violence will increase with him in a position of power. He used in my view controversial, not new, evocative methods of communication to just scrape in to that position. From seeing bios of him and interviews of people who worked on his campaign i believe this was a calculated move. I had strong negative reactions to that. But it have to admit that that takes a certain type of ‘skill’. That makes me believe he is competent at something. I believe on some level that the claim that anyone is decent can be fraught. I read the inauguration speech which, was a far less emotional experience than watching it on TV for me but From watching the guy start to act in the economic realm and reading parts of the written speech, i beleive he genuinely believes he can help other Americans with the economic. Though i believe he is very wrong I believe he believes his social policies will help in some way. I remember Nietzche’s distinctions between intention and consequence of actions and values and that he may be in the road paving business.. I can only go so far as to timidly support the claim of decent intention. As far as qualified to be president, from what ive heard on an episode of TAL he and his team haven’t been effective in communicating with the relevant bodies to implement the policies. The two examples are at the airport and at the border department. I heard border officials felt like from his statements that he had no knowledge of what was already in place and that no consulting was done what so ever. And that the state department that oversees the border department (Caveat im not american don’t know shit about how your government structure works) litterally had to keep refreshing the website as the executive order was being signed. Regardless of my politics, this seems to me to be strong evidence that he is not qualified to be president. But when your interviewing for a job with 300 million bosses its hard to reach a universal consensus on qualification. Im reminded of this meme https://i.redditmedia.com/Wmms9H0X4VmD4MgKQuqrQ3BG7YVfuaNouwSi7UgalEM.jpg?w=740&s=d7effbf233d4d91afe5c46941b9140f2
The point im trying to make is that he is a marketer. He knows on an intuitive level how to use symbols, branding that appeals to same deep features both positive and very negative aspects of human psyche that the rest of the culture does from advertising to stories to art and to small experiences like having a genuine positive interaction in the street or online.. I believe the left could benefit. From reading every ones posts here i feel like a political naive i know nothing about general trends in society and its structures. I read but barely. Never the less i see interpersonal skills creation of a space for persuasion to take place. Many aspects of the culture do this already. Barry’O won those elections for a reason. We can all do it. We have all persuaded many people in our lives without. I have been persuaded out of deep primal prejudices . Why? I have left out the economic because i dont really know enough about it.
Alan Cook says
“Almost a quarter of Trump voters gave him their support despite saying he was not qualified.”
Stephen Williams says
What are the qualifications for US President?
Alan Cook says
I don’t know. The notion is, to a certain extent, subjective. I posted this link in response to this claim of Mark’s:
I posted the link in order to call into question claim (1), not to say anything about the truth or falsity of (1)(a). I propose that the exit poll establishes that a large number of people voted for Trump in spite of the fact that he’s not, by their own standards, “decent,” “competent,” and “qualified.”
My larger point is that there are two questions (among many, many others) that can be asked about the recent U.S. election:
–What led a large minority of voters to hold false beliefs about who’s competent and qualified to be president?
–Why did a large minority of voters judge one candidate to be incompetent and unqualified, and vote for him anyway?
If I understand him correctly, Mark thinks the first question is the important question to ask. I’m suggesting that maybe the second question is the one we should be asking.
Alan Thomas says
Alan, I think you’re right, but there’s not any one answer. I posted upthread about my daughter’s Scout leader and her explanation for her Republican votes that she now regrets. She is a sincere and thoughtful person with a good heart.
There are others who come from that “basket of deplorables”. Plenty has been said about them already.
But there are still others who represent not so much hate but a decadent, 21st century amorality. Last May I emailed a friend to say that this interview in the NYT was the first thing I’d read that made me seriously consider the possibility of a Trump win: the feeling that maybe voters aren’t so much angry as criminally irresponsible in a jaded Information Age:
Victor Vizcarra, 48, of Los Angeles, said he would much prefer Mr. Trump to Mrs. Clinton. Though he said he disagreed with some of Mr. Trump’s policies, Mr. Vizcarra said he had watched “The Apprentice” and expected that a Trump presidency would be more exciting than a “boring” Clinton administration.
“A dark side of me wants to see what happens if Trump is in,” said Mr. Vizcarra, who works in information technology. “There is going to be some kind of change, and even if it’s like a Nazi-type change. People are so drama-filled. They want to see stuff like that happen. It’s like reality TV. You don’t want to just see everybody be happy with each other. You want to see someone fighting somebody.”
Dave Eggers’ report from a Trump rally in the Guardian in June painted a similar picture:
Believing that Trump’s supporters are all fascists or racists is a grave mistake. This day in Sacramento presented a different picture, of a thousand or so regular people who thought it was pretty cool how Trump showed up in a plane with his name on it. How naughty it was when he called the president “stupid”. How funny it was when he said the word “huge” the peculiar way he does, without the “h” (the audience yelled back “uuuuge!”, laughing half with him, half at him). In the same way we rooted for Clay a few years ago when he showed up as an actual actor in a Woody Allen movie, the audience at a Trump rally is thinking, How funny would it be if this guy were across the table from Angela Merkel? That would be classic.
Americans who have voted for Trump in the primaries have done so not because they agree with all, or any, of his statements or promises, but because he is an entertainment. He is a loud, captivating distraction and a very good comedian. His appeal is aided by these rallies, and by media coverage, and both are fuelled not by substance but by his willingness to say crazy shit.
The actor Michael Shannon described his related sense of some voters’ proclivities in this screed from shortly after the election:
I don’t know how people got so goddamn stupid. But it’s really weird, because it’s like the last eight years, now it feels like a lie. Like, this has been festering underneath the whole time. Racists, sexists. And a lot of these people, they don’t know why the fuck they’re alive. They know it. They’re doing drugs, fucking killing themselves. Because they’re like, ‘Why the fuck am I alive? I can’t get a job, I don’t know anything about anything, I have no curiosity for life or the world.’ So this Trump thing is like getting a box of firecrackers, or something. It’s like, ‘Well, this will be fun for a little while, this’ll kill some time.’ Because, y’know, the jackass will be amusing on television, say stupid shit. Make everybody clap. Hillary would have been too boring, I suppose. It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened. It’s the worst. This guy is going to destroy civilization as we know it, and the earth, and all because of these people who don’t have any idea why they’re alive.
I would submit that this group of voters, who might be called the “IDGAF caucus”, are the scariest of all. You can’t reason with people who want to nihilistically burn the system down for their own short-term amusement. These are people who are grossly and heedlessly negligent in collectively wielding democratic control over the most powerful nation-state the world has ever known. The job for philosophy here is to grapple with the question of whether this reveals an inherent, fundamental, and fatal flaw in democracy itself.
Jonathan Haber says
I agree that we need to balance intellectual humility (being ready to accept that we’re wrong) with intellectual courage (sticking by our well-formed beliefs, until they have been successfully challenged by strong and convincing arguments). But we should also be ready to leverage imagination which can sometimes generate options beyond either-or.
For instance, I’ve often “imagined” that the Right-Left framework for so much of our domestic politics represents yet another European import that Americans have run with, applying it to all situations without fully understanding where it may and may not fit.
To cite one possible alternative, someone once pointed out to me that American politics is not divided along the Left-Right lines that defined 19th and 20th century European political thought, but is rather split between the Common Sense philosophy of many of our Founding Fathers (which felt that all decisions – up to and including scientific discovery – were best made jury-style by small groups of citizens) and the faceless (but necessary) modern technocracy underwritten by Pragmatism.
While I’m not sure I completely buy that argument, it did does point out that small-government Conservatives may have more in common with “act locally” Liberals than either group might think. At the very least, the revulsion against “The Big” (Big Government and Big Media for the Right, Big Corporations and Big Money for the Left) might indicate common concern about the role big and remote forces increasingly play in our lives.
Given who controls Washington after the last election, one might expect to see common cause between those Conservatives who are eager to devolve power – even when their wield so much of it – and Liberals who may be rethinking whether centralizing authority is such a great (or safe) idea after all.
As a listener since about 2011 and someone for whom philosophy is sort of a hobby, I want to thank the PEL crew for the Rorty/Politics series. I don’t often comment on this website, but this series both surprised me and affirmed what I enjoy about the podcast. The more text-based episodes on Rorty and Sellars were technical at times, but fascinating (especially as a psychology graduate student) and I think well explained. Furthermore, they set a foundation of sorts for the episodes to follow. I thought the Political Free-Form discussion was a bit too formless, at first, but after listening to this episode (which felt like a continuation) I think it might have been a necessary first step. What made these two episodes so great was their authenticity, intellectual honesty, and demonstration of how a critical political discourse can still be civil. Seth offered an apology to listeners at the end of the podcast, which I believe is unnecessary. His intellectual and emotional reactions over the course of the episodes are part of the reason I took time to comment, because they demonstrated authenticity and self-reflectiveness to an extent you rarely see anywhere, let alone a podcast. Similarly, the group’s reactions to Seth’s reactions I think balanced empathy, amiability, and rigor well. In a sense, it felt like the Rorty’s points were less being discussed and more demonstrated.
Substantively, I found Rorty’s points (as articulated by PEL) to be relatively convincing and something I am filing away in my “critiques of modern liberal culture” section of my mind. In general, I have been finding post-election analyses that emphasize cultural factors, such as resentment, to be some of the most compelling (relative to racism, economics, etc.). In particular, this discussion reminded me of a Vox article I read (goo.gl/3oSn6b) that discusses “progressive fundamentalism.” While the whole article is worth reading, one quote caught my attention: “Voting for Trump, then, isn’t just a cry of desperation. It’s the latest shot in a civil war where too many progressive fundamentalists have brought political comedy videos to a ballot fight.” In general, I have begun to wonder how much of the divide is due to ineffective communication as opposed to fundamental differences in opinion. It might be that us culturally “elite” liberals (I’m a poor doctoral student) are not taking our partners in the political discussion seriously, trying to understand their viewpoints (however wrong they seem) and more clearly delineate agreed upon and disagreed upon premises. Aside from being pragmatic, I suspect this might grant people a sense of dignity or respect that they feel like the cultural left has removed. Perhaps we have to think more critically about rhetoric and persuasion, as Wes argues?
Another thing I enjoyed about these recent episodes is that, at various points, I felt that I shared the reactions and perspectives of each of them. In particular, I felt that when the discussion trended toward “what is to be done?” I had a strong personal connection. As a liberal, it feels like a fraught question and one that generates a lot of ambivalence. I feel that there is value in protests, if only symbolic, and don’t believe that they necessarily demonize the other side. On the other hand, I realize that they are not always concretely effective and have had feelings similar to Wes when I attend them. One can donate to causes or become a true activist, but what is very busy and cash-strapped person to do? Given the cultural diagnosis that is compelling to me, I am starting to think that modeling civil political discourse and attempting to defuse overly hostile discussions is one way to go. I recently had a Facebook interaction where this played out among some friends, starting in a belligerent comment section and ending in calmer, conciliatory Facebook messages. Doing this regularly sounds like it could be exhausting and frustrating, but perhaps this where people that frequent this podcast could have the most impact? Though it seems like a small person-by-person thing and does not directly affect policy, enough fo this might be therapeutic for our society. Being empathic, balanced, and logical with people that belligerently disagree with you is not for everyone; however, I suspect that the viewers of this podcast may be among the best equipped to play this role. If not us, then who?
Finally, despite how much I enjoyed this, I do have to comment that I think the accusations of white privilege above may have some basis. I cannot point to specific examples, but there were various times that I had thoughts like “hmm, that is easy to say as some not being directly affected by systemic racism.” I do not believe that this invalids the main points made, but agree with other commenters that it might be good to do another episode on this at some point.
” In general, I have begun to wonder how much of the divide is due to ineffective communication”
This (and the rest of that paragraph). So so much this. So clearly i see that opposing words, symbols, and ideas and emotional tone for whatever reason can effect us on gut levels and make us less likely to be able to empathise with where the other is coming from. I’m starting to see that even in ideas that have been circulating lately, that ive had these gut reactions to blinded from seeing why certain people are actually trying to achieve the things they say they want to achieve. That they and are are actually trying to achieve similar things but disagree sometimes wildly disagree on how to go about it. This communication problem is deeply entrenched. It is all over facebook in more obvious ways. In intellectual circles it is less obvious at first but with some subtext rages just below the surface of what people are trying to say. Take Dawkins for example. For whatever reasons he is unable to imagine or empathize with people of faith. He is so offended on a gut level that he cannot see the true complexity at play. But seeing that others are aware of this and becoming aware of this myself in myself and honestly all over the world is uplifting. 🙂
” In general, I have begun to wonder how much of the divide is due to ineffective communication as opposed to fundamental differences in opinion.”
this was Obama’s pipedream and we can see how that worked out, fact is there are serious and often irreconcilable differences in what and how people value and what they despise, etc. one of Rorty’s points is that Philosophy/Reason/etc offers us no objective way of adjudicating between such differences and no way of sublating/synthesizing them, needless to say this didn’t win the day in academic circles as in part it would bring into question their whole way of work-life.
Wittgenstein put it that “If I have exhausted the justifications, I have reached bedrock and my spade is turned. Then I am inclined to say: “This is simply what I do.”” and for Rorty we then are left at the mercies of our institutions and oligarchs, see:
First off, thank you for that excellent article. I am relatively new to Rorty, but he seems to synthesize a lot of previous philosophical thought that I have been compelled by, as well as draw out the political implications of such thought.
I may have been a bit strong in how I worded the piece you quoted. I definitely agree there are irreconcilable differences in values at play in our political discourse and that philosophical arguments about these underlying differences are probably a dead end. At the same time, I suspect in many cases that two people in a political argument have at least some (a) infinitesimal overlap in values and (b) shared life experiences. While they may not be able to agree about the values they do not share, they might find that there are certain issues or policies they feel similarly about; however, this consensus will likely never be realized if they vilify or berate one another. Perhaps a more civil political discourse was Obama’s pipe dream, but I think it is open to question whether it was tried and failed, or whether it was never given a fair shot. Aside from whatever Obama and congress did or did not do to further this, I think the more important agents in changing the tone of political discourse might be the media and individual citizens. I think the perspective that philosophy grants us may be helpful for avoiding the arguments that are pointless and making the discussions worth having more disciplined. This is why I have some optimism that individuals with a background in philosophy might be able to play a useful role in politics.
Rorty tried (and generally failed) to get us to focus not on “values” and the like of the philosophy of the past but on practices/means (how things actually get done), so if you want to know say how to judge a politician like Paul Ryan look at what he is doing, with what means/tools, to whom, and to what results?
Questions of “tone” and the like also need to be tried and tested, Rorty (agreeing with Marx on this) put it this way:
“We have to shift from the kind of role that philosophers have shared with priests and sages to a social role that has more in common with the engineer or the lawyer.”
as for the powers of reasoning/reasoning-with google cognitive-biases
Alan Thomas says
Earlier this evening I had an encounter which I found very interesting and illuminating, and relevant in particular to Wes’s project.
[Quick background: I live in rural Missouri, and our center-right Democratic governor was term-limited from running again. The Democratic candidate was fairly centrist himself and was expected to have a good shot of winning against the Republican nominee, an ex-Navy Seal and neophyte to politics named Greitens.]
I was at my daughter’s Girl Scouts (Daisies) meeting, and the girls were all working on anti-bullying posters. So the “den mother” (or whatever the leader is called) was sitting over at a table with me and a couple other girls’ mothers. We had been discussing something about my daughter’s autism in regards to which of the upcoming activities she could do, what accommodations might need to be made, etc.
This leader is a thirtyish white woman in rural Missouri, and she’s a married mom, so politically her age and gender might lean one way, but everything else goes the other. However, she has always struck me as fairly progressive in her attitude toward autism (and disability more generally), so what she said next cemented even more my sense that she was an ally. “Hey, how about that budget cut that’s killing the autism clinic? You must love that”, she said sarcastically and scornfully. “Yeah”, I responded, “Greitens…” (In most contexts this would have been “F***ing Greitens”, but there were a bunch of six-and-seven-year-old girls nearby.)
Her response took me completely aback: “Yeah, I can’t believe I voted for him! I’m really mad at Roy Blunt, too.” Then she said she could “just kiss” Claire McCaskill (our Democratic senator, who had the good fortune to get reelected last time in our increasingly red state, thanks to being pitted against Todd “legitimate rape” Akin).
So…I was confused. I didn’t want to create any kind of bad mojo with my daughter’s Scout leader, not to mention risk discouraging her in any way from what seemed a turn in the right direction. But I was really curious to try to understand why she would have voted for that asshole (and presumably, other Republicans–even if she didn’t say so specifically). So, I asked her, in a very gentle and respectful way, emphasizing that I was just curious.
She appeared to take it in that spirit, and seemed to try to give me the best explanation she could. She said she definitely liked his position on guns, because preserving that right was important to her. (Later, talking about this on Facebook, I was informed that the Democratic candidate was actually endorsed by the NRA! Aarggh.) Beyond that, she said, it was mainly two other things: that he was from outside the system (she didn’t use that hoary old term “career politician” to describe the Democrat, but that was the gist of it), and that “unlike the other two” (including the Libertarian, maybe? I didn’t ask), he wasn’t slinging mud at his opponents (I didn’t follow that campaign closely, so I have no idea if this is at all true: it would surprise me, but IDK).
I closed the conversation by again emphasizing that I didn’t want to be overbearing or anything, but just advising her that as a general rule, if you care about programs for children, the disabled, and other vulnerable populations, Democrats are going to protect them much more than Republicans will.
Human Humanson says
Thank you all for your thoughts. Reading every single post here. Not just the arguments and ideas but the subtext and feeling behind it makes me want to tell you I here you. Specifics differ but I think as people were coming from a similar place. Bashing my head against this thing has been painful but genuinely enlightening.
I know this can be laborious but i want to share what the past 2 weeks have seen me go from a dark, desperate place to where I’m at in as few words as possible. I havent been sleeping well for 8 or 9 days averaging around 3 hrs with a couple 0 hrs in there. I had to take time of my job as an electronics technician. I was sitting in the office toilet because i was on the verge of another panic attack. I hadn’t had one in years. I had 2 in consecutive days. Im used to this sort of thing so i sucked it up and told my boss in quivering voice i had to go i saw his face change from slight annoyance from being in work mode to one of genuine concern. I told the same to my coworker and left. All the questions here were flying around my head and questions relevant to my particular circumstance and it was too much. An old hat at this I knew to head home to family and therapy.
If your’e still reaDing at this point i want to ask you a question. Have you ever met someone
that for a reason you don’T even know they just set something off in you? You grapple with why you don’t like them but the significance to you seems disproportionate to you? You may see them post something on face book and you just want to destroy them with all the cool words and concepts you know. You imagine speaking to them in public, you gather your sharpest arguments and lay them out on the best like the prelude to ‘The Shit’ in a Coen brothers film. It can be disconcerting. Especially if you like puzzles. I like puzzles. Especially if you just want sleep. Are you or do you know a really nice, compassionate-to-a-fault person, so willing to see the good in others that they assume are like them, that they make dangerously inaccurate perceptions of character? If so read on.
At this point i want to share some key points yelling at me from the core of my being, the stuff that is reserved for the sacred, no holds barred, contemporary minimalist arena of therapist and patient. Blood sports. (I apologise if this is just obvious, but i couldn’t see until i could). As i alluded to i am a compassionate-to-a-fault guy. I was raised in a loving yet turbulent environment under the working class guidance and rule of a loving, soon to be wise yet volatile father (Hx tourettes,ocd) and an intelligent young loving yet tyrannical mom (BPD) both at the time understandably ill-equipped for the task at hand. We learned we better mind our fucking manners. Till a week ago the sight of a woman shouting or treating me with what i perceive to be disregard or disrespect is enough to make my hairs stand up on end, and create a lasting sometimes painful memory that would pop up every know and then for years, Till a week ago, the sight of anyone (M’F) i perceived to be challenging my masculinity would stay around for even longer. Unequipped and with a little of each ruling/guiding loving parent in me i could only run away however i could. (A long list of substances goes here). Widdled down to the imperfect alternating visitation rights of alcohol and marijuana and occasional sobriety. Ultimately it catches you and you have to deal. With survival instinct taking over i am off all substances, reducing caffeine and niccotine, From a phenomenological perspective it has been very interesting. I have had human history, that i was aware of, slowly march through my brain demanding resolution. I have thought about my family alot.
I believe my upbringing and temprement made me susceptible to a certain ‘follow the leader mentality’ I have been painstakingly making excuses because i am so conditioned to see the good in people (BARRING SOCIOPATHS) that i have made horrible assessments of character and motivation of the villains of human history and human now, I could not come to terms with an other so radically different from my own. I remember wanting to take psychology from an early age to figure out why is my mom crazy? She was because of here temperament and upbringing. But she is Border line PD which is different from Narcissistic PD one stark difference is BPDs are capable of genuine altruism Narcissists not so much. I know you know what a narcissist is but google it one more time if you haven’t already just in case there are a few slight distinctions you weren’t aware of. I was duped but at least i realise i was duped as im sure many people have been coming to terms with lately. But something has changed in me i see more i feel more and i’m happier for it. Rolling ur eyes like that isn’t good for the muscles in your cornea. I feel lighter, joyous, powerful. Quick pizza? The power im talking about isn’t a large power. It is the power all of you have exercised over me. I will read more on different types of power. I have been we all have been excersising this power consciously or unso. When i got back from my families house back to the big city today the absolute first thing i did was find that homeless guy ask politely if i could sit down. I asked him where the soup kitchen was. His name is X. I need to wash my hand. I asked him if he would accept this 10 dollar note although i owe him more
To maintain this power i need to maintain me utmost so im going to take break from the world were needed. Change gon’ come. It just do. Just don’t log in to face book or the net or go outside 25 years if you want it to be a pain free ride.
If you read this wtf? 😉
Thank you all. you are heard. hang in there. The art AND the science, The head and the heart.
Empatheticly Blissful while sensibly tethered from Madison, Wisconsin, Australia
In addition to the political philosophers mentioned already, what analytic works might improve our discourse. I am not asking this rhetorically. I am not well read on philosophy.
Where this discussion has shifted explicitly political, most of the arguments have been more sophisticated versions of the protesters’ argument:
1. My political opponent is some flavor of non-person (blank-ist, blank-ophobe, privileged).
2. Ergo, my opponent’s positions are INVALID.
3. Ergo, the standard requirements of argumentation do not apply.
As far as my limited analytic insight can determine, this is equivalent in sophistication to
1. Taxation is theft.
2. Ergo, government is INVALID.
3. Ergo, no further justification of anarchy is required.
There is much to be lost by foregoing intro/extro-spection in this way. We can argue the merits of this type of heuristic, but let’s agree that there’s nothing to be gained by hearing (or speaking) it.
… and then to hear some of the hosts say, “But I’ve TRIED arguing, and it doesn’t work.”
PS: One thing, I believe, has been missed here is that (almost certainly) there are Democrats who would have won the election. Many arguments are (and much anxiety is) predicated on the assumption that “Trump-ism” has come over his supporters like a fever, robbing them of their ability to choose, that some intervention is required to exorcise whatever force WASN’T there when many of the same voters chose Obama.
Alan Thomas says
This is such an existential threat we are facing that I want to pass on a great suggestion I heard from David Frum on Sam Harris’s podcast. He said that protesters and agitators should for the moment set aside all their individual issues, stop protesting every Cabinet nominee, all that politics-as-usual stuff, and put maximal–“infinite”–pressure on their senators and representatives to do two things:
1. Pass a law requiring the Treasury Secretary to release the tax returns of all major party nominees and their running mates, as well as every year releasing the returns of the president and vice president;
2. An independent inquiry, with “massive subpoena power”, into Trump’s Russia connections.
Here is an interesting discussion on Rorty’s prescience: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ik_yMeTD0PA
chris k says
Wanted to share a relevant passage from At the Mind’s Limits, a book by Jean Améry who was captured and tortured by German Gestapo. This is from the preface for the reissue:
“It is my concern that the youth of Germany… do not slip over unawares to those who are their enemies as well as mine. These young people are all too quick to talk about ‘Fascism.’ And they don’t realize that they are only filtering reality through ill-considered ideologies, that while the reality of the Federal Republic of Germany urgently needs improvement and contains enough shocking injustices… that still does not make it fascist.
The FRG is seriously threatened as a liberal polity, just as every democracy is. That is its risk, its danger, its honor. No one knows better than those who were forced to witness the extinction of German freedom that one must be vigilant. But the chroniclers of the epoch know just as well that vigilance must not change into a paranoid state of mind, which in the end only works to the advantage of those who would like to throttle democratic freedoms with their fat butcher’s hands. Germany’s young leftist democrats, however, have now reached the point where they not only regard their own state as an already halway fascist social structure, but in a wholesale manner they also view, and correspondingly treat, all those countries they designate as ‘formal’ democracies… as fascist, imperialist, and colonial.”
Alan Thomas says
This is so on point. It is exactly the same problem I see with that cohort on the left in our country that disdains Democrats as corporate stooges, that treats the linguist Noam Chomsky as a political sage, etc. Susan Sarandon is a famous example, but my own son has fallen into this trap.
Brandon C. Zicha says
One thing I thought was interesting about this podcast is that there was clearly a need for some philosophically informed political scientist in the room, as well as some interesting ‘performing’ of Rorty’s point.
I’ll raise a few points.
1.) “Rorty seems really have a message for the individual but he is trying to speak to the masses”
Yeah, he has to for his project. Political actors are caught in a collective action dilemma… a coordination problem.. .a problem the group of you kept bumping up against over and over with the “Oh, but it just feels like little old me is helpless… how can I act on this and have agency?!” Yeah… you can’t… which is why he is speaking to everyone. Why he wants ‘the left’ to take more seriously ‘hope and pride’ is an attempt to create what in game theory is called a focal point, and to have an approach to tactics that leaves you (the individual) confident you will find pragmatic allies… rather than privilege shouting sin-applicators. So, it’s crystal clear to me that – intentionally or not – Rorty’s choice of audience is directly related to your collective anguish about individual action.
2.) Protest, protest, protest. I think to fully understand Rorty you need to be fairly well-informed about the history of the left in America, and be very aware of the underlying assumptions that can be made about each era…. because it felt to me that you were importing – constantly – in your discussion “New Left” views of political action, with “Old Left” reformist goals… and then came out going ‘erp?’.
The Old Left wasn’t really all about street protest. Their project-based activism had actions at all levels… like FORMING UNIONS. Like, FORMING INSURANCE BROTHERHOODS. Like, WORKING IN LOCAL ORGANIZATION TO DO SOMETHING. Like, having a bit of integrity at work, or in church, or in your local school district to work for positive change. It is in these actions that the spirit of sin is most destructive (anyone in a faculty or staff meeting who watches proposal dead ended with absolutist ideological positions knows this) of any progress.
For the old left It was not primarily about ‘going out onto the street with smarter and more hopeful picket signs’ which is where the conversation KEPT coming back to. “The New Left is strong with you,” I think Rorty would say (with a dramatic Yoda voice).
And what is interesting, and I think a political scientist might comment on, is that there is a connection to the New Left attitude, the attitude of the panel, and the nationalization of politics in America… where ‘projects’ seemed to move away from community, local, and state government to the national level…. reducing both the exposure and thus the skills of making pragmatic reformist change. I say ‘seemed’ because much of this ‘nationalization’ is really a function of the nationalization of media. I also say ‘seemed’ because for reasons that I would argue are contextual to the nature of the central issues of the left (partiucularly unionization and civil rights) the Federal Government was ‘the answer’ (and this has the left knee-jerking to the national most distant level as ‘the answer’ whenever they think of pragmatic political action. I don’t think that Rorty would given his deep reading and experience with old left traditions before this federalization of the progressivism took hold.
3.) The private and the public. I think that the conversation really muddled this distinction, and ignored that Rorty really is talking about public life. So, if you want to have snarky thoughts, and say snarky things… keep that to your friend group, it has no place in public discourse… because it is pragmatically destructive of progress in a democracy where 50%+1 get’s to make progress. I see Rorty’s advice as being about public – not private – ethics. If it were about private ethics he would have to be arguing against people being religious or themselves holding to more authoritarian ways of life… which I think he would have trouble defending in light of his commitment to diversity and pluralism.
4.) Finally, on a side note of sorts… I really think ‘The Daily Show’ is a super complicated case for applying this book.. which is not a problem, because ultimately I doubt Rorty would say that there are no mixed members of the left who do not fully embody his generalizations. Stewarts most famous clips are often examples where he (a) very much appealed to pride in the national project (I think the loss of this is what makes Trevor Noah fall flat), (b) had to do with concrete appeals (the 9-11 first responders bill that you guys seems to TOTALLY FORGET in lieu of thinking about the rally to restore sanity (The New Left REALLY IS strong with you!), (c) as was well discussed spoke to media criticism which has no clear home with Rorty’s argument.