[OPE] Alexander Cockburn on carbon catastrophism

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@tiscali.nl)
Date: Tue Feb 12 2008 - 19:47:47 EST


You are correct, things can be falsely lumped together. But in the theory of ideology, it is explained that this lumping together, beyond a surface plausibility, is not simply irrational (although prima facie it is), there is a "logic" to it, namely a logic of justification that prevents discovery. In other words, you don't want people to discover "dangerous ideas".

If we can reduce the all the problems of world society to a problem of hot air that we can do very little about, short of fifty years or so, then either social change is impossible, or the changes that do occur are inevitable and necessary, and all we can do is accept what is happening, with no further questions asked.

The question is then, given that this lumping together of discourses occurs to justify a state of affairs, in a manner which is strictly speaking dishonest, manipulative or false, how would you introduce another viewpoint - when the very point of the lumping-together process, the choice of distinctions and concepts, is to silence a whole set of discourses, by suggesting they are not or no longer relevant, that they do not matter, and therefore should not be taken seriously? 

When a new religion is being built out of all sorts of flotsam and jetsam to provide a phantasmagora of coherence, how can the power of rational argument be asserted? A first step could be to affirm that the new religion is indeed flotsam and jetsam, and that it is not rational, the indicator of which is that if the diametrically opposite viewpoint is asserted, that it begets only an irrational, bizarre kneejerk response to the effect that an authority is not being obeyed, as if that explained anything. 

The core of radicalism is not pluralism per se - that would be liberalism - but inheres in the dialogue which pluralism makes possible, a dialogue which aims to reveal the ultimate motivations behind things, the root causes, and which therefore aims to take the dialogue seriously, and pursue it conscientiously to the very end. Who shall be in charge of what will be taken seriously or not? Why?

Without dialogue, we accept only pluralistically that others do not accept. With dialogue, we do not accept the non-acceptance anymore, we seek a response and do not rest until we get it. But how can can you dialogue rationally with all sorts of flotsam and jetsam "pluralistically" stuck together in a pastiche that can mean anything you like, designed to render meaningful dialogue impossible beyond platitudes? 

Paradoxically, you may need to take an absurd viewpoint inverting or reframing the order of things, in order to elicit any rational response, since, shocked out of their dulled ideological frame of reference, people are forced to think for themselves in a way which insists on reasonableness. In working life, we do this quite often, kind of humorously, to indicate that some things taken seriously ought not to be, or that things not taken seriously ought to be. 

I do not accept your rejection of Marx's relative historical optimism, basically because I consider that you cannot think of a problem without thinking what would amount to a solution, what it would mean if the problem is solved. The quality of the solution obviously depends very much on the quality of framing the problem. In a very complex equation it may not be clear what X is, but once we have reworked the equation and reduced it step by step to its simplest terms, it is quite clear what solution would fit X.

The concern about ideology is really only the concern about the speeds at which solutions are embraced. The solution may be available, but that doesn't yet of itself mean that it will be taken up. But Marx's argument precisely is that it will be taken up, like it or not, because of the practical necessity enforced by crisis will force it to be taken up, and people realise it was there all along, they just did not want to see it before, pay attention to it. Ideology, tied to certain interests, prevented them from seeing it. You can do it the easy way, or the hard way, but it will happen anyhow.

Your case is essentially that it may be "too late" for a solution, e.g. I will die of lung cancer someday. Yep we must all die. But we only really know it is too late when it is too late, and therefore this is consideration is fairly useless. Point is that beforehand, i.e. before it is too late, we can do lots, know lots, and the important thing is that we should be doing it. Life is for the living.  And for this purpose pessimism is not conducive to anything. Even if it is too late for me, it is not too late for someone else.

Some people's politics consists in interfering in people's lives in order to place restrictions on them, i.e. to tell them what they may and may not do. Other people's politics consists in enabling them to do things, to encourage them to do things, to stimulate them to do things better. In this respect, the language of "empowerment" is ideological, because it fudges who really has power, it is the mystification of power. Those in power set the limits. The powerless are limited. They can however test out the limits, explore them, raise questions, and through this process, gain more confidence in their own power in so doing.  It's like, who is the boss around here? You may be the boss over some things, but not over my life, mate. You can try all you like, but as long as I'm there, I'm there. 

We could have a learned discussion about optimism and pessimism, teleology or the meaning of history, but it's neither here nor there, the essence of the thing is quite simple really. If we don't know, we don't know, but if we know we don't know, why aren't we finding out? The answer is: ideology, which stops us from even taking the first step to finding out, which immobilizes everything with concepts of immutability, inevitability, eternity, stasis, constancy etc. etc. Ideologically we can make life so frightening, so risky, so dangerous, so loathsome, so incomprehensibly complex and unknowable that to do even the simplest things requires the assistance of a project manager, and we require an external, even just because we cannot assert anymore what we mean ourselves, without being drowned in noise. 

How then do you break open this ideology, if it is irrationally shifting between flotsam and jetsam, and not open to rational consideration, a conversation which is really not a conversation but a justification for why I should obediently accept bullshit from somebody who doesn't know what he's talking about anyway? That is the question. It may be, that if you give me flotsam, I give you jetsam, and I keep doing it until the quality of discussion improves. And we will improve the discussion, insofar as we go to the very end to get there. There's not just one way, there are many ways. The most flexible operator controls the system. 

I tell you what, I often think that if I die, I'll die of having had to face too much nonsense. But I ain't dead yet, and nonsense may be turned upon itself. 


ope mailing list

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Feb 29 2008 - 00:00:03 EST