[OPE] Liberalism

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@tiscali.nl)
Date: Sat Aug 23 2008 - 09:03:46 EDT


As regards Democrats using the Left for a rightwing agenda - I had something to say about which I forgot to add. Actually, for many years now I wanted to write a Marxian interpretation of liberalism which corrects some flaws in previous arguments, but as you know your life can get a lot of interference, and you might get derailed from your pursuits, and I haven't done it yet. There's people like Richard Rortry and you have to be give a cogent and irrefutable reply to them, but a dialectical one, i.e. one which raises it to a higher level and preserves its progressive content. No point in pretending to be debating with somebody with whom you disagree absolutely, about everything, the motives for such a debate are highly suspect, and it's not clear who you are really dialoguing with. I discussed a bit once with Mr Justin Schwartz, and I realised there's a lot that needs to be said there. 

Anyway, just quickly, the main point is this: if the Democrats use the Left for a rightwing agenda, there are at least two aspects to that: 

(1) the fact, that an original intention is co-opted, subverted and parasitized, in a game where the pursuit of ends by some become the means for others, the efforts of some are used or exploited for purposes that they did not explicitly intend, or could possibly stand for. This is already a complex notion (i.e. where do you precisely draw the line) which could be understood in a moral-legal sense but also in a military-political (power) sense or in a purely practical-technical sense. You can phrase the same kind of thing in different ways, but without going into Hegelese you know what I mean.

But also (which Leftists often forget):

(2) the fact, that people allow/permit themselves to be so used or exploited, that they provide the means for it, that they might in fact know it occurs and complain/whinge about it, but be unable or unwilling to do something about it, to defend themselves against it, that they consent or acquiesce to it in some way, just as a slave might consent to his slavery because it provides a safe and secure existence in which he is absolved from certain responsibilities, so long as he is obedient. 

You could formulate this as a moving social contradiction which, like any contradiction, attracts forces which mediate it, hold it in place, and by that very fact bring new contradictions into being. 

Feminists have also highlighted the masculine/feminine dimensions that can be involved, family therapists examine how this works out in the pathologies of kin-relationships, and is also a central concern for radical psychology or radical psychotherapy, which aims to get the client as fast as possible to a situation where he sorts out his own problems himself, by clarifying what the essential contradictions the client has really consist in, given the total context of his life. This contradiction is really also at the core of Marx's idea about capitalism, in which extra labour-time is forfeited by the worker in exchange for a wage, under circumstances where a symbiotic transaction appears other than it really is. 

Obviously (1) cannot happen without (2), i.e. (2) is a precondition for (1). Thus, all the niceties, subtleties and ambiguities really concern the precise motives or circumstances involved in (2), which could range from innocence or ignorance, to power position, calculation of pay-offs, misadventure, defeats or defeatism, or deliberate mystification.

In the past, I have had various discussions with people about the definition of sexual abuse and its implications for human development - of course, from a social scientific point of view, it's something that can occur at all ages.  But anyway one person said something interesting: "if you allowed the abuse to happen, invited it or consented to it, and did not at least resist it, oppose it or fight against it in some way, then it is not abuse." In other words, if you consciously gave in to it, you have no right to cry abuse. At best you can argue, and may be able to prove, that you were misunderstood. This is somewhat similar to the saying "silence means consent" which translates into "speak up or shut up". One might not agree jurisprudentially with that interpretation, insofar as it does not really capture the exploitation of innocence or ignorance, but there is something in it. 

If the US Left is prone to abuse by the Democrats, there's some sense in which the Left, for all its theories, is not clever enough to stop it from happening or to stand up for itself. A thinker then considers "what is really going on in this abusive relationship, what perpetuates it". It takes two to tango. How infantile is the Left, and why does it stay that way? The problem is really that so long as the Left sees itself as a victim of Democratic abuse, this gets in the way of resisting the abuse, or even recognizing that the abuse occurs. But also, the abuse could be alleged, rather than proved.  All we get in that case are loser's stories, stories about how you got ripped off by somebody else who's to blame, leading to deep melancholy about an unjust world in which some people get away with anything, and others foot the bill. Obviously if you are defeated by an opponent, then if you want to defeat him next time round, it does not help a great deal to argue that "it is not fair" that you lost, although that might be emotionally satisfying. You have to study the opponent, mark out strengths and weaknesses, until such time that you can go for the jugular. If you don't even understand why the opponent is stronger than you are, you don't get anywhere. However, in so doing, it is a fallacy to attack the character of your opponent on the ground of the ideology he subscribes to, and it mystifies the relationship between character and ideology. Hence I am a bit iffy about the Phil Ochs song you mentioned, insofar as it conflates several different issues.

Somebody could come up to me and say "Hi I'm Donald Duck". Well, what could I say? I could say politely, "Well, pleased to meet you Mr Duck" or I could say "And I am Boywonder" or I could say "I have another appointment" etc. but my evaluation of this Duck character is not really based on what he says about himself - anybody can say anything - but on what he does or doesn't do. He has a right to be there, I can respect his existence, and if I have criticisms they concern his ideas and behaviours, which might extend to him calling himself Donald Duck if it becomes clear he is not who he pretends to be.


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