Monday, January 16, 2012

Two Great Crimes of Modernity

Let's tell it like it is.
Instrumental reason, the Enlightenment, write Horkheimer and Adorno, is a dance of domination, domination over nature and domination over man. "What men want to learn from nature is how to dominate it and other men."
Oh, gee, we already did. in Modernity's Original Sin.   But let us do it again in a slightly different way.

The Original Sin of modernity, the application of instrumental reason to domination, resulted in two Great Crimes: capitalism's great crime and the educated elite's great crime.

The Great Crime of capitalism was the development of plantation slavery.  It was the utter domination of men for the purpose of profit; for the slave plantations, right from the start in the sugar plantations on Cyprus organized after the Crusades, were always business enterprises: production for profit, and if it meant using up a few Muslim slaves, well, the pope said it was OK because the slaves weren't Christians.

We may say that capitalism, like Buddhism, has its Hinayana, its contemptible lesser vehicle, in industrialization, the harrowing process by which a rural population of farmers is transformed into a competent wage-earning workforce.

The Great Crime of the educated elite was the development of the totalitarian state.  The totalitarian state of fond memory was the utter domination of men for the purpose of an idea, a vision of the perfect society, for the totalitarian state, right from its start in the Terror of the French Revolution, was always a soteriological secular religion, saving the world from exploitation and molding it into heaven on earth.  If it meant using up a few rich peasants or the whole bourgeoisie, well, you can't make omelettes without breaking eggs.

The French Revolution and its Terror represented the totalizing of the Age of Reason.  The fascist states represented the totalizing of Romanticism and its union with nature.  The communist states represented the totalizing of Marxism and it class-war ideology.  But the totalitarian idea has its Hinayana, its contemptible lesser vehicle, too.  We may call it, with J├╝rgen Habermas, the "authoritarian welfare state."

The educated class is like any group of men for "men like power and will seize it if they can," in the words of Nicholas Wade.  The educated class uses instrumental reason applied to the technology of state power to dominate other men.  Only its goal is not profit, like the capitalists, but to rule the world as the benevolent and beneficent Oz.  The problem is that instrumental reason is a tool for domination, and the means that the educated class uses for domination is the canonical tool for the domination of other men:  politics and government.

Government is force, and politics is threatening force.

Over the decades, we have found ways of taming capitalism.  Today's capitalists fight over market share, and when they succeed they benefit almost everyone.  Their products benefit the consumers, and they share their extraordinary profits with their supporters, who are their investors and employees.

There has also been a taming of totalitarian educated elites, but not by much.  If the full-on totalitarian state engulfed the whole of society into a soteriological political crusade and oceans of blood, the authoritarian welfare state, at least, only engulfs half of society, or at least its GDP, into the maw of the state and the projection of political power.  But we cannot say, when government dominates all our worthiest cooperative instincts--the care of the aged, the care of the sick, the raising up of children, and the relief of the poor--that we have really tamed the totalitarian urge.  The lesser Great Crime of the educated class still oppresses us as the industrial capitalists used to dominate the industrial working class.

Plantation slavery was ended by the rise of a great moral and religious movement that anathematized the exploitation of men and women as mere slavish cogs in a profitable production machine.  We have yet to see the full development of a moral and religious movement to end the Hinayana of totalitarianism: the authoritarian welfare state and its reduction of all cooperative and caring instincts to a mechanical nexus of blind political power.

In my view this moral and political movement, that I believe begins with Edmund Burke in the 18th century, has yet to come to fruition because it has failed to inspire the people who will most benefit and socialize a world free from totalizing educated elites:  women.  When we talk of the authoritarian welfare stat reducing the care of the aged, the care of the sick, the raising up of children and the relief of the poor to care-less, compassionless centralizing, compulsory government programs, we are talking about all the best instincts and concerns of women reduced to bureaucracy and mind-numbing rules.

You can reduce capitalism to rules; that makes sense because capitalism is about sublimating the aggressiveness of human males to a fierce battle over market share, and men are always asking us to draw the line for them.  But to reduce care of the most vulnerable to rules and regulations is insanity.  Every woman knows that her aging mother needs health care that adapts to her individual need.  Every child is unique, and it is ridiculous to fit armies of children onto the Procrustean bed of the government child custodial facility.  And every poor person needs the personal attention that will turn mere relief into reintegration into the larger society.

Come on girls.  You have a world to win, and nothing to fear except the chains--of suffocating government rules and regulations.

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