Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Contra-deBoer: Human

I'm continuing with an analysis of Fredrik deBoer's left manifesto for 2016 (start here). My tenth piece was "Pessimist". Now we look at his last item, "Human."

In his final heading, deBoer looks at some of the flaws in the left project and the need to "leave behind both the dehumanizing system of capitalism and the dehumanizing replacements that too many left movements have invented." Instead the new left would turn over a new leaf.
It would empower individuals to direct their productive energies towards tasks that given them meaning and satisfaction. It would dissolve the grinding alienation and pointlessness of the capitalist workplace. It would reject the crude collectivism of Maoism and Stalinism and the proto-fascism of various left niche groups.
So much for the left's goal. But the means needs to be cleaned up too. No more the "anti-individuality of identity politics." No more naming and shaming, "language policing" and "in-group signaling."
It would remember that compassion is the most basic of left-wing virtues. It would forgive. Its members would treat their enemies better than they are treated in turn. It would tear down the walls the left has erected to prevent us from viewing the moral challenge in the face of the other, even when the other is awful, especially when the other is awful. It would have the courage to be human even as everyone and everything else demanded that it be otherwise.
This is, of course, magnificent. But it means that the whole left project was a mistake.

If we accept that capitalism and its dehumanizing replacements are morally equivalent, then what was the point of the revolutionary left and its political project in the first place? To replace one inhuman system with another?

If we propose to end identity politics then we are talking about ending the second wave Marxism invented by the Frankfurt School. This was the effort to revive the left after Marxists realized that Marx's immiseration prophecy was wrong and that the workers were nationalists before they were socialists. So in the future Marxists would move on from the working class as their project and base their movement on liberating and emancipating historically marginalized groups like non-white races and women. And gays. And now transgenders.

But if the left is now to be all about compassion and loving your enemies then what is left of it as a political project? Politics is violence; it the the belief that things are so unjust that force is needed to rebalance the scales of justice. That is why the left has always been structured as a political army, featuring military discipline and victory as the goal. But if we are now talking about loving our enemies, then what is left of politics?

There's another issue, that of empowering "individuals to direct their productive energies towards tasks that given them meaning and satisfaction." I'm all in favor of this, myself, but I understand, according to my reductive Three Peoples theory, that the self-conscious desire for "meaning and satisfaction" is part of the belief system of creative people, and creative people, although well-represented in the global intellectual elite, are really a rather small minority. Most people just want to get a job, especially a job that might last a lifetime. If they are what I call "subordinate" people they want to shelter under a powerful patron, or if they are "responsible" people they want to live as a responsible person that takes care of himself and his family. The great mass of mankind don't think about "productive energies"; they think about families and friends.

In my view, the result of the creative people adapting society so that it empowers creative people to follow their bliss is the society described by Charles Murray in Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010. In this society, Murray writes, the educated elite, like residents of Belmont in the Boston area, lives rather well, with satisfying careers and lifetime merger marriages. The middle 40 percent does so-so but there's a lot of family breakdown, and the bottom 35 percent, like residents of Philadelphia's Fishtown, is not doing so good at all; the men don't work much and the women don't marry much. In other words, after a century or more of big government there is something rotten in the state of Denmark, and I doubt if the wise advice of us folks in the creative elite, left or right, is going to fix it.

Having analyzed all this and reached the end of deBoer's "Left materialism for 2016" I'll be back for a final "Wrapup."

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