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<nettime> What Nettime could learn from Bush
Eric Miller on Wed, 14 Jan 2004 21:15:13 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> What Nettime could learn from Bush


This was actually written last spring and I never got around to sending it,
but the recent dustup about former Secretary O'Neill's comments reminded me
about it.  Also about to read Goldberg's "Dispatches from the Culture Wars"
along the same lines.  Anyway, thoughts/feedback appreciated.

---------------

I've noticed in progressive/liberal circles a trend lately in what I read,
what I see in the media, what people are discussing, and there's a certain
hollow core to it all.  There seems to be a sense of helplessness, of an
inability to confront emerging worldviews which renounce cherished
progressive values while increasingly dominating the events in the world.
And I know that my following points are generalizations; that's intentional.
Our heads are buried in the issues of the day, debating the minutiae without
talking about larger issues for fear of making a statement we can't
footnote.  So here's my current thinking, and to hell with footnotes.

I see the Left constitutionally unable to answer the hard questions posed by
the emergence of certain global powers; namely, Wahhabi Islam,
neo-nationalism, and US-style cultural conservatism, among others.  These
belief systems offer a lot to their adherents; they offer a sense of
righteousness, a sense of place in a complex world, comfort in cultural
solidarity, a clear definition of "us versus them".  All of these tendencies
are antithetical to traditional egalitarian views of the progressive Left.
But yet they are enormously popular and are gaining ground, while the Left
dawdles.  

I've come to believe that there is a simple reason for the stasis on the
left; we still don't know how to handle the human trait of fearing and
resisting alien cultures when our own ideal societal contract assumes that
everyone will benignly grant every other group equality in status.  Blind
egalitarianism just isn't how societies under duress behave.  It's not what
people always do.  People define themselves by what they are, but people
also define themselves by what they aren't, especially in times of conflict.

Isn't the desire for a comprehensible framework understandable in a
decentralized world defined by relationships instead of geographies?  I
thought that the explosion of the networked society, decentralization and
distribution of modes of control, globalization emergence of vectors of
power and information that lacked unifying conceptual intersections...these
were all characteristics of a global society inherently resistant to a
one-size-fits-all conceptual framework.  The net result is that individuals
and societies who seek meaning will apply the worldview that makes the most
immediate sense to them and inevitably discard the rest.

This is why the Bush Doctrines are, in a word, brilliant.  The
administration, led by ideologues such as Karl Rove, John Ashcroft, and Tom
DeLay, realize that consensus and rational debate may be growing
increasingly irrelevant in the contemporary world.  Barring some catastrophe
that costs them power, the Republicans are going to remake the US into the
ultimate conservative society.  What's simultaneously galling and admirable
about it is that they are doing it in plain view of the electorate.  They
don't NEED to waste time building consensus, because the system no longer
requires it.  They realize that they can do almost whatever they want as
long as a certain façade is presented.

I see a problem.  The intellectual elites dither over the obvious
deficiencies of global power institutions, individual politicians,
geopolitics, and every other force acting in the world today. In the
meantime, there are other, more primitive forces in the intellectual sense
at work in the world.  There are a lot of factions out there trying to
advance their own worldviews, and mutual acceptance and tolerance aren't
part of those views.  There's a more fundamental conflict here, one rooted
in human nature more than higher-order theoretical thinking.  And we're
blind to it, we're recycling the thinking of old dead guys to contextualize
a new world defined by an innate resistance to any single contextualization.
If people won't play by the rules of our theories then the game is up.

If we declare that we live in a world where no perspective can claim to be
universal, that the complexity and transience of the world around us
precludes a true 'one way' forward, then how are we to contend with the
movements that purport to offer that way forward?  Sure, we can easily poke
logical holes in individual movements, but that doesnıt stop the onward
march of the clashing and competing ideologies of The One Truth in all its
variants.

So I ask the progressive community: Is talking, talking, talking really
acceptable when more is clearly needed?  There are primal forces of human
nature behind the shifts in global culture and politics nowadays, events
springing from our inherent weaknesses as humans that don't particularly
respond to dense and unreadable theoretical critiques. Or put another way: I
don't see that dwelling over semantic differences in late-20th-century
philosophy is going to keep the world from cementing itself into an era of
cultural trench warfare.

I ask these questions because like many people I speak with I don't have the
answers.  And it scares the shit out of me.

Eric

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