Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The New Republic's editors show once again why they are smug and clueless Very Serious People

I feel like a rant along the lines of the statement attributed to Robert Frost that liberals are the people who are so open-minded they can't take their own side in an argument. But before I can do that and focus on the proximate target of the rant, I pretty much have to explain some background.

The US term "liberal" can be confusing, and not just because the Republicans and their fellow travelers use it as an insult term. In Europe and Latin America, liberals are advocates of something like "laissez-faire" economics, i.e., for deregulation and against government social programs. Those same liberals may also be serious civil libertarians and advocates against xenophobia and racial discrimination. They come out of the classical liberal tradition identified by the "free markets, free men" slogan, except that present-day version of those liberals can be strong advocates for women's rights, too. The "free markets" part draws from the tradition of classical economists like Adam Smith and David Ricardo and neo-classical ones like Alfred Marshall. The political reform part of that tradition draws from thinkers like John Stuart Mill.

The current usage of "liberal" in the United States goes back to the post-First World War period when pro-labor politicians, thinkers and activists wanted a way to distinguish themselves from the Progressives, which then tended to be middle-class reformers of the "good government" sort, and from the socialists of various stripes. The Socialist Party actually had gained some traditional political clout in some places in the US prior to the Great War. Skipping forward to today, the terms liberal and progressive are sort of merged, although the more pro-labor, anti-Wall Street people tend to refer to themselves as progressives to distinguish themselves from liberals.

Inside the Oxycontin haze of the Rush Limbaugh bubble in which the thinking of today's Republican Party resides, "liberal" is synonymous with "socialist" which is synonymous with "bad", or rather "evil". Inside the OxyContin Bubble, they've been regularly telling each other for the past 20 years that liberal are liars, liberals are fools, liberals hate America, liberals hate God. Mad Annie Coulter's latest book-length pamphlet hating on liberals is called Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America. Mad Annie's anorexic, semi-secular variation on the notion isn't really that far from the belief of Rick Perry's close political friends in the New Apostolic Reformation that the Democratic Party is literally controlled by a giant demon named Jezebel.

Of course, if you try to word things in a way that might make sense inside the OxyContin Bubble, you wouldn't be able to say anything meaningful of substance about a policy issue. So while we have to be aware of the looniness that now dominates Republican Party thinking and language, we can't let it stop us from talking in plain language.

Now to the real existing world of real existing liberals. What put me in the rant mood was this editorial from the editors of The New Republic, Protests and Power: Should liberals support Occupy Wall Street? 10/12/2011. The whole thing sounds like some self-satisfied prig sniffing at the amateurishness of anyone who actually cares enough to actually participate in the political process. This kind of sneering is exactly the same kind that has been direct at labor unions since their beginnings in the US in the 1820s or so.

The authors are especially fastidious over associating in any way with anything that might sound a little Commie to anyone:

One of the core differences between liberals and radicals is that liberals are capitalists. They believe in a capitalism that is democratically regulated - that seeks to level an unfair economic playing field so that all citizens have the freedom to make what they want of their lives. But these are not the principles we are hearing from the protesters. Instead, we are hearing calls for the upending of capitalism entirely. American capitalism may be flawed, but it is not, as Slavoj Zizek implied in a speech to the protesters, the equivalent of Chinese suppression. "[In] 2011, the Chinese government prohibited on TV and films and in novels all stories that contain alternate reality or time travel," Zizek declared. "This is a good sign for China. It means that people still dream about alternatives, so you have to prohibit this dream. Here, we don't think of prohibition. Because the ruling system has even oppressed our capacity to dream. Look at the movies that we see all the time. It's easy to imagine the end of the world. An asteroid destroying all life and so on. But you cannot imagine the end of capitalism." This is not a statement of liberal values; moreover, it is a statement that should be deeply offensive to liberals, who do not in any way seek the end of capitalism.

Zizek is not alone. His statement is typical of the anti-capitalist, almost utopian arguments that one hears coming from these protesters.
Slavoj Žižek not only has one of them suspicious foreign-sounding names. He's an academic who admits to being a more-or-less Marxist philosopher! He writes books with spooky-sounding titles like Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture. Well, it sounds scary if you're a prig afraid of anyone associating you with dirty hippies. Because, you know, that Jacques Lacan is some kind of French intellectual or something. Žižek was even once a member of (gulp!) an actual Communist Party. From his biography page at the European Graduate School website:

Up until October of 1988 Slavoj Žižek was an active member of the Communist Party of Slovenia. He quit during the protest against the JBZ-trial. He was not alone in this protest, he quit along with thirty two other public intellectuals with origins in Slovenia. Slavoj Žižek was involved with the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights a social movement fighting for democracy in Slovenia. In 1990 the first free elections were held in Slovenia. At this time Slavoj Žižek ran for President aligned with the Liberal Democratic Party.
But, hey, this academic suggested that his audience might try to "imagine the end of capitalism." Oh, Miss Mellie, bring me smellin' salts! Lawd have mercy, ah thank ah'm gonna faint dead away!

That, by the way, is the only example the TNR editors give of what they describe as " calls for the upending of capitalism entirely".

But, hey, I hear on CNN that some of these hippies dress up in funny costumes and play bongo drums. No, we can't take them seriously like we can the Very Serious People at The New Republic. The diligent liberal prigs at TNR even found video of an earnest protester saying, "The point of this general assembly is to kick-start a democratic process in which no singular human being is inherently more valuable than any other human being." Why that's just so shocking because it, uh, well, why is that supposed to be shocking?

The TNR editors also find other dangerous totalitarian tendencies:

When someone speaks, he or she pauses every few words and the crowd repeats what the person has just said in unison. The idea was apparently logistical - to project speeches across a wide area - but the effect when captured on video is genuinely creepy.
Less fastidious guardians of Respectability might have noted that the Wall Street protesters adopted this technique, which they call a human megaphone, because they liberal-minded policy in the financial capital of the Greatest Country in the History of the World ... wouldn't let them use a megaphone. I saw a video of Michael Moore speaking to the protesters who were using the human megaphone technique to transmit his message to the larger crowd. It didn't strike me as creepy. But then I've been in real live protests and even organized a few myself. And I don't aspire to be one of the Very Serious People.

But I'm very relieved to know that the editors of even-the-liberal-New-Republic are Very Serious People. We won't see any of them out there protesting in public against Wall Street abuses where they might see some real live union member or somebody who doesn't think the Obama Presidency is the best of all possible worlds.

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