Spatial Blindness & the Anglo Mind

In his rather-disappointing artifact of late 20th century Anglo academic hegemony, Alex Callinicos concludes his section Talcott Parsons, “Where Weber had surveyed the formation of modernity with deep forebodings, Parsons now suggested we sit back and enjoy the ride” (245).

Sure, that’s true. It’s also not too significant without much hint as to why, and part of a decontextualizing, fetishizing approach to “illuminating” social theory that divorces theory from sociological craft.

What’s interesting, and what helps illuminate the meaning of theory and its translatability into a larger process of collectivist scientific knowledge building, is how the difference between the problems 19th c. Germany needed to solve–to reorganize to overcome British economic repression, and the problems 20th c. US was addressing–to maintain subordinated working class cooperation in the years after WWII, are reflected in social theory. Weber was gloomy about modernity because his classic, idealist German education (structured to supply generations of German princes as managers to European kingdoms) had focused him on an elite’s state problem–organizing society in rivalry, while also repressing state employees’ collective action capacity, as that might hijack the state. Specifically, when Weber was working, it was unclear and an anxiety, whether Germany would grab the horns of capitalism and ride it to the top. Like almost all products of educated German idealism, Weber was anxious that middle class bureaucrats would seize too much power, and in his era, an interruption to top-down steering would specifically mean that capitalist dominance would elude his society. Continental German-speaking peoples could become exposed to Anglo Atlantic domination.

That was not a US concern after WWII. By contrast, Talcott Parsons was working to help the newly-dominant US state secure internal cooperation for smooth global management. This is why Parsons was comparatively blithe in his read of modernity. It’s important to understand this difference, to determine the extent of these theories’ and their concepts’ generalizability.

I should hope that Sociology and social theory is not defined by a blindness to the specific interests dominating the historical region in which each component of theory is developed. Otherwise we naturalize and over-extend rather specific, historical, regional problems as abstract-universal “Problems of Man.” We fail to see the limits of the concepts these problems produce.

Fainting away from robust comparative methodology is not an Enlightenment problem. It is a problem with the diminishment of Enlightenment approach, as it has been watered down and reoriented over centuries of concerted, voluminous conservative attack. When we pick up and toss about Weberian theory and Parsonian theory without contextualizing them historically, regionally, and socially, we make bad, antiscientific interpretations of their theory, and of the theories’ significance and applicability.

Theory is not philosophy. It’s not about perfecting logic derived from mostly-elite positionality and interest (even as that is thought, dubiously, to patronize other marginal positions and interests). Theory is about recording and feeding the scientific community’s ongoing empirical research into–in the case of social science– the range of human capacities and limitations, and the comparative conditions and varieties of human relations. It is likely that social theory will be informed by elite positionality and interests, and we handle that by identifying and specifying that in historical and spatial context. That’s the metaphysics of science, a collectivist, transnational, transhistorical knowledge.

For example, Callinicos buys whole-hog the postmodern-inspired postcolonial critique of Enlightenment. That makes sense, because he’s English, and the postcolonial critique is Indian. That’s an important, but still-parochial relation unto itself. The English-language postcolonial critique, as we are increasingly admitting, is overextended. Ultimately, to support postcolonial anti-Enlightenment, the Enlightenment in Callinicos’ Social Theory account is reduced to one English guy, James Mill, who was part of the colonial apparatus. Those philosophers crassly tying together commercial power and post-monarchical governance are elevated to the totality. We lose sight of the fact that England was never the entirety or even at the center of Enlightenment, was always a wing. England’s relationship to Enlightenment has always been as a tensely-tolerant, temporary cosmopolitan refuge from the Continental political persecution of major Enlightenment thinkers. England has been influenced by the Enlightenment–It informed and lent conviction to home-grown abolitionism, and Anglo culture developed its own often-commercial variants. But the culture of England, as the primary center of capitalism, has also been generally incompatible with democratic Enlightenment. Its interpretations of Enlightenment ideas have been moderated with conservatism. We need to start recognizing the conservative contribution to and reorientation of our ideas. The Enlightenment is a large democratic and revolutionary community of philosophers and their public–only a coddled smattering of whom believed that commerce could negate tyranny, science is reducible to math and rape, and conflict aversion alone makes social change. England, as the primary core of capitalism, has always mostly rejected all that democracy and revolution.

So, contra Indo-Anglo theory, England’s treatment of India was not caused by that one English Enlightenment guy, but by England’s capitalist imperialism–just as, contra the Frankfurt School, the Holocaust was not a product of a distant Enlightenment’s concern with knowing the world democratically (reinterpreted in princely-managerial German idealism as terrifying rationalism). It was a product of the capitalist tendency for the core (England) to suppress the development of rival regions (Germany). That’s right. That’s the driving relation, even though England has ever been a friend to the Jewish people and Israel, and English elites did not plan or execute that genocide. Their rivals the Germans did. Both of these imperial, capitalist (as developed from feudal and slavery roots) societies are far more complex than the heroic moments of Enlightenment. To blame the Enlightenment for all the bads is a sulky, petty excuse for theory. It simply, childishly asserts that Europe has nothing to show the world, and no capacity for solidarity with the world, beyond elite cosmopolitanism. That’s not true, and it is little more than a contribution to reactionary conservatism.

It’s all well and good that Callinicos eruditely, airily dismisses the reduction of Enlightenment in his theory textbook. But that doesn’t illuminate anything for students, and he’s too glib–He doesn’t recognize when that reduction is at play in received wisdom about theory, and how we understand it relative to its function in scientific method. Whether the Frankfurt School’s inflation and grafting of one terrible case, of a persistent problem of human susceptibility to extreme estrangement, onto a world-epic narrative (This is Pagden’s critique.), or whether the parochial Indo-Anglo reduction of Enlightenment to the particular Anglo-Indian colonial relationship, the whole lazy overextension of blame upon the Enlightenment for all 19th-20th century problems has to rely for its logic on a conservative campaign to reduce the Enlightenment to cold rationalism. That anti-Enlightenment reduction is invalid, and exists only to advance inegalitarianism.

The logical relations between prolific Anti-enlightenment revision and Brahmin expat postcolonialism are difficult for Callinicos, as a product of second-half 20th century England, to intuitively keep track of. That’s disappointing, given Callinicos’ commitment to critical realism and science.


Notes on the British Culture,
from observations on the London Review of Books

  • An intense, often-undisciplined pleasure in crafting stories recording human monstrosity, often starring individual men–celebrities, preferably of derivative, inherited fame and fortune, whose work achieved some recognized goal.
    • For example, while his life was a product of the social and financial capital his grandfather produced, within a permissive-commercial society, Lucien Freud produced and sold art.
  • As fuel for the stories, an associated, “broad-minded” toleration for monstrous behaviour. This is the opposite of Jantelagen.
  • Also opposite of Jantelagen in that, unlike in Scandinavian case where Jantelagen is a myth thats function is to moderate egalitarianism, to open cultural space for imperial, capitalist disruption, there doesn’t seem to be a British myth that imposes reflection toward moderating the British cultural norm of tolerance for undisciplined Genius Boys.
    • You can imagine how this unreflexive Anglo variant of broad-mindedness corresponds with a World-class imperial culture.
  • The cosmopolitan performance of toleration for the Genius Boys who not only accomplish some work, but also, and more importantly, supply scintillating stories of human monstrosity, comes at the expense of the people who do assert boundaries on those Genius Boys’ behaviour: older women. These women’s boundary-setting behaviour is imagined in the stories to reflect base and narrow motivations, such as “Anti-semitism” (per Colm Toibin & William Feaver’s accounts, per “Falling in Love with Lucian,” LRB 10-10-19).
    • In this ritualistic discursive sacrifice of older women and egalitarian boundaries, Feaver and Toibin feel comfortable finding fault in a mother objecting to Freud’s relationship with her daughter. Freud never washed his own clothes, and he seeded some eight fatherless children and many more abortions. Yet according to our contemporary British authorities, the true problem was, the mother must have been prejudiced against Jews and poor people. Never mind how little sense this “critical analysis” makes. Freud was not even poor. He did enjoy gambling away the money he inherited. Gratuitously manufacturing a shitload of reproductive work for (“traumatized”) women is taken, at the Genius Boy’s word, to be our definition of freedom. This equivalence would seem natural to a people subscribing to the conservative theory holding that (exclusive elite) liberty must be based upon a vast base of slavery. Obviously, these reveries upon the Genius and the Work require tastefully abandoning the inconvenient thought that any Great Man could have accomplished anything of note without creating a shitload of reproductive work for women and trauma for the next generation. The British mind must imagine that the unfree societies in which women do set boundaries, and women have constructive relationships across generations, are uninteresting, mud-dwelling, and witch-plagued.

In the same October LRB issue, Jacqueline Rose recounts the horror of the contemporary British treatment of refugee women. They are dehumanized and abused within the private prison system and policing bulwark funded by Anglo countries’ taxpayers.

I think there can be only two drivers of this sort of systematized antihuman abomination, and they are: 1) All this bullshit is done primarily to give a handful of international Anglo capitalists and managers fat income and power over other people, while diverting workers into jobs policing each other, as inequality and productivity grow. 2)  The Anglo countries are creating a global reputation for state terror, with which to manipulate the millions of people disrupted and displaced by capitalist-military resource and territory expropriation.

Or maybe it’s Enlightenment wot done it?

In the 5 December 2019 LRB, Mousab Younis authored a list of French public affronts to French Muslims. In particular, it listed all the times last fall that some French public official or persona rejected either veiled Muslim women or the practice of veiling women. The really dehumanizing statements issued from the French Right,  but, per British postcolonial taste, inegalitarian and egalitarian objections to veiled women v. veiling women are not distinguished. They are all packaged together as “racism.”

Belligerently, no acknowledgement is made in the Anglo postcolonial tradition of the historical context which might propel objections to veiling women–for example, a Catholic country that had a long, globally-influential civil war over whether it is possible or desirable to build a more egalitarian society, and where in particular, women’s substantive citizenship is a very recent, hard-won achievement.

Similarly, nor is there any specification for why many Muslim immigrants insist that Muslim women be veiled today–They have not always been. If that causal context were to be specified, then we would get dangerously close to shining a light on the shaky foundation of contextless “antiracism”: The economistic myth that migration is the result of preferences–in particular, the presumed, autonomous, contextless preference attributed to all migrants, to leave home for better economic opportunities abroad. It is shameful that this ridiculous myth is treated in Anglo culture like a sacred cow, guarantor of morality, hidden from view and not subject to debate.

(Let us not obfuscate: Most Muslim migrants to Western Europe are there because Anglo countries, for example, bombed out their home. The migrations are not simple economic preference. It is trauma, and any immigrant First Generation typically has much difficulty seeing how or why it would contribute to the development of the receiving society. They need help with that, connecting them with the encompassing receiving society; and such help does not get done where the economistic perspective refuses to recognize that people are motivated by social reasons, rather than only reasons of petty individual optimization. This conceptual problem and institutional deficit is particularly glaring where individual optimization has been systematically thwarted, as in crisis-driven migration.)

What could be (from an egalitarian perspective) politically-useful alienation, between a Muslim tradition of gender inegalitarianism and a Catholic tradition of gender inegalitarianism, is converted via the race-essentialist (both conservative racist and liberal anti-racist) reduction into a more commercially-useful antagonism between native and naturalized citizens.

Postcolonial public intellectuals assist in this political herding because it seems plausible that as migrants they would ignore the context, what is at stake, and thus the meanings of politics. In terms of their own motivating interests, they are also elites, requiring broken, pliable servants.

Antienlightenment & “the Venerable Arsenal of Catholic Theology”: Themes and Weaknesses

McMahon, Darrin M. 2002. Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-enlightenment and the Making of Modernity. Oxford University Press.

Hylton, Forrest. 2019. Left Business Observer interview, December 5.

Forrest Hylton describes 2019 upheavals in Latin America, including the unusual mystery of  the Brasilian middle class supporting conservative elites to stop middle class expansion and supports.

I suggest that Latin American politics are illuminated by (investigation into imperial power interventions and) Darrin McMahon’s analysis (2002) of the conservative Catholic French Ultra Royalists and the ideological legacy they have bequeathed the West.

Experientially, as an educated working-class American with some background at a Latin Americanist university and traveling in Latin America, I have generally found Latin American elites to be impossibly belligerent–savage–in interaction. They have so much passion, interest at stake. They rely on extraordinary patronage. Though Western commercial-state communications professionals work to convince working-class northerners that we share values and interests in common with Latin American elites, that comms strategy is only plausible so long as the Northern educated working class stays within the All-Inclusive and never actually meets a Latin American elite. It is a case where it is quite possible that Latin American elites and anyone with some democratic socialization do not share any common concept of what it is to be human. Here’s why.

As Corey Robin has observed (2011), conservatives are ideological opportunists surrounding a non-negotiable core commitment to inequality. Their interests (passions) are inflamed: Conservatives cannot imagine a world in which they thrive if others are allowed to develop like humans. Starting and staying with the assumption that hell is other people, conservatives are committed to the enslavement of humanity. Hence, distributed semi-sovereign human development is verboten, an abjected unthought in the conservative tradition.

(Side note on theoretical hybridity: Conservative-social democratic hybrid psychology centaur Svend Brinkmann reduces human development to a variety of managerialism, and then lays out a nice case for asserting boundaries on HR excesses in order to permit (not semi-sovereign human development but) distributed “moral integrity.”)

Correcting T.H. Marshall’s (1949) ideal-type argument naturalizing the advent of social citizenship rights, Albert O. Hirschman (1991) reminded us that conservatives push back, influencing knowledge and social developments in reaction to democratic institutional progress. For example, McMahon points out that although they lost to democracy in their time, French Ultra Royalists threw themselves upon the printing press, churning out blizzards of right-wing text (McMahon 192, 199), deeply influencing French (and beyond) common sense, politics, sociology, and philosophy.

Hirschman analyzed the three tactics conservatives use to defend their inequality pole: Arguments accusing democracy of perversity, futility, and jeopardy. But McMahon’s research leads him to insist that beyond the instrumentalist deployment of these Anti-enlightenment discursive tactics, religion is also an essential tool for conservatives in defending their core principle, inequality. The ancient, philosophically-elaborated, legally-codified, imperial-warlord support institution that is Roman Catholicism is necessary to sacralize inequality, and to demonize equality, universal human development. Roman Catholic tradition is necessary to laden the thought of shared sovereignty and distributed human development with irrational fear (Robin 2004). Christian religion also provides a competing alternative to the socio-materialist, commons, and democratic Enlightenment concept of human development within shared sovereignty.  Conservatives tell us, You’ll get change when you die, and you’ll like it. Or not.

I am interested in analyses of conservatism because I want to aid working-class, colonized, racialized, and feminized people’s understanding of how to incorporate knowledge for democratic development, and how to set boundaries on knowledge that denies working-class people’s development of their own human capacities. The problem with philosophy, social theory, and the social sciences is not that they derived from the Enlightenment effort to build human science knowledge–knowledge beyond authority and habit–but that they became infused with Antienlightenment thought, and so dissipated. Science was reduced to scientism, and conservative philosophy stepped in. This needs to be disentangled and clarified. For example, meritocratic ideology in the context of capitalism is a variant of antihuman aristocratic ideology. Meritocratic ideology’s capacity to permit human development is severely limited. There’s no need for antidemocratic social science, except as an instrumental, disposable conservative tactic.

According to McMahon’s analysis of French Catholic conservatism, these are the themes that the Ultra-Royalists‘ voluminous literature (McMahon 192, 199) bequeathed to Western thought, particularly Postmodernism (McMahon 201-202):

  • Animosity toward the Enlightenment.
  • The critique of Enlightenment as about little more than cold rationalism.
  • Philosophes were depicted as abstract speculators, and as intolerant and fanatical, a “Dry Terror” like their tyrannical “Wet Terror” offspring, the Jacobins.
  • Locating the cause of the Terror not in the clash between Enlightenment and Counterenlightenment, but as the sole responsibility of the Enlightenment (McMahon 201). Philosophes were depicted as mob fluffers.
  • A Pandora’s Box, Enlightenment caused an expansive package of related social ills: the decline of faith, Breakup of the family, Moral turpitude, Separation of church and state, Political upheaval, Tolerance, free speech, civil marriage and divorce, moral and economic laissez faire, democracy, and natural rights.
  • The Enlightenment as the sign and source of modernity’s ills: rationalism, intolerance, the Holocaust, antisemitism, totalitarianism, racism, environmental destruction, imperialism, misogyny (201-202).
  • Philosophes created both capitalist individualism and international pacifism.
  • Enlightenment is on the evil side of the world-epic drama between Christian Civilization and counter-civilization. Per Gustave Gautherot and up through Samuel Huntington et al., counter-civilization extends from previous opponents and rivals of major European imperial powers to Enlightenment to communism to Islam.
  • The Enlightenment was a “conspiracy against the social order in a clear line of descent from the philosophe bugbear of the eighteenth century through the Freemason, Jewish, liberal, and socialist pariahs of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (McMahon 194, citing Johannes Rogalla von Bieberstein’s analysis of conservative conspiracism).
  • Enlightenment thought was antisocial, in that it advocated for the interests and extra-religious pleasure of nonelites. The social is a steep, immobile hierarchy; thus, the “interests” of nonelites would be nested under the interests of elites. But their natural subordination means that nonelites do not have their own interests, though as Homo Vir, Passionate Man, they can be recognized as related to proper, elite humans.
  • In addition to the hierarchical social, the primacy of history and human fallibility all mean that collective action for democratic social change is not natural or possible.
  • Happiness is bestowed exclusively by submission to religious authority, particularly for the servile classes.
  • Individual rights deplete organic (True, patriarchal) community, family.
  • Restore religion to politics. Religion is identical with both morals and culture.
  • A belief in the power of the individual Mind to make human history. Some men are essentially demigods; their existence transcends the material world. The conservative conceptualization of the human is bipolar. Corresponding to the apotheosis of some men, most people are subhuman, dirtbags. As every Latin American elite knows, the people are either to be tapped (1), or ushered to their “change” (death, 0). Like an HR lady clinging to her salary and self-concept as a People Person, the church manages nonelites, human resources, through their binary states.

Extrapolating McMahon’s analysis of French Catholic conservatism, here is the weakness of conservatism in contests against rival paradigmatic communities:

  1. The conservative conception of the “mob” is too alienated to maintain a social network under the pressure of a rival. Conservatives conceive of the people as fatally dehumanized, crippled, stunted herd animals to be corralled by the fearsome, shock ‘n’ awe institution of religion. This conceptual reduction results in conservatives failing to build a strong base to their pyramid, to support them when a rival social order is organizing. It results in conservative overconfidence in religion as a social control institution. And it results in conservatives failing to recognize that rivals may rebuild the human collective action and solidarity capacities of the people, diverting those people from the conservative institutions of social control. Note: At this point in history, with the help of slavers’ racialized ideology and institutions, it looks like American conservatives have polished their “mob”-control game. Also, the Democratic Party has not been an alternative to the Republican Party–They both rest on variants of aristocratic ideology.
  2. Like other historical victors, Ultra-Royalist conservatives did not recognize the limits of their victories. In particular, Ultra-Royalists did not recognize that their pro-monarchy allies were pragmatic, not as idealist as themselves. After some democratic changes were institutionalized by the Republic, when monarchy was restored, even French pro-monarchy allies failed to care enough to work with conservatives to crush democratic institutions and culture, and install an inegalitarian utopia in their place (McMahon 192).
  3. Catholic conservatives have had their own international network, based in Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Quebec, Poland, Hungary, Martinique, and Latin America (McMahon 195). This network is not identical with France’s allies. France’s international allies, even monarchs, were not necessarily Catholic conservative. Sweden was one of France’s most steadfast allies. Its monarch used Swedish troops and took down the Holy Roman Empire.
  4. It’s probably a good temporary strategy to maintain one core principle, and otherwise be super instrumentalist, as conservatives are. But under serious pressure from rivals (not, for example, the Democratic party, or ambient liberalism), all the hypocrisy can pile up and block the view. Sometimes all the (Leo) Straussian exoteric posturing can become so obfuscatory that it loses its audience. Under the fast-changing conditions of heightened class warfare, conservatives drown out their own voice, leaving everyone to notice that they’re wearing the emperor’s new clothes.
    1. One among many examples from the Ultra-Royalists is that when the king revoked their speech privilege, they embraced freedom of speech, which they had just previously been repudiating savagely. As mounted such expedient deviations from previous, furiously-held “principles,” conservatives lost discursive power. “They glorified power, hierarchy, and deference yet were quick to break ranks when their particular interests clashed” (McMahon 191). They began to appear “incoherent.” Conservatives did not see their crowd fading until too late, because they took their exceptionalist privilege too seriously, and failed to recognize other, lesser humans as necessary adherents to their social network. Cosseted by Catholicism and other conservative traditions, conservatives can care too little what others think.
    2. However, this conservative vulnerability at the margins tends to be optimistically overgeneralized by lazy liberals. Under normal conditions, conservatives are correct that few non-comms pros care how hypocritical they are. Hence, Trump and the modern Republican Party. Unfortunately for liberal party tacticians, conservatives disintegrate not when they are hypocritical (Exceptionalism is the privilege of the boss, so exercising hypocrisy only affirms conservatism.), but only when they become incoherent. Before that happens, they have a big, familiar arsenal to unload. And it’s comfortingly encoded in all sorts of institutions, from Catholic doctrine, to Evangelical Christian doctrine, to American law.
    3. Still, conservative incoherence can happen in class warfare, because conservatives cannot publicly name their central principle, inequality, and maintain sufficient social support. Meanwhile, they enjoy themselves, getting off on surfing the risk of exposure.
  5. The religious backing, the sacralization of conservatives’ interest, inequality, encourages conservative savagery in inequality’s defense. Savagery reduces their degrees of credibility and tactical freedom when conservatives excessively, instrumentally switch tactics. (“Why are these jackasses moral authorities again?”)
  6. As well, when you’re trying to sell predatory obfuscation as “enchantment” (See McMahon 197), the savagery undercuts the brand. This is why Romanticism, attuned to the suffering of the hi-lo coalition of the marginal, is friable.
  7. Since they cannot really consolidate publicly around their fundamental platform of elevating themselves by stepping on everyone else, conservatives can be divided along secondary “principles” and clashing advantage-securing strategies, undercutting their coalition. Crucially, dividing conservatives requires previous success circulating a captivating egaliberte justice telos, as was accomplished in the Enlightenment.
    1. The French Right’s internal disintegration was caused by revolutionaries manipulating an ongoing history of conflict among the king, the nobility, and a clergy vacillating between France and the Vatican.
    2. Likewise, in Sweden, when GIVA was ready to lead the nobility slyly into British-style capitalism, the elite was unmanageably divided–including along gendered networks.  For many reasons, the nobility no longer trusted the king. Moreover, and crucially, elements of the Swedish nobility, including female aristocrats, had subscribed to some Enlightenment ideas. Elites could not coalesce; Swedish democrats were able to organize for political power instead.
    3. Legion are the modern (20th-21st c. neoliberal era) examples of how conservatives cannot be substantively divided where there is no egaliberte justice telos to capture any elites.
  8. Discursive determinism is an idealistic right-wing projection (McMahon: 200). However, discursive essentialism can also keep your enemies on life support. When conservatives narrated the Enlightenment as sin committed by individual Minds, they cast memorial statues to Enlightenment contributors. Now any CBC radio program can run an evening feature on Diderot.
  9. In short, there are plenty of ways for organized democrats to skin a conservative.
    1. The reason why the liberal parties like the US Dems fail to dominate the conservative parties in the modern era is because the liberal parties are not equipped to oppose the conservatives. This is a result of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce tacticians’ (Mises & Hayek’s) great political insight: Just remind the capitalists that they are also aristocrats, with all the predatory privileges these power-elite classes may claim, and their liberal servants will be pulled into conservatism’s wake.

However, the French conservatives were modern, used all the technology, published the discourse, helped create the Terror, and their thoughts weigh heavy on our thought today. They didn’t really lose the long game, any more than the American slavers lost.

The Enlightenment philosophers strove to build a global community seeking philosophically-informed, comparative, empirical knowledge with which to suggest, for democratic consideration, the varieties of ways that humans can live together. The Enlightenment didn’t create all the problems. Conservatives are very much with us today, doing what they need to do to us to make their utopia.

Next step: Find articles on Scholastic influence on American constitutional law developments after 1986 (Reagan’s appointment of Scalia to the Supreme Court).

Susan J. Stabile, “Catholic Legal Theory,” Journal of Catholic Legal Studies 44, no.
2 (2005): 421-432.

Stabile doesn’t lend insight into what I’m looking for– How Scholastic legal education imbues neoliberal constitutional thought in the US. She clearly mashes Catholic and Enlightenment concepts (development, metaphysical specification of the good society, positive freedom) in arguing for the importance of Catholic morality in legal formation for cultural change. Where science advances knowledge (not linearly) over time, idealism merely disguises its metaphysics with borrowed language.

In Stabile’s effort to sell the Catholic tradition as an important corrective to “secular” law and society, with a smattering of some general consensus points most people can agree with (The need for “curbing excessive individualism where that interferes with the common good” (426); the tacit importation of private privilege into Rule of Law, as it is bereft of metaphysical specification), you can still see a number of persistent issues with the Roman Catholic paradigm that make it an unsatisfactory corrective to capitalist law. After all, it’s the unsatisfactory, imperial feudal institution from whence unsatisfactory, imperial capitalist institutions developed.

According Stabile, Catholicism is all about, and introduces the following three novelty principles into American law:

1) the principle of the dignity of each individual. This dignity is guaranteed by the extent to which the individual signifies the Catholic God, is “in God’s image” in this idealist paradigm. Thus, Catholicism has traditionally supported not egaliberte, as Stabile disingenuously intimates in asserting that all humans are made in God’s image, but an allocation of dignity based on a Great Chain of Being. If humans are all in God’s image, some humans are more so, some are less so, with consequences for dignity distribution. This isn’t about recognizing difference; it’s about reproducing inequality.

Stabile specifies that human dignity in the Catholic tradition means that Catholic authority, and not life-giving women or selves in socio-material context, governs all individual decisions involving reproduction and  human life length. While life chances and life quality are governed by the allocation of rank and obligation, the supplemental Catholic algorithm determines that length of individual existences will be optimized within that governing framework. Since perinatal life is in our big-cranium mammalian species on Earth an extension of women’s lives, “dignity” requires Catholic institutional management of women.

Perhaps hinting at one of the reasons for its capitalist replacement, Catholic obligations are heavily, permanently enforced on some kinds of individuals. For Catholics, it is not a priority to enforce any collective responsibility to create conditions supporting human longevity, and the Catholic tradition is not going to expend as much effort fighting pollution, war, exploitation and expropriation as they are going to expend micromanaging the ladies. In the first place, targeting institutional and systemic threats to human longevity would require scientific knowledge, which, as we shall see, is not a kind of knowledge Catholicism recognizes. Rather, it is individuals’ (women’s) obligation to the community to make the Catholic life-length optimization algorithm work.

When did “universalist” Catholicism master the trick of smuggling sociological inequality within universalist abstractions? Long enough ago to be very swift and sure in hot-potatoing the critique upon its rivals?

Each individual has 2) obligations within a non-exclusive, mystified community. Because community must be mystified (Stabile: 427), the rank and obligations that any particular individual or group must fulfill are worrisomely underspecified in Stabile’s persuasion essay, see discussion under principle 1, human dignity, above. It must be that the allocation of rank and obligations are to be managed in part by the institution of the Roman Catholic church, both because of its monopoly on Truth and because mystified relations (community) require expert management.

Rank and obligations can also be, and have been established and allocated via economics and politics, including war. Catholicism traditionally performs a supplementary function in managing and enforcing individual obligations to the community. It seems evident that Catholicism’s rigid focus on women’s obligations to the community is overly determined by the atavistic manpower and tax revenue (marketable crop) requirements of feudal warlords, which interest and associated morality shifts somewhat under capitalist conditions.

Similarly, 3) freedom must be distributed according to Catholic “truth.” Again, Catholic authorities must be the institution required to distribute freedom across any community, which Stabile terms “Authentic Freedom,” because Catholic authorities have monopoly access to Truth.

Stabile seems to be simply suggesting legal principles which require reattaching the Roman Catholic Church, as an institution, to the state.

Throughout, Stabile’s bete noir is “secularism,” where the issues cited are clearly rooted in capitalism, eg. It is capitalism that fosters sociopathic individualism, Homo Economicus. Perhaps this conflation is motivated by the tradition of Catholic opposition to Enlightenment, as well as the venerable Catholic tradition of supplementing power elites, see the history of fascism. Without sufficient capacity to even correctly (or, acknowledging the Liberation Theology offshoot, reliably) identify a global, motivating, mobilizing, governance institution like capitalism, the fundamental institution allocating rank and obligation, Catholicism must be little help in dealing with the central social problem Stabile identifies: The widespread diminishment of human welfare, integrity, and development where the common good is dismissed, deprioritized, and distorted.

The relation between the individual and the common good is a central concern of much secular philosophy. Reducing secularism to capitalist problems obfuscates (not only Catholicism’s Aristotelian supplement but also) non-imperial, secular, non-mystifying, sociomaterialist traditions–such as informed the Enlightenment philosophes–investigating and weighing how to best permit social humans’ development, integrity, and welfare. These sociomaterialist community traditions are well known to imperial Roman Catholicism, which has long attacked them as rivals and enemies. As secularism is reduced to capitalist culture, and the varieties of sociomaterialist philosophy and praxis are excluded, then Stabile’s case for catholicizing law relies on an additional, unspoken assumption: To optimize collective and individual human life, humans need to be governed by mystification. That is an interested assumption. It also belies Catholicism’s incompatibility with Rule of Law, which telos requires transparency improvements. Stabile’s is not a good-faith argument, as suggested by her argument’s deployment of opaque, institutional-brand “truth.”

Is the Roman Catholic tradition, with its specialization in mystification, actually adept at centering the human, as Stabile claims (430), or is its real forte obfuscatory shock-and-awe population management as a supplement to warlord rule? Why don’t we ask the surviving legions of systematically-molested altar boys? At the end of her article, Stabile tries to make a relativist argument for including Catholicism in law–arguing that Catholicism’s vision of the common good is adequately specified and defended (430), for example, where Catholic rhetoric implies that simply advising maturing youth to ignore their sexuality is identical to the common good of no youth sex. In so doing, Stabile demonstrates that Catholic Truth/faith is  hopelessly mired in parochial idealism: Assuming that everyone can “know” that ignorance and denial in the mind = nonsexual behaviour in the sociomaterial world, where this is an authority “knowledge” that has been scientifically demonstrated invalid and would only be evident and reasonable to a committed dogmatist.

As well, Stabile’s closing example demonstrates that Catholic Truth prohibits (or drastically deprioritizes) curiosity, empirical investigation into the context-embedded efficacy and validity of that institution, policy, or practice (sex education or instruction in abstinence) putatively optimizing human welfare. How compatible with legal discovery is that religious commitment to dogma? On its margins, nervous Roman Catholic monks may have once unleashed the Renaissance; but Roman Catholicism’s anti-Enlightenment prohibition against expanded and normalized empirical investigation and curiosity, its prohibition against methodical (designed to deploy human capacities and adjust for human limitations), collective self-correction–science, casts in deep doubt whether the Catholic tradition can adequately specify the institutional support for human dignity, community, and freedom-to.

The Catholic tradition cannot fill in capitalist law’s holes. It can only dig them deeper, witness the modern US Supreme Court. Why should this be surprising? Capitalists to a great extent emerged from the wealth of aristocracy. Capitalist exploitation rests upon an ocean of expropriation, the source of wealth familiar to all feudalists. What the Catholic institution is designed to do is supplement expropriation with human resources management. But is the feudalist institution Catholicism a better population manager than capitalist HR ladies? It is! It’s got sturm und drang, rituals, amazing buildings, lovely candles, songs. And it’s an HR department run by guys!…which has its pluses and minuses. But resourceful capitalism has more population-management departments than corporate HR and religious institutions.

Excessively rigid, authoritarian Catholic interpretations (“truth”) of superficially-consensus humane and pro-social principles sure are old, elaborate, and opaque to most; but mystification cannot provide appreciable corrective upon existing capitalist epistemological problems impinging a collective good that permits individual human development–epistemological problems such as are evident in scientistic communities like conservative economics, which also excessively serves power elites, limits collective learning, and prohibits Kuhnian paradigmatic adjustment (Varoufakis 2011). If a tradition cannot offer improvements–observable in outcomes–in coordinating individual development and the collective good, then it’s not what’s needed to address (not “secularism”‘s shortcomings but) capitalism’s failings.

For compelling insight into how conservative Evangelical Protestantism works, see Adam Kotsko’s “The Evangelical Mind.” The important distinction is that Evangelical Protestantism violently dispenses with Christian Good Works as a framework disciplining community members. For Evangelicals, Good Works, or acts of benevolence consign non-Evangelicals to Hell. Committing evil upon people and other life outside of the Evangelical community is sanctified as proof of the individual’s hermetically-sealed, mutually-chosen relationship with the Divine. In the Evangelical view, sabotaging an atheist or bombing a Muslim neighbourhood is what demonstrates God’s favor and gets individual Evangelicals into Heaven.

Whereas Weberians once imagined Evangelical Protestantism as a path to capitalist affluence, we can now recognize Evangelical Protestantism as a framework fit for a militarized society of soldiers and guards.

Understanding this solves a mystery. I had a roommate, raised Calvinist, with a half-sister recovering from terrible self-esteem, likely due a lot to her businessman step-father’s abuse. While we were roommates for a couple of years in grad school, the half sister would travel to visit us, along with her children. To get out of the house, as a teenager the half-sister had gotten repeatedly knocked up by a criminal, drug-addict ne’er-do-well. They had joined a suburban Evangelical church. While the Calvinist-background young woman raised four tiny children, kept home, and stayed fit, her ne’er-do-well partner stole, got caught, had affairs, beat her in front of the children, beat the children, and continually relapsed into very hard drugs. Through it, their church supported her partner, the young man. When, after many years, the young woman finally drew a line– her family had been too beseiged, she was separating from the thug, the church and its congregation shunned…the young woman and her children.

I couldn’t understand it at the time; but that’s because I didn’t understand Evangelical Protestantism. Likely, the young woman, raised Calvinist (a fairly f’d-up religion itself, see Weber), didn’t adequately understand contemporary Evangelical Protestantism either. In the Evangelical view, the young man was repeatedly proving his close relationship with God. By laboring diligently to create a non-traumatizing household life, including for the children, the young woman was, in the Evangelical faith, only demonstrating that she was hell-bound. The Evangelical Church sided with its hand-grenade “God,” such as it is.




Varoufakis, Yanis. 2011. “Chapter 9. A Most Peculiar Failure: The curious mechanism by which neoclassicism’s theoretical failures have been reinforcing its dominance since 1950,” pp. in Modern Political Economics.



Oakeshott Establishes the Bien Pensant on Nietzsche

In a 1948 Cambridge Journal review of a book (by Lavrin) on Nietzsche, conservative Catholic English toff Michael Oakeshott announces the correct interpretation of Nietzsche.

Oakeshott identifies Nietzsche as an artist. This means that Nietzsche’s work is to diagnose European culture. Nietzsche’s diagnosis is that European culture is plagued with nihilism, irreligion, and weakness, which pathologies Nietzsche illustrates “in every field of human activity” (Oakeshott 1948). European culture is decadent and inclined to disintegration.

Nietzsche’s syphilis Oakeshott and Lavrin consider a mystical font of truth. Like a smoldering lightning strike from a god, syphilis bestowed not just suffering and mortality but as well divine Sight, Nietzsche’s prophetic diagnosis of Europe. Where both liberal and socialist analysis would locate private troubles within social relations (which for the socialist could be alterable, if the private troubles undermined distributed sovereignty), and in so doing diminish shame as a social weapon, conservative logic rather reassigns the Great Man’s problems to others’ shame: “The disintegration of me, a Great Man, is in Truth the disintegration of society.” Oakeshott and Lavrin affirm the equivalence as especially “sharp-eyed,” “sharp perception,” “vigilant,” “clear-eyed,” even “clairvoyant” “scrutiny.”


Instructively, Oakeshott spills a lot of ink insisting that up to the late 1940s idiots (“culture-philistines up from the suburbs”) misattribute Nietzsche’s importance to his reform platform, calling for the reinstitution of aristocracy. Focusing on Nietzsche’s reform platform, Oakshott warns, is akin to abridging or systematizing Nietzsche; it’s all destruction of Art. Not the reform platform, but the artist’s complaint (His J’accuse! corpus) is Nietzsche’s contribution, Oakeshott insists. It is not knowledge. It is a stimulus to sweet, sweet, manipulable affect. Nietzsche is a primer.

(Although, to be fair to him as an individual contributor to the conservative community, Oakeshott advocated Homo Motus issuing a total kingdom of aethestics: Everything that should exist ought to be understood as art, inducer of emotion, and everything produced should be art, inducer of emotion. Metaphysics, sociology, interests, strategies are not fit topics for polite society.)

Oakeshott is at pains to point out, a few times in a two-page review, that only a Great Master could correctly conduct a genealogy–be it Nietzsche or his interpreter. This foundational requirement of conservative theory tends to escape Sociologists, impressed by the bold conservative command to black box the metaphysical structure of Nietzsche’s work. These Sociologists adopt genealogy and encourage their students to adopt it. The authority of genealogy as a conservative epistemology relies strictly on an ontological precondition, the recognized social power of and behind the interpreter. Foucault had the power of the French state behind him. Little Debbie Hinterlands Masters Student has jack shit. She has the erstwhile backup of Latour and other 20th century German-inspired French philosophers cherry-picking cases to argue that collectivist scientific knowledge has no capacity to allow people to know their world beyond the habituated thought conferred by state (commercial) power. But that’s not much, as the point of that argumentation is to frighten and splinter scholars off from scientific communities of scholarship, reasserting the Cartesian compromise with the church (scientific knowledge of the inert material world v. divine, expert knowledge of the soul), driving them back to submit to the authoritative, decisionist expertise of French state-backed philosophers (at best). We hope these patriarchs mean us well?

In adopting genealogical method against social scientific craft, the student both repudiates democratic knowledge accumulation and proliferates claims without social power. It’s fine for pumping out cheap commodities in a market without demand; but recommending individualist genealogy for students ill-equips them for effective civic engagement, thereby fulfilling its domineering conservative logic. To paraphrase Anatole France, the idealist philosophy, in its majestic equality, permits the patronized as well as the commodified to pronounce bridges, streets, and bread.

In another essay, Oakeshott locates Germany’s philosophical rebuttal to democratic science in the works of (Dane) Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.



Elements of Stoicism

Stoicism as a materialist philosophy in reaction to materialist  has the following elements:

1) The charismatic male father-substitute proselytizer-guru.

a) Aphorism and self-help register aim at converting a popular audience.

b) Contemporary version: Male academic psychologist: Jordan Peterson, Svend Brinkmann.

2) Establishing human limitations, but not shared human capacities.

a) Stoicism is less oriented to scientific knowledge, remaining a knowledge of Great Men, although Great Men challengers to established, idealism-protected power.

3) Rejection of idealism, marketing, moralistic marketing.

a) In refuting their sped-up treadmill work discourse, Svend Brinkmann aims to supplant the moral authority of marketeering management. He emphasizes that we need to consider what we lose in valorizing continuous adaptation and work speed up, qua “self-improvement.”

4) Stoicism can blend with Platonism, eg in Nietzsche.

a) Brinkmann does not historicize managerial morality of continuous work speed-up–It’s not a moralistic strategy of labour control he’s critiquing, and he’s not suggesting the possibility of an alternative path of change. Rather, his goal is to save ethics, qua fealty to social contract, by the Stoic strategy of recognizing only human limitations, and categorically denying that humans share the capacity for development. In doing so, he attempts to organize a psychological “slave revolt,” refusal of the worker/slave-corroding moral-rhetorical strategy of the neoliberalizing Masters.

While the Stoicist rhetorical strategy is overblown, its organizing ambition is modest. Stoicists will let you understand yourself as enthralled and sub-humanized. They will not demand you organize into a collective with the capacity to intervene in the world in opposition to dominant economic, marketing, managerial, military, and idealist networks’ interventions. Stoicism is a step. It’s not an endgame. But as a step toward making slavery less miserable, it carries with it some conceptual Trojan Horses. Epicureans seek to dismantle Stoicism’s Trojan Horses.

The Stoicist rhetorical strategy is not just a check on marketing-strong idealism. It does not correspond with reality. It will be an alarming move to American pragmatists in the Deweyan tradition, as well as to developmental biologists, social epidemiologists, and epigenetic post-cartesians. As Dewey argued in Democracy and Education (1916), humans can be understood as having two complementary development capacities or strengths, the child strength of plasticity (responsiveness to environment) and the adult strength of efficient praxis (theoretical frameworks that efficiently permit interventions in the world).

If neoliberal idealism and skepticism have operated to turn workers into slaves by reconceptualizing us all as perpetual children, the essence of malleable, Stoicism doesn’t help us remember that we also have adult human capacities for intervening in the world in a democratic and (real) pro-life way (by which I mean Earth life-affine, not patriarchical control over women, as the term was brand co-opted by conservatives).

Stoicism may function as an intermediary, indirect conceptual reorganization where a dominant network is geared for destroying direct challengers, but the cost is that Stoicism preserves anti-realism and patriarchy, and these remain levers for tyrannical power to strategically reassert itself against a mystified, dehumanized, and internally-divided working/enslaved class.

b) Historically, while Epicureanism started out as a rejection of idealistic Platonism, it became the main opponent of Stoicism, as per the above critique model. Epicurean materialism uniquely asserts the human capacities basis for normative shared sovereignty.

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The Canadian Right-wing Academic Argument Against Environmental and Social Justice

A McGill historian of science, looking as much like Foucault as he can, in 2018 published an article, with a fellow conservative holding physical science credentials, in which he makes an argument that epigenetics should not be linked as a rationale to egalitarian policy change.

After a two-paragraph intro to epigenetics, Canadian Foucault-Latour coins three neologisms, three sins, to package his argument for prohibiting a bridge between physical science findings and egalitarian social policy:

1) “Mischaracterization”: This is the (dubious) problem where the Historian of Science doesn’t agree with findings–for example, that epigenetic information can be transmitted intergenerationally, and he selects those particular epigenetic findings to dismiss as inconclusive.

2) “Extrapolation”: This is the problem (for Canadian Foucault-Latour) where scientists bridge the physical and social sciences, particularly including social epidemiologists, to suggest that with the theory-backed, mechanism-identified evidence of correlation and time-order, we can make a scientific claim that the material world and institutionalized social relations impact human health, and thus changing institutions, design, and infrastructure can reduce the socio-material harm.

Canadian postmodernist doesn’t say here how he defines science, but it’s probably commercial laboratory science, per postmodernism’s capitalism-accommodating idealist reduction. Along with positivists, discourse-totalizing postmodernists are a Cartesian Praetorian guarding the sacred boundary between the human, idealist world(s) and the base, material projection.

The article is basic, and extremely light on the empirical evidence. Yet with masculinist aesthetics, it presents errant pedantry as technocratic rigor. The McGill third arm of policing–not particularly well supported– is to attribute to mostly-unidentified other scholars a lack of his own fine appreciation of the connection between genetics and epigenetics. He decides this is the 3) “Exceptionalism” sin. This is raw crank. Even in pop culture accounts of epigenetics, the historical relation between the Human Genome Project and the growth of epigenetics is emphasized. The authors need to spend more time reading other people’s academic work, and less time in the patio party conversations.

It is a very thin article evincing a cursory familiarity with the substantive topic–which is not a survey of epigenetics. It is how epigenetics are being approached by anti-cartesians. Extremely thin on data, the article is only justifiable by an overinvestment in either positivism or in the postmodern, idealist, theoretical reduction of science to the commercial lab. It is a “textbook” recent case in reactionary “critical” idealism. It is the embodiment of the institutionalized Canadian settler-extractivist theoretical approach to reconciling private-property-reifying liberalism with hierarchy-reifying conservatism: effacing the inequality while censoring the inegalitarianism.

The basis for this authority’s institutionalized expertise is that while he was a grad student, he had to work with an indigenous community, as most Canadian social science and humanities academics did by the second decade of the 21st century, and that required him to write an article denouncing the association in medical studies of Canada’s First Nations with health problems due to the colonial relationship. I know this, because that is what I was being commanded to do then. You were told, by indigenous leaders in institutions, that you had to write stories about how there is no problem. Obviously, indigenous people outside of power were not clamoring for academics to amplify this particular voice. It became a theoretical specialty to argue that the material world is radically divorced from, inaccessible, and unknowable to humans–unspeakable.

Then McGill had a short burst in 2012 of trying to set himself up as an authority on how the biome is just imaginary and a bad discourse, because its metaphysics connects the material to the social–social design, institutions, and infrastructure overdetermine human health– and so its justice telos is about reducing social, economic and political inequality. He analyzes surveys, which is what he uses to back up the idealist social science theory.

In idealist thought, human health is not a thing. Health is just a holographic projection of bad Minds. Some physical scientists twiddle around with health because the tyrannical state. In idealist thought, design, institutions, and infrastructure are not recognized to create different kinds of social relations oriented to distinct justice teloi. Their discursive ontology only permits them to recognize difference, and they reject the idea that inequality is a thing, let alone a problem. The only problem, for which idealist humanities and social science academics are the official police, is reduction of difference–for example, state policy changes that reduce social hierarchy. Reducing inequality is the ultimate injustice from the idealist position. They believe the historical-materialist justice telos competes with the idealist justice telos–to proliferate difference, including inequality.

Inegalitarianism is difficult for postmodernists. Like good imperialists, and against all historical and concurrent evidence, they believe we can have moral, tasteful, polite inequality, reconceptualized as playful, fecund difference, without the discursive rudeness of inegalitarianism, which they typically project outward upon Americans, because of the brutish conservative culture of slavery-backed capitalism that feeds the US global imperial role, or another geopolitical Other–Nazis or Russians.

Canadian Foucault-Latour also sprinkled an article in his CV about how “contagion” is really financial crisis; wholly within discourse, that was a less-reactionary effort.

When critical idealists can keep within texts, they do not necessarily support capitalist and capitalist-state efforts to repress egalitarian, developmentalist design, institutions, infrastructure, and relationships. A postmodernist, like this McGill Man or Latour, may instrumentally play with a conservative, positivist physical scientist–they share the inclination to denounce inequality recognition and egalitarian redistribution; they both bury metaphysics; and they are both keen to reduce science to the commercial lab.

Yet the alliance between postmodernists and positivist commercial scientists of course contains an inner crack. Postmodernists as idealists are distinct from physical scientists in that they abject recognition that the world we live in transcends the textual. The Postmodernists reject an ontology material and historical and social. There are only words, which is the hermetically-sealed flat universe of the social, and when the textual ontology is imported into the social sciences, the lacunae–through which, in proper discursive philosophy, the historical-material world enters–is papered over. Thus postmodernists reject expanded, scientific methodologies, rather than just authoritarian bluster (“Meritcratic” decisionism, eg genealogy, and associated speculative idealism). When they use their idealist hermeneutics against the Earthly and human material world, it is all reactionary conservatism and it has been for a long time.

McGill ref: Huang, JY & NB King. 2018. “Epigenetics changes nothing.” Public Health Ethics 11  (1): 69-81.

Note that the Swedish Universities by contrast are immersed in studies linking epigenetic difference and health effects. Canadian idealism v. Scandinavian historical-materialism. University of Washington has an anti-cartesian epigenetics lab.

After “Who Made Me?”

Star Wars: A Democratic-ish but  Patriarchal Discourse on Ethics

I am of life. To exist in (inegalitarian, alienated) human society, I need a guarantor. So, Who made me?

The Star Wars series locates this weird, infantile, alienated, possibly patriarchal question as the root anxiety spurring our ethical and political choices as we grow older; and Star Wars shows the political consequences of how we are able to settle on this (socio-)psychological question–a decision, a judgment we must take responsibility for, we cannot evade, once we recognize the question. Though to be clear, you don’t have to recognize the question. Han Solo doesn’t worry about it.

Well, also, there is a very common way to evade responsibility, see below, but that way dehumanizes you, turns you into part of the war machine, a Stormtrooper to show the cards.

I find the question odd. I don’t know why life needs a guarantor, why this should be the anxiety.  Whose culture is creating this anxiety? To be transparent again, I really suspect it’s an inability, conferred by patriarchy, to accept coming from a female, coming from Earth. The question does give more reason to creepy philosophical efforts to break down the ontological divide between humans and the commodities they produce and which are owned by an elite in an inegalitarian social order. Anyway, I do know why life needs to protect itself from human tyranny. But the anxiety that this should spur is the anxiety over whether you can organize other people.

From orphaned hinterlands farmboy Luke Skywalker to orphaned hinterlands scavenger Rey, the main audience-avatar character walks us through their variable processes of settling the root infantile anxiety with a judgment that commits them to a democratic ethics, and puts them on a democratic political path. Another, side model is Han Solo, a skilled, strategic orphan who doesn’t care about patrimony, but unlike his girlfriend the Mother of Dragons (Qi’ra), is naturally oriented toward cooperation with democratic organizing, a “good guy” as Qi’ra pronounces. We don’t know what is propelling Qi’ra toward the Dark Side. A lack of options path-dependently leading to a lack of democratic confidence, apparently.

We also see in the distance, by contrast, that the para-princes Darth Vadar and Kylo Ren arrive at contrasting decisions upon that root infantile anxiety, a commitment to a contrasting Dark Side political path and ethics. (There’s also some indication that mother-attachment propels the Dark Side ethico-political decision. This can be read as trashy 1970s cultural psychology, or it can be read as a diagnosis of exception-fetishizing conservatism: When the conservative rejects life, he has to create a pocket of exception–typically Mother and Wife–to sustain the advantage of his own nurture.)

Pursuing the freaky, infantile dread-hope, Who Made Me?, down into its dark hole, the protangonists and antagonists can find no father, no parent, no god, no protective, recognized lineage. Just the self. But it is not clear what this means. A decision is required.

We see that the emotional responses to this discovery are variable and consequential; but, contra conservatism, the emotional response flavors–but does not determine the consequent ethical and political judgment. The interpretation of what it means that one does not come from a direct, parental Maker, a protective lineage recognized by all, does determine one’s ethics and politics; and in the Star Wars cosmology, the interpretation is to a large extent a fateful choice of reason.

There are two possible opposing ethical-political interpretations containing judgment: 1) I made me. Man is will to power. This is a conservative insistence that there must be a monadic originator. 2) I make myself. I am (Wo/man is) life, a diverse collective in development/(We are Groot, to borrow another narrative). These opposing interpretations entail judgment, and thus ensuing ethics and politics.

As a sociologist, I would have to point out that the interpretative choice is generally overdetermined by the built social environment. In that sense, interpretation is not usually, really a choice of reason, but a reflex instilled by institutions. Thus, most people slip the responsibility, and hegemonic liberals call this deference virtue.

For example, the Abrahamic religions instill the need for, and so overdetermine the “choice” to reassert an abstract monadic originator, as the alienated, individual, willful self, substitute for God the Father. Thus the Abrahamic religions reproduce inegalitarianism and inegalitarian economies. Because this overdetermined “choice” means no shared space for development, most of us become processed down into dehumanized, violent Stormtroopers, or, in its less-destructive version, sheep. The “Great Men” that end up on the top of the pile dominate and own. Society flinches, genuflects, and reflects upon the Ubermensch the myth of their apotheosis.

The Star Wars narrative doesn’t precisely deny the social, built environment. Rather, it places the responsibility for the interpretation/judgment on the individual because it is interested in the ethical torch carried by a small, beleaguered band of comrades in the long historical moments when institutions do not reproduce the collectivist, democratic, Light Side I am of life judgment.

The Dark Side decision is idealist. In the discovered absence of the mythical consciousness-giving father, as the culturally-foreign, alien-ness of complex, developing life (See also Vanderbeek’s Annihilation) is rejected in favor of the choice to incorporate the mythical God into the individual self, the moment of judgment is fetishized (See Carl Schmitt). All emotion and rationality recoils and wraps around the individual self’s will to power against all else, all others. Because humans are objectively a social (part of) life, the idealist Dark Side decision requires working in tension with that reality, working strategically with other Dark Siders, idealists, enemies all, to kill them when you can, to assert your will, to torture all others into serving as your voice, your idealist self.

By contrast, the Light Side decision reconnects to philosophical materialism. It is oriented to development, and full human expression, including connection, organization, and balancing reason. Understanding that one is not a wanted, recognized projection of a superhuman father into a guaranteed space of existence, but that as life, one becomes onesself, the self is developed, in the materialist approach is foremost recognition that the self is material, existing in a unique interstice, and connected. “You’re not alone,” Rey tries in vain to convert Ren; the Nietzschean idealist is unmoved, and I say, enthralled. The materialist Light Side is a mutualist ethics of creating the space, organizing the infrastructure, relating with others– for life to develop into its own complex, historical, changing self. It foregrounds proliferating and activating full human capacity, working with others, as opposed to imposing one’s self upon, diminishing and obliterating the others.

In the Disney corporation’s hands, it’s hard to say where the Star Wars discourse on ethics will end. They have performed above expectations, particularly in Rogue One, and yet there is much foreshadowing that the Ubermensch and the democrat will be reconciled in some sort of neoliberal alliance between Rey and Ren. Or perhaps, more hopefully, the Light Side Resistance will be taken up by the stableboys and the class conflict will continue and advance.

The great tactic of conservativsm, a la Strauss, is lying to the hoi poloi, the repository of conservatives’ misanthropy. Conservative Austrian tactician and Anglo-American consultant Friedrich von Hayek best formulated this tactic for the modern era, in portraying the elite-owned heap as a porous social formation, full of degrees of freedom putatively for all, while portraying universally-developmentalist democracy as an excessively-demanding ethos and infrastructure, and in that way constricting, a kind of “servitude.” Would it be true to the democratic spirit of the Star Wars discourse on ethics to conclude with some Stormtroopers and stableboys, having observed and suffered the contrasting relations the Sith lords and Rebel Alliance have made (the arguments the philosophers and social scientists have forwarded), casting off the enculturated disposition to Mastery/Servitude, and enjoining the deferred decision to organize a new social space for shared life development? In the 20th century, most philosophers rejected working for democratic development. In the 20th century, most philosophers rejected working with social scientists. As the narrative develops, will the philosophers and Jedi figure out a way to contribute to the liberation, the full human development, the organizational capacity of the stableboy and Stormtrooper class?


Conservative wheelhouse: Assuming the impossibility of mutual recognition

David Graeber summarizes Hegel’s account of human desire for recognition in the Master-slave dialectic as a prime example of conservative theory’s assumption of the impossibility of mutual recognition. Most philosophers and many social theorists playing in the conservative wheelhouse proceed to theorize recognition upon the assumption of highly-unequal, slavery relations as normal, universal human relations. “But it’s one thing to say that the quest for mutual recognition is necessarily going to be tricky, full of pitfalls, with a constant danger of descending into attempts to dominate or even obliterate the other,” Graeber cautions. “It’s another thing to assume from the start that mutual recognition is impossible.”

“As Majeed Yar has pointed out (2001) this assumption has come to dominate almost all subsequent Western thinking on the subject: especially, since Sartre refigured recognition as ‘the gaze’ that, he argued, necessarily pins down, squashes, and objectifies the Other.

As in so much Western theory, when social relations are not simply ignored, they are assumed to be inherently competitive. Todorov notes (2000) that much of this is the result of starting one’s examples with a collection of adult males” (Graeber 2015).

Philosophy rejects collectivist, knowledge-building science, rigorous, collectively-regulated empirical methods to discern the range of –not just probability but also– possibility, including by identifying trends, averages, standard deviations and other summaries of main dynamics in a select place and time, as well as variations within that milieu and in main dynamics across space and time, identifying via theory, correlation, time-order, and comparison together their contributing factors, to systematically refine and correct these descriptive and explanatory frameworks collectively. In science, empirical disconfirmation of theory is maintained as part of the knowledge ideal–thus, the pursuit of scientific knowledge employs a diverse collectivism; one study is not science, nor is uniformity stable in this kind of collectivism (per Kuhn 1962).

Science constructs probable descriptions of what tends to exist or not, how–under specified relations or conditions, within a comparative understanding of the constellation of possibility in complex, often reflexive life relations. Philosophy’s desultory knowledge method, by contrast, tends to rather rely on a few, fetishized “expertly”-chosen cases (Olympe de Gouges!) exclusively confirming elite interests (Social rationality = death!). Philosophy celebrates the exception.

Not theory exactly, but due to its method, in particular philosophy’s (including theory primarily based on philosophy) long-term characteristic problem tends to be importing, as its bed of assumptions, the wisdom of the ruling social segment–classically, property-owning man between the ages of 20 and 50. While we have arrived at a point in global capitalism where such perspective can be readily denounced, the discrediting move tends to issue from within the desultory, antidemocratic-elitist philosophical knowledge project itself, and in the conservative effort to maintain manufactured scarcity across global integration, it tends to be directed at waged workers and science, or rather, commercial scientism qua science tout court. Weber saw doom in the shift from princely state managers to working-class state bureaucracies. Bruno Latour has made a career and academic institute based on showing that white-coated technicians working in commercial labs are irrational. Foucault reified opportunistic, scientistic Psychology as his reduction of science, even while admiring conservative economics. Philosopher GA Cohen argued that in the communist utopia the affront to philosophy that is social science would die, as it contributes nothing to knowledge besides demystification of labor and commodities. With these expert Great Man philosopher selections of cases “demonstrating” that Enlightenment scientific method offers no advantages to knowledge issued by Great Men serving warlords, and many disadvantages (a lack of independent genius, per Nietzsche), philosophers–particularly the French school by way of the German-Catholic idealist philosophy tradition–protect and advance the reputation of philosophical contributions to knowledge, based upon an elitist assumption bed–particularly elite distributions of misanthropy and anthrophilia, elite assumptions about the distribution of sovereignty and rationality, and elites’ recognition failures, in addition to assuming that humanity is reducible to young, elite male experience, including autism and unbound competitiveness. These elitist assumptions provide the foundation for arriving at the philosophy and theory objective, the foregone conservative-wheelhouse conclusion that non-elite human development and democracy are impossible. It is a venerable, neat political ecology.

(For a prime example, see the neo-Hobbesian, French (cum German idealist)-school philosophy of Justin Smith, as his recent contribution to this tradition offers a crystallization of this ancient, antidemocratic Atlantic elite project.)

Elitist Idealism v. Democratic Materialism

Graeber discusses Catholic Europe’s Medieval psychology theory, which started with the proto-Cartesian premise of a human soul divorced from an object world, where a kind of intermediary mucus or film, a “pneuma,” was posited to represent that world like a script or teevee show to the temporarily-embarrassed (separated from Heaven) soul of man. Desiring to apprehend and embrace that world–for example with the human body– was pathological, in Catholic Medieval thought. In its ethics, the externally-imposed passion must be self-managed, via a priest-like, contemplatory orientation to the imagined pneuma.

This baroque and improbable idealist theory set up a few conceptualizations useful for inegalitarian organization in feudalism: 1) Humans are conceived as utterly alien to Earth. This alienation will be useful, from a warlord perspective, in isolating people and extracting and exploiting. 2) As shared sovereignty within human relations is impossible, desire is reduced to unrequited sexual tension. The male adolescent experience is reconceived as the universal human condition, and we all pretend priests don’t molest children. 3) Ethics: The proper business of man is not to organize and engage in collective action with other people, since slavery relations are universal and we cannot share sovereignty. It is to sit alone on the couch and absorb the Pnetflix…er, pneuma, a normative individualism sanctified as a relationship between a man and his imaginary lord. Man is a teenage monk.

Graeber’s genealogy identifies an historical shift from understanding individualist, imaginative desire as erotic, in Medieval Catholic Europe, to understanding it as consumption, eating food, a universal, individualist act of private property destruction and incorporation in global capitalism.

“The ultimate proof that one has (absolute) sovereign power over another human being is one’s ability to have them executed. In a similar fashion, one might argue, the ultimate proof of possession, of one’s personal dominium over a thing, is one’s ability to destroy it—and indeed this remains one of the key legal ways of defining dominium, as a property right, to this day. But there’s an obvious problem here. If one does destroy the object, one may have definitively proved that one owns it; but as a result, one does not own it any more.”

In either the conservative Catholic tradition or the liberal capitalist tradition, desire is propelled, and an inegalitarian social order is perpetuated, by the logical impossibility of an isolated individual simultaneously having a cake (or bang, or slave) and eating it too. These are logical proofs of the impossibility of absolute sovereignty distributed across human individuals. What ho, we’re not gods. The infantile passion imposed by the gulf separating man from consumerist utopia in capitalism is conceived as the proper focus of individualist man. (This is why psychologists classify philosophers as neurotics.) Man’s passion is imposed upon man from outside, above. It is solitary man’s duty to self-manage the imposed passion, and not to judge, decide, and act collectively, not assess and allocate resources to wants and needs over time and across life, as per materialist philosophy. Selecting illustrative cases, philosophers and economists pump out denunciations of such shared, socially-rational use of full human capacity, while conservative Catholic legal authorities forbid it in favor of elite rationality.

Note by contrast what democratic Enlightenment’s scientific approach to knowledge does with the reality that humans are not gods: It devises social knowledge-acquiring methods that both deploy our human capacities and compensate for our human limitations. Not Genius-boy philosophy, tho, based as it is upon a misanthropy that instrumentally excludes the exceptional.

Ideas before Organization

In Graeber’s theory, the origin of capitalism is Medieval Catholic Europe’s individualist idealism, the conceptual requirement for consequent capitalist individualist practice.

“The shift from a conception desire modeled on erotic love to one based on the desire for food (“consumption”) was clearly a shift in the direction of popular discourse; at the same time, though, one might say the innovative aspect of modern, consumeristic theories of desire is to combine the popular materialist emphasis on consumption with the notion of the ephemeral, ungraspable image as the driving force of maximization of production.”

“The idea of human beings as creatures tainted by original sin, and therefore, cursed with infinite wants, who therefore were in an almost natural state of competition with each other, was already fully developed in authors like St. Augustine, and therefore a part of Christian doctrine throughout the Middle Ages… the notion of the maximizing individual existed in theory long before it emerged in practice.” Still in Catholic European Medieval society, “almost any increase in popular wealth was immediately diverted into communal feasts, parades, and collective indulgences. One of the processes that made capitalism possible then was the privatization of desire.”

Distinguishing Making (Unalienated Work and Social Reproduction) from Consumption

Graeber calls for scholarly specification of what we identify and analyze as consumption, limiting consumption to those activities that involve incorporation and destruction (eg. burning fossil fuels) driven by capitalist possessive-individualist desire. He argues that expanding the concept of consumption to encompass all of human life beyond the manufacture of commodities renders absurd moral narratives. “When ‘creative consumption’ is at its most creative, it’s not consumption; when it’s most obviously a form of consumption, it is not creative.” In inflating the concept of consumption to conform with a marketeer’s desiderata, scholars are rendered sub-critical, ridden by the historical, hegemonic metaphor, not scholarly. Scholars of integrity–as opposed to court philosophers–have to be able to distinguish between activities that are really semi-sovereign, unalienated, and creative making (in Scarry’s 1985 sense), and those that are not.

This distinction, however, requires of conservatives and liberals a perhaps-impossible conceptual shift to recognition of non-elites as humans, with a human range of capacities and limitation, capable of human development and making. It forces a conceptual shift in our understanding of sovereignty–not to dispense with the notion, but to shift it from a God-like absolute ideal, jealously monopolized over a dominion, to an alloyed and socially-distributed attribute, fit for a social life on Earth.

By classifying all non-productive activities as consumption, commodified acts of ceremonial destruction making way for more production, we deny all human making (imagination and realization to address a suffering) beyond the capitalist class. Consumption scholars “are categorizing all non-alienated forms of production as consumption, which has the incredibly reactionary political effect of treating almost all every form of unalienated experience we do engage in as somehow a gift granted us by the captains of industry.” Graeber calls for us to replace the (pseudo-) “Marxist” (capitalist) opposition between production and consumption with another understanding of human activity–effectively Marxist social reproduction, what Anthropologists conceive more idealistically as “the sphere of the production of human beings, not just as labor power but as persons, internalized nexes of meaningful social relations.” Human creative activity essential to capitalist value accumulation, because mostly uncommodified and so expropriated.

(Graeber, an anarchist, sometimes is a little sketchy on Marxist theory, or at least prone to viewing the Frankfurt School as a logical extension of Marx, rather than an historical-psychological extension from the Holocaust. Note that while Marxists do analyze consumption as one of several forms of capitalist alienation–commodity fetishism, the Marxist “sphere” distinction is between the sphere of production and the sphere of circulation (not a “sphere of consumption”), and that contrasting-spheres conceptualization serves in Marxist theory to explain capitalist incentive, anxiety to secure the surplus, profit.)

“Insofar as social life is and always has been mainly about the mutual construction of human beings, the ideology of consumption has been endlessly effective in helping us forget this. Most of all it does so by suggesting that: a)human desire is essentially as a matter of a relation between individuals and phantasms; b)our primarily relation with other individuals, then, becomes an endless struggle to establish their sovereignty, or autonomy, by incorporating and destroying aspects of the world around them; (MF: So idealist capitalist phagocytotic desire compels us to revoke others’ sovereignty absolutely.) c) this logic ultimately becomes the basis for ways of imagining the very possibility of relations with other people (the (Sartrean) problem of “the Other”); d) materially, it becomes the basis for imagining society as a gigantic engine of production and destruction in which the only significant human activity is either manufacturing things, or engaging in acts of ceremonial destruction so as to make way for more: a vision which in fact sidelines most (social reproduction) things that real people actually do, and insofar as it is translated into actual economic behavior, is obviously unsustainable.”

“Even as anthropologists and other social theorists directly challenge this view of the world, the (overly-broad,) unreflective use and indeed propagation of terms like ‘consumption’ ends up completely undercutting their efforts and reproducing exactly the tacit ideological logic we would wish to undercut” (Graeber 2015: 30).

…That is if consumption theorists wish to undercut the Catholic-capitalist logic. But it’s not clear that anyone playing in the wheelhouse of conservatism wants to undercut conservatism’s logic. Perhaps all they aspire to do is wittily, pseudo-critically, conservative-ethically coordinate and regulate pneumatic contemplation, prescribe the self-management of the delegated passion, wonder at the creativity–a munificence bestowed by capitalist lords upon the multitudinous bellies, and assert the fatal impossibility of mutual recognition, shared sovereignty,  non-elite development, and democracy.

See also: Post on Star Wars: An Ethics Discourse on Who Made Me?