?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Relativism swings right - click opera — LiveJournal
February 2010
 
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
 
 
 
 
 
 
Page 1 of 2
[1] [2]
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 10:34 am
Relativism swings right

A thread on I Love Everything entitled "Welcome to the cultural revolution" draws my attention to a news story from The Independent Florida Alligator. "Capitol bill aims to control ‘leftist’ profs," says the headline. "The law could let students sue for untolerated beliefs." These "untolerated beliefs" turn out to include the idea that God created the world in seven days and that Darwin's theory of evolution is just an opinion. "Tolerate and, in fact, teach my whacky right wing views or I'll sue you, authoritarian liberal professors!" is the gist of the bill Republican senator Dennis Baxley is trying to make law: The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights.



"While promoting the bill Tuesday," continues the newspaper, "Baxley said a university education should be more than “one biased view by the professor, who as a dictator controls the classroom,” as part of “a misuse of their platform to indoctrinate the next generation with their own views.” The bill sets a statewide standard that students cannot be punished for professing beliefs with which their professors disagree. Professors would also be advised to teach alternative “serious academic theories” that may disagree with their personal views."

“Some professors say, ‘Evolution is a fact. I don’t want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don’t like it, there’s the door,’” Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a student should sue. Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, warned of lawsuits from students enrolled in Holocaust history courses who believe the Holocaust never happened. Similar suits could be filed by students who don’t believe astronauts landed on the moon, who believe teaching birth control is a sin or even by Shands medical students who refuse to perform blood transfusions and believe prayer is the only way to heal the body, Gelber added."

Drew Daniel (yes, the one in Matmos and Soft Pink Truth) comments on the thread: "I guess this backs up that argument that rightwingers have been successfully appropriating traditionally leftist argumentative tactics -- what's so weird is that pomo leftists in the high-theory 80s used relativist arguments to destabilize the foundationalist objectivity of science to further deconstructive critical ends -- and now we have conservatives using dumbed down versions of the same moves (science isn't fact, it's just theory . . . . therefore claim X is "just as true as" claim Y)."



At the end of last year I advanced the idea that the current American right has belatedly embraced postmodernism. In The US Becomes Situated I wrote:

"A postmodern national identity happens when you see yourself as The Other. Before it saw itself as The Other, the US saw itself as The Universal. The Universal is invisible, the Other is visible. The Universal claims to be impartial, the Other admits its self-interest. The Universal is adult, the Other is childish. The Universal is level-headed, the Other impetuous, prone to tantrums and whining... It may seem strange to think of the current Republican Party as a product of the postmodern identity politics of the 60s and 70s -- the struggle for recognition by radical identity-based communities like blacks, women and gays. It makes more sense, though, when you see identity politics as a sort of narcissism, a way of seeing oneself as The Other in order not to think, any longer, of one's responsibility to others."

Drew Daniel draws an interesting historical parallel. "It's like we're living in the Anglican England of the 1630s," he says, "and there's this minority of very vocal Puritans who are denouncing all and sundry, and struggling to radicalize the country as a whole so that they can further their narrowly-understood religious views, and even as they advocate for deeply absolutist doctrines they exploit the rhetoric of persecution as they wait to get the upper hand and they're already publically licking their chops as they foresee their imminent chance to viciously persecute those who don't share their agenda... oh wait, our country was founded and created by those people."



Two of the core ideas of pomo relativism have become tools in the hands of the new right:

1. The idea that being a victim allows you to act as unreasonably as you like, and

2. The idea that having a culture (in other words, being situated) means never having to say you're sorry.

Terry Eagleton wrote an essay for the New Statesman last year entitled Big Ideas: Rediscover A Common Culture or Die in which he described how "culture has descended from the macro to the micro -- from whole societies to a range of interest groups within them. It is more about Hell's Angels than Hellenic Greece. This naturally raises the question of how micro you can get. Do the two teachers in the village school constitute a culture? What about Posh and Becks?" He went on to describe how culture is valued in a society where form and style dominate over content, where local uniqueness is a globally saleable commodity, and where something that's seen as a culture can't be questioned: "Neither a work of art nor a way of life can be said to be "right" or "wrong", as one might say of a political strategy or a code of ethics. It would be like saying that the Romanian language was a mistake".

Eagleton goes on to show just how the idea of "culture" has moved from an idea that benefits the left to one that helps the right:

"Over the past three or four decades, the most resourceful movements on the left have been ones in which culture plays a vital role. Feminism, ethnic militancy, revolutionary nationalism: for all three of these political currents, culture in the broad sense of language, identity, symbol, tradition and community are a huge part of what is politically at stake. Far from being agreeable extras, they provide the very terms of political argument. And this has an interesting implication. It means that culture has shifted before our eyes from being part of the solution to being part of the problem."



The trouble is, Eagleton concludes, that the main problems facing the world today are universal ones which require common action based on shared understandings of, and responsibilities for, shared problems:

"Most of the champions of culture today are distinctly coy of phrases such as "common humanity". When they hear them, they reach for their differences with Pavlovian precision. Yet they do so in a world in which humanity has never been so forcibly united in the face of the same military, political and ecological threats. There is nothing in the least abstract about this kind of universality. It is a curious abstraction that could blow us all to kingdom come."

35CommentReply

georgesdelatour
georgesdelatour
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 10:21 am (UTC)
Prophets Facing Backwards

I heard a "thinking allowed" interview with Meera Nanda, about her book "Prophets Facing Backwards". She explains how postmodernist ideas from American universities have been taken up and exploited by the right-wing BJP in India.

The link is:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/thinkingallowed_20041117.shtml


ReplyThread
liliski
liliski
Liliski
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 10:25 am (UTC)
Different (Vinegar) Strokes

One of the best writers tackling the issue of intellectual shackling and victim culture is Frank Furedi. Several articles of his can be found on spiked-online.com, a hughly accessible critical website.

My experience is that junior academics are censored by their 'betters' long before the students get to have a pop, which renders the status of the PhD as 'an original contribution to knowledge' highly questionable.

There are a great many lecturers working in Arts faculties the world over striving for Emeritus status in Total Fluff, diligently grinding out their 3 and a half papers a year. You can spot them by the formal conceit of their paper titles - the template is statement, colon: list of three.

I would quibble slightly with your assertion that the power asymmetry of Self and Other is being reversed by current US dogma. I think it is more akin to 'Otherising' the Self via hegemony ~ the self still remains blissfully underdefined, defined by what it is not, while the other is incorporated, consentingly, and is thus politically neutralised. Bush's rhetoric of Us and Them is still posited along classical lines. The dominant have simply styled themselves as more 'special' in a 'special bus' type way...


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 11:22 am (UTC)
Re: Different (Vinegar) Strokes

Terry Eagleton's review of Frank Furedi's Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone is very salient to today's thought. Eagleton says:

"We inherit the idea of the intellectual from the 18th-century Enlightenment, which valued truth, universality and objectivity - all highly suspect notions in a postmodern age. As Furedi points out, these ideas used to be savaged by the political right, as they undercut appeals to prejudice, hierarchy and custom. Nowadays, in a choice historical irony, they are under assault from the cultural left."

He goes on to say that an intellectual, in the 18th century sense, is someone concerned with universalist commentary, not specialised knowledge of just one field. The leaders of societies like the UK and US mistrust thought that isn't professionalised, applied, specialised.

"A society obsessed with the knowledge economy, Furedi argues, is oddly wary of knowledge. This is because truth is no longer precious for its own sake. Indeed, the idea of doing something just for the hell of it has always put the wind up philistine utilitarians, from Charles Dickens's Mr Gradgrind to our own Mr Blair. At an earlier stage of capitalism, knowledge was not so vital for economic production; once it becomes so, it turns into a commodity, while critical intellectuals turn into submissive social engineers. Now, knowledge is valuable only when it can be used as an instrument for something else: social cohesion, political control, economic production. In a brilliant insight, Furedi claims that this instrumental downgrading of knowledge is just the flip side of postmodern irrationalism. The mystical and the managerial are secretly in cahoots."

The meddling relativism built into the Academic Freedom Bill of Rights is also explained:

"Once society is considered too complex to be known as a whole, however, the idea of truth yields to both specialism and relativism. Because you can now know only your own neck of the woods, the general critique as launched by the conventional intellectual collapses. There is no longer any big picture, a fact for which our rulers are profoundly grateful. And given that anyone's view is now as good as anyone else's, the authority which underpinned that critique is downsized along with it. To suggest that your anti-racist convictions are somehow superior to my anti-Semitic ones comes to sound intolerably elitist. To claim that institutions of culture and learning should enjoy a degree of autonomy is derided as ivory-towerism. Yet autonomy means space for criticism as well as space for irresponsibility. A privileged distance from everyday life can also be a productive one. Literary academics are more likely than insurance brokers to be left-wingers."


ReplyThread Parent Expand





kineticfactory
kineticfactory
this is not your sawtooth wave
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 10:40 am (UTC)

The most egregious example of the Right appropriating the Left's identity-political/victimological tactics so far has been accusing their opponents of "Christophobia". I think this was in some issue like the 10 Commandments in schools.


ReplyThread
stanleylieber
stanleylieber
Stanley Lieber
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 11:14 am (UTC)
The New Canadian Right

This fellow utilizes these tactics while simultaneously deriding them as hallmarks of 'Marxist/Feminist' totalitarianism (also referred to by him as the 'Marxist/Feminist/Homosexualist Axis'). Granted, he's an exceptional case, in that he is a Jewish/Christian/Muslim, anti-Feminist, anti-French Canadian strenuously promoting the U.S.'s imperialist aggression.


ReplyThread

(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand


(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand






(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 12:58 pm (UTC)

By the way, here's a new conspiracy theory to add to the snake-bag: the reason the right started telling us, circa 1990, to abandon identity politics-based "political correctness" is that they wanted it all to themselves. We on the left pioneered postmodernism, but the right saw how useful it could be as a way to discredit The Enlightenment forever. And so along came Iron John, the beginning of an identity politics for rugged outdoorsmen, which led the way to the current neocon "situated victim" psychology. The covered-wagons-and-Bibles tradition in American history defeated the Enlightenment tradition written into the constitution. Next step: President Condi, the ultimate identity politics Republican! Then President Arnold, the pomo-synthetic president as global cybercop!


ReplyThread
andypop
andypop
rigid codes of hierarchical binarism
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 01:53 pm (UTC)

Don't know about a conspiracy, but yes, that is certainly how it's shaping up. Identity politics' flaws are in any case so glaring now that we'd have to abandon it anyway. It did appear to be a good strategy back in the 80s, but has massive inherent problems. In other words, it seemed like a good idea at the time, honest...

Iron John and Fathers 4 Justice and the why-is-it-wrong-to-be-proud-of-being-English thing are good examples of the ease with which it has been co-opted. But I do think most people regard all that as bullshit. I do see the point someone made earlier about how it's also been all too easy for the Right to co-opt relativism, but again it does make them look utterly desperate and it doesn't invalidate the valuable insights of critical theory - which need to be understood and incorporated into our politics if we're not to find ourselves up another dead-end.


ReplyThread Parent
robotar
robotar
huckleberry conquest
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 02:35 pm (UTC)

Ah, yes, that bill is being pushed through the state where I go to Uni. Fun.

You also might find this article of interest: http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/features/story/0,11710,1369643,00.html?gusrc=rss


ReplyThread
j03
j03
sold as a novelty only
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 03:13 pm (UTC)
is a return to modernism the answer? or do we try to out-pomo the republicans?

I was thinking the same thing after engaging in futile arguments with Republicans...

http://j03.livejournal.com/44349.html

Also, have you seen this comparison of Maoist and Republican quotes about professors? Brilliant.

http://billmon.org/archives/001752.html


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 03:17 pm (UTC)
Re: is a return to modernism the answer? or do we try to out-pomo the republicans?

That Maoist / Neocon parallel thing is great!


ReplyThread Parent
transient_poet
transient_poet
Transient Poet
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 03:35 pm (UTC)

Narcicism without power often leads to liberating movements. Narcicism with power tends only towards totalitarianism. There is a teacher I had back at Berkeley, Greggors. He teaches several classes on fascist movements.
The interesting thing about the class is the performative quality of his teaching style. He runs the class, with no hint of shame or irony(well some irony) as a totalitarian dictatorship. Textbooks are, of course his and his wife's. He even saunters into class with the big dark sunglasses. Method acting at its best.
The only acceptable answers in the class are his answers. But ultimately the class is easy. Two days before midterms and finals he gives you the questions on the test. The days before the test he gives you the answers. Gives the answers. I had classmates who were shocked to recieve a 'B' or 'C' in the class becasue they had written "such a well thought out and reasoned critique of fascism."
Of course that is a lot of what caused me to give up political studies and move full time into theatre. The theatrics were far more engaging.


ReplyThread

(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 06:03 pm (UTC)

In a comment thread somewhere you were talking about what you learned from Adorno, so I'm sure you remember him saying that "art is the enemy of culture" and that culture's job is to "mummify" art. (Granted your opinions on postmodernism) what do you think now that postmodern works and theory are being taught in universities everywhere (including my relatively small, isolated one)? Do you find that it's less viable because of that, even though you've also mentioned that postmodernity is "inescapable"?

Well, the way it seems to work is that clever people invent stuff and stupid people revile and ridicule it. Then, just when the clever people are getting bored of it and inventing something else, the stupid people come round to it and realise they can add a few appliqué roses and American Farmhouse whorls and make it their own. That's what's now happening with pomo. Evil villain Rupert Murdoch popularised it with The Simpsons, and now it's gone mainstream, which means way, way right.


ReplyThread Parent

(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 05:16 pm (UTC)

Yes, that occurred to me too, and I think it's a classic example of what I called, a couple of days ago, the Intentional Fallacy. The neocons have a kind of "manifest destiny" idea that they cannot fail, that the world will fall into line with their intentions (which they will realise with power, money, influence and violence). They believe this because of a kind of protestant sense of predestination, combined with realpolitik, combined with a deeply binary way of thinking. If they combat the enemy (and the enemy for them is still communism, really, and confirms that communism is still an operating principle in world politics today, very much alive, the same kind of "spectre" the Communist Manifesto described it as all that time ago, capitalism's evil twin) they think nothing bad can happen to them. They don't realise that the second law of thermodynamics applies: there's only one way that things can go right, but thousands and thousands of ways that things can go wrong. They think that relativism can only benefit Creationism, but in fact it opens a whole Pandora's Box of alternative views. Perhaps they think that by using the legal system to regulate academia, they will guarantee that the perspective of the rich prevails (for only the rich can afford to sue). But it's not at all certain. George Soros might sue them. There are liberal billionaires.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 05:34 pm (UTC)

This is dangerous because now they have the 'underdog' thing going for them. If it's one thing pickup-drivin', Bud Lite-drinkin' red-state Americans like more than anything it's cheering on the underdog. Politics shifted to appeal to God-Fearing Football Fanatics. Ugh.

My roommate keeps insisting a dragon and it's baby was found at an archeological dig recently. Why don't thes people realize how cool ancient Chinese religions are compared to theirs?

Adam


ReplyThread

(Anonymous)
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 06:43 pm (UTC)

r. here.

upthread someone said (long quote coming, sorry)...

"If people only formed into groups populated by those with opinions that fit perfectly in agreement with their own (a crazy and impossible hypothetical which is supposed to be the real-world equivalent of a game board with pieces in every space, for reasons I'll get to), then they would not look at any views they valued that were also different from theirs and attempt to adjust their views, they would be faced purely with those who had views that were entirely unlike their-own. The idea here is that in this world that cannot exist (where everyones' beliefs logically cohere, as opposed to coexisting in compromise--the very essence of real politics), there would be less, or, in the purely hypothetical and impossible world that I've just referred to, no challenges to to ideas accepted by the challenger."

and i want to ask momus (and anyone else who would care to answer): doesn't this 'crazy and impossible hypothetical' pretty much describe Japan to a T?

http://glitchslaptko.blogspot.com/


ReplyThread
thebestweapon
thebestweapon
thebestweapon
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 10:41 pm (UTC)

I read this late, and everyone's already said most of what I would have to say, anyway (I have been silenced by the majority!)

What I really want to know is where do those pictures come from? I can just barely make out the 'author' from those boxes, and I know it's an exhibition of some sort, I'd just like to know by whom and from where?

Thanks in advance!


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Mar. 25th, 2005 12:01 am (UTC)

"A project by Anton Vidokle and Julieta Aranda, e-flux video rental (EVR) comprises a free video rental store, a public screening room, and an archive. Its collection, selected in collaboration with a large group of international curators, consists of more than 400 art films and video works, and is available to the public for home viewing free of charge. For each of its new locations, EVR will expand its inventory to include new selections by local curators invited jointly with the hosting institutions. A program of talks and special screenings will continue at all the branches."

e flux (photographed at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin earlier this month).


ReplyThread Parent
kilgore_t
kilgore_t
kilgore_t
Thu, Mar. 24th, 2005 10:58 pm (UTC)

Momus vete a tomar un poquito por el culo


ReplyThread
anti_peace_riot
anti_peace_riot
Fri, Mar. 25th, 2005 12:57 am (UTC)

Hello.

You don't know me, but my Name is Robin and I'm from Toronto Canada. When I was in Berlin over the summer, I came across Ping Pong the album in a second-hand music store and have been interested in your works ever since. I discovered this account on livejournal through your web site and was wondering if I could add you to my friends list. I know that some people can get quite offended if they are put on someone's friends list without their permission. You seem to have quite a lot of interesting views on the world around you.

Take care.


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Mar. 25th, 2005 07:39 am (UTC)

I'd be happy for you to add me, and it's worth repeating that anyone can do this without asking permission. I used to add everyone who added me, but it seems you can't have more than 750 friends on LJ.


ReplyThread Parent Expand