“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Saturday, February 10, 2007

meta-war: what is it good for?

Let me be more specific. There is a war, a meta-war1 it has been called in progress in the progressive blogosphere. It would look by turns absurd, petty, incomprehensible and juvenile to the outside world (if it were noticed at all, which I very much doubt), but it is there, and it's inevitable unfolding reveals the naked truth behind the left's long inability to get much done in this country despite the fact that we are correct.

The great debates at Big Orange and elsewhere have involved such weighty issues as Who Links to Whom, and Are Posters Really Who They Say They Are? These issues may seem petty, but translated into meatspace they are among the biggest questions of all. The former covers human interactions, from hookups to b.f.f.s to marriages to six degrees of Kevin Bacon. The latter asks about trust and honesty. We are seven posts past post-modern, but we remain human. We are days away from hardwiring quantum CPUs into our brains, but our instincts remain steps away from Australopithecus. We've interacted digitally for most of our lives now, but our hearts remain ancient and analog.

The problem for us-- and, gods, how I don't want to overstate this-- is that we as liberals filter everything through our common humanity. One would think that would be true for all humans, but conservatives seem to have convinced themselves that Something Else subsumes and trumps people. For fiscal conservatives the Something Else is what the Scriptures and the Sex Pistols called "filthy lucre"-- what the prophet Douglas Adams called "the movements of small green pieces of paper". For religious conservatives that Something Else is Jeeee-zus. For neoconservatives it is raw American power. For paleoconservatives it is Old White Male hegemony. And so on.

For us, it is different. As my Dear Old Dad used to say before he jumped off the cliff into the ocean of Bush Awe, what is the purpose of an economy if not to support people? To his words, I would add, what is the purpose of a religion, if not to sustain and console people? This is the curse of our Big Fat Brains: we can assign value to things outside ourselves. We can move beyond the survival instinct. This can unquestionably be good: we can-- although we too rarely are-- be caretakers of the environment and it many species. But it also means that we can worship, and worship can be dangerous.

If there is a difference between us and them, it is this: liberals tend to turn that religious awe back inwards, to believe in humanity and its possibilities, while conservatives look elsewhere. You can see it in our terms: populism, people-powered, demos. But by focusing on people, we implicitly accept that there can be as many truths as there are people to see them. By placing faith in outside agencies, more authoritarian conservatives are able to believe that absolutes exist. This is why their talking-points, their think-tanks, their echo chamber works. As long as they can conflate all the Something Elses into one GodMoneyPowerAmericaWhiteHeterosexualMan, they can act as one mass speaking unarguable Truth.

Or, this is the way it has been. Perhaps the dual-axis liberal-conservative / authoritarian-libertarian Political Compass works better. And the problem with that is the no-brainer truism that power is always-- left or right-- authoritarian. The current blog meta-warriors fight like divorcing spouses over titles and names. Who are the True Liberals? The authoritarian troll-hunters, grammar cops, and political correctors of Big Orange? Or the left-libertarians of My Left Wing?

We have been through this before, the old-timers tell us, when SDS factionalized2 in the late sixties, or when the socialist groups of the thirties fragmented.

Time and again in the country we are offered up a third party as a panacea. But maybe that's not enough. Maybe we need four. At least.


1 Which, unfortunately and don't say you weren't warned before you go a-clicking, shares many emotionally retarded characteristics with this place.
2 My spell-checker informs me that this word should be "fictionalized". I don't know about SDS, but perhaps that is an apt description for the process the blogs are going through now. We are fictionalizing. On the internet, the old saw runs, no one knows you're a dog. I get the feeling that a number of dogs in the blogosphere have themselves forgotten their caninity.