Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Issue is Modernity

Thanks to those of you who have written comments on the essay The Real Culture War: Defining the Background. It's not about "left-vs-right" or "morality" or any other 20th century cliche.

The issue is Modernity and how to deal with a new century of change.

It's drawn a lot of attention. I only wish the message could reach some of the prominent conservatives who are currently in agony over the madness sweeping their movement. (Liberals were able to do this, recognizing the evils of communism.)

alliancemodernworldTake my proposal for an Alliance for a Modern World. It's one approach to bring up-front what really matters - fealty to the pragmatic can-do spirit of modernity, which stands at the heart of the American Experiment.

Somehow we must learn to recognize that moderate pragmatists across America derive no benefit from today's idiotic "left-right political axis" which forces them into alliance with various kinds of fanatics.

And yes, it is awkward to use "romanticism" as a general term for those who oppose modernity. Let me make clear that I feel a strong tug of romanticism within, and show it in my writings. For example, even in the hard SF novel KILN PEOPLE, there is a notion of transcendence of the human soul. In THE LIFE EATERS I explore a parallel world in which magic (necromancy and human sacrifice) actually works.

In my essay about Tolkien, I emphasize that there are differences AMONG romantic writers. Tolkien himself was deeply thoughtful about the implications of his own story, and well-aware of the moral faults of his High Elves. He just could not bring himself to face the possibility that wisdom might increase with time. And THAT is the fundamental assumption that seems to propel most romanticism. A cynical rejection of the egalitarian uplift-potential of progress.

I am writing an essay about modernism that may supplement these ideas. Later.

See my series: The Radical Notion of Modernism


Sean Dustman said...

I'm worried about the direction that the conservitive movement is taking the country. It's a mystery on how we plan on making a lasting peace when we're always standing alone. I obviously support the war on terror but don't agree with the way that we are fighting it. Saddam was a bad evil guy and the administration would have done good with sticking to that excuse for coming here instead of the WMD's. We're spreading ourself to thin without any major support. How long can it go on? When does it become to costly to attack someone and who do we listen to since we don't listen to the UN. It's scary how close we're coming to the edge of a cliff that we could back away from.

Anonymous said...

Yeah- I'm tired of reasonable people being lumped together with fanatics as well. I'm a Democrat, I consider myself a liberal, but I find myself attacked by both sides for many of my positions. I'm pro-globalization, pro-free trade, I support reforming the UN, I supported the war in Afghanistan- yet I opposed the war in Iraq. So, according to the right, I'm a far-left peacenik, and according to the left I'm right-wing capitalist pigdog. I generally have "libertarian" social views- I oppose most gun control, I oppose most affirmative action programs, yet I support gay marriage, firm separation of church and state, drug legalization, and abortion rights (though I'm willing to support a ban on 3rd-trimester abortion and parental notification).

I'm very much a liberal centrist, yet the "right" considers me just shy of a communist (and I've been called such), whereas the left accuses me of being a DINO (Democrat in Name Only), and a prime example of why Nader was right when he said there was no longer a difference between the two major parties. In other words, I can't win. :P

Down with the right-left spectrum- and up with reasonable politics! We can't let anti-intellectual fanatics- and intellectual morons (to borrow the term from Daniel Flynn)- to win the battle for America.

-Nicq MacDonald

Anonymous said...

Left-Right Axis - How did you get the Talking Heads as being on the right??? i'm so confused.

David Brin said...

About the Talking Heads... the group I was REALLY thinking off was Oingo Boingo. Sorry.

As for the poster above who feels attacked by both left and right, join the club. You sound like a pragmatic problem solver who believes in libertarian principles moderated by a liberal conscience. The key word is pragmatist. the L-R fanatics will never forgive you for that.

We have got to get the word out that "moderates" are not more "tepid" than the radicals. DLC members are not "republican light". Barry Goldwater was not a 'democrat-light". Moderate pragmatists are OPPOSITE to the neocons and lefty-flakes where it really counts. We are the ones who PASSED civil rights and environmental laws, while others yelled about them. We built universities and went to the moon and cured diseases and built bridges.

We favor small business - the generator of taxable wealth - while the fanatics are working hard only for aristocrats... or for there to be no business at all.

It's a different axis. Whether or not you believe in the modern world.

Anonymous said...

David, I agree with you. It seems to me that the only real "out" to this circular problem is to gain support, and make our viewpoint stronger. I believe that the only real way to do that is to prove that we can/will get things done that need to be done. If anything was proven from this past election it was the fact that people can be motivated to make a decision as to where they stand. The resulting frustration of so many people who got caught on the wrong side of the axis, needs to be taken advantage of. The frustration of the others who are disatisfied with the extremes of their axis needs to be catered to. Of course all this requires that we do that which we no longer trust. Build an organization with a powerbase cabable of reaching out and touching people.

Anonymous said...

I especially like your point about small business- it's both the generator of taxable wealth, and owning such a business is the aspiration of many, many Americans. One of the faults of the Democratic party as of late has not been tapping in to this (unlike the Democrats who swept Montana, playing a populist small business vs. big business card). Historically, in my home state of South Dakota, we've had two parties of small business- one that ran the state at home (the GOP), and one which represented us in Washington (the Dems). Protecting our agricultural economy and our small towns was job number one.

Now the winds have shifted, however. The family farmer is pretty much gone, and the small towns are disappearing. If it wasn't for the booming growth of Sioux Falls, South Dakota would probably be dropping in population by at least 5,000 a year. On top of that, the old prairie populist system has broken down, with the replacement of Tom Daschle with John Thune, a man who represents all that I dislike about the GOP- a combination of "moral issues" pandering with big-business aristocrat economics. While many western traditional conservatives have shown a willingness to take stands against the direction their party is going in (Chuck Hagel and John McCain, for instance), Thune doesn't seem like the type. I wasn't overly fond of Tom Daschle either, but at the very least he was another vote holding back the majority, and he served my state well for 26 years- no mean feat, that...


Anonymous said...

Ian Wright
I bookmarked this site several months ago, and have found it useful for comparing the positions of politicians here in Canada. It has a section on the US 2004 elections, and the Iconochasms quiz is great. The site is the Political Compass

Incidentally David, ignore the note I e-mailed you about registration. I looked at the page twice, and managed to miss the 'post as anonymous' option twice. Time for a new eye prescription I guess. Sorry.

David Brin said...

re alternatives to the LR axis. Yes I've seen the Political Compass.

Unfortunately, although this tries to escape the fallacies of the hoary French L-R axis, it failes. The authors created a matrix that is tendentious, meaning that they already knew where they figured that right-minded people like then oughta wind up. Therefore the questions "lead" toward that place. Moreover, their "axes" are not purely orthoganal... they are not truly independent of each other. Thus the two axes MAP onto one another and are very poor at separating groups, accordingly.

My own alternative is THREE dimensional.
L-R is "do you believe in private property"
up-down is "shall your favorite elites have to power to coerce what they believe to be right."
in-out is "do you believe differences among human beings arise from nature or nurture?"

Stalin was Left-top-out, Hitler was middle-top-in, neocons are right-top-in, Anarchists are left-bottom out Libertarians range from right-bottom in to out.

I have lately been leaning toward adding a fourth factor: "do you believe that human improvability supports a modernist belief in human generated progress?"

In fact, I think this last one is the key divide in American life today. I'll be posting an essay about it soon.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the system is tendentious, but I'm not sure that it's unneedfuly so. Any set of questions intended to chart people's political opinions will need to be - Not really leading, but questions that get people in the gut as well as the head. "Do you believe in private property?" is also a tendentious question - Believe in? The right to own property is an absolute item of faith? Or do you believe in graded degrees of ownership (You can own as many postage stamps as you want, and do whatever you want with them, but you'd better have licence, registration, and insurance for that car, and obey the traffic laws)? I agree that the site's proposed system isn't perfect. Their questions could use some more work, and a "Don't care" or "Neutral" button would be useful. They should scrap the left-right labelling on the graph, at the very least. Those terms have picked up so much political baggage over the years that they're meaningless.

I also agree that a three- or four-dimensional system would be more accurate. But would it be more useful? Part of the purpose of these charts and polls is to spark free and open exchanges of opinion (Sometimes involving small-arms fire), as a sort of short-hand for a range of opinions. A two-factor system might be easier to sell to the general public as an alternative to the current, outright stupid, one-factor system (It's really a no-factor system, given that there's no single definition of all the ways 'right' and 'left' are used in discussions). Hopefully breaking away from the "I'm left/right so I support the left's/right's scary crazy people" system would spark the formation of Coalitions of the Sane, not just in the US but here in Canada as well. There are some distressing signs that the kind of rabid partisanship seen in your 'culture wars' is growing here.

Ian Wright

Anonymous said...

Forgive my ignorance here, but are their any examples of Democratic nations with three major political parties?

Anonymous said...

Lots. In most cases control of parliament, congress, the diet, etc, is swapped back and forth between two or three major parites, with the smaller parties supporting coalition governments. As far as I can tell, the two-party system in the US is a result of the Civil War. Before the Civil War there were several federal parties, most of them temporary coalitions meant to press specific issues. After the war Democrat and Republican support divided along geographic lines, and stayed that way for generations.

Canada - Liberals (Middle of the road, "the natural ruling party of Canada", and the largest single institution in Canada in terms of membership), Conservatives (Mostly moderate right, but with some extremists who think US President Bush and his supporters are incapable of error), New Democratic Party (Socialist), and a couple of other minor federal parties (Greens, Bloc Quebecois). The Conservatives took themselves out of the race a few years ago with party infighting, and were briefly hijacked by the extremists. They seem to be drifting back to their historical positions now. Japan - Liberal Democratic Party, Democratic Party of Japan, New Komeito, and I think one other party has seats in the Diet. Germany - Social Democratic Party, Christian Democratic Union (Name has changed several times, I could be behind the times here), Greens, Federal Democratic Party.

Ian Wright

Anonymous said...

Democratic countries with three major political parties?

Germany and Britain both spring to mind.