Thursday, February 10, 2005

Back to Modernism: Under Assault from All Sides (Part 11)

Departing from the spasmodic passion of political blogging (lest we despair over the blatant run-up toward unnecessary war with IRAN) let us now return to the serialized essay on modernism.

My detailed arguments about this administration's ideological and other motives can be found on two essay-sites: 

NeoConservatism, Islam and Ideology: The Real Culture War 


War in the 21st Century: Maturity vs. Neocon Panic and the True Role of Pax Americana 

Modernism Part 11: Under Assault from All Sides

Liberalism-ModernityLast time, in Part 10: How Liberalism has betrayed Modernity I talked about the slow but steady alienation that has grown between two former allies, the liberal left and progressive modernism. This chasm is not as total and devastating (yet) as the one on the other side.

 The Democratic Party is still marginally led by modernist pragmatists. But the selection of Howard Dean as party chairman shows which way the wind is blowing. Soon, not a single national political institution will remain un-radicalized by one form or another of romanticism.

Of course we have seen extreme examples on the left, who at times make Jerry Falwell sound like a believer in tolerance and science! The latest poster boy for the "Romantic Che" complex is Ward Churchil, who compared denizens of the Twin Towers to Eichmann. The neocons love guys like this because they serve as wonderful strawmen-bogeymen, helping to consolidate their hypnotic hold over decent, conservative Americans who might otherwise notice their leaders' monstrous habits.

War21CenturyIn my last posting, I spoke of how the growing romanticism of the left began banishing former allies - space, nuclear power, engineers, the military, the churches.

And then... "Liberalism began reflexively assuming that everything white, rural or suburban, bourgeois, American, or socially demure was automatically suspect, until people with those traits began responding with hostility of their own. The very word “liberal” became a weapon in the hands of its enemies. And when this happened, the movement’s elites only made things worse by diagnosing that the common citizens had been brainwashed by propaganda. Contempt for the masses, invigorating and satisfying, thereupon displayed its deadly side-effect -- political suicide."

Meanwhile, scientists were being driven off by conservatism. For that movement, too, had been taken over by dogmatists. By a triple alliance of groups who actively hate science and all that it represents.

  --By a clique of aristocratic kleptocrats who do not believe in economics.

  --By apocalyptic sects that reject geology and biology.

  --By neoconservative imperialists who repudiate climatology, ecology, chemistry, pharmacology and... ultimately... history.

Why has nobody commented on this? The Left has nothing but contempt for engineers, spurning can-do projects in favor of a single party line prescription for saving the world. Puritanical conservation. We must quickly abandon our cars and shiver in the dark. (Political suicide, but boy does it feel virtuous.)

Meanwhile, the Right - while willing to pay engineers for near-term guns and toys - will have no truck with ambitious research into technologies that might save a planet through assertive conservation -- vastly improved efficiency standards and sustainable energy supplies.

Neoconservatives smile and shrug at petitions signed by scores of Nobel Prize winners, since egghead boffins obviously cannot possess any common sense. The neocons’ oft-expressed contempt for objective reality -- as opposed to a subjective/ideological model of the world -- mimics that of the postmodernist left with eerie perfection. (Foucault or Leo Strauss? The common theme is a belief that elites can redefine reality however they like, as a matter of magical will.)

(As they have redefined "freedom." And now they are talking themselves into redefining IRAN….)

==Extremes of both Left and Right==

While rejecting science, both movements are infested with romantic nostalgia for a better past-that-never-was. The future cannot be a realm of promise and opportunity.

Oh, there are differences. The Left is certainly sincere in fretting about tomorrow’s dangers.

 But meanwhile, no one seems to notice how closely their dark forebodings of ecological collapse resemble the apocalyptic visions of right-wingers who confidently expect an imminent end to this world, amid a reckoning foretold in the Book of Revelation. (See my essay, Whose Rapture?)

These gloomy visions are not only eerily similar, they are chillingly compatible.


... next in Part 12... Michael Crichton and Margaret Atwood: fanaticism in fiction illustrates the alliance of romantics against science...
Or return to Part 1 of this series: The Radical Notion of Modernism: Is it relevant for the Twenty-first Century?


David Brin


Anonymous said...

"The Democratic Party is still marginally led by modernist pragmatists. But the selection of Howard Dean as party chairman shows which way the wind is blowing. Soon, not a single national political institution will remain un-radicalized by one form or another of romanticism."

Would you care to back up your assertion that Howard Dean represents radicalized leftist romanticism? Or -- and no disrespect intended -- have you just swallowed the Club For Growth's (sic) story on him hook, line, sinker, and pole and are just parroting it here verbatim?

Dean is highly partisan. But that doesn't necessarily put him on the radical left. His main legacies that make people want to put him there were his opposition to the second Iraq war (he has often cited his support of the first) and his signature of Vermont's civil unions bill. Yet, you agree with him on the former position and his hand was forced on the latter, making his signature of that law both principled and pragmatic.

Anonymous said...

I don't quite understand how Dean, a relatively moderate Vermont governor (who early in his presidential campaign was described as "the libertarian") was turned into a leftist boogeyman. Sure, he did put together a coalition composed of most of the Green and Democratic far-left, but I see him as more as an opportunist who was trying to triangulate his way to a primary victory through appealing to the sheer grass-roots power of the left's activists. Though I did not support him (I was a Wesley Clark man myself), he seems to have a very pragmatic, opportunistic approach to his politicking- I think he could be just the many the Democrats need to get their activist machine back online. If anything, his problem isn't being an ideologue- it's being too cynically machiavellian!

I'm not sure we're in a blatant run-up to a war with Iran, either. In fact, if the SOTU was any indication, Iran is off the front burner for now- the new target is Syria, which, if anything, is even worse for America. They're far smaller than Iran, but there are probably few people in the middle east who like Americans less. A war with Syria is just asking to get bogged down in guerilla war- and a gross imperial overstretch. Not that Iran would be a walk in the park either- and from the looks of things, their millitary is better equipped than (2003) Saddam's was.

Anyway, I was approached by a national guard recruiter the other day- I told him that while a free trip to Damascus was a tempting offer, I'm afraid I'll have to pass...

-Nicq MacDonald

Anonymous said...

I think I have to agree with Anonymous above. Dr. Brin, I suspect you're falling partly into the same kind of false dichotomy as much of the press lately. Which is reasonable, considering the press is a main source of information, but for their part, it's just lazines. It's the "Both sides are just as bad as each other" thing, which isn't always true.

For example, as cited in your article, Ward Churchill. Who is he? He's some professor, who says controversial and sometimes stupid things. Does he have any major influence on "The Left"? Not that I can see. He holds no elected office, he doesn't run any foundations, isn't part of some think tank feeding ideas to politicians. He doesn't have a newspaper column, talk show, or any appreciable influence that I know of. He's not any kind of face of "The Left." He's just a "wonderful strawmen-bogeymen" as you put it, that the neocons and "The Right" have blown into a huge thing to make people think he's "The Left." Whereas Falwell and Dobson and Limbaugh DO have power, and influence, and say many more, and loonier things.

Just because you can point at Person X on Side Y who says dumb things, that doesn't make it morally equivalent to Persons A, B, and C on Side Z who say dumb things. There's always going to be people who say dumb things. But the kind and amount of dumb things isn't the same.

And about Dean, as Anonymous above asked, how do you think he's an anti-modernist romantic?

Some of the other things about the extreme versions are true, like the comparison ecological catastrophe and the Book of Revelations, to pick one example. But the problem with them is these are usually fringe points of view. Though the Republicans have been making me wonder, lately. Really, the terms "The Left" and "The Right" are too broad and often get used to attribute fringe points of view to all of "The Left/Right".

- Nate

Rob said...

I'm actually glad Dean is going to be the new DNC chairman. McAuliffe was clearly ineffectual, presiding over the loss of Congress (I think, was he there in 94?) and the White House and seemingly unable to arrest the dissolution of the centrist consensus that the DLC was supposed to build and sustain. McAuliffe wasn't wrong, and he was a capable spokesman; but he never was able to galvanize the party and get it to do anything. Kind of like Gore and Kerry; he represented the old Democratic establishment, trying to inspire from the top down. He just seemed very "corporate" to me, for lack of a better explanation.

I was inspired by the Dean campaign from the moment I heard about him. Here was a leader who came from outside the establishment, supported values I agreed with, was able to challenge the administration credibly (no "I voted for it before I voted against it" BS), and who created an organization based on building from the bottom up. If there's anything obviously romantic about Howard Dean that I can see, it's a sort of Populist romanticism. Dean had the fire and energy of Dennis Kucinich without all the far-out (I hesitate to call them "goofy" or "wacko") ideas on foreign policy that made Kucinich almost unelectable and has apparently marginalized him politically (too bad, as I felt that Kucinich could be an excellent Interior secretary). I have hopes that Dean will be able to energize the party in the same way as Ed Gillespie has been able to energize the Republicans. By all rights, Dean should be President right now; he was clearly the strongest candidate in the Democratic field, able to inspire all Democrats with a fresh message delivered by a political outsider. I am thrilled that he has found a way to re-enter the national stage and have another chance at influencing our national policy debates.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to include the appropriate quote from William Gibson a while back on his blog.

"Indeed, I believe that the spectrum forms a full circle, with right and left merging, as they meet at their respective extremes, into luminous batshit evil."- Nate

Anonymous said...


As long as you want, you are welcome to argue against strawmen with yourself. But nobody is arguing the position in favor of 90% tax rates or that everyone has to ride a bicycle. If you want to enter into an actual discussion with other people, you should try arguing against actual positions that people hold. Partaking in the sort of onanism that you are engaging in in a public forum is rather self-indulgent, however.

Anonymous said...

Jacare - "What else did he mean when he said that he and his supporters were the "Democratic wing of the Democratic party" and other similar utterances?"

Well, "the Democratic wing of the Democratic party" would imply the part of the party that stands up for actual Democratic beliefs, unlike ones that'd vote for things like appointing people involved in abetting torture as Attorney General. And ones willing to stand up for what they believe, instead of just rolling over to be "bipartisan" and give the President cover to do whatever he wants.

Being opposed to the president and his programs doesn't make somebody an anti-modernist romantic. Nor does having been opposed to the War in Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you're obviously right about the seeming blindness that afflicts all power groups in the West (I live in UK) but I think it's only a version of the blindnesses that hit all previous societies headed for collapse or collision.
And that's due to our human inability to _really_ think outside of a single human life and life-time.
So they _know_ they're headed for critical losses of both resources and agricultural resources - both at home and world-wide - but their dedication to self-interest makes them hang on to what they think is best for them _right now_.
Whether that's going to lead to collapse / collision tomorrow (i.e. soon) I wouldn't know.

However I think we could take heart from a _human_ point of view (rather than a national or ethnic POV).

That's because I think long-term processes are working which tend to improve any intelligent species (a bit like A. R. Wallace's thoughts).

It's maybe too nuch to write here but you could try "Altruist Survivor" in a search-engine - and besides there are some pretty pictures on-page.

best wishes

Anonymous said...

Paul Krugman explains the distinction between being a lefty and being a fighter.

archivistemit said...

You are entitled to debate against strawmen with yourself for as long as you like. However, no one is saying that everyone must ride bicycles or that tax rates should be set at 90%. Try arguing against actual viewpoints that people hold if you wish to word hurdle engage in a real discussion with others. However, partaking in the kind of onanism you are doing in a public setting is pretty self-indulgent.