June 24, 2006

Quote for the Weekend, and More

This captures a perspective that resonates very deeply with me, and it is expressed wittily and profanely (two qualities I find intensely appealing):
As for me, well, shee-it. If I seriously bought into all that "the law is the law, and if you don't like it change it, but until then keep obeying it" bullshit, I'd have become a fucking Republican.

That's Kevin Carson, in a lengthy analysis of the issues raised by the South Central Farmers controversy. I haven't followed that story at all closely, and the questions it raises fall into areas about which I consider myself notably ignorant. But as is always the case, when Kevin develops an argument in detail, he strikes me as much more convincing and comprehensive in his treatment than do his opponents. I'm finally going to compile a blogroll in the next few weeks. I think one of the sections will be titled something like: Places Where I Learn Stuff. Kevin's site goes in the top group within that category. And as the quote above indicates, Kevin can make you laugh out loud. That is an unqualifiedly good thing.

Speaking of Kevin trouncing his opponents, and to the extent I've followed it (which, I admit, is also not all that closely), I'm very much enjoying his ongoing debate with Randian economist George Reisman, the latest installment of which is here. I particularly note a couple of Kevin's concluding paragraphs:
Reisman simply starts from the assumption that the system of rules he favors is right and proper, and that other systems of rules are pernicious. He then uses loaded terminology, both god-terms and devil-terms, to describe analogous phenomena in the respective systems. I believe it's called begging the question.

Perhaps I'm overpsychologizing things, but Reisman seems almost pathologically deficient in the empathy or imagination, or whatever it takes to put oneself in someone else's place sufficiently to be able to understand, on its own terms, an argument he disagrees with.
In terms of certain issues I've been thinking about, the part I've highlighted connects to a much larger set of problems I see with Ayn Rand, her ideas, and the most vocal of her contemporary admirers (among whom I most decidedly do not now count myself in any serious respect at all, as I have not for several years, and certainly not with regard to Rand as a thinker). In fact, a discussion of the gravely serious and dangerous defects I find in Rand's thought will be included as one installment, and possibly two, in my series, Systems of Obedience.

It may seem strange and paradoxical that a philosophy that nominally proclaims the critical virtues of rationality and independence should, in fact, be a leading example of a system of thought that relies on and significantly amplifies its advocates' willingness to obey their "leaders" and "follow the rules." But that is how Rand's philosophy operates, certainly in terms of how her most zealous admirers apply her ideas. Beyond this, there are numerous instances where Rand's method of argumentation and her embrace of utterly arbitrary positions give logic a bad name, despite Rand's own fondness for having been called "Mrs. Logic." As I say, I will be analyzing these and related questions in some detail in the near future.

And in terms of the seeming contradiction between Rand's supposed admiration for reason and individualism and the principle of obedience that dominates many of her admirers (a principle, I will argue, that is to be found in her own methodology), that is not so strange after all -- if one knows what to look for. As Alice Miller points out, terms and labels in themselves signify very little:
There is a good deal else that would not exist without "poisonous pedagogy." [See the full post for Miller's definition of that term.] It would be inconceivable, for example, for politicians mouthing empty cliches to attain the highest positions of power by democratic means. But since voters, who as children would normally have been capable of seeing through these cliches with the aid of their feelings, were specifically forbidden to do so in their early years, they lose this ability as adults. The capacity to experience the strong feelings of childhood and puberty (which are so often stifled by child-rearing methods, beatings, or even drugs) could provide the individual with an important means of orientation with which he or she could easily determine whether politicians are speaking from genuine experience or are merely parroting time-worn platitudes for the sake of manipulating voters. Our whole system of raising and educating children provides the power-hungry with a ready-made railway network they can use to reach the destination of their choice. They need only push the buttons that parents and educators have already installed.

Crippling ties to certain norms, terminology, and labels can also be clearly observed in the case of many thoroughly honorable people who become passionately engaged in political struggle. For them, political struggle is inseparably associated with party, organization, or ideology.
The earlier post has a lengthier discussion of these ideas, and Miller also discusses the profoundly different example of Sophie and Hans Scholl. Miller explains some of the differences in their background and attitudes that allowed the Scholls to see through Hitler's vicious, manipulative lies, while most of their peers and friends did not. As you undoubtedly know, the Scholls played a major part in the White Rose resistance movement, and finally paid for their opposition to the murderous Nazi regime with their lives.

In that essay, I also point out how the mechanisms that Miller identifies operate in our current political climate:
How else can we explain the phenomenon of intelligent people who proclaim their allegiance to "American values," to individual rights and to liberty heralding Bush as the great defender of those same values -- even as he acts to undercut them at the most fundamental level? How else do we account for the blatant contradiction inherent in the idea of launching a war of aggression against a third-rate country that posed no threat to us -- supposedly in the name of "peace" and "democracy"? What else can explain the continuing refusal of the most vehement hawks to acknowledge the devastation suffered by those we supposedly are "liberating," the Iraqis -- or suffered by the members of our own military? How else do we explain the means by which intelligent commentators end up justifying the use of torture, commentators who contend that we have "no choice" about turning ourselves into the very same monsters we say are our enemies?
So, much more to come on all these themes.

In the meantime, go read some Kevin Carson. He'll make you smarter.