Top photo – One part Osiris, two parts Horus

Hello my friends, time for another podcast. This time some ideas about how we all got here, to this rather fraught moment. By ‘we’ I often mean western civilization in general, but I also have some unusual and specific reality to offer today. As part of trying to overcome all forms of tribalism – which indeed can be political, racial, cultural, class-based, or of course national, I have some things to share with my American friends today that Canadians don’t often admit in broader discussions about culture or politics. I also have some unusual treats that conservatives haven’t heard from lefties, and Christians haven’t heard from from atheists. Of course my leftie friends already know I am relentlessly curious and simply don’t do group-think or group cruelty. Which is why some of them find me heartening or nostalgic, and some rather frustrating.

“Unmutual” in the wonderful precision-surreality language of “the prisoner.” ;o)

As far as I can tell, for respect to work, the capability for it must be demonstrated and proven, and it must be offered in genuine spirit. It simply cannot be demanded, or exist one-sidedly.

Call me crazy, but I still think there is a way for regular working class people to get over all the false division and overturn the irresponsible creeps who are running us over a cliff. It isn’t really about left or right, the split is between thinking mostly about people, or mostly about institutions and technologies. The same inhuman trends scare many on the left and right, they just view the causes and best responses very differently, and tend to react with hostility to each other’s terms, even when they are discussing the very same underlying problems.

I still mean to do a show about transcendence and enlightenment – secular and religious, but this episode is an important foundation for that. We talk about the history of the last few generations as if we have learned all of the lessons we should have. Some even say there is nothing of value we can learn from those with attitudes that now seem immoral, by the light of our sophisticated modern standards. But guess what – the latest greatest best we can do will also seem utterly barbaric one day. That is simply the nature of reality and history. And every one of our risks and errors will also be worth learning from.

Best to be honest.

 

 

 

I know too many people who are hurting themselves with emotional extremes over tribalism these days. Being cut off from the world of simple pleasures and stimulus thanks to covid is a big part of the stress, no doubt – but we have also been exhorted toward extremes, and once you step into a position where you take pride in your hostility, it is incredibly hard to step down again – for men especially – without feeling as if you have chickened-out or suffered a defeat. Pride is weird and deeply irrational stuff, and intellectuals are especially good at mistaking ideas for territory, and then getting all messy and snarly in a territory marking contest.

Jocks hassle geeks, and geeks make fun of the brainlessness of sports – but jocks get catharsis – a way to exercise (and exorcise) their excess passion, that we geeks can only dream about. Not so easy to say who is better at sublimating unreason, concentrating and thinking clearly. Maybe whacking moving things with a big stick is an ideal boost for our intellect, from way back.

¯\_()_/¯

—————————————————

Now here’s a special treat to lift the hearts of anyone feeling hopeless about the potential for cooperation. Cornell West is simply one of my favourite human beings, and also the Christian pastor who speaks most directly to the heart of the faith which seems self-evident to me, despite my lifelong atheism.

In this conversation he’s talking to the also brilliant conservative economist Glen Lowry. They disagree about many of the most fundamental things, and they don’t ever pretend otherwise – but instead of name calling or rancour, they confide deeply in one another, and together find a profound common line of respect and understanding. This is brilliantly hopeful stuff.

 

2 Comments

  1. Magnificent socio-historical analysis. Worth a couple listens. I found this episode harder for me to get a handle on than most – even the title is metaphysically ambiguous. But I really thank you for the challenges presented therein, because they have been far more of the inspirational sort than the exasperating. My aunt is of the beat generation, and I regularly talk to her for hours about her life, and about life in general – about history. She’s got 40 years on me, but we see the world in remarkably similar ways, and share many concerns about the detached, technocratic dehumanization that is the hallmark of our current age. As such, our conversations often contain a refrain of disappointed nostalgia. For a time when, arguably, people had less “information” but there was a greater expectation of integrity at the personal level. Which of course translates into the interpersonal level. And this also entailed that information was less ephemeral, and hence warranted greater skepticism, as opposed to automatic belief.

    Part of my motivation in writing a response to your pieces is to set my thoughts in order regarding the subject matter. I believe this is partly therapeutic – albeit not self-indulgent – and partly to see what you or anyone else might say in response to my response. That clarifying function of communication is crucial – and something that I sometimes worry we’re losing with all our factionalism and bubble-dwelling. Actually, this was partly your point, wasn’t it? That there’s no fundamental vocabulary or formula, except maybe compassion (preferably blind, or blind-ish) plus work equals truth, justice, and prosperity. The word for the totality being “love”. So please be merciful if I step on toes or miss the target.

    It is funny indeed that part of the character of our historical era is a pervasive tentativeness. Image and “expression” are elevated above principle. We know what to do and that it must be done, but there’s a sort of risk aversion among many would-be influencers (that word has been totally co-opted hasn’t it?) that makes them, for all appearances, less principled. That has to do with issues of visibility and reputation – both of which are made more visceral, and more precarious, by social media’s reification of identity. And it also has to do with immediate economic concerns, and the enormous and frankly overwhelming complexity of the forces at play. Speaking for myself, and probably many others, I’m constantly stuck between lofty idealism and dysfunctional resignation. Stoicism is a survival strategy, but it can only take you so far from what is familiar.

    But should we assume that acting “from principle” always means different outcomes? There are other factors, after all. And we can’t always justify what we do, because we’re a part of the doing, not necessarily the initiators of it. For some things, we take responsibility regardless; for others, we apply our own custom rationalization. The importance of that notoriously hard-to-define principle forgiveness is evident here. We define it by living it and giving it.

    I sense that you tend to focus on the tension between know-how (modeling, let’s say) and radical, anti-deterministic freedom (of the sort many in our Aquarian age have had a taste of). I’m wary of determinism about anything and from any source – largely because I consider myself fairly well-informed, and yet never informed enough. I also have well-considered humanistic commitments, which I try to keep from becoming overly-sentimental OR capsizing due to the tears of cynics. Certainty brings a stifling atmosphere; the fresh air of truth is always welcome.

    The issue of permissiveness in parenting is complex. On the one hand, support is crucial for any dependent individual; on the other hand, if the goal is fostering their eventual independence, this shouldn’t shade over into control. (With the usual caveats about ensuring their immediate physical welfare.) As we take a look across the last few generations, might it be possible that child-parent relationships have actually improved? Hard to say, and even harder to generalize, but worth considering.

    The story of the Boomers is the intersection of myth and history. As such, it operates as a “just-so” story – a meta-assumption about how “then” (a previous era, embodying certain values) morphed into “now” and today’s values. (I’m using “values” very broadly – as the “episteme” etc. Which can be considered unknowable knowing, because it is always part of our interpretive apparatus.) I don’t begrudge your occasional jabs at the boomers – particularly when you are speaking your truth – but it sometimes feels like an overly broad premise. It may have explanatory force (or “fit”), and enable countless unique insights, but still omit crucial factors we should remain sensitive to.

    Today’s tech class seems to me an embodiment of some of the problematic values you attribute to boomers. The boomers’ unprecedentedly increased access entailed both a confrontation with the existing order, and a simplistic historical narrative solipsism. Ideology taking the lead in historical memory. The distribution of real wealth and real opportunities that ensued – among previously marginalized categories of people – left a lot of people out, and still does. The advancements / concessions enjoyed by a few effectively belied the marginalization of many. And it did so along lines that have little to do with the superficially plausible analysis (race, sex) of many of today’s advocates. (I think the word is “misrecognition” -?)

    However much we want to talk about dominant cultural forces and touchstones, we can’t overlook things like: immigration, demographics, multiculturalism, (these first three are distinct issues) women’s liberation (from the 50’s-onward – women role in the workforce and the home, birth control access, abortion rights, general assertion of personhood / repudiation of gender norms), and of course the massively bourgeoning post-war consumer markets, and the entrenchment of consumerist culture and business practices, with the aid of television and advertising, and all the political ramifications of that. And then remember that “the west”, over the past 20 years especially with the advent of the internet, can’t be looked at in a vacuum.

    These were, and are, all factors in the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Some of the “goods” that came with that were apparently accompanied by neglect and a loss of solidarity. (Or at least, the previously-assumed bonds or social truth, grounds for forging solidarity.) So, in what ways were they part of the “bribe”, as opposed to fuller realizations of solidarity and humanity, the fruits of which require more patience? We’re still figuring that out.

    Our default is to see all these cups as half-full, and to be grateful for the “abundance” of capitalism. Which is why everyone (all categories) must get a share. But what if capitalism itself is predicated on excesses at the individual level that are simply unsustainable? If the core modern justice issue is “access”, then we have to examine what it is that proponents and advocates are saying we should have access to. And how do we disentangle access from excess?

    As part of our attempt to adjust back to the appropriate sense of rights and responsibilities, there arose this recognition of group rights. The key idea is that different groups / categories have different histories. And that the better we can account for that, the more just will be our present. The problem with this is, it assumes that difference – diversity, to use the diluted rhetorical form – is unjust. And this has been one of the most transcendently toxic ideas in modern western civilization. It is the equation of the erasure of history with the realization of justice. (Maybe the definition of appropriation.) And I suggest that it does so via a shame about individual rights, mistaken for excesses – selfishness – of the type you sometimes attribute to the Boomers.

    What came after simply took much of what came before for granted. There was pervasive and blinding hypocrisy, which the following generation learned to reject. But they had their own hypocrisies. Whatever patterns we may observe in history, everything always occurs now. This brings us to the difference between learning “what” to think vs. learning “how” to think. To even recognize this is to have principle as a self-actualizing principle, rather than idealized self-expression. We are aware of our generalizations. Rather than being a means of licensing egotism, our assumptions are always being tested in the real world (and of course, defining the real world).

    Principle acknowledges doubt, and is thus open to truth. Idealized self-expression makes for a fragile ego, seeking the certainty it has been promised. We are only entitled to one of these things. Our sense of self should reflect our right to the truth, and it should eschew the promises of certainty. (Conformity / control / submission.)

    For all its self-congratulatory rhetoric about “connecting people” and pushing the boundaries of inclusion, dialogue and knowledge, big tech has done more to increase and exacerbate insularity than almost anything ever could. It has entrenched the generalizations of ideologues, ossified doubt into a form of bias-preserving certainty. The Venn diagram of information and self-expression should have only minimal overlap. This is why the fun ambiguities of “truth” have enjoyed a bit of a philosophical resurgence in recent years.
    This also connects to some of the discourse around “manhood” in recent years. Despite my usual rejection of constrictive gender norms, I am especially tired of those decidedly flaccid arguments that reduce all problems to the emasculation of males – or for that matter, the de-feminization of women (a condition that presumably would have balanced itself out – ?). Because even to the degree that this has some validity, it’s such a naive oversimplification. If only everyone knew their place, we’d find the confidence to assert who we really are! A counterpoint to this is to acknowledge that, yes, there are distinctly individual forms of dehumanization, that nevertheless seem peculiar to our age.

    Some of women’s liberation directly entailed neglectful parenting. You can’t easily separate these things. There are real, evolutionary, functional reasons norms took the shape they did for so long, and breaking from them may have caused fallout. You can say that one group (women) took on more risk by becoming more fully involved in public life, but also imposed risk on another group (children) by undermining a relationship of dependency. This may well have entailed an increase in children’s identification with social norms, but it’s hard to measure.

    Despite the fact that the real world always presents risks, we probably all believe that everyone has a right to feel safe in their community. Not threatened, not excluded. But this entirely noble and humane aim has made many believe that compassion is part of the fundamental character of our society – an assumption (really a piece of wishful thinking) which can lead to abuse of the vulnerable. The issue is not simply that there are bad actors in the world and we should therefore remain in hiding; it’s to take note of how we already are part of an insular society. Seeing that, and overcoming it, requires accepting the natural risks that accompany liberty, while rejecting the false protections of our would-be liberators. (Who are actually our exploiters.)

    But I hasten to add, we need to adjust our lives at the “structural” level to distribute risk in a way that actually entails embracing it. This is especially tricky in the context of tackling large-scale problems in a co-ordinated way, with mass education and effort. Very low trust in government shouldn’t correlate with higher regard for individual rights, but it does today. By the same token, trust in government institutions correlates with high regard for group rights – a condition which has enabled governments, academia, media and civil society (what used to collectively be called “the Establishment”) to play the politics of division and consistently undermine individual rights, while maintaining corporate hegemony. And the excess enabled by that hegemony serves to further discredit individual rights, as well as anything like sane trust in government.

    Many people have well-founded fears of incursions on already fragile civil liberties. The crucial question is, how are they to be convinced of the necessity of voluntary limits (austerity?) when such limits would present a serious threat to their liberty? (Consider the covid restrictions today; also, possible climate change-related restrictions.) Part of the problem is that our society has trained us to equate liberty with over-consumption, and hence we take true solidarity to require an impossible degree of sacrifice. This is what has to change. Even we in the affluent west, with all our relative access and “privilege” – we have as much a right to the best life as anyone. And yet, there is another limit we may have to accept: the limit to how much “our” affluence / opportunities can be (in principle) distributed downward. Past a certain point, they can’t be.

    I fear I’ve been swinging wide and fumbling in some of these notes. Make of them what you will. I hope you have a sense of what I’ve been driving at.

    • Thank you so much for this, Ian. I am still feeling guilty for not answering some previous stimulating comments you made – forgive me, I meant to do that directly after finishing this episode, then got stuck into another one of my crazy scratchbuilt songs – which means ridiculous levels of mental distraction, while juggling the thirty-five tracks of audio, and trying to fit them together into a structure that feels pleasing(ly weird) and plausibly deliberate. ;o)
      Anyhow – your previous comments inspired several useful notions which I am still working on developing, and these notes are likewise fertile material. I will come back and addresss them in more detail soon, promise. In the meantime, just in case it didn’t ‘read’ my primary intention here was to suggest a bit more empathy for sacrifices, mistakes and contributions made by folks who may now seem undifferentiated codgers to some (as indeed may I).
      You’re right that I swipe at boomers often, but the myth is so big and self-congratulatory, it needs doing regularly. I hope my emphasis on the extraordinary (and as you observe, now taken entirely for granted) progress they made in terms of living as yourself honestly by your own lights was at least some of the balance which I do, admittedly, occasionally overlook on their account(s).
      I also anticipate an opposite criticism will be well-deserved when I finally get to my piece about the human potential movement (longest show gestation by far, but I keep adding new ideas and angles, and also seeing unanticipated prerequisites I ought to cover first, where I thought insight more general, and compassion more reliable).
      More sune, man

      Cheers, hugs and love!

I am always curious about what you are thinking

Previous Story

Them’s Fightin’ Words

Next Story

Playing With Fire

Latest from Podcasts

Not Your Daddy

Hello folks – time for some full-strength politics once again! It is such a strange moment

Switch to mobile version
%d bloggers like this: