Monday, September 21, 2009

Translating Kinsella

As promised, in the wake of the wanton and desperate spinning on Kinsella's Blog, I thought that periodically I might offer, free of charge, a translation of said blog for the Kinsella impaired (i.e. those who aren't Liberals).

So, yesterday Warren woke up to find that the following had appeared in the Hill Times:
"He's [Ignatieff] put absolutely nothing on the table. It's just empty rhetoric," a top Liberal who supported Mr. Ignatieff (Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Ont.) in both of his leadership campaigns told The Hill Times last week. "It's not enough to say, 'That in good times we're going to bring forward the progress...' If he goes into an election and doesn't really have anything substantive to put on the table, we're looking at a massacre."
Although, this appears to be one of the most sensible and indisputable statements regarding Ignatieff's tenure so far, Warren was not too happy. Predictably Warren saw this as an unwarranted attacked, a betrayal etc., as if even a wisp of criticism of "Michael" will be tolerated by Kinsella. More predictably still was Kinsella's reaction. He responds with intimidation and threatens to hunt down this Liberal mole and put that mole out of his/her misery. He writes: "I intend to find out who you are, little Hill Times source weasel, and I intend to take a chainsaw to your political ambitions, however modest they may be."

No need to counterspin the unveiled threat, but we should note that the bluster, the sturm and drang, is an obvious attempt to distract from the fact that the Hill Times has made a very serious and damaging point regarding the Liberal campaign. Moreover, not to be missed, is Kinsella's attempt to co-opt Susan Delacourt for his cause. My reading of her piece is not that she too wants to hunt down and expose this mole, but that she is simply noting that this kind of instability and infighting is inherent to the Liberal brand, particularly when they're not in power. After all, inherent to Liberal ideology is the sense of entitlement to govern without having to "put anything on the table".

Anyway, a simple translation of Kinsella's blog for the last couple of weeks: a frenzied attempt to overhype his candidate because even a Liberal minority is a long shot in the coming "guerre" as he likes to call it. So disregard the pleas for tickets to sold out events, and the exaggerated claims (Iggy will clean up the economic mess- you mean the one the Liberals are largely responsible for???). Liberals are desperate for an election not because they realistically think they can win this one, but because their chances only get worse from here on out.

So why won't the Liberals form the next government? I think Chantal Hebert nails it with this piece. And like a good Liberal, on the day that Hebert's piece came out, Kinsella sidesteps the insightful article and instead attempts once again simply to change the channel by launching attacks and selectively quoting from the press.

p.s. still on the search for truly intelligent life in the Liberal blogosphere. "Impolitical" is OK, but are there any Liberal blogs capable of being incisive, astute, and simply well written?


Ti-Guy said...

p.s. still on the search for truly intelligent life in the Liberal blogosphere. "Impolitical" is OK, but are there any Liberal blogs capable of being incisive, astute, and simply well written?

You mean ones that criticise Liberals relentlessly, right?

These are partisan blogs, not dissertations on the human condition. Also, given your worship of Derrida, I imagine you're looking for writing that flatters you by being suitably mystifying and obscurantist. That's not the Liberals.

Derrida said...

Ti-Guy: To be serious for a moment. First, it's not quite Liberals but rather Liberalism that I wish to see relentlessly attacked. BTW, at the level of ideology I make very little distinction between the Liberal & the Conservative one, particularly today. So this is not about Kinsella. I mean if indeed it is the economy stupid!, then there's very little to choose between them. And I do believe it is the economy stupid, which is why I'm a democratic socialist wishing to reclaim and recuperate two crucial concepts (democracy & socialism) which the Left has allowed others to define and vilify. All to say its not personal, it's all business (i.e.. it's political).

If you read my previous post, I share your presumption that political blogs are in a sense by definition partisan. But I then wonder, if that necessarily means that one, especially one who occupies the position that Kinsella does, writes with pure impunity, without restraint and responsibility.

Thirdly, yes having a high regard for Derrida does mean that I pay a certain amount of attention to language and nuance, but I wouldn't describe Derrida's writing as mystifying nor obscurantist. Deconstruction is simply ethical.

So as far as the writing goes, bloggers like Ghost of a Flea and Edward Michael George, both of whom clearly have a solid classical education and a wonderful grasp of English, both despise Derrida. It's not about flattery, it's about basics (writing, thinking, understanding history & culture). I guess what i'm saying is that there is neither a great deal of intellect, nor, as the kids say these days, "flava" in the Liberal blogosphere. Liberal blogs that I've encountered tend to be dull and ho hum, ideologically committed only to results/ winning.

The Pontificator said...

Try this one:

Seems to have gone a bit dark lately, but maybe you could revive?

Ti-Guy said...

First, it's not quite Liberals but rather Liberalism that I wish to see relentlessly attacked.

Isn't that what neoconservatism is? A critique of/attack on liberalism?

Derrida said...

Yes, I agree that neoconservatism would constitute an attack on Liberal ideology, particularly Liberalism's "progressive" attitudes and contemporary Liberalism's abandonment of all principle at the expense of a win at all cost mentality (a disease which seems to afflict all political parties, but is central to modern Liberal ideology). But on the question of the economy both ideologies are essentially indistinguishable.

Having said this, I hope that you are not suggesting that the only consistent position from which to criticize Liberalism is neoconservatism and thereby trying to brand me as one.Obama represents the greatest current threat to socialism precisely because he enables those who are other than socialists to circumscribe and define socialism. Obama embodies socialism in order to prolong capitalism. He hardly stands in a critical relation to capitalism.

Ti-Guy said...

Having said this, I hope that you are not suggesting that the only consistent position from which to criticize Liberalism is neoconservatism...

It's the only non-Marxist critique of Liberalism that I'm aware of that is supported by at least the pretence of intellectual sophistication and a certain degree of scholarly rigour, much of it admittedly dishonest (if not outright irrational), highly selective and distorted, naturally, by true Conservatism's anti-democratic attitude to class.

Liberals have had difficulty making their ideological critics (neoconservatives and Marxists) understand that Liberalism is fundamentally non-ideological and pragmatic, something they tend to view as either "unprincipled," dishonest or, at best (and contrary to a lot of evidence) indifferent to the common good. Quite likely because their critics are very much invested in hating Liberals more than they are interested in understanding the complexity and constructive ambiguity that Liberals accept as fundamental to politics in a diverse society (and fundamental to reality, of course).

I will agree with you that Liberals, particularly American Democrats, do in fact "enable those who are other than socialists to circumscribe and define socialism." We are lucky in Canada that socialists don't have to become Liberals to have their views represented in our parliaments, only to watch them become distorted and their support betrayed. Remember...a lot of people like you in the US voted for Obama.

Derrida said...

Ti-Guy, I don't care what they say about you, I kind of like you and, more importantly, I respect what you have to say, since it seems thoughtful and genuine. I agree with most of what you've written, although I strongly disagree with your contention that Liberalism is fundamentally non-ideological. I've written a few posts around here about the nature and purpose of ideology and won't repeat most of it, but suffice to say that in order to circumscribe and delimit a coherent world view, all ideological thinking begins with the that it is non-ideological, which is done, for instance, by appealing to the self-evident and unquestionable core of the ideology. Conservatives like to talk about the naturalness and obviousness of things like human nature, the functioning of the market, rational self-interest etc. Liberals, often appeal to the same "rational" obviousness, but simply come up with different results from Conservatives. Liberals and Conservatives tend to very much converge on issues of the free market, private property, and individualism, but tend to differ on issues such as human nature, "progress", role of government etc. Marxists, in my view, simply challenge Liberal/Conservative appeal to self-evidence and replace it another set of views that seems more "pragmatic/ self-evident" (human nature is a social construct, Adam Smith was full of crap, "rational self interest in a capitalist society is an illusion, history is the history of class conflict and the means used to provision for oneself have a powerful effect on the way one relates to oneself and others and all of these assumptions seem guaranteed in the name of Justice).

So Liberal ideology can't but be ideological. But like all ideologies only sees other ideologies as ideological, and sees itself as the only obvious, reasonable, natural, and in your case "pragmatic" choice for all. It seems to me, what Liberals are calling "pragmatic" these days simply means an ideology of being everything to everyone in order to ensure electoral success, since after all, the Liberals are the "natural" governing party and therefore must return to power whenever they find themselves removed from power. I mean, for instance, the only reasonable and pragmatic approach to capitalism, seems to me, is to abandon it altogether. Remember crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Crazy, in this sense, is a feature of all ideology including Liberal ideology and Marxist ideology. We will often adhere to an ideology even in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence, especially in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence; for to let go of ideology is to let go of sense, consistency and coherence in our lives.


Ti-Guy said...

We diverge fundamentally if you think you can convince me that Liberalism is ideological; certainly the Conservatives don't view it that way at all; to them, a lack of ideology is what they hold responsible for the Liberals' lack of "principle" and "courage of conviction" and all the other platitudes they trot out to explain their self-evident superiority.

I can't address the rest of what you've written. I just couldn't get past some of the conceptual ambiguities inherent in some of your assertions, particularly what you wrote about self-evidence.

Anyway, you might start looking into the science of complex systems for an alternative to deconstruction for a more empirically-persuasive (and ethical) mode of inquiry, at least for those issues that can only be addressed, in the here and now, with political and/or technological approaches, which are the issues governance should be concerned with (not "values," "morality" or "meaning," in other words). Any approach that rests on a re-imagining of human nature when we don't even know what that is right now is, however well-meaning, doomed to failure, mostly as a result of unintended consequences.

Lastly, just to address your anti-capitalism (the feelings for which are the same as I have for democracy...the worst system possible except for all the others):

Capitalism, as we know it, will end when resource scarcity is no longer an issue for human beings. No amount of wishful thinking for force of will will cause that to happen sooner, if it ever happens at all.

Derrida said...

Ti-Guy, of course you and I are fundamentally irreconcilable, owing in large measure to the ideological coordinates that circumscribe our respective constructions of reality. But I'm grateful nonetheless that you approach me with respect and a genuine attempt to understand where I'm coming from, something which I hope to have reciprocated (and to that extent I must admit that there do seem to be some signs of intelligent life in the Liberal world).

This is likely not the best medium to pursue a conversation that truly deserves to be followed through. Let me simply go back to basics and hopefully clarify some of what I wrote previously. For me, an ideology is a set of interrelated presuppositions that together weave a reasonably consistent worldview regarding questions about human nature, community, justice, governance etc.

Ideologies are not empirical beliefs systems, for systems which are truly empirical are continuously open to falsifiability and revision. For me, ideologies are quite the opposite; they are less concerned with rational understanding of reality and more concerned with unconscious fantasy, narcissism and desire. Ideology is a largely unconscious frame around reality that preconditions what will be constructed as reality. It is constituted by beliefs so inexorable and unquestionable as to need not any explanation, which is why from within a given ideology one's beliefs seem perfectly natural and beyond reproach and only the other guy's beliefs seems ideologically motivated. In every day discourse ideology is especially operative whenever one hears "Everyone knows..., It is said... "Of course...", "The reality is...", "It is what it is", "Truth is", The consensus is...".

"platitudes they trot out to explain their self-evident superiority."-
Not a bad explanation as to how ideology resists falsifiability and reproduces itself at the same time. To be honest, I tend to see Conservatives and Liberals generally speaking as misguided dupes without any sense of self-reflexity, critical thought nor any regard for justice. Conservatives and, I suspect most Liberals see me as a "moonbat", pinko socialist who has no sense of the "real world". Liberals tend to characterize Conservatives as misanthropes. And round and round and round. Let he without a sense of self-evident superiority (i.e. ideology) cast the first stone. And perhaps we could at least agree on that.

You can't seriously believe that Liberalism isn't ideological: an ideology of entitlement and winning at all costs is perhaps the purest ideology I can think of. You're welcome to think it's self-evidently superior, but devoid of ideology??? Only if we start out with very different notions of ideology.

Take care...

Ti-Guy said...

owing in large measure to the ideological coordinates that circumscribe our respective constructions of reality.

I don't have a "construction of reality." The assumption with which I've always operated is that there *is* a reality out there that is constantly being uncovered. That in fact has been a choice I've made, since the alternative is pointless and solipsistic and only leads to...well, discussions like these. ;)

To stay focused on the topic (Liberalism is ideological):

Not a bad explanation as to how ideology resists falsifiability and reproduces itself at the same time.

That's not a function of ideology. It's a function of intellectual dishonesty on the part of the Conservatives. I've given up trying to understand why the Right, or the types of people who gravitate towards the Right, are so invested in dishonesty (no better demonstrated, unequivocally, by their legendary hypocrisy and their indifference to, if not outright rejection of, well-established matters of fact). Nevertheless, you can't use that as an argument in a debate about ideology. I insist that anything worth taking seriously be, above all, honest (or at least, candid).

You seem to be going back and forth between what Liberalism is and how some Liberal politicians (like all politicians) behave. That's just not persuasive enough a challenge to my conviction that Liberalism is just not ideological. And you can't keep arguing that the Liberal ideology is power for power's sake, given the record of progressive politics the Liberals can claim (a lot of which comes from taking ideas that surface on the Left and the Right and refining them to be acceptable to both constituencies. That's not power for power's sake; it's power to achieve the broadest consensus possible, which is the only way democratic politics function well. If I ever thought social conservatives, libertarians or socialists could ever achieve that on their own, I'd be less worried about how they'd wield power once in government. I already know that the Harper Conservatives abuse power as I suspected they would; I don't know what the socialists would do at the federal level (where they would be challenged by constituencies that are deeply hostile to them) and frankly don't want to find out. I lived through Bob Rae's tenure in Ontario and that was enough for one lifetime (and in case you're wondering, I don't hold him responsible; his supporters in the NDP were the real culprits; I witnessed that first hand).

Liberals tend to characterize Conservatives as misanthropes.

Why do you dismiss this out-of-hand as nothing but partisan sniping? I'm sure you are aware of the uncharitable views Conservatives have with respect to people who do not share their belief system. Conservatives are generally gushy and maudlin when it comes to their own and vicious and bilious when it comes to everyone else, an emotional roller-coaster that doesn't suggest anything genuine or serious, but rather superficial and petty. I don't really chock that up to misanthropy (personally, I'm convinced it's a result of low intelligence, under-exposure to documented information and a rather narrow life experience) but a certain bleakness is something that has always been fundamental to the Right. When I became politically aware/engaged in my teen years, the unrelenting crankiness over trivialities was the first thing that caused me to decide that, whatever I was, I wasn't that. In fact, it took me almost two decades to realise that these cranks are what constitute the Right, everywhere in the World. At least lefty cranks are cranky about things that matter, for the most part. Deconstruction being an obvious exception that, at risk of insulting you personally (which I don't intend), needs to be relegated to the dustbin of history. I really am serious about that.