Archive for December, 2015

Reacting to the Regressive Left

December 31, 2015

stephen-fry

The year 2015 has been fecund to the lunatical ideas of the ideologically repressive cultural authoritarians on the left. My ideological neighbors have invented genders, manufactured outrage, increasingly barricaded us against dissenting ideas, and have even maddeningly tried to repeal free speech protections. Enough, I say. Somehow this vocal minority dominates political dialogue, parroting absurd maxims like “Check your privilege.” These intolerable, insufferable, regressive ideas have unwittingly abandoned their very liberal founding principle: Liberty for all.

Notable public figures such as Sam Harris, Douglas Murray, Dave Rubin, Majiid Nawaz, Milo Yiannopoulos etc. have merely began naming the problem. Every side of the political spectrum has begun to wake up to this unconscionably stupid movement on the left. The dogma of minority groups has seeped its way into the very fabric of public universities, social media, and now our government. Let’s not be cowardly and ignore what these hateful “liberal” goals are: The subjugation of the straight, white, cis-gendered, middle-class male. These gender, race, class warriors have no idea what the hell they are talking about and, thus, don’t notice the glaring contradiction of their skeletal ideology. With one hand, they preach tolerance, with the other, they oppress the group they are preaching to.

Roughly a year ago, I penned two brief essays alluding to these problems. My writings weren’t nearly ambitious and honest enough; my rhetoric was hedged by an urge to remain neutral and politically correct to my friends on the left. Unfortunately, neutrality is no longer possible if we are to maintain the kind of free speech and liberty I value as a participant in the democratization of society.

I’ve defined Regressive Leftists as cultural authoritarians; that is, collectivist ideologues who dictatorially and unorganically impose their values onto society. Regressives are most clearly exemplified in millennials who, in their attempt to subvert racism, sexism, xenophobia, ageism, etc., become vitally and dogmatically concerned with social justice. (Funnily enough, my generation is the most tolerant, least xenophobic in history.) On the surface, this is wonderful to see. There are no tenable arguments in support of such unreasonable, prejudicial views about human beings, in my view. Trickles of discrimination clearly have festered to some extent in America and, sometimes, are far from surreptitious. Thus, we must address these bad views through civil discourse. To this extent, my views on these issues are indistinguishable from my fellow liberals. That all human beings should be treated with equal dignity and respect, is a self-evident truth.

Regressives go further than the position I have outlined, however, for these views on basic human decency have been hijacked by angry, ignorant, misanthropic, imbecilic values. There are explicit ideological tenets and doctrine to which one must adhere if one is to nowadays be “politically correct.” Whether explicit or implicit, one must be ideologically hegemonic in these politically correct circles, lest one be smeared with a laundry-list of pejoratives. These pejoratives are tools with which to immediately besmirch the insulted person’s intelligence, integrity, opinions, and beliefs, thus dismissing their argument without every needing to engage it. That alone is an embarrassingly immature way to begin civil discourse, especially regarding politically salient issues (i.e. disproportionate black men in prison). Radical as it is, I find it a deontic imperative that one listens to differing views from one’s own. My fellow leftist Regressives are too often not acknowledging the humanity of their interlocutors, which is terrifyingly pernicious.

I’d go as far as to characterize this regressive, cultural authoritarian movement as religious. Borrowing from Maajid Nawaz’s excellent work, consider these four elements of religious social movements: Ideas, Narratives, Symbols, and Leaders. Ideas–or, more accurately, dogma–are the cause one believes in, the goal of the social movement. Narratives are the propagandistic mechanisms employed to sell the aforementioned idea. Symbols are identity tools of iconography to congregate followers under one banner. Leaders are the charismatic individuals which we transfer the symbolic meaning of the social movement onto. Collectively, all of these elements comprise what are being called “Social Justice Warriors.” I’d go further, as these uncannily religious qualities are the very foundation on which my regressive political neighbors make their arguments–well, claims really.

I deplore the trend of regressivism so vitriolically because of this uncanny resemblance to organized religion. Religion, to my mind, is beyond mere theism–which I will table for now so as not to derail the broader discussion of the regressives. Let it suffice for me to supply you with Steven Weinberg’s famous quip about religion, supplementing (in this case) regressive leftists: “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” The semantic shift here, is doctrine. There’s even the metaphysical component to regressive religion, “the Patriarchy.” The same, I think, applies to these issues between the progressive left, the regressive left, libertarians, and other political affiliations. Identity politics are at the heart of regressivism, which stem from misdirected collectivist ideology. That is, by forming a collective you implicitly have barricaded yourself to those outside of the collective. In being so obsessed with engendering minority groups (are women even minorities at more than half the population?) with power–which is frankly a poorly disguised imposition of historical guilt–we have razed the voices and issues of the majority.

In Islamic doctrine, for example, there is the declaration of hatred (and violence) towards apostates. The analogy is most boldly paralleled with regressivism because of the same ideological mechanism of collectivism. We can all agree that killing someone, or maybe even hating someone, for having dissimilar beliefs from your own is a bad idea. Why is it not a bad idea when regressives commit such ideological insult? That’s not a rhetorical question because, as aforementioned, we are seeing hate, vitriol, straw manning, and cruel punishment for ideological heterogeneity. But I propose that it’s wrong for anyone to get fired because of something they said on their private account, outside of work. It’s wrong to spread patent lies and mischaracterizations of anyone’s view, without charitable interpretation. It’s wrong to dismiss someone’s humanity because they disagree with you. The list goes on, and the regressive left have misstepped on each account.

As I have mentioned, the irony of the regressive left is that with one hand they preach tolerance, acceptance, anti-bigotry, equality, etc. yet, with that very same hand, they dogmatically attack ideological opponents like no other. (We wouldn’t have coined the neologism, “doxxing,” had we no regressives.) In preaching tolerance, they intolerantly scream at people, unloading their quiver of pejoratives. In enacting acceptance, they, by definition, exclude those who have opposing ideological commitments. In fighting bigotry, they become quintessential bigots. In waving the rainbow flag of equality, they shut down the very group they are trying to dissent: Straight, white, cis-gendered, middle-class males. I can’t emphasize this irony enough. Take, for example, Milo Yiannopolous’ breathtaking closing speech at the recent Oxford debate on the question, “Have we reached an age of gender equality?” Regressive ideology is hilariously wrong, but has terrifying consequences for classical liberals such as myself.

Take another example, the popular pejorative of “Islamaphobe.” Not only does my spellchecker indicate that this word is meaningless but, often, so is the way in which regressives use this term. Any time a political commentator on the left wants to link Islam to terrorism, they are met by charlatans. These charlatans operate in the trade of obscurantism and religious apologetics. “ISIS is just a symptom of US foreign policy,” is an all-too-common equivocation from dealing with the specific problems in Islamic doctrine. If you are already flaring up at the fact that I am criticizing these ideas, then you are probably a regressive; it’s a pretty easy litmus test, really, as I haven’t once made a criticism about specific people. Again, to borrow from Nawaz, “No ideas are above scrutiny, and no people are beneath dignity.” I wholeheartedly believe in this maxim. My regressive friends make the mistake of apologizing for Muslims, “Not all Muslims…” as though I had made that generalization; more comical is calling a critic of Islam a “racist.” I object to this insipid, cowardly, two-faced religious apology, for the sake of political correctness, because Islamic theocracies in the Middle East offend on the very cause these regressives scream about in the West. When the Qur’an and Hadith are taken literally, vacuously, fundamentally, we get societies where women are oppressed, apostates are murdered, free thought is restricted, sexual fluidity is stamped out, etc. I cannot allow these farcically contradictory mental gymnastics to dominate the political discourse on the left any longer. I reject Islamic theocracy, as I reject anything which impedes on the liberty of all.

The absurdity of the modern movements for “equality” is no secret which I alone have the ability to identify. Regressive, cultural authoritarian influence in our society is ubiquitous. They take it much further than Islamaphobia (which, a good case can be made for its existence, particularly on the right), as each group under the regressive umbrella has emerged its own language, that of privilege, oppression, trigger warningsmicroaggressions, safe-spaces, transphobia, misogyny, etc. To those of us who speak English, these pseudonyms and neologisms are intentionally, unintelligibly, childish and provocative. And, though there are absolutely marginal cases of these terms doing some intellectual work, they are largely vacuous, commonly referring to innocuous, insipid, bastardized versions of what these terms were intended for. That is, regressives abuse these words–they see them everywhere–and, thus, they lose their meaning almost immediately.

Douglas Murray argues that this abuse of language stems from the left’s “supply and demand problem” for bigotry. That is, there aren’t enough genuine racists in the West anymore to really make a case against. There aren’t enough raging sexists, homophobes, etc. Thus, we begin to hear the regressive language of a “microaggression” if I make a joke which steps on the toes of minorities. We begin to see college students cordoned off into “safe spaces” when they can’t handle elementary argument and disagreement. It’s intellectually embarrassing, linguistically inept, and–to those who suffer from actual discrimination, oppression, violence, and hatred–disgustingly insulting. The abuse with which regressives treat the language of oppression stultifies, rather than inspires, positive social change.

The skeletal structure of the regressive language is so hollow precisely because it is used too often, and often wrongly. Sexism is not a man asking a woman out at a bar; racism is not criticizing someone who happens to have black skin; homophobia is not being unattracted to your own gender. Yet, surprisingly, regressives smear these actions, those “privileged” people, with these pejoratives at every turn. This is an embarrassment in every sense of the word, for I pride myself on being a liberal, being someone who treats all equally and with respect. Regressives have dismantled the meaning of oppression and xenophobia such that we are beginning to see otherwise political allies disassociating themselves from liberalism, as such, hence the meteoric rise of Donald Trump. Oppression, for instance, is synonymous with a tyrant, despot, slave-driver, autocrat, dictator, etc. Being a recipient of social “privilege,” (which is in scare quotes despite my acknowledgement that such social forces do subtly remain in everyday life) does not equal these damning definitions of oppression. Generalizing about people is not an evil, despite what regressives will scream at you; if we can’t make generalizations, we can’t discuss anything at all. It’s insanity that, in the year 2015, I have to defend the position that men are not oppressing women in modern day America such that we are “slave-drivers.” But regressives now have entirely tipped the scales in the other direction such that I must dissent; minorities are treated with incessant privilege, and regressives–in defining men as oppressors–have by definition generalized against a gender. This point deserves no further justification.

Are we so cowardly as to not refute this utter nonsense? The answer is yes, we are terrified. Professionals are having their careers ruined, individuals are being harassed simply for expressing skepticism about these views (but so far we have no shootings. I guess that’s an anomaly in and of itself in modern day America. The regressives, to their credit, are remarkably non-violent), and there are increasingly larger scale penalties for ideological dissent on these matters. New York, for example, has now made it legal to fine someone up to $250,000 for misgendering a transsexual person. I understand the psychological rammifications of being misgendered, and I don’t intend to dismiss that; but it’s hard enough to remember faces and names, yet we’re now criminalizing ectopic pronoun usage. If this indicates the trendline of the political climate, then I think those of us who believe in the necessity of unfettered civil liberties have a lot to be wary of in the coming years.

The real problem with regressives is in their socio-political power–particularly in the news media and on college campuses. In my previous writings, I have characterized a common and weak evasion of argument called “the offence card.” When one invokes the phrase, “I’m offended,” or nowadays, “That’s problematic!” we know all reason has flown out the window. For, who are we to pontificate on an area of genuine dispute and ambiguity of interpretation if we haven’t heard both sides? Perhaps there are, in fact, measurable differences between sexes, genders, differing ethnicities, different abilities, etc. Regressivism, as things stand, fundamentally resists these possibilities. I don’t have a well-informed opinion on whether or not these differences exist. But the mere supplication of argument about these concerns is translated, through the foggy regressive lens, into bigotry and intolerance.

To be charitable, I am not determined to be a voice of authority on these issues of social justice; this brief essay is merely opening the door to the broader conversation (i.e. change my mind). I have seen this phenomena in my ideological neighborhood and I am tired of being evangelized about something I already practice and believe. I don’t need consent classes, for I am not a rapist. I don’t need to check my privilege (even though I just did?), for I do not take advantage of others. I am not a sexist simply for eyeing a woman or asking her out for a drink. I am not a racist because I don’t like the behaviors and qualities of someone who happens to be of a different race than myself. etc. Each one of these claims devolves into further, mad contortions of political correctness which I, frankly, will not waste more time accounting for. If my mere writing causes offence, I have done my job well.

I wonder if we have outgrown our infantile human tendency to hold historical grudges. The only reason for violence in many areas of the world are because of historical injustices. The only reason for the regressive left is that we used to actually oppress those members in which the cultural authoritarians, i.e. intersectional feminist community, broadly speaking, are advocating to now privilege and whose issues we prioritize. This kind of thinking, of assigning blame to someone for what their predecessors or progenitors committed, is absolutely untenable. I’ve written about the native Americans, how we killed nearly all of them, how we stole their land, their culture, their lives. That is actual oppression, that is actual evil, that is actual despotism. But when these atrocities happened, I was not born. My grandfather’s grandfather hadn’t even made it to America yet. In which way am I culpable for the crimes of my associative ancestors? Furthermore, am I morally responsible for cruelties which, if happening today, I would rail against? The urgency to abandon historical prejudice is equally salient for border conflicts, for religious conflicts, and this is currently most true for the regressives. We have not learned the lessons of history. The regressives are busy legislating about pronouns whilst we ignore the North Koreas of the world.

I have not denied the existence of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. in this essay. I am simply saying that we are at a point in society where these regressive groups have taken these ideas too far. There exists, simply, Murray’s supply and demand problem regarding the bigotry regressives are begging to find. Cultural Authoritarians, to my mind, are looking for excuses to be assholes to people who they think are assholes. The supply of racists, sexists, and homophobes is paltry; the demand for them is longer than a Black Friday (racism??!??!) line. The logical conclusion of safe-spaces, scholarships for seemingly everyone who isn’t a straight white man, having gender quotas in the workplace, etc. is evolving into a new form of “oppression.” To even propose that men could be marginalized is laughable to regressives; they often, hypocritically, hold no sympathies for men. It matters not to these “bleeding heart liberals” that men comprise over 90% of the prison and jail population, that men comprise nearly 80% of the homeless, that 75% of murder victims are men, etc. The regressive rhetoric flicks these statistics out the window like cigarette ash. And I worry that these groups will end up becoming the very despots they rail so hard and vocally against.

Usually, my philosophy for approaching disagreements of this kind is to first lay out what we have in common. Only then do we explore towards the realms of disagreement. Humanizing your interlocutor in a debate or an argument is fundamental if you’re serious about seeking what is true. Immediately closing off their point of view because they have a differently self-assigned label than yourself isn’t helpful. You aren’t going to change your mind if you don’t want it changed. But, conversely, you should not being jamming your ideology down someone else’s throat if you aren’t willing to have the same done in exchange. That’s what a conversation, argument, or debate, implies: multiple voices in the conversation.

To the regressives, I would brandish the fact that I am not your enemy, I am an ally. But being incessantly criticized and dismissed for how I am privileged, oppressing, demeaning, etc. for factors beyond my reasonable control (straight, white, cis-gendered, male) does not help start the conversation. It shuts our minds down rather than opening them up. You are a deplorable, disreputable hypocrite if you don’t think every human being has a voice to add to the conversation, a role to play in the quest for equality and social change.

Recently, I have been told that my opinion–my thoughts, ideas, beliefs, research, etc–had no value in the conversation of social justice. As a contrarian, this strategy naturally backfired and I had a long passionate exchange against a handful of friends online. I was defending attacks from all sides; rather than spam their social media feeds, I have chosen to pen this brief essay. Out of pure spite, I vow to write about this issue more frequently, specifically, and honestly in 2016. I understand minorities need a voice in civil discourse, and I would never deny that. Yet, the regressive tendency is to push my ideas aside–not on their merit–because we need to fill a gender or race quota. Treating ideas unequally is antithetical to equality, and if the regressives believed in civil liberties for even half a second, they would shudder at the vile hypocrisy of their constitutional cowardice.

In contrast to the regressives, I don’t care at all about your sex, gender, race, age, etc. It has no value whatsoever in the quest for figuring things out about the world. If a fresh idea, undermining tradition, works better and maps more accurately onto reality, then it must be apprehended in practice. Yet, above all, my philosophy is to divorce ideas from people. Ideas are criticizable, modifiable, and easily tossed aside when no longer useful. It’s a bad idea when we treat people in this manner (i.e. You are X, therefore Y).

2015 was the year victimhood and grievance culture peaked, where irrationality dominated the discourse, where fear drove decision-making. Next year will be better.

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Reviving a Conscientious Conservatism

December 28, 2015

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In regards to Christopher DeMuth’s piece in Imprimis, titled “Reviving a Constitutional Congress,” I propose the following analysis and evaluation. I find this brief essay to be wrong in many ways, but not in its reasoning. I write a lot from an admittedly “liberal” point of view, so I am attending to a conservative writer who makes some good points, for a change. I shall give no summary, rather, I will assume my reader to be one who has read his article.

DeMuth makes some assumptions at the top of this piece regarding the nature of preference for Americans: We have a “distrust of power,” and a “taste for competition.” I squint at both of these assumptions, because I can think of everyday examples where we worship power–or at least covet it–and cases where we wish competition would evaporate–for selfish reasons. I don’t think these two qualities are generalizable like DeMuth wants them to be.

He writes that “A well-led government can present, at least for a time, a unified, dignified, self-confident public face.” I circled “well-led” here because, at the present, virtually none of our congressional representatives have any integrity. They are often bought-and-paid-for clowns in suits, vomiting vacuous rhetoric. Despite this, I, personally, have faith in the ability a “well-led” government can play. DeMuth, on the other hand, seems to have a suspicion of government entirely on principle.

I agree with him that we need to increase the visibility of political competition. In fact, this is one of my gripes with the fact that most Americans only vote once every four years. When I voted for Mayor this past year, there was virtually no depth, substance, or difference between the two candidates for office. One had an R, one had a D. If government is to have the optimistic role I wish it to play, then DeMuth is absolutely correct that we need to “expose” competition for all to see.

Furthermore, I think DeMuth is correct in that “checks and balances are important means of policing the corruption and abuse that arise whenever power is monopolized.” Of all politicians, I think Bernie Sanders pays most lip service to this issue, particularly in his incessant perseverations on the urgency with which we need to overturn the disastrous Citizens United supreme court case (allowing unlimited lobbying and money in politics). Unlike DeMuth, my view is that money in politics is what has effaced the checks and balances system. Power is now monopolized by the top 1%–I really believe this–and, thus, our political system has been transmogrified into an oligarchy. We can bicker across the political aisle all we want, but until that legislative embarrassment is rectified, nothing truly integrous will follow.

I diverge again with DeMuth’s assumptive tendencies when he asserts that Americans especially care about “limited government” and “humble leaders.” Again, obvious counterexamples arise: Limited government translates to lower taxes, a concern of the Republicans. But a single-payer healthcare system, for example, run by the government is extremely more cost-effective than the current mayhem we have (and had before Obamacare). Take the UK, for instance; they pay 33% of what we pay and report better health outcomes. Privatizing healthcare is, ethically and economically, as bad an idea as privatizing police officers, to my mind. DeMuth’s second assumption, here, is that we praise humility in our leaders. If this were true, we would not see Tuesday night’s GOP debate full of war cries and threats to “carpet bomb ISIS…to see if sand can glow” (Ted Cruz). Donald Trump would not be dominating the presidential field and the news media if we loved “humble leaders,” as DeMuth assumes. Thus, I think we have reason to ditch the generalizability of his claims, once again.

I agree that we are losing a balance of power. But, unlike DeMuth, I think civil liberties are only exercisable insofar that economic security is achieved. By that, I mean retaining jobs in America with higher wages, stronger unions, and pay grades reflective of production-progress. That being said, we are the richest nation in the history of the world for a reason: We can outsource labor for the jobs we don’t want to do. I don’t know how to solve this seemingly aporetic economic issue, but I don’t think concentrating the top 90% of wealth in the top 1% of earners–who mostly either inherit it or just move it around to make more money–is a good idea.

I’ll assent to DeMuth’s criticisms of the “executive usurpations” of President Obama. Though I agree with the main thrust of the Affordable Care Act, it is cumbersome and not Obama’s place to be installing. I would agree to this much, but again I am coming from the position of considering healthcare to be a fundamental human right, as FDR once did. I look back to the New Deal with relish. That was the path I wish America was still treading.

DeMuth’s distrust in government betrays ignorance of the significant work the EPA and OSHA are doing in American Society. They are not perfect, but they are necessary. I would not agree with his snide criticisms that these organizations are not involved in “real policy.”

I agree that we are in an era of congressional “self-enfeeblement” in which nothing is getting done. I regularly watch C-SPAN’s live coverage of various voting decisions and debates in congress, which reveal the incredibly capricious arbitration and clunky system we have. Instilling seniority in Congress is an interesting proposal that DeMuth makes, but I maintain my suspicions. We have seen, too often, threats of government shutdown over petty, fatuously misguided issues (Planned Parenthood comes to mind, which is an issue in which DeMuth is obviously ignorant).

A vast number of congressional representatives run unopposed and, thus, remain in office, largely because most people don’t even know when to vote. Most Americans can’t name their home state’s own representatives. That is a scary reality. Not only are our politicians bought out, they actively gerrymander voting districts and precincts, insulting democracy. At every turn, politicians make it harder and harder for democracy to be enacted. I consider myself to be Independent or, more specifically, a classical liberal/libertarian. It is an outrage that we have become a two-party system in which smarmy slimeballs such as Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz, are seriously being considered for office. As DeMuth is pointing out, this is a fundamental, across-the-aisle issue.

Given this, I think the Senate has no role in regulating the internet, for example, nor even slightly veering from the constitution to justify their lobbyists’ ends. I think, like DeMuth, I am a civil liberties fundamentalist–a constitutional absolutist. If you throw away basic rights when they’re inconvenient, then you never really believed in them. That being said, I think DeMuth is wrong in arguing that the Internet is something we should have regulatory policy over. If our politicians were integrous, virtuous, and wise, I might change my mind; but, in the pockets of big business, I don’t trust them with my freedom of expression on the Internet.

When DeMuth criticized the admittedly abysmal approval rating of Obama (low 40s), I think he was unwise to ignore the fact that Bush, for instance, had an even lower approval rating (low 30s). Both parties are disappointing the majority of everyday Americans. But the heavy-handedness in which DeMuth uniquely besmirches Obama is hard to swallow.

 

The Five Step Plan:

  1. Congress retrieve its delegated powers, subjecting them to annual appropriations.
  2. Congress should exercise its appropriations power.
  3. Congress should relearn the art of legislating
  4. Congress should reconstruct an internal policymaking hierarchy
  5. The Senate should cut back to near abolition the filibuster and the hold.

 

1) I think my digressions above adequately address this point. Cure corruption, fix the news media, and then we’ll talk. Until then, this only treats the symptoms, not the illness.

2) Agreed.

3) Agreed.

4) I am suspicious of this premise, but I will grant that, if DeMuth’s proposal were to be implemented, we need to reestablish “devotion to broad political principles…and skill at articulation, debate, and the arts of legislative negotiation.” There, I could not agree more. We have lost democracy in this country precisely because of people’s unwillingness to be vigilant in the democratization and problematization of societal issues and structures. It is now socially acceptable to be politically uninformed and apathetic. One does not breach the topics of politics, sex, and religion, at the dinner table. I think this is unfortunate; they are cavernous topics. Given this, a true democracy would not need representatives and gradations of hierarchy. A truly democratic society would have legislators who simply carried out the wishes of the people. We somehow have abandoned the conversation and left it up to the echo-chamber of congress. That is a shame, to my mind. Thus, I don’t know if a “reconstruction” is what is needed, so much as a revitalization of Critical Pedagogy in public education, and a reinvigoration of political philosophizing among the general public.

5) The filibuster is something I don’t know enough about to claim anything authoritatively. I have seen a few filibusters–some long ones, I might add–and they are sometimes ridiculous. Sometimes they are important and dense with data, however. I’d have to read more into the filibuster to say more. But I agree with DeMuth that “government growth [has been reduced to] executive lawmaking, punctuated by spasms of legislation.”

 

Funnily enough, DeMuth calls attention to the criticism I would offer his piece, which is that our government functions so poorly precisely because of “extreme partisanship and Republican disarray.” But he tries to defend conservatism from a historical lens, which I think isn’t reasonable to add to his argument: our government structure is inherited by a long line of tradition dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, etc. That’s a red herring if I’ve ever seen one; not to mention the fact that the Greeks would not recognize our government as “democracy.” It has evolved quite a bit from 2,500 years ago.

I think the importance of secular, peaceable, legitimate, representative government, reflexive to all citizens, is far too understated in DeMuth’s piece. He resists the merits of compromise, which, fairly, give neither party what they truly want. I have more faith in the good nature of compromise.

There is indeed a power imbalance between “identity over locality, rationalism over representation, and decision over deliberation.” I think this goes back to education, again. Politicians are appealing to everyone, including the least educated, most credulous of us all. That is a little scary when stepping back from our place in society. I try to fact check every claim made by a political candidate. The failure to both politically and morally triage issues is egregious in America and, thus, the problems DeMuth is illuminating arise. I would object to his piece on principle: There is a reason European socialist countries report happier lives; I am not so arrogant as to disavow something because of the “infallibility of democracy and capitalism,” echoing Cold War propaganda and red scares.

I think the fundamental disagreement I’d have with DeMuth’s argument is that it is one from tradition: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I deplore all insipid, lazy deference to something because of tradition alone. Tradition is the mechanism through which Progress is shackled. We, in our society, are terrified of being wrong–it’s embarrassing and leaves us vulnerable–but making decisions, especially political and ideological ones, based on fear, is an awful idea.

But, this being said, DeMuth also is advocating for a “classically liberal” government, which I am, in some sense, in favor of. I am currently reading John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty,” which is a foundational philosophical-political text for classical liberalism and libertarianism. I find myself agreeing far more with Mill than with DeMuth. But, I don’t think DeMuth is coming from an unfair place or making a bad argument. I happen to have different assumptions than him about the role of government, but I think we are both trying with each breath to ensure democracy and liberty.

 

Neutering Neoliberalism

December 7, 2015

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It is almost tautological to criticize and problematize the state of modern public education in America. No one, from either side of the political spectrum, is satisfied with it. In the University setting, tuition has been on the rise, mainly due to an “administrative bloat;” in other words, college costs are rising and yet faculty spending has decreased. The root cause to these gamut of problems is easily found at the ideological foundations underpinning these dissatisfactory shifts in education, namely, Neoliberalism. College has three potential purposes, according to William Deresiewicz: (1) The commercial, (2) the cognitive, and (3) the moral. Neoliberalism has “capitalized” on the commercial and has trickled down into ever-earlier, vocationally-minded educational aims. College now looks more like a business than a place of learning. Scarcely decades ago, it was not uncommon for one’s education to cease at age fourteen; the once powerful high school diploma has now inflated into the baccalaureate degree. College and, consequently, earlier public education has suffered from this shift. This inflation of modern education, along with a slew of other errors are, to my mind, rectified through Henry Giroux’s radical imposition of Critical Pedagogy. But first, it would be useful to get clear, borrowing from the writings of Wendy Brown and Deresiewicz, on what Neoliberalism is and why it is culpable for the shortcomings of modern education.

Neoliberalism, on the surface, is a free-market model that has been liberally applied to education. That is, Neoliberalism prioritizes economic liberty over social welfare. This pervasive ideology in America has chewed its way into the educational system, now redefining the role of the school to be business-oriented, satisfying its customer-students. One can plainly see the appeal of Neoliberalism as a model for educational efficiency; as it is a career-oriented approach, there is specificity to the direction of the student, results are quantitative, etc. Additionally, a Neoliberal framework for education is a mechanism through which societal norms–the status quo–are preserved.

One could justify Neoliberalism (as politicians frequently do) in an educational appeal to our country’s need for trained, skilled workers in technical fields. Senator Marco Rubio, for example,  recently swiped at my very discipline with the wisecrack that “We need more welders than philosophers.” And, though he’s obviously incorrect, Senator Rubio has reasonable aims: An increase in skilled workers is a way to better society through an increase in social mobility, human utility, and innovation. That much seems innocuous until we realize the severe incongruities in treating education as market model instead of the social welfare model it should be. According to Deresiewicz, the Neoliberal college–and earlier education for that matter–is no longer a place intended for learning, it is has been reduced to a form of job training. Education, as many have argued, needs a severe ideological overhaul in this country. To this end, President Franklin D. Roosevelt once penned a “Second Bill of Rights,” which, amongst other things, underscored the access to a good education as a fundamental human right–as an end in itself. The Neoliberal model entirely rejects this view of education, given how the primary value of Neoliberalism is a reduction of all things to economic choices. Thus, an “artificial scarcity” of education has now emerged in which students are evermore rapidly thrown onto the vocational treadmill; the underbelly of this is an overinflated, oversaturated market of unemployed, overqualified college graduates.

Digging deeper, it becomes clear how Neoliberalism places primacy to the pecuniary, is married to meritocracy, and is a compatriot with capitalism. The most basic thing Neoliberalism advocates for is maintaining the socio-political structure we have seen for roughly the last 50 years in America. Privatization, for the Neoliberal, is the paragon of priorities. That is, a rhetoric of privatization is premised on free-market fundamentalism, i.e. Adam Smith’s invisible guiding hand of the unregulated market forces. Neoliberalism seems to have worked rather well, at least economically; America is, after all, the richest nation in the history of the world. But there is a very distinct difference between economic liberties and social welfare in this model which is too often neglected: The former has all the power in a Neoliberal society, whereas the latter is completely subverted to individuals (i.e. Randianism).

We will temporarily table the broader societal problems birthed of Neoliberalism, and first hone in on the effects Neoliberalism has had on modern education, namely a reduction of knowledge, thought, and learning, to capital enhancement. Schooling, through Neoliberalism, has become purely an instrumental good, for the Neoliberal purpose of education is to “produce producers,” not people. This implicates a detachment from social life insofar that, as Neoliberalism despotically marches into earlier and earlier aged classrooms, the children’s lives and interests become increasingly quantified–sanitized from their humanity. The social aspects of education are nonexistent when education is seen purely as an instrumental good. Creativity, as well, is now seen as a marketing tool, a business concept. Never does the Neoliberal model of education consider parental, teacher, or student consent; nor does it ever give them genuine platforms to dissent.

Neoliberalism, having infected the very purpose of education, has deteriorated everything to its market value such that students’ interests are stultified, tailored to what is “commercially viable” . Everything about education has become symbolized, through Neoliberalism, to the market language of supply and demand. But even our conception of the student is murdered through the Neoliberal lens; when the purpose of school becomes to “produce producers,” students first become “products,” which are to become future “producers,” human and economic “capital,” “investors” in themselves, etc. And as kids mature through the Neoliberal educational system, they begin to adopt a Stockholm Syndrome-like attitude towards the market language–including human beings–via the lens of cost-benefit analysis. Everything in education, then, is constrained to the dominant values of those who are in control of finances. The Neoliberal education has abjured “the project of producing a public readied for participation in popular sovereignty,” i.e. democracy. However, the Neoliberal education isn’t just a conspiratorial, top-down model. For adhering to the economic aims of education seems to be, for many people, the only way to organize society. But this also affects teachers, subjecting them to the empty buzzwords of “accountability,” and “merit pay,” for example. These ideas polarizingly divorce the vocation of the teacher from the broader context of their own lives. And the subjects of schooling have been boiled down such that, according to Deresiewicz, the “scholar” has been killed. In other words, Neoliberalism has effaced the conception of knowledge pursued as an end in itself; it has transmogrified everything about modern education into economics.

My immediate objection to applying the Neoliberal framework to education is that the very model precludes social critique. It is arrived at through appealing to economic scarcity which, frankly, is an appeal to the base instincts of ignorance and fear. Neoliberalism ascribes a moral worth to the very idea of working hard and earning money for their own sake. Not once are the psychological ramifications of such a view accounted for in Neoliberal education. And this is plainly evident in the small talk of everyday life. For, it never fails that, when I am meeting someone new, the first question out of their lips is, “What are you going to do with a degree in Philosophy?” This question is at its most insulting when the question is well-intended because of the tacit social presupposition that I, as a student, should only seek an education to train for a vocation. It bleeds a Neoliberal ideology. Never once does anyone presume that I simply enjoy learning about philosophy or engaging in vigorous intellectual debate in an academic arena. The real question should be “What interests you about Philosophy?” This anecdote highlights the ideological shift–from nearly all citizens–regarding the function of American Neoliberal education. The modern college degree is seen as valuable insofar that is has a “positive ROI.” Thus, a “war on learning” has successfully been waged in the educational arena. Instead of college preparing for life, it now prepares you to work for the rest of your life.

The worst offense of Neoliberalism in education is that it severely undercuts and inhibits democracy. Rather, Neoliberalism forestalls “democratization.” For we are not a democracy without a vibrant, well-informed, and earnestly critical citizenry; this entails the viewing of democracy as a still-unfinished process, never an object we have passively apprehended. By precluding social critique, Neoliberalism entirely runs against the very foundations of social democracy, because its sufficient conditions are “limited extremes of concentrated wealth and poverty, orientation toward citizenship as a practice of considering the public good, and citizens modestly discerning about the ways of power, history, representation, and justice.”. Democracy, then, thrives on Neoliberalism’s antipode. Neoliberalism exists through the “gentle despotism” of people’s “wholesale ignorance” about the forces shaping their lives. Thus, by reducing education to the economic, we have subverted the idea of a democratic “society” with personal interests, needs, and values. In other words, leadership has replaced citizenship.

Looking back to Deresiewicz’s three potential aims of college, through Neoliberalism, modern education is almost entirely ignoring the cognitive and moral realms. College is no longer about taking time to think about the world and how it could be better. No longer do we look to the youth to step outside the world and question it; we now fear that they may in fact change it. Giroux adds to this account of youth, noting how “nurturance, trust and respect” for future generations have been replaced by “fear, disdain, and suspicion.” These are symptoms of thinking about everything–including people–in Neoliberal market terms; we are all “economic competitors.” In short, the attitude of apathy in America is that the world isn’t going to change, so we don’t need young people to imagine how it might. Furthermore, by rendering youth in the market language, they threaten the old guard. If we are to continue championing our devotion to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as well as the social welfare of all, then Neoliberalism has long overstayed its welcome.

In response to the egregious, repugnant consequences of Neoliberalism, and in terms of its pernicious effects on education, I propose the introduction of Critical Pedagogy into the pedagogical and political spheres. Critical Pedagogy is a radical redefinition of education, which aims to vitally inspire “political intervention,” or social change, through active participation in democratic evaluation and critique. In Critical Pedagogy, everything in education is always aimed at possibility and envisioning the way we want the world to be. Thus, a precondition of this view is to resist ever totalizing certainties and answers; for as soon as we have fixed society into place–made it an object–we have lost democracy–as an action.

Repudiating the stultifying Neoliberal model, Critical Pedagogy takes an interdisciplinary approach to education. It is radically contextual, always taking care to ground schooling in everyday life concerns. Critical Pedagogy also values social relations, economic concerns do not shut them down as Neoliberalism does. These social relations function to foster a mix of compassion, ethics, and hope in students. Critical Pedagogy also always aims to inspire the core tenets of democracy: equality, justice, and freedom; the Neoliberal model has reduced those terms, including democracy, to their mere “economic valances.” Thus, a Critical Pedagogy is ongoing. As with democracy, it is never complete; democratization in education is what is needed to solve the problems of monolithic Neoliberalism.

Critical Pedagogy is unique in its approach because it doesn’t guarantee certainty, nor does it impose ideology of any kind. Rather, it aims to birth an ongoing “culture of questioning,” which involves taking critical approaches through a gamut of lenses: Neo-Marxism, feminism, postmodernism, critical theory, etc. If there is any “ideology” involved in the approach of a Critical Pedagogy, it is to resurrect a militant democratic socialism beyond the “dream world” of capitalism. That is, the main function of Critical Pedagogy is to problematize modernity’s universal project of citizenship. Critical Pedagogy aims to educate for a life of freedom, of intellectual sovereignty and participation in collective self-rule. Pedagogy, then, becomes political; politics, consequently, become pedagogical.

At the heart of Critical Pedagogy, there is the concern–against Neoliberalism–that education must address real social needs. Education can’t be some top-down imposition from a detached authority figure whose needs don’t remotely reflect the students’. Thus, critical pedagogy is always open to debate, as with democracy. Involved in this openness is ditching the “materiality” of politics by first understanding the dominating, interweaved structures of power in society. Critical Pedagogy, furthermore, commits itself to providing opportunities for the mobilization of collective action and outrage, in terms of politics. It makes visible the alternative models of radical democratic relations in a wide variety of sites. Critical Pedagogy even goes so far as to create, ideally, a “hegemony of democratic values.” It does this by revitalizing the “language” of civic education as a part of the broader discourse; Neoliberalism, meanwhile, has all but expunged civics courses before higher education. At the heart of Critical Pedagogy is the grounding of a “defense of militant utopian thinking,” that things can be better and we can, as social agents, take charge of politics and bring about the change we want to see in society. Critical Pedagogy commands much respect in its core aim to reinstate a “politics of possibility” in everyday life. Neoliberalism rejects the consent of those participating; Critical Pedagogy is predicated on it. To these ends, I propose Critical Pedagogy as a radical answer–”cultural politics”–to Neoliberalism’s immense influence on education.

To bring about a Critical Pedagogy would require an overhaul of our conceptions of the roles of the teacher and student. Educators begin to revitalize struggles to instigate social change, not based on their own values, but responsive to a reestablishment of political and social agency in all. The pedagogue’s main role is to teach the “language” of critique; they are politically, socially, and ethically accountable. Students, in this approach, are actively involved in their own problematizing of politics and pedagogy. Thus, education is no longer just vocationally aimed, as with Neoliberal education. Education’s main concern, as politicized pedagogy, is to unite and motivate citizens to participate in social movements. This requires vigorous, constant opposition to commercializing or corporatizing the educational sphere. Thus, Critical Pedagogy aims for students to adopt three main learning outcomes: Critical learning, ethical deliberation, and civic engagement.

Many problems appear for bringing a Critical Pedagogy to ubiquity in American society. This is most clearly illustrated by the American population’s general political apathy. For example, a national poll of senatorial approval ratings was recently published by the Morning Consult. At the top of the list was senator Bernie Sanders, who managed 83% approval. If this were a standardized test, we would be extremely concerned if the highest grade in the class was a B minus. For context, the tenth highest senator, Elizabeth Warren, polled in at a mere 64% approval, and the list gets progressively worse. Though the fallibility of polls is well documented, I think this indicates an obstacle for Critical Pedagogy. That is, to radically democratize our society at the pedagogical level is hard enough. But the broader political current in which the Critical Pedagogue has to swim is severely powerful, for the general American population has been deeply discouraged into an entrenched political apathy, one which is easily explained: The news media is nothing but sensationalism and fear-mongering; political campaigns are nothing but vacuous, capricious pandering; cases of voter fraud are not infrequently brought to light; gerrymandering of voter districts and precincts is rampant from republicans and democrats alike; the stagnation of bureaucracy is as much a truism as the failures of modern public education. The list continues, but I will arbitrarily stop there. Political apathy is but one of the many challenges Critical Pedagogy must face in the fight against Neoliberalism.

Furthermore, according to Deresiewicz, the market has now become so powerful that it is “swallowing” the very counterbalancing institutions of government which this country was founded on. For example, in wake of the American Supreme Court’s narrow approval of the nail-in-the-coffin Citizens United case in 2010, Neoliberalism has invaded politics from all sides. By allowing the inundation of money in politics, it has become all-but-impossible to mobilize collective social groups to inspire political change responsive to the general population. Those with immense wealth have translated that wealth into political power. Neoliberalism, recall, ascribes a moral worth to meritocracy. Many people, if they know about Citizens United at all, haven’t explored the ramifications of money invading politics. It’s difficult to effectively critique the power of political bribes in a system which is married to meritocracy and compatriot with capitalism. So, if we are to create an educational system to tackle Neoliberalism, we must first overturn Citizens United and similar legislative embarrassments.

But there are additional problems for bringing about a thriving Critical Pedagogy into public education. Government officials and educational administrators have obvious stake in preventing Critical Pedagogy from replacing the current model of education. Additionally, a handful of megacorporations have readily created monopolies on the buying power of schools; this is true especially of textbooks, student breakfast/lunch, computer systems, etc. The lottery, which allegedly allocates funds to education, is a lot slimier and less effective than the adverts would like us to believe. A similar trend continues all the way down. So, effectively, critical pedagogy is pitted against almost all the “powers that be” in society.

At this point, one might agree that a the Critical Pedagogy approach is needed in order to thwart Neoliberalism’s monopolistic stranglehold of education. But one might also be inclined to doubt that Critical Pedagogy is possible; there are simply too many powerful societal antagonists to attack. Yet, I think that to conclude this would be mistaken. In fact, it would be in bad faith to ignore the irony of such a conclusion, for the Critical Pedagogue would respond that this helpless attitude is due to the very pervasion of Neoliberal ideology. The central aim of Critical Pedagogy is to convert all the “impossible” forms of social change into fundamentally possible ones. The Critical Pedagogue might reply to one who doubts in the viability of such an approach that, in spite of their doubt, Critical Pedagogy is all the more urgently necessitated. It is because of this feeling of “helplessness” in the face of Neoliberalism’s immense power; Critical Pedagogy is the mechanism through which democratization is demonstrated, equality is enacted, freedom is fastened, etc. Neoliberalism, then, only dominates through our passivity to it.

Critical Pedagogy, to my mind, is the best approach to grappling with the inefficiencies and aporetic complexities of the political sphere. To bring this about, I’d argue that we need to wage a war of ideas in this country. This “war” of ideas is to be waged on the public and the powerful. Positive social change cannot happen without civil discourse; this means shedding our fears of argument, apprehending the language of critique, and even talking politics with your uncle on Thanksgiving. The very impediment to living in a desirable society is a disengagement from the social, ethical, and political realms of the public sphere. Here, I quote Brown at length:

Consider this justification, from the 1946 President’s Commission of Higher Education, for immense federal investment in public higher education: “It is an investment in social welfare, better living standards, better health and less crime. It is an investment in a bulwark against garbled information, half-truths and untruths, against ignorance and intolerance. It is an investment in human talent, better human relationships, democracy and peace.” Critical Pedagogy does not stop in the classroom, but that is where it must start. I believe that Critical Pedagogy is not failsafe, but it is forward looking. It is, in the Neoliberal language, an “investment.”

In my previous writings, I have advocated for the aims of education to be Aristotle’s “Eudaimonia,” a good life oriented towards living well. It seems to me that, of all approaches to education, Critical Pedagogy is needed in order to bring that good life about. For, if we continue to wear the pseudonym of democracy, whilst not participating in it throughout our lives, at every level, then we are deeply mistaken. As things are now, it takes everyone–not just a few–to come together and actively participate in finding what our common values are and the best way to reify them. Critical Pedagogy does not promise panacea, but it does promise possibility and progress. Democracy, if it is to exist at all, has to start in the classroom.

 

Works Cited:

Brown, Wendy. Undoing the DemosNeoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. Massachusetts: MIT,
2015.

Deresiewicz, William. “The Neoliberal Arts.” Harper’s Magazine September 2015: 1-8. Web.

Giroux, Henry A. On Critical Pedagogy. New York: Contiuum International Group, 2011.

Wilson, Reid. Bernie Sanders is the Most Popular Senator in America. Morning Consult, 2015.
Web.

“…and the Clock strikes the Hour of Drunkenness.”

December 5, 2015

170-richard-feynman-the-universe-is-in-a-glass-of-wine

A fear of time and death is the fuel for many aspects of human behavior; they are the two inexorable adversaries of life. Both death and time loom in the background of our minds, repressed, flirting with the periphery of conscious thought. In the mind-altered states of intoxication, however, these notions of death and time take on a new shape. Nearly every single author we’ve studied this semester has encountered or investigated their idiosyncratic relation, through intoxication, to time and death. Frequently in the drug experience, eternity and infinity are evoked; they give rise to our two main themes of time and death. But the question I want to keep in mind throughout this paper is as follows: What significance does an altered experience of time have on one’s own notions of death (and vice-versa)?

Time dilation is most profoundly present in writings of Henri Michaux’s experiments with mescaline. Michaux describes how, in mescaline, “time is immense…it is supreme.” Time, for Michaux, has adopted a deity-like status in his experience of mescaline. In fact, Michaux goes as far as to blasphemously declare that, “Pullulation and Time” have taken over the roles inhabited by god; he writes that the altered experience of time on mescaline is “the kind of time God would inhabit if he existed.” Not only is there a god-like manifestation of time in Michaux’s writings, but there remains a shadowy implication for the kind of time we experience in sobriety. That is, Michaux’s writings of a consecrated, sanctified time seem to profane our sober experience of undilated time. The regal, mescalinian time of Michaux’s writings renders our clock-time paltry in comparison. Michaux, in fact, even proclaims that the mescalinian time he is describing, alone, is natural. Our everyday concepts of time, then, is implicated as something unnatural and lacunary. In this case, Michaux might argue that this implication is due to the truncated, pigeonholing tendency of clock-time; we have profaned the infinite by chunking clock-time into symbolic segments.

Further on in Michaux’s writings, he provides us a more unequivocal account of his dilated mescalinian time. It has abandoned the profanity of our customary clock-time: “I have once more become a passage, a passage in time. This then was the furrow with the fluid in it, absolutely devoid of viscosity, and that is how I pass from second 51 to second 52, to second 53, then to second 54 and so on. It is my passage forward…I feel nothing now but the going forward.” Here, one can feel the tedium of clock-time through the lingering of seconds. Clock-time, here, feels unnatural, which explicates Michaux’s earlier description of mescalinian time as “true time rediscovered.” The mescalinian experience of time seems to violently tear apart our (false) divisions of time into seconds, minutes, and hours. Rather, Michaux appears to be experiencing time in all of its fullness. If we are to trust the sanctity in which Michaux ascribes to mescalinian time, then it seems something worth experiencing.

Michaux, furthermore, presents us with a “new time,” in which one’s minutes are made up of “three million instants,” in which one will “never be in a hurry” with one’s attention; in “new time,” attention becomes “superdivided” and never “outdistanced.” Mescaline, in other words, functionally acts as an “infinity mechanism” which drags the intoxicated person to the margins of madness. The only difference between the intoxicated and the mad, in Michaux’s writings, is that, because of his sense of infinity, the madman “offers no resistance.” The mescaline user, ceteris paribus, does. To reinforce the maddening quality of this “new time” Michaux’s writings are supplying, he describes the typical madman as a “brave fellow” who, on his own, tries to cope with the “destructive phenomenon” of an infinite sense of time; the mescaline user, on the other hand, cannot endure the “destructive phenomenon.” The mescaline experience–regardless of subjective alterations–is temporal, fleeting, and will end.

Mescaline’s effects, according to the writings of Aldous Huxley, can be quite different from Michaux’s account. In fact, unlike Michaux, Huxley writes of having a “complete indifference to time.” This complete indifference comes from, what Huxley admits to be, a completely absurd place. He continues, very matter-of-factly, that, “‘There seems to be plenty of [time],’” as though that statement was supposed to help his interlocutors understand his experience. The peculiarity of Huxley’s statement is only rivaled by the way in which he acknowledges his capability to have looked at his watch; he writes that to check his watch would be to dive into “another universe.” So, we are already beginning to see the antipodal effects on time that Huxley’s writings emanate, as opposed to Michaux’s utter submersion in it. But, despite Huxley’s initial “complete indifference” to time, his subsequent experience is described as “an infinite duration…of a perpetual present made up of one continually changing apocalypse.” This seems to entirely contradict any “indifference” Huxley had initially proclaimed. Thus, it isn’t too crazy to suppose that Huxley’s indifference to time is very similar to Michaux’s. That is, both authors have invoked the “infinite” in considering the manner of time; they both seem to resist the segmenting of clock-time.

Huxley’s contribution to our budding taxonomy of time comes to fruition in his writings of how, under the influence of mescaline, one is “shaken out of the ruts of ordinary perception,” in which the hours spent on the drug are “timeless.” Huxley writes of an experience, like Michaux, that is “beyond time, of union with the divine Ground.” Here again, transcendent time has been evoked. Time, through mescaline, has become “divine”; ground, furthermore, has been capitalized. By taking care to ascribe those qualities to time, Huxley seems to be referring to time as the ground for experience itself. Time just happens to be the vessel through which all of our transactions with the world are made. He further characterizes mescalinian time dilation to be of “inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual.” Huxley, as a naturalist, is pointing to something truly spiritual about human experience: the temporal contingency of our being.

Amidst further material is a smattering of thoughts about death and time, which return us to the core relationship of our initial concern. Theophile Gautier, for instance, equates death with a plunge into a “frozen eternity,” which has temporal traces of Michaux and Huxley. Furthermore, in Gautier’s writings on hashish, he describes his experience of a “temporary demise.” Within this phrasing, both death and time are evoked. But, although phrases like “frozen eternity” and “temporary demise” don’t conjure up rosy, joyous images, Gautier argues that these are a “necessary apprenticeship for one’s definitive death.” Gautier’s use of the word “apprenticeship” is peculiar, suggesting a teacher-student relationship between the hashish and himself. He seems to be suggesting, here, that intoxication is a pedagogical strategy in which one temporarily encounters one’s own mortality. The regions of space-time, as we’ve seen above, are distorted and deranged in various states of intoxication. This distortion might be the way in which a “temporary demise” can be achieved. And, by calling this encounter “necessary,” Gautier is implying that there is a moral/psychological benefit in this brief death.

In addition to Gautier’s linking of death and time, Mary Hungerford’s An Overdose of Hashish provides similar insights. For example, after ingesting far too much hashish, Hungerford writes how her body transmogrified into a “living temple of flesh in time.”Again, the word “temple” conjures up a religious encounter with time; life is the gift from, and the payment for, time. Hungerford’s writings on hashish explore, not only wild distortions of time, but a lucid, hallucinogenic encounter with death anxiety. She writes of being filled with a “bitter, dark despair” with a “wild, unreasoning terror.” One can almost feel her pen trembling on the page underneath the horrific gravity of this encounter with death. In her intoxication, “the door of time seemed to close on [her]” such that she was “thrust shuddering into a hopeless eternity, each time falling…[into] the dread of the unknown.” This vision, in which Hungerford is thrusted into the unknown, is beyond her own descriptive capacities.

Like Gautier, there is a temporary demise at play in Hungerford’s writings. Hungerford, petrified, plummets into the realm of the unknown, a place with no time. But, in addition to these fears, she is also–in her hallucination–forcefully propelled towards a great black ocean, bounding the “formless chaos” where “each tiny drop of [ocean] spray was a human existence which in that passing instant had its birth, life, and death.” Not only has Hungerford experienced a kind of deified time, she is seeing from above–like a god herself–the fragility and futility in the brevity of human existence. To this end, she indignantly exclaims, “How short a life!” to which a formless, faceless voice unexpectedly replies, “Not short in time.” Here, Hungerford obtains insight regarding human existence: It is all a part of a “universal system” which is, invariably, “reabsorbed into infinity.” Like our other authors, Hungerford, too, sobers up eventually and these proportions of the infinite lose their supernatural qualities. But her encounters with the great black ocean, the door of time, and the infinite, all seem to reflect Gautier’s “temporary demise” and “frozen eternity.” It seems there is much to be learned from the extremities of intoxication.

We should now spend some time on the author who first formulated my correspondence between intoxication, death, and time: Charles Baudelaire. Both his poetry and his writings on intoxication repeatedly evoke their interdependence. Specifically, in his poem titled “Poison,” Baudelaire writes how “Opium can dilate boundless space / and plumb eternity, / emptying out time itself” to which he concludes, “my soul…sinks / unconscious on the shores of death!” Both time and death are implicated in Baudelaire’s writings of opium’s effects, in addition to his writings on other intoxicants. The “emptying out” of “time itself” through opium is suggestive of Huxley and Michaux’s dismantling of clock-time. That is, by “plumbing time”–emptying it out–it loses the rigid quality that clock-time imposes upon the kind of time these authors are describing. And, as these effects progress, Baudelaire’s narrator ends up on the shores of death itself, further motivating intoxication as a “flight-from-time.” So, there is obviously a deep-seated coupling of time and death for mescaline, hashish, and opium users alike. These three drugs are all quite different, but the motif and recursive meditations of their mutual relationship reveals that death and time are not only evoked by intoxicants, they are the static furniture of our psychological landscape.

I first paid deep attention to the links between intoxication, death, and time, when I read Baudelaire’s poem titled “The Clock.” The clarity of this link can only be explicated by taking a look at this poem in its entirety:

Impassive god! whose minatory hands
repeat their sinister and single charge:
Remember! Pain is the unfailing bow,
as arrow after arrow finds your heart.

Pleasure fades and dances out of sight–
one pirouette, the theatre goes dark;
each instant snatches from you what you had,
the crumb of happiness within your grasp.

Thirty-six hundred times in every hour
the Second whispers: Remember! and Now replies
in its maddening mosquito hum: I am Past,
who passing lit and sucked your life and left! 

Remember! Souviens-toi! Esto memor!
(My metal throat is polyglot.) The ore
of mortal minutes crumbles, unrefined,
from which your golden nuggets must be panned.

Remember! Time, that tireless gambler, wins
on every turn of the wheel: that is the law.
The daylight fades…Remember! Night comes on:
the pit is thirsty and the sands run out… 

Soon it will sound, the tocsin of your Fate–
from noble Virtue, your still-virgin bride,
or from Repentance, last resort…from all
the message comes: “Too late, old coward! Die!”

Baudelaire’s “The Clock” flagrantly, and without remorse, draws together the notions of death and time. The invocation of a clock as an “impassive god” is particularly provocative, considering our earlier discussion regarding the profane qualities of clock-time. Baudelaire’s clock is deified, the arbiter of time itself. Death is also heavily intertwined, both implicitly and explicitly, in this poem. It is unclear how Baudelaire, the man, thought about time. But Baudelaire, the poet, is paying attention to the importance of keeping time in mind with regards to death. They are intimately connected for the narrator of this poem.

There is also Baudelaire’s formulation of “your still-virgin bride,” in this poem, which I interpret as the life you’ve been afraid to live or the body you’re afraid to push to its limits. Keeping time and death in mind as “fate,” the narrator is urgently trying to keep the reality of one’s own death in plain sight. Using one’s own death as motivation in defiance of time’s “impassive” nature seems to be the narrator’s purpose for the poem. To this end, the poem succeeds in that I, personally, will never forget the fact of thirty-six hundred seconds passing with every hour.

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Finally, we would be remiss to gloss over Baudelaire’s prose poem which inspired the theme of this class: “Be Drunk!” In this poem, the narrator declares that “One must always be drunk; That’s all that matters; that’s our one imperative need. So as to not to feel Time’s horrible burden that breaks your shoulders and bows you down, you must get drunk without ceasing.” This poem’s opening gambit is a clear nod towards the link between intoxication and time, which are further intertwined with death. The act of getting drunk, in this poem, is recalcitrant to the oppressing forces of time and death. Getting drunk, as described in this poem, is a dulling of, or escape from, “Time’s horrible burden,” namely, death. Yet, Baudelaire muddles up this clean connection of intoxication, death, and time, with his following paragraph: “But [get drunk] with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk.”  Here, “drunkenness” is much broader than chemical intoxicants which we have been exploring thus far.

In considering the urgency of Baudelaire’s poem “The Clock,” this poem, “Be Drunk,” too, echoes similar themes of the severity involved in linking intoxication with time, and death. There is even a familiar character invoked in “Be Drunk,” namely, the clock. Baudelaire writes, towards the end of this poem, that “the clock will reply: ‘It is time to get drunk! So that you may not be the martyred slaves of Time, get drunk.’”As we saw in “The Clock,” it is vital that we understand the power of intoxication so as to flout the eventual victory of time and death over our bodies. By considering us the “martyred slaves of Time,” intoxication is being poetically prescribed–not just by Baudelaire, but by all our authors–as the way to make the most of our mortal situation.

Thus, we must return to our initial considerations. We saw, through Michaux, the divine presence of time in our lives. His mescaline-driven dilation of experience reminds us that there is but an eternal–an infinite–now. Our dissection of “now” into clock-time has severely sculpted our sentiments of, and sensitivity to, time. Through Huxley, we saw the deep profundities of time as a precondition to our being. His writings not only reinforce Michaux’s, they build off of them so as to ground the holiness of time in a secularly-oriented life. The writings of Gautier and Hungerford serve as our bridge between time and death; intoxication exacerbates one’s awareness of time, and of one’s own mortality. And Baudelaire’s writings most plainly illustrate the relationship intoxication has with time and death. There is a vital connection, for Baudelaire, between the act of getting drunk–on wine, poetry, or virtue–and the temporary escape from time and death. These authors, all functioning in concert, provide us a palliative prescription to the aporetic despotism of time and death in our lives. Their imposition are to be rebelled against, or so we must conclude, by intoxication. Following the sagacity of Baudelaire’s broad definition of intoxication, we might have something to learn, in fact, by turning to the bottle.

 

Works Cited:

Baudelaire, Charles. Poems. New York: AA Knopf, 1993. Print.

Gautier, Theophile. Hashish, Wine, and Opium. London: Calder and Boyars, 1972. Print.

Hungerford, Mary. An Overdose of Hashish.

Huxley, Aldous. The Doors of Perception. New York: Harper and Row, 1963. Print.

Michaux, Henri. Miserable Miracle. San Francisco: City Lights, 1963. Print.