Thursday, August 24, 2006

"The Mushy Middle"

(and again).

Mainstream politically active liberals are beginning to understand or admit that people are tractable, and that it's a mistake to assume otherwise. But liberal technocrats are still pushing—or otherwise are forced to respond to—theories that if followed through to their conclusion would consider addiction and debilitating depression as natural and 'rational' responses to information or its lack.

The 'naturalization' of the discourse of law, politics, and even culture has resulted in the dumbing down of democracy to the level of polling and passivity. Intellectuals in the mold of Posner do not educate or explain—they have no interest in dumbing down their own discourse by dealing directly with the populace—they collate and presume. And if the first rule of intellectual life is to know oneself, that capacity is the first thing that's lost. The self-absorption of the logician is not too far from that of the autistic child staring at a spinning fan. If the logical system prevails over its creator, there is no need for self to be anything else but the system. Life becomes simple, and perverse.

The result of this definition of democracy and freedom is that in debates with moral conservatives who remain skeptical of modern liberties, liberal intellectuals have lost the ability to refer back to older less determinist and decidedly less vulgar definitions of and arguments for or concerned with freedom. Jack Balkin seems unwilling or unable to make the case for the philosophy that almost any historian would claim as the logical basis for his or her chosen field: "We can never know the past, but it's our obligation to try, and then to try again." From this comes an obligation to argument and debate, to the point that we've developed a legal system wherein a lawyer's obligation is to his client and the court, but not to his personal beliefs about his client's guilt or innocence. The past, like language, is collective. Add to this the general obligation we all have to reflect on what we value and why: to observe and examine not just others but ourselves and our assumptions. Every logic, every choice to follow a specific logic, has a foundation not in facts but in values. Law and Economics tries to render this discussion obsolete by pretense.

In the last century the words of the Constitution were twisted in the name of preserving what many believed and many still believe this country stands for. The process as a whole may have saved us from destruction. I would not want to be a black citizen of Alabama in this century if things had gone otherwise. But times have changed. Perhaps the pendulum will move back. Perhaps it should. But the questions are the same then as now. I think we'd be a lot better off if we stopped dividing the country between those who master abstract logic, often at the expense of any understanding of human behavior, and those who live their lives day to day but who are also capable of describing the stuff of life and of experience far beyond the capacity of an unimaginative Ph.D.

At the very least, common sense and simple logic will tell you that the brittle crystalline structures of academic discourse, the Weimarization of intellectual life, are not a sign of a healthy democracy.

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