Monday, September 20, 2010

"Pretty soon, we’ll be having serious, completely un-self-conscious discussions in major magazines about the servant problem."
Krugman is beginning to understand the distinction between society and government. He's becoming a critic of culture.

The distinction between society and government; between obligations and laws.
The focus on law " saying that since all art is abstract the best art is nonfigurative."
Abstract, formal, due process vs "substantive" due process.
The undefinability of "substance"/"meaning"; Quine.
Meaning, naming: "Venus"; "Morning Star", "Evening Star".
Meaning in this use is temporal/perspectival. Naming is atemporal, but still perspectival. Is that the only difference?

"...a blurring of the supposed boundary between speculative metaphysics and natural science."

Odd, or predictable, that he should end up all that trying to elevate speculative metaphysics. "If only we imagine ourselves scientists..."
Nietzsche: "If only we imagine ourselves gods..."

If I'm with a friend looking at a painting or listening to a piece of music and one of us makes a comment noting a specific phrase or gesture, with the other acknowledging both the comment and the gesture, we're sharing in the recognition of a formal arrangement; there is no shared meaning. Meaning is private, what's public is form. A Representative Formalism is the rhetorical slight of hand through which we indulge the illusion of shared meanings. As a rhetorical space it's the basis of politics, the ground on which it takes place. Quine takes us to the point of acknowledging this and goes into reverse, to demi-science, following the the vulgar followers of Marx and Freud to anti-politics. He ignores the obvious, that private meanings invade form, and the effect of those invasions. To call him an empiricist is absurd. He's a rationalist defending empiricism as an idea, but he seems more interested in strengthening rationalist claims to the territory.

Representative formalism is a functional oxymoron: Shakespeare's sonnets, Noh theatre; the rule of process and substance, law and man. Any non-fascist form of governance is a form of representative formalism. Fascism is ideal form imposed/collapsed/unified with, meaning: the man with a gun demanding more than obedience; the fantasized unity of self and other, of private and public. And who's going to argue with a man with a gun? It's not the rhetoric, the form, of unification between self and other seen in politics and art, but the pretense -the demand- that it exists in meaning: that life is art. It's the difference between irony and hypocrisy.

Any attempt to avoid or elide the reality of politics -the lack of shared communicable meanings- is anti-political, and anti-humanist. The relations of due process to "substance", of abstraction to "representation" are political: temporal, unresolvable. Democracy is founded on their need to be re-argued, on formalism being reconstructed again and again. If justice is blind, where is the place for compassion? If justice is compassion then how is it blind?
Authoritarian conservatism is not the elision of politics, or of the distinction between public and private, it's simply the control of public form/space. Conservatism doesn't care what you think, only how you act, or that you ask to be forgiven. Fascism is the imposing of the lie of shared meaning through the destruction of the private.
… But now we have another problem.
What is that?
What if we find out what makes each of us internally consistent? What if I find your proper name, that thing which describes exactly what you are?
Than I will always be honest, or predictable at least. And you will be able to interpret everything I say and never be wrong. And of course I’ll know your name as well.
No dishonesty, no subterfuge, no Freud, no art… Then we can all be logical positivists.
But it doesn’t matter. That dream’s irrelevant.
I want unification.
It’s an illusion.
I want the illusion.
Do you want the illusion or do you want the illusion to be real?
What’s the difference?
One means that you have an appreciation of the arts. The other means that you’re a fascist.
The danger of government as such is the danger of anti-political government, a government where meanings are assumed by the rulers while not -or no longer- shared by the populace. A representative formalism, founded on trust, not necessarily on the will of the people but on assumptions of stability, becomes unrepresentative when the form is no longer seen to represent anything, or when private meanings become so fragmented that culture/community no longer founded on functional contradictions becomes simply dysfunctional.

Democracy however is based not only on a representative formalism as such but explicitly on public engagement with its forms. Democracy is the culture of language in use. The attempt to imagine universal meanings and then rule by them in a technocratic order is not democracy. Authoritarian liberalism is not social democracy for the reason among others that its arguments are not founded in the social but in the ideal, an ideal formalism -form as non-contradictory idea- that the social is meant at least to approximate. Putting grammar before language has been tried, in both language and politics. It failed. Regardless of claims [or "intentions" (and again meanings are private)] such arguments function as anti-political. The desire to overcome contradiction, to join form and representation, to try to bypass the aporias, the politics, the ad hoc-ness of culture and especially of democracy, is anti-political no matter who desires it.

Greed has gone from being seen as one of the seven deadly sins, constantly deferred to or forgiven as "authority", to being seen as eradicable, to being seen now by liberals -almost it seems because it's can't be eradicated- as a form of the good. This transition took place over the course of decades, but somehow the transition in intellectual discourse is not itself a subject of intellectual discourse, at least in the academy. The forms of academic discussion haven't changed, but the object of representation has. Meanings have changed. Academics discuss the same forms as before, but not the new values behind them.

A more recent example, over a shorter timeline, is the confused response among academic intellectuals to illegal downloading, defended in language that waffles back and forth between idealism and realism. But setting aside the relations of musicians to corporations, the only logical defense of downloading is that it's ubiquitous, and that the cost of interdiction and punishment, in every sense of the word— economically, politically socially—just isn't worth it. The attempt at an idealist defense is just absurd; it has nothing to do with what's necessary as a matter of political empiricism and everything to do with a need to maintain the illusion of philosophical idealism in those who demand both that and, temporally at least since new markets will form, the ability to get something or nothing. 

All communication is political. The relations among competing theories in theoretical physics are not political to the layman, but they become political at the level at which they're argued by physicists. And where there is a consensus among experts who refer to ideas/objects by atemporal "names" the moment those names brought into the world, in situ, in context, they will have new meanings those experts never imagined, in the eyes of others.

All people are politicians in everyday life and democracy is the representative formalism of the everyday. Focusing on the ideal to the exclusion of language in use, which again is synonymous with politics, is counterproductive to the point of being no more than simple anti-social, anti-political reaction. The perfect may be the enemy of the good, but it's also the enemy of the better.

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