Monday, June 02, 2014

repeat from last year
A conversation with a non-academic well-versed in the western canon, though less so anything contemporary, at least in terms of academic political theory. I tried to explain ongoing arguments about liberalism and conservatism. He kept stopping me to say he didn't know what those words meant without more explanation. "The meanings have changed so much over the past 200 years." I said that's the problem I was having, since the people I argued with seemingly had no knowledge that the old aristocratic right was anti-capitalist, being based on land not business. The old model of conservatism accepted self-interest as a given but nonetheless saw nobility, humility and self-sacrifice as an ideal.  Modern conservatives are merely aping the mannerisms of those they'd defeated, and liberals are similarly individualistic. "That's what all the French are on about".  He looked at me with the expression of someone pleasantly surprised to know I understood the obvious, but he didn't want to take my word regarding the opinions of anyone he hadn't met or read. Finally in frustration I blurted out that if I make the point that the supposed mystery of the Cambridge spies can be explained by seeing them as monarchists striking back against the barbarism that destroyed the world they knew or claimed to know, the response from liberal academics almost always is not even disagreement or amusement but incomprehension.  He shrugged. He understood.
He's a Priest.
Arguments for the nobility of greed are a recent development.
"If, by “recent” you mean 1705, you may be right."
repeat, since Holbo's back at it.
Modern liberalism begins in universalism, treating various people's interests as equal or equivalent. But the global view of individuals as actors has given us an asocial model of morality:

"If her interests have the same value as his, then my interests must have the same value as yours."
In a short conversation with a libertarian a few months ago, I said my disgust begins with their opposition to democracy, since democracy is founded on individual responsibility, not individual freedom.  He agreed that libertarians don't  like democracy,  but said he was impressed that I would argue against freedom. "Most liberals aren't so honest" I said they can't face their contradictions, and that I'm not a liberal.
another repeat (or maybe not) and another priest, on neoliberal sex.
As it happens, this vision fits rather well in a society built around consumption. If Savage’s ethical guidelines—disclosure, autonomy, mutual exchange, and minimum standards of performance—seem familiar or intuitive, it’s probably because they also govern expectations in the markets for goods and services. No false advertising, no lemons, nothing omitted from the fine print: in the deregulated marketplace of modern intimacy, Dan Savage has become a kind of Better Business Bureau, laying out the rules by which individuals, as rationally optimizing firms, negotiate their wildly diverse transactions.

Classical liberalism, however, may prove just as inadequate in the bedroom as it has in the global economy, and for many of the same reasons. It takes into account only a narrow range of our motivations, overstates our rationality and our foresight, downplays the costs of transactions, and ignores the asymmetries of information that complicate any exchange of love or money. For society as a whole, it entails a utopian faith in the capacity of millions of appetites to work themselves out into an optimal economy of sex—a trading floor where the cultural institutions of domesticity once stood. And for the individual, it may only replace the old sexual frustrations with new emotional ones. People who think they are motivated only by lust may end up feeling love; people who forswear any strings may feel them forming; and perfect transparency may prove an ideal no less unattainable than perfect monogamy. I think of a heartbreaking letter in 2010 that illustrated many of these problems at once. A man who saw a woman every other week for four months heard from her, two months after ending things, that she had gotten pregnant and had a miscarriage. Savage was all but certain that the woman’s story was false. But regardless, he said, “your emotional obligations to her ended when the relationship did, and your financial obligations ended with the miscarriage.” Savage’s advice may have been practical, but it had all the warmth of a legal waiver of liability.

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