Monday, September 4, 2017


The moth Darwin predicted must exist, Xanthopan morganii praedicta, using its preternaturally long proboscis on the orchid Angraecum sesquipedale, pollinating it, via Encyclopedia Brittanica.
This is in reaction, I'm not sure it qualifies as response, to comments from Thornton on yesterday's Douthat post, in which he suggests I should stop arguing with Douthat (admittedly not a very dignified position), mentioning Marx, or being "ideological". I think. And some other stuff.
I'm so sick of idiots tied to masts: the First Amendment Liberals obsessed with Antifa, the Socialists obsessed with single payer health care (now that the economy makes it harder to obsess about nationalizing the banks), and the Conservatives convinced that they have to come up with some deeply principled reason for everything they do. Because trying stuff and seeing what works is just so... unprincipled.
Well, there you go. "What works" at accomplishing what? What do you want to get done? That's a question of principles, which don't necessarily have to be based on a big philosophical system. I want cops to stop killing black people, and I want the government to make sure everybody in the US gets good medical care as is done without too much fuss in other countries, because duh, or because I'm a Rawlsian, or because I'm an unbelieving Jew, or whatever, or because I picked a goddamned side from my Democrat parents. But the other side won't let me, for reasons I consider specious and unprincipled indeed, and on the basis of arguments made in what I call "bad faith". That's my problem, Republicans, Not being tied to a mast, though I understand how one gets annoyed with the one-issue hobbyhorse who won't even allow you to agree with him if you don't use the magic words.
Reality that politics is about identity and that ideology is just identity for educated elites from the majority race.
So really, he's a Marxian thinker himself, this being the fundamental point of the manuscripts Marx and Engels assembled in 1845-46 but couldn't find a publisher for, that came out at last in 1932 under the title The German Ideology. Blindness to the identity origins of one's ideology is where bad faith comes from.

Marxian thought is a deterministic mess.
The thing I believe really irritates Thornton about Marx, the eschatology of the theory, the picture of a revolution in which the advance guard of the proletariat seizes the means of production and a millennium of conflict-free human happiness begins, is certainly the absolutely least interesting or important part of the approach—it's been obvious for decades that it's wrong, that nobody would want to live in such a place anyway, and unlikely that Marx himself believed in it: he never made any serious attempt to describe life after the Revolution, and was brutally sarcastic with the utopian socialists and anarchists who did.

I think it's also clear from his enthusiastic response to Darwin, which focused on the purposelessness of evolution in Darwin's picture, his defeat of the teleological theory that saw nature as progressing toward some grand goal: Engels wrote to Marx, after he'd snatched up one of the first 1,250 copies of The Origin of Species (said to have sold out in a single day),
Darwin, by the way, whom I’m reading just now, is absolutely splendid. There was one aspect of teleology that had yet to be demolished, and that has now been done. Never before has so grandiose an attempt been made to demonstrate historical evolution in Nature, and certainly never to such good effect.
And Marx wrote to Ferdinand Lasalle the following year,
Darwin’s work is most important and suits my purpose in that it provides a basis in natural science for the historical class struggle… Despite all shortcomings, it is here that, for the first time, “teleology” in natural science is not only dealt a mortal blow but its rational meaning is empirically explained...
Their delight in the discovery that the biological world is not striving toward some divinely ordained end state is that it backs their own rejection of the same kind of idea of human society, the old-Hegelian picture that Francis Fukuyama was trying to revive a few years ago. If there's an idea of a historically destined social end state in Marxism, it's just an error. Consistent with Marx would be an understanding that we have no clue what society will look like 100 years from now. The best Marx-flavored thinking of modern times, like that of the Frankfurters, is not even persuaded that progress exists (Theodor Adorno's concept of "negative dialectics"), let alone the building of a New Socialist Man and all that other garbage.

The Communists of the Second International were wrong, and the Social Democrats were right; if you're going to wait for the Revolution before you change society, better not put off breathing while you wait. And then the Communists proved it in Russia; they got the Revolution out first and the social change turned out all wrong. As opposed to Western Europe, where social democrats can hardly get elected any more because their work seems to be done and the Revolution isn't even needed (I hope they think of something else to offer, because it's far from perfect, but we'll see).

Marx did make one big specific prediction of the future: he predicted that capitalism as practiced in late 19th-century Europe was unsustainable, and would ultimately collapse beneath the weight of its internal contradictions.

My own view, which I've discussed in my all-time favorite post in April 2016, is that capitalism collapsed sometime in 1982 and almost nobody noticed: when John Gutfreund turned Salomon Brothers from a partnership into a public corporation (reneging on solemn promises to the firm), the turning point was reached in the long trend for control over the means of production to disappear from the hands of living owners and into the web of disembodied, mindless corporate entities. In other words, the bourgeoisie as Marx defined it isn't much there any more, and the means of production aren't under proper control at all. So the proletarians have to take over by default.

Indeed, in the post-capitalist world, most of us are proletarians—labor-sellers without an autonomous or creative control over what we do—and equally alienated, from schlubs like us all the way up to the CEO, who has no real responsibility to anything but the quarterly report and the share price and can be fired at any moment by an annoyed board. We have come into the grip of a new and rather hateful kind of class system defined by control over the means of consumption, because some of the new proletarians get to decide what everybody else gets to eat and where we get to live and so on.

Donald Trump is the epigone of this new dispensation, too, symbolizing the lost bourgeois, literally playing one on TV in the Apprentice series, with his gold and marble and expensive women but really not owning anything other than the brand rights, incapable, as we're learning, of even making an executive decision, but thousands make a living—consume—out of his existence. His language represents the old ruling class ideology, the myth of the job creator who makes people make things, but his life is that of a new one, in which we all consume his consumption.
We are never going to prove that conservatism is wrong because it isn't 100% wrong
What I mean by "conservatism" takes up a semantic space similar to that of the special Marxian use of "ideology", a set of rationalizations used by those in the ruling class who wish to hold on to their political power and concentrate it in ever fewer hands, to sell it to voters who identify with the thought of somebody trying to take their power away (Christianists threatened by the irreligious or members of wrong religions, whites threatened by black and brown folks, men threatened by women, olds threatened by youngs). There's not much point in arguing about its being "wrong"—it's not a proposition with a truth value, it's a war. The individual items on the conservative policy menu can be argued about, but they change all the time anyway—protectionism to free trade and back, tax cutters to deficit hounds. Of course those are not 100% wrong. I like multilateral trade agreements right now, and so do most conservatives, and that doesn't stop me. What I want to talk about when I talk about Ross Douthat isn't to prove that he's wrong, though that always helps, but to show that he's arguing in bad faith and lying about his aims.
Conservatives convinced that they have to come up with some deeply principled reason for everything they do
Exactly, that's better. And the other thing is that there's a parallel mode of thinking that isn't, I believe, necessarily in bad faith, that you use if you want to see political power diffused to an ever wider set of actors, if you want to see it shared, ultimately, with everybody, which we could call "liberalism", seeking to gather together those who are given less of a voice. Which we can say straight out, we don't need elegant rationalizations and deeply principled reasons, for each identity we gather into the fold, so maybe I don't even want to call it an ideology at all, or maybe I should call it a coalition of ideologies working in mutual solidarity.

Note that these definitions of liberal and conservative don't live on a left-to-right spectrum where you can spend a lot of time arguing about who's lefter than whom. You're either on one side or the other. Differences among individuals can be chalked up to the different identities within a coalition that a given individual is willing to embrace or make an empathetic connection with or nod to (and maybe those where they identify with the other side—when a white Democrat makes a nod to Republican racists, I don't say that makes him "more moderate" than me, though I might call it "moderate" when a Republican agrees with me on immigration).

Thornton has been working on a valuable list of the factors creating political dysfunction, which he see, briefly, like this—
-Left-Right spectrum metaphor of politics.
-Normalization of ideological politics.
-Reality that politics is about identity and that ideology is just identity for educated elites from the majority race.
-Postwar monopoly media model of objectivity.
-End of media monopolies but asymmetrical maintenance of objective ethics by MSM while new GOP outlets return to normal aligned model of mass media.
—but I think that purely critical analysis of everybody—"both sides"—does have limitations. What do we do about it? I mean, don't tell me to go out and build more masts for people to tie themselves to. I can't "try stuff and see what works", And I think Obama tried that already in any case.

I'll tell you what I want to do here, in this little blogspot, with you weird-ass readers: I want to be having a meta-conversation—a conversation about a conversation rather than the conversation itself—about how to make a more partisan discourse, here online, with all our friends, working on a vocabulary to compensate for the failure of the non-Republican news media, not to be the non-Republican news media obviously, and it takes some fancy talk to get there, and now I'm worried that's going to be too "ideological". Help me out here.

Angraecum sesquipedale, via Angraecums website.
Evolutionary biology really is a predictive science within the requirements of scientific method: that is, in that it allows a scientist to make a hypothesis about the way things are, from partial evidence plus theory, and predict that full evidence would show it's true. Not predicting the future of species, but the unknown present. Lovely example from the intro to Sehoya H. Cotner and Randy Moore (2011), Arguing for Evolution: An Encyclopedia for Understanding Science:

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