George Lakoff, noted Democratic political adviser, has advice for the Party. “Progressives”, as he now refers to them, cannot allow themselves to think that the upcoming election is only about “kitchen table economics”.
Who can argue with that? The aforesaid progressives have played no small part in the economic mess We’re in and and Lakoff – who not only is a ‘progressive’ but is paid to be one – is shrewd to advise them that they need to break any connection in folks’ minds between themselves and the economic mess. (Apparently, Lakoff realizes that simply blaming the mess on ‘the past ten years’ isn’t going to work – not even after 40 years of Correctness are the American people THAT dumbed-down.)
No, says Lakoff: “This election is about more than just jobs and mortgages and adequate health care”. Well, once you try to put shrewdness into words, it actually DOES sound kind of phantasmagoric, doesn’t it?
“All politics is moral”, he declares. “All political leaders say to do what they propose because it is right”.
Yes but actually no.
He’s right in a way he doesn’t want to be: All life is moral – there is a moral dimension that is not only inescapable in life but is also essential if life is to have any chance of reaching its most genuine potentials. And, not to put too fine a point on it, all ‘life’ is like that because all human beings are built like that – there is a moral dimension to humans that is not only inescapable in their own lives but is also essential if a human’s life (and humans’ life together) is to have any chance of reaching its most genuine potentials.
But I can’t imagine that he could conceivably want to raise THIS mine – buried for decades – up for public examination. ‘Morality’ is one of the capital-letter words that the vote-addled Dems allowed their newly-minted Identities to Deconstruct in order to clear room on the flight-deck to launch their own agendas.
Along with Family, Human Nature, Commitment, Tradition, Virtue, and even the possibility that there was some Order to human life and human society that humans could discover and that they needed to abide in order – like plants around a Trellis – to create a Garden rather than regress to a Jungle. After all, Total Autonomy precisely means that there ARE no limits (and – what they hey? – no Shape to humans or their societies).
The Boomers had imbibed this bit of lunacy from the Modern world that they had grown up in, but in their adolescent wackiness (common to that age among humans), especially as that wackiness was ‘valorized’ by pandering Dems who figured that it was in their interest to deem ‘Youth’ a demographic, the Boomers decided that they had ‘discovered’ a Great Truth, one that ‘grown-ups’ and ‘The Man’ had been hiding from them in order to oppress them by, from time to time, saying No to them.
Airplanes had to obey certain fundamental Laws of physics and aerodynamics in order to fly, ships had to obey certain fundamental laws of physics and buoyancy in order to sail, but somehow that didn’t have any substantive relevance to human beings. Humans were ‘totally’ plastic (even though the befuddled hero of ‘The Graduate’ had rejected the advice to get into ‘plastics’ upon graduation from college) and more akin to play-dough than to any more serious Stuff like – well, the complexity and nuance and dark possibilities of dynamic creatures that were not automatically guaranteed to do Good (itself another of those Capital Letter Words).
You could say No to the world that had dared to say No to you – find what you felt was your True Love – and hop a bus to Perfection and Total Happiness, grabbing the bench seat in the back of the thing and riding it into the eternally warm, bright, sunny Southern California endless afternoon.
Even if you didn’t have the price of the bus ticket – what were a few silly rules when you were engaged on such a Great and Fun Adventure?
Yup. The ‘grown-up’ “thing” and the whole “civilization bag” were just tricks designed by clueless, conformist ‘grown-ups’ (who, soon after, were declared officially to ‘just don’t get it’) to keep you down. What was the use of having such a wealthy society if you didn’t enjoy it? (A question that later found its way into foreign affairs in the matter of military power, as Madeleine Albright would say in that first great Boomer Administration, Billary’s.
So, then, ‘Morality’ seems not at all a subject that ‘progressives’ (formerly ‘Democrats’ but it’s all bipartisan now, and anyway, it’s not about ‘politics’, it’s about ‘morality’) would want to raise, let alone stake the next election on.
Worse, though, is the idea that politics can be simply reduced to ‘morality’ or ‘Morality’. Because in the first place, not everybody has the same conception of ‘Morality’. In fact, if everybody is ‘totally autonomous’ then everybody can come up with their own ‘morality’ – even if they couldn’t be bothered learning what others have thought about it, or at least how it was structured into any given society and culture from the get-go.
Humans are not ‘naturally’ – in the sense of ‘easily’ and with absolute certainty – ‘moral’. They have that moral impulse, and that in itself is a huge characteristic of the species that has to be deeply and carefully plumbed.
But like the six blind persons and the elephant*, it’s not instantly and easily clear just what the beast is or even what it looks like.
This is the reason that humans have spent much time since the beginning of the species on the task of figuring out what ‘Morality’ is, how it works, and even where it comes from and what authority it might possess that would require not only human attention but even – gack and gasp! – obedience.
And are We going to face an electoral campaign where ‘philosophy’ is going to become an ‘issue’? Will the next American election resemble ancient Greece more than any election since 1860? Or since the Framers sat around giving their most serious, grave, and deliberate thought to just what the hell they were trying to do?
I can’t see it. And I certainly can’t see ‘progressives’ and the Democratic Party leading the discussion.
No, politics can’t simply be about ‘Morality’ any more than politics can be about ‘air’ – the stuff exists, so you can’t really ‘debate’ whether it does.
You can debate what impact the reality of the thing has upon the common weal, certainly, but that’s not the same thing.
And politics even then still isn’t just ‘about’ morality or Morality. It’s about developing a consensus among the Citizens as to just what role ‘morality’ or Morality can play in public policy. It’s about give-and-take; different folks, now, have different ideas about the ‘morality elephant’ and so it’s going to take a lot of public deliberation to achieve consensus about how this complicated reality will relate to public policy. Huge and heavy stuff here.
And politics is also about ‘prudence’ (the Gack and Gasp you just heard is the collective Boomer consciousness recoiling at the resurrection of so primal a Boomer boogeyman or boogey-person). Even if you think you have a ‘good’ idea, you may not be able to simply invite it into the house – especially if it is an elephant and you live in some structure smaller or less Large-Mammal-friendly than a spacious and solidly constructed barn. Sort of like, not bringing your new pet bull into the family china-shop and expecting to keep it there happily and without consequence ever after.
And NONE of this ‘wisdom’ – if I may – was allowed to retain any public role or status in the decades-long mad-rush to clear ‘stuff’ away so that each of the menagerie that are the Agendas of the Identities could be installed, happily and without consequence, ever after.
Thus the handiwork of that collectivity of Sorcerer’s Apprentices known as the Democratic Party in the Boomer Era.
Worse - and Lakoff lets this big jungle-cat out of the bag hoping We don’t notice – the Revolutionary Method (the ‘Revolutionary’ as developed by France in 1789 and sharpened by Lenin in 1917 and Mao subsequently, and the National Socialists in 1933) precisely cannot allow the Revolution’s morality to be discussed: because the only morality of the Revolution is anchored solidly in the Revolution itself: what is good for the Revolution(s) is Good, and what isn’t, isn’t.
That was the fundamental gravamen of Political Correctness over there and ditto when the gambit was brought over here in the late 1960s: you can’t talk about ‘Morality’ because only a very few vanguard elites ‘get it’ about the Revolution’s or Revolutions’ morality so why waste time having people argue with the Revolution because they don’t agree with what the Revolution wants to do?
Better to simply impose it.
And that’s solid, proven Revolutionary Method as those masters practiced it in their dark times.
It made excellent sense because they knew what the Democrats and the Beltway could never admit, perhaps to themselves and certainly not to Us: what was going in the United States starting in the late 1960s was a war of Worldviews, of fundamental construals and conceptions as to just what American life and history was all about, and what they were going to be all about. And, the Boomers being the Boomers as well as Americans, this would be a huge chunk of Progress for all human beings everywhere in the world, whether those poor human lumps realized it or not.
This was a genuine Revolution. ‘Politics’ was only useful insofar as it served the agenda of the Revolution, and if not, not. Indeed, the very working definition of ‘politics’ was quietly changed: ‘politics’ was to be merely a public approval of what had already been decided by the cadres of the vanguard elites; therefore Correctness served the valuable purpose of stopping the public from thinking about anything that the Revolution’s or Revolutions’ elites did not want the public to be thinking about.
Thus you get the public to stop thinking (and arguing with you) and simply inform it and manipulate it toward your concept of what is Good and ‘Moral’. And this is precisely what Lakoff says when he offers his definition of politics: “All politics is moral”.
Yes, but in the Revolutionary master schematics, that ‘moral’ is already defined by the Revolution(s): it’s only ‘moral’ if it supports the Revolutionary agenda, and if not, not.
Which is the master schematic that the Beltway has been working on for 40 years now.
Oh, that and then the bit about the politicians “say to do what they propose to do is right”. Notice the assumption about the job of a politician being to tell people what to do. This isn’t quite “leadership” in the 1787 American vision but more in the 1789 French vision – the one that inspired the hearts and minds of so many subsequent ‘political leaders’ of non-American or anti-American persuasion. But an elite is an elite – in the Beltway as well as anywhere else – and that’s what elites do.
So I can’t imagine Lakoff actually wanting to open the whole thing up for grabs again – which would be the genuinely democratic way.
No, he would have to be speaking in ‘code’ here: Lakoff’s (and the progressives’) “moral” is actually just that collection of agendas that they’ve been pushing and imposing for all this time. And with such dubious (to be polite about it) results and such alarming and profoundly disturbing consequences.
But this enables him to now say that it is the Republicans’ opposition to Obama’s assorted proposals (and I am no Republican, since I care for Tweedle-Dum as little as I care for Tweedle-Dee) that is ‘immoral’ and thus the Dems can robustly put the ‘Morality card’ – the M-card – back on the national political table and play it with chutzpah.
The only way this can work is if the Dems can put the M-card back on the table BUT STILL keep the public from opening the discussion beyond the Revolutions’ preferred definition of Morality. And – alas for them – there are still a lot of folks above ground who remember the days before the Revolutions’ definition of ‘Morality’. In that sense the U.S. is unlike Russia in 1991, where when the subject was once again put on the public table there were no folks left above-ground who could recall Russia before it was choked with the blessings of Lenin’s idea of paradise. (Although Marx’s analysis made some good points and Lenin’s cadres had such good intentions, and … on and on.)
And sure enough, Lakoff starts right in talking-up the “Progressive moral system” and “Progressive moral leadership”.
Which is his prerogative.
But lotsa folks are gonna have lotsa questions.
The morality of Deconstruction? Of imposing it? Of claiming that humans ten seconds away from birth are ‘just parasitical material’ that can be ejected if the womb-unit decides to exercise ‘total autonomy’? Of claiming that the Family is merely an oppressive accretion that must be scraped and blasted away in any case? The morality of everybody having his/her own morality?
Which is precisely why he makes sure to lecture that against their opponents the Dems must not “list their arguments and argue against them using their language. It just activates their arguments in the brains of listeners”. Which is the essence of Political Correctness: you cannot allow discussion of what you are trying to supplant; and the Revolution must control what the public talks and thinks about (though there can never be allowed any actual ‘deliberation’). Anything that does not support the Revolution must be erased from public consciousness, or delegitimized by incessant public manipulation; Correct cartoons can seem like wisdom if no objections or doubt are allowed. That’s Lenin 101 or Goebbels’s Introductory Course.
I am not ignoring the Republican whackery of claiming as ‘moral’ the idolization of the Nation-In-Arms and preventive war and torture, or the pandering to shocking accretions of Wealth against the en-serfment (or re-enserfment) of Labor. But Lakoff is trumpeting the morality of Progressives and the Dems here so I’m focusing on him and them.
He goes for the ‘against their own interests’ gambit: “Why is everybody voting against their own interests [by voting Republican]?”
Perhaps, it comes to me quickly, because they perceive that their own and the nation’s interests include ‘Morality’ in some sense larger than the Revolutions’and progressives’ definition of it? Apparently, if Lakoff’s article constitutes a coded Memo to the cadres, such types are no longer to be tarred as ‘backlashers’ but merely as benighted lumps who don’t understand their own interests.
But most folks were considered lumps anyway since ‘they just don’t get it’, no? So what have We got to lose?
No doubt Lakoff is presuming that the Dems-progressives have by now pandered to sooooo many identity-groups that there must – MUST – be a critical-mass of ‘clients’ who will remember who their all-good ‘patron’ is. And We are back to the client-politics of post-Republic Rome. Or the age of Latinate empires like imperial Spain, where the ‘natives’ were taught that their only hope and future lay in going along with the powers-that-be; and the Machine politics of the 19th and early-20th century American cities. Such progress.
The Dems (before they were ‘progressives’) faced a profound cross-roads back in the late Sixties: the world was recovering from the wrack of World War 2, technology was developing in such a way that ‘capital’ could be easily transmitted around the globe in search of the best ‘return on investment’, and America faced not just a challenge to its continued economic hegemony, but even to its ability to provide for its citizens the decent jobs that didn’t simply generate ‘income’ but anchored the very basis of human efforts to provide for a family and carry on a mature, productive, and genuinely Meaningful life.
The Dems could turn the government’s energies toward making sure that America’s capacities – managed by Wealth – were still kept harnessed to the common weal.
Or they could simply take a short-term view: pander to new ‘demographics’ that would expect much less of all that, and would settle for being ‘children’ and ‘clients’ of a government that would somehow keep them in cash while bathing them in the fake-aura of ‘total autonomy’ and ‘rights’. While simultaneously collecting swag and legal payoffs (through the sleazy legitimacy of PACs) from Wealth to let it abandon the common weal and go off whole-hog to pursue ‘best return’ all over the planet.
And as time went on, hoping like increasingly nervous Soviet elites – Micawberovs – that ‘something will turn up’ to keep free wealth flowing into the national coffers: a new invention, some new way of battening on more productive activities (sort of like the Mob, really) by setting up as a ‘necessary middleman’ demanding to ‘wet the beak’. Or printing more paper money. Or maybe, like imperial Spain in the 15th century, hoping to find a New World chock full of goodies (and enserfable natives to do the heavy-lifting) – but A) that plan was overplayed by the 17th century and B) America was the New World and there wouldn’t be any more of those again).
Which leaves the more overt Mob-like move: go out with enough muscle and take other peoples’ stuff.
Although, this being America, it would all be in a Good Cause and with the Best of Intentions, and therefore very ‘moral’. So ‘moral’ indeed, that America ‘had to’ do it or fail in its Divine Trust as God’s Deputy on earth. (For which role, the elites realized, the Pope would have to be supplanted, and all his pomps and all his priests; Stalin might have laughed off the Pope as having no ‘divisions’ but nobody was going to laugh off the United Secure States of America like that! No siree!)
The self-contented Babbitt business-burgher barbarians of Zenith, Ohio** were now – 80 years down the road – in most dire need of lots of assets, and such anxieties make happy and cocky burghers verrrrrry impatient indeed. Enter the Age of Armed Babbittry.
So – I think like Custer – the wrong road was chosen and it has led to a Valley that this force was never supposed to find itself in. Nor are Reagan the Great Bugler nor Teddy Kennedy the Great Trumpeter around to at least provide some inspirational musical accompaniment. Although you can look all around to see that there are still lots of flags.
Nor – courtesy of decades of officially-sponsored Deconstruction – might the nation consult – or at least formally turn to – any record of earlier expertise as how to navigate a Valley of Darkness. As the Preacher said “You got to walk that lonesome valley, you got to walk it by yoursellllllllllllllf”! For far too many Americans, the deal was that the government would do the walking and provide the necessary infrastructure and cash to fuel a comfortable drive through that bit of otherwise unpleasant earthly geography. This was the entitlement that went with living in the nation that reigned as God’s Deputy (or, in the liberal-progressive view, Replacement).
Walt Disney, alas, has had a success fraught with unforeseen consequences. We might pray, with the late Hirohito, that things have worked out not necessarily to Our advantage. Who knew? Cartoons – especially of movie-length – were supposed to show the way to a more compliant Life where things worked out happily ever after.
Whether the Dems now choose the late-Soviet gambit of trying to do the same-old, same-old until ‘something turns up’, or whether the entire Beltway now hopes individually to just keep collecting swag until each practitioner can retire to a dacha on the Black Sea and party-hearty (the I’ll-be-gone, you’ll-be-gone gambit so beloved of CEOs and other elites) … well that’s an interesting question.
Historians will probably also be interested in whether the elites actually realized 40 years ago that they would have to get rid of the People who had achieved so much and replace it with a bunch with much lowered expectations or whether they just screwed-it-all-up as they went along … that will be an interesting research topic in the not-so-distant future.
“There is no one center” anymore, Lakoff lectures. And he’s right. Decades of a divisive and corrosive Identity Politics, in the service of a Deconstructive Revolution that was aiming toward a best-case and consequence-less quick fulfillment of its brightest dampdreams (and can you say Iraq War?), has neutered any common sense of common-weal.
The Dems have Deconstructed well enough; but the cash ran out before they could solidify their gains (I’m loathe to call it ‘success’).
Now they have to tack together some sort of ‘alliance’. An Axis of Good (or Moral) you might say. And Lakoff is suggesting that eternal gambit: an Illusion. Since humanity seems to have some abiding sense of the moral – and the Moral – then that’s what the Dems will have to make themselves appear to have a lock on.
So they will ‘define’ Morality, or ‘code’ it, so that it contains only what they want it to have; and in that sense they will indeed have a lock on it. (For whatever that’s worth.)
Much like the fake Grail-Lantern in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” they will switch it on during the dark and stormy night and see how many lost knights (and knight-esses) they can lure in. And anyway, they still have the castle – rickety and worn-down as it is – and on a dark and stormy nite knights have to find shelter somewhere.
Such calculations are hardly the High Ground in human existence. But the Dems are no longer in a position to be arbiters of the Shape of such things. They’ll be happy to keep going through the upcoming election and hope something will thereafter turn up.
These are the politics of a banana republic. One that has run out of bananas. And had never cared for the ‘republic’ part in the first place.
We must give careful thought here – or We shall have a Republic as cartoonish as Lakoff’s ‘morality’.
*Ancient Eastern tale: six blind folks stumble across an elephant in the jungle – each bumps into a different part of the elephant (thick root-like trunk, sharp-edged tusks, huge silky ears, tree-like legs, house-like body, snake-like tail) – and accordingly come to radically different conceptions of what the beast is actually like. It has for decades been a conclusion of some Western thinkers that since there are so many different conceptions of the thing then it doesn’t actually itself exist. Although in the very recent decades there has developed the ‘total autonomy’ variant of the conclusion: that the elephant can be whatever anybody decides to believe it is, to each his/her own elephant. But the Elephant itself still gets short shrift conceptually (although ‘on the ground’, in the actual jungle, the creature could assert its personal and very real existence by whacking, spearing, stepping-on, sitting-on, or crapping-on anybody witless enough to get too close and too annoying).
** Sinclair Lewis, 1922,“Babbitt” – check your library if you have to.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but in terms of ‘morality’ let me recall John Stuart Mill’s attempt to anchor human morality – in best classical Liberal style – without recourse to any Higher or Deeper Dimension, any Beyond-this-world: anything’s moral, he said, so long as you don’t harm anybody else.
This is Mill’s ‘Harm Principle’.
There are problems with it, and they are not small.
First, it’s always been the problem with the not-Beyond philosophical solutions of the Modern and Enlightenment eras, that they are essentially trying to provide a universally authoritative basis for Morality BUT WITHOUT bringing ‘religion’ or God or any sort of Beyond into it. In the earlier centuries of the Modern Era you could claim a ‘Higher Law’ (capital letters) but without saying where or Who this Law came from. The Framers were working along these lines, and Jefferson gave it a little oomph with his “self-evident principles” that gave you the authority of Nature and even “Nature’s God” but without having to get into ‘religion’.
But like radio waves, if you can’t get the antenna up high enough, then you’re not going to be able to transmit very far; the ‘lower’ your antenna, the ‘shorter the distance’ over which your radio messages can travel.
And it’s also like trying to raise a heavy weight from the bottom of a lake using a winch based on a rowboat that weighs less and is less stably based than the weight that you have to lift: rather than your winch pulling the weight up to the boat, the weight will pull the boat down into the water (perhaps even sink it) rather than the other way around.
Second, there’s the question of defining ‘harm’: Mill had to define ‘harm’ narrowly enough in Time and Space so that a good Liberal could quickly calculate whether his/her action would ‘harm’ anybody else.
But the harmful consequences of a human action aren’t so easily limited. It may take a longer time for some ill-consequences to manifest. Or they may manifest in a less obvious area that doesn’t occur to the good Liberal to include in the initial ‘moral calculation’ analysis.
I prefer to think of human existence as a very large waterbed: if somebody at the far corner decides to jump up and down, a whole lot of somebodies - who may even be out of sight of the jumper - are going to be ‘impacted’ by that action. Using this template, it makes, by the way, for a great respect for the virtue of Prudence – since there’s so much you can’t know about consequences, and it’s better to err on the side of caution.
As I always say, that is neither the ‘revolutionary’ nor the ‘youthy’ approach to ‘change’ and consequences. I think it was G.B. Shaw who said that ‘progress depends on the unreasonable man’, A cutesy and not wholly inaccurate insight, but you can’t go and base a national policy on it.
But in the heady days of the 1960s, the ‘grown-ups’ were shown to have allowed Jim Crow to go on for almost a century and then went and got the country into Vietnam … so clearly the Boomers decided that they must be blessed with the Mandate of Heaven (to use the ancient Chinese phrase for divinely-sanctioned authority) and were Deputized by History (if not God) to clean up Dodge.
And here We are.
I think another dot has to be pointed out for connection. Lakoff advises the now-hoary and ominous scam: don’t publicly discuss your opponents’ points or publicly debate them – because it will only give them a publicity they don’t deserve (or … that you don’t want them to have).
Given that ideas, concepts, methods and approaches ‘migrate’ within the sacred precincts of the Imperial Beltway, then it has to be noted that this gambit has long been run by the Israeli Realm: given that its founding Moment consisted of an Act that many would – reasonably – consider to be dark, bloody, and largely not-good, the Realm has with a marvelous consistency hewed to the paths originally cut by the dark Masters of public manipulation in the early decades of the unhappy 20th century.
Don’t argue or debate publicly with those who don’t agree with you because a) you’ll be allowing your own status to lubricate an airing of your opponents’ ideas; b) those ideas may well include the stuff that a lot of people may consider quite dark indeed; c) you might then wind up being put into the awful public position of either admitting the darkness or publicly denying what many see so clearly to be the case.
Better, then, not to argue but instead to i) keep your own version and spin and ‘narrative’ in the public eye; ii) to the greatest extent possible, keep your opponents’ best points and narrative out of the public eye (by any means necessary); iii) when you do have to deal with your opponents’ points, avoid giving the public anything solid to deliberate upon and instead distract them with such primitive but efficacious gambits as ad-hominem attacks and appeal to your own suffering as justification; iv) point out to your ‘target audience’ that you aren’t doing anything that it hasn’t done; and – the masterstroke if you can pull it off – v) induce a situation where your ‘target audience’ or ‘target public’ finds itself in much the same position you are in and will sort of be drawn toward agreeing with you through its own dark and bloody experiences.
It has worked swimmingly for the Realm (an ‘ally’ that has – stunningly – no actual treaty of alliance with Us and has consistently refused to sign one for half a century).
And at this point, in foreign affairs, this country finds itself – already stretched to the limits militarily and economically – seriously discussing the possibility of a full-scale regional war (one that would, in the short-term, greatly benefit and hugely please the Realm).
Now We see Lakoff proposing to the liberal-progressives and Democrats that they deploy the same gambit in domestic politics: they must induce their target-public to support them at the polls, and they must work that inducement by any means necessary. First and foremost, as Lakoff says, by not letting opponents get near a public debate where their objections and questions can be raised and put to Democratic candidates or spokespersons.
Funny how the Beltway night moves.