Friday, February 21, 2014

Don't Give Me That "Collective Action" Rubbish

I'm reading a thumb-sucker right now about Jürgen Habermas by a political science prof. -- so you don't have to.  It's called The recent work of Jürgen Habermas: Reason, justice & modernity by Stephen K. White.

Habermas is interesting to me because he is a lefty trying to deal with the consequences of Horkheimer and Adorno in The Dialectic of Enlightenment.  These founders of the Frankfurt School writing during World War II had to face the fact that the Enlightenment hadn't resulted in unalloyed sweetness and light as advertised.  In fact, they admitted, Enlightenment and Reason were about power.  Man was interested in reason in order to dominate nature and other men.  So Habermas comes up with a dual-track idea.  There is reason, which is instrumental and strategic, egos using reason to get their way in the world.  And then there is communicative action or negotiation, which is about people interacting as social equals in a taken-for-granted lifeworld.

It doesn't take too long for Stephen K. White to start burbling lefty code words like "power" and "ideology" and "social change" and "collective action" and "collective goods."  I had to restrain myself from upchucking.  Because what do those words really mean when stripped of what we might call lefty "false consciousness?"  Let's parse these words for their real meaning, when deployed by lefties as weapons against conservatives.

Power.  Lefties are obsessed with the power of others, particularly the bourgeoisie and the capitalists.  There is no doubt that the bourgeoisie and the capitalists created a new form of power -- we might call it market power -- that began to compete with political power, and this seems to be an immense problem for lefties.  But the truth is that market power is a reciprocal thing.  You get market power by doing what the consumers want and doing it well.  When you stop doing that you lose your power, unless you have access to political power.  But lefties want to combat market power with political power.  You can see the problem with that in everything from the Soviet Union and Communist China to the stupidities of political power in Obamacare.

Ideology. Lefties understand that religion and ideas are critical sources of power.  As Andrew Breitbart said: "politics is downstream from culture."  But lefties don't want anyone to have power except themselves, and so lefties are obsessed with the idea that someone other than lefties might be influencing people.  That's why Marx invented the idea of ideology and "false consciousness," to make a scandal out of people other than lefties launching ideas into the world.  But the truth is that lefties spend their whole lives spouting ideology, and, to get back to Horkheimer and Adorno, lefty ideology is intended to dominate in a Habermasian strategic sense as strategic reason, rather than initiate a conversation.

Collective Action. This is a euphemism that is designed to obscure what is really going on.  When lefties talk about collective action they are talking about everything from a lefty street demonstration to the passage of a lefty legislative action.  In other words force or the threat of force.

Collective Goods. Another euphemism.  When lefties talk about collective goods they are talking about government programs that forcibly tax and/or regulate people to support some kind of one-size-fits-all government program.  It might be education, pensions, or healthcare.  But force is there, front and center, except that lefties don't want to draw attention to the force, or face the fact that their whole world view is about force.

Social Change. This means government-enforced change.  It means that social cooperation in some sphere of human intersubjective activity is to be replaced by government force in which the terms of interaction and cooperation will be replaced by administrative and bureaucratic rules with the force of law which cannot be changed by voluntary agreement between individuals.

We are getting to see all this operate in the miserable operations of the Obama administration.  The Obamis know what we need and they are determined to give it to us, whether we like it or not, from Obamacare that sweeps the whole health-care system under the detailed supervision of government to clean energy that substitutes the pipe dreams of environmental activists for the market.  As you can see, in the manipulations of the IRS, the National Labor Relations Board, the EPA, the politicizing of criminal cases like the Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin affair, there is no attempt at creating a consensus or agreement.  Everything is about using government power to advance a liberal agenda and to intimidate opponents.  And the result is the opposite of justice.

The beautiful thing about the market system is that its power is limited.  It is certainly hegemonic, for it demands everyone to submit to its price signals or face the consequences.  But the market does not demand to own your soul.  It does not demand uniformity or loyalty oaths or acts of submission.  It just says: look, if you want to thrive in this world then you have to do things and make things that other people are willing to pay for.  Reduced to its essential, the market says that you have to think about other peoples' needs.

The great fact about our modern era is that there are lots of people, who think they represent the future, struggling with all their might to kill the market and replace it -- by turning back the clock to an age where everyone was utterly subordinated to the local lord.

Here we have our modern left, convinced it is utterly committed to erasing the patriarchy.  But what does it do?  In every action it is effectively trying to return society to a kind of neo-patriarchy where individuals are subordinated to some political boss: the politician, the bureaucrat the activist.  This brave new world of the political boss, if you ask me, is indistinguishable from the awful patriarchy of the pre-modern era when the dominant male ruled over all.

Who cares what the gender of the political boss is?  Domination is domination, and humans hate to be on the receiving end.

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