Friday, April 22, 2005

Letter to the Liberals

Dear Liberals:
You describe yourself as a good old liberal to the letter. You're a walking exemplar. Nothing overwhelmingly wrong with that in my view, and pretty good too --as far as it goes. "Far" here meaning that liberalism is in wounded retreat against the rise of the Right again. The self-imposed limits of liberalism is part of that rightward success, as both sides know. We obtain the kind of society in the future that we collectively deserve, alas. Today it looks like great prospects for expanding patriarchy, theocracy, economic exploitation of the working class, social fragmentation, and the depletion of natural resources while polluting the rest.

Of course in the long run this is unsustainable, according to those who've done the math. The inevitable implosion or more likely the bitter decline more and more looks to be within the lifetimes of my students and hopefully I'll be dead by then. I wonder if anyone at all will remember that Dr. Heroux even mentioned anything about this in class, back around the early part of the 21st century. Maybe nobody will remember, but not because I didn't try to get their attention. At the very least, it would be a shame to me if I saw these problems and yet never even attempted to say anything constructive about them, not even slipped into the middle of some grammar comment or summary of so and so.
So I do attempt . . . which is not of course to succeed. Part of my failure is my own set of limitations, and part of it is because I get so little help from the curriculum. None of us can do anything alone. Professors as a group are comfortably bourgeois, middle of the road, and enact the full spectrum from mildly quiet to indifferent. Even the odd "radical" turns out to be most interested in getting the kids into private school and getting a better mortgage rate. I'm not above all that. We're all dependent upon the same systems that frustrate us. But the idea floating around that university churns out radicals would have to explain why the stats don't show this, and why the university system is a strong supporter of military R&D, of corporate expansion, of managerial prerogatives, of technocracy, of ethnocentrism, of nationalism, in sum, of the status quo.

The status quo system is deeply implanted in our traditional ideas and our socio-economic structures. When I say that I seek to "destroy" the status quo, I don't literally mean that I go to class with a pipe bomb, nor even with a modest cigarette lighter to burn the books. I don't even mean figuratively that everything and anything is intellectually rejected by some kind of total Revolution. This is why the term "deconstruction" is preferable, because it doesn't actually destroy, but moreover it continues to recognize the functioning traces of what it has shown to be constructed. For a single and overly partial instance, I somewhat follow the line of the Frankfurt School critical theory and of Foucault in approaching a criticism of Enlightenment rationality only from within the Enlightenment not from without. Or: I criticize modernity from within modernism not as a premodernist reactionary. Or: I criticize patriarchy not males. Or: I criticize the spectacle, but not the spectator. Etc, ad nauseam.

As we attempt to depart from the status quo, care and close attention must be devoted to how we depart and in which direction: toward the center, the left, or the right; or toward the rear, the side, or the front; or up, down, or around. These political and rhetorical choices are unavoidable, since any step throws you into and out of somebody's camp -- including the not-taking-a-step choice. I'm not a centrist on most problems, in small part because the centrists whom I encounter are oddly ignorant about the open secrets of their own society. They talk and act as if they have only a little information. When confronted with new information, they typically retreat into quietude, nothing to offer. This is not helpful. And their idea of departing is too often to remain seated. Their tolerance soon becomes intolerable. Centrism is the ideology of the overly compromised on their way to their own execution. "Don't upset the jailor and don't tell the prisoners. We're OK for now." Well, good luck to you.

As for defining my teleology or the end of the path I would walk, this isn't in my line either. We make a path by walking, as a few of the poets said. I've noticed, though, that most of the books I like turned out to have been supporting similar versions of social anarchism, loosely defined. It took me years just to realize that much about my favorite authors. My point is that I don't tell students what path to take, but I'm something of a catcher in the rye. There are abrupt and fatal cliffs ahead the way we're rushing. And because we're now being pushed along that way against our own better judgment, my criticism is becoming more insistent and is aimed at the pushers. But to tell you the truth, I'm not getting very far and I need more help from you.

Sincerely yours,
E. Heroux

P.S. If you are one of those rare liberals who can't read, here's an illustration by Ted Rall of the duopoly problem you've caused:


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