I went to see Mr Blond speak at a university last week after reading an article praising him in the New York Times. He is a UK philosopher who is gaining influence in political circles for his redefinition of what it means to be conservative: he calls this new brand Red Tory, also the title of his new book.
He began by describing our current state in which we are trapped in a limbo by the failed and unwieldy public and market bureaucracies. It was a bit tiresome hearing that all the problems of the economy and the state and society should be leveled at liberalism, which he made sure to do in his talk to an avowedly conservative American audience.
However, he spent some time defining the difference between classic liberalism and what we call liberal today, and claims red tories hold to the basic tenets of the classic wing: those precepts that bring us closer to individual and corporate freedom. Furthermore, he made clear that the liberalism he is fingering for our problems is the form that makes us individuals and consumers, isolating us from proper participation in a values based society.
He ended, I thought rather weakly, by proposing a localism that would defeat, somehow, the the liberal forces of totalizing and unwieldy government and corporations over an isolated and unfulfilled populace.
Here are a few bits from the article in the New York Times:
“Look at the society we have become: We are a bi-polar nation, a bureaucratic, centralised state that presides dysfunctionally over an increasingly fragmented, disempowered and isolated citizenry.
The welfare state and the market state are now two defunct and mutually supporting failures.
The project of radical transformative conservatism is nothing less than the restoration and creation of human association, and the elevation of society and the people who form it to their proper central and sovereign station.”
author: Phillip Blond
article: Rise of the Red Tories, Phillip Blond
article: The Broken Society, David Brooks, NYT
Bill Moyers asked his guest this week, why all the anger in the American scene? And his guest said, because of the American inability to hold a thought: our memories are shot, we have nothing real to draw on, we merely look for the next thing, and the next. The other way would be to develop a causal sense that an action makes a reaction and has meaning and consequences. How would this make us less violent? We would develop characters that don’t merely react, but that draw on reason and knowledge to make decisions about how to act.
American news is top story heavy, whereas French news is even. It suggests they have a culture that is less scandal and reaction based, more measured, sane, perhaps even a bit boring. The big story in American news makes money, gives a thrill, but on the down side, makes us junkies for new and big and scandalous.
Smart critiques, stupid creates, so says Diesel. I know I’m not to think about this too deeply, so I decided to anyway, because they keep telling us not to think and they’re always wrong.
They’re sort of right: stupid does create. Stop making sense, said David Byrne. But, somehow smart has to be play a role. I mean it can’t be completely left out, can it?
It seems like an entirely crazy time to send out this message. There are so many really big institutions and orthodoxies that we aren’t allowed to question these days. There is mass ignorance in the cultural response to what the banks are doing to us: a stupid reverse French Revolution in which the people revolt against what is actually good for them. And I still can’t believe how long it took us – the smartest generation? – to figure out that the last big American war was built on a bluff – six friggin’ years! Now that’s stupid. We still think two weeks vacation in a year is a good idea – stupid. We let guys who got rich making mediocre companies make health policy – stupid. The list goes on.
Stupid has a pricetag, always has. People die in stupid wars, lose their houses and jobs when stupid men make stupid bubbles.
I teach design and the guy who came up with this ad slogan went to design school. For three or more years she was given design briefs, to which she responded with design proposals, was critiqued throughout, and publically presented her work to final review boards of critics. Unless a hermit, he benefited from the conversations he had with his professors and peers. A lot. Life is a conversation. You can saddle up and gallop off alone into the great beyond every once in a while, but you always come back, for dinner, for company, to find out what you did wrong, to make it better, to join the conversation.
So in a sense, smart critiques, and stupid creates. And yes, the opposite too is true. But as ideas they’re definitely not mutually exclusive.
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: america, Christianity, ideology, judiasm, nathan schneider, nationalism, religion, terry eagleton, United States
More unvarnished critique of the American religion from an interview with the British academic Terry Eagleton. I think the best definition of vanity, from the point of view of Christianity, is to use scripture to cover for your largely errant belief system. I’m using child labour; let me stress this passage on talents. In fact let me move the talents passage to the heart of what I believe, and conveniently forget the rest. It would also be useful and soothing to work in my nationality and its state of blessedness over all other people. That way consequence is diminished as I do whatever I want. Easy peasy.
Eagleton, in a mini jeremiad, says God won’t be used that way. He won’t let you use his name in that manner. He won’t let you take it and use it in vain for your vanity. From the interview —
NS: Though of course the Christianity you present doesn’t sound like a lot of the Christianity one hears in the public sphere, especially in the United States.
TE: I think partly that’s because a lot the authentic meanings of the New Testament have become ideologized or mythologized away. Religion has become a very comfortable ideology for a dollar-worshipping culture. The scandal of the New Testament—the fact that it backs what America calls the losers, that it thinks the dispossessed will inherit the kingdom of God before the respectable bourgeois—all of that has been replaced, particularly in the States, by an idolatrous version. I’m presently at a university campus where we proudly proclaim the slogan “God, Country, and Notre Dame.” I think they have to be told, and indeed I have told them, that God actually takes little interest in countries. Yahweh is presented in the Jewish Bible as stateless and nationless. He can’t be used as a totem or fetish in that way. He slips out of your grasp if you try to do so. His concern is with universal humanity, not with one particular section of it. Such ideologies make it very hard to get a traditional version of Christianity across.
–Religion for Radicals: An Interview with Terry Eagleton, Nathan Schneider, The Immanent Frame
author: Terry Eagleton
website: The Immanent Frame
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: city, richard sennett, technology, urbanism
The tools are there but not the vision for building great cities, says Richard Sennett in his article The Open City. Where have we heard this before, the tools but not the vision? Everywhere it seems, in this structure phobic world we tenuously occupy. We’re post structure, what’s the use of vision if we can have endless iterations of technique?
Sennett also says that not only will all-the-technology-in-the-world not fill the vision void that keeps us from building good cities, but this detail and technology driven model is making cities that tend to control urban life, when a truly good city is one that is evolving and open and – in that good vibrant way – uncontrollable.
Here is an excerpt from Sennett’s The Open City:
The cities everyone wants to live in should be clean and safe, possess efficient public services, be supported by a dynamic economy, provide cultural stimulation, and also do their best to heal society’s divisions of race, class and ethnicity. These are not the cities we live in. They fail on all these counts due to government policy, irreparable social ills and economic forces beyond local control. The city is not its own master. Still, something has gone wrong – radically wrong – in our perception of what a city should be. We need to imagine just what a clean, safe, efficient, dynamic, stimulating, just city would look like concretely; we need those images to confront critically our masters with what they should be doing – and precisely this critical imagination of the city is weak. This weakness is a particularly modern problem: the art of designing cities declined drastically in the middle of the twentieth century. In saying this, I am propounding a paradox, for today’s planner has an arsenal of technological tools – from lighting to bridging to tunnelling to materials for buildings – that urbanists even 100 years ago could not begin to imagine. We have more resources to use than ever before, but we simply do not use them creatively.
This paradox can be traced to one big fault. That fault is over-determination, both of the city’s visual forms and its social functions. The technologies that make experiment possible have been subordinated to a regime of power that wants order and control.
In particular, what is missing in modern urbanism is a sense of time – not time looking back nostalgically but forward-looking time: the city understood as process, its imagery changing through use, an urban imagination image formed by anticipation, welcoming surprise.
The Open City, Richard Sennett
author: Richard Sennett
essay: The Open City
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: america, empathic civilization, empathy, freedom, jeremy rifkin
Is there exclusive virtue in doing or should we also plan? People don’t like planners, and heap praises on doers. She’s a hard worker, they say. He doesn’t do anything they claim of managers and administrators.
At my last job this system of belief was ritualized and absurd. People who were unclear but could produce mountains of unclarity in hours that seamlessly flowed into days and nights and weekend days and weekend nights, were demigods in the system. People like me, who thought there should be a guiding principle, were tolerated but mostly ignored. This state is epidemic in the places I have worked.
I am reminded of ants when I see people merely working. Only they achieve less. The specialist is one who never makes small mistakes moving toward the grand fallacy, says Marshall McLuhan. There’s always a grand fallacy, in my experience, and if you bring it up people look at you like you’re from mars. How dare you disrupt our lunatic preoccupation?
What about life, should we make a plan for that? Or should we forget about the big picture, shun those who would help us see the grand narratives and merely … work? There could be a better way, if we would just stop and think about it, and maybe make some goals that are a little more thoughtful than putting in 50 hours 52 weeks a year, shunning thought and planning, and striking out on our own, and shopping.
In the quotation below, Rifkin suggests naming what we want — companionship, affection, belonging — identifying these qualities as meaningful and fulfilling, and making goals that help us to achieve them. Damnation! You mean my life can be about more than my isolated and narcissistic state and the freedom to work and then shop?
Freedom in the nation state era has been closely associated with the ability to control one’s labor and secure one’s property, because that is the way to optimize pleasure and be happy. The classical economists argued that every individual is free to the extent he or she can pursue their individual self- interest in the material world. Freedom, in the rational mode, is the freedom to be autonomous and independent and to be an island to one’s self. To be free is to be rational, detached, acquisitive, and utilitarian. The role of government, in turn, is to safeguard private property relations and allow market forces to operate, unfettered by political constraints. The conventional American dream is personal opportunity to succeed in the marketplace.
The empathic approach to freedom in the emerging Biosphere Age is based on a different premise. Freedom means being able to optimize the full potential of one’s life, and the fulfilled life is one of companionship, affection, and belonging, made possible by ever deeper and more meaningful personal experiences and relationships with others–across neighborhoods, continents and the world. One is free, then, to the extent that one has been nurtured and raised in a global society that allows for empathetic opportunities at every level of human discourse. The new dream is the quality of life of humanity.
–Empathic Civilization: Why Have We Become so Uncivil? Jeremy Rifkin
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: black market, cadiz, family, government, spain, unemployment
In a town in south Spain life remains good in spite of high unemployment. How do they maintain their high standard of living? With a blend of support from black market, family, and government. Us capitalists have come to believe there is only one way of supporting yourself: get a job or start a business. It’s a good way and it works for a huge majority of people. It’s an idea that allowed the middle class to flower. But as an idea, it does tend away from plural thinking and toward orthodoxy. Can’t the idea of working or owning coexist with other ways of living and supporting yourself and people? Shouldn’t there at least be the willingness to listen to other ideas about how to live?
I feel like we are in the age of the Market, and that we aren’t doing so well, and that we need to blend our faith in this high religion with other ideas that are ecumenical, nimble, open, in order to make things better for more people. People don’t like change; they go completely cold if change involves challenging orthodoxies like the market. But change is good, and now may be the best chance we have to take a close look at what’s behind all the gold, and raiment, and smoke.
Joblessness has climbed to 19 percent in Spain, the highest in the euro zone, after the collapse of a housing bubble. But here in Cádiz, it is at a staggering 29 percent — and has been in double digits for decades.
Elsewhere in Europe, such high numbers would lead to deep social unrest. Not so in Cádiz. Here, as across the Mediterranean, life remains puzzlingly comfortable behind the dramatic figures, thanks to a complex safety net in which the underground economy, family support and government subsidies ensure a relatively high quality of life.
“This is a place where you can live well, even when unemployed,” said Pilar Castiñeira, 30, as she attended a performance of carnival skits in a downtown theater. “Life is four days long,” she added, recounting a Spanish saying. “On one you’re born, on another you die, and in the two in between, you have to have fun.”
—Persistent Unemployment, Without Lingering Pain, by Rachel Donadio, The New York Times