Comment Elsewhere: To @BurtLikko under “How to Fix a Broken Elephant: Prologue”

@Burt Likko

You write as though you have determined that the primary sin, the sin of sins, is “Othering.” So, of course, you have to turn your back on politics, since the defining political distinction or the distinction that defines politics remains “us” and “them,” “friend” and “enemy,” collective “self” and “other.”

The left-liberal notion is that politics is about “policy” for the good of all – “all people created equal” and so on – but no left-liberal [or any other] politics is able to address the good of all immediately, or to whatever extent it might it passes over into the apolitical or politically irrelevant: Even the further left Bernie Sanders is a protectionist, appealing to the narrowly defined self-interest of the victims of globalization (i.e., universalized economic liberalism), suppressing the extent to which benefit to “us” along such lines must come at cost to and against the evident will of unidentified “thems,” while the anti-othering social justice movement pursues a program of othering the otherers (mostly as “hating/fearing conservatives”), dividing the world up into those to whom such a paradox expresses the highest purposes and those to whom it demonstrates hypocrisy or lack of self-awareness.

As for the intellectual foundations of “conservatism” and the foundations or potential foundations of a “conservative” governing coalition, they are not necessarily the same thing, and reaching a shared understanding of the relationship (broadly, between theory and practice) will itself entail a complex discussion in which public narratives and sincerely and widely held presumptions may or may not diverge from sensible explanations, with the divergences thought to reflect on participants in different ways, with every possibly significant position factually and morally contestable, and with everyone determined to short circuit the process in a way that, more often than not unless invariably, will just happen to replicate the same self-interested friend-enemy distinctions (under whatever name) with which they began: Every other re-othered, just like we like it.


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2 comments on “Comment Elsewhere: To @BurtLikko under “How to Fix a Broken Elephant: Prologue”

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  1. Would you say that, based on your interpretation of “the political” as inherently othering, and the related view that it cannot thus inherently be bad to do so, the more realistic hope (maybe the only one) is to restrain such impulses? That is, to keep that Other sentiment from leading to oppression and slaughter?

    • Well, as we know, we can find an occasional voice in favor of oppression and slaughter, but for the most part “oppression” is another word for “bad or undesirable politics,” while “slaughter” implies pointless mass murder. So, you’ll receive overwhelming support, including from many people you despise, for the goal of less oppression and less slaughter.

      The architects of the Iraq War, for instance, certainly believed or certainly persuaded themselves that on balance they would be reducing oppression and slaughter. Almost every accused slaughterer-oppressor does (if self-conscious mass homicidal sadists exist, they may not often achieve political power). The accused oppressor-slaughterers’ main problem, in their minds, will have been convincing themselves and their subjects or citizens that even one life could or should be expended – or even one citizen asked to give his or her life or take someone else’s life. This ask is complicated by the fact that my giving my life (or moral life) to fix Other People’s Problems is not something you can ever adequately compensate me or my victims for materially. You can pay estimated lifetime earnings equivalent plus punitive damages to my family or a victim’s family, but you cannot bring me or my victim back to life.

      So, you have to convince me that the sacrifice is what we call “necessary,” that it preserves or advances “something” more important specifically to me than my life or, a different but related question, than the taking of another person’s life by me. In addition to believing in something other than a merely material compensation, I have to be willing to accept some degree of oppression, both against me and against some other person, and some certainty of slaughter, potentially including my own slaughter and the slaughter of those whom I might consider innocent as individuals.

      There is no way to avoid this question except by avoiding reflection on morality in relation to the taking and giving of lives altogether, in other words by turning one’s back on politics and in so doing on living a meaningful life: Even and especially the pacifist makes that calculation, willingly submitting himself or herself, and kith and kin, to oppression and slaughter rather than initiate it directly – perhaps in the hope and belief that doing so will lead to less oppression and slaughter in the end, and in the present comprehension of a higher moral good justifying one’s own personal sacrifice – or experience of oppression and slaughter and of permitting or refusing to intervene against other people’s oppression and slaughter.

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