Michael Lind on the 5 worldviews dominating American politics

In “The Five Worldviews That Define American Politics,” Michael Lind constructs a powerful conceptual framework in order to explain the trenchant, abiding political disagreements among Americans. The reason that you and I can’t see eye-to-eye is not that we disagree about the facts on the ground; it is that we begin from entirely different first principles and arrive at entirely different outlooks and conclusions. (Note: Talk of worldview returns us to the important work of 19th C. German historians on Weltanschauung and, earlier still, to Kantian idealism.)

Suppose that Lind is correct. What would be involved in the art of political persuasion? Shall we hope for “contingent overlaps” between my worldview and yours, forging possible alliances that way? Or do I seek to show, by means of internal critique, that your worldview does not match up with political reality? Or, together, do we seek to promote some common vision, some supersession of my worldview and yours?

On the joy of biking

Is there anything more wondrous than biking again after a period of long rest following injury? Nietzsche calls happiness that “feeling that power increases–that a resistance is overcome.”

The return to exercising capacities.

The joy of movement for its own sake.

The sublimation of aggression in the form of purposive movement.

The enjoyment of the here-now, the nuances of pedaling, breaking, sunlight.

The feeling of increased powers.

The aesthetic contemplation of the world.

Notes toward an understanding of anarchism

Update: Is there an anarchist revolution going on in Egypt?

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According to the political philosopher Raymond Geuss, there are two kinds of anarchism. Philosophical anarchism involves rejecting the moral authority of the state while believing that the state is a “necessary evil.” Political anarchism goes further, arguing from the premise that the state’s existence cannot be justified to the conclusion that it should be challenged (a moderate, more recent view) or dismantled (an older, more radical view).

1. Targets

As already noted, anarchists are anti-statists regardless of the size (minimal to welfare) or nature (monarchical, democratic, etc.) of the state. The state, then, is their first target. Their second target is capitalism no matter its nature (Keynesian, neoliberal, etc.).

2. Problems

For the anarchist, the essence of the state is coercion. It does this directly through military and police force, indirectly through surveillance mechanisms, and symbolically through the rule of law. Similarly, the essence of capitalism is alienation. The worker’s human capacities remain unactualized, and his authorship is taken from him. The anarchist slogan could thus be: no state without oppression, no capitalism without repression.

3. Starting Points

The individual is sovereign. He seeks to realizes his potentialities by putting his stamp on the world. He is free just to the extent that his actions manifest themselves in forms of his own devising.

This brings me to the second starting point: free association. Genuine community is not bound by tradition or arbitrary customs; rather, it is one the anarchist must endorse voluntarily–or it ceases being community and reverts to coercion.

For the anarchist, the ideal case, then, would be a cooperative where the individual is free in the positive sense and where she participates directly and voluntarily in the community to which she belongs.

The corollary is that anarchists reject all forms of elitism, all hierarchical structures.

4. Strategies

Let’s say that there are two main anarchist strategies: criticism and organic resistance. In the realm of theoretical discourse, the anarchist criticizes all doxa, i.e., all political opinions, doctrines, or theories that reek of “self-evidence” or of falsehood.

In the realm of practice, the anarchist believes in non-hierarchical, “free form” political struggle. Many cite the 1999 WHO Seattle protests as a paradigmatic case of successful anarchistic political action.

5. Questions

-Is there truly room in the anarchist worldview for “spheres” of communal life? After all, the local cooperative is “parasitic” on the support of larger entities. (One thinks, e.g., of infrastructure.)

-Does the anarchist conception of positive freedom on the one hand and voluntary associations on the other amount to a clean slate fantasy? (What would Edmund Burke have to say about the ineradicability of tradition?)

-Suppose every encroachment on John’s freedom is impermissible. Then what about the wastrel problem. That is, what do we make of the fact that John may be wasting his life?

-Don’t political movements, in order to maintain momentum, require hierarchical organizations? There seems to be a dilemma here. If there’s no such thing as an intellectual, an elite, or a party, then the energy of the masses dissipates (see the Iranian protest against vote rigging in the past election). However, if there is an intellectual but that intellectual is only a “midwife,” then he may lack the “executive power” to make decisions. In which case, it’s hard to see how there can be orchestrated action.

6. Further Reading

Daniel Guerin, Anarchism: From Theory to Practice

Alain Badiou, Ethics and Metapolitics (companion volumes)

Andrew Taggart, “Badiou Abridged,” symploke

Stepping off the self-preoccupation machine

As a child, the great Bertrand Russell was very unhappy. He remained unhappy until he hit upon a rather old idea: forget about the self. He realized that self-absorption was an obstacle to genuine happiness.

As the years went by, Russell tells us, he seemed to be getting more and more happy for he had learned how to focus his attention on external objects.  “Gradually I learned to be indifferent to myself and my deficiencies; I came to centre my attention increasingly upon external objects: the state of the world, various branches of knowledge, individuals for whom I felt affection.”

At the far end of self-absorption lies death. Always cataloging your foibles, your shortcomings, your peccadilloes, your sins, your what have you, will only make you depressed, fatalistic, and–quite frankly–a bore to be around. You are nothing; you are shit. Look elsewhere then: the way of self-forgetting leads to deliverance.

We need to be careful, though. Realize that “self-preocuppiers” are not necessarily selfish persons; they are individuals out-of-joint with themselves. And they’ve gotten into the habit of anxiously rolodexing through their faults for no good reason apart from “wound licking.” But wound licking does not entail healing.  Quite the opposite.

We need to be careful, too, not to confuse self-reflection with self-preoccupation. Self-reflection, the hallmark of philosophy since Socrates, seeks to “know thyself”–it is good therapy for the soul–whereas self-preoccupation is a deeply entrenched habit of dwelling morbidly on one’s injuries. Self-preoccupation actually precludes self-examination.

Russell shows us how to step off the self-preoccupation machine. Look outward (or look deeply inward). Make life, as much as possible, into one long, beautiful meditation on the world–the world as it is or the world as it could be. Whenever you’re so immersed in an activity that you feel attuned to things, whenever you pay attention to your children with a certain joyful outlook, whenever you take a special interest in the craft of writing or painting or chess, whenever you get involved in a just political cause, then you’ll be happiest.

The joy of doing with our entire being: that doing is freeing.


Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness