In my continuing effort to read across the spectrum of politics I’d like to commend two pieces and the routes I found to them. The first comes from Erin O’Connor, the author of Critical Mass, a weblog I should probably read more often. If there is a political tendency to the posts it is more conservative than liberal. Recently she pointed out a piece by Eric Raymond about a contemporary ‘Treson of the Intellectuals’. Raymond is in full polemic mode when he takes intellectuals to task for refusing to condemn terrorism or support the war in Iraq. He rightly points out that relativism can be an ideology as dangerous as any other.
Today, the leading form of treason of the second kind is postmodernism — the ideology that all value systems are equivalent, merely the instrumental creations of people who seek power and other unworthy ends. Thus, according to the postmodernists, when fanatical Islamists murder 3,000 people and the West makes war against the murderers and their accomplices, there is nothing to choose between these actions. There is only struggle between contending agendas. The very idea that there might be a universal ethical standard by which one is `better’ than the other is pooh-poohed as retrogressive, as evidence that one is a paid-up member of the Party of Dead White Males (a hegemonic conspiracy more malign than any terrorist organization).
America is now firmly in the hands of centralized power brokers – large corporations, an increasingly authoritarian government and allies including ideologically focused people from the religious right. What they have in common is their utter certainty that they know what’s best for everyone else, and that they can act on their knowledge with impunity.
Congress and the president will keep on finding ways to reward the people at the top of the wealth charts. They’ll expand the reckless new round of budget deficits and let the rest of us (and our kids) foot the bill. Then they’ll scream “class warfare” when common sense makes people realize the danger of these fiscal acrobatics.
Somehow I keep hoping to find a way between the two sides. I think there is a way I just don’t know how to express it yet. The best term I can currently apply to both of these ideas is a concern for the ‘commons.’ Our intellectual commons is occupied by relativists who refuse to respond to the moral outrage of terrorism. Our political commons is occupied by businessmen and politicians who refuse to believe that there is such a thing as a common economic interest beyond the market. The search for a metaphor to unite these will need to continue.