Erik (eriktrips) wrote,

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still thinking. good grief.

it's interesting. reading the words of a conservative ideologue in the New Yorker (which is generously donated to our bathroom by housemate c) this morning i see that they are not keen on instituting democracy in Iraq immediately but in building "democratic institutions" which include of course a free market and some sort of ideal of individual freedom.

which gets me to thinking about the articles i linked to the other night regarding the propensity of some new democracies for choosing tyrannical leaders who then engage in unpleasant things such as genocide. it is almost as though someone on the hawks' side has considered the difficulty of establishing democracy ex nihilo, but i still don't see much evidence of anyone considering whether the assumptions underlying the american version of democracy might not also be difficult to export or even due for some critical scrutiny before we come to the conclusion that our way is the best way and whatever it takes to get the rest of the world to do things our way is unassailable from an ethical point of view so long as the ends are something like freedom for all.*

because who "all" are and what sort of beings they might be and what freedom for them might consist of are nowhere being debated, as though we already have the answers to those questions. the dangerous thing, and i hardly have to point it out, is being convinced that our conceptions of freedom are the only correct ones and that it is perfectly acceptable to inflict those conceptions on others by force.

(need i also point out that the prototypical american moment of bringing the gift of democratic "civilization" to a people resulted in an immense amount of suffering and death for those people? need i point out that, not only are Islam's borders bloody as Huntington points out, but so are ours? if there is anything that Huntington's civiizations have in common it might be the violence at the extremities which results from a certain acquisitive movement which makes any kind of regime exclusive: assimilate or die. is there any way to conceive of a plurality of notions (or nations!) that exist simultaneously in the same territory? can a regime tolerate another regime within and beside it? or can civilizations only conflict? or, and this eventually will be my point whether i make it in fifteen minutes or five years, is there a way to conceive of civilizations not as exclusive regimes but as entities which are not entirely discrete due to their unfigurable borders and their proximity to each other? can Levinas' dream of peace and proximity apply to the civilization and its other as well as to the self and its other?)

i know a couple of conservatives on usenet who would accuse me of making things too complex by the following but what they seem to forget is that simplicity is often imposed violently and this is a problem that must be addressed. in fact i would assert that simplicity in the form of such binary conceptions as good/evil or freedom/bondage is always violent and cannot help but be in that in them the mark is instituted and it creates a cleavage precisely where proximity and complexity call that cleavage into question even as they are helplessly torn by it.

thus one of the biggest problems in the field of ethics as conceived of in the context of democracy is that of the individual and his (almost always his and not hers, for, rhetorically and philosophically and psychoanalytically, when hers comes on the scene suddenly the individual becomes a question instead of a given) relation to society. that the idea of an opposition between the two might be a rash assumption has yet to occur at the level of everyday american politics. that the rights of the individual might be made problematic precisely where s/he comes into contact with the other is rarely argued beyond the level whereupon the individual's rights are seen to end where another individual's rights begin and that the only way to achieve justice is to find a tenable halfway point between the two.

this could get complicated quickly and will and i think i don't have the time or space or caffeine to draw it all out here but in a nutshell the reason i write and the reason i am opposed to this war are the same: i wish to articulate a conception of self and other which calls their very opposition into question and places the concern for ethics not between two sovereigns but in the zone of indistinction between the two. this might be a perversion of Levinas but everywhere Levinas is perversion already insofar as the self draws its being from the other and is instituted by the other and is impossibly proximal to the other to the point that the self is the other or the self is made impossible by the other.

the short of it is that i have deep reservations about american individualism as the foundation of democracy and instead want to investigate the extent to which Levinas' an-archy as the pre-origin of the self which calls the self into question might be accomodateable to a political conception of anarchy, one which i suspect is very different from the anarchy on offer by radical anarchists in the streets. but i'm not sure of this.

see this is where i see Huntington to a lesser extent and Kaplan to a greater extent simultaneously presenting a problem and backing away from it: that individual freedom is a historically and culturally situated notion that might not be expandable to all places and all times, and that there may be a way in which we individualists must learn to accept that our version of democracy might not be the best thing to have happened to mankind.

that said. i still think something like self-determination may be a worthy ideal but i wonder what happens to it when the self only gets its start in impossibility. i also wonder if there may be conceptions of humane government radically different from ours that we cannot presume to preempt. but mostly i find intolerable the violence with which we institute the individual in his personal and economic freedom, and the way in which we conflate the ultimate in humanity with an image of the subject set loose from consequentiality and responsibility.

*this is of course to take the conservative rhetoric seriously at what might be its least credible point: that we are in this thing to liberate a people. that we are really in it for money and power seems to me obvious but as you might guess my compulsion is to worry about what is proffered as the least objectionable rationale for war. because that which is obvious does not keep me up at night.

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