synthetic zero

July 14th, 2011


i am finishing up the vegetarian myth and really want to share some excellent passages like this one…

So here’s the basic education in revolution that you didn’t get in public school. There are two cardinal differences between liberal- ism and radicalism. The first…

If this is really the difference between liberals and radicals, then I don’t fall into either category (or I partially fall into both). Class power relations are real and have to be dealt with, but at the same time oppression can also be fought through education (a great example is the shift in attitude towards LGBT issues — a slow but steady change in public opinion is and will ultimately result in a changed society: and this change has been due to both activism and education). Individual consumer choices will never make a significant dent in environmental crises, yet political change on this issue depends on people being educated about the problem. The financial crisis was brought on by the greed of the powerful manipulating the political system in their favor, yet the people who did this manipulation also believe in their ideas (the idea that the more free the market, the better). Pretending that people aren’t grouped into classes by human behavior (conscious and unconscious) or by the actions of power groups is naive, but reifying the categories is simplistic and in an ironic twist also disempowering: because you can think of yourself as the powerless fighting against the powerful without realizing that you have levers of power which can also align with you, and in fact it is possible to persuade the powerful as well as fight them when they are oppressive.

What goes wrong in the world is an interlinking morass of both lack of understanding and power relationships between various groups of people. The power relations, however, aren’t entirely conscious (this is a point which Chomsky makes but which many “radicals” seem to fail to realize —- I often notice a tendency among the radical left to ascribe Machiavellian motives to everything that occurs, when in fact a huge contributor to things going wrong is sheer stupidity or laziness). The powerful classes are, yes, manipulating the world to keep themselves on top, but they’re also making huge mistakes with consequences which will eventually have results even they don’t intend or desire. There’s a reality to categories (classes, liberal vs radical, etc.) but they are also abstractions culled from a far more complex interconnected reality which cannot be distilled into simple binary oppositions.

We human beings have a very difficult time understanding complex feedback systems, but we live in a complex feedback system which was only partly designed and has mostly just accreted over time.

Both right and left try to deal with this not by actually understanding complex feedback systems, but by reifying principles. The right’s principles are the reification of “feedback never happens! let’s live as though it never happens!” and the left’s principles end up getting overly focused on the evils of specific classes of people which are based in reality insofar they are doing bad things, but only partly correct because the reason they’re doing bad things is due to a combination of both bad intentions and stupidity (i.e., the financial crisis was partly caused by an idiotic application of the a certain risk estimation strategy).

When someone like Obama becomes president, we end up with this comical dialogue where one side is angrily demanding that we pretend the world has no interconnections at all (the right) and the other demands that we think the world is interconnected, but in an oversimplified way. This ironically weakens the progressive forces when we need all the strength we can muster to fight both the power and the stupidity. I hope, perhaps fruitlessly, for the day when both so-called “radicals” and so-called “liberals” can learn something from each other and join forces.

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