on liberalism and exile from the human community

I’d say that being a “centrist” or a “liberal” has to do with a lack of clarity around assumptions and principles. A related problem plaguing the left is that “the left” has been conflated with a certain type of Hollywood-promoted coolness. It’s an upper-class fashion statement, just like people say it is.

There’s a reason that Taoist texts say things are already all fucked up if we’re talking about good and bad. People lose the plot and get fixated on “fame and gain.” This is not the Way of Heaven.

Kim Domenico wrote a piece at CounterPunch whose title really struck me: The White Liberal’s Dilemma: How To Be Shamelessly Different. Uh…what? It’s true that fascism is the prevailing ideology, but if liberals are struggling to be different, doesn’t that make them fascists by default?

I agree with the point Domenico is trying to make: external change demands internal change. You can call this religion. Her first paragraph is a good example of the confusion and lack of clarity I was talking about.

The popular call to be “our unique selves,” “to become who we are,” even “to be the change we want to see in the world,” etc., is banal unless it is heard in the moral context of interrelatedness that includes the planet. Expression of one’s unique individuality means not just an expression of egotism or personal ambition, a la Hillary. It refers to a task that’s at once nigh-to-impossible and at the same time it is the utmost priority for consciousness. History’s “road” in post-enlightenment civilization bring us to this place. Hesitating to change direction, failing to incorporate our spiritual dimension, only strengthens the destructive potential of human nature. The reason to change is a moral one – it is to “give love/give peace a chance.” Some people would say religion is precisely the biggest obstacle to that goal. I say it is the anathema, the cold fury directed at religion by thoroughly modern smart people that is the obstacle.

For me, religion is clearly against elaborate construction and differentiation of the ego. It’s odd to me that the tension between understanding oneness and asserting difference isn’t clear to her. To her, these opposites are the same!

This is more religious: forget about yourself, just follow the Way. That’s what’s meant by being the change you want to see in the world. I understand Taoism as a statement about human behavior. If you act with virtue, as a sage would act, there will be more harmony in your life, which helps you. But the benefits come as a side effect. The way people respond to you changes.

Often, sages appear crazy and defy, even criticize, social conventions. Taoist literature spans periods where Taoist priests advised the emperor, and also periods where the wise thing to do was be a hermit alone in the wilderness.

I agree that “modern smart people” have no deep foundation for their politics without having religious feelings and incorporating them into their decisionmaking. I disagree that going to a liberal church is the best way to achieve that. Right here, she explains that a key to her “unique individuality” is that she isn’t like those people. This is the essence of fascism.

The religiophobia on the smart left makes the project of individuality impossible. Let me explain: I presume that many others besides myself are deathly afraid of “insanity,” a condition that exiles one from the human community in a particularly painful way. But what would happen if we were to question that reflexive need to cling to supposed sanity? Since we’ve long allowed our artists to be slightly-to-very crazy, and still respect them, or at least we buy tickets to their concerts and movies, isn’t it time to ask ourselves what is this thing called sanity to which we cling so desperately? What good has it done to insist before all the world that we are not crazy, odd, or eccentric – oh no, not I!

She has a spiritual sickness. The thing is, you don’t have to base your identity on stigmatizing the stigmatized. Other relations to insanity are possible.

For one, what room is there for someone with schizophrenia in Kim Domenico’s religion of individuality and profound connectedness with all life?

I’m a radical leftist black vegan autistic guy. Any expression of dissatisfaction of the status quo means I’m crazy by consensus of normal people. She knows that normal people are ensuring that mental illness “exiles one from the human community in a particularly painful way.” She knows because she’s doing it.

Exiles one from the human community. Liberals are honest when they don’t mean to be. Of course we know the people around us don’t think we’re untouchable lesser beings.

Thomas Szasz’s The Myth of Mental Illness was lying around the house when I was growing up, despite my dad working as an LCSW. You don’t have to be naive or in denial about the fact that mental illness is a social construction, and social constructions reflect power relations.

I always thought it was interesting to wonder what it was like to hallucinate and be crazy. Isn’t it fascinating that drugs linked to religious experience are referred to by specialists as “psychotomimetics?” It was thought that tripping could make people better psychiatrists, by understanding their patients from the inside.

I think my attitude towards insanity was more humane than hers, more religious. Maybe crazy people are naturally closer to religious experience, which is extremely important for all humans.

The problem with Domenico’s worldview is that she doesn’t understand that my attitude towards insanity is even possible. Her writing erases the possibility, by presuming to speak for the majority with her pathology.

Being one who struggles not with fear of insanity per se, after having been there done that, but with being socially identified as different, meaning “off,” peculiar, not right – I experience the meaning of difference as pejorative. It is, I think, a white, non-ethnic, straight person’s identity dilemma. In contrast, for those who have been designated other, there’s no such dilemma – the case is closed! It has taken me 6 decades to come to terms with the fact that to be in the minority, to be “eccentric,” perhaps to be not universally loved, definitely not understood, is the existential condition in which most of the people I admire in history lived out their lives. However, the choices I’ve made that I think are moral, i.e, they were made in connection to a world I can love, have made me an island in the sea of my social world, exactly in the way my worst fears as a 20-something would have envisioned.

She’s still dying to be one of the cool kids. She hasn’t reached the stage of growing up and accepting herself, resigning herself to a life of being misunderstood. Her religion is too slow if it takes decades to realize basic things. The crazy thing is that conservative Christians aren’t skipping over the parts of the Bible about Christians being persecuted, so they go through life looking to feel that way, based on bullshit if necessary.

If your fundamental value system is different than other people’s, you’ll be uncomfortable with many of their day-to-day choices, so you’re unlikely to become close. Why does she want to belong to a community whose values she doesn’t approve of?

I’ll give peak oil doomers and survivalists credit for regularly pointing out that you’re not going to survive SHTF if you’re too depressed and scared to do anything. You have to be in good mental and physical condition beforehand.

With anarchism, we’re saying we don’t need government because we can take care of shit ourselves. With freedom comes responsibility. We have to consciously establish a culture that makes people different on the inside than people raised as capitalists. If you can’t cooperate with other people, you will make us die when we can only rely on ourselves. We will fail to complete important tasks. Squabbling is anti-solidarity. People’s spontaneous decisions should be more collectivist than they are now.

This is done by cultivating different aspects of human nature than the ones cultivated by conservatives: all the worst ones, systematically.

Lol Jungian.

To be precise, though my life is “marked” in many ways by my limiting choices, including a financially downscaled lifestyle, what is feeling ever more like my most serious transgression is my choice not to keep up with cellphone innovations, nor, closely related, with the entertainment world, with the exception of some kinds of music. I can testify at this point that though people may say, “Good for you,” when you admit you have no cell – let alone smart – phone, or when you take out your old film-using camera, or when you announce you have no TV, so cannot even watch the marvelous HBO series everyone is talking about, the reflexive support quickly evaporates. Those choices that make me “old school,” or “old-fashioned,” keep me continually at arms length from the others in the social world I inhabit. If it were not that we own and operate a cafe that draws a community around it, and that our children and grandchildren live all within a few blocks of us, I’m not sure I could hold out against the pressure to conform!

She financially downscaled to owning her own business. This is where the ugly truth about black/white wealth disparities awkwardly comes out.

I feel so much better not having a TV in the house. To me, it’s shocking that people invite soooooo much toxic crap into their homes. Even shows that are pleasant and enjoyable are vicariously stressful to watch. It’s not real, but it’s really releasing cortisol, which is really changing your gene expression. All kinds of warped stuff designed to make you feel bad about yourself, buy stuff, and support hurting people somewhere. I don’t feel ashamed for missing Game of Thrones, but for her it’s a huge problem.

It’s nice that she’s being honest and confessing this stuff, but it’s also alarming. If Kim Domenico is wringing her hands about not watching a TV show, how can we expect her to stand up and be a nigger lover? A reliable comrade in a life-and-death situation? It’s not real to her that the stakes are much higher for the people she’s posing as a friend to.

She’s apologetic, quick to make it clear she’s not one of those Luddites (who are only bad because they slow down capitalism…).

It is the silence that finally gets to me, with everyone around me texting and discussing Game of Thrones (while I am reading John Cowper Powys whom as far as I know nobody reads!) Though I’m not interested in having imitators nor in starting a Luddite cult I would like it if people talked to me about, especially, their adoption of new technologies and the thought process they engage in as they address the moral dilemma that each new technology brings. Bewildering as it is to find myself in a world in which my neighbors in their idle time, and even in their social time, are constantly doing something with their phones, it is the silent acceptance of these changes – with no reference ever made to ambivalence, to the social, environmental, intellectual, etc., costs of each new convenience – that unsettles me. The silence removes the shared ground beneath our feet; I become vulnerable to a crushing sense of worthlessness.

The last sentence! WHY does a sense of worthlessness follow from not jumping on the bandwagon? Why can’t she just make choices and live with them?

Ironically, the Chicago Tribune just published a defense of the Unabomber. This calls the bluff on her professed bravery in “speaking truth to power.”

The introduction of the new iPhone X — which features wireless charging, facial recognition and a price tag of $999 — appears to be a minor event in the advance of technology. But it’s an excellent illustration of something that has long gone unrecognized: The Unabomber had a point.

Not about blowing people up in an effort to advance his social goals. Ted Kaczynski’s campaign to kill and maim chosen victims with explosives was horrific in the extreme and beyond forgiveness. But his 35,000-word manifesto, published in 1995, provided a glimpse of the future we inhabit, and his foresight is a bit unsettling.

“The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race,” it begins. Among the ills he attributes to advances in technology are that they promise to improve our lives but end up imposing burdens we would not have chosen.

He cites the automobile, which offered every person the freedom to travel farther and faster than before. But as cars became more numerous, they became a necessity, requiring great expense, bigger roads and more regulations. Cities were designed for the convenience of drivers, not pedestrians. For most people, driving is no longer optional.

Smartphones have followed the same pattern. When cellphones first appeared, they gave people one more means of communication, which they could accept or reject. But before long, most of us began to feel naked and panicky anytime we left home without one.

To do without a cellphone — and soon, if not already, a smartphone — means estranging oneself from normal society. We went from “you can have a portable communication device” to “you must have a portable communication device” practically overnight.

This is at least a theory of what’s going on, which Domenico doesn’t offer. The Chicago Tribune continues, after lamenting the development of agriculture:

It’s easy to romanticize the lives of ancient people while ignoring the perils and hardships they faced. And neither Kaczynski nor anyone else has a way to reverse history. Few of us would be willing to give up modern shelter, food, clothing, medicine, entertainment or transportation. Most of us would say the trade-offs are more than worth it.

But they happen whether they are worth it or not, and the individual has little power to resist. Technological innovation is a one-way street. Once you enter it, you are obligated to proceed, even if it leads someplace you would not have chosen to go.

Once the latest iPhone is in stores, some consumers will decide they simply can’t live without it. The rest of us may eventually find that whatever our preferences, neither can we.

In this account, the alienation is the natural price paid for understanding what’s going on and resisting it. Look at how limply she defends not doing that:

Did those extremely few who were alarmed about automobiles (either at the speed of them or at the unknown consequences upon human relationships, places and communities) and refused to join the masses in procuring their own, feel as shaky I do today? Or did those who made a decision to veer off from the crowd on a purely moral basis, those conscientious objectors to WWII, ever feel at home in their societies again?

I make no call for purism, even though Puritanism runs in my Anglo-saxon blood. I fear purism because of its proximity to the obsessive compulsion that ruled my life unconsciously for many years. In part because I see it as an illness and want no part of perfectionism for its own sake, I continue to eat meat, though I prefer vegetarian food, to enjoy regular carbs in my diet, drink more than the doctors’ advised 2 glasses of wine per day, avoid fitness gyms, and even occasionally have a cigarette (hand-rolled, very tasty!)

Neither is this holding out against lockstep adoption of every new and wonderful gadget about eccentricity for the sake of making an independent gesture. But I’m no moral giant; the lack of shared moral context makes me vulnerable always to doubt and that yawning pit of worthlessness.

Moral independence makes her feel worthless! That’s amazing!

I’ve been vegan for 9 years, so I’m not impressed with her choices. It’s telling that she avoids gyms, not because it’s good to exercise in gyms, but because it’s said in a way that signals lack of personal discipline. It’s even more telling that she feels eating carbs is rebellious. The idea that carbs are bad comes from the meat industry. It feeds into the thing where meat is sold as necessary to everyone’s strength and the manliness of all men. You go to the gym and eat meat, says the television.

Ultimately, the social pressure she worries about is coming from the fascists. She’s already submitted to them, because they make her feel worthless if she doesn’t. And then she feels worthless for submitting. The whole approach to life is a dead end.

Nevertheless, she holds herself up as the moral exemplar, the person who knows what to do when SHTF.

And who knows but that my white woman’s insistence on remaining a skeptic regarding the American dream of progress may meet in some highly agreeable way with the Black woman’s insistence that Black Lives Matter? Faced with climate and ecological disaster, the majority clings to the fantasy that we will find some way to fix the energy problem such that we can continue present patterns of travel, of relocating, of chainstore and Amazon.com consumerism, of that materialist well-being that bolsters the fragile self-worth that is our whiteness. Perhaps only those who make themselves answerable first to their own souls, religiously, will be able to face the political/social death (marginalization) that advocating for contraction inevitably means; the necessary step down from white supremacy.

She knows what to do, and she knows she’s failing to do it. That’s what her column is about.

This next passage is extremely insidious.

Such unresolvable tensions as we face today can be resolved only through the mediation of contemplation, through the application of thought and imagination undertaken by individuals. It is necessary not that we act in particular ways, this way right, that way wrong, but that each understands, antinomially, the meaning, the rightness, of his/her actions and fights for the sanctity of that besieged, hopelessly outnumbered, constantly transgressed temple of the self. It is more important for us to learn once again to develop our contemplative nature than to take “the right action” regarding climate change or to elect a “better” President. At the moment, and to the degree that we disregard the demand of our souls to be inward-dwelling, and to take our direction from that onboard mystical ground with which each person is endowed at birth, all of our actions are tainted by that initial rejection of ‘God,’ we cannot be radical as we need to be.

On the one hand, yeah:

On the other hand, Team Fascist is armed, in control of the government, and engaged in logistical planning this very moment. Is she frozen with fear and calling it contemplation?

The end of this sentence was jarring for me: “It is necessary not that we act in particular ways, this way right, that way wrong, but that each understands, antinomially, the meaning, the rightness, of his/her actions and fights for the sanctity of that besieged, hopelessly outnumbered, constantly transgressed temple of the self.”

I was expecting something about marginalized people, but it’s all about her.

The last thing I want to highlight is the ultimately defeatest, despairing attitude she’s saying is the only attitude:

To concretely decide how we white people will put our lives on the side of humanity and our Mother the Earth, making us heretics, outsiders and others – we must contend first not with “identity politics,” nor with whether or not to settle in a locality, or commit to a community or draw the line in relation to technology. Each must first contend with the shame that shadows our unearned privilege, the existential worthlessness that is inescapable in the de-mythologized context of contemporary secular life. The radical “non-act” upon which love depends – and without which each ‘good’ action will have its nullifying shadowy, destructive counterpart, is to act in defiance of the shame, be uselessly contemplative, live in intimate relation to the “eccentric” diversity contained in our nature in the imaginative, polymorphous soul.

Taking up one’s contemplative, artist nature saves no one from doubt or suffering, but can bring moments of feeling one with other outlaws, saints, mystics and poets who have insisted upon understanding what they do as love.

The “existential worthlesness” is “inescapable?” No, society is inescapable.

The worst is that she tries to make being artsy and quirky the picture of what’s needed right now. I was hoping for a little more, for someone claiming to offer a religious vision.

Good art is not unrelated to inner cultivation, but it’s a misplaced emphasis. We need to meet basic ethical obligations to everyone before we retreat to contemplate our polymorphous perversity.

Isn’t it gross that she throws “identity politics” (i.e., brown people) under the bus, to hold herself up for being so Christian? The message being sent is that minorities talking about the specific persecution directed at them are somehow less spiritually evolved for focusing on such incidental details.

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