Marginalia & recommended reading
Accelerated social liberalisation as an expression and instrument of state power - plus my (socially unacceptable) opinion on something else
In this edition:
Wokeism and the general frowning on traditional social norms and values seems like a religious phenomenon. But there's a persuasive alternative analysis and it's to do with something Michel Foucault called 'political reason' being used to justify and increase state power.
And behind the wall ...
Why considering the ideology of Jihad tipped the balance on where I ended up in my personal calculus around the Israel-Gaza conflict. It's obvious bad faith that this particular asymmetry between the belligerents is glossed over in pro-Palestine chatter.
Someone is shifting my perspective on the nature of accelerating social liberalism
I've been all over the place with Wokeism, as the populist spear tip of accelerated social liberalism. At one point I even published a piece arguing that it isn't a religion, before changing my mind again.
Today I'm more inclined to see it as strongly analogous to religion, rather than as an actual secular replacement for religious faith. This is in response to arguments developed by Dr, a legal academic at Northumbria University.
For McGrogan identity politics and accelerating social liberalism are really the real world instantiation of a formula described by Michel Foucault to rationalise and justify seeing the world as relationships of power. Especially between governors and the governed. And an underlying drive to justify the power of the state and the rights of governors (and certain other 'elites') to dictate everyone else's behaviour and belief.
To illustrate this he highlights drives by supranational organisations such as the UN, the WHO and UNESCO to actively promote alternative sexualities under the guise of recommending a universal framework for sex education; 'Comprehensive Sexuality Education' or CSE, as this strategy is called.
CSE isn't just about helping young people to navigate the time of puberty leading into partnered sexual functioning while avoiding harm, hurting each other, creating unwanted babies or getting STDs.
"In short, it envisages the role of the school as being not just to educate children in the traditional sense, but to transform society, and especially ‘attitudes and laws’, ‘social norms’, ‘cultural values’ and ‘traditional beliefs’. And it founds itself on the notion it is appropriate to use compulsory state-run education to teach children how to ‘manage their relationships with peers, parents, teachers, other adults and their communities’, rather than the parents, other adults and communities themselves.
"In essence, it does nothing less than bring the entire sphere of human relationships - including the most elementary of all: sexual relationships and familial relationships - within the scope of interest of the state. One could even say that it its chief function is to render transparent to the state the field of human relationships in the round."
McGrogan's view of this strategy as the manifestation of control (which is then rationalised as 'progress') is edging out my long-held intuition that it's all about moralistic utopian faith of the Abrahamic variety. Even though 'Whiteness' does substitute so well for Original Sin at this point. In fact, it's a significantly darker interpretation than one that merely sees these energies as good people trying their best to be fair and accommodating to their fellow humans - and encouraging everyone else to do the same.
I'm finding his argument compelling, at least partly because that good old ordinary kind of liberalism already covers our respect for interpersonal differences and acceptance of those who aren't exactly like our own group adequately. The ordinary form of liberalism that's baked into me.
His thinking also gels with my personal intuition that the will to influence and control others partly arises from a sense of personal superiority. So that the increase in university education means ever more superior-feeling people looking for ways to instrumentalise that urge. Instead of focusing on improving your own life, that of your family and perhaps your immediate community, who can blame you for thinking bigger and wanting to Change The World. That’s how I imagine it.
Given the rapid rate of (organically liberalising) progress we have already enjoyed, this means that only by accelerating it can you make the difference that will satisfy your appetite.
Maybe this is what drives the missionary zeal of activist scholarship. People who 'know best' ('it's up to intellectuals like us...' as someone really said to me last year) wanting to dictate terms to the rest.
McGrogan's thinking also seems to tie in with Peter Turchin's concept of 'elite overproduction' in which social tensions arise from those type of people finding ever more creative ways to impose their influence while baffling and annoying everyone else. This manifests especially in the field of 'rights' development and enforcement, driven (as I sense) by a kind of cerebral libido to mould society and enforce fresh norms, such as those in the initially benign-seeming sex education ideas mentioned earlier.
There's a lot more in Dr McGrogan's writing than I've touched on and I recommend starting with this.
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I’ve updated my view on the latest war. Because as well as thinking about the children, deciding who started it and what counts as a proportionate response to aggression there's also a very particular ideological ambition to think about.
The pissing contest of supposed debate about those October 7th murders revolves mostly around who is the most hard done by. This is how it always works, when feelings are in play. Every argument is instantly cut off at the knee by disputing the initial premise.
He hit me first reasonably sums it up and no one can even agree on what that means on the ground.
Some people rule themselves out of having an opinion because they (correctly) identify a dearth of domain area knowledge of the history. As if all we have to really do is to agree on the history, which will magically provide the key to untying what is obviously a perfect Gordian Knot.
I've done lots of watching, listening and reading since writing this and can announce with full conviction that I know no more about what should now be done than I did on October 6th.
But two things have changed. One is that my contempt for leftish flattening of the issue to one of oppressor and oppressed has hardened. The other is that the balance of my sympathy has come down on the side of Israel. And specifically the Jews.
On that first change ...
Just as Ernest Hemingway is supposed by many to have said the famous line about bankruptcy happening two ways - gradually, then suddenly - my detachment from the left has too. First I was disenchanted but now I'm disgusted.
Of course, even this response gets pissed on by people saying that hardly any of those on the left who want Israel to stop its 'genocidal' behaviour in response to October 7th actually support Hamas and its aims. Just deny the premise. Then wave your placards harder. That's how you 'win' these debates.
President Emmanuel Macron yesterday reminded everyone that "all lives have equal worth" as if scepticism about whether Israel should rein in its current slaughter of non-combatants is driven by a belief that Palestinian babies actually have lower moral market value. I expect this kind of stating of the bleeding obvious from Maccers. He wants to be remembered as a good liberal and there's nothing wrong with that. He isn't really helping, but then who is?
On that second change ...
I can imagine many people now feel more inclined to relate to Israel as a kneejerk reaction to seeing annoying people on university campuses saying demented things about colonialism, but I'm not among them.
Student politics was never thoughtful or mature and these people are going through the phase they probably need to go through. I went through it too. Not so much the responsible adults we've seen ginning them up, but as a supporter of freedom of expression I can only really say go for it. I disagree with them but also disagree with getting them fired from their jobs. The idiots.
Not having a firm opinion on any of the mechanics of this conflict (beyond revulsion over October 7th) I would have been content to sit on the fence were it not for a nagging feeling that there was one particular aspect of those raids that bothered me most.
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