It is easier to see while it is butchering people
December 16, 2015 § 33 Comments
The movie Alien launched what I think of as the “Scifi Horror” genre in film, a mashup of horror films and science fiction. The second Alien film tossed in a lot of action sequences in an attempt to add the characteristics of action movies – and ensemble casts, for that matter – into the mix. How well this succeeded, for various values of ‘success’, is certainly up for debate. But Scifi-Horror-Action films became a thing.
For you younger folks who may not be familiar, one of the iconic Hollywood Scifi-Horror-Action Real-Bad-Alien characters originated in a cheesy Arnold Schwarzenegger movie called Predator. (Modern industry, in its ruthless efficiency, will squeeze every last fiat dollar out of every last pop-cultural object: the banality-recycling machine known as Hollywood eventually treated us to the spectacle of Alien vs Predator).
Anyway, one of the traits of the “Predator” – at least as a film effect, I don’t remember (and don’t especially care) how this was treated as a matter of plot – is that it is mostly, but not quite, invisible. It was really more transparent than actually invisible. It’s transparent armor kind of shimmered as it moved, but it was easy to lose sight of it against background distractions.
I am not sure why this is, but discussing or even just thinking about liberalism seems to involve a similar kind of effect. It is right there in front of our noses, as concrete and real and deadly as the Predator; but we can’t seem to stay focused on it and are always distracted by things that it is not. It seems as though there is something about liberalism which makes it difficult to keep in view — right up until the moment the blade enters.
My guess is that liberalism’s camouflage effect is caused by the combination of its surface plausibility with its underlying incoherence. On the surface it sounds reasonable, even moral, and – precisely because it is rationally incoherent – when we look at it we project onto it just what we expect to see. It cooperates epistemically by confirming, as a matter of superficial logic, our prejudices.
So when we discuss liberalism, in order to follow along with the discussion it is critical to keep precisely what we are talking about in focus. If you find yourself talking about how God gave us free will, and the good freely chosen is the best, etc, then you have simply lost sight of the actual subject matter.
Liberalism is a political philosophy. That is, liberalism is a particular view of what justifies the exercise of authority.
It is in this context – and only this context, at least insofar as we are discussing liberalism – where liberty, freedom, is self-contradictory. Each and every exercise of authority discriminates between different possible controvertible options and restricts the freedom of those under that authority to a subset of those options. And attempting to justify the restriction of freedom based on preventing restriction of freedom is self contradictory.
So when discussing liberalism, if you start to feel that eerie feeling that the world is shifting out of focus and you are not seeing reality properly, you can bring yourself back around to reality by reminding yourself of what exactly we are talking about: a particular view of what justifies the exercise of discriminating authority in restricting those subject to that authority to a subset of possible options.