It is easier to see while it is butchering people

December 16, 2015 § 29 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.

§ 29 Responses to It is easier to see while it is butchering people

  • Cane Caldo says:

    Well why didn’t you say so in the first place…

  • Zippy says:

    Cane:

    I’ve found that, at least for me, it can actually be rather hard to think about things which don’t make any sense, let alone talk about them. :-/

    But nevertheless people are committed to things which don’t make sense; so dropped into a social and historical context, things which don’t make sense do have consequences.

  • semioticanimal says:

    An interesting and related book is Alasdair MacIntyre’s “After Virtue.” A main thesis of the book is that the barbarians are not at the gates, but they are among us and have been ruling us for sometime. One major point related to the discussion on liberalism is that the conception of “right” in liberalism has no traditional or rational basis, hence the interminable arguments over rights in liberal politics.

  • Mike T says:

    And attempting to justify the restriction of freedom based on preventing restriction of freedom is self contradictory.

    And additionally, by focusing on equality, liberal government is also less capable of securing justice because its theory of justice is based upon the fungibility of people, groups and situations. This is why liberals are often afraid if they stop believing in equality that they will pick up weapons and reenact the Rwandan Genocide in first world countries.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    “liberalism is a particular view of what justifies the exercise of authority.”

    To me liberalism is a denial either of the particularity—the progressive dream of the world state-or of moral authority of the community over an individual–the liberartian dream.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    And the result in both cases is an erasure of a normal distinction between a neighbor and a stranger (in the sense of Kipling’s The Stranger).

    This gets to the root of liberal self-loathing. He wants to create a world state and a world community and naturally he needs to destroy local attachments. Same with the libertarian– he wants no community that is not created by him personally–he wants a self-created bubble–thus again he seeks to destroy local attachments.

  • biplob1958 says:

    There are many aline in this earth itselfs and they will not listen to you or love other but kill others who are not follow their dictation.

  • GJ says:

    Zippy:

    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.

    The more natural explanation is that liberalism is right there in front of your nose: it is the rose-tinted glasses that wear and most of the time you look through and not at it; ie. the mindset which is the individual’s variation of the worldview.

    Alternatively, liberalism has been ingrained at a subconscious level not least through indoctrination since childhood so it has become habitual and deprogramming is not easy, especially when all of society is grounded in liberalism with its subconscious and unconscious checks to keep people from wandering too far off the reservation.

    The corollary is that mere conscious rejection is insufficient, just like faith is not mere conscious intellectual assent.

  • GJ says:

    Bah. My kingdom for an edit button!

  • […] the comments to the previous post, GJ proposes the metaphor of eyeglasses as a way of understanding […]

  • DeNihilist says:

    My good buddy Unka Bob had a good post today, relating to governance from a sage from aeons ago.

    http://uncabob.blogspot.ca/2015/12/great-wine-in-old-bottles.html

  • Zippy says:

    DeNihilist:

    You might find Jim Kalb’s old article on Confucius interesting.

  • DeNihilist says:

    Yup, it is.

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  • domzerchi says:

    “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.

    The conservative liberal wants government power limited regularly precisely so that the good man can do good freely–not so that every man can do anything he wants without constraint. It is not inconsistent or unprincipled to want a government that constitutionally strikes a balance that maximizes the freedom of good men without giving bad men too much freedom.

    Libertarians are usually inconsistent but not all forms of liberalism are libertarian. Conservative liberalism doesn’t indiscriminately want freedom for the sake of freedom, it wants a degree of freedom that enables good men to exercise virtue without being forced to do so and without being bothered by intrusive government.

    Also, justifying the restriction of freedom for those who would do evil based on preventing the restriction of freedom for those who would do good is not inconsistent. Even IF it be practically impossible it is not inconsistent in the sense of being unprincipled.

  • Zippy says:

    domzerchi:
    Like so many right liberals, you are stuck to the flypaper and don’t realize it. Freedom as authoritative principle for deciding controverted cases is either self contradictory or vacuous.

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  • […] follows from truth, always.  To observe that despite sometime appearances liberalism is a despicable horror is not to accuse some particular group among Earth’s […]

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