The Desert of Ideology
Standing in the abyss, shall we march towards the water or stick our heads in the sand?
We stand at perhaps the most depressing and sterile period in mainstream political philosophy. The Left are crypto-hypercapitalists. The Right are battered women. Everyone is a f*cking Liberal. How are you going to be a revolutionary or retvrn if you have the same core values as the neoliberals you claim to despise?
What we require is a fundamental shift. A reordering. We have to accept that our foundations are hopelessly misguided, and that we require new ones.
I have described the various schools of economics as a set of increasingly dazzling castles built on a foundation of sand. Whenever the tide comes, whenever crisis occurs, different groups bicker about where to build more support beams to ensure the castle doesn't collapse. There is never a discussion about abandoning the perpetually-at-risk-of-collapsing castle, salvaging what you can, and moving to build a new foundation on more stable ground. After all, the castle is quite comfortable.
Of course, this issue is not limited to economics.
We are so invested in our theories (or our "meta-theories") being correct, that we try to coax any information into fitting within our conceptualizations of the world.
Inside of our heads, we assimilate (or reject) information into our mental model of the world. Each one of us does this. We construct a mental map of how the World truly is, and we then judge further experiences based on that mental map.
The map is obviously a distortion, but we can’t directly conceptualize the territory. We can only conceptualize the territory, the World, through a map. Our respective personal biases mean my map is not the same as your map, etc.
One might say that our map of the World interfaces with our map of moral space. We understand the world through narrative, motivation, values, and norms. But it would be unfair to say that our map of moral space is “superimposed” onto our map of the World. They are an irreducible union.
Where do we stand today? It appears the West is exhausted. Liberalism is incoherent, but the Center still holds, while the Left and Right either support the center (while claiming to be "rebels") or engage in impotent escapism. A virtual oasis awaits for those who haven't tasted real water in ages.
Fascism hasn't existed in decades (and isn't coming back). Communism is a joke, and the Left has not been a real threat in a half century. Anarchism is just Liberalism dialed up to 11, with the added incoherence to match. Endless bickering over whether class conflict or intra-elite warfare is the main driver of history when behind their larps, both sides still believe in the same values as their neoliberal overlords.
If we want to escape the desert of ideology, we must grapple with the question of WHY. Why do we want to implement some system? What is the point? What is the system supposed to do? Your beliefs mean nothing when separated from a narrative or value system that explains why you hold your beliefs and why they matter.
The foundation of every worldview is your ultimate answer to "Why?"
Nobody cares if you're "right." Nobody cares if your theory matches up with the empirical data. Many phenomena are overdetermined: a variety of mutually contradictory theories exist to explain the data in a parsimonious manner. So nobody cares if you're "correct."
What people DO care about is why you believe what you believe.
"The elites have all the money and power!", "The immigrants are stealing our jobs!", "The white trash are racist!", etc. So what? Why should anyone care? Even if we assume these are true, why are any of these facts more important than the fact Jupiter is the fifth planet in our Solar System?
All these descriptions of reality fit within a conceptual framework of narrative, motivation, values, and norms. Our understanding of the world is always and everywhere embedded in morality (or, more specifically, our concept/map of moral space).
“To know who I am is to know where I stand. My identity is defined by the commitments and identifications which provide the frame or horizon within which I can try to determine from case to case what is good, or valuable, or what ought to be done, or what I endorse or oppose.”
(Taylor, Sources of the Self)
Our values are the water that give us life. They are what motivate us to keep going. They are what give us meaning. We remain stuck in the desert of ideology because so few people are capable of articulating a positive moral and aesthetic vision. Our values are largely incoherent, and our lives have become sterile as a result. If we wish to rescue ourselves from this torment, we must reckon with what moves us, and then determine if our professed ideologies are actually bringing us to fresh water, or leading us further into the abyss.
So where is this shining sea? I believe it comes in connections with community. In our ability to share our lives with others, to build closer personal relationships, and to find a sense of belonging. I believe it radiates outward from the Homes we require, where we are accepted for who we are, and feel comfortable being ourselves. I believe it stems from the love and care we show one another. I believe it grows deeper as we develop our own talents and knowledge, and in turn contribute to the world, and make our mark, regardless of how “big” or “small”. It is the particularity of our relationships, the immediateness, the concreteness; that is what matters. Abstract “good” can only mean so much.
What makes life worth living, is our ability to see ourselves grow and develop and pursue our moral horizons. We live in a world in which there are few substantive moral horizons. Most hold some vague ideal of autonomy, but shamble along asking themselves why they are working 40+ hours a week just to end up retiring and then dying. What is the point? I believe in a recovery of meaning. A re-enchantment of the horizons. And I believe this can only be found in the connections we have with one another. Family, friends, and community. I believe any truly good system must actively focus on fostering and supporting these connections.
And so, if you are willing to go on this journey with me, I intend to bring rain forth on the desert, and to look out at the horizon and know that I am working towards something meaningful. I shall reach the sea one day, and I hope many of you make it there with me.
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One striking thing about the loss of moral horizons is the loss of imagination that's gone with them.
We (us deracinated Westerners) don't dream anymore. That goes along with the loss of myth and gods, I think.
I'm reminded of a story Philippa Foot once related about Iris Murdoch dropping out of philosophy to write novels. She (Murdoch) came to see that the stuffy rationalism of concepts wouldn't cut it insofar as getting to the heart of a meaningful, moral examination of what is good in life.
It's fascinated me how Taylor picks up these threads, nearly intact, from Murdoch. The bulk of SotS is a historical examination of various facets of the modern self. Yet that inquiry is very interested in the *art* of a people as much as (or more than?) their express philosophy, narrowly conceived (and to the extent that art and thought can be separated).
I suspect that any future retrievals of an 'enchanted world' will have much more to do with breathing new air into the culture and aesthetics. By 'aesthetics' I don't mean this in the Nietzschean sense of raw exertion of power--there is always a moral component to feeling and desire, and vice-versa.
To imagine new moral horizons is to first of all *imagine*, and a look around us shows how little most of us do that anymore.
Great post again Apex! I too believe in a recovery of meaning. A re-connection with community. But what Community is left in Modernity? Do I even want to Connect with it...
I cannot stop thinking about the Amish & Mennonites and German Brethren lately. They are not as worried about the future as us, because they still have a community that they care for and seek ongoing connections with.
I do not come from a Religious background, but maybe, maybe some communities still exist that are not en-wrapped in the debasement of Modernity...
Your post mirrors a lot of what I have been thinking lately and for that I thank you...