Friday, August 25, 2017

some links for the weekend: Friedersdorf on the danger in saying the 1st amendment shouldn't protect hate speech in the Trump era; Slate authors name-drop Adorno on occultism while skipping his comparison of occultism to monotheism, and another Slate author on antisemitism in the LGBTQ left being a thing to be mindful of

Conor Friedersdorf has something about what he regards as a dangerously short-sighted effort on the part of some groups in the left to curb freedom of speech that is regarded as hate speech.  The problem, as Friedersdorf put it, is that in the era of Trump the idea of giving the powers that be even more power to decide that a variety of views and modes of expression are no longer speech worthy of protection under the First Amendment will most likely not work out in the favor of groups that are against a Trump presidency.


Yet even now, at the bottom of the slippery slope, a broad reading of the First Amendment is still the framework that best protects ethnic and religious minority groups. In fact, marginalized groups—street activists, Muslim immigrants, Black Lives Matter protesters—would suffer particularly at this very moment if the faction of progressives who want to limit free speech got their way.

Charles C.W. Cooke captured why in a satirical response to a recent New York Times op-ed in which K-Sue Park called on the ACLU to change its approach to free speech, arguing that it provides help to hateful causes and that “the legal gains on which the ACLU rests its colorblind logic have never secured real freedom or even safety for all.”


Under a legal regime where hate speech was not considered free speech, Trump and Sessions could likely punish words used by members of Antifa and Black Lives Matter. Do you think he’d police their speech more or less vigorously than white supremacists?

Under a legal regime that treated more kinds of speech as incitement, on the theory that Nazis and other white supremacists are pushing an inherently violent ideology, Trump would very likely use the same rules and precedents to target, say, imams at whatever mosques Sessions judges to be inciting Islamist violence; or Twitter activists who tell their followers that punching Nazis is woke. Those whom Trump has taken to calling the “alt-left” would be most at risk

...  A weakened First Amendment in today’s climate would be marshaled against Trump’s opponents, even as it robbed them of their ability to fight back. It would be a gift to white supremacists, not a blow against them.

But there are those on the left and right who are interested, it seems, in articulating what they believe should be the limits of freedom of speech, whether in terms of protest against or support of the current regime.  In that sense it's been depressing to consider the way people behave on Twitter and Facebook and social media in general because it can seem as though the nature of the debates is not really about whether or not we're going to embrace some form of totalitarianism but merely what flavor it will have.  We seem to have groups who only regard X or Y as inherently totalitarian when it's the "other" who has access to institutional power or communication norms.  Last year Friedersdorf said that it would be important to tyrant-proof the executive office regardless of who won but his implication over the last year or so seems to read as a statement that this tyrant-proofing process hasn't happened and that we've been looking at a trajectory that has crossed the aisle of distinctions between Democrats and Republicans. 

A rather predictable interview/feature at Slate with the author of Hitler's Monsters includes a link to Adorno on occultism.  We'll get to that in a bit but it's interesting to note that the two authors talk about the dangers of superstitious ideas that reject the reality of climate change and the proliferation of dangerous anti-scientific ideas that implicitly seem to be associated with conservative advocates of Abrahamic religions.  What makes that interesting is because merely quoting Adorno's axiom that ... as the Slate piece puts it.

Theodor Adorno [said] “occultism is the metaphysic of dunces.”

Is to skip past Adorno's larger argument, which was that the new occultism was more wrong than the mythology it replaced, which was the monotheistic mythology of Judeo-Christian thought in the West.  Judeo-Christian mythology, at least, insisted upon the inherent unity of physical and spiritual life in the individual.

The part the authors talking at Slate didn't link to from Adorno's little treatise is this:
I   ...  Monotheism is decomposing into a second mythology. ....

The second mythology is more untrue than the first.

VII. The great religions have either, like Judaism after the ban on graven images, veiled the redemption of the dead in silence, or preached the resurrection of the flesh. They take the inseparability of the spiritual and physical seriously. For them there was no intention, nothing "spiritual", that was not somehow founded in bodily perception and sought bodily fulfilment. To the occultists, who consider the idea of resurrection beneath them, and actually do not want to be saved, this is too coarse. Their metaphysics, which even Huxley can no longer distinguish from metaphysics, rest on the axiom: "The soul can soar to the heights, heigh-ho, / the body stays put on the sofa below." [emphasis added] The heartier the spirituality, the more mechanistic: not even Descartes drew the line so cleanly. Division of labour and reification are taken to the extreme: body and soul severed in a kind of perennial vivisection. The soul is to shake the dust off its feet and in brighter regions forthwith resume its fervent activity at the exact point where it was interrupted. In this declaration of independence, however, the soul becomes a cheap imitation of that from which it had achieved a false emancipation. In place of the interaction that even the most rigid philosophy admitted, the astral body is installed, ignominious concession of hypostasized spirit to its opponent. Only in the metaphor of the body can the concept of pure spirit be grasped at all, and is at the same time cancelled. In their reification the spirits are already negated.

V. The power of occultism, as of Fascism, to which it is connected by thought-patterns of the ilk of anti-semitism, is not only pathic. Rather it lies in the fact that in the lesser panaceas, as in superimposed pictures, consciousness famished for truth imagines it is grasping a dimly present knowledge diligently denied to it by official progress in all its forms.   ... 

In Adorno's understanding Judaism and Christianity, as monotheisms, were an old mythology replaced by a newer and more pernicious mythology.  Judaism and Christianity recognized that there was a body as well as a soul to be saved, but the neo-occultic approach in Adorno's estimate did not recognize that such a thing as salvation would even be necessary. 

Now interpretive mileage might vary but it's interesting to read in the Adorno essay linked in the Slate conversation that Adorno proposed that the neo-occult mythology was more toxic and foolish than the earlier mythology of Judeo-Christian ethical and metaphysical thought.  But the part in V. is interesting because there Adorno directly links occultism, fascism and anti-Semitism in a way that suggests that the process of neo-occult or re-paganizing activity would bring anti-Semitism with it. 

One of the tricky things about left writing is that it seems perilously easy for leftists scattered across the spectrum to not recognize that anti-Semitic sentiments are not exclusively the domain of the right.  Mark Joseph Stern touched on this in a column earlier this year in a column bluntly titled
"The LGBTQ Left Has an Anti-Semitism Problem"

Many social movements fall apart because of infighting and petty bickering. The liberal American LGBTQ community is certainly not free from silly quarrels, and many insiders have long predicted that, post-marriage-equality, the community would splinter into squabbling factions. But a half-year out from Obergefell, a legitimately troubling problem has begun to tear at the seams of the LGBTQ movement. That problem is anti-Semitism.

Rather than "no true Scotsman" away the history of groups within the left of being steeped in anti-Semitic ideas it's better to remember that reactionaries and progressives can be racist regardless of whatever formal differences they will say they have with each other or within their own ranks. 

I was planning on doing some writing about the Bayformers franchise but I was kind of hoping to tackle at least some of Gadamer's Truth and Method first and ... well, you've inferred that hasn't happened yet, right?

The more Adorno I work through the more I think my half-joking proposal that Francis Schaeffer can be thought of as the Theodor Adorno of the Religious Right may be more accidentally on point than I thought it was when I came up with the idea as something of a joke.  It sometimes seems as though critical theory authors and some foundational writers on the religious right agreed on way more things than they might have thought they'd agree on if they'd ever bothered to read each other ... which makes it hard to resist making the joke that the Frankfurt school inspired left and the religious right may both prove, in the end, to be insufficiently dialectical.  Yet for all that Schaeffer and Cardew and Tilbury agreed on in condemning Cage's philosophy by way of his music I still kinda enjoy the prepared piano music of John Cage. 

I'd throw in some stuff associated with Future Symphony Institute stuff and some writing by John Bortslap but his reissued book is annoying me at the moment.  Still, sometimes there's value in reading the authors whom you find annoying.  :)

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