Race and the DA Reconsidered. Surprise us.
Stuff moves slow, then faster, and then we’re slammed against a new world before we can adjust. Razib Khan's Blog. (based on Kurzweil's 'The Law of Accelerating Returns'.)
To briefly recap the central point of my previous past to Politicsweb (3 April 2018): 'liberal democracies' (LDs) have led the way in the voluntary cooperation of large numbers of people. This remarkable innovation reached its apogee in the West which resulted in its scientific, cultural, economic and military dominance on the world stage, at least till now. I argued that the future of South Africa depended on the adoption of this model, but with essential tweaks to take into account our history and circumstance - and that the only candidate was the DA.
I would like to follow up on this partly in the light of comments following the original article. I spend somewhat more time than seems appropriate on the American scene for reasons. Firstly, South Africa is subject to the same laws of political dynamics as other nations and it's instructive to step back from our local predicament to look at the world more broadly. Secondly, the political establishment in the West is running out of ideas and is losing the initiative. South Africa must not traverse that path.
1. L'homme n'est ni ange ni bête, et le malheur veut que qui veut faire l'ange fait la bête. (Man is neither an angel nor a brute, but, as the evil genius will have it, he who aspires to be an angel degenerates into the brute). (Pascal)
That LDs are under threat is hardly news. The obsession of the US media with the hyperpolarisation of American politics is second only to its obsession with Trump himself. The distrust and loathing pervading American politics is the topic of innumerable articles tut-tutting the geographical and ideological segregation of its society into hostile blue and red pockets while the tribal media warriors of each camp continue to devise new ways of demonising the other.
The Left (the blue camp) brings considerably greater cumulative resources, financial and perhaps intellectual to this fight. Together with their intellectual enablers within the Academy and media they constitute what has been appropriately termed the Clerisy and are engaged in what Helgard Muller in his comments correctly identified as a systematic effort to establish a hegemony of 'common sense' and what I would term a hegemony of morality.
Twitter mobs and high-profile media (especially internet) outlets enforce their moral dominance by labelling, stigmatising and shaming. On campuses and on the streets this gets translated into sometimes violent theatrics.. The sheer malice displayed is remarkable. Scientists or centrist commentators such EO Wilson, Jordan Peterson, Charles Murray and Sam Harris attract the kind of vitriol one would expect from fundamentalist clerics. All this within a LD nominally devoted to freedom of speech and tolerance of differing opinion.
Totalising 'identity politics' shares the same crusading totalitarian features found in jihadist Islam, Nazism and various incarnations of revolutionary Communism. Concepts such as intersectionality amplify and disseminate the sacred mission across borders of all kinds. This missionary zeal overwhelms whatever valid and useful elements are contained within 'identity politics' and makes mutual dialogue close to impossible.
Psychologically and sociologically these trends reflect the return of the kind of sacred-religious cognition which predates 'Enlightenment' values of reasoned debate, the possibility of empirical truth and a common shared humanity. It is probable that both strands of thought potentially co-exist in the individual human psyche as well as society at large, where it varies across culture and time. The outbreak of a sacralised morality in the West at the very apogee of scientific-technological progress may not be entirely co-incidental.
While the USA represents perhaps the most virulent example of 'identity zealotry' in Western democracies similar divisions have been breaking out in Europe and elsewhere. Doubtless the profile of causes differ somewhat in each instance but common antecedents, in different proportions, include massive refugee/migrant flows (real or potential), international terror, rising economic inequality and middle-lower class economic stagnation compounded by automation, globalisation and competition between elites. And maybe simple fatigue.
The even tenor of leftwing dominance in the USA, however, has suffered a rude disruption in the election of the crude figure of Trump as President. Simplistically speaking, Trump represents the reaction of the Right, which defines itself largely in nativist terms as conservative White America, counterposed to the cosmopolitan/globalist Democratic Party elite dominating the coasts and other pockets within the interior.
Ironically both camps claim to speak on the part of the losers in a free-market, individualistic, culture: the Blues on behalf of African-Americans and other minorities and the Reds for white, Anglo-Americans stranded in the stagnant and neglected industrial heartlands.
The conflict has assumed extreme and disturbing forms. Once respected news outlets like CNN have structured virtually their entire news and comment division around Trump for clear strategic and tactical reasons. While the children in Douma, Syria were barely cold following the chemical attack by Assad-backed forces, CNN was weaponising Trumpian frolics with Stormy Daniels and similar ladies of the porn industry.
The merging of the Democratic Party with the dominant segment of the conventional media and the Humanities within the Academy is evoking populist backlash and total mistrust of once respected civil institutions and media outlets. Ideas of the deep state which go beyond simple ties of class and friendship to conspiracy and coordination are no longer laughable and create a poisonous atmosphere of distrust and confusion which is severely stressing the ability of America to project power and moral leadership.
Such trends have not gone unopposed and the robust institutions and deep social capital of established democracies have proven remarkably resilient. But internal cohesion has been seriously frayed, and unscrupulous, authoritarian powers and movements have not been slow to exploit these weaknesses. The ideal of liberal democracy as the ultimate destiny of humanity is now being challenged by more authoritarian models.
2. A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good. Niccolo Machiavelli
Since the issue of values was raised in the thread following my article it needs to be pointed out the broadly enlightenment virtues of LD, espoused by such notables as, for example, Steven Pinker in 'Enlightenment Now', are being increasing challenged from a variety of sources from both within and outside the democratic tradition. Here are a few stray thoughts on the topic.
Various social scientists and philosophers have attempted to construct a hierarchy of values ranging from those actions concerned with survival to those concerned with personal behaviour and various social goods to spiritual, which I take to refer to ultimate meaning and purpose. Politics operates largely in the domain of the first three: survival, the personal virtues and social goals.
If a significant bi-directional relationship exists between personal values and social systems it should encourage the personal virtues of tolerance, sense of fairness and justice, personal honesty and individual responsibility. These personal values in turn facilitate a high-trust, cooperative environment where freedom, social egalitarianism and personal fulfilment flourishes - and so on in a virtuous circle. Certainly countries, like the Scandinavian bloc (and others of course) which rate highly as LDs, also score highest on the subjective World Happiness Index. This would suggest that an important interaction occurs between social and personal values and quality of life.
As we have seen, this relationship is in the process of becoming unstuck in places, the USA being a notable example. In this context, it needs to be remembered that the USA Constitution is considered a landmark in political thought and practice and America an advertisement for the achievements of LD in action.
How does this relate to South Africa?
3. ex Africa semper aliquid novi. Ovid;
... I always have the sense there (Africa) that there is no equilibrium, that everything perpetually teeters on the brink of some dramatic change, that society constantly stands poised for some spasm, some tsunami... Peter Godwin
No other continent has endured such an unspeakably bizarre combination of foreign thievery and foreign goodwill. Barbara Kingsolver
Well about 200k years ago Africa did deliver Homo sapiens in dribs and drabs to an unsuspecting world. And since then foreign adventurers have robbed Africa of her honour, people and wealth. And, as long as I can remember, Africa has also delivered to a horrified world an endless series of genocides, miseries, disappointments, novel atrocities; and real delightful surprises.
Can the African-European hybrid of South Africa break the worst habits of both continents and find a new path to fulfil the needs and aspirations of all its peoples?
Few things would give me greater satisfaction than to see Africa, especially South Africa, deliver a clear rebuttal to the Afro-pessimists. Maybe we need to think out of the political box, using the accumulated wisdom and expertise of the world but applying our original fresh solutions to our own problems. Maybe, for once, we can set an example for the world to emulate not to reject.
To do this we must find a way of shedding our own prejudices and pre-conceptions about each other and ourselves without retreating into denialism and fantasy. We have a difficult path to travel beset with pitfalls for the unwary and naive. It is important to keep one's eyes on the road but to keep lifting them for the big picture.
Our media and commentators, like those everywhere, are pre-occupied by the dramas of the moment. Well and good, this is essential, but let us also milk the space of possibility that the modern world and our unique resources throw up. Let's shed the prickly sense of inferiority so that we can both learn from and teach others and, for God's sake, let us shed the endless crusades of those trapped in their own narrow vision and personal agendas.
South Africa needs to enlarge its vision. I believe the leader in this will be the DA which has repeatedly shown its capacity for fruitful adaptation and reconciliation of contradictions; and also the capacity for decisive action when required. It must avoid the temptations of short-term expediency.
The DA lives or dies as an agent for change in South Africa on principled pragmatism which has nothing to do with sacrificing fundamental values on the altar of (generally illusionary) immediate gain. It needs to trust the instinct of the majority of South Africans to recognise shysterism from whatever source. It must not define itself in simple opposition to another party but highlight the qualities which make it special. Don't let habit or others set your agenda.
Above all, surprise us! Set up a special body to do just that. Ask difficult questions and find novel answers using whatever comes to hand. Create the wave don't try to catch it. Break the mould. Think disruptive politics: not old Africa-Malema style but the kind that offers new possibilities and new visions for a people craving for hope and meaning. A bit of showmanship based on solid foundations won't come amiss. The dogs may mock but if the caravan keeps moving on eventually we'll all join you.
Let the West look this way for a change.