by Daniel A. Kaufman
Extensive reading and numerous discussions about the recent UK election and its significance for the United States, as well as an argument with my friend and colleague, Massimo Pigliucci, on Twitter has forced me to confront the fact that I am more politically homeless than I have ever been. (1) As the end of the decade rapidly approaches, it seems like a good time to take political stock. Be warned, however, that what follows is simply a sketch of my views and some of the reasons for them, the main purpose of which is to demonstrate how out of touch I am, not just with our current political parties, but with the majority of those who belong to my socio-economic and professional classes. It is not my intention, here, to make any kind of substantial case for my views, which, in any event, likely would be futile in today’s noxious political climate.
(A) I’m socially liberal, but don’t think that socially conservative people are evil or should be “canceled.”
I’m for legal abortion. I’m pro-gay (and pro-gay marriage). I think (adult) people should be allowed to have sex change operations, take cross-sex hormones, or do whatever else they like sex- and gender-wise, so long as they don’t harm anyone or diminish anyone else’s rights or prerogatives. I’m pro-marijuana legalization. You get the drift. At the same time, I don’t think that people who oppose some number or even all of these things are by default evil or that their views are beyond the pale or that they should be driven from their jobs or from the public square. I would oppose them at the ballot box and in public discourse, but I also would fight strongly for their right to access both, and I think it is important that they are a part of our civic life. Alas, disconcertingly, I increasingly find myself having to defend such people from those on my own side of these issues, who lately have been quite eager to look down upon, sneer at, malign, and even “cancel” them in myriad and often devastating ways.
(B) I like cities. I dislike cosmopolitanism.
I grew up in a suburban neighborhood on Long Island’s North Shore and lived for a decade in Manhattan. I am a lover of fine art, classical music, theater, and fine dining. Living as I do now in the sticks of Missouri, I spend silly sums of money to have the bounties of New York urban life shipped to me.
I really dislike cosmopolitanism and its various manifestations, though. I dislike its celebration of rootlessness; its tendency to treat traditional cultural institutions and artifacts as floating signifiers to be endlessly remixed and re-purposed; its fundamental lack of loyalty to people and place, and its far too prevalent contempt for those to whom such fidelity is a core value (often rural or blue collar people). The cosmopolitan is a “citizen of the world,” which means that he isn’t a citizen at all, as citizenship is always in relation to a polity and never to landmasses, oceans, or other geological entities. (3) And though I am very much a humanist in the early-modern sense of the word, I do not think that our relationship to all of humanity is sufficient to sustain and nurture our need for connection, belonging, and shared purpose that begins with family and friends and reaches its farthest limit, I would argue, with our compatriots.
(C) I like countries. I dislike globalization.
One of the things that came out in my argument with Massimo is that he is a globalist, and I am not. Indeed, in response to my saying that the nation-state is the largest viable political unit, he wrote: “I’ll toast the first world government with you when it will be inaugurated. Drinks on me, since you’ll be miserable. 😉” It was something I had not really thought through in all of its different dimensions before, so I am grateful to Massimo for putting the matter in such stark terms.
Besides being (in my view) the largest viable political units, countries are wonderful for being distinct and distinctive; in some cases embodying the culture and spirit of a people, in others that of some number of peoples, united under a common set of ideas or a shared history. The nations of the world are a remarkable expression of human diversity, at the largest scale at which it seems possible to embody it. Whether in terms of language, architecture, dress, cuisine, customs, or manners, to travel from one nation to another is to confront the many and magnificent forms of human life.
I find it strange, then, that the biggest champions of diversity tend also to be those most in favor of globalization. Rather than the distinct and distinctive places, peoples, cultures, cuisines and so forth, which enrich and benefit us in so many ways, the ultimate and inevitable result of globalization is a generic, global fusionism in which the sum is far less than its parts, because the economically and technologically most advanced countries dominate and color the whole. As one who has been traveling abroad since the early 1970’s, I can testify that precisely this sort of homogenization is settling upon what were once far more dissimilar (and consequently, far more interesting) places and which, with every day that passes, seem more and more the same, architecturally, culinarily, and in innumerable other ways. (For a startling impression of this ongoing, terrible development, check out Miroslav Sasek’s “This is…”series, which I read as a young child, and compare its depictions of some of the world’s great cities with your experience of them today.)
There also is the economic cost, the consequences of which are and will continue to be catastrophic. When globalization is combined with (largely unbridled) capitalism, the result is capital chasing labor to its cheapest sources, the result of which has been the de-industrialization of entire regions in many countries (the American Rust Belt, the English Midlands and North, etc.) and the endgame of which is the de-industrialization not of regions but of each and every country as a whole, as the cheapest labor will be that performed by machines. The social and political anger and unrest that this will cause will make the current stirrings of populism look like fun and games and figures such as Donald Trump like Mr. Rogers. People need to be able to work (which is why a “UBI” is little more than a farcical effort at a solution), and it will never be the case that all or even a majority of them will be suited to doing so in information-heavy or super-highly-skilled fields that require advanced education and can be done wherever one is.
(D) I like our Electoral College.
The histrionics engaged in by American progressives in the wake of the 2016 presidential election and comparable meltdowns and tantrums on the part of their compatriots in the UK in the wake of the recent election (in which the Conservative party ate the Labour party’s proverbial lunch) have done nothing but reaffirm my longstanding belief in the wisdom of our electoral system. For one thing, it prevents us from being ruled entirely from the handful of high population-density, major metro-areas in which these people tend to be clustered in large quantities and where cosmopolitan attitudes of the sort I described above prevail. (3) For another, it insures that the social, political, and cultural diversity of our very large and populous country is reflected in national government, insofar as that diversity is increasingly distributed geographically, something that Crisipin Sartwell and I discussed in depth over the course of our dialogue on geography and political representation at BloggingHeads. It also, of course, is a crucial component of a Federalist system like ours, of which I am an admirer. (4)
(E) I’m anti-concealed/open carry.
I’ve written and spoken about this at length before, so I won’t go through all the rationales again. Readers can consult what I’ve already said on the subject. Suffice it to say, here, I do not believe that ordinary citizens – i.e. not police or licensed, private security guards – walking down our streets, shopping in our stores, or hanging out in our parks while carrying firearms, concealed or not, is consistent with the Social Contract. Ditto for the possession of weapons designed for modern warfare, which make it possible for a person to kill scores upon scores of people in just a few minutes, even from a great distance.
(F) I am for maximally free speech.
I’ve written and spoken about this at even greater length than I have the subject of gun control, so I’ll just say that I am extremely disheartened by the abandonment of time-worn, proven liberal principles concerning free speech on both the contemporary Left and the contemporary Right. (5) It seems to me that we collectively have become disinclined to engage in politics anymore, which requires maturity, self-control, and sometimes even self-effacement, opting instead for a kind of know-it-all-fueled clique-wars that ordinarily are the province of obnoxious, self-important teenagers.
(G) I care more about my relationships than politics.
The subjects around which the most contentious political disputes revolve are extraordinarily complex and the views one takes are heavily dependent not just upon “the facts” involved but on the values one brings to the table, which themselves are contestable and contentious. Even more so than in philosophy itself, rarely if ever is there a demonstrably “correct” view on such matters and regardless, in a democracy — in which we all should be so lucky to live — one’s views may not prevail on this occasion or, perhaps, ever. It is not just inadvisable, then, but flat-out stupid to hold one’s relationships hostage to political agreement, and our increasing and lamentable inability to recognize this is just a further testament to the collective juvenility that seems to have descended upon us, like some horrible, disfiguring fog.
(3) In our exchange, when I put this point to Massimo, he said that the US should be ruled from the major metro areas, as that is where the population is. When I pointed out that the US has a Federal system – that the country is not a collection of individuals, but a confederation of states – he characterized this as “a blunder that needs to be corrected.”