Archive for September 2008
What do liberal, progressive or otherwise Leftist detractors from the Democratic Party have in common with Wells Fargo? They both endorse deferring responsibility in the face of fucking-up.
I say Wells Fargo because that is the bank I use, but I can imagine most banks advocating what I have in mind. For as long as I can remember, Wells Fargo has been regularly offering me credit cards. On the one hand, this is not entirely out of the ordinary. On the other hand, the most frequent kind of credit-card offer I get comes with what they call over-draft protection.
The idea here is that you use more money in your checking account than you have, and instead paying a $30 or more fee the difference is sent to your credit-card and no fee is incurred. In other words, the bank, usually what we associate with financial responsibility, is encouraging you that it’s okay to be financially irresponsible. If you do not have a credit-card, the bank will usually offer a line of credit to you. This makes perfect sense too, because since you need overdraft protection, you probably do not have the minimum of financial responsibility to keep up with your credit-card charges. Even if you aren’t a complete dolt, and get the charges paid off before they get completely out of hand, the bank still wins by encouraging reckless spending, especially if you regularly don’t pay off your credit-cards before the interest actually exceeds the typical overdraft fee.
A very similar logic of deferred responsibility dictates the actions of many “conscience-voters.” Seeing the Democratic Party let them down, they do what any good consumer is knows to do: instead of demanding quality, they demand choice. Typically, the choice implied is the choice of a third-party candidate. However, some freedom of choice advocates go so far as claiming that The People cannot be served by a single party, but only by multiple kinds of representatives who account for the diversity of The People. Everyone is entitled to their very own special opinion, and by extension everyone is entitled to their very own special political representative. Even within the Democratic party this rhetoric of choice prevails: “Yeah, Obama isn’t perfect, but he’s the best choice we’ve got!”
Instead of seeking more effective forms of political organization, many liberals and progressives retreat from power, whether they blindly embrace or blindly reject the Democratic Party. They frame either move in a rhetoric of choice that is central to liberal capitalism, which is why Republicans can and do talk about responsibility in purely economic terms. Responsibility is a value the Left should embrace for itself, except it should re-cast it in terms of political responsibility first.
Stanley Fish wrote an interesting article last week re-visiting the so-called Sokal Hoax. While Fish specifically related a contemporary issue within the culture of wine-review readers to how trust did or didn’t operate in the 1996 fart of a scandal, I had a thought about the very claim Alan Sokal made to perpetrating a hoax.
Why even let what Sokal did obtain the dignity of his self-proclaimed hoax? The guy waited until the article was accepted and published, but barely let any time pass for people to actually read it before, with infinite smugness, he flailed about frantically “admitting” his submission was a hoax. This claim here to a hoax is the biggest crock of the so-called “Sokal Hoax.”
If Sokal were serious with his hoax-attempt, he would have let it not only get accepted and published, but he would have waited to see if it received any (positive) attention. What he did was make sure that the readers of Social Text couldn’t falsify his essential thesis, that (postmodern) Leftists in the Humanities can’t tell the difference between bullshit and obtuse abstraction. If from Sokal’s perspective prior to his publishing the paper we could say it was all a bit of an experiment, it clearly was biased in order to achieve the bare minimum of a coherent point with the least potentially falsifying evidence possible. In other words, it was like carefully faking an unimpressive orgasm, and begs the question of who are you aiming to impress, if not precisely those impressed with the pathetic?
As an experiment in the strict sense, it was plagued by not just cock-surety, but an uncertainty apparently so unbearable that Sokal had to let the cat out of the bag as soon as he did. To the extent that he was trying to test academic standards, he may have made an extremely narrow point. Compare, however, the narrowness of this point—that a handful of academic editors, in part at least for the reasons Fish argues in his article, could (gasp) at best be fooled or at worst happily embrace the blur between bullshit and theory—to the stupendous breadth of the academic Left, or at least the usual audience for Social Text, and it is not hard to see a sampling bias.
It’s hard for me to believe that Sokal is simply so dumb that he oversaw that though, much in the same way that I have a hard time believing he thought the same of the Social Text audience. His “hoax” relied on sheer deception more than out-witting his targets, as well as a careful selection of his targets so as to maximize the limited power of sheer deception in the face of his situation. Sokal didn’t want to let the “hoax” get beyond the point of mere publishing, because that would mean its success as a hoax would depend on the duping of a much wider audience, which Sokal’s paper could not have done. The “hoax” was its own cover-up; Sokal’s official point against the academic Left existed only to cover-up a hoax that was not.