You might wonder why I’m reading this book by Michael Bérubé, The Left at War. It’s actually quite normal compared to a lot of my philosophical research. Since I started this blog, I’ve written about such intense and eccentric authors as Michel Serres, Gilles Deleuze, Hannah Arendt, and Martin Heidegger. So why am I reading a book by a relatively unremarkable cultural theorist that is largely a polemic against leftists of the Chomskian conspiracist and liberal interventionism hawks?
The first, simplest, answer is that it was there. But the simplest answer is never adequate to the truth. Not false, per se, but not comprehensive. The heart of the Utopias project is a critique of simplicity in political thinking specifically, but also in all thinking no matter its purpose. We are often told the myth about Occam’s Razor, which is that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. The principle of Occam’s Razor actually admonishes overcomplication. If your problem is ridiculously complex already, then you will need a similarly complex framework of concepts to understand what is actually going on.
This notion, that the world is too complex for the simple conceptual frameworks of too many influential figures in the contemporary left, drives Bérubé’s analysis. Writing in the wake of the Bush Administration and the Iraq War, the fatal simplicity of that regime is obvious to anyone who remembers.* If you did not support us in every way, even just to level a minor critique of our methods, you were declared an enemy and demonized. Bérubé’s chapter on the public discourse surrounding the Iraq War is a wonderful refresher on just how much the American government, the media, and the general public fed this attitude that to critique America’s leaders implied a hatred of democracy for which your career and life should be destroyed.
|The other day, I saw a clip of Bush-era
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, as a
commentator on FOX news. We were
supposed to indict him for enabling
torture and lying under oath, not put him on
TV after he grows a beard.
* Incidentally, something that very much disturbs me about modern discourse is the degree to which even people who lived through the Bush years have actually forgotten how horrible they were. Granted, the Obama Administration has done entirely different terrible things in the name of national security (drone bombing, maintaining the widespread surveillance networks and databases that began under Bush), but Bush was a regime that occupied a country as part of an ideological plan to use military invasion as a means to install democracy, twisted ideals that justified the use of widespread torture and the levelling of entire cities, like Fallujah. This was done in the name of democracy and freedom, and no one in the upper hierarchy of the Bush years has any significant regrets!
The type of revolutionary political attitude that the Utopias project critiques displays that same simplicity. The political revolutionary who believes in the realization of simple principles through direct actions, including violence, desires that a complex world behave according to those principles, and any critical or divergent voices are obstacles or enemies. This description is neutral as to whether it is left or right. Anyone who studies the history of the Bush Administration knows that this is the framework of a right-wing perspective.
But Bérubé’s analysis of the stereotypically left-wing perspective of Noam Chomsky and the followers of his political ideas reveals this deadly simplicity here as well. The framework of viewing the world with Chomsky’s political concepts has just the same structure as that of Bush. Simple ideas and ideals clearly indicate who shares them, and those who do not are obstacles and enemies to the widespread acceptance of their truth.