Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lemmee Explain Things That Are Not True

The stats on this website are fun to look at. I seem to own the SEO for people looking for pretentious blogs (oh yeah!) Occasionally I come across an interesting search that makes me wonder, so it was with today's most interesting Google search that brought someone here, "Liberalism ruined Detroit."

Is that person in my head? Because I've thought a lot about liberalism in the context of Detroit, but I don't think liberalism ruined Detroit. That's hyperbole, and I have a feeling that the person searching meant liberalism in terms of the left, and not liberalism in the sense of Hobbes, and Locke, and Rawls, and all of those folks.

And to say that one ideology ruined something is simply wrong. I've written before that Detroit is often representative of the collapse of something, whether it be the ideals of capitalism or liberalism, but to say that something ruined it is simply disingenuous.

I think we need a little background. I wrote about liberalism on Persephone Magazine. Please take a look at it and then come back. Done that? Good.

In case you didn't read that, here you go:
Put simply, liberalism puts the individual at the center of it all with the goal of having her live as she chooses. The obstacles to this can be laws and customs that block individual choice.
So did liberalism ruin Detroit? No. Hardly. That is a very, very wrong statement both logically and ideologically.

But what did? Why this downfall? Thomas Dumm writes to Laurie Anderson (a long quote, but this is important):
I am writing to you because your united states have intersected mine. From your vision of our power and disconnection I have learned something that I want to share with you. When we are apart we oppose power to freedom. But when we reach united states, we shout about the power of freedom, even as we whisper secrets about the variety of crimes that freedom requires of us. We have failed in many ways. But I have learned from you that our worst offenses against ourselves and one another have been imaginary. There is no health in us. Our united states are the result of strange combinations and fearful disruptions. Because we pretend that we can unite through freedom, we are actually free to unite. And when we are united, we have trouble imagining what it would be like to be apart. But united states--yours, mine, ours, theirs--are always temporary; we live in constant fear that we will separate. The moments we fear that we could never survive being alone are the moments we discover that we have always been separate and alone (8).
There is, of course, a pun here. When we reach united states we reach the states that are united but also United States, with capitals.  When we come together, there is something unnatural and fearful, because liberalism is so wed to the individual. united states are at once dangerous and full of freedom because they are on the edge.

Dumm says later of Laurie Anderson: "She is free to comment on it, because she is in-between, vacillating, a self-haunting ghost in the machine of digital meaning (Dumm, 178)."

For me, Laurie Anderson is the ghost in between in another way: she is the ghost in between the popular and highbrow. "O Superman," perhaps, pervades our knowledge, but it is a voice that has better than some, bridged the gap. She has said we are a country of in-betweens and I will take on that voice. A ghostly voice, as Dumm suggest, a voice that is united and separate.

Oh, but what does this have to do with Detroit? I have written about ghostly Detroit before. About the haunting of liberalism:
In Specters of Marx, Derrida delves into Fukuyama’s interpretation of politico-economic liberalism, saying: 
On the one hand, the gospel of politico-economic liberalism needs the event of the good news that consists in what has putatively actually happened (what has happened in this last quarter of the century, in particular, the supposed death of Marxism and the supposed realization of the State of liberal democracy). It cannot do without the recourse to the event; however since, on the other hand, actual history and so many other realities that have an empirical appearance contradict this advent of the perfect liberal democracy, one must at the same time post this perfection as simply a regulating and trans-historical idea (62). 
In other words: the liberal democracy that Fukuyama (and other theorists of his ilk, I’d like to add) promote requires two events: the one we anticipate and the one that has already arrived, and it’s best not to confuse the two. To put it in the context of Detroit: the ideal of politico-economic liberalism has arrived and is inscribed in the grand halls and beautiful architecture. The ideal, however, has also never arrived, hence the decay and the haunting of the specter of what everyone wishes had happened.
And what does this have to do with everything else? That liberalism ruined Detroit or that Dumm/Anderson have useful things to say with their discussions of power, freedom, and unity? To the first point, liberalism does not ruin Detroit so much as it haunts Detroit. The logical fallacies of the individual that is not united cast a ghostly pallor.

What's more, the ghosts suggest a way to get along with them. I would never ask us to exorcise them because I find too much that is useful in the anticipation and the arrival/non-arrival. That in-between is useful theoretical space. Detroit is useful theoretical space. The specter of what everyone wishes had happened: the individualism, the capitalism that helps that individual, the life that is perfect and happy and bright tells us that it is unachievable but it also asks us to welcome that which we invite: a system that works a litlte better, than takes these lessons, that, to put it in Dumm's terms, unites its ghostly states.

I don't think I've naswered much here. Firmly, liberalism did not ruin Detroit, but the critique of liberalism, the invitation of the ghosts and the united states, well, that could very well be our very own path to freedom.

united states by Thomas L. Dumm
Specters of Marx by Jacques Derrida

No comments:

Post a Comment