"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Jul 16, 2010

Time, History and Power (a sketch of an outline)

Conservatism and liberalism* belong to the same mode of thought.

Divergences between the two larger camps, and the various factions - in ideology, practice, membership and politics - serve to mask a rather comprehensive and frankly startling unity of focus.

A unity which binds them all in the continuing project of power.

The differences between a selection of conservatives and a selection of liberals can span the entire known spectrum of policy, belief and adherence. The differences within those selections can vary just as widely, allowing for the competition of factional interests which share a common goal, but varying methods of achieving that end, or a similarity of methods, but a difference in intended outcome.

Ceteris paribus, a common - almost absolute and unified - view of time binds them all, though.

Both conservatives and liberals absolutely require, for the continued functioning of their projects, the rationalization of their goals, and the durability of their programs for maintaining adherence, a past-referent view of the progress of time.

Conservatives generally fix a period of time, somewhere in the recorded past, as a signature frame of reference which serves as a standard of judgment for all contemporary or modern decisions, events and possibilities. Since time appears always to recede, this frame of reference requires updating by subsequent generations of conservative thinkers and believers. The past, fixed now by reverence, becomes a ghost in the machine by which present errors and decisions fall short of the acceptable model, or conform to it. The further from the past that the present travels, the more the conservative must endeavor to correct the imbalance, and the more likely she will remain in adherence to the leaders who best articulate the restorative policies which will bring the present into accord with the past.

Liberals generally fix a period of time, somewhere in the recorded past, as a frame of reference by which they might judge progress made since that range in time. Liberals seek to improve reality by judging the present according to the errors of the past. The apparent distance between present conditions and past conditions provides liberals with the means to evaluate their progress away from the negative reference, in the past. Since the arc of time seems always to recede, backward, the further from the fixed frame of reference, the better - for liberals. The more comprehensive the list of so-called improvements, the more likely the liberal will remain in adherence to the program of whatever party or faction best represents this interest.

Whereas conservatives seek to improve reality by restoring it to a period of past glory, liberals seek to improve reality by redeeming it from a period of past sinfulness.

But both broad tendencies absolutely depend upon the fixity of the narrative of the past, the agreement about the frame of reference, and the valuations of progress/regress from that period of reference.

Since the past seems always to recede, both liberals and conservatives must continuously update their frame of reference. They require, then, a continuity of history.

History - that post-Enlightenment recreation of the past according to a narrative arc which allegedly embodies moral principles in the flow of human decisions, as well as "natural" patterns of determined conduct - binds liberals and conservatives to power.

A reverence for the past - either as a period of grace which one must best mimic, or as a starting point for a series of improvements - serves as the common ground between conservatives and liberals.

That which preserves the model of the past preserves the goals of the party which uses it. History, like any other conceptual map of the phenomena of reality, edits the available data into a set of agreements (or impositions) about how events unfold. Since no history can account for all of the data, available or unknown, no history actually models reality.

History does not reveal truths. It edits memory, sometimes with accuracy, but rather often within a determined perspective. It fixes the past as a confirmation of the present, and often enough, of the form of power which endures across generations and place.

Those who use history do so to improve upon reality, to give it a purpose in the minds of their adherents which has no basis in the material conditions of the world, or the cosmos.

History - that which binds liberals and conservatives in a common view of time and continuity, despite a difference in application - imposes upon its believers the fiction of purpose, of teleology, of an embedded narrative plan in the unfolding of events.

Those who use history, then, attempt to escape material conditions and actual contingency, in favor of a storyline which places them in a position to arbitrate the purpose of human events, decisions and communities.

It justifies power by providing its believers with a frame of reference, to which others must adhere, or in failing to do so violate the purpose of human existence. Those who rule, those who punish, those who believe, those who have some program of amelioration or social construction, absolutely require a common view of the past - of history.

Deviation from belief in the fixed frame of reference (on any number of grounds, from religious to the less predictably nihilist, to the penetratingly apathetic) provides the believers in history with their justification for the continuation of the forms of power.**

This may distinguish them, in part, from more vulgar authoritarians, who employ power to enjoy the fruits of it - but almost without fail, where you find power, you find someone who justifies it by way of history, by way of the attempt to make the present conform to the past, or alternatively, to drive the present as far from the past as possible.

Those who use, create and believe in the historical imposition of a narrative onto human events almost invariably recreate the stable form of power, because the stable form of power (the hierarchy outlined in essays below) provides the best guarantee of continuity, the best control of resources, and the most enduring skill set by which those who rule can instruct others in adherence to power.

This material set of conditions provides the historical believer with the means to impose his history on events. History justifies power by placing it in the center of the scheme of purpose. And power relies on history to rationalize its methods as necessary, natural and determined, as flowing naturally and inexorably from the past.

Where you find power, you have history. Where historians edit the past, power lurks close by.

* - rather broadly descriptive categories, which encompass the whole liberal project starting with the Enlightenment, as well as traditionalist reaction and Catholic/Evangelical maximalism. A social conservative can share the core Enlightenment perspective, with regard to science, the constitution of consent, natural law and rights, and still reject the progressive expansion of rights which characterizes the liberal project, in general. A political liberal can reject the expansion of rights beyond the scope of the nationalist myth, or the State guarantee of the same, but still disagree with conservatives regarding that scope within national borders, or the application of law with regard to civil liberties. Et cetera ad infinitum.

** - a person who does not adhere to history, to the teleological outline of the purpose of events, either from demonstrable error or from a willful rejection, provides a rather unruly subject. Those who don't accept the validity of the storyline tend to deviate from the script. Acts which, even in small numbers, call the whole of the drama into question. Punishment usually follows, and swiftly.