Belonging Again (Part 31)
Where there is no process, we cannot determine “the right balance” between “justice” and “givens,” and yet process can cause injustice and destabilize “givens.”
Before further examining the possibility for a process that will keep existential anxiety from ever becoming to anyone so severe that authoritarianism becomes appealing, we should first stress how Pluralism, to some degree, has always been with us. We live in a new phase, yes, and I agree that our age is unique, but the new also entails the old.
America is a nation of immigrants: it has always consisted of diverse people groups. Yes, the number of diverse groups and the extremity of the diversity has changed and intensified (the sum of minorities is about to eclipse the majority, as discussed in The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones), but Pluralism has still always been part of American life, and global life at that, though some nations have been more open to immigrants than others. Muhammad as a tradesman openly interacted with Jews and Christians; Aquinas interacted with Averroes; and so on. In no way do I mean to suggest that Pluralism doesn’t uniquely define our age, but rather I want to suggest that something else must have changed as well (not just diversity, for there has always been diversity). I do think existential instability has intensified, that “givens” are increasingly lost, but why now and not in the past? If Pluralism to some degree has “always been with us,” why are “givens” collapsing now? Is it just because there is so much more diversity? Or is it diversity plus some other changes in the system? Has some process been lost?
In addition to diversity, perhaps a general skepticism about all “ultimate beliefs” has contributed to a destabilization that makes revolution, protesting, cynicism, anxiety, and the like more likely. Indeed, religious and metaphysical changes have contributed, as also I think has the growth of Central Power (a topic we’ve touched on already with A.J. Conyers). A nation without Central Power at all is a nation that will likely crumble (America under the Articles of Confederation is evidence of this), but there seems to be a ditch on either side of the road. When there is too much Central Power, whether Liberal or Conservative, people feel as if their way of life is “at risk,” and then it is of the utmost importance that “our people” control all three branches of government to protect “our way of life.” To fail to accomplish this is to risk everything.
When people know that “the other side” can gain control of a Central Power that can impact their lives — and when people know that they can gain control of a Central Power that might be able to help them as outsiders become insiders — existential anxiety worsens. Those who control the Central Power will shape the “givens” of the society, and so when “our people” don’t control it, “our way of life” feels at risk. Additionally, between government administrations, “givens” change and/or how they are experienced changes, and once a people are aware of “givens,” the “givens” no longer function like they once did, increasing existential anxiety.
“The War Between Process and Justice” by O.G. Rose argues that the debate about Central Power has defined America since the beginning, and also argues for the importance of process so that a civilization can live with social and moral change. Without process, existential anxiety is likely to intensify, leading to social turmoil and revolution. Arguably, that tension has always been a result of Pluralism — of different people with different beliefs living in the same country — but today as Pluralism has intensified, so too has increased the sense of the presence of a Central Power, one that can have a dramatic impact on our lives based on who controls it.
We require a process to maintain a balance between “insiders and outsiders” that doesn’t destabilize and threaten the entire socioeconomic order. In America, that process is generally the balance of powers, the legislative procedure, checks and balances, the delegation of powers to the States, and the like. The paper examines the Supreme Court, and as argued in “What is a Judge to Do?” by O.G. Rose, the role of the judiciary branch has done much to increase existential anxiety in the society, for thanks to more “open” hermeneutics, it has become unclear what the limits are of the Central Power, as it has become unclear how permanent the limits will prove. Similarly, the power of the President to decide what falls under the categories of the powers granted to him or her by the Constitution has also intensified existential anxiety. For example, the President can decide environmentalism falls under the category of “national security,” even though the drafters of the Constitution may not have thought of environmentalism as an issue of national security. Sure, perhaps environmentalism should be an issue of “national security,” but that doesn’t change the fact that “the process” by which environmentalism becomes such has existential and psychological consequences.
Under a Conservative President, who has the power to appoint Supreme Court justices, Liberals don’t know if abortion rights could vanish or if LGBT marriage could become a thing of the past; under a Liberal President, Conservatives don’t know if religious organizations will lose their tax-exemption status or if new regulations will be imposed upon businesses. Everything feels possible; everything feels threatened.¹ Nothing is “given,” which is a realization that makes people realize that “givens” aren’t “given,” that “givens” can change (and that changes everything). Are we saying then that a solution to our dilemma is to shrink the power and size of the State, which would in turn make space for greater individual involvement and more “individual processes?” Yes, that would be an implication, but we must remember from earlier (notably when discussing Conyers), that the State grows for just reason. Justice tends to compel the State to grow to stop “the banality of evil,” so the idea of “shrinking the State” to solve our dilemma is simply another version of opposing justice to maintain “givens,” which is easily “unjust.” And so we return to the problem discussed in the last few sections: we have not escaped it.
Governments and societies must be able to change: if they are too rigid, they will fail and alienate their people; but if they are too fluid, they will do the same. Process is how this balance could be reached, and process can give citizens a sense that they control what happens to them, that their way of life isn’t always at risk, and that there is always hope to improve their situation, rather they be a victim of injustice or suffer poverty. No process is perfect, but where there is no process at all, authoritarianism will become appealing. As discussed by Peter Berger, process is especially important where meditating structures are vanishing or weak. Berger wrote that ‘alienating megastructures must respect and strengthen the mediating structures that provide both plausibility structures for the meanings of individual lives and the moral foundation upon which their own legitimacy rests.’² In a society where this doesn’t occur — where Central Powers conflict with or take away authority from local communities and powers (as Conyers discussed) — existential anxiety will worsen, especially if the Central Power feels “unbound.”³
Unfortunately, as described in “The War Between Process and Justice” and “The Death of Process,” both by O.G. Rose, justice itself conflicts with process: justice demands that process not get in the way of stopping injustice. When a law hurts minorities, for example, the process it takes to change the law elongates the suffering, and so the process itself can be seen as part of the problem. The very experience of justice makes it unjust to accept process, and in fact process can be seen as a method of preserving and evening worsening injustice. It is a way for those in power to stay in power, for those benefiting from the system to keep benefiting from it, and those motivated by justice — the outsiders or those fighting for the outsiders — must necessarily be orientated against it. Process is primed to lose its legitimacy to them, to be seen as an obstacle that should be cast aside (like “givens”), and they are justified to think and feel this way: this is the power of justice (a non-contingent value like love, as discussed in “The (Trans)values of Justice and Love” by O.G. Rose). It would be irrational for justice (to justice) not to oppose process, which might suggest the need for “nonrationality” in our thinking here (as described throughout O.G. Rose), but even if so, learning the importance of “nonrationality” might require us to be Deleuzian, and we have already discussed how that might only be a solution for a minority of people.
We need processes to determine “justice” from “ideas of justice,” a logic which applies equally to freedom, goodness, equality, and the like. All we have is ideas, and we don’t readily know which ideas are “actually good,” partly because all ideas which “really hit us” necessarily seem good. We need tests, discussions, and processes to sort “the good ideas” from “the actually good ideas”; otherwise, we’re lost at sea. But all ideas which “seem good” naturally oppose the processes which question them (especially as those processes deconstruct them), and the ideas which prove to be “actually good” can actually be framed as having been insulted, in a way, for having had to go through the process of proving themselves. Yes, “actually good ideas” can love processes that validate them, but it depends: often, the validating process is just seen as a waste of time and inconvenience (especially when ethics are involved). In this way, all ideas resist “processing,” and values especially do, for they are morally backed and motivated: anything which hinders their realization is contributing to immorality. Yes, we can argue the “processing” is necessary, but that sounds like a surrender. Why must the “process” be necessary? Do processes accomplish just hinder the realization of “the right way to live” (which happens to align with our visions)?
Values naturally seek to “be” not “become” (they are naturally A/A versus A/B, to use important language from The True Isn’t the Rational, which hints at why they can self-efface), and we naturally experience “our values” as “self-evidently good,” which makes it hard for us to understand why they need to be “processed” and why other people don’t accept them. From our perspective, all “processing” is “irrational” (as we perhaps must think if we don’t have the category of “nonrational”), and it’s of little comfort to be told the processes are necessary so that values are perceived as “legitimate” to the social order. Process and justice (to focus on one value) are likely necessary opponents (a social “Conflict of Mind,” perhaps, where “social responsibility” comes in conflict with “social possibility”), exactly for reasons described on why “givens” and justice are likely to conflict justly. The phenomenology of justice compels people against process, and yet process is necessary to keep existential anxiety from developing so that authoritarianism doesn’t become appealing. Considering this, it is our very longing for justice and our justified actions based upon that longing which can bring about a state which leads to either Conservative or Liberal authoritarianism. Like freedom, justice threatens us: to escape from justice (which can cause existential destabilization) is to fall into a state of injustice (in which authoritarianism is appealing), as is the case with escaping from freedom.
As described in “The Death of Process” by O.G. Rose, Liberals are generally driven by justice to end injustices, but in so during they can threaten the “givens” which a people require to be existentially stable. Where there is existential instability, authoritarianism becomes appealing. Hence how Liberals end injustice is very important, and this points to the need for a process which balances and separates powers. And yet the very concern for justice “rationally” makes Liberals against process: justice compels an individual to want the most centralized and powerful government available to stop the injustice on a large scale and for good. Justice is what requires process to avoid authoritarian backlash and is also what makes people oppose process for the right reasons.
If an authoritarian backlash occurs because of efforts to end injustice, this very fact may function as evidence to Liberals that injustice is still a major problem, and hence an even stronger Central Power is needed to stop injustice. This is because people have proven themselves to be unjust and immoral in supporting authoritarianism, and hence do not have the personal responsibility to handle freedom. Hence, a feedback loop is created, one that either authoritarianism from the Left or Right becomes probable. When justice and freedom fight, as it is in their very natures to do, both perish. From Erich Fromm, we know that “escaping freedom” is problematic, and such is neurotic precisely because we tend to flee freedom for a state free of responsibility that we associate with “true freedom,” when actually “freedom without responsibility and existential anxiety” isn’t freedom at all, but a contradictory self-effacement. Similarly, we “oppose processes” for the sake of justice, which threatens the social order justice needs to be maintained. “Seeking anxiety-free freedom” and “seeking process-free justice” are both contradictory and tempting mistakes, but these are mistakes that our very values compel us to make.
Justice obliges Liberals to favor expanding the State for the sake of ending injustice; while this occurs, the likelihood of Conservative and authoritarian backlash increases. If that backlash ever happens, there will already be present an expanded State for Conservative taking and authoritarian use: what was brought about for justice then becomes a tool of injustice. The best option seems to keep the State small and balanced, but this is precisely what justice will not allow us to accept. If we try to, our justice will cause existential anxiety, which very well may increase the likelihood of authoritarian backlash. Unless that is we can overcome ourselves, which is precisely in a democracy what we don’t have to do. Are we doomed from our left and from our right? Is there any forward or back? Why were we never taught that politics is psychologically and existentially difficult to tolerate? Why were we taught just “to be informed?” Didn’t that just make our plight worse.
Process makes necessary change existentially tolerable for a people to whom a complete lack of change is existentially intolerable. Process will help Liberals from existentially suffering under a Conservative administration and vice-versa, and yet both sides, when “their people” are in office, will necessarily view process as a threat to justice (and freedom), seeing as process impedes “their people” from doing what they want them to do (which, of course, is “the right thing to do”). Being against process is something both Liberals and Conservatives are likely to be when the process stands in their way, but when process is gone, authoritarianism becomes likely if not inevitable. When Conservatives oppose process, Liberals are likely to be outraged, which will likely tempt Conservatives to become even more authoritarian; likewise, when Liberals oppose process, Conservatives are likely to be furious, which will tempt Liberals to be more authoritarian. Feedback loops are likely where process is threatened, and justice would have us threaten process — unless that is we just give up on justice — unless that is humanity gives up its humanity. “The tragedy is us.”
Where there is no process, we cannot determine “the right balance” between “justice” and “givens” (and yet process can cause injustice and destabilize “givens’). “Process” is required whenever we are dealing with “trade-offs between competing goods” (or “tragedies”), because we cannot determine how to carry out the “trade-off” without a process. Yes, ultimately, certainty is impossible, and so we are always to some degree dealing with guessing, but not all guessing is equal, and the likelihood of us guessing well without a process is incredibly low (even if we get lucky here and there, the likelihood of such “guessing” proving sustainable is hard to imagine). Unfortunately, justice naturally opposes process, as justice naturally opposes “givens” (and, in a sense, we can think of “givens” as components of “the social process”). But this means justice naturally conflicts with the entities we need for social orders, and yet again I stress that a social order without justice would be oppressive and immoral. Considering this, I’m not sure if any “process” can save us from the cycles of history, because “process” seems to also be necessarily opposed by justice, just like “givens,” which brings us back to the dilemma we have noted in the last few sections. Is there a “process” which can stop the just deconstruction of process? That seems to be the question.
We mentioned before that a solution to the problems explored in “Belonging Again” can be for everyone to become “Deleuzian Individuals,” a kind of being who practices “a new way of thinking.” To be Deleuzian, Nietzschean, and the like, we have to transform our thinking in ways described throughout O.G. Rose, for where process fails individual thinking and philosophizing must “fill the hole.” But this is why “the death of skepticism” is such a massive problem as well: it would be one thing if processes and institutions died and we had “good thinking” to fall back on, but I’m afraid we currently have neither. This is explored across both “The Death of Process” and “The Death of Skepticism,” but the point is that our situation is dire.
Where skepticism is dead, we cannot question things without thinking that we are deconstructing them, and so thinking cannot help us find the right “balance” between “givens” and freedoms, because “givens” are automatically dismissed. And the same applies if we lack “processes”: we simply have no way to effectively organize social values. To point toward the overall project of O.G. Rose, we can see Belonging Again as exploring “the institutional and structural side” of this dilemma (“process”), while The True Isn’t the Rational explores “the epistemic and ontological side” (“skepticism”) — but more on that at another time.
As argued in The Conflict of Mind, “truth organizes values,” which is to say that what we believe is true determines what we believe is good, moral, loving, just, and the like. Even if we understood that “the true wasn’t the rational,” without process or thinking, determining truth would be improbable, for all we ultimately would have would be unstructured guessing. Values are powerful, notably love and justice, as described in “The (Trans)values of Justice and Love,” which is featured in The Map Is Indestructible by O.G. Rose. In that book, it is argued that we must learn epistemology and “how to think” so that these values aren’t “unbound” and end up causing chaos. Well, what applies on the individual level applies just as well on the social level: we need process and skepticism to contain values like justice, freedom, love, and the like from chaotic anarchy, deconstructing “givens,” unleashing radical existential anxiety, and so on. Unfortunately, it is the nature of values to conflict with process and skepticism. Values are part of the problem and what we need to manage our problems. We are the sources of the jokes played on us.
To achieve the intellectual skills and social processes we need to stop values from deconstructing us, we must fight through the values which would compel us against gaining those skills and processes (for none of us start with them), knowing all the while that a society without values would be totalitarian, oppressive, and horrible. How can we fight values without opposing them? Well, that would require intellectual skills and social processes to determine, which we cannot readily gain unless we fight through the values: we need what we gain by fighting values in order to fight values — a severe circular problem. “The Value Circle.”
¹Please note this “possibility” is very different from “the possible” of Benjamin Fondane, for this is the power of the State over us, versus a power based on possibility that could empower us from within.
²Making Sense of Modern Times. Edited by James Davison Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay. Excursus: The Problem of Freedom by Donald L. Redfoot. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul Inc., 1986: 110.
³To allude to Heidegger, government is supposed to be like a “doorknob” that we only notice when it’s “broken.” Normally, we’re supposed to live our life using it and needing it but not thinking about it. If we’re thinking about it, something is wrong.