Thursday, April 8, 2010

Polemics I: Politics

Ann Coulter spoke in Calgary a couple weeks ago. Ranting, raving, carrying on, clutching a few guillable suckers close to her wizened bosom and drawing a few (25 or so) guillable suckers outside of her talk to protest her supposed hate speech. So what did the people who listened to her speak and those who protested her speaking have in common?

By either showing up to hear what she had to say or by showing up to stand in solidarity against the tyranny of her loose-cannon, paranoid xenophobia, the effect is the same: either approach demonstrates a tacit acceptance that Coulter is presenting a valid political perspective. The real danger of people like Ann Coulter isn't that they will inform public policy, but rather that they degenerate and corrupt popular conceptions of politics, and in so doing, undermine the basis of democratic decision-making.

Let's be honest about what Ann Coulter represents: she is a vulgar product of the same commodity culture that has profited wildly from keeping the general citizenry uninformed about politics. She is no more a political theorist than I am a Vietnamese horticulturist. Coulter and her ilk are to politics what late-night TV ads are to science, consistently reaching for the lowest-common denominator, lowering the popular expectations to cheap, immediate entertainment with no lasting significance. These are Slap-Chop Politics.

The old opiate of the masses was the promise of heavenly reward for earthly misery, the new opiate of the masses is the promise of material success stacked up against the twin threats of the permissive "liberal media" and the phantasmagoric leviathan of big government. Along the way, terms like "liberal" and "conservative" are so freely and inaccurately applied that they lose their rich historical meaning and become empty signifiers, only to be defined through their shallow inclusion in base, petty invective. Liberalism, in the sense of the preservation of individual rights and liberties, and economic liberalism, or homo economicus' right to free markets, are undifferentiated, and we are all poorer (and more confused) for it. Indeed, contemporary politics are nothing if not confusing, and through their confusion, disempowering for anyone with a desire to alter the twin status quo of neoliberal capitalism and liberal democracy. Popular North American politics have conflated the neoconservative drive to preserve the Christian tradition and American exceptionalism with the neoliberal lust for free, unregulated markets, leaving an unprepared Left fighting uphill against an increasingly monolithic set of political assumptions, becoming more deeply entrenched over time through institutional configurations and social relations.

Plato's allegory of the cave is instructive here: we have mistaken the flickering shadows of network television sniping as valid political thought, losing sight of the interest groups funding these networks and busily undertaking Raymond William's "selective tradition", choosing which cultural symbols will be valued and lionized, and which will be ignored. These shadows obfuscate power relations by simplifying and degenerating political ontologies and discourses. If many people were to be shown that the spectrum of political thought extends far beyond the simple continuum of Liberalism <---------> Conservatism it might disrupt the prominent role that vested media interests play in shaping culture industries, aesthetic tastes, and political discourses. Of course, we have no-one to blame but ourselves for descending into the cave in the first place. Come outside, polities of the West: we have nothing to lose but the chains of ignorance and albatross of political degeneracy.

Indulgences: Sparkmarker - Products and Accessories, Method Man, Ghostface Killah & Raekwon - The Wu-Massacre, Barkmarket - L Ron, Mike Davis - Planet of Slums, Aerosols - 1st LP, Veins - S/T, Drive Like Jehu - Hand Over Fist/Bullet Train to Vegas, Poser Disposer - Waiting to Inhale


  1. On your statement:

    'The real danger of people like Ann Coulter isn't that they will inform public policy, but rather that they degenerate and corrupt popular conceptions of politics, and in so doing, undermine the basis of democratic decision-making'

    Or you could look at it this way:

    The presence of Ann Coulter does not corrupt popular conception of politics: she re-enforces the core idea of democracy, which is fair and free elections. If she were subjugated somehow, democracy would have failed. Therefore, Coulter has to exist for Democracy to exist as a reasonable form of government.

    Much the same as Wings exist because The Beatles exist: its not a matter of quality, rathermore a necessary fact that cannot be avoided.

    Merely tolerated.

  2. I respectfully disagree. Democracy is premised on the idea of enlightened, informed decision-making, which is impossible when both populist accounts of politics and choice in political parties are binarised into two poles increasingly abstracted from their historical context: Fox News or MSNBC, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, coke or pepsi.

    The entire political system has been corrupted by its tacit acceptance of the neoliberal mantra, coined by Thatcher, that "there is no alternative" to liberal democracy and free-market capitalism. Democracy in America (and the UK as well) is a neoliberal fiction, and Ann Coulter represents that fiction rather nicely.