“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Monday, October 5, 2015


"Barack Obama only acts with regard to his legacy. He doesn't act morally."

Naomi Klein said this today, on Democracy Now, and I've heard it elsewhere.

Moral actions are judged good or bad after they have been done.

Acting morally means you act with a regard to how the action turns out.

One way an action turns out is that it is judged.

So there is no functional difference between acting morally and acting with regard to your legacy.

The only way I can make them different is to bring in something monotheistic such as the strictures against pride (can't have people aping the god-King).

In this case acting with regard to your legacy is acting proudly.

What is being said here is not left wing. It is only a monotheism retweet.

What we are probably dealing with (North American thinkers) is Puritan rubbernecking.

Democracy Now was encouraging people to rubberneck puritanically.

So as I've often said, this isn't progressive. This is a bad case of beautiful soul syndrome.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your first two sentences are in quotes, indicating that Klein said those exact sentences. The trouble is, she didn't say that.

She was comparing the leadership of the Pope (the way he rushes around on a breakneck tour to tell humans that they're not more important than other life forms) to Obama's leadership (the way he talks about climate change as if he's fighting it, while telling the oil companies they may certainly go up to the Arctic and drill, baby, drill).

When Americans talk about the "legacies" of presidents, they're not talking about the actual effects of those presidents' administrations. They're talking about what history says: how great a president Reagan and Nixon were, for instance. In that sense, Tim, yes, there is a VERY big difference between that and acting morally. A British parallel would be Iron Lady, that movie about what a hero Maggie Thatcher was.

You're not allowed to have different standards for American presidents vs. British prime ministers, Tim. "Iron Lady" is Thatcher's "legacy" in the American political sense. The legacy YOU are talking about is the actual effect her actions had on Britain and the world, which you decry on this blog almost daily, and quite rightly.

I think worshipping celebrities (which is basically what presidents are) because they stand there and say nice things is indicative of a somewhat more obvious pathology than "North American Puritanism". It's also inappropriate and inaccurate to categorize a Canadian as "Puritan": Canada doesn't have a Puritan heritage like New England: they have an Acadian heritage, and that's very, very different.

If you were paying any attention to that DN! broadcast, you would have noted a couple of other things Klein said: the kind of political change that's happening in Canada (and why couldn't your dear Barack just say "no" to Shell?), the triumph of a bunch of kayakers in spite of Barack's toadying...

...and perhaps most importantly, some Object-Oriented thought that could have come straight out of Realist Magic. Did you notice the part where she talked about the multi-layered influences on the Syrian crisis? It's practically an echo of your critique of "clunk causality"!

I don't agree with everything Klein said, either, but she's a celebrity too and has her script to read. But when I heard her talk about Syria, I went online and sent her a link and a recommendation to read Realist Magic.

I think Graham Harman is right when he says that philosophy and politics don't mix. I agree with it because every time I've seen anyone try to do it, they NEVER change the politics to fit the philosophy: they change the philosophy to fit the politics. This reduces the philosopher to some kind of pandit (or pundit, as we say here), cheering on whatever leader, group or cause happens to be most attractive to the philosopher in spite of glaring incompatibilities between the politics and the philosophy.

As a friend, let me adjure you, PLEASE don't do these horrible things to yourself. I'm not trying to undermine you, but on the other hand, I think that in this case your style could use a little cramping.