By Any Means Necessary

Laws will not save the oppressed. Only power. Pompeo’s statements on Israeli settlements remind us once again that laws without power are toothless. The liberal delusion is that if we submit ourselves to the law, we will arrive at a neutral, self-correcting system. What liberals don’t tell you is that in order to assert the rule of law, it must be enforced by a powerful entity — the state. This entity must be more powerful than you and me. It surveils and confines our dissent to that which is least threatening to the liberal state and its laws. This is why MLK Jr, Malcolm X, leftists, and feminists were sabotaged by the FBI (COINTELPRO), but capitalists and white supremacists were allowed to have an outsized influence.

COINTELPRO is a great example of the priorities of the liberal state, because around the same time another famous scandal occurred: Watergate. Most people have heard of Watergate, but not COINTELPRO. Watergate is basically one half of business elites spying on the other half of business elites. What a scandal! On the other hand, the world’s most powerful government spies on its own citizens, wrongfully imprisons them, smears individuals and groups by planting false reports, arms fascists militia groups to suppress them, and resorts to violence including assassinations? Most people have never heard of it. This is COINTELPRO, and many of these tactics are still used and practiced today. Inarguably, this is much more serious than Watergate. However, the victims of COINTELPRO did not have the state or the law on its side. It doesn’t matter that the FBI broke the law in many cases. The law doesn’t come from nowhere; it comes from the state — and states have interests. Under capitalism, states are run by business elites and their servants. There is no disinterested state or party in politics. Centrism just means the interests of certain business elites.

If we look at politics in this way, Trump’s statements on Israeli settlements is quite revealing. Liberalism’s conceit is over. The right has long abandoned the pretensions of liberals politics. Liberals who follow the law, rather than create them; liberals who decry Trump’s illegal gestures, but ignore the much larger cost of his legal wrongdoings; liberals who believe in compromise with capitalists and fascists; are toothless in facing a foe that plays outside the rules. How are liberals going to check Trump’s brazen disregard of international law with regards to Israeli settlements? Shame him? Convince the US government that has been largely complicit with Israeli violence to suddenly change its mind? Liberals have no answer. The same can be said about virtually every significant issue. We cannot compromise on climate change. There is no time. You cannot be pro-immigrant, if you follow the law and deport millions like Obama. The laws need to change, and our perspectives must be challenged — transformed.

In order to do so, we must come together and exercise our power. Agendas must be set by us, the people, not passed down to us by lawmakers and their donors. These agendas will be unfamiliar and uncertain. This is just the nature of life. Those with a future have multiple paths and embrace the uncertainty that accompanies change. In contrast, the certainty of death is what awaits us under capitalism. Everything always appears so certain and measurable, because capitalism rejects radical transformation. It rejects futurity altogether. There are always cracks of potential and movement within the illusion, of course. For example, the rise of Bernie Sanders and the supposed certainty of Hillary’s victory. Instead of treating these cracks as aberrant, we must regard the illusion itself as pathological. These cracks are opportunities, and we better catch onto ‘em quick, because the certainty of death is looming larger than ever. If liberals get in our way, we must confront them with everything we have. We must gather the power to transform the world. Do not be hampered by liberal sensibilities in your quest for power. As Malcolm X often said, “by any means necessary.”

To be violated by the other

Multiculturalism, as practiced by liberals, is like diet coke. Liberals want to have tolerance without disturbance. They want to embrace the other without risk. They want love without uncertainty. They yearn for capitalism with a human face, without inequality and exploitation.
 
Love is predicated upon the negativity of the other. Love begins with the act of falling, which entails negativity — the other, the unknown. By the same token, embracing immigrants must be a painful act. It requires confrontation with a different notion of human, economy, gender, and history. You cannot understand immigrants without understanding terrorism. You cannot embrace immigrants without embracing their violence.
 
To live together is to cope with each other. In the end, you may not “agree” with some of their violence. Nonetheless, there is a difference between living with the other and choosing to be next to the other when convenient. Liberals always choose the latter. I will accept immigrants, but I won’t live next to them or speak their language. I will pick and choose which aspects to embrace.
 
Living together requires violence. It must hurt both physically and psychologically. You do not pick and choose your family. Living together under democracy requires a familial bond, rather than a group of disjointed, self-interested consumers. A good fight with a family member transforms your understanding of them and yourself. In this way, multiculturalism must be a transformative act.
 
Co-habitation is a radical gesture that transforms all parties. For example, the re-unification of Korea would fundamentally transform both Korea’s. Too often, many argue for re-unification along economic lines. That a re-unified Korea will become a major economic power. However, this argument misses the radical potential of re-unification. Re-unification means that we, Koreans, now live outside the shadow of major powers. It means that we get to forge a new path as new people. We will need to change our language, history, and politics. Everyone needs to change in a re-unified Korea. It will be a painful process, and it won’t always be pretty. Nevertheless, it is worthy, because it is a radical and transformative step forward. Instead of repeating the history of division and conflict, we have a chance to create a history of re-conciliation.
 
In the same vein, diversity in America is not an act of charity. It is a leap towards the future. It is an act of transformation for both Americans and immigrants. Unfortunately, diversity is, nowadays, understood by liberal capitalist terms. Under such terms, diversity is an act of charity or a consumer good. The immigrant will always be judged by the liberal human: do you understand our manners? are you non-violent? Anything that disturbs the liberal capitalist norm will be re-packaged into a consumer good. Various acts of violence will be sold as terrorism or “consequences of american interventions.” Islam will be reduced to either “barbarism” or “just like Christianity.” The complexities of violence or religion are lost, only memes and sound-bites remain. We will not be challenged by different conceptions of religion or violence. Instead, we will merely judge them on our terms. This is a society without love. It is a pornographic society that produces sameness. There is no future for such a society. Time does not flow; it lingers. Perhaps, it is time for us to restart the flow of time. To embark on a future that is essentially unknown, uncharted, and unexplored.

Fox News, Vox, Capitalism

Vox makes a good point: Fox News is a freak show. It’s a chapter from a dystopian novel. Unabashed racism, sexism, partisan hackery, and distorted facts. Unsurprisingly, Vox wishes to return to the past, when news show hosts like Sean Hannity didn’t openly campaign for a political party. But, my question is this: didn’t the past lead to the present?

Liberal democracy requires its participants to have faith in its process. To believe in the neutrality of the system. A privately owned, partisan “news” network like Fox News must abstain from pursuing partisan hackery from the good of its heart. A private corporation must assume neutrality rather than maximize profit. Perhaps, that is where the problem lies. FoxNews is not the only network that enabled Trump because he generated a lot of views. CNN and MSNBC hopped on the Trump train as well. The media under capitalism is addicted to controversy and sensationalism.

Certainly, our past news networks were less polarized. Fox News is a turning point. Yet, did it make a categorical difference? USS Maine. The Chinese Exclusion Act. Martin Luther King Jr. Angela Davis. The Black Panther Party. The media represented them as the controversy and sensationalism of the time. FoxNews certainly opened a new era of unabashed FakeNews. Yet, I cannot say that a privately owned media network in a racist, capitalist nation does not possess the seeds of Fox News. Similarly, fascism forever haunts capitalism as a specter.

Private corporations pursue profit rather than the liberal ideal of neutrality. Capitalism itself is opposed to the public good. Maybe, we need to question the nature of these networks owned by billionaires. Perhaps, large, private media networks should be converted to be more public and democratic? More radical than NPR and PBS which are rather largely private. If we do not want to repeat the past and the present, perhaps we should move towards the future. It won’t be perfect at first. We might just hear what we like. Democracy ain’t easy. Democracy is the difficult project of learning to build the future together. To make political decisions together. To make sure we hear the truth. To share a common life. Liberal democracy expects us to make decisions together while living separately as individual consumers.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Cijh3bdxwmE&feature=youtu.be

Gordon Ramsay = Donald Trump

Gordon Ramsay is just like Donald Trump. Maybe even worse, because many liberals regard his old fashioned capitalist authoritarianism as some kind of “realness.” The boss talks down the workers, who must simply obey and listen to their boss who “knows better.” The managerial class of capitalism knows better than the “uneducated” working class. Listen to the economists who gave us the 2008 recession. They still know better than the “unruly” mass.

But, Gordon Ramsay is a Michelin star chef! Yes, a star chef who mostly runs shit chain restaurants, with a few fancy ones for rich people. In fact, he’s no longer a chef. He’s a businessman. A celebrity CEO like Donald Trump. He isn’t really a working chef anymore; moreover, prestige and mastery do not warrant sexism and body shaming. Some might respond:  “well, that’s just how it is in the cooking industry.” But, this is not really a response, because bullying workers was just how it worked in the factory too. It doesn’t mean we should keep allowing it to happen,

I understand the appeal of Trump and Ramsay. They’re a departure from the faux respect of 21st century capitalism. Workers are still subordinate to their boss, yet they cannot regard that relationship as exploitation anymore. The boss is a “relatable” person who cares about their workers. We all know, deep down, that the corporate structure cannot produce a genuine relationship between a worker and their boss without power dynamics. Yet, we have to pretend that capitalism now has a human face. Trump and Ramsay break apart that illusion. They give us the “real” face of capitalism.

However, it is dangerous to conflate their “realness” with reality. The reality is that a Trumpian CEO exploits us just as much as, or perhaps even more than, the CEO with a human face. Trump and Ramsay reap most of the profits of their businesses, while their workers — who produce most of the profit— make, more or less, minimum wage. Exploitation is still exploitation. The hyperreality of Ramsay is surely intoxicating. I am often entertained by Ramsay yelling at his contestants too. Our dull lives are shocked by the old face of capitalism. We escape into reality TV, because its hyperreality feels more “real” than the monotous lives of late capitalism. We live in the age of Francis Fukuyama, who proclaimed that welfare capitalism is the end of history. There is no system beyond capitalism; effectively, it means we have no future.

A society without a future is dull, because it has no vision. Our attempts to “fix” our problems always invoke the “good old past:” MAGA or New Deal Capitalism. Accordingly, the workplace has no future. It’s an everlasting present, in which we work from 9 to 5. Like a clock, it ticks the same way over and over again. You cannot care about a life that escapes the flow of time. Death and the uncertainty of the future make us care. This is why we need to be shocked into a semblance of caring through reality TV. Nonetheless, it is important to note that caring about hyperrality is distinct from caring about our actual lives. Trump or Ramsay as your real boss might not be so exciting. Furthermore, hyperrality does not have a future. It is a recording of staged events. Perhaps, it is time for us to reckon with our atemporal lives. To bestow upon it a future. The best things in life require uncertainty. Love is the act of falling for the other. To succumb to uncertainty. Similarly, caring requires us to head towards the future. Perhaps, it is time to be shocked by uncertainty rather than hyperreality.

Neither Free Trade nor Protectionism

Richard Wolff reminds us that Free Trade vs. Protectionism is ultimately a futile debate. It’s like Coke or Pepsi. Both sides have been used by big industries for their own gain, because that’s how capitalism functions. Capitalism, in any kind of trade, begets a system of inequality and labor exploitation. In other words, the means of production are private.

I have criticized free trade, not because I’m fundamentally on the side of protectionism. After all, I am not a capitalist. Plus, it would make me enthusiastic about Trump — I am not. Rather, like Ha Joon Hang, I am trying to criticize the mantra of free trade as panacea. History paints a complex picture, in which both free trade and protectionism were employed to develop economies. In fact, 19th century US and 20th century South Korea could not be characterized as anything other than protectionist.

The mainstream media portrays free trade as “the gold standard,”because that’s what capitalists want at the moment. Economists will give you “data” that shows you free trade HELPS THE POOR THE MOST. Yes, if you’re poor, any amount of money from trade is a lot compared to before! Yet, these economists omit the fact that, for example, liberalized India and China are seeing historic levels of inequality. Unsurprisingly, a free trade lobbyist of 40 years, confesses that he had never mentioned american jobs or poverty in a meeting. Like I said, it’s good old capitalism that’s the problem.

Wolff makes a great point at the end that we should be part of the debate, nonetheless. More precisely, we should use the debate for our cause. This is why I have attempted to weigh in on the debate. Contrary to the Washington Consensus, developing nations have more than one option. Protectionism is a viable option for a developing nation, if it’s done right, in tandem with appropriate levels of liberalization. Most importantly, they should doubt the trifecta of bad faith: the World Bank, IMF, and WTO. You don’t have to privatize water like Latin America, and descend to a dystopian present. Patents mostly benefit large corporations; copying and reverse-engineering are essential to any skill, art, or science. Property is a man-made myth; don’t believe it like gravity. Don’t get swept up by the mantra of free trade, because capitalism is fundamentally unconcerned with your well-being. My hope is that criticizing the mantra of free trade and sowing seeds of doubt for the global economic order will lead to a rejection of the capitalist system.

John Oliver, Facebook, the Printing Press, and Capitalism

John Oliver and many others are criticizing Facebook for effectively spreading hate and fake news. Indisputable at this point. Furthermore, I don’t think it’s good for one’s health. Nonetheless, I feel like they’re missing the point.

The printing press under capitalism has always been broken. One of the first major jobs of the printing press was the witch-hunt. They effectively spread the paranoia of witches to corners of Europe that were rather unaffected. Historian Silvia Federici has pointed out the undeniable link between the witch hunts and capitalism (Caliban and the Witch). There was a reason why the witch hunts were most severe in areas with mass land privatization, whereas those with communal ownership suffered close to none. The printing press was an effective tool for the capitalist genocide of women. Accordingly, the printing press and later corporate media have been spreading hate and fake news for the sake of capitalism. This is why Iraq had WMD’s, women were witches, black men were rapists, North Korea is crazy, and Edward Snowden is a Russian spy.

Eliminating Facebook is not going to fundamentally change this dynamic. Fox News still exists. YouTube helped Alex Jones more than Facebook. YouTube and Reddit have been fueling far-right channels, in some respect, far more effectively than Facebook. CNN and MSNBC lie all the time. Children in Yemen will never matter more than Trump’s toupee under capitalism. Facebook would not exist if not for capitalism.

Facebook deserves criticism. I am not trying to deny that. Rather, my issue is that too many stop at just that. I think there is a clear reason for this. John Oliver is a descendant of the printing press, beholden to capitalist interests. His show is run by a large corporation and is dependent on social media; thus, it cannot question certain matters. This is why John Oliver is a liberal darling.

Last but not least, is Facebook truly a radical step towards unhappiness and lack of human connection? Before Facebook, there was Fox News and the mainstream media in general. Before Facebook, we didn’t talk to our neighbors. Before Facebook, we wanted to sell our bodies and personas to become celebrities. Before Facebook, every aspect of our lives were advertised and commodified. Structurally speaking, there wasn’t a big difference. Facebook simply amplified these problems. We can become mini-celebrities on Facebook. Our everyday lives are now the products next to advertisements. We are still unhappy. Instead of watching TV, we scroll through the blue, Facebook wall. We still work most of our lives without much time for meaningful connection. We are still brainwashed by the media. What’s so radically different? Perhaps I might’ve missed a few radical elements. Nonetheless, I think my point still stands: a lot has not changed and we are not speaking against those aspects because of capitalist ideology.

Veganism, Christianity, and Capitalism

It’s great if you can be totally vegan. But, these are the facts: 84% of vegans and vegetarians return to meat. We live in a society that is built on cheap meat, factory farming, labor exploitation, etc. An individual can only do so much to alter such structural issues. This is why I actually think a utilitarian model of veganism is more effective than “animal rights.” Rights are derived from Enlightenment thinkers like Kant and Locke, who echo their Christian upbringing. Christianity, by this point, was shaped and molded by capitalism. They already had a conception of being “on time,” of the bureaucracy, and of the factory. There were “rules” that needed to be enforced, and they were “absolutely inviolable.” A recipe for disaster. Hannah Arendt rightfully pointed out the critical flaws of “rights” with regards to the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, I don’t think utilitarianism is the answer. There is no clear answer. This is a political and ethical issue. We require a radical departure from ordinary diet, which cannot be fully mapped out and imagined in the present. We are not going back to hunter-gatherer societies — or a vegan utopia that strangely resembles the present with capitalism and all that (I mean, they’re asking us to fight capitalism with capitalist consumption!) Just like our need to radically depart from capitalism, the patriarchy, and white supremacy, the future is uncertain and beyond our myopic imagination. It is not our fault that we have a stunted imagination. Neoliberalism did this to us. We were conditioned to be nostalgic over the future that never happened. We were conditioned to find the present fatalistic. It robbed of us our ability to imagine the future. Yet, it is up to us to dream and imagine. To live and eat differently. So different that it is unrecognizable, unintuitive. To this aim, we should merely use relics of the past like rights or utilitarianism as mere tools, rather than as ends in and of themselves.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/animals-and-us/201412/84-vegetarians-and-vegans-return-meat-why

Bernie Sanders, North Korea, Fear-mongering

Recently, Bernie Sanders has criticized Trump for talking up North Korea, accusing him of harboring admiration for dictators. Such criticisms are everywhere nowadays. I have a problem with Bernie Sanders’ approach to this issue. We were always at war with North Korea. Sanctions are not meant as a surgical blow against the leadership of any country, they’re meant as a general destabilizing strategy aimed at making life so unlivable, that in theory they might rise up against their leadership. It is considered by military experts as a “soft-war” strategy. In the course of US-SK military drills, the most advanced bombers in history, stealth B-2s and B-52s, carried out simulated nuclear bombing attacks right on North Korea’s borders. In 1994, Bill Clinton almost bombed a nuclear facility in North Korea. George W. Bush provoked North Korea by putting it in the “Axis of Evil,” and then pressured banks to freeze all North Korean transactions, including legitimate trade. Trump tweeted about nuclear Armageddon a few months ago. We were always at war.

Then, Trump met with Kim Jong Un. This is the greatest step towards world peace in my life time. Yet, Bernie Sanders’ priority is to lump North Korea together with Saudi Arabia and Russia, while perpetuating the stereotype that North Korea is irrational, violent, and dangerous. First, this doesn’t even make sense logically. Saudi Arabia was always on America’s good side. Just a few months ago, Trump was calling the North Korean leader Rocket Man on Twitter. They cannot be grouped together as part of a trend. Second, this same rhetoric was used by Bush to put NK in the “Axis of Evil.” It was also used in South Korea to drive up nuclear tension to an unprecedented level. Bernie Sanders is more concerned with the partisan politics of deposing Trump by calling him a dictator than world peace.

What makes this worse is that Sanders knows how his criticism is going to be received by the Liberal base. Rachel Maddow is selling conspiracy theories about Russia controlling this entire peace process. U.S. Democratic Socialists are spreading false memes about North Korea’s track record on denuclearization pledges (they didn’t drop out, because they’re crazy; Bush called them the “Axis of Evil” and didn’t live up to his side of the promise.) Political cartoons of Kim Jong Un as a chink with a tiny penis is spreading everywhere. Some Liberals are claiming that Trump should have criticized Kim at the summit; some even think he should have been arrested. It is dangerous for half of America to lose sight of the importance of this meeting.

Plus, there is no evidence that Trump is trying to be a dictator. Franklin Roosevelt celebrated Joseph Stalin as “truly representative of the heart and soul of Russia.” Richard Nixon, in a toast on his historic first trip to China, compared Mao Zedong and the communist leadership to George Washington and the other leaders of the American revolution. Ronald Reagan was equally enthusiastic about Rios Montt, the genocidal president of Guatemala. “I know that President Rios Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment,” Reagan said in 1982.

Do not lose sight of what is important. Do not let your base fall into jingoistic paranoia. Instead of merely criticizing this meeting, Dems should be adding to the greatest step towards peace. America is the most important piece of this puzzle. The US army is there, the sanctions are killing NK, and the US controls the South Korean military. America cannot be so divided on this issue. John McCain and many conservatives despise this deal. Dems cannot be another source of division. I have a sense that they want this to fail. I expected better from Bernie Sanders.

 

After Virtue

We are in a moral crisis. The unending arguments over abortion, health care, and gun control are symptoms of the flaws of modernity according to the philosopher Alasdair McIntyre. Modernity is a fragmented version of Aristotelian ethics; it demands an individualist worldview, despite the fact that our culture and vocabulary reflect a communitarian heritage. What this means is that our endless arguments stem from the fact that we lack a shared conception of the good; in other words, our moral systems are incommensurable. For instance, the central conflict between Kantianism and Utilitarianism is not that either is logically inconsistent; rather, it stems from the fact that each theory has a different conception of the good.

Both theories, in their best versions, follow logically from their stated premises; the problem is that these premises are merely stated. After realizing the heterogeneity of pleasures, the great utilitarian Henry Sidgwick concluded that moral beliefs couldn’t be argued and must be merely accepted —just trust your intuitions! Immanuel Kant argued that a rational agent is logically committed to the rules of morality in virtue of their rationality; in order to practice reason, one must possess the freedom and well being necessary for rational agency. This led Kant to the conclusion that one is entitled to such freedom and well being. Although it is logically necessary to possess such freedom and well being to practice reason, it does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that one is entitled to them. This is merely asserted by Kant. According to MacIntyre, Utilitarianism and Kantianism’s fundamental premises are merely stated in this way. This is why the arguments between the two are endless: they are fundamentally incommensurable.

After Virtue is primarily a diagnosis of this moral crisis. It analyzes various aspects of our culture, language, and society to demonstrate that modernity is indeed a fragmented version of Aristotelian ethics; furthermore, it argues that the inventions of modernity such as emotivism and individualism are the root causes of our moral predicament. One of the most striking features of the book is its analysis of modern social roles. The defining character of modernity is that of a bureaucratic manager. A manager pretends to be effective and morally neutral; a manager adjusts the means to ends in the most economically efficient manner. Plus, managerial expertise requires a set of law-like generalizations to justify the manager. Unsurprisingly, one can easily spot the manager: Liberalism pretends to be effective and morally neutral, Liberalism privileges economic methodologies and conceptions, and the Enlightenment fetishizes law-like generalizations. The most interesting aspect of the manager, in my opinion, is McIntyre’s discussion on the fetishization of law-like generalizations.

This fetish is particularly apparent in the social sciences; they present themselves as providing law-like generalizations, despite the lack of evidence and predictability that is characteristic of those fields. Unlike most scientists who follow the Enlightenment, McIntyre contends that the worth of a scientific discipline is not determined by its predictive power. He believes that this is the wrong criterion by which to judge the success of the social sciences, because their subject is vastly more complicated and unpredictable: language, groups of persons, entire nations, and the global market. They cannot make predictions and generalizations that are nearly as strong as those made by Physics or Biology; even the strongest arguments have counter-examples.

For example, two of the most famous studies in sociology do not follow the Popperian model of falsification. First, James C. Davies’s famous thesis in 1962 generalizes Tocqueville’s observation that the French Revolution occurred when a period of rising and, to some degree, gratified expectations was followed by a period of set-back when expectations continued to rise and were sharply disappointed.  Second, Rosalind and Ivo Feierabend (1966) generalized that the most and least modernized societies are the most stable and least violent, whereas those at midpoint in the approach to modernity are most liable to instability and political violence. There exist many counter-examples to both: Russian and Chinese Revolutions to Davies, and Political Violence in Latin America to Feierabend’s. Nonetheless, such counter-examples do not refute their status as salient generalizations in Sociology. There exist no counter-factuals that ultimately refute a generalization.

This is not a fact that cheapens these disciplines. It merely reflects just how complicated human beings are. We are intentional beings that can choose one act over another. Choice creates unpredictability. All of this is then further complicated by the fact that we are social and linguistic beings. We have to figure out how complex beings interact with each other unpredictably in complex structures like the market, the state, and language. It would be impudent of Social Scientists to expect the law-like generalizations one encounters in Science. This is why McIntyre argues that it is wrong to expect law-like generalizations regarding sociology, politics, and so on.

Why is it then that we fetishize such law-like generalizations? As I briefly mentioned above, it is tied to the philosophical framework assumed by modernity; that is, modernity’s attachment to the ideal of the bureaucratic manager. Under the bureaucracy of modernity, moral beliefs are treated as inconvenient features of persons that function far better when they are managed by an “efficient” and “economically practical” bureaucracy. The manager justifies their position by insisting that they have law-like generalizations regarding human nature and social institutions; furthermore, they boast that they can provide an efficient governing of a pluralist society without privileging one good over another. However, modernity does, in fact, assume a set of goods that are disguised as morally neutral; the philosopher Michael Sandel lays out a number of such goods in his great book, What Money Can’t Buy.

Modernity cannot make law-like generalizations, yet we obey its tenets without much argument; we argue within the confines of modernity that were designed to be endless. McIntyre suggests that we look to the past for answers to our problems. Across several chapters, McIntyre sketches the moral framework of past societies ranging from the Greeks to Medieval Christians. What they all had in common was a shared conception of the good. Such goods like prudence, justice, and courage were achieved through the virtues that are human qualities acquired through practice. Furthermore, they recognized that a person is embedded in a social context: I am a son, a citizen, and a musician. Personal identity is a narrative that unifies one’s life from past to present, and my narrative is embedded in other narrative such as family, school, and friendship.

The problem of modernity is not only that it brings about endless arguments, but also that it is incompatible with our ordinary intuitions. We come from a past, in which our obligations and personal identity are constituted by the social context to which we belong. My community consumes most of my actions and thoughts; I act and think as a student and a family member, rather than a rational agent with his or her individual interests. When we judge a person’s character, we judge them by, more or less, a table of virtues, rather than whether they follow the categorical imperative or whether they pass the utilitarian calculus. The project of modernity is doomed to fail, because it cannot dissipate our communitarian past with its endless arguments and managerial fetish.

After Virtue turned out to be far more damning in its criticism than I anticipated. For the numerous Kantians and Utilitarians out there, this will be a group of pointed criticisms; one will not only find attacks on Kant and Sidgwick, but also criticisms of Rawls and Nozick. Indeed, this book is highly political; it analyzes Marx and Weber within the framework of the book’s communitarian argument. For my Marxist friends, this is not an easy read. Despite McIntyre’s admiration of Marx, he believes that Marx and his followers ultimately fall under the same moral framework that he takes down in this book. This is very much true in my own experience. Marxists have great criticisms of the managerial and bureaucratic aspects of Capitalism and Liberalism; yet, their solutions to Capitalism always end up Kantian or Utilitarian. It is either to follow an abstract principle of universality, or “to achieve communism by any means necessary.” What this suggests is that the faults of Capitalism and Liberalism are not merely economic and political: the error is modernity itself. By rejecting the Aristotelian system of virtues, any project is destined to fail no matter what social or economic structure they adopt. Undoubtedly, this is McIntyre’s deadliest gesture, because it indicates a deep pessimism about the project of modernity as a whole. As he discusses Trotsky’s later writings and his pessimism towards a communist future, McIntyre asks us to not fall into pessimism —it does not logically follow that we have no way out! But, the reader comes away with a dreadful feeling that we might never resolve the moral crisis; Aristotle has been dead for thousands of years.

 

The Problem of Gun Control

The fundamental problem with gun control is that it is not about saving lives. It is not about numbers. The Right understands this and made this an issue of freedom and self-defense. You cannot argue against values with facts. For example, “theft is good” cannot be merely refuted by the fact that the person being robbed is hurt or feels bad. Even if the victims were numerous. This is a mere fact. What occurs, instead, is that we impose a value judgment onto these facts when we say, “what happened to that person is wrong.” This value judgment would be along the lines of “It is wrong to hurt a person,” or “It is wrong to steal.” This happens simultaneously with the input of facts. This is why we feel like we are not making value judgments. All facts are theory-laden:

“The twentieth-century observer looks into the night sky and sees stars and planets; some earlier observers saw instead chinks in a sphere through which the light beyond could be observed. What each observer takes himself or herself to perceive is identified and has to be identified by theory-laden concepts.” — Alasdair MacIntyre

Too often, Liberals make this a problem of data and ignorance of the Social Sciences. This stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the Social Sciences. The Social Sciences deal with the most complicated subjects of analysis: society, economy, human beings, political institutions, etc. They cannot make predictions and generalizations that are nearly as strong as those made by Physics or Biology. Even the strongest arguments have counter-examples, as observed by the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. For example, two of the most famous studies in Sociology do not follow the Popperian model of falsification. First, James C. Davies’s famous thesis in 1962 generalizes Tocqueville’s observation that the French Revolution occurred when a period of rising and to some degree gratified expectations was followed by a period of set-back when expectations continued to rise and were sharply disappointed.  Second, Rosalind and Ivo Feierabend (1966) generalized that the most and least modernized societies are the most stable and least violent, whereas those at midpoint in the approach to modernity are most liable to instability and political violence. There exist many counter-examples to both: Russian and Chinese Revolutions to Davies, and Political Violence in Latin America to Feierabend’s. Nonetheless, such counter-examples do not refute their status as salient generalizations in Sociology. There exist no counter-factuals that ultimately refute a generalization.

This is not a fact that cheapens these disciplines. It merely reflects just how complicated human beings are. We are intentional beings that can choose one act over another. Choice creates unpredictability. All of this is then further complicated by the fact that we are social and linguistic beings. We have to figure out how complex beings interact with each other unpredictably in complex structures like the market, the state, and language. It would be impudent of Social Scientists to expect the law-like generalizations one encounters in Science.

Such confusion produces a breeding ground for never-ending feuds between disparate interpretations. Within our ordinary lives, facts are supposed to be privileged by whether or not they have counter-factuals. For instance, a conclusion with ample evidence safe from counter-factuals is privileged over one with scant evidence and plenty of counter-factuals. Yet, the Social Sciences can only produce facts with counter-factuals. This contradicts our ordinary intuition regarding facts. None of these generalizations about society and persons can assert itself as law-like. We need to make an extra leap in conceptual gymnastics to feel at ease in the epistemic landscape of the Social Sciences. Coupled with the great incentive for political machines to insert propaganda and tribal skepticism, there appears to be no hope for resolution and synthesis.

This is why we must escape the world of facts and counter-factuals: we must explore the terrains of normativity. The problem of gun control is already ripe with normativity: Why do we have such an intimate relationship with lethal weapons that are primarily used to kill other human beings? What does this say about our relationship with death? Or human lives? Is this the right environment to foster a child? Is this even conducive to freedom and democracy? As the Philosopher, DeBrabander aptly put it: “As ever more people are armed in public — even brandishing weapons on the street — this is no longer recognizable as a civil society. Freedom is vanished at that point. … An armed society is polite, by [the NRA’s] thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening.” Freedom of speech becomes obsolete in such a society, which is essential for democracy.

Not only does gun control harbor plenty of normative content, it is also more conducive to normative evaluation. Values are not treated like facts (Black and White thinking), despite the increasing push for such simplistic thought from various parties. We intuitively understand the multi-faceted nature of our values. This is why we do not merely treat Saul Goodman, Ozymandias, Lady Eboshi, and Milton’s Lucifer as villains. Furthermore, normativity binds with the believer. A statistic about the casualties of gun violence does not stick to one’s identity like the virtues of justice, freedom, and friendship. This is why the members of the NRA are so much more dedicated to their cause than critics of gun control. Their primary motivator is their belief in freedom, while Vox generates videos about the statistics of gun violence.

I am not suggesting that we should abandon all generalizations from the Social Sciences. Rather, my goal is to point out that we are only relying on the Social Sciences to do the work of a holistic activity that must involve philosophy, religion, science, political praxis, and so on. This is a disservice to the hard work of Social Scientists who devote their lives to their discipline with the virtues of truth and justice in mind. This is a disservice to our community and fellow citizens who must not suffer from our confusion and disarray.


After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre