Sad New Year’s Greeting

In guise of New Year’s greetings an old friend sent the following link to a piece in Truthdig by Neil Gabler:  Here is what I replied to him (revised for publication here).

Thanks for sharing this piece, and of course best wishes for 2018.

Yes, there is a lot of truth in what Gabler says, not just about the racial, gender and generational dimensions of the right wing ascendency, but the religious or quasi-religious social psychology behind it.

Yet I find him overly optimistic about the future of progressive politics in the US. To some extent, Gabler himself is contaminated by the American religiosity he describes. There may well be such a thing as “good” ethically-oriented religion, but I see religion as being generally on the wrong side of the proverbial long arc of which many progressives have spoken, sometimes with but a wing and a prayer. Religion has never been about compassion and ethics; on the rare occasions it moved beyond the primal reaction to fear and the subsequent tribalistic belief in being in some way a chosen people, religious ethics were at best a mitigating overlay, a cover. Marx had it right: religion is the opium of the people. Roughly 40% of the US people are addicted to it, and the rest still fall under its sway.

So I shall not be acting as if I believe that compassionate ethics will serve as a base for the mass movement required to reverse the capitalist order of things, or even the much more modest goal of social democratic movements to improve the lives of those who have only marginal, non-liquid capital, often the paltry pensions and home “equity” acquired via mortgages, those who are paid wages, those who pay rent and are not paid it.  Plus those not paid at all.

Indeed, this crisis may be marking the return of hard-line socialist, indeed communist alternatives to capitalism, or at least renewed consideration of them. Unfortunately, Americans, with their base-line religiosity and jerk-knee belief in (their own) human good have been ideologically innoculated against coherent materialist visions which would drive such a serious “class” struggle.

In other words, we are returning to the nineteenth century political logic in which Marxism and other socialist ideologies were understood by a minority as the sole way to resist capitalism. That will further exacerbate the conflict, especially since the plutocrats are already in power and will ruthlessly try to quash any prospects of change.

All this is say: I don’t like our chances, in 2018 or beyond.

Heidegger Is the Dubbyk of Twentieth-Century Philosophy

He and his vocabulary of charms haunt us, to the point that Dasein no longer needs the italics of a foreign word. The expurgation of Yiddish from German culture — admittedly a backhanded way to speak of the Holocaust — meant that a promising rival cognate of sorts was obliterated from wide currency. Doikayt could be translated as “here-and-now-ness” (Da-keit in German, as opposed to Da-sein, “being there”). It was a guiding principle of Bundism, the organized social democratic movement in eastern Europe whose focus was to seek alliances with other distinct and even sometimes hostile cultures, customs and religions in multicultural societies. After all, there is no escape possible from the principal contradiction, which is capitalism. So why go anywhere? Doikayt lost out to the escapist Zionist ideal of “somewhere-other-ness” (but a somewhere “we” once were). A relique of twentieth-century political nomencature, doikayt survived for only a few more decades, confined to the Yiddish-speaking diaspora, a seed without issue. As for Dasein, it has, alas, prospered, a fetish to wield within the English-speaking critical-theoretical academy, snaring us in convoluted tangles of speculative meaning from which there is no exit.

On the importance of Yiddish to high German literature, see Deutsch-Jüdischer Parnass: Literaturgeschichte eines Mythos, Willi Jasper.  As for the relation German once had with the Yiddish language: Was ist Deutsch?, Utz Maas. Finally, for bios and close-ups of the literary figures in the Canadian diaspora who wrote in Yiddish and Hebrew, there is Cents ans de littérature yiddish et hébraïque au Canada, Heim-Lieb Fuks et Pierre Anctil. In the mid-twentieth century, small cells of Bundist affiliation influenced Canadian social democracy, in the big cities at least. The history of the Prairies was entirely different, but no less an extension of ideology forged in eastern Europe, not necessarily, it goes without saying, in the Pale. 

— H. H. N.