Utopians vs. Conformists Part Two

All right, this "Right versus Left" thing won't go away even though I proposed an alternative framework last month. Something needs to be done.

So what are "Right" and "Left" these days? Think of American society as high school writ large. The "Right" is composed of a clique of queen bees (see Rosalind Wiseman's Queen Bees and Wannabes for more clarification) or, to choose a male metaphor, alpha males, who don't really care what anyone thinks and who wish to spend their lives as bullies of various manifestations. The "Left" may have once had a presence in American politics (the "Cultural Front" comes to mind) but the Left today appears as a group of disparate pleasers/ wannabes (once again please consult the Wiseman book) and perhaps a few beta males who found themselves obliged to form their own clique because the queen bees didn't want them around.

That, then, is the pathetic state of "Right" and "Left" in America today. The idea behind an alternative conception of American politics, a conception of utopians and conformists, is that perhaps it is possible (though the task is daunting) for America to be something more than high school writ large.

At any rate, the utopians are the people who want something more from the world. They might want their American Dream back, but they really do want it back (as opposed to politicians who pretend to be utopians but are really just conformists). They want ecological sustainability in practice and not just in public relations, gender equality in practice and not just de jure, racial integration in practice and not just de jure, and so on. Conformists are the sort who pretend that nice ideals deserve their lip service while what really matters are those payoffs they hand out daily to those in power. Sure, you've got people dying every day of diseases we haven't bothered to cure, but let's shovel another few hundred billions into weapons systems, shall we? Perhaps conformists could also be called "mercantilists" or "neoliberals" for their support for the current fusion between corporate and government power. ("Fascists" is too much of a high school term, and we're trying to get away from that, remember? Besides, yesterday's fascists were utopians, albeit bad utopians, whereas today's fascists are mere conformists.)

The utopians are of course not always correct, and utopia can at times (e.g. yesterday's fascists) be dangerously bad. But the confrontation with utopian ideas, with the confluence between politics and desire, opens people up to a conversation of what they actually want out of politics, a conversation the conformists want to shut down in the name of "realism." One recalls for instance Hillary Clinton's "single-payer will never come to pass" speech, or the Trump report suggesting that climate change murder-suicide is inevitable.

Conformist politics is not a real defense against bad utopianism, nor does it pose any serious response to forthcoming disaster. Climate change? Death of the oceans? Global economic collapse? Nuclear war? The conformist response is at best a steady application of band-aids to cure a cancer. Conformists can only be comfortable with the overall inadequacy of their doctrines in light of their total possession of power.

Utopian politics may become mired in the conflict between trivial personal interests. People have not been allowed to see the whole picture of our potential, and so they tend to demand the trivial. The point is that utopian dreams inspire, and so they must proliferate, replacing political discussions in which the battleground is dominated by more and less felicitous grounds for accommodation. For instance, identity politics in its current form does not inspire -- it's based on the notion of "being an ally," which will not popularize itself beyond those who do not start by asking "what's in it for me?" Utopian identity politics, on the other hand, would be based on the notion of satisfying identities for all, which can only be achieved within a particular social form which we can all join in the struggle to create. (Utopian identities don't all have to be identical identities -- they just all have to be satisfying to those who possess them. I'm sure you can all create and float proposals in the discussion below.)

To sum up, this isn't an argument for "beyond Right and Left" in the form in which it currently stands, which is that "Right" and "Left" have become two "different" types of conformism. Rather, a new opposition between utopians and conformists will require a multiplicity of utopian dreams, all of which must be capable of distinguishing themselves from the conformism which currently rules the world.

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mhagle's picture

Lots of food for thought and contemplation. Thanks.

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"Make dirt, not war." eyo