amor mundi

Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Trend-Spotters!

"Trends" are not actually existing phenomena exerting influence in the world or uniquely observable by futurological experts, trends are instead a narrative genre to which futurologists are devoted, simplifying to the point of denying history and hence providing reactionary rationalizations for and reassurances to incumbent elites.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

The Future Is Then!

Driverless cars, 3D-printers, bitcoin will sweep the world! -- Futurists
Hula-Hoops, Frisbees, Slip'N Slides will sweep the world! -- Wham-O

More Futurological Brickbats here.


When neoliberal futurologists replace public intellectuals and corporate-military think-tanks replace universities, you can be sure that marketing elite-incumbency in the name of "The Future" will replace the emancipatory work of understanding our present.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Injustice Is Disorder

Disorder isn't analytically separable from the miscarriages of justice that sometimes seem to occasion it. The injustice itself is the disorder, and unrest that may seem only sometimes to follow upon it is instead of a piece with the disorder that is the injustice itself, another facet of it, another expression of it. I am not making a point about what forms of resistance are likely most effective in notionally democratic polities or what responses to events should be judged lawful when laws themselves may be deemed unlawful. Setting such considerations aside for the moment, it is crucial to recognize that peaceful acquiescence to injustice is no less disordered than public resistance to it, whatever forms that might take, and even insurrectionary chaos is only properly understood as continuous with and not autonomous from the disorderly-ordering of generational inequities, normalized humiliations, unjust policing of law-and-order: the gaudy spectacle of systemic subordination is still visible in peacetime for those with eyes to see it, the keening and howling of its sufferers is still audible for those with ears to hear it.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Of Techno-Triumphalism

Here is another twitter essay, this one written last night. This time, I re-render it first in paragraph form -- smoothing out the grammar and then elaborating points constrained by the character limit and serial form of the tweet -- and then follow with the reproduction of the essay as it originally appeared. I am still intrigued by the comparisons and considerations of the limits and possibilities of these forms quite apart from the topic of the essaylet itself.
Many things are strange about techno-triumphalist declarations.

It is strange the way they tend to treat "technology" as monolithic despite the many differences in the characteristics, situations, and stakes that distinguish techniques and artifacts from one another.

It is strange that these monolithic over-generalizations happen so often in the context of the defense of some particular fetishized gizmo -- a handheld device, a gaming system, a 3D-printer, a solar panel, a car, a gun, a lab result, a medical therapy. Somehow, this fetishized gizmo becomes synecdochic for technology-in-general and is then invested with an irresistible narrative energy propelling this technology-in-general in the direction of the superlative: the handheld (and the "digital brain" mainframe for an earlier futurological generation) becomes the computationality that aspires in the direction of omniscience, the gaming system (and the "superhighway traffic-flow" for an earlier futurological generation) becomes the digitality that aspires to the utter virtualization of reality-become-plenitude, the 3D-printer -- the poor man's nanotechnology -- (and "plastic" for an earlier futurological generation) becomes the magic manufacturer translating wishes into results at low to no cost, that aspires to the super-abundance and hence omni-benevolence that returns us to edenic infancy and delivers us unto paradise beyond the history of stakeholder struggle, the solar panel (and apocalypse-redeeming "nuclear power" too cheap to meter for an earlier futurological generation) becomes the technofix that saves the world from the technofixation that threatens to destroy it. What was made exemplar is then made portent. It is strange how often such declarations are accompanied by what seems a highly personal identification with the gizmo in question, even if the car or the gun as the cyborg shell or comic book cape that would re-figure vulnerable error-prone finite human males into ruggedly-individual masculine avatars is familiar enough.

Is this gizmo-identification the usual subcultural signalling enabled by the logo-ized commodity, or is it more the joyful or manic enthusiasm of the fandom? Is it the faith of the "saved"? If so, from what sin is the techno-transcendentalist saved? From what damnation is the techno-triumphalist spared?

It is strange how threatening skepticism and criticism of these declarations seems to be, especially given the supposed inevitability asserted for the outcome. It is strange how often such skepticism and criticism is figured as resistance to some sort of historical movement or destiny. This is strange not least because such "resistance to technology" is not itself grasped as techniques of resistance, employing technologies.

It is strange that recommendations of caution or the proposals of qualification on the part of critics tend to be framed by techno-triumphalists as irrational, emotional, or unpractical in such exchanges -- when these are gestures of reasonableness in most intellectual contexts, especially in contexts that bill themselves as respectful of science and critical thinking as techno-triumphalists tend to do. It is strange how questioning superlative technodevelopmental destiny gets derided by techno-triumphalists as reactionary, when the refusal to question destiny is more usually revealed as reactionary, especially among those who bill themselves as progressive as techno-triumphalists tend to do.

I define "the technological" as the prosthetic elaboration of collective agency. And I regard all culture as prosthetic as well as all prostheses as culture. This connection to agency may help explain why we naturalize so much technique and artifice and yet tend to denote by the term "technology" just those techniques and artifacts that seem (whether rightly or wrongly) to resonate with our present fears and fantasies of agency, the threat of impotence as well as dreams of omnipotence, whether informercial get rich quick schemes, anti-aging kremes, or robocultic diavowals of finitude.

Though technodevelopmental innovations do often arise as bids to subdue the fraught contingencies of history through the achievement of momentary commercial or military competitive advantage, what seems more sure is that technoscientific novelties (and unexpected appropriations of these techniques and artifacts as the street finds its own uses for things) always only destabilize the terrain, expressing, exacerbating, and amplifying that very contingency. Techno-triumphalism not only proposes an accounting of technoscientific change that requires a facile disavowal of the ongoing social struggles through which technodevelopment actually always plays out in the world, but, worse, along its way to deny and disavow the force of historical contingency techno-triumphalism misses the extent to which its definitive focus -- "the technological" -- happens to define perhaps the most fraught site of historical contingency there is.

Considering its utter prevalence in public technoscientific discourses despite its failures, deceptions, omissions, and incoherence, I have to assume the appeal of techno-triumphalism is finally that it provides false but welcome reassurance to the radically insecure agents and agencies who find themselves in the storm-churn of palpably inequitable, unsustainable, desolating corporate-military empires on the eve of destruction.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Big Data As Idol

Michael Sacasas makes some interesting connections and proposals in a recent post, Data-Driven Regimes of Truth:
Deliberative democracy works best when citizens share a moral framework from which their arguments and counter-arguments derive their meaning. Absent such a broadly shared moral framework, competing claims can never really be meaningfully argued for or against, they can only be asserted or denounced... [This] is characteristic of secular modernity writ large. The eclipse of traditional religious belief leads to a search for new sources of unity and moral authority.

For a variety of reasons, the project to ground American political culture in publicly accessible science did not succeed... It failed, in part, because it became apparent that science itself was not exactly value free, at least not as it was practice by actual human beings. Additionally, it seems to me, the success of the project assumed that all political problems, that is all problems that arise when human beings try to live together, were subject to scientific analysis and resolution. This strikes me as an unwarranted assumption.

In any case, it would seem that proponents of a certain strand Big Data ideology now want to offer Big Data as the framework that unifies society and resolves political and ethical issues related to public policy... “Science says” replaced “God says”; and now “Science says” is being replaced by “Big Data says.”

To put it another way, Big Data offers to fill the cultural role that was vacated by religious belief. It was a role that, in their turn, Reason, Art, and Science have all tried to fill. In short, certain advocates of Big Data need to read Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols. Big Data may just be another God-term, an idol that needs to be sounded with a hammer and found hollow.
To these provocative ruminations I responded in his comments section with the following impersonation of a Rorty/Arendt chimera:

Of course, there is no such thing as transparency. Every disclosure, like every assertion, always depends for its force and intelligibility on suppressions. And so, “transparency” is just a current metaphor to figure just those opacities that seem/are deemed (no conspiracies necessary) most useful to elite-incumbency.

There is a real question whether publically accessible science is really equitably accessible when recourse to that science to demand accountability is inequitable. If not, the problem in view is anti-democratizing wealth-concentration not the failure of democratizing publicity.

Similarly, the Foucauldian proposal that disciplinary societies sought to produce/organize “capable bodies” rationalized by reference to a scientifically-legitmated common good may indeed be in eclipse. Big Data seems (instead?) to be producing/organizing targets -- mostly for incessant sales-pitches and for possible eventual prosecution (or even as biometric sigs for drone targeting software). I am of mixed minds whether this mode of subjection is captured by biopolitical vocabularies (Arendt, Fanon, Foucault) or really does takes us elsewhere, to post-humanist/post-biopolitical places.

In either case, again, we do need to foreground the rhetoric (assumptions, conceits, frames, ends) that attends and narrativizes aggregated data rather than fetishize the problematic data-point. Is Big Data truly data-driven, or just profit-driven and police-driven, finally?

I must say I worry that privacy violation figured as unwanted exposure of personal information rather than as the imposition of authoritative interpretations of personal traces/testimonies sets us off on the wrong foot to think what we are doing with Big Data. Exposure is indispensable to public freedom, it is privacy as an isolating privation from exposure (or as reduction to laborer/consumer of privatized commodities) that contains the kernel of totalitarianism. Facticity -- which is not the same thing as information which is not the same thing as data -- is collective and contingent in ways that resist totalization and totalitarian fever dreams.

Digging a bit deeper still, returning to your initial framing of the problem of Big Data, you write: "Deliberative democracy works best when citizens share a moral framework from which their arguments and counter-arguments derive their meaning. Absent such a broadly shared moral framework, competing claims can never really be meaningfully argued for or against, they can only be asserted or denounced." In my view democracy is just the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them -- very much including decisions about what constitutes the public or a decision or a say, as it happens. The need for a shared moral framework for such democracy to work seems overstated. Since I believe we are all of us members of multiple moral communities but always only partially members in each, it isn't clear to me people share broad moral commitments even with themselves let alone with their peers. To think otherwise risks identifying the political with moralizing. I agree that such moralizations of politics are a problem -- in US politics in the age of Fox News, for example -- but I do not think one addresses the problemby accepting its premise.

Possibly it is just this moralistic characterization of democracy that is the Idol we need to tap with Nietzsche's jewelers hammer to find the gem, or with Nietzsche's tuning fork to find the tune -- as you know, Nietzsche never meant "philosophizing with a hammer" to be a matter of Hulk Smash!

The point of departure for the political is the recognition of the diversity of stakeholders sharing the present and hence the need for an interminable reconciliation of ends. The startling realization that this ongoing reconciliation yields a "public happiness" unavailable otherwise sets the stage for Arendt's erotic of politics (part of the reason why I insisted on the indispensability of exposure earlier), but just because it is also an end in itself does not obscure that it is substantively an ongoing testimony to and reconciliation of diversity.

I think it is too easy for philosophers (and I am trained as one, so I try to be especially vigilant about these things) to fancy shared frameworks found working practices when we simply tend temperamentally to find them in making sense of working practices. As a pluralist in matters of reasonable belief -- who thinks both the criteria of reasonable warrant and the domain of reasonable relevance shifts depending on whether beliefs are technoscientific, aesthetic, moral, ethical, political, legal, variously professional and so on -- I don't think people really need to or always do have that hard a time reconciling political differences even when they do not share moral, aesthetic, professional beliefs or what have you.

It may be that a false equivalence of politics with moralizing has provoked the felt need for a shared faithful-cultural, informational-scientific, or data-driven unification of lived diversity, but that false and facile presumption seems to me less interesting than the differing political underpinnings and aspirations distinguishing the rhetoric of data from information.

If "public information" is embedded in norms and forms of informed consent and accountable authority, it is democratizing (which is not to deny it is plenty problematic too) in a way that Big Data seems very much not to be: data is embedded instead in the norms and forms of computability, and hence of calculation from existing premises, of extrapolation from present circumstances, of amplification of given capacities, of enhancement of parochial values, of accumulation of fetishized wealth. Again, this makes me think that marketing and policing are the prior problems here, shaping the aggregation and resulting profiling, framing, targeting associated with Big Data.


To be disappointed is usually first to be disappointing.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Anything wearable is technology, so much of the work of “wearable technology” discourse is to deny most wearable technology is technology.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Pass A Bill. That Is What Is Required. Who Cares How "Predictable" It Is?

Yes, of course it is predictable that Republicans will lie, obstruct, deny science, behave irresponsibly. Pundits keep acting as though Democrats should somehow circumvent predictable Republican misbehavior rather than calling the misbehavior misbehavior. The commentariat's emphasis on predictability excuses and enables this misbehavior. Even if it is nearly certain that the Republican House won't pass the Senate immigration bill, for example, it actually still matters more that they should and CAN still pass it.

Right and Left, Liberty and Freedom, Empty and Full, Fear and Love

The liberty of the libertarian right is an empty deception: its figure is empty space, its impossible project a control to compensate bottomless fear. The freedom of the democratic left is a public work: its figure is assembly, its interminable project enabling equity-in-diversity as an expression of love.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Why People Who Are Introduced To Me Online Are Often Surprised When They Meet Me In Person

When I encounter an argument I try find something wrong with it. When I encounter a person I try to find something to like about them.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The President's Historic Immigration Speech In Case You Missed It

Waiting for iGun

Is the iGun a thing yet? Libertechbrotarians surely need the phone that is a gun. It could shoot video and bullets. It could be open source and open carry at once. Excellent for piratical state-smashing, entrepreneurial ass-kickery, keeping pregnant ladies and uppity negroes in line and other manly activities.

Perhaps I Should Deliver All My Lectures in Verse

Since all techs are texts,
less their specs than contexts
reveal their sense and substance.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sue Lowden Was Obviously A Cultural Visionary

Everybody Knows That Already

When everybody already knows about a problem or injustice but nobody actually acts to solve it then nobody really knows it at all.

What, That Surprises You?

Actually, when I expose some outrageous or despicable act it's not because I think you will be "surprised" but because I hope you will act.

Digitopia Realized

The digital utopians crowed we were witnessing a transition from atoms to bits. What we are witnessing instead is a transition from owners to renters, from peers to debtors, from citizens to targets.

More Futurological Brickbats here.


Foresight arises from critical, empathetic, and scientific engagements in and with the present, while "predicting the future" is usually just a short-term sales pitch, a rationalization of abuses, or the reassurance of elites masquerading as foresight.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Mirror, Mirror

Predicting the future mirrors glorifying the past. Both conduce more to reaction than progress.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The "Idea Guys"

People love calling libertarians "Idea Guys." It pays to remember that every single libertarian "Idea" is an ad campaign to peddle plutocracy to majorities it harms.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Reagan Ended the Conversation

Over at Salon, Thomas Frank interviews Rick Perlstein on the occasion of the publication of his book The Invisible Bridge, the third of his generally fine examinations of postwar Movement Conservatism (so far, he has focused on Goldwater, Nixon, and Reagan). Frank and Perlstein are longtime friends and I had a feeling that they got more out of their conversation than I could: there were too many underelaborated claims that stalled out or swerved away before making complete sense for me -- especially lots of split-second readings of pop culture references I remember a little differently from my own seventies upbringing, and some sweeping even swooping analogies from the Carter years to the Obama years that demanded much more detail. All this was probably due to the fact that they were taking up conversational threads from other times and places we weren't eavesdropping on that made them make sense for Frank and Perlstein themselves. Be all that as it may, I did stick around through to the end of the dialogue and I'm glad I did, because in the very last exchange of the (published) interview Perlstein said very clearly something I must have thought loosely, morosely a million times, and which I agree has been a terribly tragic thing for America:
Thomas Frank: Is anyone nostalgic for the ’70s?

Rick Perlstein: I am. And for the following reason: If you read my preface, I explain that Americans at the level of popular culture, at the level of grassroots politics, were thinking very hard about what it would mean to have a country they didn’t believe was God’s chosen nation. What would it mean to not be the world’s policeman? What would it mean to conserve our resources? What would it mean to not treat our presidents as if they were kings? That was happening! And the tragedy of Ronald Reagan most profoundly wasn’t policy -- although that was tragic enough -- but it was robbing America of that conversation. Every time a politician stands before a microphone and utters this useless, pathetic cliche that America is the greatest country ever to exist, he’s basically wiping away the possibility that we can really think critically about our problems and our prospects. And to me, that’s tragic.

Vicious Circle

Of course I grasp the many truths of our time that make people cynical. But I also grasp the truth that cynicism is always a prop of the status quo.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Techbros Are Not Geeks

I find it utterly bewildering that the public face of geekdom more and more seems to be becoming venture capitalist skim-scam operations, evopsycho douchebaggery, GamerGate bigots, the anti-intellectual MOOCification of the Academy, and googlediculous soopergenius "thought-leaders" peddling futurological flim-flam. It's bad enough that most "thought leaders" aren't leading anything, but it's pretty plain they aren't even thinking.

I mean, is the unwatchably stale Cheez Whiz of "The Big Bang Theory" really supposed to have its finger on the pulse of some vital cultural phenomenon? Arts and crafts fairs rebranded as Maker Faires, learning annex courses and funding pitches rebranded as TEDtalkfotainments, superfluous duplications of existing goods and services given websites and then branded as a New Economy Tech Explosion, and always everywhere the corporate logos all watching over with loving grace... didn't we already do this dreary disaster in the irrationally exuberant dot.bomb 90s?

Since when has geekdom been so crass, so dumb, so monotonal? Where did all the camp, all the weirdos, all the elven/vulcan-eared librarians, all the dirty fucking hippies go?

I hate to be the one to break it to anybody, but the Federation is a multicultural socialist democracy -- Star Fleet is where they send the stale pale males who can't quite get with the laid back abundance program of their better adjusted fellow citizens.

You know, when I was in High School the only people I could talk about Star Trek and Dune with were theater geeks, and Model UN nerds, and downlow feminists on the pom pom squad in my honors English classes who played dumb for boyfriends they liked to make fun of when they weren't making out with them. Later, my geeks were in Queer Nation, loved John Waters as much as Star Wars, and pored over dusty archives for years dissertating on medieval French poets.

Speaking only for myself, of course, but these days when I am really geeking out to my heart's content it probably means I am reading Nnedi Okorafor, listening to Janelle Monae, or watching a roundtable of social scientists and cultural critics and activists on Melissa Harris-Perry's show. Geekery has never looked or felt or wanted to me to be anything remotely like the white-racist patriarchal corporate-militarist yuppie scumbaggery that is now getting marketed as "geekery."

Of course, every cultural formation is diverse in ways that exceed any parochial vantage on it and is stratified by the legacies and agonies of historical placement. While they often, all too often, exhibited such frailties, for me, geeks have never been about greed or exclusion or reactionary politics or consumer conformity. For me, geeks have been about resisting the forces and forms with which they seem increasingly to be identified in public discourse. The New Geekdom is the old bleak-dumb.

I say, Kol-Ut-Shan! and die techbro scum! (A paradox, you say? Mine is a geekery that thrives on paradoxes.)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Twitter Essay on Education As Maintaining A Progressive Rhetorical Infrastructure

Here is what the essaylet looks like as a conventional paragraph:
Part of what progressive respect for education should entail is taking more seriously the maintenance of our rhetorical infrastructure. Progressive governance and social struggle are premised on a host of insights that may be more counterintuitive than we take them to be. It is true that national economies are not analogous to household economies, but is that obviously true? It is true that no individual succeeds in the absence of public investment and collective effort, but is that obviously true? It is true that the same risk-pooling that makes insurance profitable can make general welfare achievable, but is that obviously true? It is true that weather is not climate, but is that obviously true? It is true that saying humans and apes share a common ancestor is not the same as saying humans are descended from apes, but is that obviously true? It is true that outcomes rightly called racist or sexist result from inertial norms and unconscious biases in the absence of conspicuous animus, but is this obviously true? Reactionaries endlessly exploit the counterintuitive character of crucial progressive truths to organize popular resistance to progress. Progressives rarely exhibit an equal interest and investment in clarifying, reiterating, and rendering intuitive these crucial truths. Public discourse often takes up reactionary frames and narratives because progressives fail to maintain ongoing discursive support for ours. My point is not to revive the fruitless "framing wars" -- there are no "magic words" that win elections every time -- but to insist on the value ongoing civic and science education. Too many progressives seem to become bored or discouraged by the prospect of an interminable education of majorities to support the work of progress. Education always requires an unglamourously enormous amount of repetition, returning to basics, re-explaining of what seems obvious. On top of that, it is genuinely difficult to find ways to overturn intuitive commonplaces with even powerful counterintuitive insights. Many progressives are quick to deride reactionaries who ignore or deny counterintuitive economic and ecologic truths but are not quite so quick to clarify these truths themselves. As someone who exhibits these weaknesses myself I understand their lure, but I am ever more convinced of the necessity to overcome them.
I occasionally play around with the longer-form chains and conversations that yield what get called "twitter essays." My Twitter Privacy Treatise is an example of such an experiment. Of course, @HeerJeet is at once the best-known as well as the most consummate practitioner of the twitter essay. This includes great twitter essays about twitter essays, in one of which she made the great point that real-time responses and reactions can impact the way in which such essays make their case -- the way they develop, illustrate, prioritize, and qualify their claims -- and that this may make the twitter essay a better exemplar of the "experimental effort" indicated by the French term from which the word essay derives. The character limit constraining individual tweets reduces the pieces out of which twitter essays are made into forms more reductively assertive or provocatively aphoristic than the complexity of many topics may seem to demand. This challenge can be unexpectedly productive, as it happens, whatever the obvious risks of miscommunication. Given the emphasis of my twitter essay today on making the effort of clearly and concisely formulating indispensable but counterintuitive progressive insights, making that point within the constraints of the twitter-essay demands a performance of the point as part of the process of making it, for example.

Dispatches From Libertopia

Regressive initial distributions of wealth are no less the product of government intervention than are subsequent progressive redistributions of wealth.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Costly Belief

Every belief, even true ones, costs us something. Indeed, what we take to be false, above all, is a belief we take to cost us too much.

More Faulty Ivory Towers here.

Inquiry, Argument, and Style

What distinguishes modes of inquiry from one another is what will count as an argument in each. This is a more a question of style than is generally conceded.

More Faulty Ivory Towers here.

Anything But Not Everything

All theory depends on the paradoxical recognition that anything can be questioned but everything cannot be.

More Faulty Ivory Towers here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Today's Random Wilde

Nowadays we are all so hard up, that the only pleasant things to pay are compliments.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Better Words Exist

Republicans who manage successfully to deceive the public about the extremity of their actual views or exhibit willingness to game flaws in the election, finance, or media systems as ruthlessly as possible are invariably described by pundits as "smart."

The Poisoned Well

Republican warnings that they will not cooperate with the President should he use his lawful powers to address real problems like our broken immigration system are in fact admissions that they never meant to cooperate with the President and also that they are uninterested in addressing real problems. This is exactly what even a cursory awareness of the Obama Presidency would lead anybody to expect. Pundits and politicos making noises about President Obama needing to offer "goodwill gestures" in the aftermath of the mid-term elections are in effect proposing that he offer pre-emptive and unilateral concessions of a kind to which the Republicans have never once responded by moderating their demands but always instead by veering rightward in defiance of pragmatism, fairness, and sense. The mid-term election wasn't the end of history, it didn't release some collective amnesia gas, it didn't earn public figures a do over erasing their actual public records: It is too late to pretend Obama would "poison the well" by fulfilling a promise everybody already knew he would fulfill to solve a problem everybody recognizes is a problem but which Congress refuses to address as a problem. Republicans have "poisoned the well" against responsible and reasonable governance with six years of unprecedented obstructionism and outrageous extremism, if we must deploy the phrase the Republican Talking Points prefer and which has, of course, been dutifully and deliriously repeated by media figures everywhere since the mid-terms. If the mid-terms have taught us anything it is that Democrats don't win when they are scared to say clearly that they really do believe what majorities also believe about fairness and security and to act on those beliefs. Let the Republicans defy the President on immigration, let them tear away healthcare coverage for millions who have it for the time, let them impeach a President who won two elections by wide margins and who remains far more popular than anybody in Congress. Let them do their worst. Let us be seen fighting them. Republicans never cooperated with this President and they are not about to start now. By "cooperate" they mean "surrender."

Saturday, November 08, 2014

The Political Paradox of Polyculture

America's apparent secular multiculture paradoxically energizes Republicans while enervating Democrats by skewing the lived experience of the stakes of election contests. The right is always fighting the last fight against secular multiculture experienced as an existential threat -- so that even when they win, they feel they are losing in a world against them and leaving them behind. Even fighting structural racism and sexism the left is always fighting within the terms of secular multiculture we affirm (exposing deceptions and hypocrisies, for example) -- so that even when we lose, we feel we are living in a world on our side or at any rate open to our aspiration. America's apparent secular multiculture creates a context in which conservatives are so reactionary they are forced to act like revolutionaries and in which liberals are so comfortable they are tempted to act like conservatives. This matters because electoral politics do matter and it matters both when we lose them and when we lose the sense that it matters when we lose them.