Given a K in a CX round, there’s usually one of four ways it goes:
- I agree with it because I know what it is saying and I like it. This is typically true if it is working against the hyperreal structure of the debate and/or rhetorical tactics of the other team, but rarely so true as to independently constitute a position I can vote for.
- I can’t agree with it because I could only understand half of the words being shouted at me at high speed and certainly had no time to reflect on their truth or validity. I’m going to totally ignore such a K in my decision making and be mildly annoyed that you’re apparently just talking to yourself.
- I can’t agree with you because I understand enough of your K to realize that you haven’t a clue what you’re actually saying and/or have not the foggiest idea of how to construct a position I can vote for. At this point I think you’re woefully under-prepared and you’ve blithely wasted my time, effort, and best intentions with your utter lack of cognitive preparation, and I am half a step away from despising you for your wanton ignorance.
- I agree with it because I’m supposed to believe whatever anybody says, especially if they say it fast and loud, and because I am a sheep. Note that the “and” clause of “I am a sheep” is always false, such that this entire point is consistently rendered false, so don’t expect me to not think about what you’re saying.
For example, let’s talk about a Marxist critique of a policy idea that has the United States Federal Government as an actor.
- This is stupid. The primary objection to a public policy in any branch of the US Federal Government has never been “we refuse to do this because it’s not Marxist enough.” If you think that “it’s not Marxist enough” is a valid criticism of a policy to be enacted by the USFG, then I’m afraid I have to despise you for your wanton ignorance — and frankly this response is all an Affirmative team has to say to dump your entire Marxist K out of the round.
- Even without the USFG as an actor, Marxism is fundamentally about the de-institutionalization of power whereas public policy is about the exercise of institutional power. Marxism is need-driven actions, policy is decision-driven actions. The two are not coherent and as such Marxism as an ideal will never be a rational basis for a public (institutional) policy decision, and as such I cannot vote on it as a policy position. Or, to put it another way, the revolution will not be legislated.
- Even if I were to want to vote on it as a policy position, we’d run into implementation problems. Kids and pseudointellectuals like to claim that real Marxism hasn’t been tried because kids and pseudointellectuals haven’t come to terms with humanity as it is. This is Michel Foucault from his 1971 debate against Noam Chomsky on “Human Nature: Justice versus Power“:
The proletariat doesn’t wage war against the ruling class because it considers such a war to be just. The proletariat makes war with the ruling class because, for the first time in history, it wants to take power. And because it will overthrow the power of the ruling class it considers such a war to be just … One makes war to win, not because it is just … it seems to me that the idea of justice in itself is an idea which in effect has been invented and put to work in different types of societies as an instrument of a certain political and economic power or as a weapon against that power.
So the Marxist pursuit of justice for the proletariat can alternately be seen as the pursuit of power wielded by the Other, with the claim of justice needing to be made to differentiate between those that are soon to be oppressed and those that are soon to oppress. We see this in Lenin, how he decided to wield power to continue his revolution outside of Russia (Camus, The Rebel) and in Stalin, how he claimed to be a good communist but purged tens of millions of Russians while concentrating his power. It comes up again in Chairman Mao’s unexamined extravagances which his vitriolic anti-elitism masked. It comes up in the Dear Leader Kim-Jong-Whatever, blending nepotism, incompetence, and hooliganism. The point is that is that you don’t get to choose the leader, the leaders appoint themselves usually in accordance with their Will to Power, not justice, and this condemns the revolution to failure. If you’re trying to condemn us to repeat history with your wanton ignorance of it, then I am resigned to despising you.
- But it’s not even the leaders, either of the US Federal Government or some hypothetical revolution, who are necessarily the problem: go look at how states like West Viriginia, Alabama, Kentucky, and Kansas all voted for the Plutocrat candidate Mitt Romney in the last election and then consider Sir Terry Pratchett’s evaluation in Night Watch of how revolutions for “the People” play out:
People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness. And so the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn’t that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people.
So given that we can reasonably expect the United States populous to reject Marxism at this juncture, the K is invalid even if all of the theoreticals within it were right, which they’re not — see above. But at least in this separation of your thought process from common sense, I can grant that you’re just musing to yourself how nice it would be if people were clever and progressive. Please understand my disappointment in your generation using Hash-Tag “progressive” and merely Liking “clever” on Facebook rather than being either.
- The Marxist ideal is so old now that the USSR rose and fell again before you were even born. The idea has become a polemic; Guttering, summarizing Foucault, explains:
Polemics comes to political issues with a general doctrinal framework it accepts as the only adequate basis for discussion. Anyone who does not accept the framework is treated as an enemy who must be refuted, not as a partner in the search for a solution. Like parallel enterprises in religion (the eradication of heresy) and the judiciary (criminal prosecution), polemics ‘defines alliances, recruits partisans, unites interests or opinions, represents a party; it establishes the other as an enemy, an upholder of opposed interests against which one must fight until the moment this enemy is defeated’ (EW I, 112). (It is hard not to recall Sartre’s pledge of allegiance to the Communist cause: ‘an anticommunist is a rat … I swore to the bourgeoisie a hatred which would only die with me’, ‘Merleau-Ponty’, in Situations, 198.) Foucault rejects polemics as ‘sterilizing’: ‘Has anyone ever seen a new idea come out of a polemic?’ Moreover, ‘it is really dangerous to make anyone believe that he can gain access to truth by such paths and thus to validate, even if merely in a symbolic form, the real political practices that could be warranted by it’. Ordinarily, Foucault says, the worst consequences of the polemical attitude ‘remain suspended’, presumably because there is no decisive victor among the warring viewpoints. But, he says, we know what happens when one side is able to triumph: ‘one has only to look at what happened during the debates in the USSR over linguistics or genetics not long ago’ (EW I, 113).
This reiterates much of what I’ve already said about the infeasibility of Marxism but adds the critical new point that Marxism is still concerned about the state of the world over a century ago. As such, the traditional Marxist response to the state of reality — “workers of the world unite” — is practically advocating that SkyNet become self-aware these days. I mean, they could have started with shutting down the patent office and rescinding copyright laws to let small-time makers get past the ever-increasing barriers of entry that large corporations are erecting with the legal system, but even that massive change doesn’t pass the polemic test of Marxist dogma. So they didn’t. There is no alternative in their mind: it’s either their old, known-to-fail way or the highway. Which happens to be our way and voting for us.
None of this is to say that Marxism can’t be run. But the bar for running it successfully is really quite high.
Let’s look at another critique: this one argues that we can dehumanize people by socioeconomic descriptors. For example, referring to “the poor” as a demographic obfuscates their humanity under their temporary condition and prevents any policy from benefitting them. On face, this is, at least, truthy. But the rhetorical deployment of it is dangerously backwards:
- There is a libertarian notion in the transitiveness of the socioeconomic condition that believes that anybody can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and thus achieve whatever socioeconomic condition they really want. This notion places the glorification of human dignity above cyclical poverty, and is completely contradicted by reality wherein Berkley economist Emmanuel Saez has found that the socioeconomic top 1% has captured 121% of the recovery from the recession, leaving potentially the other 99% of us stuck in recession. (Of course, you might not be in recession if you’re in the 98th percentile, but the 99/1 split is a popular way of doing things at the moment.) So the net result of this is a level of denialism that says we shouldn’t be talking about the transitive condition people will getting themselves out of anyway such that we don’t bother helping them and then they don’t actually get out of that now-intransitive condition, which turns the K.
- There is an individualistic notion that says that we can’t properly represent Alicia Foster of Deluth, MI, battered widow of an Afghanistan veteran who OD’d on heroin while self-medicating for PTSD that the VA administration couldn’t be bothered with. And they’re right. Because we’re debating collective public policy here, not competing in dramatic interpretation. (And even if we were to present some of the fictional Ms. Foster’s story, they’d complain that Ms. Foster isn’t here presenting it herself.) The point behind our public policy is to set out common capabilities that a variety of people can opportunistically exploit for the mutual benefit of themselves and their communities. So, perversely, by insisting that we treat individuals specifically and granularly as individuals, our opponents are essentially saying that we shouldn’t be trying to create opportunities for the otherwise disenfranchised to be able to take advantage of — so rather than saying that people can always change, this position is that people can never change and only pandering to exactly who Ms. Foster is will ever do anything for her such that we do nothing for her and nothing changes, thus turning the K.
- There is a collectivist reading that says that we’re all a we and our usness must collectively engage in public policies. Except that in a representative government, to assume that your representative actually has a lot in common with you is woefully naive, and this reading of the K privileges the specific perspective of the people making the policies (as may be influenced by wealthy friends and lobbyists) while leaving the quietly disenfranchised… quietly disenfranchised. Net result is that no attention is paid to them and no policies are pursued in an attempt to improve the portion of society that they’re in. This creates the most perverse reading of the K of all: rather than be able to address a segment of the population who isn’t us, we’re stuck addressing the socioeconomically successful portion of the population that is us and devoting the collective resources of the total populous, rich and poor, to improving our already-affluent neighborhoods, helping to ensure that the poor can’t even help themselves. Which turns the K.
Overall, the point is that “not addressing an issue for fear that you’re not addressing it right” is the same as not addressing an issue, and without an alternative approach that does address an issue, this K is nothing more than malicious semantic wanking.
But I also mention that second K specifically because I heard it run in tandem with Marxism. This adds two responses.
- Dehumanization answer #3 where the elites drain the resources of the populous to benefit themselves is a behavior common to Stalin and Mao and those sorts of people that Marx wouldn’t have wanted professing Marxism, but did so anyway because it was an effective “opiate of the masses,” to borrow a phrase, and should serve as a potent reminder that we don’t get to choose who leads the revolution or sets policies afterwards.
- Conversely, Marxism answer #3 keenly reminds us that Marx actively dehumanized people by lumping them into socioeconomic groups of the noble proletariat (we’d call them “the makers”) and the nefarious bourgeoisie (“the takers”), which would totally choke on the dehumanization K if our opponents had actually thought about what they were saying overall.
So putting those Ks together, it sounds like our opponents don’t really believe either position but instead want a revolution just so they can join the Stalin/Mao club and try to kill tens of millions of people (that they won’t ever talk about for fear of dehumanizing them) through unwarranted malice and casual ineptitude. We don’t think this is a good idea. At this juncture, we think we might even be able to sever case, claim to do nothing but back away slowly, and still represent a better position than voting for our opponents.