Sunday, 10 June 2012

Aspire To Be Maladjusted

Hat tip to SC over at FTB for this:

Engaging in behavior that reflects the dominant culture, and ours is a sexist-misogynistic culture, is adjusted.
You should aspire to be maladjusted.

When you consume popular media - television, film, books - you should expect moments of discomfort, friction with the culture. When you talk to 'normal' people, people who are entirely comfortable in their social milieu, you should expect the occasional disconnect and mis-communication. Keep track of these carefully. They're markers that you're 'maladjusted', that the forces that shape our culture haven't managed to shape you totally. 

If there's one thing I believe about capital-S Society, it's this: nothing that the crowd believes is right. The boilerplate anti-racism and anti-sexism in Western countries (you can say the word 'bitch' but not the c-word,  and as long as you stay away from the dreaded n-word you're okay) is only correct in the most general sense. In practice, it's thoroughly racist and misogynist, serving mainly to focus on the 'great gains' we've made and obscure the current manifestations of privilege and oppression. Any ethics that is comprehensible by millions of people simultaneously is not even worth consideration; like daytime television, you can immediately assume that its primary purpose is entertainment, not edification.

Kierkegaard wrote that one's relationship with the 'crowd' is a quick test of one's Christianity. If you're loved and praised, if you wield political power - if, hypothetically, you wear a golden crown, fancy red shoes, and live in a palace in a small country you rule - then you are as far removed from Christianity as it is possible to be. If the crowd is more ambivalent towards you, you're doing a little better, but you can only be sure that you're on the right track when the crowd turns on you and kills you.

That's relevant to ethics in general. True positions are not popular positions, and if a true position somehow catches popular attention, it will quickly be stripped down to a milquetoast variant fit for public consumption. Ethics by its nature is confronting: it demands full commitment and scorns compromise. As soon as an ethicist advocates half-measures, she loses her authority (or at the very least transitions from discussing the ethical to discussing something else - the 'practical', perhaps). Where we are at as a society - where we have always been, maybe - is fully removed from that. In general, we celebrate compromise and scorn commitment*, and we label individuals capable of independent thought as 'maladjusted'.

* One huge exception here is in the domain of history. When an independent individual dies, she's often converted into an idol, a 'moral hero', before the last shovel of dirt has fallen on the grave. While he lived, MLK was a dangerous radical, but in death he's venerated. This is what Kierkegaard wrote about when he discussed society's attitude to the "monumental" - by raising people like Shakespeare and Gandhi to divine status, the keepers of society discourage others from imitating them in the present, which would be, uh, inconvenient.

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