Confessions of a Former Liberal: Part 2

Confessions of a Former Liberal: Part 2. (They’re Boring)

The second in an occasional series about Pohutu’s confusing journey into the political wilderness.

But of course it’s much worse than just being boring. Excuse the wait for Part 2 of The Confessions (here’s Part 1), but these posts have a timetable of their own, waiting till enough pressure builds up that I explode all over the page. Anyway, back to liberals being “boring”, which is a stand in for dishonest and intellectually bankrupt.

It starts with being boringly certain about how right they are, which leads to no interesting analysis of anything anymore from the liberal side. (Note 1: I used to at least say “left liberal” or interchange “liberal” with “left”. Boy was that stupid. Lately the only decent analysis of what’s going on in the US that I’ve read has been in the communist newspaper the Militant, to which I proudly subscribe.) This certainty simply leads to liberals endlessly making the same statements over and over again about how right they are, and then, if they’ve done a little more thinking, they start in on who’s to blame for it. It’s the latter that prompted me to write this, in particular a piece in The New York Review of Books headlined “The Autocracy App” about the evils of Facebook, by Jacob Weisberg. (The books he’s writing about in the piece are: “Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy,” by Siva Vaidhyanathan, Oxford University Press; and “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,” by Jaron Lanier).

Let me get this out of the way first: I loathe and despise Facebook and am a serial account deleter (I’ve done it three times over the past 5 or so years, most recently last month) so I’m always eager to read a Facebook takedown. This piece thinks it’s a takedown, but for the most part is another example of liberal whining about, yet again, how everything is turning to shit but none of this is our fault, as humans, as citizens, as liberals because…well, Facebook!

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The Shock of the Old

The Shock of the Old: Simone de Beauvoir on Aging and Freedom

So this is something I wrote that I turned into a paper for a conference. Only this is an early draft … the conference thing was shorter, but this is the Internet, so there’s room to wax on. And why not. 


The Abstract

(i.e what this post is all about, in less than 200 words)

When she was in her mid-50s, Simone de Beauvoir decided her life was all but over. Everything that mattered to her was in the past: her work, her looks, her lovers. When she looked in the mirror, she wrote in her autobiography, “I see my face as it was, attacked by the pox of time for which there is no cure.” What did she mean by “my face as it was”? In this paper, I follow Beauvoir (and Sartre’s) conception of aging as an “unrealisable” that is imposed on us from outside in order to investigate this alienation from the self that comes with growing older. Why and how is it that we no longer identify with the face we see in the mirror? Which of our younger selves do we consider a “truer” self — and why? Scholars have rightly questioned whether Beauvoir’s existentialist understanding of human freedom was undermined by her later writing on aging, and while she did identify myriad ways in which aging shrinks horizons and confines futures, I argue her understanding of aging as an “unrealisable” also reveals avenues of escape — particularly for women. (Editor’s note: or not…)


The Shock of the Old: Simone de Beauvoir on Aging and Freedom

When she was in her mid 50s, Simone de Beauvoir decided her life was all but over. Everything that mattered to her was in the past: her work, her lovers, her looks:

As she wrote in the third volume of her autobiography, Force of Circumstance (La force des choses)

While I was able to look at my face without displeasure I gave it no thought, it could look after itself. The wheel eventually stops. I loathe my appearance now: the eyebrows slipping down toward the eyes, the bags underneath, the excessive fullness of the cheeks, and that air of sadness around the mouth that wrinkles always bring. Perhaps the people in the street see merely a woman in her fifties who simply looks her age, no more, no less. But when I look, I see my face as it was, attacked by the pox of time for which there is no cure. (Hard Times: Force of Circumstance IIp. 378)

Such despair, such hopelessness — and from such a woman as she — and in her 50s, no less — came as a shock to many of her readers, myself among them. What chance for the rest of us if bags and wrinkles and sliding eyebrows can fell Simone de Beauvoir? Surely the life of the mind trumps that of the face? And, anyway, just what did she mean by “my face as it was” (“mon ancienne bête” in the original French)? As it was when? At 15, at 20, at 35? Why is one face more “me” than another?

In The Second Sex, Beauvoir called this estrangement from oneself a “depersonalisation”, which she described like this: 

I am not the old woman the mirror shows me. The woman who ‘never felt so young’ and who never saw herself so old is not able to reconcile these two aspects of herself. (The Second Sex, p. 638)

She is a creature whose “double no longer resembles her”. As well as being an incurable disease — a pox — this estrangement is also a kind of madness, a rending of the psyche into unrecognisable parts, a self that cannot fight off this unwanted metamorphosis that is imposed on it from outside itself. Continue reading

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What I Want for My Child – uh, Cat

Because I don’t have a child, I don’t care what happens to the country, the planet, race relations, the housing crisis or child poverty. Because I don’t have a child, I never do anything “good” because, you know, we do that stuff “for our children and grandchildren”. Obviously, I don’t give a crap about climate change either because my Hot_cat2children and grandchildren aren’t going to be among those inheriting the earth. Luckily, I don’t have to bother with learning about New Zealand history or colonisation or what happened at Waitangi because I don’t have a child whose future understanding I can’t help thinking of. It’s great not having a child. You get to do whatever you want and hang the consequences for everyone else. Or should that be, for everyone else’s child. Yeah, I’m kind of sick of being someone who apparently doesn’t really feel all that stuff quite as much as the mothers and fathers and grandparents; someone whose untimely death wouldn’t really be a tragedy, unlike that of “mother of two”.

I know there are the parents who like to milk (sorry) that stuff for all its worth, and who can blame Jacinda for joining in. But then I think, hey, are the people doing all this fine stuff for their children really setting such a good example? Are they really making the point they think they’re making? Because shouldn’t we all be doing all this fine stuff for the good of all?

OK, OK, you got me. I’m not being honest. I’m really doing it for my cat.


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Men at Meetings

In my last post (Confessions of a Former Liberal: Part I) I wrote that I’d been going to a few political meetings. So it turns out, I’m not going to be doing that any more. Why not? Read on…

Last week, a group whose kaupapa/ambitions I support (very liberal, I might add) had a meeting about all the parlous things going on in God Zone…poverty, inequality, mass incarceration, polluted water, suicide and so on.

(I think there’s a separate post in there somewhere about what it means to be constantly immersed in Just How Awful Everything Is, given that, what with climate change, over-population, automation/robotics, etc., it’s all going to get a whole lot worse in the coming years. But I’ll save that uplifting effort for another day.)

I digress. So, anyway, the panel of speakers did their thing. They were mostly interesting and I mostly agreed.  Then came the inevitable Q&A. It’s worth noting that this was not a young crowd at all. Mostly middle aged to older white people. (I need to run with a better class of people, I know!) I counted at least 12 questions only two of which were from women. And the other 10 were not actually questions. You know how it goes…guy gets up and pretends he has a question, but really he just wants to tell us what he thinks about X, Y or Z. He’s not the least bit interested in what anyone else has to say, and doesn’t give a shit about any 2-minute time limit for his “question”.

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Confessions of a Former Liberal: Part 1

The first in an occasional series about Pohutu’s confusing journey into the political wilderness.

I don’t live in the United States, but last year’s election campaign was a shocker for me. I was always (mostly) on board with my fellow liberals, till last year. Now I’m politically homeless. A recovering ex-liberal, wondering how it was that I went along with it all for so long. Did I change? Did everyone else?

I’d say I’m a Communist — class analysis and all that — but the ‘old’ categories/groupings don’t quite seem to work anymore. Is that because capitalism isn’t ‘just’ exploiting workers but destroying the planet and all life thereon? How can the old class analysis and Communist programme deal with that? At least one thing’s clear: liberalism can’t deal with it, so there’s that. These days, I know what I am not (a liberal), but I’m not quite sure what I am (politically speaking).

I think this political awakening/confusion had been building for a long time. Decades probably. So what happened? I’m still thinking about that. I’m not sure. Maybe it’s that social media (Twitter etc.) exposed “liberals” for the intolerant bullies with no coherent political programme that we/they always were. The current form of capitalism isn’t called “neoliberalism” for nothing. It’s all about the individual, and that’s where regular old leftist liberalism has gone. As I said, no class analysis, and especially when it comes to feminism, no analysis of women as an oppressed class. You just can’t say that anymore.

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Rereading de Beauvoir 28: Liberation & Conclusion


Volume II. Part Four. Towards Liberation. Chapter 14: The Independent Woman; Conclusion pp 737-82

[This is the final of a chapter by chapter re-reading of Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex”. You can find all the posts here.]

This is it. After nearly six years (bloody hell, I was still in my 40s when I started this!), here is The Last Post. This took way too long. And may have deteriorated in quality as it went. But…

Chapter 14. The Independent Woman

“French law no longer includes obedience among a wife’s duties…” (737). So just in case you didn’t know that French law (and no doubt the laws of most/many Western countries) at one time did include obedience among a wife’s duties. Striking! SdB opens the chapter by pointing to all the ways thing have improved for women in recent times (that is, up until the late 1940s, when this was written), like no longer being legally obliged to be ‘obedient’, and she contends that

“It is through work that woman has been able, to a large extent, to close the gap separating her from the male; work alone can guarantee her concrete freedom.” (737)

It is through work, which breaks her dependence on the male, that woman “regains her transcendence”, affirms herself as a “subject”. But, SdB goes on to add that a job is not enough, that “work today is not freedom” and “only in a socialist world would the woman who has one be sure of the other” (work->freedom, that is).

“This world has always belonged to men and still retains the form they have imprinted on it.” (737)

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Rereading de Beauvoir 27: Love & Mysticism

Volume II: Justifications. Part Three. Chapters 12-13. The Woman in Love; The Mystic. (698-737)

[This is part of a chapter by chapter re-reading of Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex”. You can find all the posts here.]

So, finally, this is almost the end. This is the penultimate entry in a series I promised to finish…on several occasions. And it’s finishing this weekend with this entry, completing “Part Three: Jusifications” and followed tomorrow by the final part, “Part Four: Towards Liberation”. Then we can move on to some more regular, and recent, programming.

Anyway, as noted in the previous post, these chapters offer a critique of women who seek liberation individually rather than collectively. Being a ‘woman in love’ and a ‘mystic’ are two of those ‘individualistic’ efforts.

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa: Bernini

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