I happened upon a Facebook profile in which the individual wrote for political views: “Seeing clearly through the false right/left paradigm to the REAL issue: the State vs the individual” (she also put down for religion: “No religion…just Jesus,” which is another alternative reductionism). This is one of two prevalent ideological cornerstones that seem to be defining the new (or alternative) poles of the mainstream conservative-progressive spectrum (“false” or otherwise), the other being the identification of “corporations” as the boogeyman. These two poles are, in reality, almost identical in their underlying logic (or lack thereof), and thus almost identically defective.
It’s not that there are not problems and challenges posed by each respective boogeyman: The state, while saddled with accountability to the public, has a near-monopoly on the legitimate use of force, and is thus an inherently coercive social institution; while corporations, lacking access to coercive physical force, combine more subtle but comparably effective tools of manipulation, yet lacking any public accountability other than that imposed via the state. Rather, it’s that they are both indispensable aspects of our social institutional landscape (one being an essential component of a very robust political economy, and the other being a bulwark against mutual predation and instrument of mutual large-scale collective action), thus making mere vilification as meaningless as bemoaning the need to breathe.
The question is not whether they are problematic artifacts of our social institutional landscape (they are, as are all such artifacts in varying ways, including family, religion, mass media, etc., etc., etc.), but rather how best to manage them through our various vehicles of collective action (which include, but are not limited to, corporations and the state). This difference is critical, because while the reductionist approach sees them (the state or corporations, respectively) as beasts to be tamed, the social analytical approach sees them both as in some ways beneficial yet, as loci of power, always potential vehicles of social injustice. The basic ideological dispute over which is the problem and which is the remedy is erased in the awareness that they both are simultaneously neither and both.
The New Reductionism is evident in the many statements to be found currently scattered throughout the virtual landscape evincing a transcendence of The Old Reductionism, but simultaneously embracing its very similar replacement. The Old Reductionism is Left v. Right, Democrat v. Republican, an alliance of labor and the recently or currently ostracized (e.g., minorities, gays) v. (since the 1980s) an alliance of Christian fundamentalists and the traditional elites (i.e., white males) plus some portion of new entrants (i.e., the wealthy in general). The New Reductionism, which is a mere minor shift from this previous formulation, is New Left (rallying around a fanatical opposition to corporate power) v. New Right (rallying around a fanatical opposition to state power).
The Tea Party emerged announcing itself as an alternative to the failed left-right dichotomy, focusing instead on the pure and, to them, irrefutable rightness of opposing the state in service to a very narrow (and generally dysfunctional) definition of liberty. The Coffee Party emerged announcing itself as an alternative both to The Old Left and to The Tea Party, a more moderate and reasonable third way, but quickly became co-opted almost entirely by the same anti-corporate ideology prevalent in the mainstream progressive movement.
The problem with The New Reductionism is the same as the problem with The Old: It leaps to oversimplistic substantive certainties, not forged in any disciplined way, rather than investing in a focus on such disciplined procedures, the one and only remedy to reductionism in general. For instance, prior to the painstaking development of scientific methodology, our understanding of our natural surroundings was at best imaginatively rational but empirically unreliable and imprecise (such as in the case of the Greek Philosophers), and at worst a dogmatic literalization of ancient lore and mythology (such as in the case of religious dogmas of various kinds). It is only by subjecting ourselves to the discipline of well-formulated procedures and methodologies that we can increase The Signal-To-Noise Ratio.
I tried, for awhile, on a national Coffee Party internet site, to encourage that nascent political organization to embrace the real alternative to all reductionisms, a commitment to disciplined procedures for arriving at substantive conclusions, rather than a commitment to the already ideologically presumed correct substantive conclusions themselves. As more expressed an interest in this approach, the resistance to it grew correspondingly more intense, ideologues, as is generally the case in political discourse, drowning out any and all voices of subtler reason.
We need a movement that is committed not to our precipitous false certainties, but rather to our recognition that we can institute disciplines and processes which, to some extent, transcend our constantly aggregated individual folly, and give increased power to our never-sufficiently-tapped-and-realized collective genius. I’ve written repeatedly on one approach to doing so (see Catalogue of Selected Posts, particularly the essays in the second box, and most particularly The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified).
Whether reasonable people of universal goodwill rally around that particular framework, seeking to refine and build on it, or merely around the idea that we need to work together at constructing such a framework, it’s time for us to come together, and, rather than creating yet another New Reductionism, another commitment to precipitous, under-examined competing substantive certainties, create instead a New Holism, a new commitment to transcending our forever aggregating individual folly, and liberating our forever captive collective genius in service to our humanity.
The more profound conflict isn’t between those who reduce our political struggles to a tension between the individual and the state and those who reduce our political struggles to a tension between individuals and corporations, but rather between the commitment to liberating our consciousness in service to humanity, and the commitment to reducing our consciousness to a mere prisoner of its historical artifacts, in service to our bigotries. Unfortunately, the latter continues to dominate, by defining two versions of itself as the two poles of political ideological conflict. We need to define them together as a single pole, and confront them with their combined opposite: Reason in service to universal goodwill.