Je Vous Dis, Merde! 27: The Political is Personal

The slogan, “the personal is political,” was a revolutionary rallying-cry of late 1960s and 70s identity-politics, especially second-wave feminism:

The personal is political, also termed The private is political, is a political argument used as a rallying slogan of student movement and second-wave feminism from the late 1960s. It underscored the connections between personal experience and larger social and political structures. In the context of the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, it was a challenge to the nuclear family and family values.[1] The phrase has been repeatedly described as a defining characterization of second-wave feminism, radical feminism, women’s studies, or feminism in general.[2][3] It differentiated the second-wave feminism of the 1960s and 1970s from the early feminism of the 1920s, which was concerned with achieving the right to vote for women.

I can certainly understand, and empathize with — hey man, I can grok — the self-liberating, social-revolutionary motivations for acting and thinking in accordance with “the personal is political.”

But from a more reflective and critical philosophical-political point of view, there are three fundamental problems with the very idea of personalizing politics.

First, when we personalize politics, by blowing up the mini-me of personal identity into the mega-ME of political IDENTITY, we shut ourselves off from other points of view and create both cultural conflict with other IDENTITY-groups, and also a lack of empathy with the plight of anyone who is excluded by our favored IDENTITY-group.

— A good contemporary example is the opinion I actually saw expressed in my “#TheResistance” Twitter feed a month or two ago, that “opioid-addicted mouth-breathing Trump-voting under-educated white guys who live in their mothers’ basements deserve to die.”

Second, when we personalize politics, we strongly encourage the fallacy of confusing being personally offended by someone or something, which is merely a psychological matter of our hurt feelings and anger, and being politically oppressed by someone or something, which coercively undermines or violates our human dignity and is a matter of morality.

This fallacy, in turn, leads directly to intolerance for the free expression of opinions and life-styles by those excluded by our favored IDENTITY-group and may even lead us to become oppressors of the members of that group.

— A good example would be fist-fight encounters, or even more violent clashes, between liberal Trump-haters and anti-liberal Trump-lovers.

Third, and most importantly for the purposes of this essay, personalizing politics directly entails a profound mistake about the nature of social and political institutions, which is the explicit or implicit claim that social and political institutions are essentially (or even nothing but) larger versions of ourselves and our individual psyches.

By a social institution I mean any group of people who comport themselves according to shared aims and rules, and by a political institution I mean any social institution dedicated to coercive or non-coercive public governance.

So, according to the slogan that “the personal is political,” all social and political institutional issues and problems become essentially (or even nothing but) our own personal psychological issues and problems writ large.

But, as I said, although I can grok the self-liberating, social-revolutionary motivations for acting and thinking in accordance with “the personal is political” — sadly, it’s a philosophically and politically unacceptable thesis for the three reasons I just gave:

(i) it creates cultural conflict, and a lack of empathy with the plight of others;

(ii) it primes the “being offended = being oppressed” fallacy, and leads to intolerance for free expression, or even new oppression; and

(iii) it entails the profoundly mistaken claim that that social and political institutions are essentially (or even nothing but) larger versions of ourselves and our individual psyches.

As regards (iii) in particular, contrariwise and conversely, the philosophical-political truth of the matter actually is :

our inner and outer personal lives are significantly shaped by the social and political institutions we belong to, usually without any self-conscious awareness on our own part.

This doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily determined by these social and political institutions: within certain natural, social, and political limits, we still have free will, by which I mean a conscious human subject’s power to choose or do what he or she wants to, or to refrain from so choosing or so doing, without preventative constraints and without internal or external compulsion, with at least causal responsibility, and often moral responsibility as well.

For example, in ordinary circumstances, I can choose to hop around a bit like a bunny or flap my arms like a bird if I want to; I can choose to express my own opinions and lifestyle if I want to; and I can choose to obey or disobey those who try to tell me what to do, including the police and the government, if I want to.

Nevertheless, the array of options-for-choice that’s presented to our capacity for free will and also our internalization of this array of options-for-choice, are both significantly constrained and molded by the social and political institutions in which we live, move, and have our being.

To demonstrate my point, let’s take only the most obvious example: the social institution of the family.

Consider now two of the most famous and insightful observations ever made about families, the first line of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and the first verse of Philip Larkin’s “This Be The Verse”:

Tolstoy:

Every happy family is the same, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Larkin:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.

What Tolstoy and Larkin are telling us is that the social institution of the family, as instanced by our own families, significantly shapes our personal lives, usually without any self-conscious awareness on our part, by significantly constraining and molding the array of options-for-choice we have presented to us and that we internalize, as belonging to some family or another.

This is self-evidently true.

Now suppose that you grew up in one of those unhappy families so brilliantly described by Tolstoy and Larkin, royally fucked up by your Mum and your Dad.

It follows directly, but also counterfactually, that if the people in your actually fucked-up family had acted and interacted significantly differently — if the people in your actually fucked-up family had performed their social roles significantly differently — then your personal life would also have been significantly different.

Moreover, again counterfactually, if the people in your actually fucked-up family had acted and interacted significantly differently and much better — if the people in your actually fucked-up family had performed their social roles significantly differently and much better — then you personally would have been much less unhappy and much less fucked-up, or even happy and not at all fucked-up.

This too is self-evidently true.

Therefore:

if we change the structure and dynamics of the social and political institutions to which we belong, then we significantly change the structure and dynamics of the personal lives of the people belonging to those social and political institutions; and the more radically we change the structure and dynamics of those institutions, the more radically we’ll change the structure and dynamics of the personal lives of the people belonging to those social and political institutions.

So if we want to change people’s personal lives, including our own, for the better, then we should freely create, develop, and sustain better social and political institutions — and then changes for the better in other people’s and our own personal lives will follow naturally from that, as the day follows night.

That is: freely making good social and political institutions for ourselves is one and the same as freely making good personal lives for ourselves.

Or in other words — and I’m certainly not the first to assert this, but possibly the first to mean specifically what I mean by it, and to assert it for the particular reasons I’ve given —

the political is personal.

So let’s call this Mr N’s Political-is-Personal Principle.

That being so, it follows that in order to make people’s lives radically and progressively better — in order to undertake a progressive revolution here and now in The Age of Trump-POTUS — then we should:

(i) break through the mentally-enslaving cognitive walls erected in our heads by the corporate-controlled mainstream media, aka The Establishment Propaganda Machine — e.g., “Russiagate,” which started off as a mere political joke but by now has become a major source of attention-deflecting, hypnotizing, pacifying thought-control,

(ii) dump our utterly outmoded, and by now also positively unhelpful, identity-politics of personalizing the political into the ash-heap of history, and

(iii) focus instead on progressively revolutionizing the structure and dynamics of the social and political institutions to which we belong.

Now how can we do this, you ask?

My answer is: it’s unbelievably simple, because, for an unbelievably simple starter, we can freely choose to enact the seven-part package of social and political proposals I’ve listed below.

And in so doing, by virtue of the truth of Mr N’s Political-is-Personal Principle, then we’ll freely transform everyone’s personal lives for the better — including, of course, our own personal lives.

And as always, to anyone who says that this is impossible or just can’t be done,

Je vous dis, merde!

***

“Je vous dis, merde!” (literally, “I say to you: shit!” or more loosely, “You’re so full of shit!”) is a morally and politically defiant slogan invented and first published by an early 20th-century Catalan anarchist who used the nom de guerre “Miguel Almereyda.” Almereyda, who was murdered in a French prison in 1917, was also the father of the famous French film director Jean Vigo, who immortalized the same slogan in his breakthrough 1933 film, Zéro de conduite, aka Zero for Conduct.

Here is the seven-part platform of The Wake The Fuck Up! Party , aka The WTFU Party, aka Up Against the Wall, Philosophy-Fucker!, aka UAW/PF —

1. Universal Respect for Human Dignity (URHD):

· Human dignity is the absolute non-denumerable moral value of every member of humanity, and everyone ought to try wholeheartedly to treat everyone else in a way that is sufficient to meet the demands of respect for human dignity, especially including (i) alleviating or ending human oppression, and (ii) actively engaging in mutual aid and mutual kindness.

2. Universal Basic Income (UBI):

· Anyone 21 years of age or over and living permanently in the USA, who has a personal yearly income of $50,000.00 USD or less, and who is capable of requesting their UBI, would receive $25,000.00 USD per year, with no strings attached.

3. A 15-Hour Workweek for Understaffed Non-Bullshit Jobs (FHW-for-UNBJs):

· Anyone 18 years of age or older who is living permanently in the USA, who has completed a high school education, and is mentally and physically capable of doing a job, would be offered an eco-job, paying a yearly wage of $25,000.00 USD, for fifteen hours of work (three 5-hour days) per week.

Thus anyone 21 years of age or older with a high-school degree and who is also mentally and physically capable of working, would have a guaranteed yearly income of at least $50,000.00 USD if they chose to do an eco-job.

The rationale behind the three-year gap between (i) being offered an eco-job at 18 and (ii) beginning to receive their UBI at 21, is that every young adult who has finished high school will have the option of pursuing three years of part-time or full-time free higher education without credentialing, i.e., for its own sake, after high school, before making longer-term decisions about what I call job-work and life-work.

***

Here are a few more details about UBI and eco-jobs.

(i) The UBI is to be paid by a monthly stipend check.

(ii) Eco-job income is not taxed.

(iii) For all individual yearly incomes of $50,000.00 USD or under, no tax will be levied; hence for someone receiving their UBI and also doing an eco-job, no income tax will be levied.

(iv) For all individual non-eco-job incomes, for every $1.00 USD earned above the standard UBI of $25,000.00 USD, the monthly UBI stipend is reduced by 50 cents, until the recipient’s UBI is reduced to zero; hence for those individuals with yearly non-eco-job incomes equal to or under $50,000.00 USD, the maximum UBI + non-eco-job income sum is always $50,000.00 USD.

(v) For all individual yearly incomes over $50,000.00 USD, for every $10,000.00 USD earned, that surplus income is taxed at the rate of 1%, with the highest surplus income tax rate being 50%; hence the maximum surplus 50% tax rate starts at individual yearly incomes of $550,000.00 USD, and applies to all higher surplus incomes.

***

4. Universal Free Higher Education Without Credentialing (HEWC):

· Everyone would be offered, beyond their high-school education, a free, three-year minimum, optional (but also open-ended beyond those three years, as a further option), part-time or full-time universal public education program in the so-called “liberal arts,” and also in some of the so-called “STEM” fields, including the humanities, the fine arts, the social sciences, mathematics, and the natural sciences.

· For many or even most people, their HEWC would fall between (i) the end of their high school education at age 18 and the corresponding availability of eco-jobs, and (ii) the beginning of their UBI at age 21.

· But HEWC would be open to anyone with a high school degree, no matter how old they are, provided they are mentally and physically capable of doing the program.

5. Universal Free Healthcare (UFH):

· Every human person living permanently in the USA will receive free lifelong healthcare.

6. 2-Phase Universal Open Borders (2P-UOB):

· Phase 1: Starting in 2021, there will be universal open borders with Canada and Mexico, and everyone who moves across those borders and then claims residence in the USA, will receive temporary or permanent residence in the USA and also full membership in the system of UBI, FHW-for-UNBJs/eco-jobs, and UFH in the USA, with the precise number of new temporary or permanent residents to depend on the current availability of (i) adequate funding for UBI, eco-jobs, and UFH , and (ii) adequate living accommodation, in the USA, provided that all new residents also fully respect the human dignity of everyone else in the USA and elsewhere in the world.

· Phase 2: Also starting in 2021, the USA, Canada, and Mexico will collectively form a Global Refugee Consortium (GRC), with three-way open borders to any political refugee, economic refugee, or asylum seeker from anywhere in the world (aka “global refugees”), who will receive temporary or permanent residence in the USA, Canada, or Mexico, and also full membership in the system of UBI, FHW-for-UNBJs/eco-jobs, and UFH in the three GRC countries, with the precise number of new temporary or permanent residents, and the precise distribution of new residents among the three members of the GRC, to depend on the current availability of (i) funding for UBI, eco-jobs, and UFH , and (ii) adequate living accommodation, in the three GRC countries, provided that all new residents also fully respect the human dignity of everyone else in the GRC and elsewhere in the world.

7. Universal No-Guns (UNG):

· No one in the USA, including police, internal security forces of all kinds, armies, and intelligence forces of all kinds, has the moral right to possess or use guns of any kind, for any purpose whatsoever, because the primary function of guns is coercion, and coercion is immoral.

· UNG would be implemented by repealing the Second Amendment to the US Constitution in 2021 and then universally banning the possession or use of guns thereafter.

I’m also assuming that Universal Public Education (UPE) — universal free access for all human persons of any age to good public education up to the end of high school — already exists in most countries, and needs no further justification.

Where UPE does not already exist, it would automatically become a necessary part of the seven-part WTFU Party package, thereby making it a eight-part package.

Mr Nemo, Nowhere, NA, 2 June 2017

The WTFU Party is a sub-project of the online mega-project Philosophy Without Borders, which is home-based on Patreon here.

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.