Tuesday, October 18, 2005

So what?

My apologies for not writing more these past couple of weeks and resorting mostly to link-posting and brief commentary. Pal and good-guy Michael Berube has a nice recent post on this problem and it's one I regret having to resort to, as an academic myself, during these few weeks. I did have a little rant a few days ago, but things have been very busy otherwise.

But what I'm hoping is that I'll be able to blog a bit from Venezuela next month. You might think, so what. Here's why it's not a matter of "so what": I'll be giving various lectures on democracy and globalization while there. Venezuela is a fascinating place because, whatever one thinks of Chavez, there's a real dynamism and real thought about alternatives to the economic liberalism of globalization, which is held as a universal truism in the United States and among many world elites. We all know -- or ought to -- that there are serious drawbacks to the meta-project of global economic liberalization. But there's a real paucity of thinking about this and better alternatives in the US, at least in the public dialogue. We're really rich, after all, for the most part, and as long as we can drive our cars, buy our houses, mostly ignore global problems and allow ourselves to be seduced by Bushian rhetoric about our goodness in the world (and evilness of certain others), plus eat moonpies or wheat germ shots until death do us part, so what.

This is what... there's a lot of very interesting work and a lot of creative ideas being developed out there in the rest of the world. Bush fiddles, Americans worry about new technologies and a robust economy in order to make every inch of our material lives easier and more secure while they try to scratch that itch caused by what Zizek calls the "desert of the real," and the rest of the world looks violent and regressive and poor and just not as good as us. But that other world is where many of the most innovative ideas are taking place. Venezuela is one of those countries. Rather than obnoxiously positing an end to history where economic and political liberalism triumphs or a post-political vision or a universalism of liberal democracy, other places (including the forgotten corners of the US, but often without the conceptual resources) are working through the contradictions of globalization, democracy, and communal meaning. Venezuela, it seems to me from a distance soon to be closed, is one of those places. I've been communicating with some very intelligent, interesting, and idea-rich people there who have a fuller understanding of the costs and benefits, the good and the bad, the gains and the terrible losses, of globalization.

One thing Venezuela is starting up is a requirement for all schools to teach a required course in democracy. The people who are sponsoring my trip -- involved in the educational and social reforms -- are especially interested in the Deweyan version of democracy and its scions as a basis for these courses. That is, a uniquely American product, largely forgotten by the American public and American politics, is seen as the resource I also agree it is for a more experimental progressive form of democracy in the face of globalization. In America, Dewey's books are put on the right-wing blacklist alongside Mao's red book, Marx's Capital, and Hitler's Mein Kampf. Joke's on you, idiots. And... the irony....

So what? I've been maintaining, during the entire life of this blog, that the idea and practice of legitimacy is crucial for a better understanding of the global order, especially a better global order. American policy during the past few years has almost entirely wiped out America's accepted legitimacy as a global hegemonic power. This is a long story that I've only touched upon in previous posts. And I don't want to denigrate all the good ideas that come from some segments of American society. It's just that they're largely powerless. What I am saying is that the time will come, perhaps sooner than we expect, where the US will have to look outside itself for the best versions of its own native ideas commingled with ideas and practices from elsewhere.

That's what.

And I'm looking forward to Venezuela as a chance not just to teach and lecture -- my formal duties there -- but to learn. This is a different situation than the usual academic conference here or there where we academics hang out with other elites who think similar thoughts. It's also different, of course, from the travel of embeddness and disorientation. Hopefully, some of all this can be transmitted back through Phronesisaical.

But... I might be promising too much. You'll at least be in the trusty hands of Barba de Chiva who may end up in the end doing a better job than I can. But I know one thing about the two of us -- we're both concerned in only slightly different ways about what the US is becoming, what its place in the world and for itself is, what the reality of its mixed identities means, and how to care for the experiment of the US. I may be less optimistic than he is -- I see the experiment as taking place elsewhere.

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