Monday, May 12, 2008

Reductionism and the Right-Wing.

I have struggled with myself to understand the profound discomfort that I feel with the attitude, so prevalent today of the prevailing right-wing ideology. What is it that I feel to the very depths of my bones that is so wrong, so terribly corrupted, so utter inhuman, about these popular ideas? After much consideration, I have come to at least a partial conclusion. I have decided that it is not any one particular policy or position that I find so distasteful; rather, it is something to do with the manner in which they have reduced the abundance of the world. Everything about the modern right-wing ideology is offensively reductive. They restrict the rich diversity not only of the human experience but of nature itself. This is seen most blatantly in their reduction of all social and economic policies to so-called ‘measurable outcomes.’ Everything from healthcare to education is treated in terms of the crudest business model and reduced to inputs and outputs, as though you could measure normative values the way an accountant measures profits. You can see this in the contemporary obsession with standardized testing in education as though intelligence itself could be set to a formula. But of course education is no longer a social concern and even students are reduced to potential workers rather than growing individuals who can contribute in countless individual ways to the growth of our culture. Likewise, the citizen, once the central concept in democratic life and theory, has been reduced to the ‘tax-payer.’

But here is the rub; none of the most important things in life or society can be reduced to measurable quantities. Value cannot be measured. Education, for example, is not a number but a process of enrichment. We cannot reduce funding of education to an input-output model because its effects are moral, personal, and ideological. We cannot measure the investment return on normative standards, whether positive or negative. It is a deep perversion of the human and social soul to attempt to reduce health, education the environment, career satisfaction, or human happiness to a measurable quantity. This is, in my mind, precisely what it means to be human, to have values that are immeasurable and to look toward a better future that cannot be reduced to issues of measurability.

So here is what I have grown so uncomfortable with in the modern ideology; its proponents have abandoned one of the central aspects of their humanity – their illimitability. Thus when I look at George Bush or Stephen Harper, I see the soulless, mindless, heartless, autonomic creatures who have abandoned humanity and reduced individuals and society to a set rationalized functions that they think must always be measurable.

The way forward for people who oppose this reductive ideology need not be the creation of a complex ideology like those created in the 19th and 20th centuries. Rather, we need to begin simply by rejecting the technical-rationalism that has colonized our moral and normative lives and we must embrace our illimitable natures. The world is infinitely abundant, don’t let men in suits reduce it to numbers and equations!

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