Tuesday, June 08, 2021

George Packer: "How America Fractured into Four Parts" (like the four temperaments: free, smart, real, just)


Rehoboth, 2021/6

OK, read George Packer’s Atlantic manifesto, “How America Fractured into Four Parts”, with the tagline, “People in the United States no longer agree on the nation’s purpose, values, values, and meaning.”  Is reconciliation possible?  

First, there are two Americas:  Free and Real, and then Smart and Just.  Well, those break into the four parts. “Real America breaks down the ossified libertarianism of Free America” and “Just America assails the complacent meritocracy of Smart America”.

The most telling part is the last one, the Just, where he defines identity politics, intersectionality, and effectively critical theory.  But the most notable part of the Just America paradigm is that it seems to defeat the idea of assessing an individual’s place outside of a group at all;  it would have no part of Maoist China’s social credit scores, which give grades to individuals, after all (and maybe could put them on the block chain, which probably most alien civilizations have done).  There is no recognition of reason, just the “’lived experience’ of the oppressed”.  Then the essay goes on to admit that “identity politics inverts the old hierarchy of power into a new one: bottom rail on top”. And “oppression” is not an individualized experience, but a shared “alienation” from “constant exposure to the dominant culture”.

He also writes “Structural racism …. Is real.  But so is individual agency, and in the Just America narrative, it doesn’t exist”.  You wonder if Packer has been reading Tyler Mowery’s YouTube series “The Writer’s Mind” (esp. Episode 29).

He writes that things started to change in 2014 (the year Ferguson happened), the time I released by DADT-III book.  I saw my position in the world in terms of an expectation that the world’s moral frame was fixed, it was up to me, as an outlier who was ironically privileged anyway so as to be able to outflank others and get indirect power of reach, to fit in with some degree of individual social credit after all.  But “Just” America made it all about groups, pure communism.

A world in which my own identity was hopeless and hanging on to “living experience of oppression” would give me no reason to continue my own life.  And yet that is what solidarity “on the bottom” demands.

Look at this Twitter thread by Karlyn (and me) 

Update: June 13:  George Packer has a new book "Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal" from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 226 pp and it is reviewed today by William Galston.  The reviewer feels Packer is wrong on why the white working class turned away from the Democrats, among other things. 

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