Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

The actual new year, liberalism, conservatism, postmodernism, and Paglia.  §

Tomorrow it all starts back up again.

Work. School. Everyday life. Everything.


© Aron Hsiao / 2015

Looking back, I think this year’s break was particularly important for me. It’s been a very long two years. The two previous holiday seasons, everything was tense, up in the air, in a state of crisis. This one was more… peaceful. A chance to reflect, read some books, work out some thoughts.

I’m not particularly eager to hop back on the treadmill. January, in particular, is going to be a bear. And the return of everyday life means the return of everyday worries, things that you don’t necessarily worry about during the holiday season: responsibilities, bills, debts, careers and career stability, and so on. At times, the days ahead are going to be hell. I have no illusions. It is not a happy or easy period of life, and there is no getting around that.

But at the same time, I do feel as though this is to be a new beginning, the real start of the next phase of life. There is a part of me that is looking forward to what is to come, looking forward to seeing what I can make of things now that I am just me, unencumbered (I had chosen other words here, but they were too colorful).

— § —

The question about my work future remains at the front of my mind.

What are the things that I can do with the skills and qualifications that I have? In which direction should I climb? Is there, after all, a realistic possibility of some sort of career in the academy? If not, what happens after my current post?

I’ve never had to think about questions like this before. I’ve always been self-employed, until the last several years. I’ve always had multiple contracts ongoing, so that if one went, things would be tight, but income would still come in. And as one gig faded, another would take its place.

Now, there’s just one thing, one company, one relationship. And I know that nothing is forever. It’s a scary prospect. I blame my ex-wife for putting so much angry pressure on me for so many years to leave my previous work lifestyle behind. But behind it is, and I need to figure out where to go from here.

What to develop. What to pursue.

— § —

I’ve used the holiday season in part to rebuild my data life and data infrastructure to some extent. Given how I work and have worked (and I don’t mean at any one particular job, but in general, at the level of “work in my life”) for decades, gaining back some tools for collecting and organizing my thoughts, plans, and projects was step one.

Some people (say, me, but I know there are others) literally don’t know what they think until they get it all outside of themselves and look at it. Extroverts do this sort of thing through conversation with other people. Introverts do it by endlessly making, remaking, extending, mixing, and reading their own notes. Notes are a link to the self, and the self is the center of the universe when it comes to being able to function in society and to grow.

I’ve done a lot of introspection this year, and a lot of “personal growth” reading and thinking.

It’s time now to move beyond that and act in the world.

I was watching a video of Camille Paglia the other day, speaking to a group of students in the U.K. and taking some of their questions. Something that she said struck me. Our options for identity and social embeddedness in the current social milieu are so constrained that our sphere of self has grown ever smaller, so small that there is almost nothing left but the body itself to be “us, ourselves.” And so we spend endless time adorning it, enhancing it, modifying it, and reflecting on it (c.f. race, gender, sexuality, fitness, fashion, and so on).

(Okay, so I wasn’t as struck as I’m suggesting. I’d come to the same conclusion on my own.)

The corollary to this point, in any case, is that to escape the isolation and lack of transcendence that inheres in an “I am my body and nothing more” life, one must make a conscious effort to “self” (participate, observe, identify, connect, relate, act, engage, brand, etc.) beyond the body. In short, one must take risks and act in the world, in relation to other things, other places, other people, to ideas, to the social fabric, to the community.

I am arriving at that stage now. I’ve had my moment to turn inward, to think. That was 2016, almost in its entirety.

Now I have my conclusions. Some things about me have been recalled from the past. Other things about me have changed or been changed. Now I own it and then move beyond “my self,” “my space,” and “my life” in terms of how I spend my time.

— § —

On the notion of change, I should address the questions that have resulted from my declaring myself to be (a couple of posts ago) a “conservative.”

I didn’t mean this in exactly the way it was taken. My politics haven’t changed all that much, though some positions and basic values have been clarified. But with this clarification resulting from my introspection and new experiences, in concert with the clarifications that could not help but result from the recent election season, I realized that I had been uncertain of a lot of things for a very long time.

First, “conservative” here is not the same thing as “movement conservative,” “Republican,” “Trumpite,” or anything of the sort. I am referring more properly to a strand of thought that is not well represented in any of our parties right now. It’s more Yale than Heritage Foundation, more highbrow rag than Tea Party screed. It is a values position, rather than a policy position. It is an embrace of the very concepts of virtue, truth, prudence, and high-mindedness.


© Aron Hsiao / 2004

The reason for my “conversion” is not so much a change in ideas as it is a realization that while neither side of the aisle in American life embraces or exemplifies these things right now, the institutional American left and the academy are actually very must against them, not as moral propositions, but as possibilities. That is to say that there is an (ideological, in my opinion) insistence that these things simply do not exist in reality and are rather constructions (though not necessarily cynical or conspiratorial ones) to instate and ensure the dominance of certain biocultural groups (caucasians, males) or classes (the bourgeoisie).

Though I agree with more of the Marxist literature than most Americans and have spent many years grappling joyously with the implications (which are important) of postmodernism and post-structuralism, I find the idea that there is no such thing as objective virtue, objective truth, virtuous prudence, or worthwhile high-mindedness…. to be empirically false, and the arguments against them to be largely ahistorical. I find separate the following three ideas: that in modernity, society has rejected grand historical and existential metanarratives; that as a normative proposition, it is right, proper, and useful to reject such metanarratives; and that all such metanarratives are not merely ideological, but by virtue of their being metanarratives, self-evidently false and objectionable.

I agree with the first point as a historical matter and find this to be one of the most interesting and research-worthy facets of postmodernism, as it will surely have (and already has had) serious implications for human life and progress in the future. The other two, however, I categorically reject. Neither are all grand historical metanarratives false simply by virtue of being such, nor is the right course of action in all cases to reject them out of hand on precisely those grounds.

Instead, as with all things, what matters is discernment—judgment and discretion employed by virtuous, prudential, truth-seeking minds to determine which metanarratives have to go or are to be snickered at in retrospect, and which are to inspire, guide, and lead us—not toward a better future, for surely this doesn’t properly exist and never has, at the metaphysical and/or existential levels, but toward well-lived lives of meaning and rectitude.

So.

When you think these things: virtue, truth, prudence, the importance of high culture, the silliness of race, gender, and identity politics, the wrongheadedness of postmodernism—not itself as a now canonized literature in its entirety, but rather as the aggregate thought of many of its adherents, who seem to be sloppy thinkers that unwittingly allow the slippage of language to be mirrored in the slippage of thought—as well as the utter vacuity and even deplorability of the moral reasoning that it has produced (safe spaces, language-as-violence, and so on)… When you think these things, you cannot claim to be a person of the left.

Well, you can, but it is not clear communication; it is not something that can be understood without extended exposition. It is like using the word “orange” to refer to an apple, saying afterward that “I can always explain it to others in detail so that they understand what I mean, and I am willing to do this, so important is it to me to call the one thing the other.”

No. I have no particular attachment to any “side” in American political milieux so I will instead adopt cultural norms, as I believe to be prudent, and say that if most people today had an extended political conversation with me, they’d think I was a nutty brand of conservative that happily reads Marx and Gramsci and Adorno, but was absolutely, positively neither “liberal” nor “progressive,” though in the ’90s the same public would have clearly said the opposite.

So I accept what is (another talent that is long-lost on the left) and, in the interest of communicating clearly, now call myself a “conservative*” (asterisk important) henceforth. And I will continue to happily read and comment and interact and become involved locally on both sides of the aisle.

— § —

And now it’s time to go to bed. As always, it’ll take a moment to adjust to the unique context that is a fresh January, particularly after long weeks of being able to think and read until very late, then to sleep in until the same.

Night, world.

Oh, and Camille Paglia and Rod Dreher have become important voices to contend with, for me. That also indicates something significant along the lines outlined above.

Yes, anyway. Night.