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Are today’s liberals really liberal?

Of course, terms like “liberal” and “conservative” change values over time, so there is no permanently fixed answer, but the question is still meaningful. Looking at the general standards of what “liberal” has meant in living memory (the past 50 years or so), today’s liberals are not liberal by a 1960s definition, and indeed, for better or for worse, are working feverishly to dismantle the 1960s liberal vision. The 1960s counterculture liberals pushed hard for a non-restrictive (break all restraints), radically integrationist (everyone share everything openly, regardless of race), and non-puritanical (celebrate all forms of robust sexuality, so long as no one is forcing anyone) vision. Using these three criteria, today’s liberals are by 1960s standards “pseudo-liberal” at best, “reactionary” at worst — i.e., they are restrictive (policing speech and every false move), segregationist (cultural appropriation and do-not-cross lines and “you can’t know my truth” because you’re not my color), and puritanical (every hint of male heterosexual desire is suspect in a vague consensus that “male pleasure is inextricably tied to victimizing, hurting, exploiting” [Dworkin]).

So are liberals today “liberal”? If by liberal, you mean restrictive, segregationist, and puritanical, yes. Perhaps this is indeed what “liberal” has become. But if you are old enough to have set your benchmarks of “liberal” over a longer range, say reaching back through the hippies to John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, the new “liberalism” (restrictive + segregationist + puritanical) might seem “pseudo-liberal” or even reactionary, in some cases more reactionary than today’s college-age conservatives.

Stuck for Christmas?

How about giving a book signed by the author? ♥

(Click covers to view online; email drggautier@gmail.com to order signed copies. If you see something you like, order now. Limited number of signed copies in stock.)

Hippies
Audience: Adult Readers
Book price: $11 (see shipping cost below)

Late 1960s. A beautiful naive idealism. Blasted by the Establishment. Torn by its own contradictions. Jazmine, Ziggy, Ragman, and a coterie of hippies run loose and free until they discover an LSD-spinoff drug that triggers past life regressions and sweeps them toward a dramatic climax. This epic tale of hippiedom is intimate in the lives of its characters but panoramic in its coverage of the sights, sounds, and ideals of the Age of Aquarius.

 

Spaghetti and Peas
Audience: Ages 2-8
Book price: $14 (see shipping cost below)

What would you do if you saw a snake in the lettuce? Rachael had to figure that out fast. And she found a magical adventure in her own back yard, within smelling distance of the spaghetti sauce her dad was cooking on the stove. Enjoy this zany, richly illustrated, hardbound picture book as a read-aloud or early reader.

 

 

Mr. Robert’s Bones
Audience: Ages 14-99
Book price: $9 (see shipping cost below)

In a neighborhood full of quirky characters, three kids’ search for hidden silver in an abandoned house pits them against forgotten ghosts and the house’s dark memories of racism and betrayal. The quest for the silver is especially nerve-racking for Annie, the kid who actually sees the ghosts. Her friends want to believe her but can’t, and she herself is torn between running away from it all and following the ghosts into the house’s dark history.

 

Year of the Butterfly  
Audience: Poetry, General
Book cost: $6 (see shipping cost below)

One year, four seasons, an archetypal journey, a poetic landscape rich in the flora and fauna of intimate human connection, joyous and sad. The poems in this 42-page chapbook are mostly short and pithy, formally sculpted, but each is packed with concept and image, and together they build up an unforgettable sense of how much life can be lived in a year and how quickly that year can slip away.

Shipping (USA):
First book                                            $3.50
Second book in same shipment          $2.00
Additional books in same shipment    $1.00

Evil bastards

What do we do with evil bastards in literature? Not every work of literature includes them, but those that do seem to gain a particular purchase on the reader’s attention. Writers love to dream up evil bastards, and we love to enter the dream. But why are we drawn to representations of evil? Maybe because consciousness evolved as a practical adaptation, a problem-solving mechanism. If there’s a small flaw on a large canvas, we tend to zero in on the flaw. If twenty kids are playing nicely in a playground and one is misbehaving, all attention turns to the miscreant. Where there is no problem, consciousness relaxes; where there is a problem, consciousness engages in an urge to explain, to determine, to get our arms around the problem for future reference.

Whether you buy that intro or not, you might find it interesting to explore how fictional evil occurs as a problem we urgently want to explain, to learn from, to pin down for further reference. Below are a few templates for how to explain evil in its fictional deployments.

Social conditions

I might also call this the “materialist template”, and it is big in the age of realism. Evil is a result of historical conditions. Dickens novels might best exemplify this on the literary side, Marx on the philosophy side – human nature is neither good nor evil, but social conditions make it so.

Metaphysical/religious

Evil is part of the great cosmic struggle that is larger than any human life, an absolute that must be faced on its own terms. This model dominates not only overtly religious stories like Paradise Lost, but also heavily symbolic ones like Melville’s Billy Budd, where the human struggle of good and evil seems a shadow cast by some larger eternal archetypal or cosmic struggle.

Psychoanalytic/Freudian

Evil results from a deformation in the individual psyche, some repressed psychological trauma from the personal past that emerges in a destructive form. Poe’s psychopaths, for example: Montresor’s evil in “The Cask of Amontillado” is that of a mentally ill individual. There are no signs of poor social conditions or interventions of spiritual entities from some religious outer frame. There is just the nameless “injury” in Montresor’s personal past that rearranged his mind into that of a monster. (Note: If I were to separate a Psychoanalytic/Jungian version, I would fold it back into the metaphysical/religious. Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, e.g., is essentially a  Jungian/archteypal quest, and any good and evil Milkman encounters along the way are not just realistic details in the life of a man but plot points in an archetypal struggle. Again, the Jungian/archetypal model is my metaphysical/religious model recast into the language of psychoanalysis.)

Existentialist

Here, evil is irreducibly inexplicable, absurd, too arbitrary to be explained via any diagnostic metric. When Meursault kills the Arab in Camus’s The Stranger, we might call this evil in its existentialist aspect. Indeed, it is so inexplicable that we can hardly call it evil. It may be that the existentialist world view, following Nietzsche, is better relegated to the territory “beyond good and evil.” Let’s try Shakespeare’s Iago. He seems to represent a version of evil that is unmotivated, unexplained by a bad childhood or poor social conditions or metaphysical/religious interference or any other rational explanation. He just expresses evil as a random and fundamental force. Of course, his evil is recontained in Shakespeare’s world – not before harm is done, but the moral framing in Othello is not existentialist in tone. There is a moral order to the universe that we can glean from the tragedy. So perhaps Iago shows evil in its absurd or irrational aspect as something that can be recontained in a moral universe, whereas Meursault shows evil in the same aspect but with little or no moral framing.

I could probably think of more, but that is enough to chew on for one day. Feedback welcome.