Sunday, 24 June 2012

David Warren – ‘A voice against passive collusion’ (Ottawa Citizen, June 10, 2012)

In his June 10 editorial David Warren picks up on a phrase he read in a Terry Eagleton interview – the expression being ‘passive collusion’.   For Warren this axiom summarizes what it wrong with contemporary society.   According to his line of thinking, ‘passive collusion’ is what we get when we have the combination of humanism and a neo-managerialism.   Warren wonders, “Why does (Eagleton) not see the relationship between the ‘neo-managerial ethos’ we both utterly detest, and the triumph of what is wanly called ‘secular humanism’?  That, whether in its ‘socialist’ or ‘capitalist’ manifestations, the whole progressive project consists of  managing people as an atomized mass, while exploiting the innate human propensity to passive collusion?” 

Most of this sounds good to me – at least on the surface.  Of course one can’t help but wonder where the evidence is for the so-called ‘triumph’ not to mention the ‘innate’ part.   Of course with respect to contemporary society it seems that one could (and Warren has) made the case the problem is a decline in deference and a fracturing of beliefs and societal norms – which to me is the very opposite of ‘passive collusion’.  Warren’s thinking seems to be that people should think for themselves yet somehow not be curious and skeptical individuals.  More generally, as far as I can tell, we can’t even decide on what the key problems are let alone potential solutions – again the very opposite of ‘passive collusion’.  

Even the possibility of us being an ‘atomized mass’ suggests something other than collusion – passive or otherwise.   Plus, generally, it seems to me that Warren isn’t really a fan of those opting not to collude – for instance some of those very ‘incomprehensible’ students and professors he so loves to ridicule.  Even Eagleton, who generally receives praises in this editorial, can’t, according to Warren, be a real Marxist or literary critic because he is capable of thinking for himself.  As is typical of this style of punditry Warren paints himself as a rebel yet has the most conventional of views.   Parrot-flock chatter indeed.   

In typical fashion Warren builds a column around the writings of Terry Eagleton but displays that he clearly doesn’t know much about the topic.  For instance if Warren had made even the most minimal of enquires he would have discovered that Eagleton had indeed covered similar ground – although one has to say that Eagleton’s writing has a great deal of more depth and nuance (not to mention humour).  Recently speaking specifically about capitalism, the British literary critic noted, “A society of packaged fulfillment, administered desire, mangerialized politics, and consumerist economics is unlikely to cut to the kind of depth where theological questions can even be properly raised, just as it rules out political and moral questions of a certain profundity.”

While Warren chides Eagleton for not making the connections (which if Warren had bothered even a cursory look he would have discovered) one can’t help but feel that it is our not-so-ambitious editorialist who is failing to make links.  While I have no bone to pick with religion, if I was asked to come up with an example of ‘passive collusion’, ‘atomized masses’ and ‘neo-managerial ethos’ the very first thing that would spring to my mind would be the Catholic Church.  To call this history, or at lease the vein of it linked to abuse, shameful is an understatement.   While the acts are appalling it’s the endless cover-ups which are truly toxic.  Perhaps if Warren had done a bit more digging he would have unearthed the following Eagleton passage: “Yet it is most certainly Christianity itself which is primarily responsible for the intellectual sloppiness of its critics.  Apart from the signal instance of Stalinism, it is hard to think of a historical movement that has more squalidly betrayed its own revolutionary origins.”  Meanwhile, for Warren, always yearning for simplicity, it is just easier to take befuddled potshots at students, professors and universities. 

It is particularly telling that Warren avoids the opening topic in the sole Terry Eagleton piece he draws from.  In the Oxonian Review interview Eagleton answers a number of questions about Why Marx Was Right – his book which makes an interesting companion to some of his critiques in Reason, Faith, and Revolution.  Perhaps this is just a step too far for Warren.  Still, if he doesn’t want to be seen purchasing Why Marx Was Right, he could always check it out from his local library – assuming, of course, that libraries are not a part of the sinister ‘nanny state’ he endlessly rails against.   So while Warren’s on-going tirades against the ‘nanny state’ may provide some sort of antidote for neo-managerialism, they also seem like a viable recipe for an atomized mass.  

“The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security – they can buy all these things for themselves.” – Joseph Stiglitz (former Chief Economist of the World Bank, professor of economics at Columbia University)

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