The new left's suspicionof large-scale social organization; its rejection of democratic centralism; its distrust of leadership and party discipline; its faith in small troups; its repudiation of power and "power trips', work discipline, and goal-directed activity in general; its repudiation of "linear" thinking - these attitudes, the souce of so much that was fruitful in the new left and of so much that was futile and self-defeating as well, originated in the central contention . . . . that "our politics begin with our feelings."
Such a politics can take many forms: radical feminism, environmentalism, pacifism, nihilism, a cult of revolutionary violence. "Cultural revolution" is an ambiguous slogan. In China, it was invoked on behalf of systematic attacks on intelligence and learning, a revolution against culture. In the West, a critique of "instrumental reason" has sometimes degenerated into a Dionysian celebration of irrationality. The revolt against technological domination points toward new forms of community but also toward nihilism and "addled subjectivity," as Lewis Mumford has called it. But in spite of the anti-intellectualism, the infantile insurgency, and the taste for destruction so often associated with cultural politics, it addresses issues ignored by the dominant political tradition: the limits of reason; the unconscious origins of the desire for domination; the embodiment of this desire in industrial technology, ostensibly the highest product of the rational intelligence.
This dangerous road - skirting the edges of the kind of destructive tendencies Lasch details - is also a necessary one. It's one I try to hew close to as much as possible. Setting aside traditional ideological commitments and a mindless consistency in pursuit of certain social and political and cultural goals that are life affirming means flirting with easy, and dangerous, answers. Thus, while I ignore the brain-dead creationists and global-warming deniers, I am quite vocal in my refusal to follow those who insist that scientific or technical (what Lasch refers to as "instrumental") reason as the only solution to our collective problems. While I do not take seriously much of the offered political opposition to our current situation, I am critical of those with whom I would agree that a certain intellectual consistency should drive an agenda that includes what I perceive as political naivete and the possible abandonment of the current political system because it seems beyond the scope of influence from those on what is traditionally known as "the left".*
Much of what passes for social and cultural commentary by "traditional" left-wing critics usually boils down to an unrealistic assumption that science has forever reduced any and all religious statements to the category of "irrationality"; that technical or instrumental reason renders much of our political discourse moot, if only we would pat attention to it; that adherence to a certain set of social and political views necessitates certain actions and modes of thought that are exclusive, irrefutable, and consistent. I regard none of these propositions as either realistic or even rationally defensible, precisely because they are belied by the reality around us. Most important for me, the end result, no matter how much arguments otherwise are made, they are undemocratic to the core; precisely because they eschew politics as messy and inefficient (the highest goal of instrumental reason is efficiency, a practical application as it were of Ockham's Razor), they much prefer Administrative guidance to a democratic politics that is open to all.
We are all in need of a different way of moving forward. While not completely ready to endorse all of what Lasch has to say, his offer of a way through the stale, dead ideological line-ups we usually deal with is a much-needed first couple steps forward.