My Partner

This phrase presents something of a communication problem, especially with Kerry’s androgynous name. “My girlfriend” sounds relatively frivolous, failing to convey the fact of cohabitation and level of commitment. “My live-in lady,” as was suggested to me by one DC-area native, is inconsistent with other evident markers of socio-economic status, and therefore conveys irony and/or a lack of respect. I happen to like “my partner” because Kerry and I are… partners. We are a team. Our lives are a life together — a joint endeavor. It’s aggravating that the language has yet to offer terms that communicate this status other than spouse/husband/wife. So far, it’s hard to beat POSSLQ. Here is Wikipedia:

POSSLQ (pronounced /ˈpɒsəlkjuː/) is abbreviation (or acronym) for “Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters,” a term coined in the late 1970s by the United States Census Bureau as part of an effort to more accurately gauge the prevalence of cohabitation in American households.

After the 1980 Census, against all odds, the term gained currency in the wider culture for a time, with CBS commentator Charles Osgood memorably composing a verse which began

There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
If you would be my POSSLQ
You live with me and I with you,
And you will be my POSSLQ.
I’ll be your friend and so much more;
That’s what a POSSLQ is for.

Sadly, if you insist on talking about “my POSSLQ” it will sounds like you’re talking about a passel of possums and a pool cue, or something.

Mormon

“So you’re Mormon, then?”

“Well, not exactly. I’m in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”

Puzzled: “Oh.”

“You see, when Joseph Smith, the founder of both churches, was murdered…”

This exchange was an intermittent refrain of my wonder years. I was always having it — at six, ten, seventeen.  When the question was put to me, Mormon tended to get a superfluous and probably unintended emphasis, lending the usually innocent query a tone of minor accusation, of a probe for shame at my inexplicable oddness. I actually relished the small correction, highlighting my truly supererogatory deviance by introducing and embracing a minor subcategory of strange. I got pretty good at it.

We stayed in the Midwest, waiting for Joesph Smith’s son to become a man, so he could take over from his dad. We didn’t go to Utah with Brigham Young, who was very vulgar, by the way. We never practiced polygamy. We don’t perform secret rites or wear funny underwear. We don’t pester people at home. Our example is our testimony. We believe in the Book of Mormon, yeah, but I’m not really Mormon in the way everyone understands.”

I took comfort in both the fact that I was more exotic than a regular Mormon — “No, not ‘reformed’… ‘reorganized‘”  — but also less doctrinally weird, much more like a Presbyterian than the boy Deacons down at the Ward.  But when I went to work for my church over my first two college summer terms — first in Nauvoo, then in Kirtland — and ended up learning too much of the truth, I came to wish, I guess a bit perversely, that I’d been a real Mormon all along.

To have once believed that Heavenly Father (and Mother!) lives on Kolob and that I too would be rewarded with dominion over a celestial realm of my own — that makes for a better story than having been part of the non-Polygamist, non-Exodusizing, non-eternally-marrying Mormons, even if Brigham Young really was a douche. At least I can say that as a lad I did believe the Navajo and Choctaw descended from Jews who came over the Atlantic in boats. That’s something! But I was never really proud to not have ridiculous magical underwear. I wanted magical underwear. “Mormon” is something I sort of was, but not really. Something I both claim and reject. A leather-bound Book of Mormon embossed with my initials sits on my bookshelf. But my memory is dissapointingly ungirded.

[Up next in “What you’re searching for”: “My partner,” “delibertate.com,” “sex,” and “political correctness.” Whoever wants “Gordon Tullock” needs to work harder.]

Naomi Klein

Is an angry fish, wondering where her water went. Naomi Klein is a Catholic without a Pope. Naomi Klein cannot believe it all turned out this way. Naomi Klein wants to sell you a better buggy whip. Naomi Klein is brought to you by the objects of her confused contempt. Naomi Klein “believes her own bullshit.”

On the topic of Naomi Klein’s recent contribution to human ignorance, Brad DeLong offers Keynes’ retort to Trotsky. Let’s freshen this up a bit and ask Klein to consider the thoughts of another disappointed hereditary communist. Here is the late Richard Rorty in “The End of Leninism and History as Comic Frame” speaking to Naomi Klein and her comrades:

The events of 1989 have convinced those who were trying to hold on to Marxism that we need a way of holding our time in thought, and a plan for making the future better than the present, which drops reference to capitalism, bourgeois ways of life, bourgeois ideology, or the working class. We must give up on the Marxist blur, as Marx and Dewey gave up on the Hegelian blur. We can no longer use the term “capitalism” to mean both “a market economy” and “the source of all contemporary injustice.” We can no longer tolerate the ambiguity between capitalism as a way of financing industrial production and capitalism as The Great Bad Thing that accounts for most contemporary human misery. Nor can we use the term “bourgeois ideology” to mean “beliefs suited for societies centered around market economies” and “everything in our language and habits of thought which, if replaced, would make human happiness and freedom more easily realizable.”

Rorty, regretfully agreeing with Alan Ryan and Jurgen Habermas that market economies appear to be part of the best we can hope for, suggests other dissappointed Marxists should just go ahead and drop their jargon, which turns out to be good for little more than signaling to one another. “It would be a good idea,” Rorty argues “to stop talking about ‘the anticapitalist struggle’ and to substitute something banal and untheoretical — something like ‘the struggle against against avoidable human misery.'”

Naomi Klein did not get this memo, or she burned it. Naomi Klein took 1989 with less honesty and grace than did Richard Rorty. Indeed, a yearning for the restoration of 1988 rises from every page of Naomi Klein oeuvre. Indeed, that’s a decent account of her project: to restore, in the early 21st Century, the sense that one can be a real intellectual, and not something like a young Earth creationist, while believing what even Richard Rorty could not believe after 1989.

But let’s not give Rorty too much credit here, either. To see “the struggle against avoidable human misery” as “banal and untheoretical” is ridiculous. That human beings should not suffer, that suffering is avoidable, that we should not simply reconcile ourselves to its inevitability and retreat to the consolations of mysticism, is an invention of modernity, and central to the ideology of progressive liberalism. The struggle to improve human welfare is banal only in contrast to the expectation of something much more romantic, dramatic, and stupid, such as the consummation of history through the revolutionary remaking of human society. And that is precisely what Rorty rightly says that it is baseless to expect and wrong to want.

But Klein wants it. And Rorty’s bourgeois petty reformism must seem anything but untheoretical; it is certainly ideological. And the struggle against avoidable human misery is evidently still not good enough, for Klein exhibits a rare genius in carefully avoiding the ample and well-understood body of knowledge about how human misery is best avoided.

Conspiracy theory will always find an audience among the ignorant, but there is no real chance that Naomi Klein matters much in the end. There is Naomi Klein and then there is the way the world is. Well-functioning market institutions will continue to lift the world’s poor from misery. It remains that Milton Friedman did immensely more to avoid avoidable human misery than did three generations of Richard Rortys and Naomi Kleins, who in stark contrast helped drive tens of millions of human beings straight into it. And Naomi Klein is a  dishonest, self-infatuated hack. With a little help from people who know what they are talking about, it all works itself out.

[Next up in the “What You’re Searching For” series: “Mormon”]