News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: April 2006

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Rushdie on Islam and Islamism

I think Indian author Salman Rusdie's comments about Islam and Islamism in a recent interview with CNN are balanced and wise. His comments show up some important things: 1) it's a war within Islam that we're seeing played out, and 2) Islam is nowhere near as monolithic as the Islamophobes would have us believe. ...

According to Rushdie:

[Rushdie] But I also think -- I mean, one of the people coming to the PEN Festival, the great Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen. And his new book, "Identity and Violence," shows, gives, I think, the part of the answer, which is that when we define our identities very narrowly -- whether religion or race or class, whatever it may be -- when we define ourselves at [sic] only one thing, it becomes much easier to adopt an adversarial position to other one things.

And I think that is one of the great curses of our time, that we see ourselves as Muslim or Christian, or Eastern or Western. And these very simple definitions make collisions much more likely to happen.

[CNN reporter] GORANI: One quick last question, and this is a very general question and it's very difficult, clearly, to answer in one minute, which is the time we have left, but is this really a clash of civilizations between the West and the Muslim world or is it something different?

RUSHDIE: I don't believe it is entirely. I mean, clearly there is an aspect of radical Islam which is on a collision course with a kind of Western culture that it dislikes. But there is also an enormous battle taking place inside the Muslim world between, if you like, more open and more closed descriptions of the world.

Kashmir, for example, which I wrote my last novel "Shalimar the Clown" about, is a place in which tolerant, mild, almost mystical Islam is under extraordinary pressure from radical, intolerant, brutal Islam. So I think the battle inside the Muslim world is almost more important than any battle between the Muslim world and the West.
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Flight 93

Some conservative pundits are accusing liberals and leftists of being hypocrtical about 911 because they are, supposedly, reluctant to engage the issues raised by the film Flight 93 ...

I wonder, however, what these mind-reading scribes from the Right morass would thik of far-far-leftist Slavoj Zizek's comments on Flight 93. He says it--the actual act carried out by the passengers of the flight--is the defining moment of a post-911 world. In one version of his essay on 911, "Welcome to the Desert of the Real," he writes:

One of the heroes of the Shoah is for me a famous Jewish balerina who, as a gesture of special humiliation, was asked by the camp officers to perform a dance for them. Instead of refusing it, she did it, and while she hold their attention, she quickly grabbed the machine gun from one of the distracted guards and, before being shot down herself, succeeded in killing more than a dozen officers... was her act not comparable to that of the passengers on the flight which crashed down in Pennsylvania who, knowing that they will die, forced their way into the cockpit and crashed the plane, saving hundreds of others' lives?

For another version of this essay see here. Read more!

Chickens Coming Home to Roost

In regard to how history impacts the present, it might prove no surprise that Ike liked jihadism way back when. He saw it as a way to stem the spread of commienism. ...

My take on this historical fact of US policy gyrations in the mideast is to ruminate on Malcolm X's statement that what we see happening in the Islamic world vis a via the US is the chickens coming home to roost.

Americans--encased as many are in a lack of historical consciousness--are appalled at such statements, believing that the past is dead and NOW is all. Many in the rest of the world don't have that luxury. Instead, they're the ones who have suffered from the slouching tread of the American empire in its march toward Jerusalem.

But they do remember--and perhaps they can and will forgive, but only when the US begins to treat them with respect and full realization that the are indeed worthy of rational and reflective debate.
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What Do We Care About Most?

What is it that Americans care about most? One answer is that they care about their privacy most, and they expect govt., no matter which one, to protect that privacy. It seems that they don't even care much what the govt. does to protect privacy, trusting that the "experts" in the govt. will do their job, because that's what we pay them to do. ...

You have to wonder how many people are even aware that their "civil liberties" are in jeopardy by recent activities of the govt. Indeed, how many people really know what a civil liberty is? Recent polls of college students show that they'd restrict press freedom because the press is "too" free and jeopardizes the nation's security, ie, the govt.'s ability to protect their privacy.

I wonder how much of the recent disapproval of the Pres.'s policies in foreign policy are motivated as much by moral and ethical concerns over those policies. Instead, the concern by the public is about how well the admin. is protecting that private world of consumer fantasy we value so much.

Protecting privacy in this context means that the death and destruction in Iraq are getting too real and upsetting the warm cocoon of fantasy that the private world of consumerism promises.

Perhaps the nerve that Senator Russ Feingold and others have hit with the concern over NSA spying is this very special attack that this program poses to our privacy. The more this point can be emphasized, perhaps, the more successful their campaign against this abuse of executive power (which the public doesn't care about much) will succeed.
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Arlen Goes for the Throat?

Does Arlen Specter read Glenn Greenwald's blog? Several weeks ago I suggested exactly the following tactic on that blog to get more info from the Admin on its NSA domestic program(s). ...

According to Yahoo:

Without a pledge from Bush to provide more information on the surveillance program, Specter filed an amendment to a spending bill Thursday that amounted to a warning to the White House.

The amendment would enact a "prohibition on use of funds for domestic electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes unless Congress is kept fully and currently informed."

Specter also said he would turn the amendment into a bill and hold hearings.

"Institutionally, the presidency is walking all over Congress at the moment," Specter said. "If we are to maintain our institutional prerogative, that may be the only way we can do it."

Specter made clear that, for now, the threat was just that.
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Dealing Illusion Some Kick-Ass on Illusion and Self-Deception, Discussion of a Possible Solution

Who benefits from the political and socio-cultural polarization now afield in the US? I think there's something to the idea that even political insiders/outsiders on all sides are just as much captive to a socio-economic system that benefits those at the top of that system than is everyone lese. Therefore, the question becomes how to neutralize this polarization.

Let me state it baldly: The so-called culture war is really a class war, and the underlying forces at work are an economics that produces and thrives on antagonism between people with the same interests in an effort to consolidate its hold on power. ...

It seems that both conservatives and liberals find in the mirror the truth of their own positions. In this regard, the dialectic works in such a way that we find the truth of our beliefs about the meaning of the socio-economic order in the statements/beliefs attributable to the others I most oppose.

Indeed, in many ways, we are co-creators of each other. The more extreme my statements, the more extreme will become the statements of those who find that my own statements simply do not accord with the reality they find in the world. And it is exactly the case that extremist statements that deny the very basis of understanding that are the most suspect and most hypocritical.

I can find no better explanation of this phenomenon than the following from the far-far-left leftist Zizek:

Recall Jacques Lacan’s definition of successful communication: I get back from the other my own message in its inverted (true) form - is this not what is happening to today’s liberals? Are they not getting back from the conservative populists their own message in its inverted/true form? In other words, are conservative populists not the symptom of tolerant enlightened liberals? Is the scary and ridiculous Kansas redneck who explodes in fury against liberal corruption not the very figure in the guise of which the liberal encounters the truth of his own hypocrisy? We should thus (to refer to the most popular song about Kansas, from The Wizard of Oz) reach over the rainbow - over the “rainbow coalition” of the single-issue struggles, favored by radical liberals - and dare to look for an ally in what appears as the ultimate enemy of tolerant liberalism.

I know, it calls into a play a level of self-transformation that you perhaps are not yet ready to undertake. What wild, crazy, tree-hugging BS am I trying to perpetrate?

Of course, you'll know that such a notion goes back to the beginnings of democracy in the west via such crazy guys as Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle. And, as you'll know, it gets picked up by that perhaps most archetypal American democrat, Emerson. You know, this even leads me to ask why the neo-cons, those Platonic/Aristotelian poseurs, leave exactly this notion of individual self-transformation out of their screeds.

I read this as saying that the Left must look to itself to understand how and why the Right cannot/do not assess "the facts" correctly, something Glenn's posting asserts. This means, I think, that the Left is just as much guilty of skewing, misperceiving, distorting facts as much as the Right is.

This reflects something I have been proposing in previous postings: the best way to understand others is to know their arguments--not from the outside, so to speak, but from the inside. This assumes that--if my argument is correct--the extremists from both sides and others (middle-of-the-roaders) agree perhaps more than they disagree.

That is, were each to see the reality--that the only ones to benefit from the extremists being at each others' throats are those who head the current socio-political system--they might indeed accomplish more than spending all day accusing each other that it's the other guy who's wrong and the only ones who deceive themselves.

I used the quote from Zizek to make this point. Specifically, Zizek's discussion goes to show how the evangelical redneck oh so hated by "the radical Leftists" of various brands is actually a product of the Leftists' over-emphasis on such distracting movements like identity politics, women's rights, gay rights, and so on.

Not that these are not significant issues but that they distract from the real issue: the class warfare promoted by a socio-economic system that benefits from pitting lower class rightists against those who should indeed understand that the source of our problems is the socio-economic system and not religion, gender, homophobia, and so on.

For Zizek, it's hypocritical Leftists who want to emphasize gender/race issues over the real issue of class who are the problem, not the "redneck" evangelical. Indeed, it's the latter whose rage and anger must be understood to truly understand what the real issues are.

In other words, it is indeed the economy stupid but in a way that neithehr Carville nor the Clintons would be willing to accept since they are simply mouthpieces of the socio-economic uber-rulers; what Zizek has called Leftist communists like Gates and Soros.
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America the Myth

This report suggests that America the land of opportunity may not be so factually based. Read more!

Kicking Illusion's Ass, the Problem

The following remarks concern the question about how to dispel the lies and deceit people tell themselves.

That is indeed the question. In classical rhetoric, you assume that people are, at heart, disposed by human nature to discerning "the truth," most notably when presnted with an inductive argument that is credible.

One thing that the classisists assumed, however, is that the ones listening to the argument share certain educational and cultural assumptions. ...

With the advent of "the public"--during the Enlightenment, the appeal to reason became a supposedly universal appeal. Yet, as some commentators have rightly noted, those who hear the appeal are in a position to do something once they "see" the truth of the reasoned argument.

Some current theorists base their arguments on the Enlightenment notion of the public. In this regard, what stops people from coming to the rational, democratic solution is the corruption of the means of communication by diverse personal and socio-economic factors--capitalism in particular. The effort, therefore, is to clear away those obstructions to democratic and clear debate.

Others who oppose this view ask a very simple question. How can we ever hope to achieve this "perfect" communication ideal? That is, the model assumes that for the democratic situation to occur, these changes must have already come about. People must change--socially and subjectively--before that ideal itself can be realized. Yet, the socio-economic and subjective factors at work in modern society may be so great that the perfect communication situation will never happen. It's always an ideal-in-waiting, so to speak.

One solution might be to get rid of the rationalistic model presupposed by the ideal communication model althogether. This solution jettisons any notion of "truth" and insists instead on smaller truths. In the best interpretation of this approach, the use of irony and localized, acerbic tricksterism works in ana anarchic way to undermine the prevailing false ethos. This practice opens up the possibility for alternative and creative solutions to injustice and non-democratic structures.

The gist of the preceding is that "the solution" to this question is not simply either psychological or social. It's a combination of both terms. Any solution must, it seems, work at subjective and social levels to bring about a situation in which anything approaching a just and democratic society can exist.

What I find in many of "debates" is the fact that both sides are equally unfair to each other in their understanding and appreciation for their interlocutor's position.

Now, you can go back to classical rhetroic to find the idea that a good debater is someone who can argue the other side's position just as well if not better than him/her. Of course, it's exactly this idea of being able to argue both sides of an issue that's given rhetoric and lawyers a bad name in popular usage.

Yet the point, I think is a valid one. But instead of doing it simply from a desire to beat your opponent, the effort to understand the other side should be motivated by the desire to find what's really motivating them. Based on this, it is perhaps possible to find revelational issues that can serve as the basis for further discussion. A basis that forms a bond of trust that I'm not just jettisoning his/her actual concern for the truth just as much as I have.

The basis for any discussion is the good-faith on both sides. If your interlocutor is only out to score points, this cannot be done. It's like expecting a dog to stop barking when its back's up.

No one is completely wrong. There's always a mixture of truth, fiction, misperception, etc. Only the insane are completely wrong. And it's hyperbole and mean-spiritedness to accuse the other side of such. They may be really wrong, even mostly wrong, but there's always that substrate of whatever you want to call it--human nature, innate human sensibility for the ethical, etc.--that we can appeal to to overcome these differences.

But is that a statement of faith more than one of fact?
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Countering Illusion and Self-Deception

I love it when Bushites make their idol out to be just a common guy. Hell I'd done more physical labor by the time I was 11 than Bush (still) has done his whole life. ...

One of the better examples for me of this contradiction between image and fact came in an interview CNN's Wolf Blitzer had with a race car driver--head, I think, of the race car drivers for GW. Anyway, this pretty famous driver is telling Blitzer about how GW's just a regular old boy, race-drivin loving man, etc. etc. Then Blitzer chimes in with some facts about Bush's Yalie education, his millions-dollar background, and so on. Taken aback a bit, the driver gathers his thoughts and then keeps on unfazed with his polishing up of the image of GW as the working man's guy.

Now was this guy prevaricating in a calculating, hypocritical way? Not at all. The example simply shows how effective and successful the Rovian image-spinners are/were. People want or seek a leader who confirms something they need to fill. The effete, Boston-Mandarin-wannabe Kerry doesn't fill that need for me either. But the fact that he and Bush shared more than just earning C averages at Yale will not even register with the Bushites.

Now, we can go blue in the face trying to prove that Bush is not the man whom his idolizers think he is. We can print fact after fact after fact. Until we get at this will to believe that Bush is this, that, or the other thing, we'll never disabuse them of their illusion.

This latter issue would take another tactic, another rhetorical strategy than many if not most political pundits etc know about, much less want to know about. It goes to the heart of how to de-condition someone of their false beliefs, a process that requires deeply psychological, epistemological, and poetizing skills.

But that's another story...
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Another Blow At the Empire?

You might wish to check out Wired's 27B Stroke 6, a blog devoted to investigating and giving the tech take on vanishing civil liberties. ...

According to Defense Tech:

Oh, this is gonna be good. Ryan Singel, the man behind a zillion data-mining scoops, and cracker-legend-turned-editor Kevin Poulsen have teamed up for a new blog over at Wired News. 27B Stroke 6 (named for Brazil's most famous form) will "scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, in a daily briefing on security, freedom and privacy in the wired world," according to Poulsen.
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Those Muslims Breed Like Rabbits, Doncha Know?

The posting from this blogger at GetReligion supports the view that Europe and western civilization face a dire threat from european muslims because europeans are breeding less and Muslims more. ...

The author says s/he writes for major newspapers in the US. If true, this is pretty frightenin. I do not accept his/her view simply because I think that european Muslims and arabs will be acculturated into western secularism long before their supposed monolithic desire to take over the world ever materializes.

This point, I think, makes this writer's main point rather moot:

And this question leads to another: Can we say that the Muslims in Europe — moderate, traditional and Islamist — are on the rise because, when it comes to family life, they are following their traditions (including faith) while the Europeans are in decline because they have written off their heritage of faith and family? This issue is implied, weakly, in Fleishman’s article, but never stated. At the very least, it would have been interesting to ask that question about nations such as, well, Italy and Ireland.
The fear-mongering in such views as this, however, say more than the actual facts that s/he might cite. Instead of promoting a message of tolerance and understanding, it in fact breeds distrust and non-understanding taht will only feed an incipient fascism based on those principles I've alluded to earlier: land, nation, blood (race, and religion. Read more!

Where Have I Been?

To those who visit this site now and then, I want to apologize for the lack of postings in the last few weeks. I haven't taken a holiday. I did get the flu and that had me down for a while. ...

But most of all, I've been hanging out at Glenn Greenwald's excellent blog, encountering, engaging, dialoging some intelligent commenters and feedback. I'll post here some of the more general comments that I've added to the comments section there. I hope you'll find them worthwhile.
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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

All Those Little Hitlers

There's a lot of talk about Iran's president Ahmadenijad being another Hitler. There are several things to note in this rhetoric. While the Hitler analogy has become so empty of meaning as to prove intellectually worthless, it still carries great emotional charge.

Much in the way that telling a child that the boogeyman is coming, the Bush admin hopes that calling every two-bit dictator a Hitler will raise the appropriate stink such that people will simply react to its noxiousness. ...

Most people don't have the historical consciousness to see the disanalogy in the Bush propaganda. Instead, Hitler is a symbol of incarnate evil and as such can be floated across the one-dimensional consciousness of most Americans and create paranoia and angst.

Since few Americans have that historical awareness required to see the fallacy in the Hitler analogy, they must attach it to something in their lives. The common fare on the 24/7 news channels creates a great petrie dish for breeding fear, paranoia, and hysteria.

Continually barraged with false alarms about bombs at airports, cannibal pedophiles, tornadoes, new episodes of 24, and so on, the media seem intent on maintaining that level of anxiety in which such emotionally charged symbols as the next Hitler can shed their nightmarish chrysalids.

Let's hope that the blogosphere can reach out beyond its borders and provide some actuality to dispel these ghouls and goblins that the Bush nightmare machine fabricates.

In this regard, the closely argued and logical approach adopted by Glenn Greenwald is certainly a part. But I fear that the Bush admin is beyond logical persuasion. As in any dialectic, the Bushites can pull in as many experts and facts as can their opponents. So ultimately, the issue becomes a pissing match.

That means the decision to go to war is prisoner to Bush's warped way of looking at the world. Immune to public opinion now, always giving credence to "gut" versus brain, this leader requires something more than logic to sway him.

Perhaps this is something the generals are lining up to bring to bear on him. I imagine that Seymour Hersh is right, and we'll begin to see some resignations of the generals en masse in the offing.

The brick bat might get through, although again that is a strategy that is the most precarious of all. Is there really anyone or anything that stands in Bush's way right now?
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Friday, April 14, 2006

What's Wrong?

What I think is often missed in the present social climate is the issue of what the problem is. Most people will say there's something wrong with the world. Think of every social ill or personal problem and put them on a spectrum from personal to socio-political. The question then becomes, how do we solve the problems? ...

The possible strategies to deal with these problems seem almost infinite. Maybe it'll help if we choose one end of the spectrum and move backward or forward. Therefore, you have the possibility of religious/philosopical pietism or ataraxia at the personal end of the spectrum and some form of social engineering at the socio-political end.

Yes, most people in the US will tell you that something's wrong, "out of joint," as Hamlet says. But where to start to deal with what's wrong?

In the present US political environment, you seem to have a group ideology, the neocons, who think that focusing on external threats will create some kind of ethos that will automatically solve, or at least ameliorate, many of the social ills inside the US.

You could call this the Imperial model, thinking of the way that Roman martial virtues were expected to sustain the socio-political environment, creating a top-down effect that brought about social and political order.

The opposing view--bypassing the pietistic for this posting--proposed by various liberal ideologies is that order is created by solving the social ills through various types of programs that are expected to isolate and solve the diverse sources of social disruption.

Liberal ideologies have sustained defeat and massive de-legitimization. After the failures of the welfare state, the Soviet Union, the war on poverty--every socially liberal solution must try to justify itself without being laughed off the podium. Therefore, you have crypto-liberals like the Clintons and Tony Blair.

The reason you see Democrats on the Imperial bandwagon (in various soft or hard versions) is because they don't necessarily agree with it but see it as an opportunity. They do not question the war or the threat because they realize how politically covenient it is.

You could say that their unprincipled, almost machiavellian acceptance of the imperial state will gain them one thing: power. They are living parasitically off of the war threat simply to advance their own cafeteria-style platform.

These comments are pretty open-ended--perhaps inherently so, given the problems. I suggest that what we're seeing is the destruction of the mdoern representative democratic model.

In its place, we'll see various forms of security state as societies try to balance not only privacy and security but also growing resentment from outside by those whose backs we live on to maintain our American lifestyle.
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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Generals Anxious About US Coup?

The recent spate of generals criticisng the war on Iraq and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in particular, raise some interesting questions.

Some pundits on the Right have suggested that these generals are self-serving hypocrites who are hawking their recently published books. The misstatement of fact in these pundits' remarks is that only one general, I believe, is actually "hawking a book": Gen. Zinni. The others have not written books as far I remember.

What these generals are expressing is a growing sense of impotence in the face of processes outside their control. Some critics of the Bush administration have spoken about a coup d'etat by the military. As I have argued before, that coup may have already occurred--but from the neocon camp. ...

I have not read the recent Harper's magazine article that takes up exactly this point. The title is suggests that it is "the unthinkable," but as Jodi @ I Cite reports, the third section explores the fact that a coup has already occurred.

The article is comprised of a dialog between military academics and former military officers. According to Jodi (quoting from the article):

The question that arises is whether, in fact, we're not already experiencing what is in essence a creeping coup d'etat. But it's not people in uniform who are seizing power. It's militarized civilians, who conceive of the world as such a dangerous place that military power had to predominate, that constitutional constraints on the military need to be loosened.

It is this reality, I believe that the generals coming out against Cheney/Rumsfeld are concerned about. They have couched their terms in military speak and particular criticisms, yet I think behind their remarks is a growing anxiety that things are not right and out of joint in the US Defense establishment.

It is their specific experience with the conditions on the gorund and in the air that make their criticisms valiud. While we hear only snippets and disconnected stories about Iraq, contractor corruption, troops overkill, and the situation inside the Defense establishment, they know the corruption, venality, and motivations driving those they served.

I believe that these generals are facing the despair that consumed and led to suicide a West Point military ethics professor who volunteered for Iraq. After several months on duty, his fellow soldiers found his body with a gunshot to the head. Next to him was a four-page letter to his superiors that had the following words:

"I cannot support a msn [mission] that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars. I am sullied. I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored.

"Death before being dishonored any more."

I think these words speak volumes about the present crisis the republic faces. The generals who are now critiquing the present administration have their suspicions perhaps, are reluctant to come right out and say it, but I do think that the coup has happened and "it will not be televised."
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Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Xtian Illusion

The illusion perpetrated by the current GOP and the Bush administration is the "messiah-king" Bush (see the agitprop film, "Faith in the WH). The way they construe the supernatural of the Xtian faith correlates to what Ricahrd Sennett calls the "invisible hand." This gives people the idea that the war, economic exploitation, and so on are predetermined, the will of an inscrutable god, beyond any of our control, etc. ...

Stir in the fact that many evangelicals are Dispensationalists, a brand of millenialism (think Left Behind here) and you have a game plan for control and exploitation that many believe is "from god."

The neocons have read their Marx very well. They've applied Marx's opiate of the masses to a sad, tragi-comic degree. Many of those who are evangelical come from the lower classes. They are often the ones who've been drug addicts, criminals, outcasts--brought into the "system" via conversion.

Their lives indeed have turned around--but they have been deceived into believing a lie, the lie that a socio-political system can accomplish god's will.
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Fading into the Background?

A few weeks ago, an Argentine exile wrote at Glenn Greenwald's blog about his own experiences during the military takeover. He said (I paraphrase from memory) that all the time that the military consolidated its power and finally took over, the lawyers were saying to respect the law--the legal system will save us. They said this up until the time they themselves began to be disappeared. ...

I hate to add to the pessimistic rhetoric emanatng from recent comments, but I do not think that the courts will have much say in this. I think that the executive branch could simply continue to break the law, telling SCOTUS, "what're you gonna do?" And they could do nothing.

Only Congress can legitimately bring the executive to task for its crimes. People expect that to happen in a representative form of government where people "hire" their elected representatives to enforce the public will.

This last point may simply turn out to be academic, however. Given the Dems' lack of clarity on where they stand on this issue, even were they to win both houses of Congress one wonders whether they'd simply try to mollify the executive branch through compromise and mealy-mouthed platitudes.

There's something seriously wrong here--and what it is is difficult to pinpoint. Someone talked about "soft theocracy" in another posting. Richard Sennett, on the other hand, calls it "soft fascism." This is a situation in which the fear and terror don't dress up in brown shirts and jack boots. It's one where social conformity and a prevailing culture of fear color our entire existence.

This description only captures the emotional tone of the threat. It doesn't explain why or how the liberals have simply given up in their fight against this new form of fascism. Sennett's analysis is important because it explains how and why the liberal side of the American political spectrum refuses to engage this soft fascism.

According to Sennett:

For a long time the American intellectual left has been out of touch with the American people. It has spoken in the name of the people but not to them. Now, in the reconfigured landscape of economics, class and culture, however, the educated, cosmopolitan liberal is a social victor. Even the sculptor in Fanelli's struggling to make ends meet is a social victor; nobody can rob him of his work and worth.

The right has perhaps understood that victory better than the victors themselves, in giving fresh life to the taunts of "cultural elitism" aimed at the intellectual left. The attack embodies a classic dilemma: when a young man with a good degree and an expensive lap-top attacks injustice, the ordinary person feels patronised.
For the past four years, the rich and powerful in America have capitalised on just this social distance, between the cultural elite and people beset by anxieties about personal insufficiency and mutual respect. The victors have defended themselves by saying, but we are just like you, loyal Americans; the defence rings false because they aren't domestically the same. Those bewildered glances out of Fanelli's window, the knowing sniggers at Cooper Union, are signs of an inequality as ambiguous as the word "American".

Sennett's comments have been echoed even more strongly and radically by Slavoj Zizek, in his work on "liberal communists" like Soros and Gates. Both analyses point to the nature of the effete alienation of those who might fight for the dispossessed and exploited lower classes. They belong to a professional class that is rootless and cannot connect either emotionally or cognitively to those who've lost out in our society. Read more!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Reprint from 2/28/06: Xtians Hijack US Constitution

Part of the debate leading up to the ratification of the constitution was answering what role the landed gentry and moneyed classes played in controlling the inherent anarchy posed by the restless and unpredictable lower classes of farmers, petty bourgeoisie, and landless citizens. .

This changed after the Civil War with the rise of the robber Barons and industrialization. Then the concern became not simply embodying the ethic of an “enlightened” elite but the interests of capital and its accumulation within the hands of a few.

Plato and Aristotle thought that an elite group must controlling the anarchic elements within the polis. Plato talked about a class of philosopher kings, Aristotle about aristocrats who maintained control via education and adherence to traditional values. Those in power have the task of continually convincing those out of power that the (to borrow the terminology of Walter Lippmann) insiders represent the desires and interests of the outsiders.

After the decline of feudalism and the power of the Catholic Church in Western Europe, Renaissance thinkers resurrected this notion of an elite class that based its ideology on Plato’s and Aristotle’s ethical frameworks. Based on these assumptions, the Humanists developed an educational system that trained future generations in these ideas.

In modern times, the notion of an elite that has access to the basic principles that explain human needs and behavior came under attack first by the Cartesian-inspired sciences and then by the Hegelian-inspired variants, including Marx. Marx labored under the notion that a mass movement, embodied by the working classes, could well up from below and take over the reins of control.

Lenin’s realization that the working classes had neither the will, time, nor perhaps inclination to rebel against the ruling class led him to formulate the theory of an avant-garde elite whose purpose it was both to rouse the sleeping working class giant to its historical mission and to lead that revolution until the day when Marx’s dictatorship of the Proletariat would become historically viable. Hitler’s own thinking built on Lenin’s ideas. For Hitler and the fascists, however, the party would never give up the reins of control and the working class was replaced by the German race.

In a recent blog posting, Glenn Greenwald discusses aspects of President Bush’s notions of executive power. While I think that Glenn is right in his discussion, I don’t think he goes far enough in understanding the historical and social backdrop to Bush et al’s thinking. Bush is the tip of an iceberg whose unseen bulk includes, on one hand, Christian fundamentalists and, on the other hand, neoconservatives.

The neoconservatives take their ideological lead from Leo Strauss. Strauss’ political philosophy builds on Plato and Machiavelli, as well as Lenin. Recognizing the truth to Lenin’s thought but with quite different purposes at hand, Strauss believed that the main threat to western culture and civilization was democracy. As such, he thought that a well-disciplined cadre or avant-garde must take over the reins of control in the US and guide it to taking power—otherwise, the threat of democracy would overwhelm all that western civilization manifests.

The conservative Xtian fundamentalists have a similar concern. Viewed from the decline of what Soren Kierkegaard called Christendom, modern evangelicals in the US have reacted to the what they perceive as the decline of traditional values by establishing itself as a force in contemporary US politics. Seeing modern relativism and secular culture as threats to its hegemonic hold on the spiritual lives of Americans, evangelical leaders see themselves as the vanguard in an effort to establish the supremacy of Xtian culture and civilization.

What this rather protracted but cursory survey shows is the following: a highly motivated group of elites, believing in their own moral righteousness and predestination believe that they must stem what they perceive as mortal threats to western civilization. Whether inspired by religious or philosophical assumptions, they share the presumption that America is sliding down a slippery slope towards moral anarchy and political anomie.

Given this background, I suggest that President Bush’s belief that all political power is vested in the executive branch is simply an outgrowth of the idea that 1) the US has lost its moral bearings, 2) an elite group, enlightened to the true meaning of America’s mission and values must lead the degenerate masses, and 3) this elite must usurp power for itself since even the people’s representatives are disposed to curry favor with the electorate and give in to its whims.

Placing little trust and regard for either the people or their elected representatives, Bush and his cohorts want to institutionalize the idea that the multi-headed hydra of democracy must be brought to heel under the control and direction of a supreme, ethically righteous authority.

I do not believe that moral regeneration is vested in any one group. Following Socrates, I think that ethics begins within the individual and it is only after I gain self-knowledge. This knowledge is not the same as the scientific or other methodological knowledge. It transcends the vagaries of relative ends and means. Once someone attains this level of self-knowledge s/he can then begin to live out the truly ethical life. The difficulty of this task is borne out by the fact that Socrates was still working on it when he was compelled to commit suicide when he was well past 70 years old.

Until individuals begin to tear themselves from the social milieu and gain some distance from the environmental, biological, and psychological factors that determine their actions they cannot hope to live a life that is truly ethical. The lie of both the neoconservative and conservative Xtian ideology is that they preach that it’s through a culture that I can learn to be ethical.

Socrates’ effort shows that every culture and social construct will ultimately compromise on what is truly ethical. As Socrates’ dialog with those leaders and powerful Athenian gentlemen showed, virtue cannot be taught. It is only through some form of ethical revolution at the subjective level which brings about moral regeneration.

The Xtians, for their part, believe that the Xtian conversion experience is tantamount to this Socratic revolution. Once individuals have gained this experience they then group with others who have experienced this conversion and form the core at the heart of Xtian civilization.

The presuppositions here, again, are that it’s through a culture or social ethos that I gain access to that transcendent power that brings salvation. I assert that this presupposition is simply another form of religion acting as mask for political and cultural hegemony of those already in power.

The true Christian view, I suggest, is that salvation is a personal and individual event. It cannot be manufactured by any social or cultural system—whether it espouses so-called Judeo-Xtian doctrines or not. Indeed, as early Christians such as Tertullian and Origen wrote, the true Christian ethos is invariably antagonistic to every form of hegemonic civlizational construct.

A true cynic or Socratic response will always oppose every effort at establishing an American empire or a Xtian theocracy. This includes not only those groups who promote such ideas but also the figure-heads who knowingly or unknowingly support such efforts.

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