YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

October 24, 2014

Rescuing the black family: Harvard points the way

Orlando Patterson, Harvard sociologist

Orlando Patterson, Harvard sociologist

The Harvard Magazine cover story on Orlando Patterson (November-December 2014) lauds Patterson’s glorious predecessors in sociology, social psychology, and progressive social nostrums (e.g., Max Weber, Talcott Parsons, David Riesman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan), and Patterson’s journey from Jamaican novelist to Harvard superstar professor and “the Caribbean Zola.”* (On his achievements see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orlando_Patterson.)

Dwelling upon the baleful effects of slavery on black family structure, the author of the long alumni magazine essay, Craig Lambert (deputy editor and a Harvard Ph.D.) drops such loaded terms as “freedom” (an attribute only of non-slave whites), “belonging/beloved”ness (the non plus ultra of social well-being: missing in slavery and the ostensibly non-existent slave family), “culture” and even more vaguely, “dynamic” “interaction” between “culture” and “structures,” lest Talcott Parsons’ fictional emphasis on structures and functions cast doubt on Patterson’s contributions to social peace.

[On Parsons and his cohort in sociology and social psychology see http://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/preventive-politics-and-socially-responsible-capitalists-1930s-40s/. On Harvard and the turn toward “cultural history” see http://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/. Or see http://clarespark.com/2014/09/08/why-progressive-social-psychologists-make-us-crazy/.%5D

Harvard, like other elite institutions, is worried about anomie or “atomization” in our society, and resorts to the time-tested clichés and Great Society programs of progressivism, which are abstract enough to please a diverse body of graduates, all of whom are adjured to seek belongingness in multiple, overlapping interest groups. Moreover Harvard can brag about the quality of its professors, especially those of color that underline the success of “diversity.” And in recent years, the “neo-Marxist” or “New Left” affiliations of its versatile professors (e.g. OP) are not a cause for heartburn. Indeed, Patterson’s life and work are appropriated to puff black supremacy, affirmative action, rap and reggae, Barbados democracy, and “democratic socialist revolution.” Yet he is portrayed as a maverick and an artist, having defended Clarence Thomas while under attack from Anita Hill (Hill did not note the changing context of CT’s language from ten years ago, Patterson wrote: see http://www.nytimes.com/1991/10/20/opinion/op-ed-race-gender-and-liberal-fallacies.html).

But there is a missing context to this cover story that includes 1. The upcoming midterm elections that will be a referendum on a black president’s social policies, and 2. The bipartisan fight over how to rescue inner city children from poverty. Here is the US Census report (2012) that would have to alarm pro-capitalist circles concerned with upward mobility in the multicultural society pushed by the white liberal establishment: “Black children (55 percent) and Hispanic children (31 percent) were more likely to live with one parent than non-Hispanic White children (21 percent) or Asian children (13 percent).”
And here is one conservative think tank’s solution to diminished prospects for minority inner-city children: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/09/marriage-americas-greatest-weapon-against-child-poverty.)

Despite one failed marriage, Patterson is presented as a happily married father: both wives (apparently) were or are white academics, which situates Patterson in a reassuringly integrated setting, though his sociology tilts toward the mandatory Harvard progressive line that emphasizes the lingering effects of slavery, justifying all kinds of reparations. By focusing on Orlando Patterson’s climb to fame and professional approbation despite his Jamaican “cultural heritage” of slavery (and in one sentence, linking Patterson to Obama), Harvard can avoid such practical problems as massive black unemployment, labor competition, or union domination of public education, defeating parental choice and lowering our expectations of the curriculum.

Illustration by Gary Kelley

Illustration by Gary Kelley

* Note the comparison of Patterson the novelist to Emile Zola, whose “realistic” novels won leftist and anti-imperialist support for their depictions of social forces and the lower depths of society in turn of the century France.

October 21, 2014

The Klinghoffer protest and the problem of ‘realism’

KlinghofferprotestA rising tide of anti-Semitism throughout Europe and America has alarmed Jews, Israelis, and their supporters, hence the furor over the Metropolitan Opera’s performance of John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer. Many of those protesting have focused on “moral equivalence” between Jews and Palestinians as the opera’s chief sin, and indeed, many journalists and critics in the mass media have fed into this impression. To my knowledge, only Phyllis Chesler has given a more detailed account of the pro-jihadist content of the opera, as she did last night: http://www.phyllis-chesler.com/1377/israel-hatred-has-scaled-the-wall-of-high-culture. I assume that Chesler would not risk her reputation by making up the details that support her allegations of Jew-hatred. She saw the opera, while I have not. (For an even tougher essay by Alan Dershowitz see http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/4808/klinghoffer-opera.)

This blog, however, has a different take on the problem of the opera’s presentation in this polarized environment (with current ultra-liberal Mayor Bill de Blasio supporting “free speech,” while the more conservative ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani supported the protesters). I will not address the politicization of “art” for I believe that all art of any genre is ideological, and that no artist in any medium can escape ideology reinforced by patronage, institutional context, and family or personal history. In this era of formalist criticism (at best—we should be so lucky to get even that in this ignorant period), I dare not hope to find broad agreement with my assumptions. Nor do I believe with politicians of either left or right that “speech” is ever “free.”

What is neglected in the current excitement is the problem of “realism” and what I write here is more about what we expect from art: do we hope for an enlargement of our imagining past, present and future, or an affirmation of our religion and politics (as in Nazi or Soviet glorification of labor and sacrifice (“socialist realism”), or do we latch onto the Enlightenment project of demystification—i.e., the tearing away of all veils to get at something either absolutely truthful or, if not that foolishly (?) ambitious, the unpacking of symbol and myth? [Readers of my blogs will not be surprised that I prefer the latter, but not without the recognition of opportunism, ambiguity, or unconscious errors of interpretation on my part or of those critics I admire.]

We would like to think that our favorite artists (usually those that affirm our belief systems) are beyond anything so tawdry as prejudice or hitching their stars to fashion and publicity; similarly, we like to believe that family photographs are not simply a posed or candid moment in time, but convey the essence of family bonds, not bondage to sadists and masochists.

Take the case of depicting a Palestinian terrorist, for instance the murderer of Leon Klinghoffer. How would a librettist or musician convey what drives such an individual or social movement to barbarism? How would we, in the brief period, s/he is onstage, grasp all the factors which drove him or her to murder? Michael Walsh, for instance, is defending great depictions of villains, but he does not interrogate the history of melodrama, and why we take its vocabulary of heroes, villains, and victims to be pure representations of real people and real events, persons and events which are beyond the ability of even the greatest geniuses to fully decode. See for instance http://clarespark.com/2013/08/09/melodrama-and-its-appeal/. With melodrama we enter a dream world only.

We may imagine that there is something called art for art’s sake that is purely aesthetic, beyond cavil. It is the same with the writing of history. The 60s and 70s generation was fond of studying history painting in order to point out its ideological content. But in many cases, that led them into hatred of all art as propaganda. No less than the heroes they demystified, these critics are the victims of melodrama and its myth-laden vocabulary.

As an art lover myself, I cannot join these New Leftists in their tearing down of all cultural artifacts as fatally tainted by politics and myth. I like gripping ‘art’ of all genres. Nor can I join rightists in their call to “take back the culture” (at the expense of a more accurate history, psychoanalysis, and science).
What then is the solution to the Klinghoffer fracas? I have nothing to offer but the marketplace of ideas, and suspicion of our own motives in crossing out that art, culture, or political argument that makes us squirm. We need all the insightful criticism that we can get, including criticism that takes down the elevation of value-free art and commentary. “I am not so innocent.”

klinghoffer2

October 16, 2014

Ebola, the CDC, and Government Ineptitude

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 12:59 am
Tags: , , , ,
James Pagano, MD

James Pagano, MD

This is a guest blog by James Pagano, M.D., and author of two novels

Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the CDC, appeared in a taped interview last evening on Megyn Kelly’s program. His intention was to answer some of the questions regarding his handling of the Ebola problem, to explain why the things he is or isn’t doing are correct, and to reassure the audience that all would be well.  He failed miserably.

The CDC and Dr. Frieden are likening Ebola to hepatitis or HIV. Like Ebola, both are diseases caused by viruses, and both require contact with infected body fluids for transmission from one individual to another.  Neither, though, is anywhere near as infectious.  In the case of HIV, a healthcare worker who experiences a needle stick injury from a needle contaminated with an HIV patient’s blood has about a 0.3% chance of being infected.  By comparison, it appears Ebola can be transmitted by coming into contact with minute amounts of fluid, such as that which could be on the exterior surface of a protective gown.

Pagano's first novel

Pagano’s first novel

A disease that infectious, with a mortality rate of over 70% in Africa and at least 50% if contracted and treated here should be taken seriously. Everything that can be done to prevent its spread in this country should be done.  Unfortunately that is not how it is being handled.

The only effective way to stop an outbreak of a lethal illness for which there is no specific treatment is by isolating those who already have the disease and preventing its spread to other areas of the globe. This requires travel restrictions and quarantine.  While we are still able to identify West Africa as the danger zone such restrictions would be relatively easy to impose.  Anyone wanting to come to this country from West Africa and anyone who has been in that area would need to wait 21 days before being allowed to come.  It would require checking passports and keeping people with stamps from countries in which the disease is epidemic off planes until they are cleared.

Dr. Frieden disagrees. He believes that such restrictions would somehow make the outbreak harder to fight in Africa and put us in greater risk here.  He cites difficulty getting healthcare workers and others joining the fight into and out of the area as one of his major concerns.  This is absurd.  His logic is so convoluted it causes one to question everything else he has to say.  It is possible he’s parroting the party line.  If so, he should admit it, say what he really believes, and offer to step down if it displeases his boss.  The stakes here are far too high for political correctness, or politics at all.

He then goes on to say much is known about Ebola, how it is transmitted, how it can be stopped. Given his rationale for not limiting travel one wonders.  It is true that Ebola requires contact with infected body fluid to pass from one person to the next.  In that way it is similar to HIV and hepatitis.  How much body fluid is required is unknown.  During the height of the AIDS epidemic I ran an emergency department in a hospital with an HIV ward.  The disease at that time was a death sentence for those who contracted it.  Still, it was our understanding that it could not be transmitted by casual contact.  The only time we put on gloves, gown and mask was if we were drawing blood or performing some invasive procedure.  Very few healthcare workers were infected by patients, and those who were had exposures to large amounts of infected material or had been accidentally stuck with a hollow needle previously in the vein of the patient.

By contrast healthcare workers treating Ebola patients are dying by the hundreds despite wearing haz-mat suits.  This is a different disease.  There are even studies in animals that suggest certain types of Ebola can be transmitted through the lungs.  People from endemic areas should stay put until they’ve been quarantined for the full length of the incubation period, 21 days.

Another of the CDC’s proclamations is that any hospital with an isolation room can safely handle an Ebola patient. This is also nonsense.  Meticulous care must be taken with barrier protection to maximize safety.  It is nearly impossible to remove the booties, gowns, mask, goggles and gloves without at some point touching the exposed surfaces with either your bare hands or your clothing.  It requires a lot of practice.  Community hospitals that may see one potential case will not have sufficient experience to treat the patient safely.  And this doesn’t address the risk to other hospital personnel, such as phlebotomists, lab techs, and housekeeping.

Saying the CDC will offer training to thousands of doctors and nurses is not only absurd, but pointless. To receive the best care, these patients should be treated in designated centers by dedicated teams of physicians, nurses, and ancillary staff.  The role of community hospitals should be that of recognition, isolation, notification of health officials, and transfer to a designated center.  This can be done by the ER staff.  Instead of trying to train everyone in every hospital, training the ER staff is something that is actually feasible.

Emergency departments across the country are experiencing increased patient volumes due in large part to the ACA. The one at which I am the medical director is busier by more than 20% year over year.  We are on the verge of the winter flu season which typically brings an addition flood of patients to the ER.  This is a bad time to add Ebola to the mix.  Travel restrictions to minimize the chance of an infected person entering the country would go far to protect both the healthcare workforce and other citizens from this disease.  Coordinated care at specialized centers will give those infected the best chance of survival while at the same time minimizing the spread of Ebola.

It makes no sense to assume everything will be all right until we’ve done everything possible to ensure the best results. So far the CDC, and its leader, have not convinced me they have done so.

[Update 10-17-14, from private communication to Clare Spark: “Whether we have a large outbreak in this country or a small one, the disruption of the healthcare delivery system will be devastating. For the past two weeks we have been running drills on how to safely don and remove the various pieces of barrier protection we’ve been advised to wear when dealing with a potential Ebola patient. These drills have been almost slapstick. The gowns, etc., are inadequate and it is practically impossible to remove everything after the patient encounter without contaminating yourself. I am certain hospitals across the country are experiencing the same difficulties. The early Obama claim that ‘any hospital with isolation capability can care for an Ebola patient effectively and safely’ belies a complete failure to understand what we are facing. Interesting that the most recent cases have been transferred to designated treatment centers.

We are about to enter flu season. Thousands of people with fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and headache will be presenting to ER’s. These are the same symptoms someone in the early stages of Ebola will exhibit. If we have 20-30 confirmed cases around the country and no travel restrictions ER personnel will be forced to approach every patient with these symptoms as a possible Ebola patient. A crowded ER, and ER waiting room, are not ideal places for a number of these patients to be boarded. The amount of time the ER staff will need to care for them will increase exponentially because of the isolation and gowning precautions. The system will experience huge delays, patients will be placed in danger, and the ER staff will be overwhelmed.” [End Pagano update.] Dr. Pagano also points out that nine physicians have died in Africa treating Ebola. No time to be sanguine about Democrat management of this crisis.

Frieden as educator

Frieden as educator

October 8, 2014

Index to blogs on “totalitarianism”

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:10 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

girltotalitarianReflecting on why this word is so popular, while rejected by many serious scholars: Who historically has been deemed to be after total control of the world? Both “the Jews” a.k.a. “the money power” bent on world domination and 19th century mothers, “expanding their empire over the family.” Is Woman the Jew of the Home?

http://clarespark.com/2012/10/15/orwell-power-and-the-totalitarian-state/

http://clarespark.com/2013/01/20/an-awesome-inauguration/  [Talmon on nationalism and pageantry]

http://clarespark.com/2013/02/02/totalitarianism-polarization-and-single-issue-politics/  [Especially good for its quote from Jacob Talmon]

http://clarespark.com/2013/10/28/hobsbawm-israel-the-totalitarian-idea/

newworldorder

http://clarespark.com/2014/04/17/totalitarianism/

http://clarespark.com/2014/04/19/totalitarianism-2/

Illuminati_by_Cajmerek

October 7, 2014

Michael Burleigh’s History of the Third Reich

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 8:39 pm
Tags: , , , ,

the-third-reich-978033048757306A famous conservative historian recommended Michael Burleigh’s 2001 popular best-seller of 812 pages, The History of The Third Reich (Macmillan, 2001). Burleigh is now a prominent figure on the British Right, associated with a conservative periodical Standpoint, which is commonly compared to Bill Buckley’s National Review. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Burleigh.)

This blog is about my reservations regarding his mammoth popular history, which in my reading leans toward social democracy (that took the “hard edges” off of capitalism). He has curried favor with The Guardian, for instance in an article that recognizes a closet liberal: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2008/mar/11/academicexperts.highereducationprofile)

For instance, though few doubt that the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School are writing from the Left, Burleigh is outraged by “massification” and the ruins wreaked by popular mass media, just as Adorno et al were. MB, however, explicitly misses the old aristocratic elites who were more focused on their “obligations” (as contrasted with the chorus of ordinary people demanding “rights”). Burleigh was formerly a medievalist and I suspect him of missing the Good Kings who have been glorified by some historians. Curiously, MB sees the Third Reich pretty much as the psychological warfare figures of the New Deal: “guttersnipe” Nazis appealed to common men and women, who “fell for him,” [Jung, 1946] causing the German catastrophe.

Second, Burleigh continuing along this elitist line, complains that Nazis fancied that they were heroic figures that would be vindicated by history: “For history’s most enduring B-movie villains were self-consciously assigning themselves parts within an A-movie which runs and runs, increasingly in the debased form of documentaries, made-for-TV soaps, and lurid magazines and books which have scraped the barrel of sensation until it is almost worn away. The Nazis cynically manipulated posterity as they had manipulated their contemporaries; by way of continuity, they are cynically manipulated in their turn by a ‘Hitler industry’ for which there seems to be an insatiable market. A regime which had lived by image perished by it, in a final triumph of style over substance, as the greatest stage villains of all departed what they called the stage of history, leaving a lingering trail of evil beyond the curtains.” (p.788)*

But Burleigh had written a luridly detailed lengthy section on Operation Barbarossa, replete with images of cannibalism and maimed bodies and corpses that rivals any Nazi propaganda production, and exceeds in vividness all academic writing, which generally eschews adjectives and outrage. Perhaps his unleashed imagination was unacceptable to those academic minds from whom he proudly walked away, preferring religion, not materialist history, as the framework of major events such as world wars and social movements. I suspect that for Burleigh, the devil is back, along with Manichaeism. Seeing all conflict as warfare between good and evil (detached from specific institutions) marks the self-righteous moralist, which MB unabashedly is.

Moralcombat

Second, though Burleigh is attentive to the horrors of the racial state as wreaked on homosexuals, the mentally ill, gypsies, Poles and other Slavs, etc. he tends to minimize the importance of European anti-Semitism, though he also claims (as do critical theorists of the Frankfurt School, including Saul Friedländer) that “the Holocaust” tests the boundaries of historical representation and is hence unfathomable (?) and unrepresentable. “After Auschwitz, there can be no poetry.”  (See http://mindfulpleasures.blogspot.com/2011/03/poetry-after-auschwitz-what-adorno.html for “what Adorno really said.”

Finally, Burleigh, no less than the crypto-Leninist Hannah Arendt, uses the liberal term “totalitarianism” though he contradicts himself when he complains that common soldiers followed orders. Either there is total control or there is a degree of choice. In my own view, communism and Nazism were polar opposites in their orientation to the [materialist] Enlightenment, as I argued here: http://clarespark.com/2013/02/02/totalitarianism-polarization-and-single-issue-politics/.

But to end on a positive note, Burleigh emphasizes throughout Nazism’s obliviousness to the rule of law. Perhaps American exceptionalism should be defined as equality before the law for poor and rich alike. That would be a true Enlightenment innovation.

*Burleigh deceptively footnotes this passage with Robert Harris’s journalistic account of “the selling of the Hitler diaries”, a book that “documented” (through interviews) how confidence men, publishers, and renowned academics tried to foist Hitler memorabilia on a gullible public addicted to revelations regarding Hitler’s private life. But Harris quotes David Irving, reflecting on another famous forgery, Howard Hughes’ autobiography, swallowed by McGraw Hill: “…Corporate profit justifies any form of lunacy. There’s been no other hoax like it in modern times.” (p.198). I.e., Burleigh’s target may be the profit motive and his footnote apparently has no relation to his text that indicts working class soldiers, collated as Hitler’s base. When I read the title “Selling Hitler” I had assumed that MB referred to Hitler’s appeal among the masses, not the Hitler diary hoax, a subtitle that was left out of MB’s footnote.

g26p30f1

October 2, 2014

Burleigh’s final assessment of the Nazi empire

The Racial StateFrom the end of the section on “Occupation and Collaboration in Europe, 1939-1943.” Michael Burleigh’s HISTORY OF THE THIRD REICH (Macmillan, 2001) is a good read. Here is just a sample of why I am plowing through this very long book, with candid opinions that I have rarely seen in other such histories (with the exception of an earlier book, co-authored with Wolfgang Wippermann, THE RACIAL STATE):

[Burleigh, p.481:] “How might this most transient of modern empires be viewed in the longer perspective which separates us from other empires, both ancient and modern? The Nazi empire was created by violence, lived by violence, and was destroyed than violence. In contrast to other empires created by armed might, which bequeathed art and literature that are still widely admired, or administrations, customs, languages and legal codes that Europeans and non-Europeans still adhere to,  from Ireland to India, the tawdry Nazi anti-civilization left nothing of any worth behind, except perhaps its contemporary synonym for human evil. Nazism’s material remains number a few third-rate buildings, for Albert Speer was hardly Bernini, Wren, or Lutyens, concrete coastal fortifications too dense to destroy, and the wooden huts, wind-swept parade grounds, watchtowers, and barbed wire of the concentration camps, which are paradoxically restored, rather than left to rot and rust. Nazism was literally ‘from nothing to nothing': with its powerful imaginative afterlife curiously disembodied from its pitiful achievements. Rarely can an empire have existed about which nothing positive could be said, notwithstanding the happy memories of wartime tourism with which we began. Even in the limited terms of its own aesthetic politics, the Nazi ‘New Order’ was merely the universalization of ugliness.”

Have we entirely escaped the universalization of ugliness?

"The New Order"

“The New Order”

October 1, 2014

Is Madam Secretary a glorification of Hillary?

Hillary Clinton Discusses Her New Book In Washington, DC

[Update 10-20-14: After last night's episode, I do tend to agree more with conservative readings that the series is preparation for a Hillary Clinton run for president. For it contrasted leading from behind (diplomacy) with "force" as exemplified with the negotiator who was fired, and who was connected to the prior Secretary of State (?) who was mysteriously murdered. Nonetheless, the lead character is more intelligent than Hillary, has had more experience in government (she was in the CIA) and is more of a family person.]

I have now seen the first two episodes of Madam Secretary, which many conservatives see as a successor to The West Wing and a blatant promotion of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I think that this is too simple an interpretation, though there is no doubt that conservatives are correct to be wary, for many liberals are immune to criticism of their would-be president.

I prefer to see this series as what Marcel Duchamp would have called a “rectified readymade.” There is the very visible real Mrs. Clinton, adored by some feminists and loathed by many conservatives. What both liberal series did or are doing is correcting the errors of prior liberals, cleaning them up and imagining role models who conform to the most idealized self-images possible for social democratic feminists, “balancing” career and family, protective of ordinary people, dripping with compassion for suffering humanity, sensitive to “diversity” and deeply internationalist, and resistant to temptation for cheap glamor.

There is a market now for “strong” female characters who can do male jobs better, with more integrity than their male predecessors. So the fictional Madam Secretary, unlike the real Hillary, defies her male bosses, and does Benghazi/Yemen the way many liberals would have preferred, with smarts, honor and effectiveness.

madamsecretary

In researching this subject, I noticed that The Good Wife was mentioned as a precursor in several trade publications. I think this is an incorrect analogy; it is true that “Alicia Florrick” is a brilliant lawyer, but she is amoral; the fact that her firm (past and present) has represented Chicago’s leading drug dealer is just now emerging as a conflict and primary focus for season five.   Indeed, the series has emphasized Alicia’s opportunism, sexiness, stylish clothing, and quick-wittedness to the detriment of her moral purity. Perhaps the writers wanted to have it both ways: exposing the phony neutrality of lawyers, while promoting “strong women” like “Alicia” and “Diane” who face down men.

tea-leoni-madam-secretary-zeljko-ivanek-CBS

Not so with the rectified Hillary, who is almost Victorian in her perfection as the Mother Of Us All. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mother_of_Us_All.)

September 26, 2014

What is critical thinking?

critical-thoughtEmbedded in the sharply polarized debates between political parties is a great slugfest on the teaching of US history. Many on the Right want a “patriotic” curriculum, while the Left insists that the Right is determined to abolish “critical thought” that the Leftists believe they uphold, without blemishes.

Neither Right nor Left is monolithic in its ideology, so this blog will focus on “critical thought”—how it is defined by the contemporary “Left” and how some elements of “the Right” feed into the most damaging “leftist” fantasies about a presumably monolithic “cowboy” Right mostly located in the Midwest (Texas) and the still wild, wild West, by which they mean Utah and Arizona, not of course the famously “Left Coast.”

By “critical thought” the Left, inspired by German philosophy, means negative critique of what is common institutional practice in the bourgeois West (i.e., the capitalist countries: the US, Western Europe, and Russia). The US is singled out for especially harsh criticism: deploying the categories invented by progressivism and the New Left version of Marxist-Leninism, our country is essentially racist, sexist, patriarchal, and ecocidal. Hence post-60s textbooks, influenced by identity politics, focus on those aspects of Western expansion industrialization, and urbanization that exterminated and otherwise bullied non-white workers, women, and unspoiled Nature herself. Their remedies range from class struggle to the band-aids of progressivism: statist regulation, welfare statism, and conflict-resolution techniques to prevent the more drastic remedy of socialist revolution. Gone are the days when ‘liberals’ called themselves moderate conservatives or conservative reformers. ‘Liberals’ do not want to be confused with their “fascist” enemies: the Republican Party, even as many ‘liberals’ ape the most elitist and reactionary ideologies in the history of Western civilization.

By contrast and sometimes in reaction to this mandated negativity about the American past, many elements of the Right glorify the Founders and the original Constitution, resist the notion of a “living Constitution” that social democrats (‘liberals’) prefer, and campaign for school vouchers that will fund religious schools. Charter schools are dicey, for they may be covers for “secular progressivism” that some conservatives mistake for communist infiltration/atheism, all the while insisting that the Constitution was divinely inspired, and anyone who denies that is leading our children to perdition.

So much for our polarized competing ideologies as the election season looms upon us. What follows is my own definition of critical thought, gleaned from experience in graduate school, from interacting with a broad public on the radio, and on social media.

First of all, it is very hard to separate ourselves from family, friends, or peer groups in school or in the workplace. Most of us would prefer to preserve existing attachments, no matter how damaging to our understanding of ourselves and the increasingly dangerous and impenetrable world. Hence Obama’s appealing promise of “transparency” of government under his administration. That is a hot button to push, for it resonates with our deepest wishes to develop our individuality—without drowning.

Second, it takes a long time to figure anything out. Most of the problems facing the electorate and our children take years of close study to comprehend without a large dollop of prejudice or wish-fulfillment. Only an independent income and a willingness to stand alone yields the time and will to seek the truth. So we escape into sports, easy to comprehend conspiracy theories, or reliance on celebrities in academe or in the media to do our research for us, and we follow them, happy to have found a community of the  well-informed and like-minded, no matter how bogus.

But let us assume that we are so ‘monomaniacally’ driven as to solve problems for ourselves, to have our own perspective, that we actually make time and renounce some mindless activities that divert our attention.

My own approach to critical thought entails figuring out those “facts” that are in dispute. This is no easy task, when most people are captives of ideology where all controversies are settled, and where “facts” and “opinions” are mistaken for each other. When queried on this point by a Facebook friend who denied that facts were in dispute, I gave as examples, 1. the insistence by some “moderate men” that “extremists” (i.e., abolitionists and ‘fire-eaters’) caused the Civil War; and 2. That American Cold Warriors exaggerated the Soviet military threat (this was a claim of the Stalinoid Left). The reader will supply her own examples from everyday life, for whether or not there is a “war on women” is a hot subject today.

More often than not, differences in what facts are real, and what are factoids, are resolved through “virtuous expediency” to preserve social cohesion. This world is “soaked in lies” said Melville speaking through one of his narrators in his novel Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), and condemning the moderate men and his own family secrets. (See http://clarespark.com/2011/06/12/call-me-isabel-a-reflection-on-lying/.)

Then there is the laborious task of sorting out competing narratives, noting which arguments are based on documentary evidence (which may also be misleading, not only forged but subjective, such as letters and diaries). I have been reading a compendium of Nazi institutional practices, defending the authors’ notion of the Third Reich as a “racial state” to which all was subordinated to protect the notion of a [purified Aryan] “people’s community.” What makes this book The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945 by Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wippermann (UK: Cambridge UP, 1991) so helpful to critical thought is its detailed account of changing social policies and its awareness of competing narratives on the same subject. The chapter on women in Nazi Germany was especially revelatory, with some painful comparisons between Nazis practices and conservative religious groups that were “anti-Nazi.”

German-Family

Armed with concrete facts and precedents in actually existing authoritarian societies, the reader may see through the demagogic politicians who will represent themselves, in true knightly fashion, as the rescuers of women, non-whites, nature, and the school curricula. [For Wikipedia's classification of types of criticism, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varieties_of_criticism. I find many of these examples ideological, but feel most comfortable with "scholarly criticism" though the example of Mike Davis as an exemplary scholarly critic is hilarious.]

September 24, 2014

Are “liberals” control freaks?

Control_FreaksA few days one of my FB friends, an intelligent and educated scriptwriter and novelist, posted a photo claiming that all liberals were not only evil, but were interested in controlling every aspect of our lives. I see the same sort of collective condemnation frequently on Facebook, emanating usually from conservatives, even neocons who should know better, having once been either [moralistic] leftists or social democrats.

This blog seeks to counter that all-inclusive claim that demonizes the opposition.

Do Americans believe in the devil? An alarming number of Christians do (80%), compared to Jews (17%). The Devil is nowhere to be found in Judaism, so I am assuming that uneducated Jews, perhaps engorged with pop culture, comprise the shocking figure of 17%. See http://washingtonexaminer.com/57-believe-in-the-devil-72-for-blacks-61-for-women/article/2536055. (On the conception of Satan as evil inclination in Judaism, see http://judaism.about.com/od/judaismbasics/a/jewishbeliefsatan.htm.) This is a worrisome number, for belief in the Devil signifies disbelief in science and what used to be called “empiricism” but it is now stigmatized as “materialism.” And “materialism” is associated with [demonic] communists, a corrupt working class, and even “secular progressives” who are anything but red, but rather “moderates” or “moderate conservatives.”

Belief in the devil is a catastrophe for democratic republics that demand of their citizens that they rationally focus on those issues that confront them in this world, rather than abjuring “worldliness” in favor of fixation on “another world.”

Control freaks. The notion that liberals and leftists want to control everyone and everything is a projection of authoritarian and conformist rightists. It is not as if there are no rational conservative intellectuals, but the latest tactic in the political wars advanced by a few pundits demands that they play dirty just like the enemy, grabbing mass culture away from the devious, demonic enemy.

Some conservatives, on the other hand, advise their fellow rightists not to smear liberalism as “evil” or “demonic” but to patiently explain liberal mistakes, especially with respect to economic theories. As for the fantasy of taking mass culture away from “Hollywood”, fat chance of that. As I have argued here before, movies and other mass media have always been populist, appealing not to an aristocracy but to mass resentments of any and all elites who are believed to be repressive—and demonic, like Jews and femmes fatales.

Populism comes in many flavors, spanning the political spectrum from left to right. It is always self-righteous and enraged, encouraging demagoguery and reverence for the Leader who stirs us up, vaguely enough to encompass a variety of targets for our hate.

Anyone who has ever studied the progressive movement knows that the statists were paternalistic and in their own minds, deeply moral, hearts bleeding for the oppressed masses. “The People” of course were oppressed by Jew-ridden capitalism and puritanical Mothers seeking to expand their empires over feckless sons. Progressives, taking their lesson from the Good Kings of fictional yore, would vanquish “laissez-faire” economics, bad Jews and battle-axe females, to reinstate social cohesion and political stability through the re-imposition of mystical bonds between competitors in the marketplace and in the workforce. In other words, they were upper-class moralists and true gentlemen. (See http://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/, or http://clarespark.com/2014/09/03/solidarity-on-the-left-vs-disunity-on-the-right/.)

The overall aim of the progressive movement, then and now, was uplift of the proletarian immigrants. Believing themselves to be the only ones trained to rule, they had no qualms about imposing self-control on themselves and others in order to restrain “greed” in their opposition on “Wall Street”. Nothing as vulgar and/or distruping as the nouveaux riches, so the Old Money (especially in New England) lived modestly and eschewed “conspicuous consumption.” I.e., they controlled themselves as examples to the consumerist masses, a tic that the Left copied in their zeal to stigmatize the anti-revolutionary working class that wanted material goods over red revolution.

"Madame Mirage"

“Madame Mirage”

This was my Rosh Hashanah blog. As long as the majority of Americans persist in believing in the devil or other forms of irrationality, I remain howling in the wilderness, a Jew till the end of time.

September 21, 2014

Spanking, sex, and the NFL fracas

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 10:00 pm
Tags: , , , ,
Spanking Club, 1935

Spanking Club, 1935

On his Friday “live audience” program, September 19, 2014, Sean Hannity went over the NFL controversy, his attention frequently wandering to child abuse, which he read as part of “Southern culture”; hence the stigmatizing of “child abuse” is  discriminatory toward a region where corporal punishment is the norm. (Hooray for “Southern culture”—that always had a reputation in the North for pseudo-aristocratic conduct, violent manliness, and dueling. I am not fond of theories of regional character any more than I am of theories of national character. See http://clarespark.com/2014/07/20/national-character-does-it-exist/.)

I then commenced to plotz. For Hannity repeated over and over that his own father had taken the belt to him when he was bad, but he, Sean Hannity, had never laid a hand on his own children. Moreover he had lived in several Southern states where other kids got “whooped” and look how well he turned out, in spite of his childhood travails, which are apparently part of a regional culture, and resistant to change. (For the left-leaning BBC’s view of the controversy, foregrounding black modes of punishment, see http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29261462.)

Back to the Hannity show. My mind immediately wandered to the sadomasochism collection at UCLA, where I spent two anxiety-ridden weeks looking at the misogynistic and often pornographic collages, photographs, and drawings of Steadman Thompson, a now deceased middle-manager employed by a Pennsylvania corporation. There are 52 boxes of his stuff.

Here is what I learned about spanking from two weeks in another’s sick brain. Children who are spanked cannot have good sex in adulthood without being spanked by their partners. It was as simple as that—at least in the materials collected by S.T.

Similarly, on the last episode of Masters of Sex, Dr. William Masters gets over his two-year bout of impotence after his alcoholic brother slugs him hard on the jaw. Bleeding, with perhaps a broken nose, “Bill” refuses nursing attentions from his mistress Virginia Johnson, and returns to his former manliness and the performance principle. Meanwhile, his icy wife, Libby Masters is volunteering at the local office of CORE in St. Louis. Let’s see if she warms up after consummating what looks like a budding relationship with a black man.

Image (115)

For more on what I found in the Steadman Thompson collection, see http://clarespark.com/2009/07/13/eros-and-the-middle-manager-s-m-with-implications-for-multiculturalism/.

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