YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

April 12, 2014

The Organization of American Historians taking sides

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 9:36 pm
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dissenthouston[From Rick Shenkman’s report on day 2 of the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians, 2014:] The major event of the day was the late-afternoon plenary session devoted to “historians and their publics.”  The standout panel included Alan Kraut, Spencer Crew, Jill Lepore, Sean Wilentz, and filmmaker Shola Lynch.  Unfortunately, we can’t show you a video as one member of the panel objected to cameras.  So you’ll have to take our word for it that it was a great panel.  Wilentz, typically combative, said that historians should use their authority to police the public square.  When pundits and politicians (Glen Beck, they’re talking about you) make stuff up about history, they should be called out.  Lepore said when she tried to do that very thing in her book on the Tea Party historians wondered why on earth she was bothering. 

Wilentz got off a great line.  Historians, he said, “want to make the alien seem more familiar and the familiar seem more alien.”  That was something all the panelists seemed to agree with.

- See more at: http://hnn.us/article/155258#sthash.wSDxdAJH.dpuf]

[My stunned comment:] This is an astonishing statement to emanate from an academic conference. Read it closely. No longer is US history to be a search for more accurate knowledge about the past, but one of its leading lights, Princeton professor Sean Wilentz recommends the alienation-effect made famous by Bertolt Brecht. Even worse, Rick Shenkman, former chief editor of History News Network, agreeing with Wilentz, sees historians as an arm of the state, policing “the public square”—presumably filled with bothersome and  unteachable Tea Party hoi polloi.

These sentiments are what passes for academic freedom and free speech today. “We have seen the enemy, and the enemy is [not] us.”

dissent

No conservative call for anticommunist or anti-progressive historians will remedy the sorry state of academe. Rather, what is needed is an injection of courage and especially the re-examination of the liberal assumptions of yesteryear.

Ralph Bunche complained bitterly of those upper-class white liberal foundations that funded only those projects that increased communications between warring groups, such as white and black. Such tactics offended him because he saw structural flaws in American society that would not disintegrate because whites and blacks played nicely together, eschewing [hate speech].

We should be so lucky now. The polarization is so complete and hardened that certified teachers of the young see themselves as guardians of public order, ONLY. (In the past, their impetus toward political and social “stability” was rarely stated with such startling candor. If the rabble was rioting, you bought them off or co-opted them]

But more, though self-satisfied in their allegiance to that side that works toward “social justice” Wilentz’s Brechtian moment suggests a tactical distancing from complacency with respect to received knowledge, that is belied by the opinion that historians should be the thought police.

It is back: the same old liberal double bind that I complain about endlessly here: There is no conflict between Truth (found out by poring through archives and distancing oneself from inherited biases–i.e., making the familiar seem alien) and Order.

These social democrats and leftists may hold the commanding heights of academe, but their opposition holds the mantle of free speech, which I implore them, as the [unruly] public, neither to abuse, nor to take for granted. Our betters have spoken and now it is up to us to uphold reasoned dissent.

dissentlaws

 

April 10, 2014

Gendered wage inequality: an overview

equalpay2Nothing in this blog is intended to diminish the suffering of males at the hands of more powerful males. Still, the silencing of many women propels me to comment at some length.

The Obama administration has raised the issue of wage inequality between women and men, some aver, to change the subject from ACA, which has met widespread opposition. This blog addresses why many women are blocked from high level jobs in business, technology, engineering, and other male-dominated fields.

First, there are power trade-offs. “Domestic feminists” argue that puritanism (and Protestantism in general) raised the status of women in the home. As medieval agrarian societies were replaced by capitalist industrial societies, men were no longer commanding labor and resources in the home; rather they were now absent fathers and husbands, busy with offices and factories. At the same time, Lockean psychology elevated the role of women, whose maternal duties now included the inculcation of ethics in the infant or growing child, born Locke claimed, with a tabula rasa. The historian Ruth Bloch calls this phenomenon “the rise of the moral mother.”

Understandably, males, faced with the complaint of undeserved subordination raised by both the first and second waves of feminism, were outraged: for them, women already had too much power. Her recently enhanced domestic role, plus her enthusiasm “to make the whole world homelike” in the progressive movement, combined to make the middle-class woman resented by displaced patriarchs or overly-attached “momma’s boys”. “What [more] do women want?” cried Freud, and many agreed with him, and still do.

[Added 4/16/14: a FB comment from Helen Logan Tackett: I work in a profession where my salary based on specific academic achievements, if a man in my profession makes more than me, it is due to him working more hours than me. Here is the truth; most women work two jobs. The real gender inequality is women now struggle to balance career demands and housework, laundry, shopping, meal preparation, nurse to sick children, primary caregiver for aging parents. When my son got sick at school, the school called me,mom, before they called my husband, his father. Where is government's quick fix for the exhausted working woman due to holding down two jobs? Instead of government painting women as victims of sexist capitalism why doesn't government provide tax deduction for work performed in the home? Paving the way for Hillary Clinton, in typical fashion, the Democrats use the victim ploy to convince women that if they don't vote for Hillary, then GOP men will make them second class members of society by impoverishing them. In sum, vote for Hillary if you want money. Pathetic.]

Second, aside from gender differences in physical strength and longevity, heterosexual women are socialized to crave husbands; even many lesbian couples want children. In 1974, Lynda Benglis defined herself in Artforum against the vaginally-oriented feminist art movement with a tough and controversial nude self-portrait, holding what appeared to be an oversized erect penis attached to her body, asserting both androgyny and the cry that women were socialized to please men.

Lynda Benglis, Artforum 1974

Lynda Benglis, Artforum 1974

It is still a shocking image. [I showed her current work in my 1970s slide show on feminist art, and I recall lots of glitter and non-representational pieces: Here is one that I did not see from 1973, suggesting what might emerge in the advertisement.]

Lecture%209%20-%20Lynda%20Benglis,%20Omega,%201973

As I have written ad nauseum, second wave feminists defined politically correct feminist art as the empowered vagina, confronting [war-making] men and the presumably all-powerful Western patriarchy with aggressive, shocking images. Having emerged from the male left-dominated antiwar and civil rights movements, their feminism was easily co-opted. By the time I entered graduate school in the 1980s, semiotics ruled the day, and feminists were now Foucauldians and postmodernists, railing against the industrializing bourgeoisie that had once raised the status of all women. (See http://clarespark.com/2012/10/14/reality-and-the-left/, partly about Judith Butler, their superstar.)

Today, there are token women in positions of power in government, business, and in our dominant cultural institutions. In academe, they have often settled for low-status Women’s Studies programs that are laughing stocks. And heavies in educational psychology like Howard Gardner may see females as inherently narcissistic and self-absorbed, keeping their journals [and their ageless skin?]. (See http://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/arne-duncans-statism-part-two/.)

Yet the token successful women complain of a glass ceiling, wage differentials, and segregation in such maternal occupations as nursing and primary school education. It remains to be seen if today’s feminists can bury their differences with conservative women in order to formulate a new feminist program that allows all women and girls to develop their minds and talents, not only their learned masochism of pandering to the male of the species.

Betty Grable: #1 pinup WW2

Betty Grable: #1 pinup WW2

April 9, 2014

Disastrous nationalisms: the Kedourie version

Elie Kedourie (1926-1992)

Elie Kedourie (1926-1992)

Here is the Wikipedia entry on Elie Kedourie’s famous book Nationalism, first published in 1960, and available online in pdf format: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elie_Kedourie.

I read it because it was cited by an author whom I am reviewing for an academic publication, Aiyaz Husaini, author of Mapping the End of Empire: American and British Strategic Visions in the Postwar Word (Harvard UP, 2014). Husaini (whose writing is cryptic) appears not to have understood Kedourie’s famous book, so in this blog, I will briefly lay out the conservative late professor Kedourie’s main message, as they bear some resemblance to my own work on the sources of multiculturalism, and more, are relevant to competing narratives regarding Hitler’s intellectual ancestors, a perennial theme on this website.

I have warned readers before about aristocratic interpretations of the genealogy of Nazism and the crypto-racism of multiculturalism. (On the legacy of German Romanticism see http://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/.) For instance, the German aristocrat Friedrich Meinecke is cited favorably in Kedourie, but without laying out Meinecke’s hostility to the narrowly educated, unspiritual worker in technology, quoted here: http://clarespark.com/2010/04/12/multiculturalismethnopluralism-in-the-mid-20th-century/.

Picasso, 1921

Picasso, 1921

 

It is well to remind the reader that the rise of Hitler was explained early on in cultural terms by such as Peter Viereck and his reviewer Harvard professor Crane Brinton, an admirer of Nietzsche. Although Brinton’s review of Viereck (Saturday Review, 1941) states that German Romanticism is not the only cause of Hitler’s program, he did find Viereck “reasonable.” That is weird, because organic conservatives such as Kedourie, Brinton, and Viereck, are similarly irrationalists: social bonds are mystical, not rational; established, order-making rulers are legitimate. Kedourie, at the same time he denounced anti-imperialist tribal nationalisms, lamented the invention of the printing press, democracy (as opposed to the republic or traditional state, all balancing each other out), the French Revolution, Napoleon, economic determinism (entirely Marxist in Kedourie’s view), and the Enlightenment-French notion that persons could separate themselves from empires in the name of self-determination. For Kedourie, without religion and tradition, the newly industrialized world would degenerate into mobbish democracies, and racist states, and once more we would hear that “the age of chivalry is gone.”

I have written at length here about cultural pessimism, apocalyptic fantasies, and the culture wars. I could call Kedourie an aristocratic radical or a reactionary. Do we not owe more to our children than to indulge in the gloomy Tory fantasies that opposed the political reforms of the English Civil War and that promoted the idea of the responsible individual?

We have seen years and years of horror movies, unprecedented best sellers that celebrate magic, and real-life retreats into barbarism. Can these be partly explained by movies and television shows that frequently present future technological disasters reaffirming, sometimes subtly, the old top-down neoclassical world view that Kedourie presents as the alternative to demonic Romanticism run amuck?

Fuseli-demon

Or do I give too much weight to cultural, as opposed to political and economic factors, just like the anti-Romantic [i.e., neoclassical] conservatives I am criticizing here?

For Kedourie’s opinion that the problems of the Middle East are insoluble, see this mildly dissenting publication by Harvard University: https://blogs.law.harvard.edu/mesh/2008/02/chasing_illusions_in_the_middle_east/.

April 6, 2014

Standing up to bullying social democrats (2)

 

FatCatArt.ru

FatCatArt.ru

Yesterday (4-5-14) I posted a popular blog. http://clarespark.com/2014/04/05/standing-up-to-bullying-social-democrats/. There is no way of knowing why so many viewers came to it: was it the enticing title, the provocative illustration of a plump lady’s posterior flanked by fat cats, or the revelation that Ernest Bevin’s “socialism” was directed against finance capital (the Jews)? (The latter motivation could have fed into neo-Nazi fantasies that “the Jews” are to blame for the plight of the working class, everywhere.)

This is my advice in part two of this series, for I speak out of long experience with Democrats and leftists (who now seem to be inseparable, see http://clarespark.com/2012/07/19/communist-ideas-go-mainstream/):

Unless you have an independent income and/or are in a family that is exceptionally tolerant and libertarian, it is best to hold your tongue. Do not expose yourself to more strife and rejection. SDs, in their own minds, have, since the mid-nineteenth century, identified with an updated, paternalistic aristocracy (the Disraelian type of Christian Socialist). Witness the educated audience for Downton Abbey.

No amount of facts or rational arguments will persuade SDs to stop their 1. state-worship; or 2. “anti-Zionism.” In their compassionate hearts, they “know” they are correct. They believe in the statistics that other progressives have compiled, even though such statistics render them ciphers, lacking individuality and an appropriately curious, questing mind. As members of volunteer groups or the “healing” professions, they are invested in group identities (“we are the good people”) and such soothing perks as academic tenure. Moreover, the SDs believe that they are standing up to bullies of the Neanderthal Right!

stand-up-to-bullies-2

Conclusion: it should be obvious that SDs must be defeated at the polling place—venues that may be fraudulent. So it should be the primary task of libertarian believers in capitalism, equal opportunity, equality before the law for rich and poor alike, and limited government, to make their votes count. (For statistics and other issues see http://tinyurl.com/p3k3quh.)

Save your breath, unless you are talking to your pre-adolescent children or advocating for charter schools with curricula that encourage critics thought: no amount of pop cultural appropriation, father-led families, or overt attempts at persuasion will lure the dependent population away from the welfare state.

We are running out of time.

April 5, 2014

Standing up to bullying social democrats

 

FatCatArt.ru

FatCatArt.ru

I have been reading Peter Weiler’s biography of Ernest Bevin, a leading social democrat in early 20th century Britain, and it is a lucid guide to what social democrats (i.e., the moderate men) are and how they came to power. Weiler also explains populist antisemitism, which may be intrinsic to the social democratic world view. For labor reformer Bevin, socialism was all about controlling Shylock (p.74). (SD will be my shorthand for social democrats.)

The SD world view is this: they are not militants of the labor movement: their goal is not a worker’s state. Rather, they aimed for better wages, working conditions, and life chances for the once growing industrial working class. For the SDs, this would be accomplished through trade unionism and state power that would regulate capitalism, especially the financial sector. Professor Weiler calls this strategy corporatism or labourism. I call it proto-fascism. Many scholars refer to Italian Fascism as the “corporative state” or the “ethical state,” For the corporative state mediated between employers and workers, imposing harmony through state power. Many scholars compare the New Deal to the Mussolini solution to class warfare.

ENTER THE JEWS. As Weiler tells it, Bevin saw industrialists as natural allies to workers, whereas the money men were managing affairs in their own interests alone, cutting down profits for industrialists. Lowered profits meant that workers would have to take it on the chin, lowering wages so that fat cat financiers could maintain their outrageous life styles, while workers languished, unprotected and unloved. “Money” and heartlessness were ever associated with a fictional un-Christian animal called “the Jews.” Some major social theorists blamed “the Protestant spirit” for capitalism (e.g. Max Weber, C. Wright Mills), Protestantism being tinged with Hebraism and a particular love for the Old Testament. (See http://clarespark.com/2012/10/07/christian-socialism-as-precursor-to-orwell/.)

J. A. Hobson, a journalist, was read by “progressive” Brits and Americans alike (including Bevin), and it was he who was most aggressive in spreading the word that “the international Jew” not only was a cabal of money men, it controlled all newspapers and the media. (The Nation magazine in 1919 cited Hobson’s work: see http://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/. Also http://clarespark.com/2009/09/18/bad-sex-in-the-new-york-times/.) The widely circulated Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a hot item in the Arab world today) made the further claim that the cabal would urge their readers to rise up and overthrow their nationalist masters, so that “the Jews” could move in, attack religion, and thus control the world, as was their inheritance as the Chosen People. Reform Jews ran away from this stereotype and many are ready to cave into a “binational state” in Israel as a way of pacifying their SD rulers and the Muslim world.

What does this have to do with standing up to bullying social democrats? As long as our intellectuals look to the state or any other bureaucracy or tribal entity to enforce “social justice” we are doomed to an eternity of authoritarian rule. Human rights do not encompass the rights of the corporative state (a.k.a. the welfare state) to substitute for individual choice and individual responsibility. Human rights are about standing up to illegitimate authority, wherever it may be hiding in the nooks and crannies of our consciousness. This task is not as easy as it sounds. (For part two of this essay see http://clarespark.com/2014/04/06/standing-up-to-bullying-social-democrats-2/.) midwest-map

April 1, 2014

The Gwyneth Paltrow Flap: celebrities as the new socialist vanguard

PaltrowRead these first: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwyneth_Paltrow. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/gwyneth-paltrow-this-working-mothers-open-letter-to-the-actress-who-claims-being-a-film-star-is-harder-than-working-a-95-is-amazing-9221301.html. The author, Mackenzie Dawson is a contributing editor to the New York Post. http://www.msnbc.com/ronan-farrow/watch/gwyneth-paltrow-open-letter-a-gentle-prod-209524803538. Dawson interviewed by Ronan Farrow on MSNBC. Talk is about “parents” and “families” and income inequality, and the need for “celebrities” to speak out more frequently to right these wrongs.

[Blog starts here:]  Journalists working for such diverse institutions as The New York Post, Fox News Channel and MSNBC , have all jumped on Gwyneth Paltrow for comparing the travails of movie acting with the long, hard, slog of other “working moms.”

Several observations are in order. 1. We live in an age where “celebrities” feel free to speak out on any and every social issue, regardless of their expertise in any subject—and so do journalists and academics with captive audiences; 2. In a period of mass democracy, social media, and public education, the manipulation of public opinion is critical for parties vying for our votes and financial support; 3. Second wave feminism, while making it possible for a few women to challenge the monopoly of men in business, the arts, and in the professions, was primarily a petit-bourgeois movement, dragging itself toward the Left because second wave feminism came out of the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s. Paltrow’s generation came afterwards, was more Green, and more interested in family life, diet and healthy living, including the higher consciousness. 4. Like prior would-be intellectuals laying down the timing and rules for proletarian revolution or other progressive reforms, a few physically attractive celebrities and journalists have assumed the vanguard once reserved by 19th century Marxists for the politically conscious working class. Dawson is one of these scolds (see her live with Ronan Farrow, linked above).

labor

So when “privileged” actor Paltrow compared the difficulty of being a wife and mother while pursuing her acting career, with that of other “working moms” she stepped in it. It was inevitable that comparing “life on the set” to the lives of working class women also trying to “balance” the roles of breadwinner, motherhood and even marriage with office work, would arouse high dudgeon in the chattering class, who themselves are under the thumbs of bosses–though their working conditions are not comparable to the back-breaking labor of the old factory hands, much construction work, and farm labor. There is a reason that these office jobs are called “white-collar,” and that leftist sociologist C. Wright Mills reviled them in one of his most famous books.

I should interject here that I do not know Gwyneth Paltrow, nor have I followed her career except to recall that when she accepted her Oscar for her role in Shakespeare in Love (1998), she may have wept for her ill father, the movie producer Bruce Paltrow (he had oral cancer for some years). (Her acceptance speech is here: http://aaspeechesdb.oscars.org/link/071-3/”And especially to my father Bruce Paltrow, who has surmounted insurmountable obstacles this year. I love you more than anything in the world.”). Moreover, she married Chris Martin soon after her father’s death in 2002. She also suffered a postpartum depression after the birth of her first male child. You don’t have to be a Freudian psychoanalyst to suspect that her attachment to her late father is more germane to her views on marriage and work than any other factor. The pain associated with that loss cannot be cured with work, beauty, money, or any other worldly success. If Paltrow tries to hold together a family with such evasive language as “conscious uncoupling,” the maintenance of family unity may be as much of a challenge to her, as to any of the women Mackenzie Dawson defends in her letter and tweets. farmlaborLife on the set.” Unless the reader knows the mechanics of movie making, especially the tedium of long waits in trailers, lighting, constant retakes, sudden changes in directors and lines, it is hard not to envy the glamorous life of a movie star. After all, mass media barrages us with images of gorgeous, ageless, perfectly happy females.

A final word on Fame. I had a taste of fame, which was synonymous with notoriety in some quarters. That many persons within listening distance of KPFK knew who I was, and even admired my work at times, did nothing to assuage the anxieties of performance. If anything, the pressure increased, as I tried to juggle the life of the creative mind with the responsibilities and emotional demands of motherhood. Paltrow seems to have peaked with her academy award performance. Similarly, even the most established authors face a blank page when they sit down to write. “Can I match my prior achievements? Can I do even better than in the past? Can I still sell books or get the better movie scripts? Can I transcend my limitations? Was my work ever good enough to please my high-achieving parents who expected so much of me? Am I aging too quickly? If I even worry about these matters, am I a bad wife and/or mother?”

Pirate Ruth, interrogated

Pirate Ruth, interrogated

March 30, 2014

What makes America strong?

self-reliance2Fox News Channel has been playing a documentary all weekend (March 28-30, 2014) on the subject of America’s surrender to permanent [leading from behind]. It ended, however, in a strongly optimistic note from neocon Charles Krauthammer, who predicted that getting our act together would reverse what appears to be decline and even doom.

This blog reviews the sources of “American” strength, and makes the case that it is our intellectual and cultural diversity that constitutes “American exceptionalism.” In other words, the protections afforded by the First Amendment to the Constitution were not only unique in world history, but continue to protect us against authoritarian forces of every type—but only if we make the effort.

It is possibly the case that our species tends toward the tribal and the local over the utopian notion of international unification, as expressed in the rhetoric of “international community” that demonstrably does not exist, and probably will never exist. The Left wants us to believe that the WASP elite that emerged after the Civil War, forcibly “Americanized” immigrants to a form of buccaneering capitalism that deracinated them, throwing over all ancestral cultural ties in order to conform to a murderous and immoral “system” run by extreme white supremacists. Why is this argument repeated over and over in interdisciplinary studies in the humanities and in school textbooks? The red specter still lives in fervid imaginations.

self-reliancejpg

Oddly, multiculturalism or “ethnopluralism” was advanced by progressives as an antidote to claims of proletarian internationalism asserted by leftists from the late 19th century onward, and even before the Soviet coup of 1917. That story has been repeated over and over on this website. I view it as a greater threat to national unity than any other single factor.

Liberal nationalism versus conservative nationalism. In past blogs, I have contrasted the German Idealist notion of national character with classical liberal notions of the relatively autonomous individual. The Germans followed Herder’s notion of the rooted cosmopolitan, a notion that led to Wilsonian internationalism and more recently, the United Nations.

Conservative nationalism entails control over specific territories, staking its claims with arguments of blood and soil. Geopolitics emphasizes fights over borders and possession of the land since time out of mind. Blood and soil nationalism is collectivist in its vocabulary, even though the territory claimed contains wildly different populations with respect to world-views and ideologies. Thus “post-colonialist” scholars and pundits use the vocabulary of Pan-Africanism, Pan-Arabism, etc. and deem “the West” as scheming totalitarians and exploiters of lands and resources that were conquered through militarism, and its handmaidens of science and technology.

Liberal nationalism is a child of the Enlightenment, and was not invented by the Progressive movement that emerged in America during the early 20th century. It was best articulated by the modernizing Senator Charles Sumner who saw the State as limited in scope. The American government was above all a collection of individuals seeking safety from foreign invaders, and possessed of equal rights under the law. The human rights of individuals come out of this Enlightenment tradition. The “human rights” of groups come out of Herder, the mis-named German Enlightenment, and lead into organic conservative and reactionary directions. Social democrats do not fret over this distinction, but promiscuously resort to collectivist statements such as “the people” whom they pretend to defend with their lives and reputations (see http://clarespark.com/2012/11/09/race-and-the-problem-of-inclusion/). Similarly, they have co-opted the language of classical liberalism, deeming their opponents to be termites eating at the foundation of the “republic.”

I view social democrats (today’s “liberals”) as reactionaries, and the source of American division and decline. “America” taken as a collective entity, should always be viewed as a collection of diverse individuals, whether these be conformists, rootless cosmopolitans, or alienated artists.

It is the notion of the unique, irreplaceable, seeking individual, educated to self-reliance and free to choose among competing beliefs, that is the true and only source of American strength and viability in the future decades. To deny this, and to give in to fantasies of decline and apocalypse, is to abandon our children and our ancestors too.

apocalypse2

March 28, 2014

Populism and pop culture: good or bad for the republic?

Populism3Much of this website has been devoted to the analysis of populist demagoguery, with ample quotations from the past and present. Another priority of mine has been the state of popular culture criticism, emanating from both Left and Right. This blog is a guide to my own thinking about 1. Populism as ideology and its targets; 2. Populism as reasonable suspicion of elites and “experts”; and 3. The populist character of major television shows and movies despite the impression that single figures or “billionaires” directly direct their content. First, the original populists were farmers demanding that currency be placed on both gold and silver standards. They also resented the excessive rates demanded by railroads that transported their goods. Muckrakers like Frank Norris (The Octopus, 1901) appealed to this constituency and their progressive sympathizers, who went on to co-opt the original populist demands, for instance, Louis Brandeis’s first major study was of railroads, their practices and finances. (On Norris see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Octopus:_A_Story_of_California. On Brandeis’s career, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Brandeis#Against_monopolies. I read Melvin Urofsky’s biography, that highlighted the early interest in railroads.) populistantisemitism In a mass society, “flooded” with “swarms”  of immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was not surprising that the invention of movies would appeal to the new arrivals and their taste for spectacle, glitter, adventure, shape-shifting, scandalously naughty and corrupt rich people (not dissimilar from those who had dominated the European countries from which they had fled), sex, and violence (part of their everyday lives, both here in the new tough cities, and in the old country), triumph over adversity, and shows of virtuosic force, either military or in sports. Movies and television shows remain populist in the sense that they appeal to ordinary working class and middle class viewers (“ordinary people”), with only a few arty movies made to maintain respectability and an aura of literariness to the more educated urban viewer.

In my experience, leftists that I once knew did not depart from this essentially Leninist populism. (Marx was more favorable to the bourgeoisie, who were developing the productive forces, and who were likely to split over the inevitable working class revolution that he anticipated. Whereas Lenin was influenced by J. A. Hobson, who publicized the notion that an international cabal of Jewish financiers would not only inspire imperialist war, but would control newspapers and other media. Marx’s early essays “On The Jewish Question,” or on money as the universal pimp, however, dealt with Jews as hucksters and the embodiment of the money power, whose reign would be overthrown in the new dispensation.)

For instance, Pacifica radio [where I was program director for eighteen months (2-81 through7-82), and before and after that, a volunteer program producer on the politics of the arts--1969-1998] was plainly populistic and anti-imperialistic, not radical in the Marxian sense, though the news department supported the uprising in El Salvador and the Nicaraguan revolution. I recall my boss, the manager Jim Berland, warning me not to allow programmers to use the term “capitalism.” Our target should be “big business.” This is a typical petit bourgeois (populist) move, and bears no resemblance to European or American communism as originally formulated. Similarly, like other “community broadcasters” we were to appeal to the listener sponsors by mentioning our deviation from “corporate/commercial media”—this referred to presumably billionaire-controlled outlets intended solely for the spread of propaganda favorable to imperialism, finance capital, and rich people in general.

The flaw in this reasoning is that big bad mass media always was populist—but with commercial interruptions. NPR and PBS make their appeals on that basis (sometimes claiming the higher objectivity and gravitas). The antisemitism of the old WASP elite is retained in its denigration of “Hollywood” as generically Jewish—a claim that may be taken advantage of by some professional right-wing pundits , who want to return “traditional Christian values” to “popular culture.” Populist impulses exist across the political spectrum, but are always reactionary.

What is not populism?Elites” or “experts” may be corrupt or legitimately superior in their talents, labors, and contributions to society. To view each and every one with skepticism may be populistic, or it may be valuable inquisitiveness that we must support, even as “discovery anxiety” sets in. But don’t look to the bought-intelligentsia and kept-journalists who “analyze” politicians, social policy, education, and mass media productions. They are part of the legitimacy apparatus that is partly responsible for the Great Dumbing Down of our country. Ask your children to make a distinction between a democracy and a [democratic] republic, and watch their puzzled faces. I am sometimes told that my blogs are “over the heads” of even educated readers. I welcome questions if I yield to esotericism or obscurantism. It is probably my writing, which is sometimes dense and compressed, and not the usual thing on the internet. populistrage

March 26, 2014

Orwell, superpatriots, and the election

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 5:27 am

clarelspark:

As we slog toward ever increasing statism, I am resuscitating my blog that elucidates Orwell’s views on the working class, which have been adapted to Marxism or social democracy, incorrectly, I believe.

Originally posted on YDS: The Clare Spark Blog:

( The Revised Orwell , p.204)”If one thinks of the artist as…an autonomous individual who owes nothing to society, then the golden age of the artist was the age of capitalism. He had then escaped the patron and had not yet been captured by the bureaucrat…. Yet it remains true that capitalism, which in many ways was kind to the artist and to the intellectual generally, is doomed and is not worth saving anyway. So you arrive at these two antithetical facts: (1) Society cannot be arranged for the benefit of artists; (2) without artists civilisation perishes. I have not yet seen this dilemma solved (there must be a solution), and it is not often that it is honestly discussed.” (George Orwell, in TRIBUNE, 1944). Quoted by Arthur M. Eckstein, “George Orwell’s Second Thoughts on Capitalism.” The last month or so I have been surveying the wildly divergent postmortems on…

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March 24, 2014

“The Good Wife” and bad timing

Josh Charles/Will Gardner

Josh Charles/Will Gardner

SPOILER ALERT. I have been thinking of writing something about The Good Wife (a television series written by Robert and Michelle King) for some time, but not until I saw the widespread coverage of the “bombshell” last episode (March23 2014), did I feel that I had enough for a blog. To be brief, the lead female character’s lover is shot by his adolescent client, he dies, and users of social media went wild with grief and shock.

See for instance this comment from Denver: http://www.avclub.com/tvclub/good-wife-dramatics-your-honor-202545. What is notable is this critic’s recognition that lawyers (and the legal system) are not in search of truth, virtue, or honor, but are about “winning and losing.” I would add that the show depicts a bureaucratic system where “procedure” and thinking fast on your feet are everything. The amorality or immorality of the show are rarely noted by journalists.

As for the official publicity from CBS, the excuse for the upsetting dénouement is simple: Josh Charles (the actor who plays Will Gardner) wanted to leave the show after his contract was up, and “tragedy,” “bad timing” and “sudden death” mark all of our lives in this [vale of tears]. Blogs in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post took this public relations line and swallowed it without a murmur. Still I wonder 1. Contracts run out all the time, which gives the actor an excuse to renegotiate its terms. Did the producers balk? and 2. Near the beginning of the series Julianna Margulies was interviewed on CBS and stated that focus groups were split on whether “Alicia” should stay with her cheating husband (who would become the governor of Illinois in recent episodes), or leave him for the love of her life (Will Gardner) as her mother and brother had hoped.

Here comes the feminist part (and I don’t mean Delia Ephron’s broken-hearted lament in the New York Times). One reason I and other educated women like the show may be that it depicts able professional women whose sex drives do not quit during their middle age. And more, they must face the same moral dilemmas as men do, hence the irony and ambiguity of the title: what does it mean to be a good wife nowadays? And can anyone be “good” in corrupt Chicago, a corruption that is mostly hidden by the writers to keep the focus on sex, power, and the machinations of politicians to get elected? A bit of class warfare even creeps in, as the money-mad senior partners do not treat the exploited associates well, leading Alicia and “Cary” to leave the firm, creating ill will with their former employers. In future episodes, I predict that the bruises will heal as the main characters grieve for the departed Will, restoring broken attachments. That is how populism, the subtext of most popular culture, works. Meanwhile, we may gaze at beautiful, well-preserved actresses, dressed to the nines and wearing very high heels. So much for the feminist content.

goodwife4

As for ideology, the characters are Democrats and the drift of the show is liberal. Some episodes buttress immigration reform, others interracial dating, Alicia’s brother is gay (no big deal), Kalinda is bisexual, there are numerous black characters in the justice system, and the law firm of Lockhart Gardner has as one of its chief clients (a black man), the most important drug trafficker in Chicago (though they handle only his business enterprises). In other words, amorality and trendy issues for Chicago liberals dominate.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the media blitz on the last episode of The Good Wife is the viewer response. Fiction, especially great works or even better than average television series, may have replaced the lives we should be really experiencing. What happens to a polity when millions of Americans choose a show or movie to watch and identify with, as opposed to responding to the events, threats, and dilemmas in our own real lives? Or should we lean back and accept that life is necessarily tragic, this world is inevitably corrupt, and that we are all victims of “bad timing”?

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