YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

July 8, 2014

What is sexual freedom?

applesnakeIn my last blog (http://clarespark.com/2014/07/06/the-hobby-lobby-decision-and-the-war-on-women/), I predicted that the issue of sexual freedom would strongly affect the outcome of the next election cycle. A Facebook friend asked me what I meant by that. He took my ensuing response to express “responsibility” as the controlling value. I agree with that judgment, but the issue bears more elaboration.

This blog expands the answer to my online acquaintance. It is no more than an opinion grounded in my particular experience, not the result of historical research into changing mores or a romp into relativism. I could come off as some kind of female puritan and killjoy, though I don’t see myself that way.

First, consider the vogue for expensive weddings as no more than conspicuous consumption, female narcissism, and often absurd demands on the parental pocketbook. Note too that sentimental literature and romantic comedies are focused on that delicate period between puberty and marriage, where adolescent rebelliousness must be reined in for the sake of the status quo. Romantic love has long been associated with revolt from below. So a certain amount of order must be imposed on a process that could get out of hand. Free love, like free thought, has its limits.

The drama of the hunt and courtship dominates the mass media genres preferred by women, but stops at the usually humdrum period of marriage and parenting, where sexual passion almost inevitably fades, to be replaced by parenthood, community/political involvement, and the unforeseen demands of the aging body. Almost all our ideas about sex are shaped by maintaining our sexual attractiveness, including fashion, hair and skin care, “working out” and of course plastic surgery as if it is normal to be sixteen forever. While shopping the Bloomingdale’s July 4th sale, I heard one woman snort to another that Eileen Fisher’s flowing designs are meant for “menopausal women.”

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What I have already written should be obvious. No pop culture group celebrates companionate marriage and growing old together, let alone the day to day challenges of managing family life; nor are there trendy analogs to the Thomas Moore poem and touching popular song “Believe me, if all those endearing young charms….” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Believe_Me,_if_All_Those_Endearing_Young_Charms.) Instead we have the dubious passion for redecoration and home-building—a creative act in some cases, but also escapist. Old people, a growing part of our population, are stowed away out of sight and out of mind, unless they are fabulously rich and can attract gold-diggers of either gender.

Second, I rejected libertinism (often a consequence of “existentialist” despair, and “what the hell”), mostly because, though Casanovas and Don Juans probably think it is their birthright to cat around, for women it is most certainly the case that sex is not a drink of water. There is not only the rational fear of STDs, there is the partly irrational (?) fear of abandonment. Add to that the rational fear that birth control technology is imperfect, and you have anxiety during and after the sex act. (I am not suggesting that males do not have their own anxieties, partly over performance, partly over arousing usually buried feelings about Mother and the mother-son bond that may be problematic; the same goes for women, who may be anxious about “unresolved” relationships with Father.)

But all these considerations pale in contrast to the issue of abortifacients and abortions—an issue that is said to be highly “emotional.” Let me make a more materialist observation: the timing of her pregnancies is the single most important economic issue that women make. That is why many feminists are adamant about controlling “reproductive rights,” and take it to be a women’s health issue, not to be negotiated under any circumstances.

I understand that many religious persons see the “pro-choice” position, a symptom of mass media-induced “hyper-sexualization,” as the moral issue of our time, for eternal hellfire is often at stake. Some of the faithful are ready to go to the mat to overturn such laws as Roe v. Wade. Hence the polarization that complicates every election, for no Republican candidate who deviates from the pro-life position, or the related stipulation that stem cell research cannot be conducted with discarded frozen embryos, only adult stem cells, can expect to be nominated or elected (except in New England, perhaps). Meanwhile, in much conservative propaganda, late term abortions and infanticide are trotted out as talking points, as if all liberals and libertarians were potential baby-killers and communists.

The controlling context of this debate over abortion rights is the growing power of the state in surveilling and presumably controlling even the most intimate affairs of individuals. Many conservatives are appalled by “feminism” as if all feminists marched in lock step over “women’s issues,” or were out to destroy the family as the only haven in a heartless world.

Because of cultural/religious pluralism, institutionalized in the law of the land, pro-lifers can practice their religion without imposing a theocracy. It puzzles me that some media conservatives take a triumphalist tone, as if they were theocrats. It should not be a requirement that all Republican candidates are forced to conform to the Catholic/Evangelical social agenda, opposing not only abortion rights, but gay marriage. If statism is to be reduced, then religious conservatives should get their priorities straight and lighten up: as I have written before, capitalism/free markets are on the line. The women’s vote cost Mitt Romney the election of 2012, did it not? (http://clarespark.com/2012/11/07/capitalism-is-on-the-line/)

Here, finally, is how I view my most important feminist commitment, in which the welfare of children trumps individual preference—say for no-fault divorces. Having been through one such divorce in the early 1970s, I was in a position to observe the grief and confusion inflicted upon my own children. I don’t understand why feminists have not written more about the complicated fates of She Who Is Dumped and her offspring.

My own conclusion: if you are unwilling to put children’s emotional stability above your own whims or passions, then don’t have children. Obviously, if the marriage is so abusive, physically and emotionally, to spouse and kids that divorce is the only possibility of rescue from a disastrous home life, then divorce is the only remedy, but be prepared for the fallout affecting every member of the broken family.

divorcegg

July 6, 2014

The Hobby Lobby Decision and the War on Women

silencedwomanThree events prompt this blog today: 1. Last night I saw the much praised “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” for the first time (out of anxiety in watching a fiercely antagonistic marriage told through an existentialist lens?); 2. There was a Masters of Sex marathon in preparation for the second season starting next Sunday on Showtime; and 3. One of the panelists on Fox News Sunday predicted that Democrats would benefit from the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision, one that upheld the right of businesses to withhold abortifacients from their employees in the cause of “religious liberty.” This blog is definitely NOT about government forcing pro-life advocates to provide free contraception/abortifacients.

Start with Lizzy Caplan’s character “Virginia Johnson”—a witty and streetwise young woman “ahead of her time” as the show is set in the repressed 1950s, and the bohemian Virginia (a divorced ex-singer with a swing band and mother of two children) is a model of sexual freedom, outspokenness, an advocate for “women’s health”, and a reluctance to commit to bourgeois marriage. (The women’s health argument is currently featured in the talking points of liberal feminists reacting with shock and anger at the Hobby Lobby 5-4 decision.)

Which reminds me: numerous professionals on current television series are depicted as monomaniacally devoted to their professions, and wary of marital commitments (both “Alicia Florrick” and the late “Will Gardner” on The Good Wife, “ “Dr. Katherine Black” and her doctor lover on Black Box, “Olivia Benson” on Law and Order: SVU, “Meghan Draper” on Mad Men, and even “Olivia Pope” on Scandal. Is it any accident that married women or “male feminists” created most of these shows?

I have written numerous blogs criticizing the focus on sexuality to the exclusion of the context in which sex happens or doesn’t happen; I have also written about “the family” as the site of strife and even bondage—a point that is obscured by political rhetoric deploying the rhetoric of heterosexual family unity either to buttress collectivist ideology, or to fend off the decadence and poverty that conservatives attribute to illegitimate birth and mother-headed (usually minority) families.

I have also written extensively about misogyny, a neglected subject in defenses of male homosexuality, even as male critics praise film noir as their favorite genre, a genre that gloried in representations of the “femme fatale,” carrying forth the stereotype of the terrifying “woman with book” (as Leo Steinberg called her, in one of his popular lectures: I believe that the newly literate woman is one of the monsters inhabiting the Tory imagination: Woman as Jew of the Home). (See http://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/, retitled “Film Noir decoded”.)

Also on this website, I have emphasized developments in the diagnoses of mental health problems, both aligning with and opposing the anti-psychiatry movement. I should have mentioned more frequently that individual psychiatry is no substitute for family therapy—a field that presumably closely examines how individuals in families relate to one another—or fail utterly owing to underdevelopment of the emotions in our supposedly “modern” society. Such family or couples therapy presumably avail themselves of attachment theory.

But most to the point, I have criticized the omnipresent, belabored usage of the phrase “hard work” especially as the key to achieving “the American Dream.” The subject of women’s labor in the home, with or without male participation, is rarely treated with the respect and caution it deserves: surely the second wave feminists were often on the lam and only partly deserved my scorn.

In one of my favorite episodes of Masters of Sex, Lizzy Caplan (“Virginia Johnson”) sings “You Don’t Know Me”—either a conventional love song about a triangle, or an ironic comment on a doctor lover who wants to tie her down, while her heart remains with another. She is in a booth in an amusement park, with the (temporary) boyfriend and her children looking fondly at her while she warns them through music not to presume anything about the content of her inner thoughts. (For the entire clip see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjfQwNXSfgo.) We have always lived in hierarchies, whatever the pretensions of democratic “egalitarianism” may be. Let those higher up in the food chain beware: You don’t know me/us.

As I have said over and over, “hierarchies breed deceit.” The Woman Question may never go away; in any case, the women’s vote may well decide the next series of elections. And it will be about sexual freedom. (For my explanation of “sexual freedom” see http://clarespark.com/2014/07/08/what-is-sexual-freedom/)

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July 4, 2014

How “independent” are we?

laba.ws_USA_Independence_DayIn defining myself both for and against the postmodernists or existentialists, I have stated that we are all prisoners of our context. Our choices are limited by the institutions we have made, and which either loosen our lips or force us to bite our tongues, lest we lose our jobs or break up “family” unity. Still, “Pierrot” tries to break out of jail.

While watching Fox News Channel as it boxes the compass of its on-air anchors and other sympathetic celebrities, I notice that most assert their vaunted freedom to say whatever they damn please along with their fulfillment of the American Dream despite humble beginnings. The overall tone was one of nationalist pride and complacency. I found this, at best, self-deceived, if not cynical.

Only Shepard Smith emphasized that this country remains in process, that the goals of human rights celebrated in the Declaration of Independence are incomplete and require attention. (Looking up the spelling of his name, I saw that he is rumored to have been demoted after he asked Roger Ailes to acknowledge that he was gay on the air.)

Shepard Smith seems to have a moral compass whereas not all his Fox colleagues celebrating Independence Day share his realism. I remember how passionately he covered Hurricane Katrina, literally shouting from a New Orleans bridge, when government at every level was not acting with appropriate dispatch in rescuing Katrina’s mostly black victims.

Back to the “independence” of Fox spokespeople yesterday and today as FNC observed the glorious Fourth. Though FNC claims to be “fair and balanced” its format and objectives are designed to get maximum eyeballs. It was brilliant in discerning that the many factions of “the Right” were shut out from MSM, including NPR, hence an underserved population would be easy pickings for advertisers. But having some social democrat voice talking points, while a conservative or libertarian contradicts him or her with other talking points, is not the same as the search for truth. (To be fair, not all Fox commentators are so predictable or conformist, but most are “moderates.”)

Whereas the Declaration of Independence, the precursor to the Bill of Rights, breathes the air of the Enlightenment. “American exceptionalism” (like “popular sovereignty”) is built on separating truth from error, hence the demand for checks and balances, the separation of powers, and the refusal of a monarch in favor of popular sovereignty. Yet today, we defer, often uncritically, to “leaders” whether these “good father figures” are politicians, clerics, celebrity academics, artists, or media personalities.

Lipschitz: Pierrot escaping

Lipschitz: Pierrot escaping

Did anyone think that the Founders goals would be easily achieved? These men of the Enlightenment were educated in the classics, in economics, and in international relations. Were they lacking knowledge of history, or without self-interest or ambition? Were they in total agreement with each other? Only the naïve would make such a claim. Still, they took tremendous risks, as those of us who succeed in this wild and wooly experiment in self-government do every day, often with fear and trembling, for the more sentient among us acknowledge how much “American exceptionalism” rests on the bounty of Nature, a Nature that we, in our hubris, do not always study and protect with requisite attention and zeal.

Some of our children have noticed this flaw. But their voices are unheard on FNC. [For a related blog, see http://clarespark.com/2012/01/28/popular-sovereignty-on-the-ropes/.%5D

America-the-Beautiful

July 1, 2014

The Rightist Culture War Strategy Won’t Work

culture-war1It is not surprising that persons who make their living in publishing or writing on behalf of conservative or libertarian causes would envision “culture” as the battleground on which to halt the slide toward “fascism” or “totalitarianism” or “statism” or whatever you want to call the direction of the Democratic Party. The latest to enter the fray is publisher Adam Bellow, son of the illustrious Saul Bellow. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/381419/let-your-right-brain-run-free-adam-bellow. (For my one and only blog on Saul Bellow see http://clarespark.com/2011/11/12/the-woman-question-in-saul-bellows-herzog/.)

Leaving aside for the moment, whether there is a single, coherent right wing culture to spawn artists, let me ask some related questions: Do artists and filmmakers make revolutions in human relationships, or do material factors that are often avoided, put down, or erased by mystical science-hating organic conservatives? For these persons often view themselves as postmodernists or moderates or entirely alienated anarchists.

Think about the onset of modernity in the West for a moment. What factors enabled the elevated status of women? Novels and tracts by soi-disant feminists, or the Industrial Revolution that removed patriarchs from the home, hence raising the status of the women who were now more in charge of socializing children?

culturewarsChina

As for the sexual revolution, how can we discount the effect of “the pill” that prevented unwanted pregnancies and enabled greater freedom in sexual pleasure for both partners? Or do we want movies that take us back to the good old days when women were entirely subservient to husbands and children, lived for the family alone, and endured endless pregnancies? (See Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse (1927): her portrait of “Mrs. Ramsay.”)

It is true that the mass media have had a great effect publicizing social movements, but close examination of their politics reveals a motion toward populism, not social transformation in human relationships that would lead to wider acceptance of free markets, the end of racism and sexism, and to an aversion to overregulation by the State. Populists are not leftists, but petit-bourgeois radicals angry at “elites” (perhaps stand-ins for authoritarian parents). Such resentment may be found in much of the conservative movement, currently in an uproar over “progressives” in disguise as “RINOS.”
No culture produces so many geniuses that we can simply call out brilliant artists and/or critics who can move mountains and change consciousness to the degree required by our current polarization and sense of injustice on both sides of the great divide.

But we can read good literature from many sources to our children, and we can teach them to extract the messages contained in specific texts. The same goes for music and art. That is what European and American “elites” did, and they ended up ruling the world, enhancing life for the billions, and continuing to ask the big, still unsolved questions. If we want to let “the right brain run free,” we have still to look for excellence in whatever genre or artist we can find. Forget political correctness on both left and right: Study how individual works of art work on us to get us thinking and moving again.
Will satire and spleen of the sort recommended by Adam Bellow and other culture warriors change hearts and minds on the liberal Left? Or will it be taken as yet more agitprop and bad faith emanating from reactionaries?

cultureCloudW

June 28, 2014

Bat Ye’or’s EURABIA: more relevant than ever

anti-women-2Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis was written by Bat Ye’or and published in 2005 by Associated University Presses. The author had already published other books on this and related subjects, mostly in French and translated into English, Hebrew, and Russian. Her general terrain has been the transformation of Europe in its ill-conceived alliance with the Arab world; she dates the turning point in 1973 (the oil crisis), but also alludes to Charles De Gaulle’s foreign policies in the 1960s.

Her argument is easily summarized: European elites made common cause with Pan-Arab elites, establishing the EAD (Euro-Arab Dialogue) to further the aims of 1. Muslims interested in re-establishing the caliphate that would compensate for its losses in Spain and Southern Europe during the late medieval and early Renaissance periods; and 2. A mostly French elite that wanted to challenge US supremacy in the world after the second world war.
The result was an aggressive (as opposed to a peaceful) multiculturalism. I.e., Ye’or holds to the school of international diplomacy that rejects Wilsonian internationalism/the United Nations for Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis.

The outcome of the Eurabian cultural offensive has been intensified immigration of non-assimilating Muslim immigrants into Europe, and the propagation of what she calls the “Andalusian myth” that the misnamed Western civilization itself owed everything to Muslim arts and sciences, and nothing to ancient Greece and Rome, the Byzantine Empire, “the Judeo-Christian heritage,” or to all societies prior to the propagation of Muslim religion from the 6th century onward. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Islam.)

Scholars such as the late Edward Said have been prominent adherents to Eurabian thought: their goal, she states, has been to attack the legitimacy of Israel, to undermine Christianity, to devalue the United States, and to establish a condition of “dhimmitude” (limited freedoms characterized by servility to the Muslim master and the Sharia law) in all regions where militant jihadists seek hegemony. Her book, written after 9-11, accentuates the cultural offensive or a one-sided “dialogue” between the West and jihadism in which the West has yielded its achievements to the claims of militant Islam and putting cultural pluralism (her “peaceful multiculturalism”) in dire jeopardy. These policies are supported, the author notes, by ambitious Muslim elites, some of their striving middle classes, communists everywhere, and nazified social movements of the far Right. (She does not include, obviously, those European politicians and social movements who oppose sharia law as advanced by Muslim immigrants.)

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Wikipedia dismissed her claims as a “conspiracy theory”; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurabia. But it is well known that Wikipedia is controlled by the same “postcolonial” leftists who oppose Israel and the West as hopelessly imperialist and repressive. Eric Hobsbawm himself could have written this curt dismissal of Eurabia as entirely lacking in academic merit. (See http://clarespark.com/2012/12/08/hobsbawm-obama-israel/.)

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A daring work such as Bat Ye’or’s should be judged on its documentation as well as its predictive value. With Iraq now threatened by ISIS a.k.a. ISIL, Eurabia deserves a second look. (You will absorb her argument if you read the introduction and conclusions. The book has endnotes and multiple appendices.)
For a CV, see http://www.dhimmitude.org/d_bycv.html.

BatYeor

June 25, 2014

Penny Dreadful’s sinister significance

Frankensteinpenny-dreadfulIn the US, late 19th century dime novels were the precursors to early movies; while in the UK, their similarly cheap, sensational analogs were “penny dreadfuls” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penny_dreadful).

Surely working class males are not the target audience for the Showtime series Penny Dreadful that is winding up its first season this Sunday; otherwise how can we account for its deliriously positive reception in, say, The New York Times and Vanity Fair?

CoverPennydreadful

When I commented on the postmodern slant of this serialized horror thriller with pretensions to serious high art, one of my Facebook friends groaned. This blog explains why I think the fact of its existence and its considerable success is of more than passing interest. I had thought that horror movies with their vampires, zombies, and werewolves, were for adolescents with kinky tastes. But the successful writer for screen and theater, John Logan, author of the series, is no kid (born 1961), but as a graduate of Northwestern University, he may have been exposed to the techniques of postmodernism, along with a fine cast of actors who probably think that this is a high class production, appropriately critical of this entirely mechanized, overly rational and complacent world we supposedly inhabit. I sometimes think that the production is a postmodern emphasis on “acting” and the theatricality of everyday life, along with the postmodern/youthful preoccupation with “real or fake”–a question I have taken up before on this website. What ever its intentions, it surely plays up the irrational and could not be more emphatically counter-Enlightenment, and even anti-American, particularly “America’s” treatment of its indigenous peoples, cruelly uprooted from their native culture and languages by the White Man.

The “pomos” deploy pastiche, distort prior genres, and appropriate prior cultural figures at will, all to comment on the horrors of modernity, most famously rendered in the Tory Terror-Gothic genre, and exemplified in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the New Prometheus. Wordsworth and Keats are quoted, while one of the characters is lifted out of Oscar Wilde—Dorian Gray. Significantly, Jack the Ripper hovers over the production, as if the overarching theme is that the social fabric is ripped to shreds by 19th century optimism and confidence in progress through market capitalism. Logan’s target is clearly the empiricism and leftish Romanticism of the 18th and 19th centuries. For the theme of the series, despite its mysterious plot twists and turns and lurid developments, is this: science (including medicine) is destroying our humanity and fellow-feeling, by ignoring the invisible world of demons—the monsters within, and who lead us to perdition when we deny their existence. Even the Catholic Church, possibly represented in the lead character “Vanessa Ives” cannot overcome the unpredictable demon(s) who torments her. And that demon, if we are to believe the publicity surrounding the series, may be inescapable “destiny”–a doctrine opposed by Catholic emphasis on free will and personal responsibility for our actions. Or compare the emphasis on “fate” with Milton’s Mammon, a puritan character who argues for “hard liberty” instead of submission to an unaccountable deity. (See http://clarespark.com/2013/07/09/preconditions-for-hard-liberty/.)

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Prometheus, along with the rest of the Judeo-Christian West, is so over. As for individual moral accountability, that too is gone with the desert wind: we are left with a reproach to God as Frankenstein’s omnivorously reading monster quotes Adam’s lament in the season finale: “O fleeting joys Of Paradise, dear bought with lasting woes! Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay To mould me Man?”[ Paradise Lost, Book 10]. More: in the last words of the season finale, a Catholic priest asks Vanessa (the femme fatale who stands in for the demon-touched, hence “sacred” Romantic artist, i.e., Logan himself) “Do you really want to be normal?”

For in Logan’s Terror-Gothic world, a world shared by many opponents of “modernity”, “reality” exists solely in a chaotic invisible world that is inaccessible to our eyes, brains, and control. Could anything be more reactionary, hence agreeable to antidemocrats?

June 18, 2014

“Feminized” and “jewified” modernity, and my breakup with Ralph Bunche

palestinetugofwarI recently went through my notes from the Ralph Bunche papers at UCLA. You may remember that he became Acting Mediator for the Arab-Israeli conflict after the Stern Gang assassinated Count Folke Bernadotte, September 17, 1948; the [pseudo] settlement of this conflict was a test case for the efficacy of the new United Nations after WW2. Indeed, Bunche won the Nobel Peace Prize for his ‘successful’ mediation that resulted in the 1949 armistice lines between Israel and her neighbors.

Earlier, in the 1930s, Bunche was a leftist, possibly a member of the CPUSA, though that is hard to pin down, as he was all over the various left factions that fought with each other during the Great Depression. Some will see him as solely as a follower of Norman Thomas or A. Philip Randolph. But he wrote to Alger Hiss in support of his struggle with the anticommunists, and he was also on the editorial board of Science and Society (though he later resigned). I made a photocopy of a strongly anti-imperialist, anti-racist declaration of W. E. B. Dubois from the mid-1930s, and find little in Bunche that deviated from the DuBois anti-capitalist positions. Indeed, Bunche’s pamphlet A World View of Race, autographed by DuBois, is an anti-racist, anti-imperialist classic of the genre.

Bunche was effectively co-opted during and after his stint as Gunnar Myrdal’s chief research associate while the latter was writing about An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy ) published 1944. By then, Bunche had proven his usefulness to the liberal elite by identifying those “Negro betterment organizations” that were likely to get out of hand and effectively upset the status quo. His next job was with the OSS, where he downplayed US influence in Africa, then he was hired by the State Department, to which he remained loyal during his time with the UN. During the summer of 1948, he addressed the top dogs in that department to warn them that Israel was inevitably “expansionist” [and trouble owing to increased immigration], a warning he later repeated to upper-class Americans in private meetings. [Added 6-24-14: this "expansionist" line would come to duplicate radical jihadist propaganda that Israel and its Western allies were seeking to destroy Palestinians and other Muslims through "expansion" into territories once held by Islam, including Muslim penetration into the Europe that the Arab world had ostensibly civilized.]

By that, I mean that he aligned with those State Department figures who wished to cooperate with Arabs (whose oil was crucial), and who were also eager to maintain an increasingly shaky alliance with Great Britain against the Soviet threat. But perhaps the most important point to take away from this brief summary of Bunche’s politics is this: RB entirely accepted the UN and State Department line that the question of a Jewish state must be framed as two victimized peoples fighting over a small strip of land, strategically located for the failing British Empire. Nearly all the scholarship that followed takes this identical, incorrect line.

What is modernity? To its reactionary enemies, modernity signifies economic development along with the rise of banks and financiers, political democracy, the emancipation of the inquiring mind, a free quality education for all children, urbanization, secularism and pluralism, but above all, equality under the law for rich and poor alike. But for the Muslim world, the emancipation of women was probably one of the most painful developments as it was a symptom of reduced paternal authority in the family. I remember reading a book from the late 1940s that registered the indignation that Israel’s enemies expressed at the sight of sabra women going about, unaccompanied, wearing shorts and sandals.

1922 antimodern image

1922 antimodern image

Even my most erudite friends fail to see this distinction between fighting over land and borders and the “Pan-Arab” resistance to modernity. An incorrect analysis leads to bad strategy, destructive school curricula, and worse journalism that more often than not, concludes in some form of moral equivalence between Jewish and Palestinian atrocities: an ideological analysis based on irrational antagonism toward “the Other.” (see http://clarespark.com/2012/10/11/the-other/).

What neither Bunche nor pundits in our own time saw with respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict was as follows: It was never about land and borders or “Otherness.” The “question of Palestine” was always about Muslim resistance to modernity. And Jews along with emancipated women signified a rupture in human history that was intolerable. Modern machines, modernist skyscrapers, and technology, along with other common antimodern tropes, had nothing to do with their animus against a Jewish state. Most disturbingly, Bunche made it his mission to preserve the legend of Count Bernadotte’s greatness; agreeing with him that the displaced “Palestinians” should enjoy the “right of return”, and carefully editing out of Bernadotte’s memoir all evidence of hostility to the Jewish leaders they encountered during their “peace” efforts in 1948.

Modernity

It is astonishing that Bunche, a very astute person, did not see that at the time; perhaps it was a leftover from his days on the anti-imperialist Left. Moreover, his lack of understanding (the Palestine problem is insoluble), suggests that though he was a highly educated person and very liberal and systematic in his notes on Africa, he was morally compromised by his alliance with more powerful men. Bunche’s disgust with antisemitism, the main subject of my article on his relations with Myrdal, probably reflected 1. The communist line at the time, and 2. The Jews he praised were probably communists supportive of the labor movement; his anti-antisemitism probably did not reflect his deeply held beliefs. I find it painful to acknowledge this. His diaries are not free from disdain at Jews who fawned over him.

Bunche Nobel

June 14, 2014

Is the US feminized? A Father’s Day blog

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Virginia_Woolf_PaintingThis blog is about the branch of feminism that focuses on fathers sharing child care responsibilities, unlike many of my previous blogs on feminism and sexual liberation (see http://clarespark.com/2012/09/04/links-to-blogs-on-feminism/).

I have been reading Louise DeSalvo’s Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sex Abuse on her Life and Work (Ballantine Books, 1989). The author is deeply influenced by the late Swiss psychoanalyst Alice Miller’s many recent books that relativize child-rearing practices, and also by Florence Rush, a feminist who, like Jeffrey Masson, chastised and rejected Freud as a traitor to his female patients when he substituted the seduction theory for the testimony of real sex abuse experienced by many of his female patients in Vienna. In other words, Freud was loyal to the fathers, uncles, brothers, and male friends who were guilty of everything from incest to less overt forms of harassment.

Although DeSalvo counts herself among the “race, class, and gender” contingent on the left, she writes about a bohemian family she classifies as upper-middle class (the Bloomsbury set), stating flat out that prior biographers of Woolf and her famous family, are guilty of a massive cover-up.

fathers-day-portland

Frankly, though I like much of what Alice Miller has to say about the need for echoing and mirroring in early childhood (so as not to confuse the child by imputing socially acceptable feelings to the developing toddler, against justified feelings of rage at being over-controlled by the parents), I am not certain that Miller, a practicing psychoanalyst, would have gone so far as to throw out Freud entirely. Practicing psychoanalysts of my acquaintance try to dredge up past traumas to evaluate their lingering effects into the present. The better therapists do not tell their neurotic clients that “it’s all in your head”.

DeSalvo’s book is sensational, with detailed readings of hanky-panky in the Bloomsbury set, some derived from Woolf’s writings. It is also repetitious and too long, even unreadable. It reminds me of other feminist intellectuals, who, untrained in the appropriate fields, deem themselves authoritative on any historical events derived from the urgent task to “rewrite women’s history,” even if it entails dubious inferences.

Which brings me to her major claim that I do agree with: early childhood neglect and parental authoritarianism is a recipe for lifelong emotional problems—-problems that may not be talked about frankly within families. Such loss of memory and silences are devastating to mental health and surely are responsible for apathetic depressed lives, and even sadomasochism.

But what do these feminists expect from men? How will well-intentioned [would-be] “feminist” men overcome a life of socializing into their positions as masters of the universe, and I refer not only to wealthy males, but to working class males who look forward to mastery in the home, if not the workplace?

pater-familias

I can answer that. Parents and schools must start paying attention to the emotions and to the irrational components of our nature. So called “liberals” and conservatives will resist these calls for massive curricular change, for their most cherished senses of who they are in the world could be challenged. Hence, I must conclude, that Louise DeSalvo, a creative writing professor, is utopian in her aspirations, and she is not alone.

Would we, as highly evolved women, not all prefer sensitive males who are more like us? I’m not holding my breath. As it stands, “metrosexuals” are mocked in conservative media as sissies and ‘homos’, latent or practicing.

Meanwhile, happy father’s day to all my readers who dare to look inside themselves and who resist idealizing the nuclear, father-led family. It is a long, hard slog for both genders.

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June 11, 2014

Karl Marx on individuality: the impossible dream?

social relationsThe problem: how to separate communists from social democrats; is “the Left” the same “left” opposed by bourgeois apologists in prior periods? The “McCarthyism” accusation that reproaches anticommunists is derived from the liberals defending the bureaucratic collectivism of the New Deal: “liberals” attacked those “fascists” from the Republican Party who opposed FDR’s remedies for the Depression. Similarly, FDR called his opponents “economic royalists.” This vituperative playbook still exists, with many conservatives conflating communists and Democratic Party stalwarts, as “the Left.”

The key to understanding the difficulty of separating communists from liberals is here: “Liberals” (not to be confused with classical liberals) selectively co-opted and defanged communist social thought in order to preserve their own elite rule, above all focusing on the working class as the likely red specter. The notion of “proletarian internationalism” was replaced with “ethnicity” or “race” as the mode of sorting people out. Both communism and liberalism partake of collectivist terms. The ‘individual’ is pathological and an outcast. Some organic conservatives agree, imagining mystical bonds (the “rootedness” of local attachments) as the route to “social cohesion” and “political stability.” Organic conservatives need not be on “the Right.” Democratic president Woodrow Wilson was surely one these localist agrarians who spurned the materialism of science.

Here is the key move for “socially responsible capitalists”: the “individual” only exists in repressive ideologies like supposedly unregulated “laissez-faire capitalism” and Darwinist competition. It must be defeated in favor of “the individual-in-society” who is situated in a [statist] “cooperative commonwealth.” Stubborn laissez-faire types are “narcissistic”, given to “huckstering” (Mad Men!) and must be defeated in order to emancipate the truly progressive society from “the Jews” or their surrogates.

Under the leadership and rules of “liberals” mental health professionals emphasize not autonomy and individuality, but “relationships” to groups, including sex partners, families, and workplaces. In all cases these mental health professionals, like the neutral state they unknowingly defend, preach “adjustment” and “integration” of interior, often irreconcilable conflicts, such as mothering infants versus interests outside the home and family. I personally have been subjected to this well-meaning, but futile, advice.

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Finding out “who you really are” is all about limiting, not extending choices in the face of personal evolution. It is part and parcel of today’s “identity politics” —more collectivist groupiness, for only “groups” can “make a difference.” Marxists have demolished the notion of the individual, deeming such a one “atomized” or “anomic”—a version of the murderous Cain, builder of cities; similarly artists are stigmatized as Pierrots, also tied to Cain and to the Romantic Wandering Jew. After the revolution, one orthodox Marxist told me, “everyone will be a Mozart.”

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Although many persons would like better control over their work processes and over aggression (as did Freud), for Marx the only route to such individual empowerment is through working class consciousness followed by working class revolution: in his view, a progressive, enlightened move that would make the politically emancipated individual able to experience “species being” (a term that he never defines comprehensibly to me, but it has some relationship to nature: enter the Red Greens). [Need I add that the Progressive movement had a drastically different definition of "progress"?]

Nor do these [social workers] expand the imagination, as do our better artists. Instead, following Marx’s necessarily limited vocabulary (he never was able to suggest just how the state would “wither away” ), he brings up earlier forms of human organization (primitivism)—see http://clarespark.com/2014/06/07/marx-vs-lenin/ (the quoted passage from “The German Ideology”), and my index to blogs on primitivism: http://clarespark.com/2013/04/16/blogs-on-anarchismpunkprimitivism/. Note that in the “individuality” image, a couple drawn in the cubist/primitive style of Picasso, defines the “individual” who can “make a difference.”

Finally, reading early Marx (the mid-1840s), I have the impression that his entire conception of worker alienation might be derived from his antagonism to all religion, in which he alleges that the worshipper gives away his body and mind to God (I don’t see how this applies to Judaism, which emphasizes a degree of free will and personal responsibility for the wrongs we inflict on others, not blind obedience). This is only a hunch, but it would explain why there has been no working class revolution of the kind Marx anticipated. At best we get a sputter of [doomed] protest as in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society. Most workers probably want the benefits of what Marxists derisively call consumerism, and the pursuit of creature comforts (including the comfort and consolations of religion) does not entail an assault on their individuality, but instead enhances it. But then I am a bourgeois, so should not be trusted to interpret, even tentatively, the major exponent of communism.

June 8, 2014

“Narcissism”: healthy vs. unhealthy

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:30 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Echo and Narcissus: Waterhouse

Echo and Narcissus: Waterhouse

These sources are what I found in a quick search around the internet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissism

http://faculty.washington.edu/cbehler/glossary/narcissi.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_F._Kernberg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinz_Kohut

http://psychology.about.com/od/psychiatricdisorders/a/history-Of-narcissistic-personality-disorder.htm (NPD excluded from DSM-5.)

http://wkeithcampbell.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/MillerWidigerCampbell20101.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22729454 (on narcissism and S-M behavior)

None of them steps outside of personal psychosexual development in the family to explore the institutional or ideological context in which “narcissistic personality disorder” either occurs or never shows itself.

My blog on the subject constitutes my personal experience and is not the result of clinical training, though the word “narcissistic” is thrown around in popular culture, sometimes to characterize women, but lately to characterize the grandiosity attributed by classical liberals and conservatives to Barack Obama. “Progressives” return the favor by describing all classical liberals and conservatives as heartless, uncompassionate individualists, oblivious to cries from their [imagined communities].

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First, “healthy narcissism.” All my work has been driven by the search for creativity and how to impart it to students of all ages. In my view, such originality and discovery is linked to a healthy sense of self, that is, a person with healthy narcissism is not afraid to plunge into deep and uncharted waters to gain an accurate picture of ourselves and the institutions in which we function, no matter what pathology powerful professionals attribute to this search for truth.

But in the [neoclassical] Greek myth, Narcissus is so captivated by his image in a pond, that he is oblivious to the voice of Echo (society), so that he thoughtlessly falls into the pond and drowns. That is how Melville’s character “Ishmael” (the foil to narcissistic Captain Ahab) describes the tale in the first chapter of Moby-Dick: “Narcissus is the key to it all.” And indeed, Ahab does drown, strangled by the rope with which he would revengefully harpoon the White Whale, oblivious to the crew who will also perish. (The link to progressivism’s emphasis on social relationships as opposed to personal self-absorption should be obvious.) [Wikipedia dates the painting by Waterhouse as painted in 1903, after Ovid, in time for the progressive movement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Echo_and_Narcissus_(Waterhouse_painting.%5D

The insult of the narcissism label is often felt by women. On the one hand, women are supposed to be protective mothers and wives, attuned to the most subtle emotions and symptoms of their charges, while they are simultaneously driven to defy aging and yet to be well turned outward to the opinions of relatives and then future mates. When the late academic Christopher Lasch wrote his famous The Culture of Narcissism (Norton, 1979) I bristled. It was an obvious slap at the fashionable notion that “culture” had been “feminized” since the emancipation of women. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Culture_of_Narcissism which argues that Lasch was reacting to militant student activists and to the decline of the family.)

Narcissism and attachment theory. It cannot be emphasized enough that pathological narcissists are unable to form attachments to others, whether these be persons or causes. In order to maintain their self-images as high achievers, for instance, they need a steady stream of “narcissistic supplies” from an adoring public. Although they tend to vacillate between idealizing and demonizing other persons, they can’t take criticism, even of the most tactful kind. For as “perfectionists” in the face of deflating errors or rejection, they are incapable of soothing themselves, for they are devoid of internal good objects (i.e., the mother’s unconditional approval).

I don’t know what a psychoanalyst would say about my claim, but every mother knows that the management of separation from young children so that they may attend nursery school or play with other children (out of mother’s sight), is a challenge. This process gets even more complicated when weaning is premature, or when a succession of nannies are the primary caretakers of children, for “object constancy” is vital to building self-confidence in the child who is expected to stand “alone” apart from mother. The resultant “separation anxiety” can be experienced by either the child or the mother or both. (See my essay http://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/.) I often wonder how many Sixties radicals embraced collectivist ideologies in hopes of finding a stable, nurturing family that would compensate for feelings of abandonment by parent(s) and society alike. Had socializing institutions not idealized authority, would these often privileged youngsters identified with causes that were seemingly designed to punish them by losing caste?

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Second, which leads to me the question of narcissism and sadomasochism. I have known several men of high intellectual attainment who were 1. panicked at the thought of criticism but who sought punishment in sexual situations. (They might take the role of sadist or masochist, depending on their personal histories with mom), and 2. lived with simultaneous feelings of grandiosity and worthlessness in their psyches, hence were unable to enjoy their achievements in the eyes of others; moreover they were exceedingly manipulative in personal situations. Whether these symptoms were caused by particular family practices and configurations or are institutionally-induced, are beyond my capacities to identify. But here is one quote from my research in the Sadomasochism Collection at UCLA, that sums up the gratification that follows the beating administered by a mother-substitute:

[excerpt from a fantasy by Steadman Thompson, middle-management at the Armstrong Cork Company, Akron, Pennsylvania, in the Sadomasochism Collection, UCLA:] “As I stood up, she came forward with the silver collar. I was aghast at what I had said and done but I stood still and let her fit the cold metal around my neck. As the lock clicked with an icy finality my misgivings rose to an apex.
“Now look, Vivienne,” I whined.
The wand whistled and struck stingingly before I could flinch. “Speak when spoken to, slave and address me as “Mistress” unless I give you another title to use. Now take a hold of the back of my robe.
As I timidly obeyed, she raised her wand and from the wand and the ball on her crown came a light so intense it washed away all our surroundings.”

Steadman Thompson had been subjected to a magic wand, to a “switch” and after taking his punishment, he was returned to the lap of benignant authority, or what I have called elsewhere “Conservative Enlightenment” (a form of pseudo-enlightenment that fails to liberate us from illegitimate authority). How many of our “professionals” in middle management are sadistic with respect to the students (or others) in their charge, while being masochistic with respect to the orders and curricula dished out by their powerful superiors in administrative capacities?

Or, as Melville’s Ishmael queried? “Who ain’t a slave? Tell me that.” (http://clarespark.com/2011/04/10/who-aint-a-slave/, and/or http://clarespark.com/2012/12/02/index-to-sadomasochism-blogs/.)

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