YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

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. For an entirely different view see this infographic disseminated by an online psychology degree outfit: http://www.online-psychology-degrees.org/psychology-of-spanking/, which I recommend highly.)

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 orgasms 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/.

September 20, 2014

“Taking responsibility” for ourselves and society

free_will-net_This blog is about personal responsibility and how that demand affects the writing of both personal histories and world historical events, especially catastrophic ones that cause mass death.

Personal responsibility/free will: I have written before about the ambiguities of assigning praise and blame for our life choices. When Melville did it, his mother thought he was crazy and called in Oliver Wendell Holmes (author of the weird book Elsie Venner) to evaluate his mental health, perhaps to institutionalize him. Yet on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we are told to take an inventory of those whom we have harmed, to change our conduct, and to make restitution to the damaged victim of our presumed malice or carelessness. (On Melville and free will see http://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.)

If only it were that easy to determine cause and effect. My baby may be screaming and driving me to distraction, but is her wailing an inherited feature of her temperament, or is she responding to negligent or stupid parenting choices, possibly picked up from my own parents?

Social responsibility. I have been reading books by historian Michael Burleigh, who seems quite Catholic to me in his leaning toward a late 19th century version of social democracy (see Pope Leo XIII and his encyclical Rerum Novarum 1891), and Burleigh’s rejection of the liberal theory of “totalitarianism” that equates Nazism and communism, i.e., Nazism is bad because of its divisive racial theories, while the Soviet Union attacked the materialist, modernizing bourgeoisie; at least the Reds were not wigged out with nationalism and differing sets of rules for hedgehogs and foxes. Or perhaps Burleigh dislikes the notion of totalitarianism because it implies total control and hence threatens his notion of free will and personal responsibility, without considering the details of Soviets versus Nazis. (The latter seems more likely, as he uses and abandons the term “totalitarian” depending on his outrage.)

Burleigh’s co-authored book on the Nazi “racial state” makes the point that Hitler’s welfare measures were directed solely at biologically fit, sports loving Aryans and depended on a racial hierarchy that demeaned Jews, feminists, Slavs, gypsies, “asocials”, and homosexuals; i.e., he is protecting the welfare statism of social democrats and their much vaunted “tolerance” of “difference.”

socialresponsibility

As an historian of the Third Reich, Burleigh has emphasized individual acts of resistance to Hitler’s policies, thus linking him to those believers in free will and social responsibility. BUT this traps us in the double bind so plainly delineated in “crazy” Melville’s novel, Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852) that mocked “virtuous expediency.” (On the latter see http://clarespark.com/2011/06/12/call-me-isabel-a-reflection-on-lying/.)

I would gladly atone for my lapses and flaws; would that I knew what they are, without the inevitable muddle. “These free men are  not as free as they think” wrote Melville in his novel Mardi (1847).

doublebind

September 13, 2014

Melville, Edmund Burke, and literary cubism

Picasso, 1910

Picasso, 1910

[My comment on Burke as reactionary raised a ruckus on Facebook (see http://clarespark.com/2011/09/17/edmund-burkes-tantrum/), so here is some material from my book on Burke's neoclassical rage for order and rejection of both the Sublime and the Beautiful. It is also relevant to the practice of conservative psychiatry and mental health services.]

[Excerpt: Hunting Captain Ahab:] Since the nineteenth century, images of Melville have moved from lunatic to Fallen Superman to rootless cosmopolitan to rooted cosmopolitan, with the figure of the rooted cosmopolitan unmasking would-be tyrants posing as democrats.  Underneath the mixed, ever-ambiguous reception to Melville’s art is a larger impulse: the subliminal blue-penciling of natural rights.  The eighteenth-century organic conservative Edmund Burke, like Samuel Johnson, reacted to Bacon, Milton and Locke by nervously constructing a politicized aesthetics. Whether rendered as Sublime or Beautiful the seductive material world the neo-classicists called Nature was always subversive to rational inquiry.[1]  The Sublime was the terrifying but alluring romantic style associated with rupture or iconoclasm, unchecked fancy and speculation, unmonitored boundary-blurring science, and Hebraic “puritanism.” It was contrasted with its Beautiful rival, the soothing, bounded pastoral style associated with conservative reform.

Melville’s gigantic sin was, perhaps, also the source of his greatness to corporatist readers.  In cleaving to purple/black/brown sublimity, he jammed his poetic prose with too many images.  The disorienting view from mountain tops, foretops, and rooftops (the brain) bored within the psyche and without, and defied Ovid by mating “unlike things,” thus muddling distinctions between art and life, dreams and reality.[2]  While the literary cubist Melville melted walls between some categories and made them interpenetrate or turn into their opposites, he had a fitful but keen eye for structures that could not be washed away by his conservative narrators. The cubist Melville interrupted their moralistic admonitions with materialist expletives.  The Nation magazine had explained in 1919 (the year they helped initiate the Melville Revival) that “the inherent common sense” of the flexible “Anglo-Saxon race” would overcome Jewish Bolshevism in America.  Following their logic, Melville would have betrayed his Anglo-Saxon racial inheritance by describing group antagonisms and double binds that, in turn, suggested the necessity of structural reform. Structural reform would not only ameliorate the condition of labor and create “the first firm founding of the state,” but, in a related perception, it would prevent mental illness in the laps of “families” that wanted to erase the contradiction between (adolescent) truth and (parental) order, families that madly promoted the critical spirit while fencing the rebel senses.

Sublimemartin08

But even as a Burkean, Melville was subversive.  As Burke recognized, the relaxing Beautiful was not the antidote to the agitating Sublime, but a different style of Romantic seduction.  Melville’s “primitivist” or “reactionary” protests, no less than his “Marxian” moments, were utopian delegitimations of deceptive or heartless authority in the name of universal standards of truth and justice.  Such unsettling criticism as the desire for something better, as desire itself (as opposed to the impassibility [3] of “aestheticism”) may initiate processes that can get out of hand, that may lead to unpredicted developments more far-reaching than Machiavellian “moderate” conservatives, the managers of “ritual rebellions,” would like.  The impeccably WASP American writer, on closer scrutiny, turned out to be a bad Jew even when he tried to be good by working within the system.

BeautifulKantian

“The Melville problem” (what is he, where is he, why did he fail?), “the Jewish problem,” and the problem of the form and content of American democratic institutions trampled over the same dark and bloody ground.  The Melville scholars studied here were transmitters of his “Hebraic” utopian provocations, while dependent on “neutral” (but really conservative) institutions. They have, with frequent resentment, tightened their corsets, assaulting the body in repose, the body freed from intimidation, the relaxed body better able to exercise curiosity and formulate those worldly assessments of social relationships and domination that build confidence in rising groups.  The revivers anxiously merged with and simultaneously rejected their Hebraic monster/monument, fencing their own “rebel senses” as well as Melville’s.  Given the structural pressures in American universities after 1919, the ongoing appeal of crypto-Tory nostrums, and a series of fatal decisions by the Left, the Melville malaise was inevitable.

This study revealed the etiology of the Melville problem in the attempts of organic conservatives to contain the explosive forces unleashed by science, liberal nationalism, universal literacy and mass suffrage. Their reactive concept of national, ethnic, or racial character is the heart-string that constricts and arrests the questing or utopian imagination in either its sublime or beautiful expansiveness. Ahab’s quest was viewed by conservatives as leading to the creation of a rational-secular international order with universal standards of excellence and human rights.  Red pencils were flaunted in 1917-1919 with the stunning advent of Bolshevism and Wilson’s appealing concept of a New World Order.  The corporatists  forged a middle way between the “extremes” of right-wing reaction and revolutionary socialism in 1919, and similarly, between laissez-faire liberalism and Nazism/Communism in the mid-1930s.  The strategy of these “moderates” was to co-opt the scientific language of the Enlightenment. They purged or discredited class-conscious “Bolshevists,” left-liberal materialists, and laissez-faire liberals alike. As corporatist thinkers, they incorporated newly discovered “facts” into “totalities”or “organic wholes.” In doing so, they presented their blood and soil historicism as the democratic vanguard of progress; their interacting biological, geographical, psychological or cultural “types”were offered as novel interventions that protected the uninitiated reader from mad scientists and the Bomb.  I have neither typed nor stamped Melville; rather, I have followed his lead, noting the tight harness of nineteenth-century family loyalty (corporatism and hereditarian racism) that restrained the isolato’s equally stubborn efforts to depict, overturn, or escape illegitimate authority, to merge his interests with those of suffering humanity. Whether hiding or writhing under the boot, Melville was an insoluble problem for the moderate men in all factions of Melville studies after 1919.

By suggesting ongoing conflict between materialist and pseudo-materialist (organicist) thinkers in the West as the sub-text of the ‘Melville’ Revival, I implicitly criticize the notion of Cold War culture as the unique creation of “fascist” Republicans.  The identification of classical liberalism with “romantic fascism” has been the dubious construct of the corporatists and their Popular Front Left allies, supporters of the New Deal.  The same thinkers have identified Red Scares as hysterical over-reactions to a relatively insignificant Communist presence in the labor movement or to an exaggerated Soviet military threat after 1945: this is their explanation for assaults on civil liberties.  The picture changes when we take elite perceptions of lower-class autodidacts in a period of mass literacy and mass media as the subject of inquiry.  In my view, ongoing hostility to “materialism” and “insatiable curiosity” (self-assertion in the independent labor movement and its associated internationalism) explains the continuities in the Melville Revival and modifies the Cold War explanation for repression of civil liberties.  Rather than diagnosing Far Right hysteria or overreaction, I relocated “hysteria” in the moderate center, in its “cool” neo-classical (but not Beautiful) response to hot-headed romanticism or “paranoia” on the fringe.  There was an epochal emancipatory moment in the seventeenth century; all subsequent intellectual history in “the West” may be seen as counter-attack to the Titanic threat of universal democracy and scientific advance, grounded in economic arrangements that would facilitate that goal. I cannot think of a single political movement that has embraced the scientist’s open-ended and experimental program, though it should be implicit in the struggle for cultural freedom.

Enlightenment materialists argued for the universal natural rights of individuals; as republicans they demanded one set of rules for rich and poor, institutionalizing natural rights in the state as civil liberties.  In this context, the so-called eternal conflict between individual and society denotes rather a fight specific to bourgeois democracies: the defense of civil liberties against privileged minorities or intolerant or uninformed majorities.  Moreover, as Locke and Diderot insisted, the citizen protester demanded that authorities heed exactly their own rules and standards–the precepts that legitimated their power and signified superior competence.[4]  Transferring their own libertinage onto social rebels (in this case, the revolutionary bourgeoisie) the threatened aristocracy resorted to stereotypes that slandered democracy and The People.  In a scenario still played out in offices of conservative psychiatry, the conflict between the individual and “civilization” originates in self-indulgent acting-out of anti-social emotions and instincts, not legitimate grievances. Unlike Don Juan/Faust socially responsible elites possess an “inner check,” the measured response to provocation that staves off both violent, rigid responses in themselves and revolution by the desperate.[5] A rainbow (not reaction or rubble or rivers of blood) is dispensed by the good father and other mental health professionals. [6]

NOTES.

                [1] See two eighteenth-century works, both in Melville’s library: Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, Introduction by Adam Phillips (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 1990, originally publ.1757); in Phillips’ opinion, the Sublime and the Beautiful were not antinomies for Burke: both were arousing and opposed to indifference and immobility; however, Phillips makes the comparison with rupture and continuity, Thanatos and Eros.  Also see Samuel Johnson, Rasselas (1759), especially Chapter XVII, the remarks on “fancy” (the meteor: transitory, irregular, delusive; i.e., the Melville career as read by conservatives) and Chapter XLIV “The Dangerous Prevalence of Imagination.”  Both the pastoral (fantastic delight) and the visionary utopia (which Johnson connects) are dangerous and lead to fixed ideas, melancholy, insanity, parricide and fratricide. Rasselas (in subject matter and philosophy likened to Voltaire’s Candide) was Johnson’s most popular work, enjoying 450 editions by 1959. See Samuel Johnson, LL.D., An Exhibition of First Editions, Manuscripts, Letters and Portraits to Commemorate the 250th Anniversary of his Birth, and the 200th Anniversary of the Publication of his Rasselas (N.Y.: Pierpont Morgan Library, 1959). Cf. the attempt by Harry Hayden Clark, 1944, op.cit., to fasten Thomas Paine to this neo-classical literary tradition, cviii-cxviii.

[2] My reference to the mating of unlike things is from Ovid’s definition of Chaos that begins Metamorphoses as well as Melville’s poem “Art.” Burke describes the obscurity that results from Milton’s description of Satan (and poetry in general) as the consequence of compressing unlike things (a problem not shared by imitative painting), Philosophical Enquiry, Part II, Section IV (cont.), 57.  “Here is a very noble picture; and in what does this poetical picture consist? in images of a tower, an archangel, the sun rising through the mists, or in an eclipse, the ruin of monarchs, and the revolutions of kingdoms.  The mind is hurried out of itself by a croud of great and confused images; which affect because they are crouded and confused.  For separate them, and you lose much of the greatness, and join them, and you infallibly lose the clearness.”

                [3] See Piero Camporesi, The Incorruptible Flesh: Bodily mutilation and mortification in religion and folklore, transl. Tania Croft-Murray (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1988): Chapter Two, “The Impassible Saint.”

                [4] See Denis Diderot, Memoirs of a Nun, transl. Frances Birrell (London: Elek Books, 1959).

                [5] See Heinrich Heine, Doktor Faust, A Dance Poem, transl. and ed. Basil Ashmore (London: Peter Nevill, 1952): 16,17 for the intertwining of the Don Juan/Faust legends and the threat of the autodidact; the conflation of printing with necromancy and compare to some criticism of mass media today: Heine wrote in 1851 (the same year Moby Dick was published), “The Church deliberately confused [the historic Faust, a magician, with the inventor of printing] because in its opinion, necromancy has found its most wicked tool in the diffusion of thought by means of printing.  To such minds Thought is a terrible menace to that blind credo demanded in the Middle Ages, which requires acceptance of the Church’s total authority in matters spiritual and temporal, and keeps the humble charcoal burner [the Carboneri!] on his knees.  Faust began to think.  His impious intellect rebelled against the meek acceptance of his forefathers.  He was not content to read in dark places and to trifle with simple arts.  He longed for scientific knowledge and lusted for worldly power.  He demanded to be allowed to think, to act and to enjoy life to its full extent, and so…to use the language of the ancients…he became an apostate, renounced all hope of heavenly bliss, and turned to Satan and his earthly ways and promises.  This single man’s revolt was most certainly spread abroad by means of the printer’s art, so that his doctrine was very soon assimilated, not merely by a handful of intellectual rebels, but by whole populaces.  Small wonder then, that men of God denounced the art of printing as an attribute of Satan.”

                [6] See Robert Filmer’s classic formulation of stealthily advancing, bloodthirsty, irrational democracies in Patriarcha, ed. Peter Laslett (Oxford U.P. 1949: 89,90.

September 12, 2014

Ray Rice and domestic abuse of women

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 6:11 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Misogyny-Dog-ILL-SHOW-YOU-CHILD-SUPThe news has been dominated this week by conflicting opinions on NFL star Ray Rice’s knockout punch to his then fiancée Janay Palmer. This blog is about the shallow coverage of a widespread and subtle problem: the generalized abuse of women, married or single. [For a related illustrated blog see http://clarespark.com/2009/10/25/the-ultimate-s-m-humiliation/.%5D

On Fox News Channel, only Dagen McDowell has appropriately addressed the issue of why abused women don’t leave their marriages or violent lovers. Look for the financial considerations, she cried, almost in an unplanned and exasperated outburst on Hannity. There is more to this story than even the Fox Business personality imagined.

Before I launch into the blog, let me clarify my own position: I take the battle of the sexes for granted. Men are stronger than women, and their much vaunted “protection” is offered only as long as the “girls” don’t cross the line into some version of egalitarianism grounded in rationalism. That line is constantly moving (especially with the revitalization of one version of feminism (see http://clarespark.com/2012/11/15/female-genitals-as-red-flag/), but some features of misogyny and sexism remain invisible to mass media, which generally cater to men (in sports coverage), but must pull in women viewers as well.

Take the terror of aging for one example. We stigmatize pedophiles, while promoting the beauty ideal in  very young girls (or boys!), with perfect skin and little body fat, for breasts and bellies remind men of their mothers, from whom separation has never been achieved, or is at best, ambivalent. The mother-son dyad is probably the key to misogyny and few will talk about “attachment theory” for John Bowlby and his followers in psychiatry don’t sit well with feminists on the lam from the boredom of early child-rearing (see http://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/).

Take the mandatory wearing of high heels for another. The Foxy ladies on Fox News Channel are not only heavily made up and “lookers” but invariably wear high heels, which orthopedists agree lead to ankle, feet, knee and back problems later in life. But what does the young hip woman care? She is competing with other women for the favors of powerful men with jobs and/or prospects, and will humiliate her body to cater to male fetishism that finds high heels sexy, signifying the inability to run away from [male] predators. And yet many Western women look down on Chinese foot binding from another era as hopelessly stupid and retrograde. Nothing so undesirable as the little old ladies from Pasadena wearing white sneakers.

When I first came to Los Angeles in 1959, I discovered that the wives of my husband’s local friends were able to talk ONLY about children, nursery schools, home decor, and vacations. I am not exaggerating. Those subjects encompassed their worlds, and the fact that I joined the men in discussing public affairs was awesome, but also a big freaky (did I even know what I was talking about? No, but I had a strong mother).

Has feminism changed all that? Do conservative advocates for two parent households emphasize the need for educated, outspoken, book-reading wives, or are they silent on matters of enormous import? (A reminder here that religion has long been the province of females in the home, as Ann Douglas complained long ago in The Feminization of American Culture. She was contradicted by “domestic feminists” who claimed that the rise of the “moral mother” since industrialism removed the paterfamilias from the home, thus empowered women to make the whole world home-like, i.e. to support the welfare state.) No one in academe will argue against the claim that paternal authority has been weakened over the last few centuries. Perhaps conservative initiatives to reinstate the two parent family aims to correct this imbalance. But will pater help with the labor of housekeeping, cooking, and child-rearing? Not so fast: the vagueness of this call to papa-led families is silent on this crucial subject.

misogyny2jpg

Finally, many couples make a trade-off: men will meekly acquiesce to many female demands in the home, but she had better not depart from stereotyped female roles, including the supplying of sex on demand.

Is it any wonder that most women, even those in the Western world, are obsessed with plastic surgery, hair, make-up, and the exact amount of muscle “toning” to please the ever-dominant male? The silence on this subject of female powerlessness is deafening. (See http://clarespark.com/2013/03/27/power-in-gay-andor-heterosexual-attachments/.)

celebs_with_plastic_surgery_640_28

September 8, 2014

How “progressive” social psychologists make us crazy

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:09 pm
Tags: , ,

femme-fatale2The New Pluralism-without-Snakes-and-Spiders, the condition of the postwar “progressivism,” is stressful for everyone.  Progressive institutions are only vaguely and intermittently committed to the no-holds-barred search for truth, while the very fact of any pluralism and relativism frighteningly destabilizes authority for the vertiginous veteran of authoritarian families.  The persons I have studied, Herman Melville, the Victorian poet James Thomson (“B.V.”), Columbia professor Raymond M. Weaver, Picasso, Hitler, Jungian psychoanalyst Henry A. Murray, Charles Olson, and other Symbolists, are all disturbed by Mother, the emblem of inscrutable modernity; it is Mother who sows confusion with mixed signals.  Melville has described such behavior in Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), exhibiting the institutional double binds that demanded both artistic truth and corporatist order, independence and loyalty, making it impossible for him to please authority whatever he did and terrifying him with the scowl that marred the placid maternal gaze, the cloud that scudded before the sun.  For Melville, one defense against such lingering big chills was to divide people (or himself) into all good or all bad (switching objects); he patrolled the wall that prevented the sadness of his own black bile from leaking into and depressing the happy mother giving her all to the “perfectly happy” family.  It is her failure that must be denied, her secrets that must be kept to spare the already overburdened mother further suffering.

      Ideally (for the Symbolists) authority should be rational and lucid: the good objects are predictable; they are not hypocrites; they would not suddenly turn on the child who valiantly has been trying to please them.  For Melville’s Ishmael it was the noble savage Queequeg who provided such a rescue; several Leninist critics have seen, not Ahab, but Queequeg and other non-whites on board the Pequod potentially leading the revolution (C.L.R. James, 1953, H. Bruce Franklin, 1978).  In the attempt to recapture an image of innocence, the Symbolist will defend the self from unfair and unmerited accusations.  Such crimes include soiling oneself in infancy or early childhood before one was physically ready to be “clean”; later, the budding scholar’s (solicited!) criticisms of illegitimate authority.  For the bewildered child/student, then, the bad object is above all the one who has switched, perhaps in retrospect seen as the peddler of false utopias (Mother the switching Jew of the Home) who encouraged her victim to let down his guard and then put him on trial for unpremeditated, unremembered, indescribable, but gruesome crimes.  In other words, here the urge to split has a rational component: It is the “liberals” who make us “crazy”; there was a different problem in families that demanded moral purity, conformity, and obedience.  Such environments were repressive in the sense that renunciations were excessive, but, theoretically at least, one conformed to a clear set of rules.  There were myths and rituals that channeled aggression away from the adorable new baby to defeat clearly defined enemies.  I use the past tense, because the localism of traditional societies has been destroyed by the penetration of cosmopolitan mass media and an expanding global market; the corrupting city, moral ambiguities in tow, has invaded the country.

The Symbolists are complaining about socialization in families or universities that seem to demand autonomy and unbounded criticism of their practices, but turn on the child/student when “difference” turns into opposition; again, opposition not to core values, but to hypocrisy, or what appear to be two sets of rules.  The frantic “paranoid” maintenance of firm, impermeable boundaries between good and evil might be understood in this context.  So might be the eagerness of radicals to defend blackened oppressed groups from distorted and hostile representations–other innocent children unfairly stigmatized by “Victorian culture” or “bourgeois morality.”  As academics, these radicals will pursue image studies and other variants of idealist sociology.  Believing that images, like “hegemonic” institutional forces, mold and stamp their victims, these radical pluralists move the furniture around to prevent wild “outbursts” from either Right or Left.  For this they are handsomely rewarded by élite universities invested in preventive politics.  The pluralists write funny:

 [Maurice H. Krout outlines the province of social psychiatry, 1933-34:]  It is concerned with the motivation of the hobo, the delinquent, the would-be-suicide, the prostitute, the drug-addict.  From the point of view of individual participation social psychiatry is interested in mass movements, viz., financial crazes, booms, migrations and rushes, panics and stampedes, war manias.  From the point of view of adjustment effected by deviate personalities it studies revivals, mob action, political campaigns, and organized gang rule.[1]

 [Neil Smelser, Talcott Parsons’ collaborator, declares his fitness to the Harvard Society of Fellows, 1959:]  At the present time my research interests have turned toward the field of mass behavior–those occasions on which organized human activity gives way to outbursts such as riot, panic, fad, boom, craze, hysteria, revivalism and revolutionary activity.  The aim of this study is to locate some of the determinants of these kinds of behavior in the social structure, and thereby attempt to distinguish the occasions on which one, rather than another, type of mass outburst is likely to occur.  The intended contribution of the study is to assemble much of what is known about mass behavior into a more satisfactory theoretical framework.[2]

 The Tory biases of Krout and Smelser are obvious: for Krout, evangelical protestantism, criminality, politics, and mob action are similarly deviant.  Smelser adds revolution to the witch’s brew.

femmefatale1

If institutional double-bind theory is more explanatory than the Krout-Smelser idealist sociology, the implications for psychological counseling would be clear: the issue for “splitting” liberals and radicals would not be owning up to one’s angry but forbidden impulses against authority, the repressed childhood memories to be retrieved in treatment so as to live with appropriately “mixed feelings” or “ambivalence.”  Probably this is the relevant problem for explicitly authoritarian families (ultra-Catholics, conservative evangelical protestants, Marxist-Leninists) whose veterans have been forced to idealize authority and who may not criticize the rules, not even in fantasy.  But the more heimlich approach to splitting would recognize double-binds in pseudo-liberal institutions, the Kafka-esque worlds that may not disclose their rules until they are broken, which trap parent and child, professor and student alike, and which send some of us scurrying away from “bureaucratic domination” to “alternative” “simpler” cultures or subjectivist epistemologies or levelling S-M rituals that affirm human weakness and brutality, mocking hopes for enlightenment and universal tenderness.  We have become “self-consumer[s] of [our] woes,” tubercular addicts of the disappearing body (Schwindsuchter).  I am quoting from “I am,” by the nineteenth-century “mad” peasant poet, John Clare:

 “I am–yet what I am, none cares or knows;

   My friends forsake me like a memory lost:

I am the self-consumer of my woes–

   They rise and vanish in oblivions host,

Like shadows in love frenzied stifled throes

   And yet I am, and live–like vapours tost

 Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,

   Into the living sea of waking dreams,

Where there is neither sense of life or joys,

   But the vast shipwreck of my lifes esteems;

Even the dearest that I love the best

   Are strange-nay, rather, stranger than the rest.

 I long for scenes where man hath never trod

   A place where woman never smiled or wept

There to abide with my Creator God,

   And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,

Untroubling and untroubled where I lie

   The grass below, above, the vaulted sky. [3]

The mad poet laments the abandonment of intimates who trouble him because he has troubled them: they did not wish to know him as he was, really, to himself.  He yearns for a virgin nature (his own), neither touched nor touching, where he would be neither crushed by father’s disapproval nor confused and made guilty by mother’s switching emotions.  In The Future of an Illusion, Freud did not blame the unruly masses for acting out if their societies were economically exploitative; such class societies did not deserve to exist.  Moreover, his unambiguous allegiance to scientific method deflects charges of orthodoxy and reproaches those followers who ignore institutional sources of social violence or refuse to revise psychoanalysis.

  Compare both John Clare and the radical Freud to conservative Freudians and Kleinians as they explain ambivalence and violence: Persecuting parents or their surrogates are containers of the denied and split-off (Oedipal) rage of the child; the switch from friend to fiend is what Freud meant by “the uncanny,” the heimlich object which disconcertingly becomes unheimlich; it is the return of the repressed.   [4]  In the Kleinian formulation, the loved one becomes threatening because s/he is invested with forbidden (pre-Oedipal) hostile feelings projected into her/him by the child.  As the child becomes more upset, the “angry” parent/love object appears to be more and more hostile and must be controlled; thus the troubled patient has a boundary problem, confusing the Self and Other.

The usefulness of the concept of displacement and projection is said to have been born out in clinical treatment of anxiety hysteria, phobias, obsessive-compulsive neurosis, etc., but I question its application to all violent social interactions as numerous progressive social psychologists analyzing the “scapegoating” of blacks by whites, Jews by Christians, and “business” by “labor” had implied in the 1930s and 1940s.[5]  Such cultural anthropologists and social psychologists were, like Ruth Benedict, adjusting society to the New Deal and circumscribing the proto-socialist imagination while deploying Marxian language.  If gut perceptions of danger are denied, will we not doubt our grasp on reality?[6]  Is it not also possible that the troubled patient with fluid boundaries, thus unable to differentiate the self from the parent and hence experiencing “projective identification” has not developed (or has not been allowed to develop) autonomy; has not established a boundary that protects the legitimacy of personal rights and entitlements from the assaults and confiscations of authoritarian parents or parental surrogates, primarily because the culture is premodern or covertly protofascist or fascist, i.e., its corporatist rulers view “bourgeois individualism” (a.k.a. “mechanical materialism,” the body free of original sin   [7]) as the source of vanitas, feminization and decadence; that what is really threatening about “individualism” is the stubborn notion advanced by recent “mechanical materialists” that there are social-economic antagonisms that cannot be ignored or passed off as delusional; universal facts perceivable by anyone that are not “group facts” dependent on blood, soil, and institutional context as Frederick Jackson Turner and other “materialist” social historians or “new historicists” would insist?

 [A former paranoid schizophrenic diagnoses modernity and fascism:]  Protestantism has indeed its share of responsibility for the tragic situation of today, but that responsibility is largely a result of its very successes.  It has helped to produce a new mechanized and urbanized and depersonalized world with which it is unable to cope.  Its exaltation of freedom of inquiry and freedom of trade has unlocked a Pandora’s box of uncontrollable furies.  The hope of the future, as I see it, lies in the development of the inner control of conscience which is so repugnant to Dr. Fromm and of the loyalty to that which transcends the Hitlers and Mussolinis of this war-stricken world.[8]

 [On persecution delusions: the paranoid fantasy contains a “kernel of truth”: the patient may experience empathy with an unconscious wish of the persecutor; also]  “The ‘truth’ may also relate to the observations of events during childhood that were denied at the time.  These elements later return to consciousness distorted and magnified in an irrational, delusional form. Paranoid character is the term applicable to an individual whose personality structure is dominated by marked suspiciousness, querulousness, and persistent rationalized hostility against other persons or groups.  The use of scapegoats or “enemies,” the need to ‘defend’ against a hostile world (representing externalized aggressive impulses within the individual himself), the tendency to fight excessively over minor causes (often becoming litigious), and frequent contempt for others are the traits usually observed in this disturbance.  Here the characteristic and most frequently observed defense is projection–the displacement of the individual’s unacceptable wishes and thoughts onto others, who then are felt to direct these ideas back to their source (i.e., I hate him; no, he hates me, and therefore I am justified in attacking and beating him).  This permits the rationalization of the individual’s hostility, and allows him to defend his megalomanic image and fantasies.  In spite of their pathology, however, certain paranoid characters have contributed to some of the basic systematic research in science, as well as classic works in art, music and literature.”[9]

 “…No personal experience has come to light which could help to explain the intensity of Hitler’s hatred of the Jews…It is a disturbing question to consider when was the last occasion on which this man, who was responsible for the death of six million Jews, actually spoke to or met a Jew in person.  But “the Jew” as one encounters him in the pages of Mein Kampf and Hitler’s ravings bears no resemblance to flesh-and-blood human beings of Jewish descent: he is an invention of Hitler’s obsessional fantasy, a Satanic creation, expressing his need to create an object on which he could concentrate his feelings of aggression and hatred.” [10]

The Kernel of Truth.  For conservative Freudians the return of the repressed marks a paranoid episode; for purposes of my argument here, reading Melville, reading myself, reading my friends, the return of the repressed may be the empirical reality that we have screened out while longing for good objects to rescue us from brutality and alienation.  In the discussion of stereotypes that follows, I do not want to be misunderstood as reinforcing the “truth” of “negative images”; rather I want to defend the common sense of “ordinary people” asking for realism; I want to criticize the tactics of recent media and curriculum reformers seeking “balance” through “positive images” rather than the thoroughgoing, unbounded pluralism that makes the achievement of more accurate histories a possibility.

Social critics (including feminists) condemn some or all of Freud’s ideas as neurotically or opportunistically formulated, while the rough formulations of anti-Freudian, Jungian social psychologists go uncriticized.  In order to demonstrate that group prejudice is irrational, the latter postulate an entirely socially constructed “Other” and, when it suits them, they deplore “scapegoating.”  Nor is it common to decry their definitions of fascism.  It is argued that the armored fascist/authoritarian personality projects his negative identity onto the Other or Alien.  We should be very suspicious of these tactics in “left” cultural criticism.  Such analyses are not only reductive, collapsing the various fascisms of the 1920s and 1930s into one vague and ahistoric hyper-nationalism and hyper-racism, moreover conflating negative images reinforcing sexism, racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, and class resentment into one all-purpose, “dirty” or “inferior” Alien (what an insult to protean Devils!). 

The theory of “projective identification” (a name object-relations psychoanalysts use instead of scapgoating or projection) can be a victim-blaming maneuver that implicitly requests the “prejudiced” person to cleanse himself  by embracing and then incorporating the evil he attributes to others; by regressively and primitivistically merging with his real “nature” as a diversion from possible political action.  (Hence the vogue for sadomasochistic forms of eroticism as mass media bring more and more of the world’s suffering to our attention, situations begging for intervention?)  Gordon Allport and his Harvard colleague Henry Murray criticized scapegoating as irrational when the target of lower-class wrath was upper-class or member of a protected group; scapegoating was encouraged when conflict managers needed to redirect resentment away from themselves toward a common enemy to enhance “group morale” or “group cohesion” (See worksheets for their seminar in Civilian Morale, Harvard 1941).  To be awarded the blue ribbon for social responsibility, then, the tolerant citizen must believe that his common sense evaluations of stubbornly hostile others are only projections of his own inner conflicts and deficiencies: there are no real individual or group conflicts out there resistant to mediation.  Sadly, the unwary youth who falls for such corporatist liberal ruses is already marching down the road to herrenvolk democracy and fascism.

By contrast, the theorists of democracy, from Locke to Jefferson to Walter Lippmann, have argued that the senses and universal reason produce useful knowledge of the visible world.  For Enlightenment rationalists the problem lay not in necessarily deluded perception by ever-passionate People, but in the invisible world erected or blanketed by arbitrary, secretive authority.  For Lippmann, stereotypes (“the pictures in our heads”) exist where we have not first-hand experience with the faraway or sequestered; such distortions were inevitable in complex industrial societies, but could be corrected by political scientists who would serve the public interest as independent fact-finders (i.e., experts separated from the policy-making function), who would then pass on their accurate pictures of reality via newspapers to laymen and their elected representatives.[11]  Lippmann referred only to situations where people could not encounter each other face-to-face over time.  Of course, for ordinary people today, unflattering “stereotypes” opposed by the media reformers are not confined to second-hand impressions, but are felt to be verified in everyday life; such shared perceptions have been the basis for popular humor and common sense.  The problem with such stereotypes may lie in their interpretation.

The angry, frightened “bigot” or “paranoid” imagines class, gender, racial or ethnic “character” as the primary source of threatening social evil (the bloated capitalist, the deceitful woman or “Oriental” or Jew, the lazy/violent black or brown person).  But this is a misconception: people are not born to be cunning or greedy; they respond to historically specific, systemic institutional imperatives; no one has yet demonstrated genes for troubling behavior resistant to self- or social correction.  Therefore to the extent that “negative” stereotypes are accurate, their “kernel of truth” is situational, a reflection of structural position (business or job competition, exclusion, dependency) not a typical or imperishable attribute like fallen flesh necessarily to be erased through mass death or iconoclasm, or its rage diverted into Sade’s/Gorer’s “constructive Sadism.”  So denying the validity of at least part of the cultural “stereotype” by labeling and ostracizing the frightened person as “hysterical” or “paranoid” or “racist” or “misogynist” disarms persons who need to defend themselves now against real (partly) hostile adversaries, who should not be asked to wait for the structural change (the reform or revolution) that promises relief.  The antidote to “negative” images of “The Other” is not a switch to a “positive image” or to an impossibly benign pluralistic society, a “multicultural curriculum” curiously lacking dissenting individuals, structural antagonisms, or hierarchy.  Rather, as Lippmann insisted in 1922, we must “see the world steadily and see it whole”; to be informed of current events is not the same as knowing the truth.  We urgently require an historical analysis which reconstructs all the institutional structures and the social relations such structures necessarily call forth, precisely recording the measurable behaviors of the state, the family, the market, education, and the media.   [12]  How do these institutions legitimate authority or create and discover new knowledge?

 Only then will we understand the opportunities and constraints within which individuals or artists are asked to make political, moral, or “aesthetic” choices in order to function and survive.  A leftist historian might argue that moral choices are ultimately produced or limited by abstract and impersonal social property relations; hence “stereotypes” are personified or frozen (“reified”) social processes.  Crucially, our analysis should note the presence or absence of social movements offering realistic options for more humane behavior and more cultural freedom by achieving the material preconditions for universal creativity, meaningful participation in decision-making, equality (of opportunity, not of condition) and tolerance.  The longed-for “self-esteem” that upper-class reformers would bestow upon “the oppressed” comes with increasing understanding and mastery of the material world, not moralistic admonitions and glorious ancestors.

DepressedMothersKids

NOTES.

                [1] Maurice H. Krout, “The Province of  Social Psychiatry,” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychiatry, Vol.28 (Apr.1933-Mar.1934): 156.

                [2] Crane Brinton, ed., The Society of Fellows (Harvard Society of Fellows, 1959): 235-236.

                [3] Selected Poems and Prose of John Clare, ed. Eric Robinson and Geoffrey Summerfield (Oxford U.P., 1967).  In a recent essay “John Clare’s Madness,” Roy Porter suggests that the impossibility of pleasing everyone was at the heart of the poet’s difficulties.

                [4] Alex Bein uses the word “uncanny” three times in his discussion of the Wandering Jew in the 19th century; see The Jewish Question: Biography of a World Problem (Herzl Press, 1990): 155-156.  He does not cite Freud or see the uncanny as the switch.  Interestingly, the German adjective heimlich may mean home-like or stealthy or secret.

                [5] See Gordon Allport, ABC’s of Scapegoating (Anti-Defamation League, 1948).  Cf. Alford on Melanie Klein, fn. 366.

                [6] The feminists and Jeffrey Masson have pounced upon Freud’s rejection of his female patients’ reports of sexual abuse by male relatives, but this assault may be an irrationalist right-wing tactic to make the materialist Freud a deceiving Jew.  His (idealist) critics would be the genuine materialists.  There is a growing literature on child abuse that tends to avoid explaining family violence as differently motivated in differing individuals in historically specific contexts (as the case study method of Locke and Freud would demand).  Or, confusingly, the cases are historically situated and universal and separable from other forms of social violence, as the concepts of “child abuse” or “patriarchy.”  See Larry Wolff, Postcards From The End of Time (Athenaeum, 1980) for an example of the latter.

                [7] Roy Porter, The Enlightenment (Macmillan, 1990): 75.

                [8] Anton T. Boisen, responding to Fromm’s Escape From Freedom, in a symposium edited by Patrick Mullahey, Psychiatry 5 (Feb.1942): 117.

                [9] A Glossary of Psychoanalytic Terms and Concepts, ed. B.E. Moore and B.F. Fine (The American Psychoanalytic Association, 1968): 70.

                [10] Alan Bullock, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (London: HarperCollins, 1991):160.

                [11] Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1950, orig.publ. 1922): 31-32.  The Lippmann project has been turned upside down by Noam Chomsky in his constantly reiterated claim that Lippmann celebrated and advanced the project of “manufacturing consent.”

                [12] See Klausner, 1982, op.cit. for a contrast between positivist and idealist institutional analysis.  For the idealists, individuals cannot be examined apart from their institutional context. I partly agree with this formulation, but it entirely leaves out choice and free will, however ambiguous and predetermined these “choices” may remain.

September 3, 2014

Solidarity on “the Left” vs. disunity on “the Right”

conflictmanagementPOTUS delivered his usual mixed message today, first vowing to smash ISIS, then softening his stance to one of “managing conflict.” This blog is about why the Right can’t unify to defeat such typical ‘switcheroos.’

All graduate students in today’s better doctoral programs are marinated in the ideology of “progressivism.” How did this come about? I have traced the origins of managerial attempts to deal with the frightening rise of the “laissez-faire” bourgeoisie that threatened to spread Jacobin-type revolution in the early years of the Industrial Revolution–not because the liberals were Jacobins, but because the early years of the Industrial Revolution, spawned by an alliance of bourgeoisie and aristocracy, suggested a revolution of the new industrial working class. Class relations in Britain were never the same again.

To review: aristocrats in England bonded with the new industrial working class (drawn from deskilled artisans and peasants) against the bourgeoisie. (See http://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/.) Disraeli’s Young England and its Christian Socialist allies provided a model for forward thinking politicians and journalists in the United States after the Civil War (the take-off period for rapid industrialization now that the agrarian South was supposedly vanquished). Enter the Progressive movement that skillfully co-opted the anti-elitist populist movement, a movement composed of small producers on the land, and directed against railroads for instance. But the progressives never stood with working class organizations or the dread specter of “proletarian internationalism”—rather, they installed “ethnicity” or “race” as the socio-economic division that mattered, erasing “class” as a category for sorting people’s interests out.

The Nation magazine moved sharply to the left in 1919, to avert bloody class warfare, but they supported populism, not communism. Their stance could not have been more elitist or counter-revolutionary. (See http://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/.) Oswald Garrison Villard’s crypto-organic conservatism or a gentleman’s version of the route to social cohesion is obvious, and no communists were taken in by his anti-capitalist fulminations.

You could say, with accuracy, that progressives and leftists hated each others’ guts until the brilliant stroke of solidarity against “fascism” in the mid-1930s that was called “the Popular Front.” Such solidarity between social democrats and hard leftists continues to exist, scandalously in my view, with social democrats controlling the discourse. For no Marxist should abandon empiricism and materialism (i.e., empiricism) to be absorbed by the alleged management of structural conflicts offered by social democrats (i.e., progressives who don’t like Progress as delivered by relatively unregulated market economies).

Hence, the confusion today over Obama’s “true” loyalties: is he a Leninist or a managerial centrist? Opinion on the Right is sharply divided, perhaps because selected pieces of New Deal reformism still exist in the upper reaches of the Republican Party, for instance in the impetus toward Medicare accomplished during the Eisenhower administration, a statist remedy that would serve as models for other reforms in Big Government, such as Obamacare marching toward “Medicare for all.”

"community"

“community”

I cannot blame the Tea Party for its animus against what appears to be the passivity of Congress in resisting the Obama administration’s apparent big lurch to the Left, but I do fault them for unnecessary sectarianism, particularly among the social conservatives who appear to have abandoned the separation of Church and State, and look to a religious revival to repair structural problems in American society, all the  while denying that there is any racism on the Right.

Contra many conservatives, “liberalism” is not a religion, but an ideology that will triumph as long as the pseudo-leftist social democratic managerial discourse dominates popular culture/public and private speech.

"Progressive rock, Italian style

“Progressive rock, Italian style

Until the hopelessly corrupt Chicago machine is dislodged, there is no stopping Big Government. Whatever the flaws of the “Republican establishment” it would serve classical liberalism well to take a lesson from the leftist playbook and practice “solidarity forever.” [Update 9-4-14: There cannot be solidarity on the Right as long as mutual hostility exists between small and big business. See http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/07/08/the-u-s-government-isnt-friendly-enough-to-big-business/. This argues that [New Deal reformism] favored small business over big business. This will shock many in The Tea Party.]

August 29, 2014

LABOR DAY 2014

KOLsealLabor Day was a counter-revolutionary exercise in its very foundation during the administration of Grover Cleveland. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_Day. Revolutionary socialism was the last thing that the AFL or the less well-known and long defunct Knights of Labor desired.

This blog will focus on those aspects of our dominant sociology that seek to defang the labor movement. [For a blog that shows resistance to New Deal labor codes as dished out by the State by one black radical, see http://clarespark.com/2013/09/02/labor-day-2013/.%5D  But since I, unlike Sam Dorsey,  am not writing from the revolutionary Left (see http://clarespark.com/2014/05/10/why-i-left-the-left/), I will focus on those features that deter workers from acting in their own interest, for instance in their mindless capitulation to union bosses (a bureaucracy that is rarely mentioned these days).

  1. Populism versus revolutionary socialism. As I have written before, populism is a petit-bourgeois radical movement that seems to offer upward mobility to ambitious persons from humble backgrounds. Populism deploys such phrases as “the masses” or “the people” as if all but ruling elites formed a compact entity with identical economic and social interests. I don’t see why class analysis should be the monopoly of the Left. Clearly, small business and big business have different structures and problems; the same applies to male and female workers, especially with respect to child rearing and housework. (As to whether or not “class collaboration” between “business” and “labor” is a good thing or not, I leave to economists and other historians. The labor movement made its peace with capitalism during the 1930s and 1940s, and “big labor” has no revolutionary aspirations, to the disappointment of Leninists. The “labor movement” as it once existed, no longer exists in this “post-industrial” service-oriented economy.)

But even worse, populist politics, early on co-opted by “progressives” pervade popular culture, and are promiscuous in their antagonism toward “elites”. In its original form, populism was heavily antisemitic (i.e., bankers, like “Wall Street” were generically a Jewish cabal with ambitions to control the world), a fact brushed out by its New Left defenders. (See http://clarespark.com/2011/02/02/the-legitimate-aspirations-of-the-___-people/.)

I noted during the art world upheavals of the 1970s that protesters defined themselves as “populists”, not as “socialists,” for  the term “populism” however tainted by its initial anti-Semitism, was acceptable (for such intellectual celebrities as Hannah Arendt, “the people” was the opposite of a mob, implying that individuals believed in their particular individual rights; hence “the people’s” critique could apply to the supposed crimes of any elite suspected of taking away such rights, no matter how competent the elite’s members might be in their particular field). A particularly grotesque example is found in the Chomsky-ite attack on Walter Lippmann (again an antisemitic gesture) that spread the canard that Lippmann’s influential book Public Opinion (1922) called for the “manufacture of consent” in the newly developing mass media, in order to hornswoggle the gullible people-becoming-mobs. ( See http://clarespark.com/2009/08/19/noam-chomskys-misrepresentation-of-walter-lippmanns-chief-ideas-on-manufacturing-consent/.) A similar condemnation of mass culture can be found in Hannah Arendt’s “must-read” tome The Origins of Totalitarianism (1950, 1958). And yet Arendt is worshipped by many academic radicals, as are other “critical theorists.”

A similar outrage was found in the counter-culture that continues to delight in technophobia and representations of mad scientists (see http://clarespark.com/2014/06/25/penny-dreadfuls-sinister-significance/.)

Indeed, when I defended the Enlightenment on a Pacifica radio popular morning show in the 1990s, I was accused of being a CIA agent, hence the lowest form of animal life—this from listeners who believed themselves to be anticapitalist and pro-labor.

night-of-the-living-dead

 

Cultural pessimism. What could be more detrimental to working people than the current mood of doom and gloom? Is it any wonder that they seek refuge in sports and other forms of mass entertainment, that are predictably primitivist and (stylishly) loud?

Where does this doom and gloom originate? Surely not in the aspirations of the Founders, most of whom were avid followers of the various European enlightenments, and who were guardedly optimistic about the future of the republic. I locate the apocalyptic, technophobic, and anti-intellectual mood to the regnant populism and 1960s counter-culture that arguably never had the welfare of working people as their goal, but rather emancipation from their parents—stand-ins for the evil “jewified” bourgeoisie. Enter “youth culture” as revolt against “suburban sadness.”

Materialism and the working class. American reactionaries (among whom I count the populists and faux “liberals”) come out of German (philosophical) Idealism, which was always antidemocratic and protofascist. “Materialism” is now widely understood as an addiction to consumerism and similarly shallow values, whereas materialism used to signify a retreat from mysticism to the power of the individual to use her or his senses, to reason, and thus to defend her and his interests through making sense of the world and its institutions.  This older view of “materialism” is now blamed by culture warriors of the Right on “secular progressives”—meaning persons like me who praise cultural pluralism and stand up for education in the sciences, economics, and history, putting children ahead of teachers unions and their narrow interests.

I will end this Labor Day blog by observing that teachers are petit-bourgeois and definitely NOT working class, despite their enthusiasm for their “unions” in which they ape the organization of real laborers. When I trained to be a science teacher in the 1950s, we were constantly asked “is teaching a profession? And if so, should they strike for higher wages?” It is our teachers who are preparing their students for real life as mature adults. The least they could do is not succumb to those administrators who joyfully participate in the Democratic Party urban machines and the collectivist ideologies that these mobsters dispense to kids and their parents who could and should know better.

Postscript: I got this comment from a Facebook friend Stuart Creque this morning after I asked what was interesting about Labor Day: “ My dad was a trade unionist, which is funny because he was a high school teacher, not a laborer. Teachers unionizing is rather like Hollywood writers unionizing: it has nothing to do with collective bargaining power and everything to do with self-image as “working men and women.”

But what really fascinates me about labor today is the death of solidarity. My dad exposed me to what labor solidarity was. And the interesting thing is that nowadays it seems almost nonexistent. Each union seems out for its own interests, and more likely to focus on poaching from other unions than coordinating with them or even honoring their picket lines.

In the Writers Guild of America strike a few years ago, the union actually counseled its members to write and earn as much as possible in the days leading up to the strike deadline. They had no concept that they were giving management inventory to work on during the strike, reducing pressure for a settlement. They had no concept of collecting a strike fund over time and then ordering a work-to-rule slowdown leading into the strike. They also had no stomach to hold out for synchronizing contract deadlines with other Hollywood guilds and unions.” I can only add to Stuart Creque’s comment that writers are competing with each other and thus have little motivation for solidarity in protecting the quality of their work. They form a guild, not a union.

MightisRight 

« Previous PageNext Page »

The Rubric Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,274 other followers