YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

February 3, 2015

Jews not killed for “just being Jews”?

SammyrunThis blog continues https://clarespark.com/2015/01/18/is-antisemitism-rational-or-irrational/. I add to the prior blog that such historians as Deborah Lipstadt (in Beyond Belief) have alleged that Jews were killed for “just being Jews.” This is true insofar as all Jews, including the most assimilated or atheistic, are viewed by their enemies as a illegitimately powerful “race” inexplicably surviving and thriving for thousands of years. But as a statement directed at a broad audience, it requires a more complex and contextualized elaboration. (This blog will be different from my previous discussions of antisemitism thanks to my son-in-law Maimon Chocron, whose emphasis on Jewish survival and astonishingly rapid upward mobility, seen as “unnatural” by antagonists, sent me off in unanticipated new directions.)

Briefly, “the Jews” (preferring “individual rights” over “stability”) always represented a threat as declared by rulers/demagogues: intellectual combativeness, revolutionary socialism, finance capitalism/the power of money (for Hitler, the real force behind the Soviet Union), modernity, Woman, globalism, the madness induced by urban life, the “anti-race” (Hitler) which means they were internationally cohesive and allegedly not loyal to their “nations” of temporary residence, or worse, “unnatural” and hostile to Nature itself, and to the natural order of things.

And the natural order of things is “The Great Chain of Being,” in which each of us knows her or his place. “It ain’t natural” to defy, let alone “dominate” the Great Mother Nature (see https://clarespark.com/2015/03/21/great-goddess-feminism-the-phyllis-chesler-model/). “Natural harmony,” like “the [tightly woven] social fabric,” must be preserved, at all costs. No wonder Jack the Ripper was surmised to have been a “low class Polish Jew” Aaron Kosminski (as reported in The Independent).

Aaron Kosminski: 19th C image

Aaron Kosminski: 19th C image

In other words, whereas peasants from Southeastern and Central Europe could immigrate to America and gradually climb up the class ladder, Jews seemed to their envious fellow-immigrants to be uncanny; how was it possible to go from poverty to great riches and cultural power in one generation? This is memorialized in Budd Schulberg’s popular novel What Makes Sammy Run. They must be greedy crooks, right? as shown in Once Upon a Time in America (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Once_Upon_a_Time_in_America). After all, Budd’s father, B. P. Schulberg was not an immigrant. Wikipedia doesn’t even see him as Jewish: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._P._Schulberg. For a very recent review of Schulberg’s novel (understandably condemned by the CP for anti-Semitism), see http://inverarity.livejournal.com/265552.html.

Moreover, Herman Melville invited eternal damnation in Moby-Dick when he referred to the pure and placid face of Nature that only masked “the charnel house within.” For this blasphemy (and others) he was furtively read as a Jew or “Hebraic” by leading critics, such as Henry A. Murray and Charles Olson, while one more daring Princeton professor titled his book Melville’s Quarrel With God. To argue with God is tantamount to deicide.

Evan B. Harris, White Whale and Shells

Evan B. Harris, White Whale and Shells

For these reasons, I rank “intellectual combativeness” (a.k.a. the close reading of texts and political moods) to be the key to Jewish success in America. Returning to “Hollywood,” first generation immigrants read the populist/progressive mood that prevailed in their adopted country, saw that upper-class Protestants were busily uplifting the masses to stave off socialism in America, and such as Samuel Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer made movies that catered to popular taste—a backwoods, country taste that Budd Schulberg would hold up to ridicule in A Face in the Crowd, or that Ben Urwand would mock in Sergeant York. See https://clarespark.com/2012/07/03/andy-griffiths-greatest-performance/.

Jon Lomberg's harmonious Great Chain of Being

Jon Lomberg’s harmonious Great Chain of Being

For such reasons, I view antisemitism as both rational and irrational. Jews, as either capitalists or communists, are seen as strange and unfair competitors (the pseudo-“rational” component of antisemitism), while the feelings of Jew haters (the irrational part), contain the residues of ancient, medieval, and modern hostilities.

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September 11, 2012

Strikes

Terry Malloy, bloodied but unbowed

While looking up prior descriptions of 9/11, a day remembered on Fox News as best treated as remembrance of the dead, owing to the “tragedy” of the event, I found myself getting more and more appalled at the rhetoric. As Mark Steyn pointed out years ago, 9/11 was not a “tragedy” [i.e., aimed at catharsis and healing as a theatrical event] but a military  “attack,” and I would add, a strike at finance capital/the city of the Jews by radical Islamists who were able to achieve their lethal goals because of outright negligence during the 1990s during the Clinton administration and/or longstanding Arabism in the State Department, not to speak of the mostly deaf response to the findings of Steve Emerson from the 1980s on,  namely that we had been infiltrated, and that no one with the power to stop them was paying attention. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Emerson.)  And the DNC had the nerve to summon President Clinton to support President Obama, who, we are told by Vice-President Biden “killed” bin Laden–as if that event marked the completion of whatever liberals call “the war on terror.”

At the same time, Chicago teachers are out on strike, reportedly owing to their disdain of government testing and other evaluations that would separate the wheat from the chaff. Clearly, these teachers are proud of their tactics, and imaginatively line up with exploited labor in the bad old days before unions and collective bargaining became legal during the New Deal. Reminder: strikes have always been a violent tactic, but strikes have been endlessly celebrated by the anti-capitalists as heroic acts that do not hurt “the community” but rather that strikers are forced to use the only weapon at hand. You will not find a labor historian or social historian who disagrees with this assessment, and who does not revel at every sign and symptom of defiance by the “exploited” class. (I will gladly retract this statement if I am proven wrong.)

Chicago teachers on strike

(Reminder: one of the great movies of my youth: On The Waterfront (1954), was not about a strike, but about standing up to crooked union bosses and their thugs. Critics on the Left hated it, and attacked  Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg for ratting on their ex-comrades while pretending to purify the labor movement.)

We no longer use words such as “tragedy” with precision or with regard to their multiple and changing meanings in the past. But we do pretend that traumas of every kind can be healed. For many, September 11 is a day for meditation, remembrance, and healing. I understand that impulse for unity and solidarity with the families of the victims of 9/11. But we fool ourselves if we fail to trace the precursors, selfish interests, and corrupt, incompetent  practices that brought down the Twin Towers, and that threaten to bring down the Republic if not forthrightly and fearlessly addressed by us all, each and every one. We need to emulate Terry Malloy.

July 3, 2012

Andy Griffith’s greatest performance

I was very critical of A FACE IN THE CROWD, but on its own terms as an example of left-liberal interpretation of native American fascism, and in light of its excellent performances, I must single out Andy Griffith, who outdid himself as Lonesome Rhodes. R.I.P. Andy Griffith. (These paragraphs are taken from a prior blog, https://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa/.)

“As for those artists who once were reds in the 1930s, many of them shifted to populism/progressivism when they saw that the Communist Party wanted to control their work. Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan, both anathematized for “naming names” are two examples. I was particularly disturbed by their film, A Face in the Crowd (1957), that pinned fascism on the media-worshipping mass audience that had elevated the loutish “Lonesome Rhodes,” whose meteoric career had been aided and abetted by a female sentimental liberal–a stand-in for the moral mother, perhaps the figure who had driven Schulberg and Kazan into the arms of the 1930s authoritarian Left.

In other words, though Schulberg and Kazan professed themselves to be progressives, they replicated the aristocratic explanation for fascism as “the revolt of the masses,” bamboozled by the new mass media (radio and television), and shadowed by anti-progressive old money, particularly as embodied in immoral and hidebound Southern politicians. Patricia Neal, Lee Remick, and Walter Matthau were outstanding too, as was the direction by Kazan, and the brilliant screenplay by Schulberg.

Here are some quotes from the screenplay: Lonesome Rhodes (the demagogue who has risen from the People): “You made me, Marcia. You made me, Marcia, I owe it all to you.” [Marcia, the arty, sentimental Liberal]:”I know it.” Marcia, explicitly linked to “marshes” (i.e., quagmires) and ever the guilty mother, finally aware of the duplicity of her monstrous birth, opens the microphone to expose Lonesome’s secret contempt for the TV audience (the common folk) who adore him and who would turn the State over to his fascist backers. [Lonesome Rhodes is ruined:] “It was the sound man. I’ll get that dirty stinking little mechanical genius [who did this to me].” [Marcia:] “It was me.” The Muckraker’s last words rectify the sentiment of Lonesome’s banner (“There’s nothing so trustworthy as the ordinary mind of the ordinary man.”) [Muckraking journalist to Marcia:] “You were taken in. But we get wise to him [the Lonesome/Hitler type]; that’s our strength.” Mama’s boy, a.k.a. Lonesome’s last words wailed from a balcony (and the night) as Marcia and the muckraker depart: “Marcia, don’t leave me…come back.”

Shot in black and white, the film nods at film noir, with the femme fatale played by Patricia Neal. That “Marcia” destroyed her monstrous birth is missing from Nicholas Beck’s “bio-bibliography” of Schulberg (2001), where Lonesome is supposed to be the agent of his own destruction (p.59, fn4, quoting Donald Chase). This movie was the inspiration for Paddy Chayefsky’s Network. See https://clarespark.com/2011/07/07/network-and-its-offspring/.”

July 7, 2011

“Network” and its offspring

Ned Beatty as "Arthur Jensen"

On July 4, 2011, comedian Conan O’Brian picked the movie Network (1976) as the feature film for Turner Classic Movies.  It has been lauded as a prefiguration of “reality television” (and, I gather, a major cause  of the dumbing down of American and world culture). This was probably the third time I had seen the movie, but the first time that it bothered me as a counter-culture and antimodern script, following a strong tendency in post-WW2 America to blame the rise of Nazism on mass culture and its susceptibility to technological advances—advances that only enhanced the power of demagogues such as Hitler and Mussolini—themselves the stooges of hidebound big industry/ finance capital.

Paddy Chayefsky was the script-writer of Network. In one interview, he said that his friend Budd Schulberg’s previous movie, A Face in the Crowd, made it possible to write Network. (Chayefsky also wrote the teleplay for Schulberg’s novel What Makes Sammy Run.) We may now add the names of Chayefsky, Schulberg, the Frankfurt School of critical theorists, and Friedrich Meinecke to the network of those intellectuals attributing the rise of Hitler to mass media (particularly to radio); i.e., to “the revolt of the masses.” I have written about such claims here (https://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa/;* and here: https://clarespark.com/2011/06/19/index-to-links-on-hitler-and-the-big-lie/).   (I have not written about such counter-culture authors as Gerry Mander or Jacques Ellul or Ivan Illich, or Theodore Roszak, whose stars have dimmed.)

I was particularly interested in the naming of the movie’s arch-villain “Arthur Jensen” for that is the name of a geneticist who, it is said, is a downright white supremacist, along with a cohort that includes Richard Herrnstein, J. Philippe Rushton, Charles Murray, and others who aroused the ire of the Left and New Left. Since Jensen’s work was already known and controverted in the 1960s and 1970s by such left or liberal luminaries as Harvard professors Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lowentin , I gather that the name selected for the head of the mega-corporation that controlled the fictional network in the movie, was no accident. Moreover, “Arthur Jensen” invites “Howard Beale” into a conference room that Jensen describes as “Valhalla.” The connection between Nazism and globalization could not have been made more clear.

Although Network was released decades ago, its analysis of the decline of our political culture, particularly the destruction of the individual as a human being, may remain timely. One aspiring academic (a Ph.D. Candidate  in American Studies and  Film Studies has called for papers at an upcoming conference titled “On Television.” Here is the call for papers as issued by  Claudia Calhoun at Yale U. It was posted on the Humanities Net for American Studies.

From: Claudia Calhoun <claudia.calhoun@yale.edu>

Date: Sat, Jul 2, 2011 at 6:03 PM

On Television

Yale University

February 3-4, 2012

We all watch television. But in this moment of dispersed and fragmented viewership, we all engage with television differently: as an entertainment medium, a home appliance, a range of program content, a
description of viewing behavior, a set of technologies, a media industry, and a means for collective social experiences. Both technological platform and cultural form, television sits at the intersection of a number of humanities and social science disciplines. As observers of — and participants in — this contemporary moment, we are compelled to ask: What makes television television?

This conference will address contemporary trends in the field of television studies and reconsider the historical currents that inform our understandings of the present and prospective future of the medium.
Proposed topics include:

– the changing contexts of production and issues of labor

– the politics of television

– aesthetic and formal responses to the changing
landscape of programming

– television as a national and transnational space

– theorizing contemporary television

– the place of “television studies” in a new
media context. [end, excerpt from CFP]

It would not be surprising if the same generational angst that produced Network, will be visible in some of the papers accepted for the Yale conference. If so, we can expect the same dim view that Schulberg and Chayefsky took of the new dehumanizing techniques that (racist) global corporations had inflicted upon an unwary public mind, defeating true artists such as themselves–always looking out for the little guy.

* What follows is the material on Schulberg that possibly inspired Chayefsky, included in a prior blog:

“As for those artists who once were reds in the 1930s, many of them shifted to populism/progressivism when they saw that the Communist Party wanted to control their work. Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan, both anathematized for “naming names”  are two examples. I was particularly disturbed by their film, A Face in the Crowd (1957), that pinned fascism on the media-worshipping mass audience that had elevated the loutish “Lonesome Rhodes,” whose meteoric career had been aided and abetted by a female sentimental liberal–a stand-in for the moral mother, perhaps the figure who had driven them into the arms of the 1930s authoritarian Left. In other words, though Schulberg and Kazan  professed themselves to be progressives, they replicated the aristocratic explanation for fascism as “the revolt of the masses,” bamboozled by the new mass media (radio and television), and shadowed by anti-progressive old money, particularly as embodied in immoral and hidebound Southern politicians.

Here are some quotes from the screenplay: Lonesome Rhodes (the demagogue who has risen from the People):  “You made me, Marcia.  You made me, Marcia, I owe it all to you.” [Marcia, the arty, sentimental Liberal]:”I know it.”  Marcia, explicitly linked to “marshes” (i.e.,quagmires) and ever the guilty mother, finally aware of the duplicity of her monstrous birth, opens the microphone to expose Lonesome’s secret contempt for the TV audience (the common folk) who adore him and who would turn the State over to his fascist backers. [Lonesome Rhodes is ruined:]  “It was the sound man.  I’ll get that dirty stinking little mechanical genius [who did this to me].”  [Marcia:] “It was me.”  The Muckraker’s last words rectify the sentiment of Lonesome’s banner (“There’s nothing so trustworthy as the ordinary mind of the ordinary man.”)  [Muckraking journalist to Marcia:] “You were taken in.  But we get wise to him [the Lonesome/Hitler type]; that’s our strength.”  Mama’s boy, a.k.a. Lonesome’s last words wailed from a balcony (and the night) as Marcia and the muckraker depart:  “Marcia, don’t leave me…come back.” That Marcia destroyed her monstrous birth is missing from Nicholas Beck’s “bio-bibliography” of Schulberg (2001), where Lonesome is supposed to be the agent of his own destruction (p.59, fn4, quoting Donald Chase).” [end, excerpt from my blog “Perceptions of the Enemy….”]

For a New York Public Library short biography of Chayefsky, see http://www.nypl.org/sites/default/files/archivalcollections/pdf/thechaye.pdf.

November 24, 2009

Perceptions of the enemy

Cindy Sherman, Untitled (1990)

 

I have reformatted this blog and added material: see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa/. Ignore this version.

 

Some mistaken identities. I don’t think that some “Right-wing” partisans understand Leftists, often conflating revolutionary socialists, anarchists, and [anticommunist] social democrats. And yet media pundits constantly refer to “the Left” as if it still existed in its historic 19th and 20th century red-hot formulations and in the same numbers. What is lost is the memory of moderate conservatives or conservative reformers like FDR (descendants of New Dealers, now called “the Left”) and their practices of lopping off those who were to their left, that is, the structural reformers, unless there was a “Popular Front” against looming internal and external fascism, as did exist from 1935 until the Hitler-Stalin Pact in 1939.  At what point did these “moderate conservatives” as they called themselves  metamorphose into “the Left” as sole defenders of the little guy? I am guessing around 1919. More on that another time, or see chapter two of my book on the Melville revival. 

From long experience with leftists and the entire socialist-communist-social democratic traditions, however, despite their sharp differences in goals and tactics, I can generalize about them as follows:  All factions of “the Left” believe themselves to be the true bearers of morality and that conservatives are heartless fascist* murderers. By contrast, as progressives they see themselves as sacrificing their own personalities, economic interests, and happiness for “the public good” or “suffering humanity”; to be one of them, you must “stand with the oppressed,” even if that means helping Hamas. In other words, they seek to uplift those whom “the Right” (e.g. Israel) knowingly and viciously victimizes. And unless they follow Kant and Rosa Luxemberg, they may accomplish this grand goal “by any means necessary.” (e.g. see Trey Ellis in HuffPo, 12-16: “The Obama administration needs to course-correct immediately. He needs to make a series of bold, muscular, ruthlessly political moves immediately (reconciliation anyone?) to put the fear of god into all those puny adversaries out there that have been pushing him around with impunity.”)  So they are the true humanitarians in their own eyes and the antitheses of the “fascists” they valiantly oppose.

 Also, do not minimize both continuities and ruptures between the factions of what is loosely called “the Left.” Anyone who has studied or had contact with revolutionary socialists knows about their history of sectarianism. It makes Protestantism look demure and pure. They have killed or sacrificed  each other without hesitation: just look at what the Stalinists did to Trotskyists and Anarchists during the Spanish Civil War, or the notorious Stalin purges of his former comrades, not to speak of other communists with Jewish backgrounds, a process that ceased only with his death in 1953. But mixing them in with social democrats is absurd, for the motley Marxist-Leninists inhabit mostly such outposts as Pacifica Radio, a few journals, and increasingly-criticized departments of comparative literature and other humanities.
    
 But most crucially, “right-wing social democrats” (as some Leftists call them, distinguishing them from the Second International left-wing social democrats favoring incremental reforms) have an entirely different lineage from the Marxist-Leninists.  As I have shown in other blogs, European aristocrats, following Bismarck and before that, reformers in Great Britain, “christianized” the new [“jewified”] industrial society with social insurance that we now call the welfare state. (See my blog The Enigmatic Face of Philosemitism https://clarespark.com/2009/10/29/the-enigmatic-face-of-philosemitism/.) 
    
As for those artists who once were reds in the 1930s, many of them shifted to populism/progressivism when they saw that the Communist Party wanted to control their work. Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan are two examples. I was particularly disturbed by their film, A Face in the Crowd (1957), that pinned fascism on the media-worshipping mass audience that had elevated the loutish “Lonesome Rhodes,” whose meteoric career had been aided and abetted by a female sentimental liberal–a stand-in for the moral mother, perhaps the figure who had driven them into the arms of the 1930s authoritarian Left. In other words, though Schulberg and Kazan  professed themselves to be progressives, they replicated the aristocratic explanation for fascism as “the revolt of the masses,” bamboozled by the new mass media (radio and television), and shadowed by anti-progressive old money, particularly as embodied in immoral and hidebound Southern politicians.
    Here are some quotes from the screenplay: Lonesome Rhodes (the demagogue who has risen from the People):  “You made me, Marcia.  You made me, Marcia, I owe it all to you.” [Marcia, the arty, sentimental Liberal]:”I know it.”  Marcia, explicitly linked to “marshes” (i.e., quagmires) and ever the guilty mother, finally aware of the duplicity of her monstrous birth, opens the microphone to expose Lonesome’s secret contempt for the TV audience (the common folk) who adore him and who would turn the State over to his fascist backers. [Lonesome Rhodes is ruined:]  “It was the sound man.  I’ll get that dirty stinking little mechanical genius [who did this to me].”  [Marcia:] “It was me.”  The Muckraker’s last words rectify the sentiment of Lonesome’s banner (“There’s nothing so trustworthy as the ordinary mind of the ordinary man.”)  [Muckraking journalist to Marcia:] “You were taken in.  But we get wise to him [the Lonesome/Hitler type]; that’s our strength.”  Mama’s boy, a.k.a. Lonesome’s last words wailed from a balcony (and the night) as Marcia and muckraker depart:  “Marcia, don’t leave me…come back.” That Marcia destroyed her monstrous birth is missing from Nicholas Beck’s “bio-bibliography” of Schulberg, where Lonesome is supposed to be the agent of his own destruction (p.59, fn4, quoting Donald Chase).
  
Stand-ins for the controlling parent? Conservatives must read their antagonists without caricatures and without mistaking their objectives.  Revolutionary socialists and social democrats are not simply “elitists” who think they know what is best for others (though many think that “the Right” is not only monolithic, but selfish, square, dumb, and fanatical, unlike, say, those who run National Public Radio, while many on the Right return the favor, lumping all leftists and social democrats together as elitist conspirators/fascists). It is more complicated than that, though reds and “liberals” do favor various degrees of statism to rectify social inequities and achieve what all call “social justice.” In the end, we could make the public discourse on politics more rational by specifying competing theories of the good society:
Libertarians find wealth creation through free markets a good thing and, in the case of the better educated, believe that the state should protect this process through sound monetary policy. The social democratic Left (a.k.a. the moderate men) sees the state as planning rationally to compensate for what they believe to be a weak and unstable system: capitalism. Nothing is so scary as great gaps between rich and poor, for that portends another bloody French Revolution. If that means that everyone is relatively poor in the quasi-socialist utopia, such asceticism is better than the suffering of the victims du jour while the ever libertine rich feast and thoughtlessly indulge their animal appetites for glitter and other luxuries, hence “bourgeoisifying,” i.e., corrupting, the tastes and desires of the working-class. And some conservatives, angry combatants in the culture wars, even as they invoke the Constitution as written by the Founding Fathers, seek to impose their own morality on those who don’t share the same “values,” (e.g. pro-life, anti-gay marriage, opposition to stem-cell research using frozen embryos, creationism or intelligent design, the superiority of a rural way of life), thus nullifying the separation of Church and State that has served us so well. But I caution my readers who remain somewhere on “the Left” that conservatives are not evil or demented when they find such developments as the hyper-sexualization of women and children to be dangerous and destructive, or wonder, as I do, how it happened that sadomasochism became acceptable, even fashionable. And remember that Lord Maynard Keynes thought that his measures to relieve a depression were not to be permanently institutionalized. 
POPULISM. According to Rasmussen Reports, 55% of the American public is populist, i.e., they believe that government and big business are in cahoots, which makes sense if you understand that small business and big business are in conflict. Interestingly given our generally anticommunist polity, this is the analysis of the Marxist-Leninist Left: the state is an executive committee of the big bourgeoisie (as opposed to the state being an independent institution with its own interests, see sociologist Michael Mann’s books). Populism is a subject I have written about extensively on this website. It claims to speak for “the people” against “the special interests” or “Wall Street” or “the military-industrial complex” or some other dread agglomeration such as “the Jews” or “white males.”As such, it speaks to class resentments and is irrational. Whether of the Left or of the Right, populism is not good for analyzing concrete institutions and their policies. Moreover, as indicated above, it does not distinguish between fractions of those who make decisions for the rest of us, each of which has different and possibly clashing interests with others in the so-called “ruling class.” Populists are incapable of writing accurate histories, but seem content to follow their leaders. And their leaders, insofar as they resort to demagoguery, don’t really care about the folks.
*Contending defintions of “fascism.” By “fascists” the social democratic ‘left’ means a society practicing “laissez-faire” economics, militarism, hypernationalism (“national chauvinism”), the manipulation of public opinion through heavy-handed propaganda, and imperialism/racism. This absolves social democracy of continuities or comparisons with statist fascism and Nazism, not to speak of their zealousness in attacking “rugged individualism,” the American unpardonable sin that is imagined to persist beyond the pioneer period. By contrast, revolutionary socialists generally refer to the rule of finance capital or monopoly capital or “late capitalism” when they write of fascism and Nazism. Social democrats, true to their Platonic Guardian-philosopher-king heritage, tend to see fascism as the revolt of the masses, as noted above. Much psychiatry/psychoanalysis seeks to manage these “id-forces” and may be more powerful than we think in influencing the medical culture of postwar America. For more on the practice of psychoanalysis at a distance, see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/13/klara-hitlers-son-and-jewish-blood/. The importance of the father as leader and as commander of a tight militarized family unit with high morale cannot be overemphasized, a point forcefully made in the last section of the blog just cited, where I analyze the politics of The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit.

October 22, 2009

“Identity” and “Race”

Image (66)Several comments on my Facebook page raise questions that require more space than is available there to answer. They refer to 1. Jews as “the Chosen People”; 2. whether or not there is a cohesive “Jewish” identity; and 3. a suggestion that Jews might share a common genetic inheritance.

Everyone who reads this website knows that I have written extensively about “multiculturalism” or “rooted cosmopolitanism” as a way of slipping the once discredited notion of “race” back into the discourse of politics. Multiculturalism, I have shown, is not the same as religious pluralism (the outcome of the separation of Church and State), but rather an administrative (bureaucratic) response to raucous riots and related developments in the urban politics of the mid- to late 1960s. As I argued in this article for History News Network, http://hnn.us/articles/48809.html, multiculturalism, taken to be the higher tolerance and respect for “diversity,” is a strategy that resegregated individuals and groups who were on the road to integration, or to use the older terminology, multiculturalism smashed “the melting pot.”  The latter was a notion that America would create a new man, one that led the way for older societies in its solidarity as a democracy with contributions from all its immigrants (and later, freedmen: see Charles Sumner’s speeches on the brotherhood of humanity, elsewhere on this site). Multiculturalism, I have been arguing, is above all, collectivist and irrationalist, in that it not only collapses the unique individual into a “race” or “ethnicity,” but insists that what scientists deem to be “facts” are bogus impositions on “the Other,” that in fact  [!] there are group facts incomprehensible to those not sharing the same group identity. Or, as the Foucauldians claim, institutional power creates knowledge, and “science is a swindle.”

Out the window went all the “unfinished revolutions” that I have blogged about earlier this year: the radical Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the American Revolution. (For how this played out at Pacifica Radio, see https://clarespark.com/2009/08/13/my-life-at-pacifica-radio-a-memoir-part-one/, also “Storming Pacifica” in the same month.) For co-existing with all these “revolutions” are the powerful reactions by elites threatened with dispossession or inconvenient regulation. Scientific racism and the related 19th C. theory of “polygenesis” were staples of the aristocratic Right, while the best the Left could do was to oppose “racism” as the creation of imperialism, and in a related move, to advance the “Lamarckian” idea that social engineering would create changes in the germ plasm of living things so that “perfectibility” was not just utopian, but a realizable possibility. (But to the Leninist Left, anti-imperialism was not racist, but rather the righteous protection of “communities” under threat from the West. See the Lenin/Stalin-Rosa Luxemberg debate on the national question. My summary is probably too crude to do justice to the debate, but I stand with Rosa L. on this point.)

I am reviewing these positions as a prelude to dealing with points one, two, and three above.

1. With wealth-creating innovations in finance (starting in the late 17th century), came a renewed hostility to the love of filthy lucre, long associated with “the Jews.” “The Chosen People” was interpreted by those who stood in the way of these financial innovations to connote the intent of “the Jews” to turn all Christians into their servants and slaves. Their imitators in the later period deployed the Old Testament to “prove” that Jews were inherently militaristic and bigoted toward all other religions, instructed by their terrifying God.  Erased was the dominant conception of  tikkun olam, the idea that chosenness was an obligation to repair injustices committed by oneself, thence to make reparations (atonement) to the victim of one’s wrongdoing. Michael Lerner and his “peacenik” followers have transformed this individualized interpretation of Judaism, collectivizing it, and insinuating in the process that their way is the God-mandated path toward peace in the Middle East. Whether Jews are religious or secular,  possibly more than any other factor, the ethical obligation of tikkun (as understood by liberals) tends to lead individual Jews upon a path where “society” is uplifted. Most American Jews find the statism of the Democratic Party to be their natural home, while others find Adam Smith and neoliberalism to serve their ethical aims more effectively. I have never personally encountered Jews who believed themselves to be God-Chosen to lord it over all other groups. Even Budd Schulberg’s cynical Sammy Glick was not a typical Jew, but rather, in the author’s analysis, the product of the impoverished, narrowly orthodox Jewry of the  Lower East Side of Manhattan, where Sammy was brutally knocked around by non-Jewish toughs.

Hitler adopted the Chosen People line for his Aryans, partaking of both definitions described above: The Aryans/Nordics would be top dogs, but their mission was essentially ethical, in that they were doing “the Lord’s work” in annihilating race-hating Jews from the planet. (“The Jews” were the “anti-race” par excellence; he must have been thinking of their rootless cosmopolitanism.) Quite the nature lover, that one. In his second “secret” book (1927?), he envisioned a global union of racially pure volkisch states, dominated of course by the master race.

2. Is there a cohesive Jewish identity? If one means that there is a sense of solidarity between all Jews, then the answer is obviously not. One need only look at the debates between Zionists, non-Zionists, and anti-Zionists in the 1930s and  early 1940s, as the destruction of European Jewry was in progress, while the world looked on with mostly indifference or relief.  Look around and talk to observant Jews who view with contempt or pity the “assimilated” or “self-hating” Jews who, in turn, reject any but the slightest Jewish identification whatsoever. This point needs no further elaboration here, except to note that Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock comes to mind: curiously, both his chief Palestinian and Jewish characters share the same hostile narrative of Israel’s founding.

3. The non-Jewish perception of “the Jews” or of individual “Jews” is historically specific. There are no pure races; liberals and leftists in the 1930s mounted a campaign to demolish such notions. But there is a common theme among groups who feel that their solidarity (i.e. property)  is under attack–the fear of “miscegenation.” Of all the negative themes in American popular culture, this phobia seems the most potent. See for instance, the hysterical passages in Thomas Dixon’s novels, especially The Flaming Sword, that imagined educated blacks as THE danger to the white race (whites meaning specifically the Scots-Irish who, for Dixon, were the true American patriots and fighters who won the American Revolution). Indeed in Dixon’s fantasy, the Southern Negroes, formerly the grateful recipients of paternalism, who then migrated to the North (where presumably they were educated) comprised 50% of the Communist Party! This book is the most chilling example of a native American fascism that I have encountered.

[Illustrated: an advertisement from an upscale magazine I received in 1990: the caption reads “A rare and fine Continental biscuit bust of a Blackamoor. Circa 1840….” The price was not quoted. Besides the “primitive” love of luxury and decoration, the position of the lips is suggestive of a willing sexual availability.]

October 1, 2009

Perfectly Progressive Parenthood

Po Bronson, author

   Until my posting of the Anne Hutchinson witch-hunt essay, I hadn’t said anything here about the battle of the sexes, a fact of life that I never doubted in adulthood. At my age I can say, though it is impermissible to claim,  that I will probably never fully understand most men (no matter how much I love them), and I am quite certain that men will never understand women, or given unequal gender relations, will they even need to. I could say the same about sibling rivalry and the murderous impulses it calls forth, but you can read all about that in the Biblical book of Genesis. But never in my blogging life did I encounter a more blatant example of “progressive” tomfoolery than in the interview NPR’s Terri Gross conducted with the co-author of a book about the latest advice to would-be perfectly progressive parents. The primary subject was the value of mommy and daddy fighting in front of the kids, hitherto something of a taboo in the old dispensation.  

    For the past few months many of the essays on this website have been identifying one overarching theme in the ideology of “progressives”: the belief that all conflict can be peacefully resolved through the mutual “cultural” understanding that leads to better diplomacy and compromise. It is simply a question of management, properly understood if we would only listen to [infallible] experts, the ones who artfully and scientifically mediate to bring “conflict-resolution.”  So when I heard an interview with one such expert I didn’t know whether to be relieved that my analysis was correct, or to wonder yet again how such a blatant ideological intrusion into and about family life can earn research funding, a book publisher and air time on public radio. Here is a section of the transcript of Fresh Air, 30 Sept. 2009. (The full transcript can be found on the internet.)

Mr. PO BRONSON (Author, “Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children”[co-author Ashley Merryman]): Mark Cummings’ lab out of the University of Notre Dame is looking at this very phenomenon very closely and he has parents simulate arguments in front of their kids, where he has kids watch videotapes of arguments and he has parents as conspirators in his experiments. And normally when a kid watches a fight between parents, an argument, a quite heated conflict, that kid will then lash out afterwards or during it and act aggressive. But there’s one thing that happened in those experiments that makes all that aggressive behavior in the child go away: it’s watching the fight get resolved, it’s watching your parents work it out in a constructive way.

And when I read this, I understood that taking it upstairs, you know, I might have a moment of conflict with my wife and I’ll say that according to Cummings’ data, you know, parents are bickering to each other seven to eight times a day and the kids are a witness to it. It’s wrong to imagine that kids aren’t seeing this and feeling it. But when we take the arguments upstairs, the kid sees the fight begin but never sees it amicably resolved, and that’s hurting kids more.

In fact, Cummings’ work is now showing, this most recent data, that kids who are exposed to constructive conflict, and it can be quite heated, but when it’s resolved and worked out in front of the kids, those kids are being reported by teachers as having better well-being and better social skills and they’re sort of more adaptive in their environment at school. We need to – parents need to model for kids how to work through arguments – how to work it out.

GROSS: So are you suggesting parents fight in front of the kids and then hopefully they’ll reach an end of the argument, have an amicable resolution, then the kid will learn from that?

Mr. BRONSON: Mark Cummings would never say, hey, go out and fight in front of your kids, it’s a really good thing to do. He would say that, more that don’t pretend your kid isn’t seeing some of your conflict. Parents believe they are sort of hiding their kids from this conflict but the kids can feel it. And so the important thing is to be aware when you did start something in front of your kids to then really try to model, for the benefit of the kids, working it out. And that might mean holding your tongue and enthusiastically trying to compromise in front of the kids so they can see from their parents how to do this with their own friendships. [“in fact” my emphasis, end transcript]

GET ME SOME SMELLING SALTS! Just rereading this, I had to get up and walk around to calm myself. Apart from the vagueness (which alone is enough to discredit the reportage), the general obliviousness to the raucous and often unmanageable, poorly understood emotions aroused within families and all intimate relationships is breathtaking. Only the intellectually lobotomized could come up with such quackish nostrums as best-selling author Bo Bronson in his report of Mark Cummings research. My readers will already have asked themselves, what are the conflicts about: the trivial that are easily worked out, or major differences in values and direction? Lacking such specificity, we do not know how to proceed in evaluating this research. Are the parents arguing about who drives the kids to school, or how to handle bullies (fighting back or appeasing?), or what religious practices to follow, if any? Is father philandering? Is mother unspeakably bored and overworked? Is the new baby arousing murderous impulses in the older children? Are the parents in disagreement over how far to push their children to achieve at or beyond their own levels? Are the fights over apparent trivia masking much deeper unresolved conflicts within either or both parents? (Make your own list, dear reader.)

     It was once held that children need safety and solidarity between parents, and that open (or subtle) warfare between parents creates intolerable, but often repressed, anxiety as the children feel forced to choose sides; then, later, comes the desire to reconstruct the perfectly happy family that never existed. Such veterans of the family civil wars can become fixated on any demagogue who promises utopian solutions and peace among the nations, no matter how much their material interests clash. In today’s world, such a one may refuse to believe that there is a real threat from Islamic fundamentalism, or blames such threats, assuming they even exist, upon themselves as imperialist Americans or Israelis or “Jewish” capitalism (that is the money-grubbing exploitative variety, as opposed to the “progressive” variety that brings “social justice”).*

      Social conservatives usually argue that their religious traditions recognize the foulness of human nature, hence religion is required to order social life. Thus they emphasize inborn human weakness rather than strength. By strength, I refer not to an indwelling and purifying Christ-Savior, but to the demonstrable human capacity for overcoming anti-social impulses under certain conditions, including discovering the repressed secrets of the self. In the foundational tenet of conservatism, however, “progressives” are necessarily utopian perfectionists who think, like Rousseau, that our species is innately good. In the fiction created by such conservatives, Nathaniel Hawthorne, for instance, the mad scientist is conflated with all would-be social reformers, destroyers all: see his short stories “The Birthmark” or “Ethan Brand.” Unlike Hawthorne, Po Bronson is obviously speaking to parents who see themselves, their children, and their world as entirely manageable once they have mastered the latest techniques.

    I find myself more in accordance with Freud’s essay “Thoughts for the Time on War and Death” (1915), cited in several prior blogs: Freud was dealing with his own disillusion with the idea of Progress, i.e., that civilization would end wars, for who could doubt that Germany, England, and France were ultra-civilized, and yet the casualties and brutality of the Great War were terrible. What I got from Freud’s meditation was this: What we call “civilization” sits lightly in the human psyche, and it is a constant, lifelong struggle to manage anger and frustration (what he would call “aggression”), just as it is often difficult to identify whether the anger is justified, what has caused it, and what, if anything, can be done to improve those institutional structures and practices that either instill rage or deflect it to unworthy, inappropriate objects. But such potentially tragic conclusions are terra incognita to Bronson and NPR, where all endings are happy ones, if you would just fall in line with the latest newsflash from the front.

*Budd Schulberg’s fascinating memoir of his childhood and adolescence is instructive on this point, for he detailed the ongoing conflict between his parents and his naive determination to reconcile them. He then goes on later to write What Makes Sammy Run, a story of a ruthless Jewish operator, Sammy Glick, balanced by the assimilated narrator, a better type of Jew.

September 1, 2009

Blogging with a difference

Hayden White, 2005

Walter Benjamin once remarked that fascism allows the masses to express themselves (see his famous essay, The Work of Art in the Era of Mechanical Reproduction). This rings in my ears as I contemplate the new universe of blogging, for I see this revolution as both a great innovation and a dangerous outlet for irresponsible opinion. So a few words are in order to separate out YDS blogging from those of political partisans and other activists with designs upon the reader.

     1. On “activist” scholars. The late Budd Schulberg left the Communist Party because party functionaries were demanding that he change his writing, for instance, What Makes Sammy Run (1941), because he was not foregrounding “the progressive forces” in Hollywood. And when the second wave of feminism got started, there were women artists who, knowing the history of the authoritarian Left, worried that they would be expected to follow some party line. As for the postmodernists who ruled while I was in graduate school at UCLA, there was a widespread view that “the archive” itself was a social construct and inevitably biased toward the ruling class. The same cohort averred that “science was a swindle” and I, the defender of empiricism and archival research, was derided as “the last positivist.” And yet all these activists loved “the people” and believed themselves to be their emancipators.

     During the final stages of expanding my doctoral dissertation for publication, I discovered that the furious Tory response to the American and French Revolutions was directed at “autodidacts” who were now reading books for themselves and drawing conclusions about the social order not dependent upon the opinions of their  betters.  These same autodidacts were held to be assassins and demagogues, stealthy, bloody, tyrannical, and inept in the fine art of reading, so naturally, the mandarin class was poised to set them straight, that is, to be as deferential and docile as they supposedly had been before the seventeenth-century and the Scientific Revolution or the Radical Reformation (those precursors to the Enlightenment). 

    And during this same period of research, I learned that it was considered bad form to include long quotations from primary source materials. This struck me as very odd: can you imagine a scientific discovery being published without fully informing the reader as to all the materials and procedures that led to the experimenter’s conclusion, along with an accurate description of those prior conceptions that were now revised in the light of new knowledge? Yet the humanities frowned upon long quotations from the sources, and writers still apologize for them. Readers of the blogs on the YDS website will note that I do quote liberally from my sources, so that the reader can check upon the accuracy of what I draw from them, and then correct my readings if they distort the source or otherwise misinterpret them. (Postmodernists will find my practice hilariously retrograde, so I say to them, “you don’t think much of the rule of law, do you? And of course they don’t for the state is nothing more than the executive committee of the bourgeoisie. See my blog “Margoth v. Robert E. Lee: rival visions of national unity” for the Charles Sumner understanding of liberal nationalism.) 

     Back to the activist bloggers or activist scholars. I once met an important art historian, who told me of a lecture he had given at Yale on British landscape painting of the eighteenth century. “I start,” he said, “with bourgeois society.” Huh? I thought. What about starting with the object and looking at it carefully, not missing any details, surrendering to its power, and then moving on to personal biography and all the institutions that might impinge on the making of a book or a painting or a musical composition or any other cultural artifact? After all that, going back to the painting, etc. and looking some more, perhaps seeing it even more deeply and understanding its appeal (or threat) to others. In other words, for my friend, “bourgeois society” was self-evidently evil, and anything that was made under its awful spell was bound to be tainted. It is true that patronage is important to artistic production, but if ever there was a comparative free-for-all in art-making it was a by-product of market economies and the marketplace of ideas. (Many readers will wince at this. Oh for the days of the Popular Front when–briefly– the bourgeoisie was viewed as a progressive class.)

   Now switch to how we encounter persons who may disagree with us on the heavy issues of the day. Too often my activist friends (and I have some) are too quick to dismiss anyone who does not share their judgments on this or that policy issue, let alone the larger questions that are currently roiling the world. Such impatient partisans may lack curiosity about the life experience and upbringing that might have led to the current polarization or “culture wars,” just as they may lack insight into their own preferences or need to belong to something big and heroic. One of the most damaging consequences of the fashionable existentialism after the second world war has been the notion that we cannot think ourselves into the heads of any other person, let alone understand our own motivation, or, get this: write history. Yet how can there be a civil discourse without some degree of mutual- and self-understanding, let alone a relatively accurate picture of the past and how we got here? In a “culture of despair” (to recall a title by Fritz Stern) desperation leads to catastrophe.

    To conclude this first point about YDS blogging, nearly all my posts strive toward objective scholarship, and invite the reader to test my work, by checking my readings of the sources, and then determining whether I have drawn reasonable conclusions from the evidence I provided. I understand that this stance is not fashionable, and I do not care. I am not working to please any establishment, and write for citizen-autodidacts and fellow-professional scholars.

   2. Language matters. Many postmodernists believed that I was doing work similar to theirs. This is true: language affects emotions and political will, and it is a constant struggle to resist the power of words and images that purport to represent “reality.” Therefore, I get very testy when persons I otherwise respect as sincere advocates for their policy du jour, refer to their opponents as loons, fanatics, crazies, wingnuts, moonbats, etc. Leaving aside the insensitivity to the suffering of real psychotics and their support systems when these epithets are tossed around, when I was at Pacifica radio and had the program director job, I tried to explain that the First Amendment was not intended to enable libel and slander (see the correspondence of Jefferson, John Adams, and Abigail Adams on this point), but to advance the search for truth so that citizens could make informed choices in their representatives and support policies that advanced the public interest (not that the public interest is easily determined). In other words, free speech was not an excuse for venting, but a rational means toward a rational end. And I never said that would be easy. Where I diverge from the postmodernists and other irrationalists is my view that we can get better as readers and to a degree, overcome our subjectivity* and get to closer and closer approximations of  reality. If we can’t do that, how can we save the planet?

*Hayden White describes himself and his postmodern colleagues as “radical subjectivists,” that all history writing conforms to literary genres, while he, with other postmodernists, believes that there is nothing “outside the text.” Cf. Immanuel Kant who insisted that we can never encounter “the thing in itself.” In my own work, I agree that particular historical narratives are deployed for purposes of persuasion, and of course believe that these must be identified as misleading and either deliberately twisted, or as simply ideological. [Added August 1, 2010: Benjamin Shepard disputes my reading of Kant and cites this passage from the Prologomena as evidence: ” The dictum of all genuine idealists from the Eleatic school to Bishop Berkeley, is contained in this formula: ‘All cognition through the senses and experience is nothing but sheer illusion, and only, in the ideas of the pure understanding and reason there is truth.’ The principle that throughout dominates and determines my Idealism, is on the contrary: ‘All cognition of things merely from pure understanding or pure reason is nothing but sheer illusion, and only in experience is there truth.’ ” More on this later as the question now arises: why has Kant been so frequently misdescribed by subsequent philosophers (at least the ones I have read)? And what does he mean by “experience.” The same as Locke?]

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