The Clare Spark Blog

November 25, 2014

Reflections on the Ferguson aftermath

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Having lived through the 1960s, later chronicling the rise of the civil rights, antiwar, and feminist movements on Pacifica radio, then going to graduate school in history at UCLA where I studied 19th and 20th century social movements and how they were taught by UCLA’s radical faculty, I have thoughts on the violent response to the Ferguson Missouri’s grand jury’s decision not to indict policeman Darren Wilson, which was met by lumpen mayhem and/or “protest” in the streets, not only in Missouri, but in larger cities with radicalized minority populations and sympathetic “liberal” white grownups of a certain age.

In response to the looting and burning, conservative pundit Andrea Tantaros suggested on the Fox show Outnumbered that families should sit down and talk to their (adolescent) kids, presumably to keep them on the straight and narrow. This is an understandable wish, but hopelessly naïve. Why?

As most parents know, puberty and adolescence are harrowing times, for youngsters, with or without the discipline of fathers, are rejecting parents for peer groups, and often indulge in ritual rebellions (as in their preference for the “romanticism,” drugs, fast cars, and the defiance of rock and roll). Add to this that the current population of American kids have been instructed by 1960s-70s veterans of social movements that were often New Left in orientation, hence undisciplined and attracted to anarchy and chaos, unlike the comparatively disciplined pre-war 1930s communist activists to whom they are often linked by populist conservatives.

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Indeed, academics sometimes link the New Left spirit to that of the Jazz Age in the 1920s. There is the same primitivism and the same fantasy that pre-capitalist or “Third World” societies are closer to Nature, are uncorrupted by technology, and hence are instinctually liberated. It is imagined, incorrectly, that there are no rules about sex or aggression amongst, say, South Sea Islanders. (I have written about this misunderstanding ad nauseum. See for instance https://clarespark.com/2011/05/12/the-great-common-goes-to-the-white-house/, retitled “Rappers, primitivism, and ritual rebellion.” Or try this more recent blog on Robert Redford’s movie The Company You Keep, with its fantasy of a reconstructed happy family close to Nature: https://clarespark.com/2013/11/17/rehabilitating-the-weathermen/. Or, compare Marx to Lenin: https://clarespark.com/2014/06/07/marx-vs-lenin/.

I have left out one crucial cause of the looting, burning, and general protest, and it involves American communist politics in the 1960s. The Old Left should have known better, but having supported a Black Belt in the Southern US in the 1930s, later communists rejected the peaceful,  integrationist, pro-American strategy of Martin Luther King Jr. for what should be described as contemporary fascism or proto-fascism: the separatism and anti-“Euro-centricity” of the law-and-order West. It too found supporters in disaffected youth, herded together in ghettoes dominated by the Democratic machine.  (I chronicled this partly here: https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/.) The Right has correctly pointed out the power of the Democratic machines in opposing school choice, but fails to understand child development, while overestimating the power of the “strong Father,” whose authoritarianism may incite revolt in the children.

It would be better for liberals, moderates and conservatives alike to pay attention to this recent history, which remains alive today. Historians of fascism as disparate as George L. Mosse and Robert O. Paxton similarly agree that European fascism was partially sparked by youth revolt, participants in the disillusion and brutality of the masses that were traumatized and ready to rumble after the horrors of the Great War–a cataclysm whose after effects still haunt us.

The action faction, sadly, is not dead.

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September 6, 2013

The “credibility” conundrum

credibilityWe are in the midst (or at the beginning of) the “Syria crisis”.  My observant Jewish friends and family are also engrossed in self-reflection, perhaps even atonement and reparations for those they have wronged over the past year. Not being an observant Jew myself, I am engrossed in how language is deployed during this massive attempt by a Democratic administration to achieve consensus over a policy that is controversial in both political parties.

The word of the day is “credibility”. Behold how it is used twice in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal , 9-6-13, p. A15, co-authored by Joseph Lieberman and Jon Kyl, and entitled “Inaction on Syria Threatens U.S. Security.” : …This is no longer just about the conflict in Syria or even the Middle East. It is about American credibility. Are we a country that our friends can trust and our enemies fear? Or are we perceived as a divided and dysfunctional superpower in retreat, whose words and warnings are no longer meaningful?…[We must put our country first]…That judgment should provide the foundation we need for a bipartisan strategy that protects America’s credibility and, in turn advances our security and prosperity.”  (my emph.)

I asked my Facebook friends to state what they thought “credibility” signified. One answered with the definition of the word that Lieberman and Kyl probably agree with: there must not be a conflict between rhetoric and action. I prefer to dig a little deeper and ask, is the word “credibility” not connected to the notion of “credit worthiness”? Max Weber, protesting the lack of spirituality in the iron cages of materialism constructed by the capitalist spirit, alleged that Protestantism had made creditworthiness the test of what we now call “credibility.” The poet William Blake (a great favorite in the New Left)  preceded him in denouncing  [the money changers in the temple] in favor of “community” uncontaminated by filthy lucre.

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How did we become a superpower to begin with? Was it by overwhelming moral superiority, as that proto-progressive John Winthrop urged in the seventeenth century? Or was it the collapse of our rivals in the twentieth century, owing to disastrous and expensive European wars? Did we emerge as the only “superpower” rather by default because of our capitalist work ethic combined with the existence of a continent with virgin soil, untapped mineral resources and plenty of eager immigrants and ex-slaves to do the heavy lifting? And are our “divisions” easily overcome through a manly effort at will power?

The notion, advanced by Lieberman and Kyl, that divisive, partisan nay-sayers are the obstacles to unity, prosperity and security leaves me, well, incredulous.  No dissenter I have read is hell bent on weakening America. They all have realistic reservations about such matters as an exploding debt and the unforeseeable consequences of this belated intervention in what seems to me to be the least predictable, and most volatile region on earth. The sudden focus on the Syrian crisis may well be a Democratic machine initiative to change the subject and ultimately to destroy the Republican Party that would curb the welfare state. Mass media will cooperate without reflection: their format alone will break our concentration. See https://clarespark.com/2013/05/10/losing-focus-and-mass-media/.

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