YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

August 14, 2017

Skin in the game

Adam video game

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/fights-in-advance-of-saturday-protest-in-charlottesville/2017/08/12/155fb636-7f13-11e7-83c7-5bd5460f0d7e_story.html?undefined=&utm_term=.ffba0ee1bc89&wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1. Compare to  http://althouse.blogspot.com/2017/08/there-was-no-police-presence-we-were.html, a fine analysis by Harry Lewis regarding the role of the police in failing to separate the warring sides and more.

This blog is mainly about the missing terms in the media discussion of the Charlottesville riot: the fantasy of “unity,” present-mindedness, “fascism,” and discipline.

Moderation. The press has reverted during and after the weekend Charlottesville riot to its “moderate” position: condemning both (equally culpable) “extremists” as evil, while implying that its “moderation” is laudably (progressive). So the “moderate men” continue to hold the “center.” (See Yeats’s famous formulation.) Also, https://clarespark.com/2015/04/07/who-are-the-moderate-men/.)

This a deeply deceptive way of talking, for analysis suffers when we cannot identify class interests: what social groups inhabit the so-called “alt-Right”? Are they all “white” workers? Do the  protesters know the first thing about actually existing “fascism” (that was distinctive in say, Italy, Germany, France and Spain?)

Unity. And Fox News Channel (like the others) has been united in the hope that we can “come together” to defeat the dark forces on both sides. I have been wondering for some time if we are living in some variant of a “fascist dictatorship,” for (populist) Nazism stressed the Volk or the “people’s community,” in the effort to stamp out (divisive) communism, and the longing for an impossible unity reminds me of Hitler’s utopian deadly premise.

Any student of US history knows that sectionalism is paramount, and defies any attempt to reconcile the conflicting regions of our country. (https://clarespark.com/2014/03/13/what-is-cultural-relativism/.)

Discipline. Which brings me to the traditional Jewish imperative to subdue the negative part of “human nature.” This sets up a conflict with those ideologies that see the self as all good or all bad. So the press (including many assimilated Jewish journalists) calls for “love” all around, presumably encompassing faith, hope and charity.


Arthur Szyk, Lodz, Poland, ca 1939; pinterest.com

But the racism that is and was opposed by progressives/the New Left is not quickly or easily eliminated, for it is embedded in the existing major ideologies, each requiring separate analysis. For we must refrain from reading our current values into the past (present-mindedness), while still recognizing those pseudo-progressive institutions holding minorities back (e.g., teachers unions).

But such analysis is missing from our dumbed down culture where “ignorant armies clash by night.” (Dover Beach, Matthew Arnold)


June 30, 2016


Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:45 pm
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painting by Mark Henson

painting by Mark Henson

When Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama makes the argument for drastic action to curtail “climate change” they will invariably deploy the term “connectedness” (implying 1. that “humanity” is “interdependent” and 2. that Mother Nature is imperiled and that all sensible creatures must take drastic measures to rescue Her: doctrines and recipes that may fit with “pantheism”).

This blog is about a disquieting dream I had last night in which the English language suddenly lost all meaning, being reduced to words that signified nothing. Perhaps it was triggered by the loss of facticity in the discourses of those “Greens” who swear by “settled science” (a contradiction in terms, as the heart of scientific method is ever “unsettled”, unlike, say, political ideologies/religions).

Or perhaps the dream had nothing to do with the latest shibboleths regarding “ecology”, but was triggered by the loss of focus and memory engendered by mass media, which never explores the connectedness of an event with history and context, but rather moves from one sensational event to another, with no overall analysis of what the series of experiences might have on various viewers or listeners. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/05/10/losing-focus-and-mass-media/.)

But above all, Hillary Clinton’s notion of “connectedness” is a feeling that evokes the “village” mentality she seeks to evoke, that fantasy of small town or family mutual caring before the anomie of the (heartless) Mammon-worshipping cities made the scene. (https://clarespark.com/2013/07/09/preconditions-for-hard-liberty/)

Or, have most words lost their meaning as “ignorant armies clash by night”?

Or, to protect my sanity, am I utterly disconnected from current events, feeling helpless to avert their threatening character?


March 6, 2014

Crises: real and manufactured

MAD“What, me worry?” Someone looked up this blog, written last year on the D-Day anniversary. https://clarespark.com/2013/06/06/morale-in-the-time-of-crisis-overload/. D-Day, 6 June, 1944, was a true crisis, not a mass media manufactured one. This blog is about both real crises and those emergencies that are ideological in origin.

Giving too much weight to crises that are not “real” can affect physical and mental health, not to speak of where we should put our primary efforts in coping with problems, both personal and social. I got the idea for this blog after reading all of “U” a periodical put out by the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Although positive in outlook, this important public health magazine is worried about the size of the Baby Boomer generation and the shortage of trained physicians who understand the needs of geriatric patients that is likely to result. It should be mentioned that this is a generally liberal magazine, optimistically progressive, reformist in tone, and certainly not alarmist, as they support ACA without reservation, including a warning about the pointless excessive cost of end of life critical care (i.e., death panels are not mentioned). As good multicultural liberals, they write to everyone (including veterans with PTSD and brain injuries), celebrating both recent discoveries in medicine (e.g. the Genome project, genetic sources of schizophrenia), and the healing power of “faith” and “happiness.”

And as good liberals, they published a letter from a doctor irate with the notion that faith heals, as opposed to science. But that letter is immediately followed by another celebrating faith and spirituality. There is no problem with the marketplace of ideas at UCLA, not here at least.

The rest of this blog lists some emergencies that I, from the distance of my years, can identify as real crises. Some are personal, some are social in origin. All affect personal and public health. As one example of a manufactured crisis, think of “anxiety and depression.” What sane person is not anxious and depressed given the real intertwined crises listed below in capital letters.


True of false? According to Marxist-Leninist theory, capitalism is in a permanent state of crisis, being a “weak and unstable system” [Hyman Minsky’s diagnosis]. For lefties I have known, such an emphasis on the past and future crises (that either should have led to socialism/communism, or are guides for future action, sans errors), can lead to a carelessness or minimizing of personal crises: the ageing and death of parents, divorces, troubled attachments to lovers, families and children. Such persons, it has been widely observed, are living in hopes of a future utopia, not a past Golden Age, as reactionaries do. Their Leninist critiques of the present tend to be framed as “will it advance the working-class revolution?”, or will this or that movement advance such disasters as “false consciousness” allegedly caused by mass media and consumerism. Or, they may infiltrate reformist groups such as environmentalism, in order to turn “Greens” into Reds. Such tactics can lead to alarm over irreversible climate change, an alarm that is intended to delegitimize current types of energy usage. Or, and this is the worst: leftists have bonded with Islamic jihadists on the theory that they are correct to destroy “imperialist” Israel.

Here are some crises that should receive more attention from those of us who give at least lip service to capitalism as either social democrats, neocons, libertarians, or conservatives. Each of these has preoccupied me for the last four or five years on the website. I will not attempt to specify the causes of the intertwined crises that I have emphasized, but I have no love for the progressive activist reading of the “living” Constitution.


*By including “the administered state” I do not imply that concern with progressive statism is not a crisis, but that it is the source of  most of the other crises as listed. In this I am following Richard Epstein’s new book The Classical Liberal Constitution: The Uncertain Quest for Limited Government (Harvard UP, 2014). By including “postmodernism” I am agreeing with Epstein’s claim that all text are not inherently ambiguous, hence unresponsive to interpretation. This postulate of his is more significant than many would imagine.

February 1, 2014

Harvard ed school leads in vaguely dumbing down

ED. cover Winter 2014

ED. cover Winter 2014

The Winter edition of Ed., the journal of the Harvard Graduate School of Education proudly announces in its featured article “All Along,” the existence of an innovation to the curriculum—one expected to remedy the discarded  one-size fits all curriculum and teaching methods that fail, they say, to make allowances for disabled students and those with English language deficiencies.

Using the new neurosciences, Universal Design Learning will supplement Common Core, and allow for true individuality and its associated benefit: “point of view.” (On the Common Core debate see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/05/american-fascism-and-the-future-of-english-and-american-literature/.)

The long article is remarkably vague, however, about whether there is any method to their innovation, which I view as leveling down, while pretending to be leveling up. Dropping the name of Howard Gardner, resident “genius” who, as I have described in another blog,  believes that girls are talented narcissists, while black boys are great at basketball (see  https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/arne-duncans-statism-part-two/), Harvard is remarkably vague about the actual content being dropped on the newly individualized schoolchildren.

“These days, [Jeff Mundorf, a teacher of fifth grade in Naples, Florida] presents information to students in a variety of ways and lets them present what they’ve learned in ways that fits their learning preferences. For example, during the unit he teaches on the US Constitution, he gives his students a choice of reading or listening to an audio recording from the textbook, watching an explanation that he has prerecorded, viewing a video on BrainPop.com, or listening to a musical explanation of the Constitution on Flocabulary.com. The difference in his classroom has been stark. Discipline problems are “almost nonexistent” because…each student is engaged with learning. “Once you think about it, a one-size-fits-all –approach to the curriculum becomes kind of silly…We need to help students understand their own learning and give kids their own path to explore. I have no control over the standardized curriculum, or who’s assigned to my classroom. What I can control is the flexibility of my goals, my methods, my materials, and my assessments.” (pp26-27)

recommended reading.jpg

Another authority ends the article with this hope: “We want to see this approach to be the norm, we want these tools to be available to everyone. We want to see UDL as a reform initiative, one that we hope will really take hold nationwide and worldwide.” (The author of this piece, one Katie Bacon, has written for such liberal outlets as The Atlantic, the NYT, and The Boston Globe.)

Dear reader, you can wave goodbye to debates over the content of the US Constitution, or whether or not fifth graders are even intellectually ready to grasp the fine points of our founding document.


May 15, 2013

Who is Barack Obama?

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:41 pm
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Moderation taught here

Moderation taught here

My most popular blogs have dealt with the enigma of POTUS, with a consensus among many of my readers that he is a narcissist, possibly of the most malignant and incurable variety. This blog makes the claim that Obama’s personality is the wrong focus of attention. We do better to look at the incoherence of the base that elected him, and what is the bond that links him to such disparate sectors of the electorate, ranging from Wall Street liberals, Hollywood moguls and celebrities, teachers unions, the AFL-CIO, youth culture, environmentalists, and “racial” minorities, including liberal Jews still tied to the New Deal embraced by their parents. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/04/06/diagnosing-potus/ and https://clarespark.com/2010/04/05/is-potus-crazy/.)

Moreover, there is wide difference among both supporters and critics as to his “real” politics: Is he a stealth Leninist, a crypto-Muslim with jihadist sympathies, a liberal internationalist in the Wilsonian tradition, or a traditional Democratic Party centrist (the latter a diagnosis by disgusted Leftists and populists who hoped for a more radical, anti-imperialist agenda)?

Mental health professionals and cultural historians have (perhaps) unwittingly aided the current focus on personality disorders, especially with the proposed revision of DSM-IV in the news during the last year. (On the theoretical foundations of the DSM manuals see https://clarespark.com/2012/12/09/neurotic-vs-objective-anxiety-dsm-iv-and-beyond/. Also “identity politics” as promoted by social democrats.) That and the popularity of mental health and relationship advice on radio and television have taken the voting public into private space at the expense of a broader and more appropriate education in political and economic theory, about which the general public is ignorant, thanks to decades of indoctrination in schools and universities regarding remaking ourselves so that we are wiped clean of “prejudice” toward “the Other.” Such a purification ritual has served some social movements and their upwardly mobile adherents, but destroyed our critical faculties.

The questions we should be addressing are these: why are so many American voters glued to celebrity culture, including pundits of either major political party? Why are the public schools so awful in urban ghettoes, and who made them that way? Why has public speech deteriorated to the point where the English language has been ground down to such exclamations as “awesome”! “amazing”! “cool”! No tribe of grunting savages in the prehistoric ages of our species could have survived with such a limited vocabulary. If we taught Shakespeare today, would students even be able to read him with comprehension? Or a plot summary, even? Meanwhile, my blogs, deliberately written to a non-academic audience, are often deemed to be “over the heads” of many readers.

To answer the question posed in the title of this blog: we cannot look into the heart of Barack Obama. We are not psychoanalysts who have treated him for many years, with accurate information about his childhood and the many traumas he may or may not have endured. But we can look into his social policies, and evaluate their content and efficacy. These fail on the grounds of intelligibility and effectiveness. Both our economy and our safety as Americans are on the table.  Yet “moderates” in both parties urge us not to get over excited or too “extreme;” rather, find your “community” and cuddle up with it, no matter how incoherent or internally divided on major issues the “members” may be. (I am thinking specifically of Charles Krauthammer and Bill O’Reilly, who yesterday advised their viewers on Fox  to lay off POTUS and Hillary Clinton until “facts” on such matters as the AP scandal are uncovered.)

I would be happier with “the moderate men” if they refrained from cooling us out, and departed from the safety of their cliques inside the Washington DC Beltway. They won’t of course, for they are paid handsomely for their services to the status quo, specifically to the ideal of the neutral state, and of the notions of “healing” and “closure.” (See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/.)

We are in terrible trouble, and have no one but ourselves to rely upon. We still have the internet and social media. These must be protected above all else, whatever our politics. The republic will stand or fall depending on our defense of free and inquisitive communication, let the chips fall…. (For a follow-up blog see https://clarespark.com/2013/05/16/divide-et-impera/.)

July 31, 2012

Censorship, bohemia, and the Big Sleep

Haruhi Gothic Lolita

Having announced that I was thinking of writing a new blog on censorship in the arts and in the media, numerous Facebook friends sent me comments expressing their own disgust with the mass media, with the ineffective ratings system that fails to protect children from exposure to excessive violence, and with the general coarsening of our culture.

In prior blogs, I have complained mightily about what I perceive to be a loss of standards throughout the culture, sometimes focusing on primitivism, rappers, Tom Wolfe’s genteel variant of primitivism (https://clarespark.com/2011/09/08/getting-down-with-tom-wolfe/), and the Great Dumbing Down. One friend starts the dumbing down with the revolts of the 1960s, and there is something to be said for that turning point. Another blames the movies and mass culture in general. Many believe that the Aurora massacre was stimulated at least in part by the increasing violence of Hollywood movies. Indeed, I had already noticed the disturbing abundance of horror movies directed to adolescents. What was the appeal, I wondered, and still can’t answer that, other than speculating that youngsters are terrified of the modern world in ways that have not been adequately described: Feeling perhaps impotent in the face of predators, they Identify with the Aggressor, to use a once well-known Freudian formulation.

What could I possibly add to this discussion now, I wonder? In the past, I argued that cultural radicalism was not only wrong-headed, but a distraction from other questions that were not focused solely on sex and violence or political correctness.  I had insisted that the idea that words and images created reality for readers and viewers was in itself deeply ideological. But I did not dismiss the power of propaganda, but rather pointed out that popular explanations for the rise of Hitler among allies to the Roosevelt administration had blamed mass culture as the primary explanation for the bond of Hitler with the German people, thus discarding political errors, economics, and diplomacy. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/06/04/modernity-and-mass-death/.)

I must say the same for the rowdy arts, whether found in pop culture or in the highest reaches of Kultur. While bohemians were kicking up their heels and converting adolescents to drugs, sex, and rock and roll as transformative politics, petit-bourgeois media reformers wanted positive images of their group, acting on the belief that “role models” (and “inclusion”) would repair grave deficiencies in education or family life. But these same reformers were reinforcing ethnic or racial ties, thus undermining the search for explanations of poverty that are more properly found in political and economic institutions, not just “discourses.”

Since the days of Plato and Aristotle, intellectuals have been fighting over the effects of pornography: Plato would have banished poets from the Republic, while Aristotle believed that catharsis through the arousal of pity and terror would keep the masses in line. I adhere to neither of these philosophies. Either we have a marketplace of ideas or we do not. What matters is the critical context surrounding controversial works of art or other toys and entertainments. Sadly, perhaps disastrously, the “critics” and other explicators of cultural artifacts tend to share the same ideology as those who produce the “edgier” pieces, and leave the field to those whose own sensibilities are disgusted  by “vanguard” works. Hence, our culture is impoverished. Vanguard artists and critics stand together, while “philistines” remain bemused and angry. The feedback loop is thus severed and everyone loses.

But more, what may be decisive is the deliberate silence around certain issues; e.g. the increasing acceptance of sadomasochism, Satanism, misogyny and antisemitism, or the opacity of governments, or the widely held belief that there is no truth, or the power of some families to screw up their kids, or limited interest in the great issues of our time, such as the causes of mass death in the 20th century—a subject that has been hitherto dominated by left-leaning statists with designs on the public.

vagina dentata vampire shoes

March 22, 2012

The Great Dumbing Down (2)

Devils from Rila Monastery

In a prior blog, I attempted to “periodize” the moment when American culture turned toward stupidity and away from the Prometheanism implied in the conception of American exceptionalism and the making of the Constitution by such as Alexander Hamilton (not that Hamilton was an American Candide). In that blog (https://clarespark.com/2012/03/13/dumbing-down-when-did-it-begin/), I fingered William James and other “pragmatists” as major figures in the deterioration of education. Now I add that moderate man Reinhold Niebuhr to my enemies list.

In the Fall of 1957, I took David Brion Davis’s course in American intellectual history at Cornell U. I have a clear memory of his stating that “the devil was back” in his discussion of Hawthorne and Melville. What Davis meant was that both writers took a dim view of the theory of progress, attacking its key precept, that man was malleable morally (as demonstrated in travel narratives or utopian communes such as Brook Farm) and that better government and capitalism could ameliorate what had been lives that were “nasty, brutal, and short” (Hobbes). Davis also lectured about the importance of Reinhold Niebuhr in furthering that pessimistic ideology after the second world war. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinhold_Niebuhr. That Niebuhr should have switched his political views at that time, puts him in the camp of other pessimists who sought to dampen American hubris after the defeat of  the Axis powers by the Western democracies (see my blog on film noir: https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/.

It was also a moment when the high school population exploded and when returning veterans were availing themselves of the G. I. Bill, flooding colleges with cocky survivors of a war unprecedented in its mayhem. The major universities took note and reconstructed the humanities curriculum in collectivist and anti-urban directions– a direction that would halt the feared road to communism in America. Simply put, the real Marxist-Leninists were mostly purged, and “right-wing social democrats” (the “moderate” conservatives) took over and now are referred to as “the Left.” Their statism (but one that includes “ a reasonable amount of private property”) often leads some right-wing authors to conflate social democrats with Leninists, Italian Fascists, and Nazis.

As the Wikipedia biography of Niebuhr demonstrates, the key element in his conversion to “Christian Realism” (said to be a forerunner of “realism” in foreign relations), was the linking of evil to self-love and pride. Comes now the canonical reading of Melville’s Promethean Captain Ahab as the epitome of narcissism; indeed the Icarus legend was used to describe his literary fortunes from 1919 on. (As Ahab, his wings melted, plunging HM back to earth where he either drowned as Narcissus or burned as Icarus. In any case, he was demonic—the mirror of the Parsee Fedallah– and that theme remains dominant in Melville criticism as taught in the dumbing-down schools and universities controlled by the so-called left.)

Melville was ambivalent about “evil” as an independent entity apart from historically specific institutions and individuals. At times he wrote “evil is the chronic malady of the universe,” or in another mood he would say that good and evil were braided together so confusingly that he could say through one of his characters (the ambiguous Pierre) that “virtue and vice are trash” and that he must “gospelize the world anew.” I am convinced that Mark Twain read Melville, for in his fragment “The Character of Man” he echoes Melville in his most depressed and misanthropic moods.

To summarize: “moral relativism” has been a term used by some conservatives to condemn the explorations typified by the modern, mind-expanding world. What it meant to the Enlightenment was not the trashing of “virtue” but the realization that such conceptions as good and evil were socially constructed and could vary according to the institutional structures and resources of different societies; that in lauding individuals or social practices as either laudatory or destructive, such valuations had meaning only in specific historical contexts. Because many of the Founding Fathers were highly educated men, conversant with antiquity as well as with the discoveries of European explorers, they did not rely upon such ahistoric conceptions as The Devil to mold the Constitution that would govern negative human impulses in favor of a more orderly progress than had heretofore existed. But in the “progressive” world view of such as William James and Reinhold Niebuhr, the human capacity to be educated and uplifted has been ringed round with anxiety and self-doubt. Learning is hard enough without that extra dollop of immobilizing fear. For more on “the moderate men” (Melville’s phrase), see https://clarespark.com/2011/09/29/the-abraham-lincoln-conundrum/. Moderation is a buzz word without concrete meaning, and is a key word in psychological warfare.

March 13, 2012

Dumbing down: when did it begin?

William James drawn by S. Woldhek

I. I have been mulling over the deterioration of public speech and what passes for social and political theory for some time, trying to pin down a date or social movement that I can identify as chief perpetrator of the Great Dumbing Down. (For the second installment of this blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/22/3760/: The Great Dumbing Down (2). Perhaps we (and everyone else) have always struggled with mass stupidity and the temptation of the dark passions, but if one studies the writings of the Founding Fathers of the U.S., one must be struck by the quality of their argumentation and the deep knowledge of European history that each brought to the debates that eventuated in the Constitution. Moreover, many of these men were all too aware of humanity’s dark side, so they looked to the law and to the ordering forces of religion to produce what has come to be known as “American exceptionalism.” Although Biblical Christian fundamentalists (the “traditionalists”) have emphasized the divine origin of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, secular students of history have read enough late 18th century American history to recognize the materialism and scientific attitudes that many Founders deployed to construct a representative republic that fostered “liberty” and “meritocracy”—at least for white males.

Still, we are left with the ambiguity that surrounds the questions of free will and determinism. What exactly do we mean by human “freedom”? Not to explore the strongly divergent meanings attached to “liberty” is fatal to education in a would-be representative republic. And Hamilton’s notion of popular sovereignty, what he called “the consent of the people” or the voice of the people as the source of political legitimacy (see Federalist #22), was obviously dependent on a quality education for everyone who voted. Hence the disaster of the Great Dumbing Down. Charles Sumner and Walter Lippmann were two important Americans, who, in either the 19th or 20th centuries, fully understood the danger of poor schools.

Note that I use Hamilton’s language in describing our political structures. He was afraid of mobbish democracies, and I cannot blame him. Liberty is a much abused conception that can be annexed by divergent ideologies, as we have seen in the controversies of the day, but it is necessary to strictly historicize each raging issue.

For instance, the U.S. Constitution, a timeless document for many,  was framed in the context of a mostly agrarian society, while European empires looked longingly at the Western Hemisphere for expansion and wealth. Much of our political and economic history cannot be understood without seeing the vulnerability of the new republic to invasion by rival European empires. Since that time, industrialism, urbanization, continental expansion, changing patterns of immigration, and ongoing rivalries between developing countries have drastically changed the meaning attached to our key words, just as these changes called forth social movements to defend entrenched interests, or in many cases, to challenge them with modifications that anyone would deem to be revolutionary in their implications. Such was the case with social democracy, communism, and fascism. In post-Civil War America, it was first populism that challenged capitalism, then progressivism (that co-opted populism) that dominated. With constant interaction between America and Europe and the other major states, the terms of social theory became weapons in the hands of ideologues, using words and comparisons to suit their particular propaganda requirements. This website has been devoted to sorting out such confusions. See for instance https://clarespark.com/2010/04/08/racism-modernity-modernism/.

II. What progressivism, socialism, communism and fascism have in common is their statism and collectivism. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish “right-wing social democrats” from the other authoritarian doctrines that have typified human history (for a definition of “right-wing social democrat” see my comment below or go to https://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa/). For instance, some persons on “the [far] Right” think that everything a progressive does is either socialist, communist, or fascistic. Social democrats do the same thing when they use the term “totalitarian” to conflate Soviet Communism and the various European fascisms that developed after the first world war. Indeed, London’s Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, an outpost of the British Labour Party (though there is no formal linkage), will host a conference later this year investigating psychoanalytic theory and practice in the “totalitarian” regimes (see http://historypsychiatry.com/2012/03/13/psychoanalysis-in-the-age-of-totalitarianism/).

“Totalitarian” is a made-up word that no historian or political theorist should espouse. That is why I think that social democrats of this stripe are responsible for dumbing down public discourse, hence undermining the Enlightenment—the Enlightenment that produced the doctrine of natural rights—a conception that was much abused by the Jacobins of the French Revolution.

Keep in mind that progressivism in the United States was bipartisan and reacting against populism and/or the labor movement in the late 19th century.That is why hip scholars approve of the philosophy of the hugely influential William James, 1842-1910 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_James). Once you go for Jamesian pseudo-pluralism, stability and social cohesion over 1.the search for truth and 2. the best ways to level up/create wealth, you are left with ambiguity and confusion, what I call the anti-ideology ideology or “pragmatism” of “the moderate men.” You have donned the steel helmet, the perfect object admired by Goebbels. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/01/25/the-state-of-the-union-stinks/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/04/22/links-to-blogs-on-military-psychiatry/.

pragmatists Peirce and James

Moreover, these populist-progressives believe that “Wall Street,” is monolithic, and will undoubtedly play both the race card and will delve into antisemitism to beat “the big money” (“finance capital”) that they, along with some social conservatives, are already associating with Mitt  Romney. And yet, a significant number of financiers remain strong Obama supporters, while others have broken away and support Romney. The latter believe that the Keynesian “demand-stimulus” solution to recession is ineffective and are upset over the mounting deficit, hence they worry about bankruptcy as has been threatened in European social democratic regimes.

What can parents and other concerned readers do? Silent acquiescence and going limp are not options. Study, fight back, use public libraries and the resources of the internet, and ask your children and students and friends what they mean by certain words. Draw them out and don’t be harshly critical, but stay with the subject until differences are clarified. We will even find agreement over some basic values, different though we may be at the outset. Start a book club. Study the curricula of your children and young adults and decode their agendas. (For part two of this series see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/22/3760/.)

October 19, 2011

Sex Without Freud

    I have been trying to estimate when the “dumbing down” of America began. I asked my Facebook friends to guess when it started. One denies that it ever happened; another blames it on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the lowering of standards to accommodate affirmative action, another on television, yet another on the transformation of American history from a positive to a negative view of American “identity.”  My own concern as a historian is the attention now given to sexuality as a major engine of history. I first noticed this in graduate school, as the followers of Michel Foucault were the hippest of academics, and for Foucault, anything goes or went. Yesterday I was queried by a twenties-something (wrong! see comment below) scion of an old American family if I did not think that Abraham Lincoln’s recently discovered [or alleged] gay sexuality was not a major discovery. I asked him how sex could have affected Lincoln’s governing of America during the Civil War, and the answer agreed with my own opinion that it was irrelevant.  Yet this young man, very bright, and a published author, was stoked about what was for him a major change in the historiography on Lincoln.

Feminists in the late 1960s and 1970s fervently believed that we were in the midst of a gender revolution and nothing would ever be the same. We all objected to the reduction of girls and women to sexual objects. Yet we find ourselves in the year 2011 in a society where sex and sexual appeal, featuring the objectification of both women and men, to be more overt than ever, worse than even the supposed flaming 1920s.* And yet feminist artists often explored sexuality as a way of appealing to the art-buying public, while indulging their narcissism. Was it not interesting that many bonded with left-wing men, notorious for their womanizing?

Some 1970s feminist theorists also rejected Freud as a traitor to his early female ‘hysterical’ patients, who, it was alleged, were really abused by fathers and uncles, and not themselves the initiators or willing collaborators with dirty old men.  So the Oedipus complex was considered not only wrong, but a travesty. In graduate school, I was told to revere a book that said psychoanalysis was a Jewish invention of use solely to [typically carnal] New York Jews (see Berger and Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality.)

While conducting my dissertation research into the construction of the humanities curriculum in America and England, especially during the interwar period, I noted that Freud was even more disreputable than Marx (though both, unlike Carl Jung, were verboten. See https://clarespark.com/2010/05/10/jungians-rising/). This is an intellectual calamity, for Freud, who wrote about the horrors of civilized countries at war with each other in 1915, did not elevate sexual acting-out as many of his upper-class followers believed. Rather, he emphasized the study of libido as a life force and, like aggression, a motive that often went unexamined as the source of psychogenic illness. Neo-Freudians appealing to the counter-culture  might celebrate Eros (like Wilhelm Reich or Herbert Marcuse, see https://clarespark.com/2011/10/21/did-frankfurters-kill-the-white-christian-west/), or, in my view, they might have more fruitfully focused on the mother-child attachment and issues such as object constancy (like John Bowlby, or Winnicott or Mahler). But such a focus on separation from the mother and the importance of managing that crucial event in maturation, was not sexy enough, and perhaps could not be co-opted into the subject of popular culture growing ever more primitivist, crude, and aggressively nihilistic.

Ironically, it was Herman Melville’s first modern biographer, the overtly gay Raymond M. Weaver, who was impressed by Freud (as interpreted by A. A. Brill), and who spotted the intense and troubled attachment of Herman to his mother, Maria Gansevoort Melville. Weaver has yet to be forgiven for his insightful efforts at understanding the ever mysterious “greatest American writer.” (For more on the 1920s reception to Freud, see https://clarespark.com/2009/11/13/supermen-wanted-early-freudians-and-the-mob/.)

*Cf. E. Digby Baltzell on the sex and booze-crazed 1920s (https://clarespark.com/2011/10/15/baltzell-on-the-good-jews/), the decade that witnessed the beginning of “the Melville revival.” Yet if we consult Hemingway’s short novel The Sun also Rises (1926), the characters are indeed a lost, vicariously shell-shocked generation, reduced by the recent slaughter to meaningless wandering about France and Spain, promiscuous coupling, a fascination with violence (the bull-fight),  and regression to conversation at about the level of young children (though Hemingway probably saw his style as natural and purified).  Has our literature and/or popular culture ever recovered?

[Illustrated, Marie Stopes, author of Married Love, eugenicist, and later admirer of Hitler. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Married_Love, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Stopes.]

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