YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

August 6, 2017

The Free Speech Muddle

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free-speech [Update, 8-31-17: I had the same trouble when I was program director of Pacifica radio station KPFK; no one wanted to look at our own ideology. ]

The MSM is all aflutter this week, because Attorney General Jeff Sessions hinted that journalists, as well as leakers, might be held responsible for publishing classified information. This blog is about the fantasy that the West (including the US) distinguishes itself from all forms of tyranny by its vaunted freedom of speech and expression as promised, say, by the US Constitution.

I say “fantasy” because, although freedom of [anything] is a lifelong achievement; a fulfillment that may or may not be achieved even in old age by the best of us.

The notion of journalistic freedom, for instance, depends on the assumption that American print media have never been partisan. (If you want to see polarization, just look at the 1790s as Hamiltonian Federalists and Jeffersonian agrarians slugged it out.)

Then there is the issue of government secrecy: anyone who has used the FOIA option, knows that the State can redact at will, so that crucial documents remain off limits to citizens (including academics and journalists).

We might add the barely admitted problem of self-censorship, some on grounds of politeness or intimidation, some from not daring to look inside ourselves too closely, some by ideology: the facts are always in dispute.

Let us now briefly turn to the subject of “fascism” a taunt that is bandied about these days, without much understanding by the anti-Trump protesters, old and young alike. The various fascisms that sprung up after the calamity of WW1 in the 1920s and 1930s, were distinct from one another. But they were all authoritarian and counter-Enlightenment. (Italy and Germany in particular were distinguished by the cult of the charismatic Leader and the one-party state). So “anti-fascists” like to attach themselves to “Free Speech” as proof that there is no authoritarianism in the West, particularly in the post-1960s USA, even as we pass laws affirming “diversity” and arbitrary notions of “community”—all in the name of human rights!

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November 12, 2015

The “free speech” muddle, or cherchez la femme

Student protest, Philipp Arndt photo, Business Insider

Student protest, Philipp Arndt photo, Business Insider

[The following blog is a lengthy excerpt from my unpublished ms. Eros and the Middle Manager. Footnotes not included, but note quotes from primary sources. This ms. excerpt is intended to clarify the problem of “free speech, by analyzing how recent (idealist) sociology has created a muddle where rational discourse is hard to find.] 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have become “self-consumer[s] of [our] woes,” tubercular addicts of the disappearing body (Schwindsuchter).  I am quoting from “I am,” by the nineteenth-century “mad” peasant poet, John Clare:

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

My friends forsake me like a memory lost:

I am the self-consumer of my woes–

They rise and vanish in oblivions host,

Like shadows in love frenzied stifled throes

And yet I am, and live–like vapours tost

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,

Into the living sea of waking dreams,

Where there is neither sense of life or joys,

But the vast shipwreck of my lifes esteems;

Even the dearest that I love the best

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

I long for scenes where man hath never trod

A place where woman never smiled or wept

There to abide with my Creator God,

And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,

Untroubling and untroubled where I lie

The grass below, above, the vaulted sky.”

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

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

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

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

“[On persecution delusions: the paranoid fantasy contains a “kernel of truth”: the patient may experience empathy with an unconscious wish of the persecutor; also]  The ‘truth’ may also relate to the observations of events during childhood that were denied at the time.  These elements later return to consciousness distorted and magnified in an irrational, delusional form.”

“Paranoid character is the term applicable to an individual whose personality structure is dominated by marked suspiciousness, querulousness, and persistent rationalized hostility against other persons or groups.  The use of scapegoats or “enemies,” the need to ‘defend’ against a hostile world (representing externalized aggressive impulses within the individual himself), the tendency to fight excessively over minor causes (often becoming litigious), and frequent contempt for others are the traits usually observed in this disturbance.  Here the characteristic and most frequently observed defense is projection–the displacement of the individual’s unacceptable wishes and thoughts onto others, who then are felt to direct these ideas back to their source (i.e., I hate him; no, he hates me, and therefore I am justified in attacking and beating him).  This permits the rationalization of the individual’s hostility, and allows him to defend his megalomanic image and fantasies.  In spite of their pathology, however, certain paranoid characters have contributed to some of the basic systematic research in science, as well as classic works in art, music and literature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 30, 2015

Pacifica Radio and how I achieved a measure of free speech

The day I got my Ph.D. 1993

The day I got my Ph.D. 1993

Several Facebook friends have sent me the same Guardian article claiming that the Pacifica Foundation is dying and on its last legs. That Pacifica is on its last legs may be true, but the blog is about how loose organization at the top enabled my own intellectual development and courage.

As I have mentioned in my sort of scholarly Pacifica memoir, Pacifica was a creation of corporatist liberals in coalition with such as the Ford Foundation and many Stalinists or Quakers.

Its glory days were at the height of the 1960s civil rights movement, which is when I got involved with it. From 1969 on, that decade  (the 1970s) was a happy and productive time for me, because I had my own radio program, The Sour Apple Tree, which was devoted to the internal politics of the art world, which few of the radicals then in charge knew of or cared about. These uncensored years were the happiest decade of my life, for management hardly noticed me, and I developed a following of curious listeners, many of them in the arts, academe, or even math or science.

Being connected to a diverse audience willing to put up with long, detailed interviews and an increasing number of essays (all initiated after I had started graduate school in history, 1983-1993, especially during the Bush campaign of 1988) gave me courage to strike out wherever the evidence led me, and I felt loyal to a growing, supportive, audience.

It was not until I became Program Director in 1981 that I learned that free speech at KPFK was sharply circumscribed by Stalinists whose influence till then was unnoticed by me. As I have written before, multiculturalism was enforced at all the stations shortly before I was appointed PD, and I misunderstood it, thinking it to be some kind of inclusive history with no holds barred. (The complete history is laid out in this set of links: https://clarespark.com/2010/07/04/pacifica-radio-and-the-progressive-movement/.)

I have written this very brief blog because many on the internet and Facebook believe that they are, in fact, practicing free speech. I questioned this assumption here: https://clarespark.com/2015/01/12/what-free-speech/.

Two factors enabled my political and intellectual development: lack of editing by higher ups, and connection to an audience that cared about the issues I raised. If my graduate education in US and European history was fraught with conflict and took many years, it was because I had already experienced relatively “free speech” and had no intention of regressing to the docility and ignorance that had marked my young adulthood. Loyal to my audience of autodidacts who expected me to “kick against the pricks,” I spoke up where other graduate students or faculty were silent.

In retrospect, I understand why my blog posts seem to be eccentric or ornery at times. Once you have experienced real intellectual freedom (limited only by your ignorance), you can’t go back to unquestioning deference to individuals or institutions. Luckily, I have found kindred souls (other misfits?) on Facebook and elsewhere.

The Pacifica Foundation has been ruined by underdisciplined anarchists or overdisciplined Stalinists. But I shall ever be grateful for the experiences that unleashed me before it was too late.

free-speech

May 5, 2015

What is “context” and how is it relevant to the Pamela Geller flap?

Context-is-king-1024x7681Lots of pundits, bloggers, and non-writers have been talking about free speech and the affronts to it. The occasion for all this jabber is the event managed by activist Pamela Geller and her event at Garland, Texas, that resulted in the death of two would-be invading Islamist gunmen.

Some commentators have complained that the drawing of a cartoon of Mohammed was provocative and incendiary, while others have vigorously defended untrammeled free speech, let the chips fall.

I am most concerned with the widespread notion that we actually have free speech and exercise it at will. That is one subject on this blog. (https://clarespark.com/2015/01/12/what-free-speech/.)

But I am also amazed by William J. Donahue’s statement on Fox News Channel, referring to the larger “context” of Geller’s alleged provocation.  (He had already written about angry Muslims earlier this year with respect to the bombing of the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris: http://www.catholicleague.org/muslims-right-angry/.)

Donahue as posted by Daily Kos

Donahue as posted by Daily Kos

As I have described here before, the once fact-based profession of history has been taken over by postmodernists, who, following Hayden White, view all published history as “literature.” I myself have advanced the observation that we are “prisoners of our contexts,” (https://clarespark.com/2014/12/18/rape-culture/), though I would never go so far as the postmodernists by throwing out all science as a swindle insofar as it affects “objectivity.”

As I discovered when first conducting my Melville research, finding the relevant context for artists and their critics (or for our own cherished beliefs) is a challenge. For instance, Freudians will focus on Melville’s family situation; Marxists will scrutinize him for class, racial, and gender prejudices; “progressives” attempting to co-opt both Freud and Marx will, and have, looked at his family very selectively, and then will praise him to the extent that they believe that he generally reflects their own “moderation.” If they have to suppress documents that contradict progressive notions, they will do that too. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/06/10/herman-melville-dead-white-male/.) And the preferred “moderate” position is “multiculturalism” for it keeps us divided and racism and collective categories are  intact,. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/28/index-to-multiculturalism-blogs/.)

The relevant context for the Pamela Geller/free speech flap is “multiculturalism”. No one sees this, for the assumption is either that Geller is a “hater” who “incites” Muslims, or, conversely, that we have untrammeled free speech and we must go to the wall on its behalf, lest we betray the First Amendment.

This latter position ignores case law, and worse, often reads back into English history the precedents for free speech, ignoring that the common law originated in medieval times when perfect obedience to orders and personages above oneself in the Great Chain of Being was taken for granted. Kings, Popes, and the nobility were at constant war with one another over conflicting rights, but the notion that peasants and townspeople should enjoy the same privileges was unheard of.

Get used to it, readers. The progressive bourgeoisie and growing mass literacy brought us such free speech as we currently enjoy, and “free speech” has always been contested by special interests that want freedom of expression for their own causes, but would deny it to their adversaries.

Do academics enjoy free speech and academic freedom, as they proudly proclaim? It depends on their superiors. As sociologist Stephen Turner has observed over and over, all scholarship is subsidized. But even if academics could get jobs based on pure merit and objective criteria, we would still be faced with our own limitations. As the lady said, we are to some unknowable extent, all prisoners of our contexts (personal and institutional).

Herman Melville would agree with me.

prison

April 24, 2015

Multiculturalism vs. [Yid] Red spies: which agitates the Right?

atheist-logicThis blog was inspired by the failure of Fox’s Outnumbered 4-24-15 to explain cases of censorship of the popular movie American Sniper ( the topic was repeated on The Five). They became agitated over the threat to free speech, when they could have identified why college administrators were bowing to the will of a small cadre of Islamist protesters at the University of Maryland; these administrators defending multiculturalism at all costs. One wonders why this “moderate” but right-leaning network is so weak on political theory, for it is obvious that “tolerance” versus “Islamophobia” is crucial to job retention in the hipper universities, public or private. (To be sure, unfree speech is the outcome of censorship in the name of diversity, but multiculturalism deters free speech insofar as it encourages essentialist cultural nationalism: see https://clarespark.com/2011/03/28/index-to-multiculturalism-blogs/.)

How to explain this failure of vision? Scholars, television writers, and journalists seeking right-wing readers and eyeballs know that it enhances their reputations to pretend that there remains an atheistic red menace threatening (Christian) America. Even the latest episode of Scandal played the KGB card, resuscitating the Cold War. One wonders why, given the declining membership in the CPUSA since the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939, carefully delineated by historians/political scientists Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Alexander Vassiliev in Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (Yale UP, 2009).

(Perhaps it is lingering antisemitism, for “the Jews” were ‘”disproportionately” represented in the Old Left, and “populism”—antagonistic to “finance capital,” remains popular on both left and right. Even Lenin may be seen as a populist, for he was notoriously influenced by the antisemitic journalist J. A. Hobson. See https://clarespark.com/2009/09/18/bad-sex-in-the-new-york-times/.)

JudaismAndFreemasonry

Whether or not my suspicions are correct, it is obvious that conservatives frequently confuse left-liberals and communists, frequently conflating them as “totalitarians” and, gulp, progressives—as if the US Constitution, despite its capitulations to Southern slaveholders, was not the vanguard of political thought at the time of its framing, with such as Hamilton and Jefferson not avatars of social and economic progress, despite their differences.

This entire website has been preoccupied with tracing the “roots” of multiculturalism to the German Romantic reaction to the “materialism” of science and Enlightenment as understood in 18th Century France. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/10/18/the-dialectic-of-multiculturalism-helvetius-herder-fichte/. The second link suggests Herder’s antisemitism, not noted in the historical commentary on his contribution to the notion of national character/groupiness.)

It is a grotesque misreading of history to think that the old Reds were not anti-racists, hot for “proletarian internationalism” as opposed to (proto-fascist) “nationalism,” and its associated (Gentile) “melting pot.” Indeed, that was the attraction that helped recruit working class immigrant Jews to the Communists, and family ties made a difference to their (liberal) descendants.

It is pointless to go on fingering “the multicultural moderate men” for their covert racism disguised in their rooted (as opposed to rootless) cosmopolitanism, documented throughout my website. And Fox News Channel employees, no less than those of the Wall Street Journal, are above all, oblivious to the history of the Left, and only moderately opposed to the nearly pervasive (often latent) antisemitism that blinds them. For instance, after all the decades I spent around the Left, no one, repeat, no one ever mentioned Saul Alinsky (born a Jew). His significance and influence are figments of certain conservative imaginations.

sparthitup2

January 12, 2015

What “free speech”?

free-speechThe march of millions in the streets of Paris on January 11, 2015, in solidarity with the libertarians of Charlie Hebdo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Hebdo), has been met with either euphoria or cynicism. What no one is interrogating is the history of free speech, though much ink has been spilled over political correctness, politeness and tact in verbally assaulting our enemies du jour. I am still waiting for some French or Francophile academic to trot out the postmodern objections regarding (mis) representation and the elusiveness of precision in language.

My favorite enemy of “free speech” is Bill Donahue of the Catholic League. He makes no bones about good manners, tact, and impropriety, and like some Fox anchors, still fuming at Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, just as Donahue’s predecessors did as they compiled the Index or burned heretics at the stake. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inquisition, and  http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/what-was-the-index-of-forbidden-books-and-is-it-ok-to-read-those-books-now.

Are all these censorious institutions and practices safely tucked into the bad old days? Or do they linger into the present, affecting everyday speech and action in what one Herman Melville character described derisively as “free Ameriky”? I do remember my delight when I came across Melville’s abundant markings in Goethe’s autobiography, where Goethe described his frightening proclivities toward Prometheanism after he discovered the Pelagian heresy (a denial of original sin), taken up by the Moravians. For it has long been my position that Captain Ahab is a stand-in for the author himself, defying authority by proclaiming “Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines.” Yet cautious Ishmael, not Ahab, survives the wreck that is the outcome of “the fiery [i.e. Promethean] hunt.”

heresy

For Melville, even his much admired Shakespeare was “a muffled man”. One reason that “deep-diving” Melville is in vogue among the pessimistic postmodernists is his poem “In a Church in Padua” that ends with this verse: “Dread diving-bell! In thee inurned/What hollows the priest must sound/Descending into confidences/Where more is hid than found.”

As I wrote in my blog https://clarespark.com/2015/01/10/the-case-for-feminism/, as long as hierarchies exist, free speech is a fond dream. We are all more or less tongue-tied; we are all acting whatever roles will keep us out of trouble with our superiors or even our closest friends and children.

And even were the pecking order to magically disappear, would we “tell the truth”? That would be a relief, assuming that we know ourselves and are safe from persecution or banishment from polite society.

donahue_II

Fat chance of that, no matter what Socrates or his predecessors advised http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Know_thyself).

No wonder the frustrated young resort to punk, impudent rapping, and related forms of ritual rebellion. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/05/12/the-great-common-goes-to-the-white-house/, retitled “Rappers, primitivism, and ritual rebellion”). Is it only a coincidence that the young rebels are often hyper-masculine?

December 21, 2014

Origins of free speech and the Cuba question

War Production Board, 1942-43, NARA

War Production Board, 1942-43, NARA

There is an impression, widely disseminated by supporters of the Obama administration, that renewing “diplomatic relations” and/or freer trade with Cuba (i.e., the lifting of the embargo) will lead to an improvement in the human rights situation there. This blog explores the origins of free speech, and it had nothing to do with free trade or capitalism, though one leftist newspaper thinks it does, perhaps because Marx supported free trade in the hopes of accelerating the socialist revolution: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/jul/01/in-praise-of-william-cobbett, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Cobbett.

Here are some other societies thought to be outposts of cultural freedom: ancient Greece (although Plato wanted to banish poets from the Republic, and Aristotle wrote that some men were born to be slaves); England, both in the Magna Carta and in the time of the English Civil War (Milton’s Areopagitica and/or Paradise Lost its most famous examples); the seventeenth century scientific revolution, mostly British, but also the short-lived Dutch Republic, with Spinoza leading the way; and most famously the American Revolution with its Constitution, particularly the First Amendment, soon to be followed by the French Revolution and its Declaration of Human Rights; and finally the invention of social media and the no-holds-barred free-wheeling internet. But free speech was a privilege of elites and did not extend to ordinary persons, who were either slaves, serfs, landless, or under-educated and irrational. (New England Puritans were ever in the vanguard of free public education.)

I prefer to periodize the onset of free speech with the invention of the printing press, enabling the progress of mass literacy over many centuries. In prior blogs, I have suggested that although we technically enjoy freedom of expression, various elites have placed road blocks to the “liberty” we imagine that we possess. Moreover, I have more than hinted that the chief target of anti-Semitism is intellectual combativeness, a habit of mind that led one Melville scholar (Princeton’s Lawrance Thompson) to entitle his study of Herman Melville, “Melville’s Quarrel With God”(1952). In other words, HM was all too ‘Hebraic’, luring readers to perdition. Such consistent double-talking, self-erasing texts, and unequivocal assaults on authority, even his own (Ahab! See https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/). “Such a Jew” (Charles Olson’s notes) could not be tolerated in “free Ameriky” as one character mocked in The Confidence-Man and again in his post-Civil War poem Clarel.

AhabJezebel

I will end this blog with a quote from George Orwell, who has been taken up by conservatives as a fierce critic of “totalitarianism,” ignoring his strong attachment to working class men, to materialism, and to the Left:

[Orwell, Looking Back on the Spanish War, 1942:] “I know it is the fashion to say that most of recorded history is lies anyway. I am willing to believe that history is for the most part inaccurate and biased, but what is peculiar to our own age is the abandonment of the idea that history could be truthfully written. In the past people deliberately lied, or they unconsciously coloured what they wrote, of they struggled after the truth, knowing that they must make many mistakes; but in each case they believed that “the facts” existed and were more or less discoverable. …Nazi theory…specifically denies that such a thing as “the truth” exists. There is, for instance, no such thing as “science.” There is only “German science”, “Jewish science” etc. The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future, but the past….”

orwell

We are living in this nightmare world today, and until we all rouse ourselves to address the “postmodern” “multicultural” education that is hegemonic and that supports only “group facts” indecipherable to other “races” or “genders” we will continue to wither, or at best, to sell out inside Nineteen Eighty-Four.

For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2014/10/08/index-to-blogs-on-totalitarianism/. “Totalitarianism” is a term that Orwell used frequently, but is now out of date. Equating Nazis and Soviets was a tool in the Cold War, tarring the “progressive” brush with Soviet communism.

March 2, 2013

“Free Speech” and the internet

Moreau's Prometheus

Moreau’s Prometheus

This is not the first time I have broached this subject. See https://clarespark.com/2010/04/04/what-is-truth/.

When Melville’s Captain Ahab exclaimed “Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines,” the author left the exact meaning of “truth” undefined. For many Christian readers of Moby-Dick, truth signified the truth of Christ the Saviour and Redeemer, hence Ahab must be a wicked blasphemer and opponent of God. But for secularists (including deists), truth signified empirical fact, ethical universalism, and human rights. In my view, the “fighting Quaker” Ahab was another Father Mapple, an abolitionist. Many “anticlericals” of the 18th C. railed against censorship by authoritarian religious institutions, but their notion of the truth was intended to protect their own writing; such as Voltaire scrambled, using either pen names or publishing anonymously.

Sometime during the research for my book on Herman Melville’s resuscitation between the wars in the 20th century, I read the collected letters of Abigail Adams, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. It was clear that for these three icons of U.S. history, free speech was not about libel or slander, but about the search for worldly truth. Similarly, Alexander Hamilton, in the Crosswell case, argued that “truth” should be the standard in cases of libel and slander; that plaintiffs had to prove that their targets were actually lying before crying foul. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/03/03/sluts-and-pigs/.)

Several centuries later, Walter Lippmann, worried about the propensities of the new mass media to spread propaganda distortions, suggested that a special class of intellectuals be developed to determine who was lying in controverted matters: controversies where the facts were faraway and otherwise hidden from citizens who would then be asked to vote on problems that were foreign to their direct experience. (Update 5-14-17: And yet Lippmann is dismissed as a T.R. type progressive!) (See https://clarespark.com/2009/08/19/noam-chomskys-misrepresentation-of-walter-lippmanns-chief-ideas-on-manufacturing-consent/.)

When I was appointed Program Director of KPFK-FM (the local Pacifica station in Los Angeles) in February 1981, I was asked immediately to discipline a late-night young programmer who was enamored of punk rock music, and who was allegedly using language that could have cost us our broadcasting license. After warning him, he resisted, and I cancelled his show, irritating his listeners. This action was the least of my troubles at Pacifica, but it got me thinking about our using the phrase “free speech” as a rationale for supporting our famously “non-commercial” radio station.

Now with the internet and the widespread use of fake screen names to shield individuals from litigation or any exposure at all as they vent their dissatisfaction and hatred of individuals and policies, along with pressure from organized groups to control speech in public space ( see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/12/hate-hard-liberty-quick-fixes/, and https://clarespark.com/2011/05/26/who-is-a-racist-now/) the question of free speech remains a live, controverted issue. What do I think about it?

It seems to me that venting rage, either directly through insulting one’s opponents, or through catharsis by listening to or playing raucous music or watching horror films, is no substitute for the careful analysis of problems, whether these be personal or social in scope. Indeed, it may be counter-revolutionary and  destructive apart from the relief of yelling at one’s enemies du jour. Venting and kvetching is no substitute for thoughtful analysis and the labor of organizing opposition.

I used to warn my Pacifica radio listeners that contributing to the radio station was only the beginning of a lengthy process. Later I read Stephen Eric Bronner’s book on the political limitations of German Expressionism that made the same point. There are numerous intellectuals and would be journalists and bloggers who hope to make a living wagging fingers (on both the Left and Right), and some succeed brilliantly at it, but following them accomplishes nothing apart from feeling entirely alienated from their targets, whose different life experience and opinions should be understood as a required prelude to social/political action.

So I end up with a typical 18th C. Enlightenment (classical liberal) view of “the truth.” It is about discovery and innovation, especially the willingness to swim against all currents and to cherish memory and a more accurate history, letting chips fall. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/02/21/discovery-anxiety/.) If this be romantic defiance or an attack upon “unity” as many an order-loving leftist or conservative would have it, so much the better for romantic defiance. The urge to forget and to conform knows no ideological boundaries. But we warned: as fictional detective Bobby Goren warned at the end of one of his episodes on Law and Order Criminal Intent: “The search for truth is not for the faint-hearted.” It was an Ahab/Hamiltonian moment.

1960s Berkeley radicals

1960s Berkeley radicals

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