The Clare Spark Blog

March 17, 2016

What does “liberty” signify?

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 6:50 pm
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freedom_by_hnde“…You know how I feel
Scent of the pine
You know how I feel
Oh freedom is mine
And I know how I feel….” (Volvo freedom commercial: complete lyrics here: http://www.brandnewlyrics.com/avicii/feeling-good/)

In this background lyric for a recent Volvo commercial, “freedom” is not a gesture or an attractive state of being, but an emotion, a possession, a perfume, or a sensation that presumably links the driver with wild Nature, which the car, the singer, and presumably a friend comprehend.

Many persons link the word “liberty” with freedom: it could be “free will” or liberation from oppression (as in the American Revolution—a statement critical of the former British boot), but in today’s irrationalist political argot, it may mean “religious liberty.”

But such “liberty” may not signify the separation of church and state (see https://clarespark.com/2016/01/25/is-the-us-constitution-godless/) but rather a view that the USA is a Christian Commonwealth that represents the most conservative wing of the Republican Party. To Cornell historian Isaac Kramnick, such a conception exists in tension with the secular state, the latter an innovation of Thomas Jefferson and the (rationalist) Enlightenment views that inspired him.

If there was ever an irreconcilable conflict between factions, this clashing notion of “liberty” is it. Yet few pundits ever identify it as such. In its stark opposition, it reminds me of a similar conflict: free will versus determinism. (https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.) At least in the free will debate, a thoughtful person will do her best to recognize limited (moral) choices, given the state of our ignorance about all the forces that mold our “will.”

Not so in the super-safe Volvo that links safety with the “scent of pine.” And don’t we all pine for that sense of security and composure in our search for “liberty”?

“Liberty relies upon itself, invites no one, promises nothing,
sits in
calmness and light, is positive and composed,
and knows no discouragement.” – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Illustration credit: Freedom by HNDE (Deviant Art)

 

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September 15, 2009

Making mobs with bad words and concepts

Few have left comments on my blogs. I take this personally. One friend tells me that my views are too unorthodox, even though I look at class interests, which should at least elicit some response from the left and from left-liberals. The same friend tells me that I use too many big words. What is a big word or a big concept today? Here are some words in common use that few fully understand, though they throw them around in political speech in the media and in schools, with the consequence that we create mobbish political emotions, not thoughtful individual citizens, teaching each other how to think like participants in an advanced democracy, or, better, a constitutional republic:

1. FASCISM. It seems that both statists (the “big government” Left) and anti-statists (conservatives, small businessmen, and libertarian economists) are “fascists” if we are to look at signs at protest demonstrations, whether these be tea-parties or antiwar demonstrations. How many of us, if asked what is meant by the corporate state, would know how to describe its ideology and institutions? Does journalist Jonah Goldberg know, whose Liberal Fascism is popular on the Right, but to me is a scandal? [Why is it a scandal? Because he is tarring social democrats with the fascist brush, even though he makes the disclaimer that of course we have free speech here, so he is really only nailing the American Progressives for their production of the nanny state, eugenics, and other crimes against humanity that had parallels in states we abhor. As I have said earlier (https://clarespark.com/2009/09/09/preventive-medicine-and-preventive-politics/), state investment or state sponsorship does not necessarily imply state control, and the arguments against any form of “statism” are often mounted by those authoritarians who fear losing control of their children to such theories as science, evolutionary biology, or evidence-based medicine, including psychiatry.* Why do we not all know about Hayek and Rose and Milton Friedman as they call for both a public and private sector? OMG, I must be a neoliberal.]

2. NATIONAL CHARACTER. I could have substituted “group mind” for this. Why do few pundits, in academe or in the media, squash this absurd formulation? It is true that a set of customary laws, or religious pluralism can create a large segment of the population bound by common cultural patterns (such as skepticism toward arbitrary authority in America), but those who devised the concept had collectivist mentalities, and were hostile to dissent and the very concept of the individual as a person with rights, not merely duties to a presumably like-minded “community.” [See prior blog “The Fallen Flesh Brigade (repaired).”]

3. MODERATE. One of the first books I read on psychological warfare was by a forgotten social psychologist, Ellis Freeman, author of Conquering the Man in the Street (Vanguard Press, 1940). It was about organicism through the ages, starting, as I recall, with Plato and ending with fascism and Nazism. It was a primer for me on how to do sykewar (or recognize it), and the strategy I remember best is “flogging the dead horse.” In this one, you call yourself a moderate, and everyone wants to be such a balanced person, though no one knows exactly what you mean by it. Unless you get down and dirty by specifying concretely what the conflict is that you are supposedly moderating, you are appealing to a fictional feel-good word, not to a specific policy proposal or tactic that can then be criticized on its merits. Richard Crossman also wrote a book along these lines: Plato Today (1938). The organic conservatives (the pseudo-moderate men) are those protofascist historians who don’t write materialist history, but write history as a subset of poetic natural history. (See for instance my blog https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/, or https://clarespark.com/2009/09/03/advice-for-the-lovelorn-with-thoughts-on-hero-worship/, retitled “Manifest Destiny or Political Liberty?”) They may be avowed “anti-racists” but their discourse is racialist; i.e., they believe in group character transmitted through heredity and rootedness in a specific environment. The enemy is the rootless cosmopolitan, that unreliable and uncontrollable wanderer.

4. MIDDLE-CLASS. Do you remember when this term was either mocked as absurdly vague and too comprehensive to be descriptive, and at best, referring only to status, as if class was a ladder? No, you are too young. Today, our President uses it to refer to what used to be called the WORKING-CLASS. Now like it or not, there was and is such a thing as an industrial worker, and to conflate such workers with owners of small businesses, or members of the service sector, or bureaucrats, is meshugah to use my favorite word when I am very frustrated.

5. WHITE MALE SUPREMACY. Here is another example of political degeneracy in the spread of “whiteness studies.” It rests on a view ofAmerika” as one marauding individual, raping the environment, slaughtering Indians, grinding the faces of the [non-white] poor, and performing patriarchy on hapless females. It is the chief arrow in the quiver of cultural nationalists who really do behave like fascists under the banner of “self-determination,” but who are given a pass by guilty liberals. That is why this entire series of blogs has been devoted to combating the premises of multiculturalism, which is not the same as the non-discriminatory equality of opportunity that we strive for in a secular state. And of course the term “white supremacy” conflates the entire white working-class with the worst nativists who really did hate Jews, immigrants from Southeastern or Eastern Europe, blacks, Mexicans, the Chinese, and anyone who did not “build this country” and cross the plains in covered wagons, or earlier, defeat the British. (For a prime example of the type, see anything by Thomas Dixon, author of The Klansman, and a champion of the Scots-Irish, the true American Heroes. Now there was a true American fascist, see his Flaming Sword.)

6. FREEDOM. Need I elaborate this one? Years ago, I heard a famous leftist explain to an art student that freedom was yielding to the laws of historical necessity. And what was historical necessity? Ask any dialectical materialist, or Leninist for that matter as he attempts to co-opt the authority of science. For Herder (mentioned above) freedom signified freedom from the French language in favor of the German vernacular–the native language that would create a people’s community, the Volk, so as to express the natural Zeitgeist. The same goes for “the oppressed” who long to be free from “the West,” the banks, big business, white people, men, you name it. Social historians believe that they are striking a blow for freedom when they study “the people” instead of “literary sources” (by which they mean the documents that describe the actions of elites, whether these are diplomatic records, memoirs and diaries, high culture, or anything else that powerful people create). But for any thoughtful, introspective person, it is always ambiguous to separate “structures” from “agency”–how do we know when we are exercising free will or whether we are reacting to inherited qualities or events from the past or present that shape our preferences?

When I refer to intellectual freedom in these blogs, I usually mean the freedom of access to all primary source materials that could help us reconstruct the lives of others assessing them as friends or opponents. Whether or not we have access to our own interior lives is the subject of literature and its allied psychotherapies. If Melville, speaking through his character Captain Ahab, couldn’t figure out the free will-fixed fate conundrum, how can any of us? We need to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. Now that is a form of freedom I can live with. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.)

7. Rugged individualist. For a Democrat or a leftist, this is the worst thing you could call someone. It means a Randian and randy selfish money-mad s.o.b. who lacks compassion, will cheat you out of house and home and senior medical care. In fact, such a one is exactly what our Constitution protects. But the rugged individualist was erased in the 1930s in favor of “the individual-in- society.” For these collectivists, we are all embedded in our historical context, and any hope of relative autonomy and objectivity is the blackest of propaganda. For details, see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/.

*A psychiatrist friend explains it this way: “Non-evidence based medicine is when a doctor or other health care provider orders a test or prescribes medicine for which there is no peer reviewed evidence to support the practice.  Some think it is equivalent to off-label prescribing but there can be evidence for some of that but it has not reached legal standards. Some of it clearly harms patients or at the least deprives them of recommended treatment options.”

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