YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

April 10, 2016

“New York values” (as heard by Iowans?)

new-york-valuesAlthough I have been writing about the subtler forms of antisemitism for years now, it has come as a shock (perhaps) that I suggest that Senator Ted Cruz may have been playing to Midwestern misconceptions about “Jewish” illegitimate power in NYC during this presidential campaign.

This blog does not pretend to know what the (ostentatiously) pro-Israel Cruz “really” meant by his slur, and perhaps I am typically an “oversensitive” Jew in imputing to the Senator views that he does not (consciously) hold. (Perhaps he was thinking of urban crowding in seeking agrarian votes.) But in many subsequent statements, Cruz has claimed to refer to “liberal Democratsor to “pro-abortion” and “gay marriage” elements or to those who inhabit finance (“money”) and “media.” (On the “pro-abortion slur see https://clarespark.com/2016/04/01/70s-feminism-and-its-bizarre-legacy/.)

Some opponents to my suspicions have pointed to Cruz’s pro-Israel stance as proof that he can’t also harbor antisemitic sentiments, and indeed some journalists have promoted “the new antisemitism” to emphasize the overlapping of antisemitic and pro-“Palestinian” sentiments. (For more on this, see https://clarespark.com/2015/01/15/antisemitism-vs-anti-zionism-is-there-a-difference/.)

Have we all forgotten that liberals are supposed by elements of “the Right” to be masked “commie Jews” and traitors, such as Julius and Ethel Rosenberg? (See https://clarespark.com/2015/04/24/multiculturalism-vs-yid-red-spies-which-agitates-the-right/.) Or that “Wall Street” (in the imagination of populists in general) is held to be generically “Jewish.” Or that “gay marriage” presupposes feminization of one or both partners, and indeed, its passage in NY State was a struggle that was narrowly won? Or that “pro-abortion” views are very close to the blood libel, a long standing accusation leveled against Jews by medieval Christians?

For my umpteen blogs on “the Jewish question” see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/29/index-to-blogs-on-antisemitism/. I will be adding this one to the list, which I commend highly as the product of all my research since 1986 when I was first alerted to the pervasiveness of this so-called “prejudice,” which is more accurately understood as a theory of history.

Saudi cartoon 2008

Saudi cartoon 2008

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September 12, 2015

Why is gay marriage a hot button issue for religious conservatives?

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:09 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Alabama protest

Alabama protest

The culture wars have overtaken the 2016 political campaign, as the Kim Davis incident in Kentucky, along with the overwhelming importance of “faith” now becoming a favorite topic on Fox News Channel, and no one, including Fiorina, seems to know how to analyze Donald Trump’s put down of Carly’s “face” that he blatantly describes as un-presidential (and indirectly as ugly).

This brings me back to misogyny, and the taboo against excessive androgyny (or blurring of male and female characteristics, apparently the case in ambitious Carly F., who dares to invade male turf).

First, misogyny. It is not widely acknowledged (though obvious) that women compete with other women to snag the most desirable males, and both model and resent gorgeous women, who simultaneously “plain” women strive to emulate, putting themselves through time consuming and expensive regimens of perfect hair, makeup, and recently, toned bodies as desirable as Greek goddesses are imagined to be. Pre-nup agreements guarantee that powerful, successful males can dump their wives with minimal consequences, while competition with younger women adds compulsion to wives striving against the inevitable status of “crone” as she transitions from middle to old age, keeping plastic surgeons busy.

Is it any wonder that social conservatives strive to perpetuate heterosexual marriage as a sacred obligation? Is it any wonder that many women find mothering and housework to be a desirable alternative to competition in the workplace, either as workers or professionals trying to balance the multiple demands of home and work, all the while fearing that husbands will “work late” with presumably more attractive women?

No one is free of some misogyny, unless s/he has worked through ambivalent relations with Mother. As more and more women gained status in the modern world, the rage against MOM became overt for reasons I outlined here (https://clarespark.com/2015/05/09/monster-moms/).

Second, on gay marriage: No other issue, other than abortion, has aroused so many negative emotions in persons of “faith.” I have known gay men and lesbians ever since the 1970s, and have never seen a gay relationship that was free of similar power struggles common to heterosexual relationships. (https://clarespark.com/2013/03/27/power-in-gay-andor-heterosexual-attachments/.)

It has been the contention of this website that all human relationships are problematic and ambivalent, and that no amount of religious conviction can erase the difficulties between even non-sexual contacts. Yet, social conservatives continue to live in denial, imagining that sex-role polarization within the heterosexual family (fathers are the warriors, providers, and disciplinarians, while mothers offer an unconditional love that may be associated with Jesus, hence his notorious “feminization” in the 19th century) can solve the problems of unemployment and illegitimacy in urban minority communities. (This issue is apparently too hot to handle, see https://clarespark.com/2015/08/08/the-moynihan-report-march-1965-and-instability-in-the-black-family/, one of my least read blogs).

hc-christ-sacredheart21

I admit to being androgynous, like many other writers or artists, for I do not concede to males a monopoly on intellect, rationality, or insight. When I was in college, my zoology textbook described males as rational and women as irrational; an assumption that I didn’t protest at the time. That was the late 1950’s . Can we move on, please?

gaymarriage

June 27, 2015

Gay marriage and what “liberty” signifies

Mediaite sign pro-gay marriage

Mediaite sign pro-gay marriage

The SCOTUS decision legalizing gay marriage throughout all the states, despite voter opposition in many instances, has aroused furious debate, including the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, which is semi-hysterical in nature. This blog situates the SCOTUS decision within the culture wars, and argues that “liberty” and “freedom” are terms that do not invoke a common meaning between factions.

I will not go into the mixed motives that inform defenses of both heterosexual marriage and same-sex marriages (androgyny; misogyny; resentment of male power; defense of, or opposition to, state’s rights; deference to ancestors; monogamy; bisexuality; hyper-masculinity; to mention only a few factors).

Some social conservatives, not content with the religious pluralism inherent in the separation of Church and State, may wish to impose their beliefs on others. Already some comments suggest that “democratic debate,” not decrees from Big Government under pressure from a particular interest group, should have decided the issue, as if social conservatives would suddenly relinquish their belief systems in recognition of rational argument, or similarly would abandon their beliefs in the slippery slope toward perdition (if gay marriage is okay, what is next: polygamy? pedophilia? bestiality? children of gay parents diverted from heterosexual into gay relationships?)

I have argued before that there is no reconciliation possible between libertarians and social conservatives through “democratic debate,” for their conceptions of “liberty” are incompatible. Traditionalists are defending the submission to their gods as “liberty”, while libertarians believe in choice dependent on the individual and her or his unique proclivities, whether chosen or genetically transmitted.

We have been having this fight since the Enlightenment. It is yet another irreconcilable conflict, like antebellum slavery/Reconstruction or abortion rights today.

(For related blogs, see https://clarespark.com/2014/01/23/androgyny/, or https://clarespark.com/2012/05/10/androgyny-with-an-aside-on-edna-ferber/, or https://clarespark.com/2013/03/27/power-in-gay-andor-heterosexual-attachments/.)

Satyr and Goat

Satyr and Goat

March 8, 2014

“America is in decline”: cui bono?

decadencemeaninglessnessFirst read these: https://clarespark.com/2011/04/03/progressives-the-luxury-debate-and-decadence/, and https://clarespark.com/2012/09/22/materialist-history-and-the-idea-of-progress/.

Would be rescuing heroes love the idea that an “America in decline” desperately requires their services to lift “America” out of the Slough of Despond.* These malefactors could be politicians or pundits. Each has its intertwined sets of villains: creeping fascism, laws legalizing marijuana, gay rights (especially flamboyant parades and gay marriage), uppity feminists, the “do-nothing” Republican establishment, hip-hop culture that destroys the black family, modern technology that harnesses us to “the machine”, noisy atheists and other “haters” out to get “Christianity”– hence the heart and soul of American [Christian?] identity.

The most interesting item in this turn toward pessimism and fear of “weakness” is the widespread premise that America was once a “superpower.” The same persons may tell us to read Jean-François Revel, who complained that America did not fight the Cold War hard enough. See https://clarespark.com/2011/04/09/jean-francois-revel-and-father-mapple/. (Would the US ever had been a superpower had not Europe destroyed itself in the follies of two world wars? Is our power to be defined in military might or in industrial capacity, respect for entrepreneurship and the work ethic, science/technology, encouragement of intellectual and cultural diversity (the marketplace of ideas), and natural resources?)

supermanentrepreneur

As far as I can tell, “power” is a contested term, so argued over and vague that it is almost useless in ordinary conversation. What is it, who has it, who wants it, and how do we measure it? Unlike the powerful followers of Michel Foucault and the postmodernists for whom all texts are ambiguous, I go with the Frances Bacon definition “knowledge is power.” Bacon was an empiricist and a father to the scientific revolution and thus the confidence-builder for ordinary people wanting to improve their mastery of the self, the world and its institutions. (Nothing that I have written here should indicate that I approve of Obama’s and Kerry’s weakness in the face of real threats from communist nations, Islamic jihadists, or antisemites. National security is crucial, while personal emotional identification with an aggressive dictatorship is despicable.)

It is my view, constantly reiterated on this website, that European aristocrats and their social democratic offspring (see https://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/) have indulged in psychological warfare to bind “the lower orders” to views that undermine knowledge and the habits that spur competence. These aristocratic radicals have created the pseudo-progressive movement with its dire view of the paranoid people (see https://clarespark.com/2009/08/24/the-people-is-an-ass-or-a-herd/), popular unteachability, and indecipherable documents from the past. Meanwhile “experts” have offered “compassion” and the informed “heart”) i.e., self-control and social control as the best methods to govern the unruly masses. Similarly, they have demoralized ordinary people with proclamations of decadence and decline, apocalyptic fantasies, escapism and pervasive death imagery (horror movies and “Romantic necrophilia” for instance).

opheliaimitator

The same miscreants deceptively align themselves with “science” but fail to define their terms; they support unlimited government (and all institutional) secrecy, so that ordinary people are deprived of the facts and skills that enable them to test their “betters.” In my playbook, all political factions are scaredy cats. Why do “conservatives” lobby for local control, while failing to address the curriculum that could enable their children to test all authority, including their own? Why do “progressives” deflect the curiosity of their children into channels that do not threaten the authority of their own world view?

Why will health care professionals, parents, and all teachers not agree that the search for truth is superior to “adjustment” to a misery-making and unhealthy status quo? With all the chatter around socialized medicine or the ACA, why are not the questions I have posed more widely publicized and addressed?

* I do not mean to imply that there are no problems in American society. I reject the notion that a cultural entity called “America” is “in [irreversible] decline.” Compare to Richard Epstein’s concrete specifying of problems that he would correct with a classical liberal constitutionalist approach to what are now “progressive” “solutions.” From the “Conclusion” to The Classical Liberal Constitution (Harvard UP, 2014, p. 569): “The motivation for [my] argument should be apparent from the major disarray that infects every area of modern American life: steady decline in the average standard of living; constant battles over debt limits and fiscal cliffs; uncertainty over key elements of the tax structure; massive overregulation of the most productive sources in society (health care and financial services); government-inspired brinksmanship in labor negotiations; and runaway redistribution programs that undercut the economic production that makes these programs viable.” (See http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674724891)

Professor Epstein has responded by email to my blog as follows: “You raise some hard and fair issues. There is no doubt that most people in this country work hard, have decent values, do actions that help advance their welfare and that of those around them.  It is indeed the politics that draws the situation down.  But there is little doubt that these policies from above have had their long lasting effect.  It is not that the situation is irreversible .  It is that we need to find the collective will to reverse it, which depends on taking specific measures of the sort that I talked about in the book.  It is sad that most constitutional theorists either ignore how the system runs and leave it all to Congress, or are so concerned with issues at the periphery that they pay no attention to the organization of basic systems from production to education and so on. Just think of the new NYC mayor Bill who will wreck education if he can and whose vision of the real estate market will not produce 1 percent of the new affordable units that he wants and that the city needs (but which can only come by liberalization, not by further edicts.”

June 2, 2013

Hair and Make-up: Megyn Kelly smackdown

bettygrable2

[Update 10-26-16:last night, MK demanded that Trump “take responsibility” for his insults in an interview with Mike Pence, then took on Newt Gingrich who failed to back down in their dispute over media bias.]

[Update, 10-1-16: Megyn Kelly continues to present herself as a feminist, while seemingly regressing to an “aw shucks” parody of femininity and defending (obesity) in the name of outraged womanhood.]

Megyn Kelly, often considered the brainiest of Fox News Channel anchors, does not overtly define herself as a feminist, but she sure sounded like one in her spirited and feisty interviews with Lou Dobbs (Fox News Channel commentator) and Erick Erickson (editor of Redstate.com), May 31, 2013. So much so that liberal blogs have been gleefully covering her encounter with the two conservative males.

(See the smackdown here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hN_EP3zcUXs )

Before I go on to the time wasted by women in decking themselves out as dolls and harem girls (Betty Grable, illustrated: the number  one pinup girl in WW2), I must make this point about the internal contradiction of some “Christian” thought: Much of what Dobbs and Erickson presented as incontrovertible truth relies upon some brand of sociobiology: men were, they insisted, biologically determined to be protectors of the weaker females, especially during the vulnerable period of pregnancy and child-rearing. Working women who defied these God- and Nature-given sex roles are obviously responsible for social decadence and worse. (The same would go for ‘unnatural’ gay marriages where the usual division of labor between father and mother would not prevail.)

On the other hand, many social conservatives often believe that our species is not in Nature, but stands above it: nothing so irritating as a Spinoza follower, who often drops into pantheism.  (See Leon Wieseltier’s commencement speech quoted here: https://clarespark.com/2013/05/30/nostalgia-for-the-middle-ages/. Wieseltier draws a sharp line between Man and Nature and laments the period when the two were conflated. )

I would have preferred that Megyn Kelly, herself an experienced lawyer, point out this contradiction, but she chose to stand up for working women and for married gay parents, suggesting that research had shown that their children were not harmed by the lack of a traditional father and mother.

Nothwithstanding her smackdown of Dobbs and Erickson, Kelly is a babe, whatever she says about herself;  I felt some cognitive dissonance watching her stand up to the two conservatives, for she is a beautiful, expertly-coiffed, heavily made-up blonde. After seeing the encounter yesterday, I thought I should say something about “hair and makeup”, those two time-consuming, nature-defying imperatives for women out in the world or waiting at home for the male breadwinner to return to his castle.

Antiquity-dreams...Deviant Art

Antiquity-dreams…Deviant Art

In the nineteenth century, during the first wave of feminism, the female pioneers whose tireless efforts and dedication gave women the consideration and political power they wield today, were not babes. They were usually religious Protestants, were plainly dressed, and certainly did not waste hours and hours on coloring their hair or applying make-up to enhance their lips, cheeks, and eyes, let alone painting their fingernails and toenails or lusting after high heeled shoes by Christian Louboutin. Rather, such decorations were generally confined to actresses and fancy women.  There were not enough hours in the day for self-education (19th century women did not attend male colleges or have their own–with a few exceptions– and were denied entrance to the professions, though their [maternal]nursing skills were highly valued); these heroic early feminists were traveling to remote parts of America to further feminist  causes (including abolition, temperance, votes for women, cleaning up corrupt city governments, and rescuing prostitutes from a life of disease, degradation and early death). Some of them were unmarried, while others had large families: household help was cheaper and husbands pitched in. In regarding their intertwined efforts at elevating our country, historian David Pivar has described their cause as a “purity crusade.”

Generally considered to be killjoys determined to pry into the affairs of men, these women have been caricatured by other male opponents.  As a rising class, as progressive women “who want to make the whole world home-like”, they are blamed for “the nanny state” and for “the fetishism of facts.” Their masculinist opponents “want a girl, just like the girl that married dear old Dad.” Lots of luck, guys. (For more blogs on the various stages of feminism, see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/04/links-to-blogs-on-feminism/, or its twin https://clarespark.com/2012/03/19/links-to-feminist-blogs/.)

The photographer of the Deviant Art image is John Lynn of SNTP, and is on Facebook, as is Raven Winter, stylist and model.

its time to wear the pants

March 27, 2013

Power in gay and/or heterosexual attachments

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:02 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,
Gay marriage opponent Leonard Gendron, a local pastor, holds a sign reading "Homosexuals are Possessed by Demons" outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston March 11, 2004 where the Massachusetts Legislature is debating an amendment to the state's constitution banning gay marriage.  On November 11, 2003 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the state must issue marriage licenses to gay couples.       REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Gay marriage opponent Leonard Gendron, a local pastor, holds a sign reading “Homosexuals are Possessed by Demons” outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston March 11, 2004 where the Massachusetts Legislature is debating an amendment to the state’s constitution banning gay marriage. On November 11, 2003 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the state must issue marriage licenses to gay couples. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The media are embroiled in the gay marriage debates as arguments are delivered in the Supreme Court this week, with persons opposed to gay marriage and those supporting it rallying in the nation’s capital. [This blog is not about the pros and cons of legalizing gay marriage, but about the bureaucratic categories that are imposed by the State and that we are expected to view as legitimate categories that exist, unproblematically, in the real world.]

So far, the media are guessing whether a national law will be passed legalizing gay marriage in all the states, or whether the matter will be returned to the states, and “democratically” worked out over time, with citizen input (as if some rational consensus will make itself obvious!). One concern is the effect on children of gay couples, a matter that is held by such as Justice Kennedy to be in an early experimental stage. He too expects a rational consensus, susceptible to statistical evaluation in the future.

This is a rich subject for me as a student of human behavior and social movements that are either radical or conservative in their objectives. As usual, I will complain bitterly about the bureaucratic approach to questions that are highly controverted and which are unique to individuals and to their specific relationships. And as usual I will complain about the black and white categories we assign to the parties in a conflict. In short, I will argue that “gender” assignments are either unstable or so variable that any laws grounded in clear boundaries between the genders betrays the variation not only in men and women, but in the institution that the laws purport to either protect or liberalize.

Here in outline form are just a few of my concerns and objections to the media coverage, including what I have seen posted on some conservative websites where “traditionalists” face off against “neocons.” (For instance, Roger Simon, a former New Leftist, brought up the subject of “marriage” as such yesterday, and was then challenged by indignant readers who reminded him of the sacred character of the institution, one which was not susceptible to modification in any way. This is a typical culture war confrontation.) My own objections follow, and will necessarily neglect religious considerations, as I am not qualified to discuss sectarian religious differences, and assume that in a pluralistic country, there is room for both secular and religious approaches to the subject of all institutions that engage us today.

  1. Too many persons jump into marriage while still wet behind the ears. Sadly, our biology lags behind emotional maturity. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/05/02/teen-age-sex/.) The mass media sell sexuality, princess weddings, and adorable babies to the detriment of a rounded intellectual and emotional development in adolescents. Young people are deprived of instruction in those values and skills that make for solid marriage (or non-marriage) and competent parenthood. Why? Because there is no consensus. Where is the borderline between what subjects are under the purview of parents and what may be taught in schools? The whole field of mental health is off limits because of the fragmented history of this country, divided as we are on the most intimate questions.

2. What is “masculine” and what is “feminine” are culture-specific. It is generally thought by adherents of democracy that the sharp differentiation between sex roles is typical of authoritarian or undeveloped societies, with much depending on technological advances. Since there is sharp ideological conflict in the US over what consists of “masculinity” and what consists of “femininity” there is no universal model of “marriage” or competent parenthood for that matter. As for “androgyny” that is more likely to be found in “artistic” types, and is perhaps more tolerated in bohemian circles than elsewhere.

3. There are power struggles in every relationship, whether these are between husband and wife, romantic lovers (straight or gay), parents and children, siblings, friendships, or political clubs. These struggles are not easily put in boxes, such as correct male conduct or correct female conduct, with a consensus over what is rightfully a male prerogative or a female prerogative. Couples in gay relationships may strive for equality, but be settling into stereotypical male or female roles. In heterosexual marriage, the husband may be femininely submissive in some situations, and dominant in others. Such matters are highly individualized and not susceptible to bureaucratic rules. Sadly the law is a meat-axe, not a scalpel.

Princess Grace 1956

Princess Grace 1956

4. Finally, keep in mind that adolescence is a moment in human development that is closely watched by order-loving elders whatever their political orientations, for teens are likely to be reactive to parental rules and examples, and may drift off into attachments that are anathema to parents. It is no wonder that romantic comedies, like formulaic fairy tales before them, end in a glorious marriage ceremony. What are excluded are the fading of sexual passion, the diversion of libido toward infants in many women, or the multiple other disillusionments as reality impinges upon fantasy. And I have not even mentioned adjusting to in-laws, who have their own mishegas. Two people may embark upon marriage, but it is a much larger group of people who find themselves engaged with a not-so-private relationship. And upon this subject, the law, like ideology, fails us. We are on our own, and only in retrospect should we survive into older age, may we wonder or cringe at earlier choices and conduct.

The better novelists, playwrights, and artists,  are not so naïve as our legislators, Supreme Court justices, pollsters, or other authorities on the misnamed “body politic.”

androgynous girl

September 14, 2009

Historians, journalists and polarization

Jean-Jaques Rousseau

I suppose you could call this blog a kind of discourse on method, with apologies to Descartes.

The term “polarization” does not mean that a group (in this case the U.S.) simply has sharp disagreements over policy. Rather it describes a situation that is highly irrational, in which hatred of the opposition is the dominant emotion. In such heightened emotional states, it is pointless to ask that we step back and 1. Describe with accuracy the status quo that the policy aims to reform; 2. Analyze proposed policies in detail, asking whether the reform in question can achieve the stated goals of its proponents; 3. Imagine better alternatives, describing these in sufficient detail to elicit either assent or opposition from concerned voters.

That sounds reasonable, right? But it is impossible to get agreement over the basic facts, or to even want to know them, in a society that is moved by partisan propaganda, often vitriolic, and where key words mean different things to different individuals and groups. (Take the word “secular” for instance. More on that later.)

Note that I did not specify what polarizing policy I had in mind. These (rational) protocols listed above could be applied to any of the current debates that roil the country: health care (or health insurance) reform; the war in Afghanistan; U.S. relations with Israel; whether or not radical Islam poses a deadly threat to the security of the West; the chief cause of the recession and measures that would aid recovery. (The latter dispute could include the causes of the Great Depression and how we got out of it.); gay marriage and compliance with the SCOTUS  decision; and immigration reform, etc.

During the month of August and early September I blogged here almost every day, hoping that an historical perspective that was also informed by depth psychology might contribute to the return of curiosity and rationality in a public sphere that seems to me to be spinning out of control toward either violent confrontations, even race riots, or toward the instituting of dangerous, misconceived policies that could hurt people with even greater inhumanity. In particular, I have emphasized embedded antisemitism in popular culture, an ever more visible phobia that defeats the rational scrutiny of controversial subjects as listed above. Not every historian does this kind of analysis, and why this is so is in itself historically determined.

First, there is the chasm between 1. Those whose intellectual and emotional makeup leads them toward skepticism to all authority until that authority is able to justify its existence and power to affect individual life; and 2. Those who are driven by faith in leaders, and who generally submit to their will, without too many questions. Let me stipulate here that historians are, by training, supposed to line up with the first group, whether their emphasis is on institutional structures, cultural patterns, the decisions of leaders, or the imperatives of the natural world and its slow or rapid transformations. Preferably, historians should provide an explanatory synthesis that comprehends, however tentatively, all of these great forces for change or stasis, but few have the training, the imagination, and the nerve to attempt it. Could it be that some do not want to appear as ”Jewish” troublemakers and catalysts of social change?

Unfortunately, given the immensity of the task facing the historian who wants to explain any conflict of significance, it is rare to find one with the imaginative skills and time to develop a satisfactory theory on all but a limited terrain. That is why I wish historians would shake off their graduate school training and its approved “lines” of interpretation coming from senior faculty, and move toward greater intellectual independence. “Faith” in our dissertation directors or other mentors must give way to bold forays into uncharted waters, where we identify those areas and conceptions most helpful in depolarizing the conflicts that rule the day.* One challenge is deciding the level of detail and context needed by a broad public in assessing foreign and  domestic policy. (I tried to do that yesterday in my account of oil politics and Obama’s framing of the Arab-Israeli conflict: I drastically reframed the conflict as generally transmitted in schools and in the media.) Another area of activity would be to define key words as they are deployed by competing social movements, for instance “secular” forces as opposed to “traditional” ones.

The word “secular” has changed its meaning: no longer commonly understood as a reference to the separation of church and state, i.e., a plurality of institutions affecting our orientation to public policy, hence enhancing “choice,”  “secular” now is often a curse word for some opinion leaders on the Right who take it to mean the mindless destruction of American values, as these are embodied in the beliefs of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution. Whereas, instead of using scary words implying parricide and patricide, they could be doing real, appropriately detailed investigations, assuming that they are allowed to by their colleagues and employers. Or how about historians decoding the omnipresent admonition to “take responsibility” for one’s health? How can there be meaningful choice when determining structures remain invisible, and where we have only limited understanding of the emotions within ourselves that muddle “rational choice?”

One more word about journalists who are not trained historians, but who work for the media, and for whom loyalty to the organization often trumps loyalty to seeking the truth and educating the public about events and their causes. Newspapers and other media are in my view, adding to the polarization owing to the political postures of the owners and their advertised intentions to act as the “newspaper of record” or to achieve “fairness and balance.” Of course, the New York Times and Fox (owned by Newscorp) provide neither a complete record, nor fairness and balance, for few even know what “balance” signifies (as I have argued in a previous blog); nor is it widely known that “balance,” like “equilibrium” is a word used in psychological warfare to soothe the target audience. That is why the failure of the Pacifica Foundation remains such a bitter disappointment in my own personal history, for I once thought that listener-sponsorship would remedy the structural causes of bias and finally bring about a vibrant marketplace of ideas, but I did not take into consideration the overwhelming influence of corporatist liberalism and its concealed collectivist (“multicultural”) outlook, a matter discussed on this website at length.

Will the internet provide the much-needed way out of this imbroglio, a tangle of clashing opinion pushing us into some form of madness? As long as our schools and families do not prepare children to “quarrel with God” as Herman Melville did throughout his literary career (and for this he was read as a “Jew” by some prominent critics), the internet will add to the noise, but will not help us distinguish between true and false claims as to the crucial facts that affect public policy-making in a democratic republic: a democracy that does not call the primitivist Rousseau its intellectual parent, but is the creature of  Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century.

[Added 1-9-11:] I did not mention demonizing as a habit of the media, along with demonic possession as an explanation for psychosis or sociopathy. If your core readers believe in the Devil or in innate evil in human nature, calling out the dark forces is another strategy for selling newspapers and increasing traffic on cable television and websites. Goethe (illustrated) made a dramatic intervention in the Faust legend when he wrote his two-part drama in which Faust does not sell his soul, but makes a bet with Mephistopheles, a point that is ignored by those who don’t study intellectual history. But the Romantic Goethe, like Schiller, did become more conservative after the French Revolution, and it shows in their dramas.]

*One such historian is Niall Ferguson, whose masterful synthesis explaining Western ascendancy is of intense interest to me.

Tischbein portrait of classicist Goethe

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