YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

May 2, 2015

Mosby, multiculturalism and the persistence of feudalism

A populist take on feudalism

A populist take on feudalism

I have been  reading both older and newer scholarship on European history from late antiquity to the late Middle Ages, and am struck by several features that persist in our political culture: obedience to “authority” (stable hierarchies); and the search for “leaders” reminiscent of the Good Kings of feudal times—the King who, unlike “the Jews,” was not money-mad or selfish. Populists from Left to Right yearn for his return, for he makes us feel safe in an unpredictable and hostile world.

It has occurred to me that the nostalgia for the Middle Ages that I have noted earlier (see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/22/materialist-history-and-the-idea-of-progress/ or https://clarespark.com/2013/05/30/nostalgia-for-the-middle-ages/), is not nostalgia at all, but a sign that capitalism, individual opportunity, self-reliance, and mass participation in politics as individuals weighing facts (as opposed to ethnic identification—the hyphenated Americans) has not yet been achieved, though such 19th century figures as Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote about “self-reliance.” (http://www.emersoncentral.com/selfreliance.htm.)

How does multiculturalism undermine the virtues we attribute to market societies, and the rule of law for rich and poor alike, equality that is presumably built into our Constitution and the notion of “liberty”?

First, we might go back to the late 18th century and look at Herder and other German Romantics (all reactionaries fearful of “materialism” and the singularity of the rootless cosmopolitan).  For it was Herder and his followers who popularized the notions of ethnicity and national character—collectivist notions that would be institutionalized in the Aryan supremacist Nazi State (a time when Herder’s notions were revived, and in vogue, though the 19th century racists had already become popular).

But the major impetus to multiculturalism in the US was the fear of proletarian internationalism and a feisty new industrial working class (much of it immigrant), that seemed to be taking power after the American Civil War unleashed industrial development and then after the Soviets mounted their revolution in 1917, prefigured by socialist movements in the US and Europe. So such figures revered by liberals as Randolph Bourne and Horace Kallen stressed the long-standing idea of ethnicity as way more important than class conflict or even so an elastic concept as “class interest.”

What does this have to do with black nationalism and the future of the six black cops in Baltimore, charged by Marilyn Mosby in the death of Freddie Gray?

malcolmx

The most relevant feature of cultural nationalism is the belief that each “ethnicity” or “race” is incomprehensible to members of other designated groups. Out goes any potential agreement on “facts” in the upcoming trial of the black cops, for black nationalists will view the three black cops as “race traitors” who should have acknowledged that the forces of law and order are out to get them in the interests of “white supremacy.” All of a sudden, Marilyn Mosby, State’s Attorney for Baltimore, has no particular bias as an opportunist taking advantage of token reformism as a response to the condition of blacks in Democrat-run urban ghettoes, for all blacks, like all whites, share the same (class) interests in the argot of multiculturalism/racism.

Such is the deadly logic of multiculturalism with its outdated, but persistent, notion of “ethnic” tribalism, a leftover from pre-capitalist periods in history, periods notorious for their hostility to dissent, innovation, and agreement on universal facts (independent of “perspectivism”/“point of view”). Is it any wonder that we are polarized to the point of collapse of the rule of law, for decades and centuries of indoctrination and experience have convinced much of our black population that there is no justice and no peace.

Maoist conception of the vanguard

Maoist conception of the vanguard

Advertisements

May 20, 2012

Kick Me Again

Peter Bregman

The Harvard Business Review has distributed this blog http://tinyurl.com/87xxvjl  by management consultant Peter Bregman, “Do You Know What You Are Feeling?” urging businessmen to get in touch with their feelings, even to confide them to persons who make them feel angry, resentful, or insecure. Bregman begins the story in a rural setting: he and his wife Eleanor are mulling over whether their yoga practice, meditation, and continued inspection of their personal feelings are merely “navel gazing.”  He then describes their differing reactions to a group of younger men on a deck, noisily partying. Bregman is delighted by the outcome of his confiding his feelings to his wife: he will not [regress] to childish clinging to a mother surrogate (Eleanor), out of jealousy or some other negative emotion, because each has “communicated” with the other.

We then learn how dangerous it is to repress anger:

[Bregman:] “Simply being able to feel is a feat in itself. We often spend considerable unconscious effort ignoring what we feel because it can be painful. Who wants to be afraid or jealous or insecure? So we stifle the feelings, argue ourselves out of them, or distract ourselves with busy work or small talk.

But just because we don’t recognize a feeling doesn’t mean it goes away. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Not feeling something guarantees that it won’t go away.

Unacknowledged feelings simmer under the surface, waiting to lunge at unsuspecting, undeserving bystanders. Your manager doesn’t answer an email, which leaves you feeling vulnerable — though you don’t acknowledge it — and then you end up yelling at an employee for something unrelated. Why? Because your anger is coiled in your body, primed, tense, aching to get out. And it’s a lot safer to yell at an employee than bring up an uncomfortable complaint with a manager.” [end, Bregman quote]

(Bregman’s image of anger as “coiled” is instructive: Is anger a coiled serpent, unseen and ready to strike, or is Bregman a jack-in-the box, his body coiled as a child’s toy that once represented a boxed devil might be? Perhaps both. In any case, Bregman’s image suggests that anger is demonic, and perhaps associated with Eve who succumbed to the serpent’s wiles. What it is not is a materialist account of the effects of cortisol on the immune system and/or the social structures and irreconcilable antagonisms that impel us to have the feelings we think we have. Hence, lacking this understanding of hierarchies and what can or cannot be said to another, we are stuck in the Middle Ages. Bregman is giving advice to a would-be Good King or Platonic Guardian, empathic with the People under his care, and alert to preventing factions that could topple his regime, reducing King to clown.)

Jack in the Box toy

In his essay on the (restored) value of navel-gazing, Bregman then switches to another scene. In the midst of one of his management talks, a woman with whom he works interrupts him, expresses dissatisfaction with his presentation and directs him into another path. He is angry at this interruption (though the revised talk goes well), and in a subsequent email exchange with the froward (not a typo) female, he communicates his hurt and vulnerability, which brings her to an apology and a happy ending to their troubling interchange. [Bregman:] And, just like that, all my anger uncoiled and slithered away.” So it was the anger-serpent after all, and Bregman’s technique of what he takes to be full disclosure has beaten the devil within.

Cole Porter Can-Can scene

I have written about touchiness and touch before on this website, see https://clarespark.com/2012/04/02/touch-me-touch-me-not/, that begins by criticizing a demagogue (Rick Santorum) who adopts the identity of his coal-mining grandfather to persuade an audience of miners that he is indeed in touch with their feelings, of which of course, he is fully aware.

I could go on and on, reflecting upon how middle management feels about subordination to CEOs or other superiors, be these government bureaucrats, school principals, legislators, party bosses, husbands, abusive, negligent parents of either gender, older siblings (but add your own authoritarian figure). Bregman imagines that the unnamed woman (presumably a member of a management team with whom he consults) is not deferring to him out of fear, but is telling the truth; she is really sincere. He has not grappled with the truism that illegitimate, irrational hierarchies breed deceit. But in the New Age in which we find ourselves, truisms, like truth itself, have gone the way of all flesh. Kick me again. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/07/13/eros-and-the-middle-manager-s-m-with-implications-for-multiculturalism/, or this one: https://clarespark.com/2010/11/18/harvards-alpha-dogs/.)

Are hierarchies inevitable? How can they be made rational? How do we know when our feelings are our own, or conversely, were they put there by other persons, acting out of their own needs to dominate, to compensate for past injuries? What a terrible thing that Freud’s materialism and family history-inflected self-examination  has been discarded in favor of New Age mysticism and the abnegation of self. And most pointedly, why do we give our love to unworthy objects, to those who “obviously don’t adore us”?

[Music outro: Cole Porter’s “I Get A Kick Out of You.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1T6SG0t9jfQ&feature=share), or if you don’t like Ethel Merman’s tempo, try Patti LuPone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YC12OelJYQU. The LuPone video is especially interesting: the “fabulous face” belongs first to her, and then to the audience at the end. Singer and audience become one “fabulous” entity.]

Peter Blume The Eternal City

August 18, 2009

Storming Pacifica: revising my view of Pacifica history, July 22, 1999

His Master’s Voice

[August 18, 2009. The response to my memoir, My Life at Pacifica, has been so strong that I am posting an essay I wrote while an internal civil war was taking place between factions in the Pacifica “community.” Some of my points are reiterated in the memoir, but the material uncovered by Matthew Lasar is so important, that I am posting my thoughts from 1999 here while the storm was raging, though Storming Pacifica is also available on the internet. For a more personal memoir plus links to postwar anti-democratic sociology see https://clarespark.com/2010/07/04/pacifica-radio-and-the-progressive-movement/. There are surprises here.]

As I write this, hundreds of Berkeley radicals are in their element: many believing that the Corporate State acting through Dr. Mary Frances Berry, Chief Officer of the Pacifica Foundation National Governing Board, is determined to destroy KPFA and the entire Pacifica Foundation (founded in their community fifty years ago this year), aggrieved Bay Area listeners and their allies throughout our country have mounted demo after demo since Berry shut “their” station down Tuesday, July 13. Among other actions they have picketed the KPFA transmitter lest it carry “scab” programming from KPFK (the Los Angeles Pacifica Station), formed a tent city to maintain an around-the-clock presence outside the radio station, kept the internet buzzing with accounts of the latest management outrages, demanded the immediate reinstatement of fired KPFA manager Nicole Sawaya, demanded repeal of the gag rule that forbids any discussion of the dispute over Pacifica air, demanded the resignation of top management (Berry and Executive Director Lynn Chadwick), demanded to see the financial records of what may be a failing organization secretly planning to sell off at least one of its valuable broadcast licenses (WBAI), and lobbied other media to cover this, the worst crisis in the long, contentious history of Pacifica radio. (Reports are coming in indicating that several protesters have been brutally treated by the police.) Meanwhile local board members from three Pacifica stations have sued the Foundation, complaining it illegally transferred all governance to the National Board, hence removing any input whatsoever from Local Advisory Boards, and, by the complainants’ inference, silencing the voices of the subscribers who pay everyone’s salaries, and who are free (solely) to withdraw their financial support. Most importantly, the protesters want all this activity to culminate in a massive transformation of governance, to grass-roots control of the Pacifica Foundation, and a return to the original Pacifica Mission as formulated by its founder, Lewis K. Hill.

Pacifica Foundation management depicts the opposition as paranoid and opposed to “growth,” “professionalism,” and “cultural diversity.” (Management, no less than the opposition, legitimates its rule by appealing to the original Mission Statement. For instance, in his Report to the Listener, July 20, 1999, the KPFK manager not only mentioned the Mission as [the Bible] of the current regime, but played a multicultural reading of that part of the Articles of Incorporation that mandates the study of the causes of conflict. The current conflict, he constantly emphasized, was the result of “over-the-top” uninformed violent activity by a tiny minority from “Berzerkely”.)

This is all very riveting, and I would be jubilant if I thought that “community control,” institutional transparency, and accountability would strengthen the Foundation, restore its financial viability, and help it to realize the liberal implications of its mission as formulated in the Articles of Incorporation. I am not jubilant; I am rather apprehensive. What the current battle does, however, is give us pause to consider the subtly quietist implication, or perhaps, more accurately, the implementation, of the original Pacifica vision that has, over the long haul, led to the current bizarre polarization–a polarization of people who share many core beliefs about radical politics.

Reading the rhetoric dispensed by the tireless and dedicated protesters, one would think that we are witnessing a revitalized democratic social movement. No one, to my knowledge, has pointed out that the intellectual assumptions that have governed public broadcasting, the counter-culture, much of the New Left, and Left-wing academia alike, especially since the late 1960s, are part of the legacy of the European Far Right. Sadly, the Pacifica dissidents share the same discourse as the managers they deplore. I refer to multiculturalism, a.k.a. cultural relativism as promulgated by the Populist-Progressive movement of conservative reform that reacted to the liberal, proto-socialist nineteenth century. “Cultural diversity” as promulgated by today’s “progressive” Left signifies the völkisch or “communitarian” or primitivist inheritance of J.G. Von Herder and German Romanticism generally, the blood-and-soil ideology that attempted to roll back the Scientific Revolution and its offspring: the Enlightenment, the rise of the secular state, individual civil rights (equality before the law), “careers open to the talents,” and popular sovereignty, creations of radical liberals. These rejected libertarian ideals were associated with “rootless cosmopolitans” as their rooted enemies called them. The rooted cosmopolitans, like fascist ideologues of the 1930s, wrote “history” as the struggle between Good and Evil. Their obsessive interest was in “social cohesion” and “equilibrium.” Money/”bourgeois society”/(later, the Bomb) was the root of all social and environmental disintegration or “disruption”; by contrast, the good King of the High Middle Ages held “the (local) community” and Nature together in the Great Chain of Being. As multiculturalists, the rooted cosmopolitans emphasize “inclusion” and “identity” conceived in the same static terms as medievalists and Renaissance humanists defending hierarchy and order against the incursions of science and other democratizing forces such as mass literacy. Rootless cosmopolitans, it was argued, not only had no identities themselves, they were the creators of mob society as their insidious materialist doctrines separated ordinary people from their families of origin, breaking what Edmund Burke would call narrative continuity with the (idealized, orderly) past.

It was the progressives who established public broadcasting, always understood as “expert”-controlled and top-down in decision-making, but adorned with “community discussion groups” as one political scientist associated with the Committee For Economic Development and the upper-class peace movement, Harold Lasswell, described this innovation in the late 1940s. (See especially his Power and Personality, 1948, and National Security and Individual Freedom, 1950). Indeed, Lew Hill, the revered, even deified, Founder of Pacifica Radio in Berkeley wrote the liberal-sounding Mission Statement to pacify the Ford Foundation (an early underwriter), other (conservative) liberals, and the FCC, according to Matthew Lasar’s recently published Pacifica Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network (Temple University Press).

In his prospectus of 1947, Hill reassured the FCC that “The whole object of the Foundation’s educational program in the field of public affairs and social problems is to study these matters, and to help the public study them with exactly that freedom from excusiveness and partisanship which the FCC lays down as a condition for the use of radio channels.” According to Lasar, Hill didn’t mean it; indeed he even covered up his radical past when he thought it would help his credibility with liberals (49).

Lew Hill, who came from big nouveau riche oil and insurance money in Tulsa Oklahoma, was a C.O. in World War II. Disturbingly, as Lasar tells us, around 1939-1940, Hill and his close friend Roy Finch (the source of this story) joined A.J. Muste in the belief that “stories about Nazi atrocities [were] anti-German propaganda, similar to false stories circulated during the First World War.” (14). After the war, along with Quaker allies and other C.O.s, Hill envisioned a radio station that would persuade working-class cannon fodder to resist the U.S. military, and most urgently, he intended to inject the principle of non-violence into the multi-ethnic militant Bay Area labor movement (44-45). Lasar complained that Hill “knew that on paper he would have to create a pacifist and a liberal radio station at the same time; he would have to emphasize pacifist ideas and dialogue as the path to peace, but also fairness and individual rights.” (43). Hill was dissatisfied with the tiny numbers of pacifists, as his first prospectus (1946) made clear: Quoting Hill, Lasar writes that war resisters, “especially since 1939–have been made to feel their severe impotence in the surge of public affairs outside their subscription and mailing lists.” Pacifists need to move beyond intellectual appeals or “ivory towerism,” as the prospectus put it, which had done little to alter public opinion. “Average beliefs have their form and interpretation in matters close to home, in the events of the neighborhood and city,” he wrote. “In the average man, on whom war prevention depends, the sense of right action is not a sense of large philosophical orientation, but one of a familiar and satisfying adjustment to the people and institutions in his immediate environment.” The task for pacifists, therefore, was to speak of peace not only through lofty principles but also through constant reference to “familiar things,” indeed to become familiar to the community by serving it as a radio station. “Pacifica Foundation,” Hill wrote in a single-sentence paragraph, “has been organized to begin this job.” (43)

Pacifica’s founders turned out to be postmodernists avant la lettre. As Lasar goes on to explain, materialist and historicist methods of analysis were rejected as deterministic (i.e., opposed to the concept of free will), hence were rejected by the “skeptical” Lew Hill, an admirer of Christian Existentialists such as Kierkegaard and Niebuhr. Lasar’s discussion of the original Pacifica Charter says it all. “The most important of the five purposes committed Pacifica to…the principle of pacifist dialogue: the idea that peace emerged not out of polemics but out of the process of diverse groups of people communicating with each other…To Pacifica’s founders, a lasting “understanding” between nations, races, or individuals did not mean that the parties involved had arrived at an objective truth but simply that through the exchange of language they had come to know each other better–as “humans,” rather than through some other ideological category, such as race, nationality, or class. “We really believed in the power of the word as the source of identity in human beings,” Richard Moore later explained. This knowledge, the first Pacificans hoped, would lead to the peaceful resolution of conflict…Richard Moore remembered a skeptic asking Hill what he would do if a Nazi broke into this house and pointed a gun at him. “I’d try and talk,” Hill replied. (44) [end Lasar quote]

They were all Heart. So much for the anti-intellectual foundations of Pacifica: “race, nationality, or class” were not facts in the real world (or factoids as in the case of race, though race and ethnicity are taken to be biological facts, with dire social consequences), but “ideological” constructions. Here is radical subjectivism at its most blatant. At its very inception, then, rigorous institutional analysis and the accurate (objective) description of institutional structures, discourses and practices were implicitly rejected as the devil’s work. The core values of liberalism: fairness and individual rights, values that had often led to reform and structural transformation where indicated, must be the cause of the wars and social violence (especially labor militancy?) that these particular pacifists deplored. Pacifica would talk to simple people about simple homely things. Moral reformer William Wordsworth, reacting to the tumultuous response to the French Revolution and the social movements it energized, couldn’t have said it better (see The Excursion as a guide to the etiquette of victimization, urging English intellectuals to instill the virtues and consolations of Faith, Hope, and Charity as the centerpiece of a popular education aimed at the rural peasantry and the uprooted industrial class alike). For the new Pacificans, music, poetry, and drama, Lasar notes, would serve pacifist ends, appealing to the diverse folk cultures of local labor (46).

Fast forward to the late 1990s, as other localists (“cultural nationalists” or as I would prefer to call them, organic conservatives) battle each other for control of the Foundation, asserting group facts, group rights, racial quotas, programming that must reflect changing demographics. The nationalists are deeply conservative in their (selective) ancestor-worship, while some of the anarchist, “anti-imperialist” protesters seem content with such backwardness and fragmentation as identity politics inevitably produce. Not surprisingly, “the peasant problem” (as some Marxists call it) is everywhere as individual programmers continue to fight over turf, claiming to represent “the community” that “looks like them.” And “the community” has no truck with dissenting individuals, freethinking artists experimenting with new forms, or empirical analysis of social problems; rather its advocates resort to the ritual repetition of slogans defining the enemy as monolithic and hegemonic, whether that enemy to simplicity and spiritual values be the bogus Enlightenment, the idea of Progress, markets, high culture, Amerika, white males, patriarchy, Wall Street, commercialism, consumerism, science and technology, positivism, etc.

Logically, with such overwhelming forces (the Devil is everywhere, remember) arrayed against the spiritually-attuned grass-roots, what must be the emotional and social consequences? Led by Lasar’s research into Pacifica’s early history, I now have a better view of the crisis, and why there has been so much desperation, impotent rage, alienation, depression, cultural despair, and acquiescence to corruption. Well-meaning radicals fatally continue to reject the “bourgeois,” hence tainted, critical tools that would have brought coherence and quality to Pacifica’s mandated (if vaguely stated) exploration of the causes of war and all forms of social violence. The current critics of Pacifica management should consider where the Foundation has been before it offers alternative forms of governance and programming to a muddled, ineffectual, and declining organization. There was no Golden Age; what we have now is a golden opportunity to rethink every aspect of public radio, but especially Pacifica. Shall it be bound to the illusory Good King, reaction, narrow racial/ethnic politics, and cultural backwardness or shall it be wide-open, experimental, and a safe environment for those who believe that an excellent universal education, grounded in the observable facts of the real world, is indispensable to a more peaceful future?

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.