YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

August 3, 2017

Getting my goat

Two “liberals” appearing to “balance” Tucker Carlson on Fox News have prompted this irate blog. One is Canadian born and trained Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett, now a University Professor at (liberal) Northeastern University, the other is Minnesotan Ethan Bearman, a Bay Area up and coming talk show host.

Dr. Barrett avers that potential speakers must promote “debate,” but not indulge in “hate speech,” while Bearman stated that “historically disadvantaged groups should get preferential treatment.” (That means that if your ancestors were “oppressed,” quota systems are okay, even if they discriminate against “white people,” Jews, and Asians.)

Neither guests emphasized the search for truth, for they echo the allegations of postmodernists/liberals. Discarding the search for (empirical) truth, signifies the ever-more pervasive lack of standards, and opens the door to the less obvious forms of racism, and the acquiescence to pseudo-moderation and the collectivist discourses/groupiness imposed by Big Government.

Which brings me to the “populism” admired by Fox News Channel. It is no accident that the American populists (identified by FNC with the President), were antisemitic (in their rage against all banks), but the current avatars of populism pretend to speak for “the People” against “elites.” I understand that many populists today resent Big Government, but it pretends to be a meritocracy that establishes “standards” of truth/rationality, creditworthiness, and of correct grammar and style, but it is not.

Whereas progressives like Barrett and Bearman embrace the collectivist discourses of the Left, disallowing individualistic (?) merit. Thus Dr. Barrett ignores the (hyper-individualistic) search for truth that may silence her version of debate, while Bearman in his present-minded zeal to repair the policies of the past, promotes one type of reparations.

I thought that  David Horowitz tried to discredit the “reparations” tactic years ago, for which he has gotten much grief from the Left (and more indirectly by epigeneticists and “Ancestry”-type websites).

June 11, 2014

Individuality: the impossible dream?

social relationsThe problem: how to separate communists from social democrats; is “the Left” the same “left” opposed by bourgeois apologists in prior periods? The “McCarthyism” accusation that reproaches anticommunists is derived from the liberals defending the bureaucratic collectivism of the New Deal: “liberals” attacked those “fascists” from the Republican Party who opposed FDR’s remedies for the Depression. Similarly, FDR called his opponents “economic royalists.” This vituperative playbook still exists, with many conservatives conflating communists and Democratic Party stalwarts, as “the Left.”

The key to understanding the difficulty of separating communists from liberals is here: “Liberals” (not to be confused with classical liberals) selectively co-opted and defanged communist social thought in order to preserve their own elite rule, above all focusing on the working class as the likely red specter. The notion of “proletarian internationalism” was replaced with “ethnicity” or “race” as the mode of sorting people out. Both communism and liberalism partake of collectivist terms. The ‘individual’ is pathological and an outcast. Some organic conservatives agree, imagining mystical bonds (the “rootedness” of local attachments) as the route to “social cohesion” and “political stability.” Organic conservatives need not be on “the Right.” Democratic president Woodrow Wilson was surely one these localist agrarians who spurned the materialism of science. (For some Wilson anti-science quotes see https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/.)

Here is the key move for “socially responsible capitalists”: the “individual” only exists in repressive ideologies like supposedly unregulated “laissez-faire capitalism” and Darwinist competition. It must be defeated in favor of “the individual-in-society” who is situated in a [statist] “cooperative commonwealth.” Stubborn laissez-faire types are “narcissistic”, given to “huckstering” (Mad Men!) and must be defeated in order to emancipate the truly progressive society from “the Jews” or their surrogates.

Under the leadership and rules of “liberals” mental health professionals emphasize not autonomy and individuality, but “relationships” to groups, including sex partners, families, and workplaces. In all cases these mental health professionals, like the neutral state they unknowingly defend, preach “adjustment” and “integration” of interior, often irreconcilable conflicts, such as mothering infants versus interests outside the home and family. I personally have been subjected to this well-meaning, but futile, advice.

pierrot_by_ladysivali

Finding out “who you really are” is all about limiting, not extending choices in the face of personal evolution. It is part and parcel of today’s “identity politics” —more collectivist groupiness, for only “groups” can “make a difference.” Marxists have demolished the notion of the individual, deeming such a one “atomized” or “anomic”—a version of the murderous Cain, builder of cities; similarly artists are stigmatized as Pierrots, also tied to Cain and to the Romantic Wandering Jew. After the revolution, one orthodox Marxist told me, “everyone will be a Mozart.”

standard_Individuality

Although many persons would like better control over their work processes and over aggression (as did Freud), for Marx the only route to such individual empowerment is through working class consciousness followed by working class revolution: in his view, a progressive, enlightened move that would make the politically emancipated individual able to experience “species being” (a term that he never defines comprehensibly to me, but it has some relationship to nature: enter the Red Greens). [Need I add that the Progressive movement had a drastically different definition of “progress”?]

Nor do these [social workers] expand the imagination, as do our better artists. Instead, following Marx’s necessarily limited vocabulary (he never was able to suggest just how the state would “wither away” ), he brings up earlier forms of human organization (primitivism)—see https://clarespark.com/2014/06/07/marx-vs-lenin/ (the quoted passage from “The German Ideology”), and my index to blogs on primitivism: https://clarespark.com/2013/04/16/blogs-on-anarchismpunkprimitivism/. Note that in the “individuality” image, a couple drawn in the cubist/primitive style of Picasso, defines the “individual” who can “make a difference.”

Finally, reading early Marx (the mid-1840s), I have the impression that his entire conception of worker alienation might be derived from his antagonism to all religion, in which he alleges that the worshipper gives away his body and mind to God (I don’t see how this applies to Judaism, which emphasizes a degree of free will and personal responsibility for the wrongs we inflict on others, not blind obedience). This is only a hunch, but it would explain why there has been no working class revolution of the kind Marx anticipated. At best we get a sputter of [doomed] protest as in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society. Most workers probably want the benefits of what Marxists derisively call consumerism, and the pursuit of creature comforts (including the comfort and consolations of religion) does not entail an assault on their individuality, but instead enhances it. But then I am a bourgeois, so should not be trusted to interpret, even tentatively, the major exponent of communism.

May 26, 2014

Triumphalism, dogma, and the Left or Right

benshapirodestroy.jpgI was distressed to see a new booklet distributed David Horowitz’s Freedom Center, penned by Ben Shapiro. Its title is “How to Debate Leftists and Destroy Them.”

Much as I have condemned the moderate men on this website with their ruling idea that all conflict can be conciliated without war (see https://clarespark.com/2009/08/09/what-is-a-corporatist-liberal-and-why-should-they-frighten-us/), I balk at any variety of triumphalism on either Left or Right, unless we are already living under a fascist (one party) dictatorship. If we want to find the truth, while mired in the many controversies that beset us, the absence of countervailing argument is lethal to fixing that which ails us, in private or public life alike.

Moreover, it is un-Jewish to be dogmatic. Despite efforts of antisemites to describe Jews as bent on conquest of the world’s economies and the elimination of all belief systems except for their own, the hard fact remains that to be Jewish is to live in a constant state of questioning, of intellectual combat, not destruction of the enemy or of competing arguments. Without pluralism and civility, that task is impossible, for the irrational parts of our makeup will overtake good sense. “Tory” (i.e., reactionary) artists and writers understand this very well, and seek to terrorize us with images of the inquiring mind and modernity as lethal and disgusting. They offer us countless variations of the Frankenstein myth, lately visible in the new Penny Dreadful series on Showtime. This is right-wing Romanticism with a vengeance directed against “the mob” supposedly empowered by literacy, numeracy, and practice in critical thought, though you would never know that from the reviews.

In order to sniff out liars and ideologues, institutions must be pluralistic, or, as the US Constitution demands, institutions must provide for checks and balances, so that no element of government or of the electorate can impose its will on others without a cautious, careful weighing of facts, many of which remain in dispute or indeterminable. To say that it is too soon to draw conclusions, is considered to be a sign of weakness or feminization. Yet this task of weighing and measuring in a humble state of mind is the very essence of modernity and of the most radical elements of the Enlightenment.

Some “traditionalists” find this imperative dangerous and unsettling, so they pin derogatory labels on their “secular progressive” opponents, projecting their own theocratic and bullying propensities upon persons who are innocent of the same dogmatism. Enter the culture wars.

To practice this demanding habit of mind and heart is very difficult for most persons, who seek group identity/“social cohesion” and “political stability” above the search for the best form of social organization to protect individuality, and one most conducive to well-being for the majority of its citizens. One could look at this “Talmudic” approach to life as either tormenting or stimulating. Obviously, I prefer the latter, which reflects my restless, buzzing brain that finds a home everywhere and nowhere.

benshapirobullies

July 4, 2013

‘Independence’ and the marketplace of ideas

areop_15I try not to repeat myself, so here is something I have not already said in so many words:

Individuality is not something we are born with; rather becoming an independent individual is something to be achieved through the most terrific effort.  We may become “relatively autonomous” or “independent” only  through serious engagement with others in the marketplace of ideas.

Otherwise, we are no more advanced than the “savages” or “barbarians” we claim to have transcended with “civilization.” Yet we find ourselves mired in a globalized world where many other peoples remain  tribal or under the thumb of various forms of dictatorship. Or we may believe that “multiculturalism” is not covertly racist.

Since I have been posting about the [phony liberal] origins of “political correctness” I got into a debate with one Facebook friend who thinks I don’t understand the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School. One of their number, Herbert Marcuse, wrote controversially about “repressive tolerance.” All hell broke loose when this little volume was published, for he banished anticommunist speech. But what was rarely understood at the time seems obvious to me right now. Marcuse rightly complained that the constituted authorities determine the terms of debate (as in identity politics).  He was largely correct: that we lose when the enemy controls language. Perhaps the need for close reading and the study of institutional discourses makes some conservatives, even “constitutionalists” very nervous.  Perhaps Marcuse’s critique is why some rightists have slammed “cultural Marxism” and/or post-structuralism for inventing PC.  In their heart of hearts, free speech and close readings are anathema and lead to frightening differences with beloved family members, parents, and other authority figures.

PC notion of national unity

PC notion of national unity

They are wrong. It was our libertarian forebears, enabled by Bibles written in English, who celebrated the “priesthood of all believers”: i.e., those who could read texts for themselves and then compare their own understandings of texts with the interpretations of their “betters” (the priestly class) who wished to monopolize what those sacred texts actually said (for the benefit of autocrats).

This notion: that ordinary people had the right to challenge “authoritative” readings with their own interpretations led to what we now call “the marketplace of ideas.” Part of those readings entailed the study of “officials” of every type: religious or secular, government bureaucrats and union bosses alike, even parents, spouses, sisters and brothers.  Such studies can lead to alienation and anxiety.

The United States of America, “conceived in liberty” remains unique and frazzled. “E pluribus unum” does not mean that the search for truth is called off for purposes of national or “racial” or other forms of “family” solidarity. The agreement to disagree is the very foundation of national unity in this city on a hill. Long may this keystone element of the social contract prevail.

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/04/index-to-fourth-of-july-blogs/ (Prior blogs that address the unfinished revolutions of our time.)

March 10, 2013

What remains useful about Freud?

One version of individuality, NYC

One version of individuality, NYC

(For a prelude to this blog, see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.)

It is obvious why many social conservatives would reject anything smacking of Freudianism out of hand: besides his secular version of Judaism throughout life, his later work identified him as an atheist, and in such works as The Future of an Illusion argued that those persons believing in religion were in a state of regression (clinging to an idealized Father figure); he denied that children were “innocent” by pointing to infant or  infantile sexuality and the Oedipus complex; he argued that most of us live with ambivalence about all our love objects: such mixtures of love and hate regarding parents and siblings destabilize portentous emotions that preserve hierarchy, whether these be the deployment by powerful institutions of hero-worship, state-worship, or the expectation that families are (unproblematic) havens in a heartless world.

Rather, for Freud (especially for some of his followers), the rhetoric of the perfectly happy family preserves tyrannical hierarchies, causes childish regression to dependency and loss of a critical/skeptical outlook in adults, and worst of all, eliminates the notion of the horizontal contract in favor of vertical contracts. I.e., the Good King or Leader will protect us if we don’t question the legitimacy of his policies and institutional practices. This move removes attention from the fairness or unfairness of the horizontal contract, a fiction of rationality that can be  preserved either in the statism of the progressive movement or in the “rational choice” theory of libertarians. But if there is an abundance of labor, the employer holds all the cards; if there are many beautiful women competing for the love and protection of powerful men, woman’s worth is downgraded, except in agricultural, pre-modern societies where female strength and competence as helpmeets and breeders are primary. And we wonder at the popularity of primitivism? (click onto the illustration of a youthful anarchist: if this isn’t neo-Nazi, I don’t know what is).

Which brings us to the question of individuality. As moderns and inheritors of civilization, we want to be introspective, to be self-examining. We abjure impulse in favor of picking and choosing our life partners on the basis of their psychological maturity, as prospective companions; we hope to be appropriately self-critical as parents and adults with respect to the elderly, or how we evaluate everyone and everything from economic policies to great writers, presidents, and other historical actors, or to beloved mates, teachers, and friends. Such strenuous introspection is difficult without the memory of multiple traumas, small and large. Here was Freud’s lasting contribution to humanity. The more we courageously look at our choices, noting which were forced upon us through the accidents of our particularly histories, the more able we are to look at whether or not we had the individual choices we imagine. We recognize, without shame, internal conflicts, and face them with curiosity and the determination to dig further, without hating ourselves for our “errors” or sins.

Freud remains unsurpassed in his diagnosis of early childhood and trauma: traumas that resurface in later life to cause psychosomatic illness and the immobilization of anxiety, depression, and the fear that we have not lived our own lives, but were the playthings of a wicked cosmos, even demonic forces.

To acknowledge how sex and aggression play out in institutions and in always difficult families, how instinctual forces may penetrate all our attachments or “choices”—whether these be our votes for representatives, or whether or not to be parents, or to understand sexual attraction or repulsion, or to practice sadomasochist rituals, is to attain a higher level of freedom than Freud’s predecessors enjoyed. As one great teacher of mine reassured me: “We are not civilized yet.”

Sigmund Freud was the consummate bourgeois, pointing to both the limits to human freedom and to the long process of emancipation from self-annihilating illusion. How many of us possess his courageous, if ambiguous, embrace of the modern world? How many of us dare to give up the perverse satisfactions of the guilty liberal by emulating Minerva’s owl? There are few compensations for old age and painful experience, but here is one: we may see the trajectory of our lives and treat our choices with less disappointment and more generosity.

[Professor Hank Greenspan of the University of Michigan, a trained psychoanalyst, has given me permission to quote his response to the blog: “In an age of tweets and bits and quick fixes, the notion of spending, literally, years trying to understand someone else’s subjectivity in its particularity and complexity–including one’s own!–is radical enough. Also, the related notion (alien to most academic work) that no interpretation can be more than conjecture until it is engaged, refined, and worked over with the person about whom the interpretation intends to apply. Timing counts too–also alien to work that concerns only texts rather than folks. Freud’s “technique” contribution remains, for me, his most important legacy.”]

Minerva's Owl?

Minerva’s Owl?

September 3, 2012

Eros and the problem of solidarity

Rothschild and the money power

This is for Labor Day, September 3, 2012. I am trying to understand why a political party with such obvious internal conflicts of interest as the Democratic Party, is able to allege solidarity within what they now call “the middle class” (hence departing from their older appeals to the working class and forcing together groups with conflicting interests: see https://clarespark.com/2012/04/06/diagnosing-potus/).

One can only conclude that our political culture is entirely irrational, and that appeals to economic interest and independence from collectivist demagoguery butters no parsnips in the American electorate—except for those louts who venture into the risky world of the market. These days everyone in “business” is a grasping, mendacious moneybags who should be punished by his victims. Who wants to be “jewified?” No wonder anxiety is the mental ailment of our time. But there is objective anxiety and neurotic anxiety, and the latter is encouraged by the mass media with their elevation of team spirit and hatred of “success”—an outcome that inevitably alienates those who stray from the reservation of political correctness.

Freud had something valuable to say about fears of separating from the group in 1922: “Dread in an individual is provoked either by the greatness of a danger or by the cessation of emotional ties (libidinal cathexes [Libidobesetzungen]); the latter is the case of neurotic dread. In just the same way panic arises either owing to an increase in the common danger or owing to the disappearance of the emotional ties which hold the group together; and the latter case is analogous to that of neurotic dread.” Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Chapter V, transl. James Strachey. Apply this suggestion to the assimilating immigrant or upwardly mobile ethnic individual or group. This view leaves out the anxiety stemming from mismanaged separation of child from mother, but reminds us that there are other equally problematic social bonds. Freud extends panic and anxiety to situations in any society with fluid class boundaries, such as our own.

Imagine the fear of loss of status during an economic downturn. Imagine the fear of abandoning one’s neighbors and ancestors when forced to “uproot” one self in moving to a different town, city, or state where employment is more attractive. Imagine the fear of losing touch with a family where you were the first one to get an advanced education, and where those left behind call you “uppity.” This is why “multicultural” appeals to “community” or “race” or “ethnicity” work, though they are weapons in the hands of demagogues. Might there be less anxiety, even less panic, in the false utopias that union bosses, race hustlers, or corrupt politicians and their ilk promise to voters? Have we not here the inefficacy of competing appeals to “individuality” and “equal opportunity” from anticommunists on the Right, even as conservatives and moderates alike strive to protect the integrity of families and voluntarism over bureaucratic strategies for an ever elusive unity? (For a recent blog on this subject see https://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/.)

[For a popular blog that deals with separation anxiety from the mother, with remarks on modernist rejections of Victorian culture see https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/.]

February 11, 2011

“Undoing” multiculturalism

Houdon's Condorcet, 1785

In my last blog, I summarized those who benefited from the institutionalization of “multiculturalism” (https://clarespark.com/2011/02/10/multiculturalism-cui-bono/).  By referring to the Freudian conception of “undoing”, I do not substitute one form of magical thinking with another. Symbolic gestures designed to change behavior are no substitute for a complete renovation of our conception of democracy and its reparable flaws.

I begin by reviewing my own history of the subject. As program director of Pacifica radio station KPFK in Los Angeles, I was told to implement “multiculturalism.” In my naïveté, I thought that meant that the history of minority groups, women, and labor would be integrated into all of our programming. This was no impulsive gesture: I had already heard and seen the rise of cultural nationalism and its feeble opposition in the academy.  Although the other program directors of the five Pacifica stations ratified my resolution to use the integrationist approach throughout the network, I was immediately red-baited by David Salniker, then the Executive Director of the Pacifica Foundation.  I am convinced that my ongoing insistence on scientific thinking over myth-making was the major cause of my firing in the summer of 1982, eighteen months after my hiring.

In graduate school at UCLA, I was appointed to represent all the students of the University of California system in the Committee on Affirmative Action Hiring and Programs. I introduced a similar resolution there: in those appropriate subjects, all professors would be expected to integrate into their classes the recent discoveries regarding the history of women and minorities, rather than shunting off these new or updated histories to separate departments and leaving the current curricula untouched.  To be unaware of such new scholarship, I argued, would be tantamount to hiring a biologist who hadn’t yet learned about DNA. This resolution was unanimously passed, but I later learned that it was derided by the UC Academic Senates as an impingement on academic freedom and refused.

I had thought that my resolutions at Pacifica and the University of California were innocent and intellectually sound enough, but I had entirely underestimated the power of an ideology and its internalization by conforming academic administrators and their analogs in the liberal foundations. So I systematically went about tracing the history of the concept, and the scales fell from my eyes. The results are found throughout this website, with quotes from the sources of those responsible for perpetuating this social policy, now being disavowed by key European heads of state.

The magnitude of our endeavor can be only briefly sketched here. Here is a preliminary list; the points are all interrelated.

1. We must recover the conception of the autonomous individual, trained in all the skills of citizenship, which in turn suggests the study of the history of individual psychology versus “social psychology.” It is the latter “discipline” that reflected and perpetuated the statist and collectivist notion of “community” and cast the “rugged individualist” as the Indian-killer/enslaver of blacks par excellence. If “white” people have individuality, so does everyone else (potentially), but tribalism and/or premodern economies stunt the growth of individuality, and multiculturalism is tribalism writ large. We need to draw a hard line between ourselves and our ancestors. Their achievements and atrocities are not ours, whatever the reparations/social legislation crowd that controls the teaching of “interdisciplinary” history and “cultural studies” may argue. (For more on this last point, see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/. )

2. We must end “liberal guilt” and the social democratic (foggy) conception of “social justice.” The past is past, and although many atrocities are part of our history– atrocities that have the capacity to traumatize the descendants– the conditions and laws that made the atrocities possible have mostly been removed, and yet some prominent academics have made a career dwelling on the past as if it lingered in the present, with no countervailing structures and/or diminishing prejudice, hence “whiteness studies.”  There is no such thing as American identity or “national character” apart from our laws. Such counter-Enlightenment/anti-science notions as the folly of “the search for truth” emanating from postmodernists and their sympathizers must be countered with a renewed insistence on the clear definition of political rhetoric and the history of its usage in propaganda.

3. We can’t solve our gigantic problems with original sin smoking up our minds. Nor can we acquiesce in the religious notion of an uncluttered “free will.” Each of us has had a personal history since infancy, and some of that history has been either traumatic or has created inhibitions that make problem-solving difficult if not impossible.  We must stop thinking of mental health services as a Jewish invention useful primarily to New York Jews. Effects have causes, even if there are many causes that influence the present, and even though it is hard, if not impossible, to disentangle them. Victimhood exists, but so does survival and resilience, with help from our friends.

4. We must restore the useful idea of the melting pot. Culture is syncretic: we learn from each other and borrow that which is enriching and bonds us as individuals with other individuals. We may admire, but not hero-worship.  Such idealization of heroes or other celebrities inevitably leads to disillusion, apathy, intolerable stress, and depression. It is a learned helplessness that erases the very notion of a democratic polity. We are all Americans who live under our Constitution and defend it from its enemies. That implies the erasure of the hyphenated American, but not before its depoliticizing, divisive, antidemocratic, and anti-intellectual bases are widely understood.

[Illustrated: the martyred Marquis de Condorcet, avatar of progress, science, anti-slavery, feminism, and enlightenment.]

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