YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

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?)


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).


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.”


September 26, 2013

Cultural pluralism vs. multiculturalism


[Update: see https://clarespark.com/2017/04/10/a-reassessment-of-a-critique-of-pure-tolerance-42-years-later/, for this is a better antidote to the prevailing New Deal phony liberalism that goes by the name of cultural pluralism/multiculturalism.]

Abstract. Multiculturalism imitates cultural/religious pluralism, while undermining it by denying that we can understand persons of different “races” or genders, for each category is self-contained and indecipherable to other groups. Cultural pluralism should be about lots and lots of competing political parties and religions. The very fact that there is no state religion can call into question dogmatic upholders of any one belief system, religious or otherwise. Intellectual diversity can freak out the true believer, no matter how affiliated or indoctrinated.

Several Facebook friends have asked me to define my terms more carefully, because I assume too much when using academic jargon that is unfamiliar to them.  Today’s topic is “cultural pluralism.”

Cultural pluralism is a confusing term because of the word “culture.” Much of this website is devoted to tracing the history of the term “culture” as a substitute for a more materialist analysis of our society and its institutions (i.e., substitute secular for materialist to distinguish me from a dialectical materialist). As currently practiced, cultural pluralism is almost synonymous with “multiculturalism,” which is adhered to by those envisioning a happy cooperating system of grouplets based on race or ethnicity. The multicultural assumption is that the race or ethnicity they name is free of internal divisions or divergent and/or incompatible economic interest. Thus it may be imagined that all “African-Americans” think alike, have the same economic and gender interests, and are “different” from other Americans, even though the (better) Founders and their 19th century admirers imagined that we would all live under the rule of law as distinct individuals endowed with inalienable rights.

A better term than cultural pluralism, not weighed down with “cultural” differences, would be intellectual diversity or “the marketplace of ideas.”

But in order for the marketplace of ideas to work, all participants need to be able to decode propaganda, whether the propaganda is transmitted through buzz words like “family” or through images that compel our allegiance or frighten us.  Herbert Marcuse’s theory of repressive tolerance remains useful, but when first presented, it aroused a firestorm of opposition because Marcuse wanted to ban (most?) all but left-wing speech. Can anything be reclaimed from his theory? My view is that we lose when we allow the opposition to define the terms of the debate.

We are familiar with such tactics today, as Harry Reid and others define the Republican Party as “obstructionists” or “anarchists” or “defiant.” Reid and his ilk could define the competing ideas that motivate different political factions today (for his own party does not think as one), but he cannot do that, for he MUST smear the opposition in order to 1. present a united front of Democrats; and 2. to please the political class that supports him. It is the way things are done in Washington DC today. I could point to some polarizing Republicans as well.

These are hard times for intellectual diversity.  That is why I admire Eva Moskowitz’s notion of having her charter school kids learn how to extract the message of a poem in grade school! Reading comprehension has never been more important. I could add to that the decoding of images.

Another confusing tactic use by authoritarians of either party is the accusation of “power-seeking” as an end in itself.  I have been watching House of Cards on Netflix, and “Francis Underwood” talks to the viewer explaining that he is not out for money but “power.” But in a few episodes later, we learn that he has risen up from Southern “white-trash”.  So his delight in “power” is all about revenge for the snobbery, bullying, and exclusion he undoubtedly experienced as a boy.

Displaced aristocrats (or those working for them) originated the notion of the organic society, or the organic nation, or “races”. For wannabe “aristocrats” today, nothing is so forbidden as reasoned differences of opinion, or as I call it intellectual diversity, including the summoning of “facts.”  For once you open Pandora’s Box, there is no telling what monstrosities will fly out. Better to keep that box shut tight, lest the inquiring mind acquire the legitimacy that it occasionally enjoyed in eighteenth century England, parts of the United States, the Netherlands, and France.  (On Pandora in Greek mythology see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandora.)

Collage, Clare Spark, early 1990s

Collage, Clare Spark, early 1990s

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