The Clare Spark Blog

August 1, 2013

Power, relationships, identity

identityI wrote this blog because the notion of “power” as an end in itself is often mentioned by some friends on Facebook, or at times by politicians who accuse their opponents of not having real issues, but only unseemly “ambition” of the type that leads to world wars. To me, there is no such thing as a perverse and demonic will to power. “Power” to me is highly moral and involves self-control, concrete achievements, and the habits that foster humility and lifelong learning. I was raised to value individuality, but never at the expense of responsibility to a larger human community. In my youth, a healthy identity was contrasted to mental illness; the functioning self could distinguish between reality and fantasy, between Real and Fake. Little did I know that I was living in a dream world, for the very notion of the individual is passé, as is originality. Indeed, I should probably view my stubborn search for the truth, no matter how much mockery I engender, as “oppositional defiant disorder.”

If there is any one theme that characterizes this website it is in dating the turn away from the individual as the source of value and identity, to “the individual-in-society”. In other words, at some point in history, we would be defined by our relationships to groups, not by the accuracy of our perceptions. “Society” referred to a bunch of “sub-cultures” that have their own “focal concerns”, e.g. for the urban lower classes that focal concern is “trouble.” At least that is what I learned during my year in graduate school at Harvard in 1958-59. I also learned in the history of science course, taught by I. Bernard Cohen that science was a bit of a racket, and that the skeptic David Hume had proved it beyond cavil.

Fast forward to my stint as program director of radio station KPFK in Los Angeles, 2/1/81 through 7/31/1982. Unbeknownst to me, the concept of the relatively autonomous individual was long gone, and I was hired to implement a policy of “multiculturalism,” and my firing was coincidental with my plans for a Fall Fund Drive where we would challenge myth-making versus science and why such a conflict even existed. The pretext for my firing was that I was bad at smoothing over inter-station conflicts: I should have manufactured harmony where irreconcilable conflicts existed between Trotskyists, Stalinists, and the counter-culture.  (I have told much of this story here: https://clarespark.com/2010/10/21/links-to-pacifica-memoirs/.)  From what I was told, the local CP organized against me because I had allowed too many Trotskyists on the air, and they were speaking about the Spanish Civil War, breaking the Popular Front line that the way to view history during the interwar period was to postulate “the People” against “Fascism.” And only communists opposed fascism, in their view. I was denounced to local progressive organizations by Dorothy Healey, former secretary for the Southern California branch of the CPUSA, as an anti-feminist, an antisemite, and as personally destructive.

It was not until I returned to graduate school at UCLA and was fixated on witch hunts (!) that I figured out why I was purged from Pacifica Radio, which had become my home away from home, and the primary source of my identity as a plucky defender of artistic and intellectual freedom. As long as I was a mere programmer concentrating on free thought, I was safe, for I had listeners who ponied up during Fund Drives. It was my role as administrator that cooked my goose (despite our increasing subscriptions). Until then, I had no idea that individualism was “out” while “culturalism” was “in.”

I was fired for telling the truth (as I understood it), for protecting my hard-won identity as one who recognized conflicts inside myself and in the culture at large. You might say that I benefited from the ecological approach to institutions taught to me at Cornell, where I graduated from the science teaching program available free to all New York State residents in the School of Agriculture (assuming that you had good grades). So much of my programming on “The Sour Apple Tree” involved how institutional constraints limited artistic creativity.

A lot of good my adherence to footnotes and scientific method did me later on: at UCLA, I was labeled as that “hysterical feminist” or “the last positivist.”  I had yet to be called a troublemaking Jew to my face. So much for Cornell U. and its respect for empiricism. But despite the insults, I pressed on. How long had this “culturalism” thing been going on? Based on my research at UCLA, I could date the beginning of the turn toward “culturalism” in the mid-1930s, and have done so here: https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/. (A version of this essay was published on History News Network.) But I would prefer to begin with the response to the Soviet Coup of October 1917, as the progressives at the Nation magazine advised conservative readers to move sharply to the left to outflank both the Socialist Party and the I.W.W. This dates the turn away from “materialism” toward “idealist” formulations of social conflict to 1919. See https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/. Even that periodization has flaws. I researched the preferred style in teaching American literature from the Gilded Age to the present here: https://clarespark.com/2009/09/23/progressives-and-the-teaching-of-american-literature/.

(Much of this material was incorporated into my book on the Melville Revival, Hunting Captain Ahab.) In sum, all my studies strongly suggested that scientific method was questioned and usually discarded for the sake of “the moderate men,” social cohesion, and political stability. Some reviewers of my book ms. prior to publication accused me of liking my own readings too much: I was obviously another bossy Captain Ahab. Is it any wonder I emphasized his declaration of independence: “Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines.”  (For related blogs see https://clarespark.com/2012/12/18/blogs-on-mental-health/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/04/22/links-to-blogs-on-military-psychiatry/.)

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December 22, 2012

My “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” and Eric Hobsbawm

Oppositional_Defiant_Child_ODDToward the end of his autobiography (Interesting Times), the recently deceased ‘most important historian in the world’, Eric Hobsbawm, showed his contempt for the American Constitution, writing “Forced into the straitjacket of an eighteenth-century constitution reinforced by two centuries of talmudic exegesis by the lawyers, the theologians of the republic, the institutions of the USA are far more frozen into immobility than those of almost other states in 2002.” (p.409)

During the last month or so, I have read all of Hobsbawm’s famed tetralogy, his grand synthesis of world history from the French Revolution to the 1990s. As one exegete (Gregory Elliott) of Hobsbawm’s intellectual development claims, EH’s Marxism no longer lauds Marx as prophet of revolution, but rather as analyst of the disastrous globalization perpetrated by the bourgeoisie. To put it plainly, Hobsbawm adapted to the Leninist anti-imperialist moment approved by the younger Leninists. These avatars of “social justice” dominate the humanities today, including history, sociology, comparative literature, art history, etc. (For one blog on Hobsbawm related to this one, see https://clarespark.com/2012/12/08/hobsbawm-obama-israel/.)

As I have written previously, few would admit to being a Stalinist any longer, but Lenin’s anti-imperialism remains untarnished among not only the “hard left” but among Democratic Party activists. In other words, the Popular Front lives on, with the cooperation of George Soros (Interesting Times, p.310), Oliver Stone and his facilitators at Showtime or HBO, most movie and television celebrities, the professoriate at the better universities, and all progressive media. None of them, to my knowledge, has come out against anti-Zionism. Nor, I would guess, would any of them find anything objectionable about Hobsbawm’s depiction of the frigid American Constitution, deemed insane by the greatest historian ever, as numerous obituaries aver.

It is most curious that Hobsbawm the internationalist par excellence, not only remained a Communist all his life, but that he presents himself constantly as a “Jew”, but “anti-Zionist,” as anti-sectarian, as the avatar of Popular Front politics, as one for whom national loyalty and identification are out of date; rather, he divided the world up between fascists and anti-fascists. It is obvious from his writings that America, like Israel, like those Republicans (or a few centrist Democrats) who think that the Constitution was a good idea and still relevant and worth enforcing, are on the Wrong Side of History.

Some definitions are in order: Popular Front tactics were devised by the Comintern to trick New Dealers and other social democrats into supporting the Reds. The latter came out as “anti-fascists” in a broad oppositional front to Hitler and Franco around 1935. This tactic supplanted the “sectarianism” of the Third International, that defined New Dealers as “social fascists.” Hobsbawm wrote his books against “sectarianism” by which he meant not only the disastrous comrades from 1928-1934 (who allowed Hitler to prevail), but anything that smacked of Trotskyism or New Leftist go-it-alone operations. (Perhaps Pop Front politics are not relevant, for EH mentions Kondratiev waves to explain the weakness of capitalism, and such an economic theory would lead him to what he and others deem to be “democratic socialism.” See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Schumpeter.)

Hobsbawm’s position is puzzling, for during the halcyon Pop Front days, the Stalinist New Masses wrote favorably about the progressive bourgeoisie that had developed the progressive forces, empowering and presumably radicalizing the new working class. But the Leninist anti-imperialism line changed all that: no matter how regressive, any anti-Western movement in what used to be called the Third World was seen as a Good Thing, no matter how brutal and backward the society in question. Edward Said pushed this line and thousands of academics cheered. Even feminists who should have known better.

Perhaps I am suffering from “oppositional defiant disorder” for taking issue with the British Leftists who have, in my experience, invaded America, for they dominated UCLA and other top schools while I was in graduate school during the 1980s and early 1990s. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oppositional_defiant_disorder.) Surely, my shrink at UCLA (once a forensic psychiatrist in Massachusetts) thought that I was irrationally defiant in not knuckling under to authority, for he told me that after I had received the doctorate, much to his relief (or surprise?). As I have confessed before, it was confided to me by one in the know that my numerous critics referred to me as that “hysterical feminist.” Which was odd, for I viewed myself during those years as an old-fashioned Marxist, annoyed by the right-wing social democrats on the faculty who were sponsoring separatist ethnic and gender studies, and who were patently oblivious to the conflicts engendered by class position. But they did focus on “inequality.” I was chastised and mocked in private and public for deviance, for thinking that white male professors should catch up on their reading and integrate the latest scholarship on women and minorities. (For a partial index to my research on mental health theories see https://clarespark.com/2012/12/18/blogs-on-mental-health/.)

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Since then, I have rejected any particular political alignment, favoring the stance of the independent scholar, faithful to archival research and criticizing other historians for departing from the objectivity once lauded by scholars writing in the humanist tradition.

Meanwhile, watch out for the British Leftists. They can impress an American reader, for they are highly acculturated, display their cultural capital promiscuously, and can mislead the unwary reader into thinking that they are other than a cult, a guild characterized by Eros und Bund, and speaking mostly to each other, their impressionable students, and apparently POTUS and his appointees. See https://clarespark.com/2012/07/19/communist-ideas-go-mainstream/. (I learned about Eros und Bund from the late George L. Mosse, the prolific historian of popular culture in the Third Reich and in pre-Nazi Germany. Almost all  his books are fascinating, though I deplore his debt to German Idealism.)

December 18, 2012

Blogs on mental health

Virginia Woolf, suicide

Virginia Woolf, suicide

Most of this website is devoted to our political culture and its bizarre evasions of mental health issues. I blame this on an aversion to anything smacking of [the Jew] Freud and his followers in psychoanalysis and psychoanalytically-oriented therapies. We would rather look to religion, myths of the happy family, the notion that this is “the best of all possible worlds,” and pills as prescribed by much of the psychiatric profession. Our continued blindness to the psyche, our obliviousness to problematic institutions, and to problems in families will only lead to more mass deaths of the shocking character of Newtown, December 14, 2012.  We will continue to “undo” these preventable catastrophes in a desperate and fruitless attempt to escape from reality–whether from scapegoating or from premature diagnostics.

https://clarespark.com/2014/03/20/role-models-talcott-parsons-and-structural-functionalism/ (the ruling paradigm for mental health today)

https://clarespark.com/2013/01/16/gun-control-laws-quick-fixes-undoing/

https://clarespark.com/2013/03/18/babel-vs-sinai/

https://clarespark.com/2013/03/28/power-and-aristocratic-radicals/ (on the Foucauldians)

https://clarespark.com/2013/02/23/peter-gays-freud/

https://clarespark.com/2013/03/16/blogs-on-freud-and-anti-freudians/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/09/neurotic-vs-objective-anxiety-dsm-iv-and-beyond/ (retitled Holiday blues and unhappy families)

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/22/my-oppositional-defiant-disorder-and-eric-hobsbawm/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/15/sandy-hook-massacre-and-the-problem-of-evil/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/13/the-brain-trust-at-ucla/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/12/white-rage-black-surrogates/ (takes up the recent flap on Jamie Foxx on SNL)

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/09/neurotic-vs-objective-anxiety-dsm-iv-and-beyond/

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/24/the-cracked-and-cracking-loner-as-mass-murderer/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/02/index-to-sadomasochism-blogs/

https://clarespark.com/2011/01/15/healing-trauma-mystery/

https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/

https://clarespark.com/2010/11/29/index-to-lobotomy-blogs/ (don’t miss case 123, before and after: truly remarkable and awful)

https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/ (some on military psychiatry, some on ideology of progressive psychologists and writers)

https://clarespark.com/2009/11/08/is-the-history-of-psychiatry-a-big-mess-2/

https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/t-w-adorno-and-his-funny-idea-of-genuine-liberalism/

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