The Clare Spark Blog

January 14, 2017

“Fake News” (and “pigs in a blanket….”)

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UNITED STATES - JANUARY 5: A controversial painting by Missouri student David Pulphus depicting police as animals hangs in the tunnel connecting the U.S. Capitol to the Cannon House Office building as part of the annual student art exhibit on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017. The painting was selected as the 2016 Congressional Art Competition winner from Rep. William Lacy Clay's district in the St. Louis area. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

UNITED STATES – JANUARY 5: A controversial painting by Missouri student David Pulphus depicting police as animals hangs in the tunnel connecting the U.S. Capitol to the Cannon House Office building as part of the annual student art exhibit on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017. The painting was selected as the 2016 Congressional Art Competition winner from Rep. William Lacy Clay’s district in the St. Louis area. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

[Update: When I said that the news was both real and fake I did not mean to absolve the purveyors of “fake news” in the sense that it was contrived and mendacious. The point was that reality is a personal matter and that one person’s reality may be another’s fake. Meanwhile, demagogues argue that their positions are real, while their opponents’ ideas are indisputably fake.]

Ever since the President-elect gave his news conference on January 11, 2017, the question of “fake news” has flooded the airways. At the same time, a handful of media conservatives have identified a Congressional art contest winner as an intolerable provocation, adding to the outrageous claims of black power types that “cops” are “pigs.” (Caption on painting image from Huffington Post)

I want to link these two events, for they are aspects of the same problem: viewers and readers have few tools to understand these controversies, whose connections could be illuminated were we even partly educated in deciphering competing ideologies.

The question of real versus fake has haunted our species forever. Plato gave that job to the “Guardians” of his Republic who would be expert in defining what sense perceptions are to be taken seriously, versus the shadows in the Cave. We are besieged by “journalists” and all intellectuals all eager to shape our inquisitiveness. Even Walter Lippmann advocated the training of a special class to separate truth from lies in his interwar books, thus earning the enmity of libertarians such as Noam Chomsky:

Anyone who has ever dipped into the study of rhetoric understands that competitors for eyeballs detect sharp differences between propaganda and the “real deal”: my opponents do not only think differently, they are mistaken in their evaluations of what is and what is not a “fact.” So we may wallow in self-righteousness, convinced that our opinions are indeed facts in the “real world.”

The Cops as Pigs painting. Which brings me to the contentious arguments over what is and what is not “art.” Here I will depart from many conservative judgments that high art is eternal and not susceptible to historicizing.

I have been critical of all “collectivist discourses” throughout my postings. By “collectivist” I mean the substitution of groups for individuals. Thus in prior blogs I have criticized the notion of national character (like all “cultural criticism” as covering over unique responses to authority). Thus it is, in my view, typical adolescent rebelliousness to all authority (not solely an expression of black power) that is the relevant context for understanding the high-school originator of the disputed painting.

We should be asking who (or what social forces) put government in charge of determining the winners in “art contests”? And why can’t we draw a line between legitimate dissent and special pleading?

Rep. William Lacy Clay

Rep. William Lacy Clay

To the extent that Lacy Clay’s judgment should be upheld by ratifying his opinion about what is and what is not “art,” Clay’s judgment is, like all “fake news,” real and fake at the same time. To this particular Missouri Representative to Congress, the painting is indeed art and accurately reflects his own world-view, and probably those of a majority of his constituents, more’s the pity.

As long as collectivist monikers remain, we will be stuck like other bureaucrats, at best, confused and bleeding.

New Observer Online

New Observer Online

April 19, 2014

‘Totalitarianism’ (2)

pimpsup-hosdownOn April 17, I wrote this popular blog: It was preceded by a related blog that also was popular: The blogs on ‘totalitarianism’ got lots of views probably because it was not widely known at that time that there was a pseudo-democratic movement afoot to eliminate the Electoral College and substitute the trappings of a popular democracy, in effect, reversing the Constitution and eliminating the notion of a constitutional republic in favor of [mob rule, urban domination]. In other words, such details as the marketplace of ideas, checks and balances, and separation of powers would be obsolete and “anti-democratic” because they are ultimately controlled and defined by “the big money”—or so such blue-state politicians as Andrew Cuomo would have to argue.

We have seen the signs of such a transition to authoritarian statism already: the expedited passage of the Affordable Care Act (and then lawlessness in its implementation), the increasing power of the executive branch, the takeover of academe by “Democrats” who shamelessly proclaim themselves the police force that will patrol dissident factions (i.e., the Tea Party and all those who fear Big Government: see, and the turnaround of Brandeis University in the case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali—an insult supported by the Harvard Crimson staff, devoted as they are to multiculturalism, as opposed to the clash of civilizations thesis advanced by Hirsi Ali, who unequivocally states that there are no moderate Muslims. Similarly, the Secretary of State John Kerry’s deluded hope that he might broker a peace between Arabs and Israelis, reflects the assumptions of multiculturalism, as opposed to recognizing that there are some “differences” that are not only irreconcilable, but cannot be settled by mediation or “inclusion.” (And what the Left wants is a binational state, i.e., the end of a majority Jewish state, and the return of Jews to dhimmi status.) Soon we will all be requested to bow and scrape before our Platonic Guardians or the new nomenklatura.

Ever since I read Barack Obama’s two books in 2008, I have feared a bloodless transition to either fascism or communism. (Why bloodless? The population is so pacified/brainwashed, and force so unevenly distributed that I do not expect significant resistance.) BUT, I do not equate the two forms of statism, and have written extensively about this distinction in the past: The revolution of Communism promised to fulfill the promise of the Enlightenment with its ideal of individual emancipation, while Fascism (in all its variants) was a counter-Revolution that erased the Enlightenment, substituting the judenrein “people’s community” for the independent individual endowed with civil rights. Now look at the discourse of the Left and its stronghold in the Democratic Party: its key words are “families” or “the people” or “community”—entities that, in contrast to terroristic Republicans/Israelis/Goldfingers, are noted for their tender care and outreach to “the oppressed.”

One explicator of this crucial difference between fascism and communism was the late communist historian Eric Hobsbawm. See Sadly, Hobsbawm lacked the critical distance not to bash Israel and finance capital, as have other leftists, Karl Marx for instance in his early essay on “Money” as “the universal pimp.” But my most persuasive argument against the use of the word “totalitarian” is this: why are artists and dissidents murdered, locked up, or bought off in these omnipotent societies if it is so easy to impose total control on the population in societies with a tradition of cultural pluralism and at least a measure of free thought? Who but intellectuals benefit from this emphasis on the Soviets as compared to the Nazis and all their atrocities?

Two authors stand out: Also (Hannah Arendt’s “great book”). Whatever their motives, such books and arguments take our attention away from the dynamics of Hitler’s rise to power and the unspeakable consequences of the Third Reich. As I write this, the factions that make up the right wing in America (not to be confused with the European Right) are still fighting with each other. Until the magnitude of the crisis that confronts us is broadly recognized and addressed in solidarity, excising those fringe groups and behaviors that really ARE racist, terroristic, populistic, and lawless (the Klan, Neo-Nazis, usually blamed by the Left on “the Right”), there is little doubt about who wins and who loses. If we get to 2016 without a coup (call it what you will), I will be the most surprised of anyone. plato

January 2, 2013

Culture warriors and the Enlightenment

enlightenment[My most comprehensive treatment of this vexed subject is here:]

Bill O’Reilly, the most popular history writer in America today and the dominant draw in cable news, has announced to his millions of viewers that he will accelerate his assault on “secular-progressives” and implied that he expects to win the culture wars for “traditionalists” like himself. He has started his campaign because he believes that the breakdown in family structure (i.e. the absent father in minority and other poor families) is the primary cause of dependency on the redistributionist welfare state.

What O’Reilly fails to see is that many, if not all, of his secular progressive enemies are as much committed to the organic society as is he, for they are often moderate men given to “compromise,”  and thus healers of every conceivable rift in the “body politic.”

As I have demonstrated on this website and in my book on the Melville Revival, there was not only one Enlightenment, but two streams of thought contributing to what O’Reilly calls “secular progressivism.” One stream watered the New Deal, while the other fed the notions of free market capitalism as explicated by Hayek and the Friedmans, to name a few.

Take Peter Gay ( , whose volumes on the Enlightenment energized the fields of cultural history, social history, and the history of medicine, sub-fields of history that lean toward the organic society (the class collaboration furthered by the New Deal and other conservative reformers), though that is not generally seen, as these academics are a tightly knit group that fends off “mechanical materialist” intruders, who deny, say, the notion of Zeitgeist as formulated by such counter-Enlightenment figures as Herder and other German Romantics. And yet in his Freud For Historians (Oxford UP, 1985), Gay distances himself from such mystical formulations as Zeitgeist.

Here is what Peter Gay wrote in the second volume of his massive tome The Enlightenment: An Interpretation Vol.II: The Science of Freedom (Knopf, 1969):

“There was nothing new in the philosophes’ perception that society is a fabric with interdependent, interacting parts:* what they did that was new was to take this perception as a justification for their own importance. After all, if progress is infectious, then to teach truth, expose error, and inculcate confidence—and all this, of course, the philosophes were sure they were doing—was to spread reason and shed light over large areas, even in unsuspected places. Thus the philosophes enlisted the enlightened atmosphere of their day in the service of their movement.” (p.25, “The Spirit of the Age, ” my emph.)

I quote Peter Gay because I want to distinguish between what I call the Conservative Enlightenment and the (materialist) Radical Enlightenment. The former type is covertly Burkean, emphasizing continuities with the past through “interdependence” and (implied) deference to Platonic Guardians, while the latter was a rupture with the past. (See  The American Constitution was one such rupture, especially as its original favoritism toward white males was rectified by the antislavery and voting rights for women amendments.

What is at stake in these competing notions of Enlightenment is the conception of the autonomous individual, capable of standing apart from passions, from families, from tribal associations, to read the world (reality) and hence to make decisions as an independent citizen. Such a one can throw off the conception of “national character” or group mind that [collectivist] Peter Gay supports through his rhetoric and his reverence for “the secular social conscience” (p.39), Kant and other German thinkers. The notion of Zeitgeist is imaginary, like the widely used term “cultural climate,” or, to use Peter Gay’s scientistic language “enlightened atmosphere.”

Today, the cultural climate that alarms Bill O’Reilly (e.g. the “culture of violence”) has taken on the agency once attributed to the individual. But such culturalist formulations go well with the corporatist liberal/communist notion of “social engineering.” Fix the “cultural climate,” bring back the moderate, healing good father (Lincoln, JFK, O’Reilly), and such events as the Newtown massacre will end, and we shall indeed live to see the best of all possible worlds.


*Compare Gay’s formulation to that of Joyce Appleby, Margaret Jacob, and Lynn Hunt: “Historians cannot comprehend all the variables bombarding a single event. Human beings participate in a dense circuitry of interacting systems, from those that regulate their bodily functions to the ones that undergird their intellectual curiosity and emotional responses. A full explanation of an event would have to take into consideration the full range of systematic reactions. Not ever doing that, history-writing implicitly begins by concentrating on those aspects of an event deemed most relevant to the inquiry.” (From Telling the Truth in History, Norton, 1994, p.253)

May 20, 2012

Kick Me Again

Peter Bregman

The Harvard Business Review has distributed this blog  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, 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, or this one:

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.” (, or if you don’t like Ethel Merman’s tempo, try Patti LuPone: 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

April 18, 2010

Links to Nazi sykewar, American style


This series reveals the astounding opinons derived from German and Nazi war propaganda that were adopted by leaders of the progressive movement on the threshold of America’s entrance into World War Two. It is deeply shocking to those who see an unbridgeable chasm between Roosevelt and Hitler. It also underlines the theme of this website: the growing literacy and numeracy of ordinary people since the invention of the printing press terrified aristocrats in Europe, and their opinions were easily transmitted to American progressives whose social democratic aspirations created a new aristocracy in America, similar to the idea of the Platonic Guardians. For a related blog with more evidence see On the power of Jeffersonian agrarianism among progressives, see (Don’t miss this one: it expresses the progressive fear of the rationality of ordinary people. who may see through propaganda.)

November 15, 2009

“…and was this little boy YOU?” (2)

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Image (91)I. Here is an excerpt from chapter two of my book/collage, Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival (Kent State UP, 2001, 2006). Gordon Allport collaborated with Harvard colleague Henry A. Murray to create programs of “civilian morale” that were nationally disseminated to progressive organizations. I presented these quotes to illustrate the double-binds that Melville exposed in such works as Pierre, or The Ambiguities (1852).

[Richard Evans to Gordon Allport:] Since most of our students [at Harvard] begin the study of psychology by reading Freud, it might be profitable to begin by hearing your reaction to some of Freud’s ideas and work. I understand you actually met Freud on one occasion, and I wonder if you would tell about this meeting.

[Gordon Allport:] My one encounter with Freud did not turn out to be very significant for my professional development, but I’ll tell the story briefly. Not long after I finished college, I found myself in Vienna where Freud was not as renowned as he became later. At any rate, I wrote him a note announcing that I was in Vienna, and that he no doubt would be very glad to know it. He was very courteous and sent me a hand-written note inviting me to his office at a stated time. So I went to the famous Burggasser office which was papered in red burlap and decorated with pictures of dreams. At exactly the appointed time, Freud opened the door of his inner office, invited me in smilingly, sat down, and said nothing. It suddenly occurred to me that it was up to me to have a reason for calling on him, but I actually didn’t have any. I was just curious.[i] I fished around in my mind and came up with an event which occurred on the tramcar on the way to his office that I thought would interest him. There had been a little boy about four years old who obviously had already developed a dirt phobia. His mother was a Hausfrau, well starched and very prim, and the little boy would say he didn’t want to sit there; it was dirty. He didn’t want that man to sit next to him; he was dirty. And so it went throughout the whole trip. I thought this might interest Freud since the phobia seemed to be set so early in this case. He listened till I finished; then he fixed his very therapeutic eyes on me and said, “and was this little boy you?” It honestly was not, but I felt guilty. At any rate, I managed to change the conversation. In thinking over the experience, it impressed me that Freud’s tendency was to see pathological trends, and since most of the people who came to see him were patients, it was natural that he’d think I was a patient and break down my defenses in order to get on with the business. Actually, he mistook my motives in this case. Had he said to himself that I was a brassy American youth imposing on his good nature and time, he would have been fairly correct. But to ascribe my motivation to unconscious motives as he did in this case was definitely wrong. As I thought over the experience in subsequent years, it occurred to me that there might be a place for another type of theory to account for personality and motivation. (my emph.)

[Allport reflecting upon the 1950s concerns with conformity:] I’m inclined to think that the challenge to the healthy person is to learn to play the game where necessary, to meet the requirements of the culture, and still to have integrity, to maintain some self-objectification, and not to lose his personal values and commitments. It becomes more and more difficult to do, but I believe it can be done. It implies that the personality of the future will operate under more of a strain, but we don’t know yet what the actual potentiality of human development can be. We may be able to eat our cake and have it too by playing the organization game while remaining the individual of integrity and personal commitment.[ii]

Gordon Allport


I have attempted to create a political context for the controversies surrounding the life and art of Herman Melville. Ahab became “Melville” in institutions held to be implicitly critical and self-critical, but where the perimeters of dissent were not always explicitly delineated, or where “individuality” was flaunted in one breath, taunted in the next. The consequence was the construction of a crumbling national monument to American literature, unable to withstand the delegitimating gaze of its radical critics suspicious of claims to unbounded cultural freedom in the playgrounds of the new social sciences. [end book excerpt]

II. Anyone who has survived childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood knows that all professionals claiming the mantle of “science” are not equally competent and are never infallible. Still, they may cover up each other’s errors to protect themselves from the wrath of clients when and if they do mess up. I am saying this because of the furor over the Nidal Hasan jihad, and the blame being assigned to “psychiatry” and related fields in mental health as somehow culpable on account of an innately flawed methodology.

As I showed in my blog on the 1920s pseudo-Freudians, the unconscious mind, held to be the invention of Papa Freud himself, was probably the realm of the lower orders, whose success in American was dependent on accepting the definitions of harmony and conflict handed down by the Platonic Guardians of immigrant youth. Upon reflecting upon the gallons of wrathful ink spilled to discredit the founder of psychoanalysis, I believe his greatest sin was not his atheism (though that was a major crime for critics whose religion had purified themselves of original sin, death, and a future in hell), but his view of conflict. As I have shown on this website, the “progressives” either imposed harmony from above (a habit sometimes denounced by the pre-Freudian Herman Melville), or in the case of Freud, they objected to his notion that self-control was a constant struggle, and that childhood traumas and difficult relationships with the family of origin could leave permanent scars, manifesting themselves as neurotic anxiety (add to this depression), or a tendency to idealize objects (lovers and leaders, for instance). [This is a very crude and compressed summary of what I think Freud’s main argument was.]

Here are two currently relevant and useful examples from Freud’s contributions, and for those followers who have corrected his errors of emphasis and contributed to our understanding of such crucial matters as separation-anxiety for instance. (See my blog on Panic Attacks.)

1. Separating objective anxiety from neurotic anxiety. Anxiety is a common-sense approach to objective dangers in the world. When an opponent declares intentions to destroy oneself or one’s country, it is not neurotic to take steps in self-defense. But if one misreads those who make us anxious because some aspect of their appearance or conduct reminds us of hurtful parents or other intimates, we have to separate fantasy from reality. As long as the hurtful parent or mate or sibling remains “perfect” and always benevolent in memory, we cannot make the necessary separation from fantasy. Demagogues play upon this desire for the return of the perfectly protective parent and rescue us from enemies who may or may not be real antagonists. Hitler’s first speech as Chancellor  (Feb.10, 1933) with its introduction by Goebbels is an example of this technique: Goebbels and Hitler promised to millions the restoration of the conflict-free family, in his case understood to be “the people’s community” that was free of lying Jews and their lying press and their decadent Weimar Republic, the spawn of November 1918.

In chapter 7 of my Melville book, I show how powerful this longing for the perfectly happy “pluralist” family has been in the psyches of Melville’s revivers. Melville himself would vacillate between the explorer of “rifts” and the proponent of family harmony, sacrificing his own “mutinous” sensory perceptions and sense of individuality for their sake: see “Billy Budd” as an example.

2. Recognizing conflict that is susceptible to mediation or arbitration and not assuming that all conflict is reconcilable. In the case of irreconcilable conflict, one must either slug it out with hostile enemies, or tolerate real differences grounded in the material world of classes and genders, meanwhile scrutinizing one’s own contribution to conflict, for instance, in inconsistent or negligent parenting, or inattention to the rights and feelings of others. Where Allport or Talcott Parsons and the other functionalists went wrong was in assuming that “the system” could be manipulated by them and other experts so that “natural harmony” prevailed, and all conflict therefore, must emanate from outsiders, for instance the troublemaking (destabilizing) Jewish capitalist or communist. Freud would suffer from the same stigma—he became the outsider who created ruptures between past and present, who encouraged one to reconfigure the past, and to constantly revise one’s own view of personal and national histories with appropriate curiosity, then to take responsibility for misperceptions and to attempt to correct them in the future. What he did not advocate was excusing miscreants as the products of evil parents, but as moralist, he most certainly held “authority” responsible for abusing those in its care.  (to be continued)

[i] 101. I.e., for Allport, curiosity is a passion, not an aspect or component of reason. Cf. Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651, Part One, Chapter 6.

[ii] 102. Richard I. Evans, Gordon Allport: The Man and His Ideas (New York: Dutton, 1970), 4-5, 104. The interviews with Allport are undated. Nothing is mentioned about his work on civilian morale, though the role of the academic psychologist in society is briefly explored. The interviewer never asks Allport to reflect upon the possible influence of his intense (German) Protestant religious commitments upon his social ideas. That he was indeed religious was stated by a former student speaking from the floor in a memorial symposium (1969) two years after Allport’s death.

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