The Clare Spark Blog

March 22, 2012

The Great Dumbing Down (2)

Devils from Rila Monastery

In a prior blog, I attempted to “periodize” the moment when American culture turned toward stupidity and away from the Prometheanism implied in the conception of American exceptionalism and the making of the Constitution by such as Alexander Hamilton (not that Hamilton was an American Candide). In that blog (https://clarespark.com/2012/03/13/dumbing-down-when-did-it-begin/), I fingered William James and other “pragmatists” as major figures in the deterioration of education. Now I add that moderate man Reinhold Niebuhr to my enemies list.

In the Fall of 1957, I took David Brion Davis’s course in American intellectual history at Cornell U. I have a clear memory of his stating that “the devil was back” in his discussion of Hawthorne and Melville. What Davis meant was that both writers took a dim view of the theory of progress, attacking its key precept, that man was malleable morally (as demonstrated in travel narratives or utopian communes such as Brook Farm) and that better government and capitalism could ameliorate what had been lives that were “nasty, brutal, and short” (Hobbes). Davis also lectured about the importance of Reinhold Niebuhr in furthering that pessimistic ideology after the second world war. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinhold_Niebuhr. That Niebuhr should have switched his political views at that time, puts him in the camp of other pessimists who sought to dampen American hubris after the defeat of  the Axis powers by the Western democracies (see my blog on film noir: https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/.

It was also a moment when the high school population exploded and when returning veterans were availing themselves of the G. I. Bill, flooding colleges with cocky survivors of a war unprecedented in its mayhem. The major universities took note and reconstructed the humanities curriculum in collectivist and anti-urban directions– a direction that would halt the feared road to communism in America. Simply put, the real Marxist-Leninists were mostly purged, and “right-wing social democrats” (the “moderate” conservatives) took over and now are referred to as “the Left.” Their statism (but one that includes “ a reasonable amount of private property”) often leads some right-wing authors to conflate social democrats with Leninists, Italian Fascists, and Nazis.

As the Wikipedia biography of Niebuhr demonstrates, the key element in his conversion to “Christian Realism” (said to be a forerunner of “realism” in foreign relations), was the linking of evil to self-love and pride. Comes now the canonical reading of Melville’s Promethean Captain Ahab as the epitome of narcissism; indeed the Icarus legend was used to describe his literary fortunes from 1919 on. (As Ahab, his wings melted, plunging HM back to earth where he either drowned as Narcissus or burned as Icarus. In any case, he was demonic—the mirror of the Parsee Fedallah– and that theme remains dominant in Melville criticism as taught in the dumbing-down schools and universities controlled by the so-called left.)

Melville was ambivalent about “evil” as an independent entity apart from historically specific institutions and individuals. At times he wrote “evil is the chronic malady of the universe,” or in another mood he would say that good and evil were braided together so confusingly that he could say through one of his characters (the ambiguous Pierre) that “virtue and vice are trash” and that he must “gospelize the world anew.” I am convinced that Mark Twain read Melville, for in his fragment “The Character of Man” he echoes Melville in his most depressed and misanthropic moods.

To summarize: “moral relativism” has been a term used by some conservatives to condemn the explorations typified by the modern, mind-expanding world. What it meant to the Enlightenment was not the trashing of “virtue” but the realization that such conceptions as good and evil were socially constructed and could vary according to the institutional structures and resources of different societies; that in lauding individuals or social practices as either laudatory or destructive, such valuations had meaning only in specific historical contexts. Because many of the Founding Fathers were highly educated men, conversant with antiquity as well as with the discoveries of European explorers, they did not rely upon such ahistoric conceptions as The Devil to mold the Constitution that would govern negative human impulses in favor of a more orderly progress than had heretofore existed. But in the “progressive” world view of such as William James and Reinhold Niebuhr, the human capacity to be educated and uplifted has been ringed round with anxiety and self-doubt. Learning is hard enough without that extra dollop of immobilizing fear. For more on “the moderate men” (Melville’s phrase), see https://clarespark.com/2011/09/29/the-abraham-lincoln-conundrum/. Moderation is a buzz word without concrete meaning, and is a key word in psychological warfare.

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January 25, 2011

American Slavery vs. Nazi genocide

Paul Rusconi’s gloss on an Ed Ruscha image

[Added 2/13/11 and 2/18/11: I now have the book under review below, and it has an epigraph from Reinhold Niebuhr. The use of “evil” or “darkness” or “the Shadow” as a fundamental component of human personality is a notion from Manichaean religion (they also cite Jung) that strongly affected the corporatist liberal social psychologists tracked on this website. It tended to erase material motives for destructive behavior and “prejudice”, attributing such conduct as the projection of inner evil onto “the Other.” Moreover, the book (The Problem of Evil: Slavery, Freedom, and the Ambiguities of American Reform) is dedicated to David Brion Davis, who, following Niebuhr,  forthrightly has declared that it is the task of the historian to moralize about the American past. Furthermore, the editors (Steven Mintz and John Stauffer) say we not only confront our past, but we must overcome it. Given the approval of D.B. Davis to massive government programs, I must assume that a form of reparations is intended, and that this remedy is intrinsic to the social democratic teaching of American history and a sop to black nationalists. Added 2-16-11: In his polemic Moralists and Modernizers, Steven Mintz delineates two trajectories for antebellum reform movements. One trend encompasses the moralizing abolitionists and leads to the compassionate 20th century welfare state (presumably reducing “income inequality”); the other moralizers/modernizers are associated with laissez-faire capitalism and the Christian Right (hard-hearted Social Darwinists). Published by Johns Hopkins Press in 1995, the book is an intervention in the culture wars. I do not question the sincerity or remarkable accomplishments of these historians, but rather their implied acquiescence to the more extreme claims of the civil rights movement (in its black nationalist phase).]

[This blog is not about the Civil War or its causes, but about the hijacking of American history by some leftists, who write like the militant black nationalists I encountered at Pacifica Radio, and that David Horowitz described at length in his Hating Whitey. The year  2011 could see a huge upsurge in articles about whether that conflict could have been prevented by better statesmanship, the causes and objectives of the war, what exactly happened in the war, and what was the course of Reconstruction. I have already written a research paper on Reconstruction and its interpretation by Herman Melville in his poem on Robert E. Lee. The link is here: https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/.]

Here are two paragraphs from a book review by Miami University history assistant visiting professor Oleta Prinsloo, and posted on the NEH-funded Humanities-Net websites: “H-Civil War” and  “H-Slavery.” They are remarkable for their Doublespeak and unblushing partisanship. For while erasing historicism, they pretend to present examples of the historian’s craft. Instead of depicting the past as best they can using available sources, they proudly claim the role of activist scholars, specifically they aim to undermine the “conservative” idea of  American exceptionalism. Here are two paragraphs from the review:

“While the fashion in American history writing has been for historians to pretend to moral neutrality, (Steven) Mintz and (John) Stauffer argue that Americans cannot move forward (nor by implication can they honestly contemplate the significance of 9/11) until there has been a moral reckoning with the American past.  Mintz writes that “history without a moral dimension is antiquarianism” (p. 1).  Their undertaking is modeled on German writers since WW II who have tried to come to terms with the implications of Nazism on the past, an undertaking called _Vergangenheitsbewaltigung_.  Mintz defines the word as the “wrestling with the demons of German history through reflection, remembering, and moral reckoning” (p. 1).

“The editors chose the essays according to five criteria: the wrestling with a fundamental moral problem, the centrality of ideas or an ideology “to connect economic and political interests and the realm of ideas” (p. 2), . the recognition of culture as involving contests for power, the placing of the U.S. experience into larger processes of modernization, and the relation of slavery to an understanding of modernity.  Most of the essays contain themes prominent in history writing on slavery, abolition, reform, and freedom since the 1990s.  By historicizing evil, these essays work to undercut the conservative American exceptionalism interpretation of U.S. history.” [End, Prinsloo excerpt}

[Clare:] This entire project and its presentation as a foray into uncharted waters is simply astounding. American historians have been preoccupied with the problem of slavery from the inception of the discipline. To be sure, estimations of its character and the causes of the Civil War have been strenuously debated. But the first thing we learned in graduate school in U.S. history was not to allow our own distaste or horror at the institution (or any other individual or institution) to interfere with our representations of the American past. (The common tendency to project our own morality into past societies was described as “present-mindedness” and promoted by Howard Zinn.) However, not only are the historians mentioned in the review openly identified with the Left (another no-no for objective historians), they are 1. transmitting a well-known theme in post-60s history writing in a line suggested by Eric Williams and others that the filthy lucre derived from slavery made capitalism possible, that slavery, capitalism, and modernity are chained together and coterminous (as opposed to slavery being an archaic,  quasi-feudal institution, and its overcoming a triumph of the bourgeoisie that, in so doing,  laid the foundation for a prosperous new nation built upon free labor); and 2. entirely misrepresenting the theory of American exceptionalism.

What made America exceptional was the lack of a hereditary aristocracy with its rigid class system. After 1787-89, the U.S. could boast of  a “constitution of liberty” (Hayek)  that made it possible for any common person to rise in income and status. In other words, America offered a meritocracy that rewarded hard work and skill–it was a land of limitless opportunity for free white men, rights that were gradually extended to freedmen and women. Because America fought a civil war and then pursued an extended and still persistent civil rights movement, the sin of slavery was purified  by the blood of over 600,000 casualties (as some Christians saw it). And yet many “interdisciplinary” scholars continue to indoctrinate their students with the notion of “white skin privilege,” in some cases blaming the Jews for inventing the slave trade, a myth strenuously opposed by such as Yale professor David Brion Davis, a major scholar mentioned elsewhere in the review as if he were in their camp. This fashionable notion is further carried over in the post-60s representation of American national character, said to be imperialist, patriarchal, racist, genocidal, and ecocidal. Obviously, such crimes demand reparations or even revolution, and revolution is what I believe that some postmodernists/post-colonial scholars are advocating (I do not include D. B. Davis or his students in this group: they are likely strong supporters of the Obama administration). Do not delude yourself, dear reader, into thinking that such voices are only marginal in current history departments.

What the reviewer reports in the excerpt above is even more outrageous in appropriating the German movement to “work through” its Nazi past in order to propose a similar breast-beating here.  This is tantamount to claiming that American history is Nazi-like in its essential character. I understand  that not all readers of this blog will make the same leap, but then they may not read between the lines as strenuously as I do.  I would argue that American scholars have not, as a group, worked through the antisemitism that pervades our particular political culture, especially in its populist variant. In his show of Monday January 24, Jon Stewart presented a lengthy segment quoting various Fox News personalities who apparently were comparing certain leftists as resembling Nazis in their rhetoric. This as his riposte to Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen’s accusation that Republicans were spreading “the big lie.” These guys–all of them–should spend more time in the groves of academe where the destruction of history is perpetrated daily, with little notice in the blogosphere or in the presentations beloved by the hipsters among us.

[Added 1-28-11, my response to criticisms by two history professors who subscribe to H-Net’s History of Antisemitism discussion group:

Dear list, the two negative responses to my blog https://clarespark.com/2011/01/25/american-slavery-vs-nazi-genocide/, were instructive on several grounds. I was reproached for criticizing activist scholars, and for ignorance of the last three decades of historiography, but there was also a criticism that I had abused my source by claiming that the American history of slavery was being compared to the history of the Third Reich.

Just today, I received an email from the UCLA Department of History announcing a meeting with activist scholars whose knowledge of history would illuminate the current debates on same-sex marriage. This was the department that awarded me the Ph.D., and while there I was immersed in social history, a sub-field beloved by New Left, Stalinist, and Trotskyist activist scholars, because it enabled the would-be historian to stand with the oppressed and generally support revolt by the lower orders we exclusively studied. One of their number, the prolific and powerful Gary Nash told his students straight out that study of “literary sources” (i.e., the writings of decision-makers and leaders in general) was by its very nature “elitist.” Thus Nash’s seminar on colonial America completely ignored intellectual history in favor of the study of slavery and native American wars instigated by the invading “whites.”

Needless to say, antisemitism was never discussed in seminars or in the numerous conferences staged by the U.S. field. It was my own study after 1986 that instructed me in the propaganda disseminated by Nazis* and Soviets regarding the control that Jews exerted over the United States.  Here is one example of Soviet propaganda, penned by Dmitri Volkogonov in _The Psychological War_ (1986):

“The capitalist mass media are greatly influenced by the Zionist circles.  For example, Zionist organisations in the United States control half its magazines, more than half of its radio stations, and a large number of press and radio bureaus abroad.  In other capitalist countries the picture is very much the same.  In addition to that, various Zionist organisations run more than a thousand publications in 67 countries.  This is where the military-industrial complex draws its ideological support. The capitalist mass media spread outright lies about socialism, create a climate of fear for the future, of gloom and doom.  The main idea of this vast system of disinformation is to prove that “socialism is bad” and the “free world” is good. This is how the capitalist mass media are waging the psychological war against the Soviet people, also against their own people whom the bourgeois radio centres feed with disinformation.  This is how opinions in the West are shaped when people are unable to understand the true state of things, when they think and act only under the influence of the extraneous forces that manipulate them.”

I do not find it a stretch to say that the more powerful history professors at UCLA were as explicit as Volkogonov in attacking the notion of the “free world.” True, they were not explicit anti-Semites, though Harold Cruse’s famous diatribe against “Jewish” Communists (_The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual_) was assigned in the seminar that introduced new grad students to the various sub-fields of U.S. history, and when I wrote a paper complaining about the invidious distinction Cruse drew between Jewish and gentile Communists to be disturbing, Nash passed off Cruse’s book as typical 1960s overstatement, suggesting to me that I was oversensitive to anti-Jewish smears (though I kept this thought to myself). If one wanted to study antisemitism, one became a Europeanist and/or studied with Saul Friedlander or joined the [anti-Zionist] Jewish Studies program initiated while I was still a graduate student. The U.S. field in the Department of History was ideologically judenrein.

Notwithstanding Professor Nash’s preferred sub-field of social history (with its constant emphasis on inequality), he and his co-professor Mary Yeager warned the incoming students not to be present-minded by imposing current moral standards on the past. Still, by directing the students to resistance from below to the various oppressions that bedeviled them, Nash’s morality was expressed clearly enough.

So much for my ignorance of the historiography of the past three decades. As for my objection to comparing the German movement to “working through” the Nazi past to the call for the injection of morality into the study of American slavery (as if it still existed in this country, or perhaps as if insufficient reparations had been made to the descendants of slaves), I stand by my original message. Black nationalism was alive and well at UCLA where I received my training. It remains a powerful influence today. Ralph Bunche’s memoranda to Gunnar Myrdal warned him about the rampant antisemitism in black nationalist organizations. As I wrote about it in my published article on the Bunche-Myrdal dispute over _An American Dilemma_, Myrdal’s response was to frequently trash Bunche and “the Howard boys” as economic determinists and to hint in his endnotes that Jews were the worst exploiters of blacks. For a summary of my published paper, see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/.

*Space does not permit me to cite examples of Nazi propaganda that viewed the U.S. as controlled by Jews.

For an outstanding article on the impropriety of comparing the slave trade with the Holocaust, see Seymour Drescher, “The Atlantic Slave Trade and the Holocaust,” in Is The Holocaust Unique?, ed. Alan Rosenbaum (Westview Press, 1996).

December 11, 2009

“Don’t fence me in”: notes toward a workable consensus

 

a page from New Theatre, June 1936: Hitler as narcissist

Here is my utopian contribution to the theory of independent media–a hot topic in the era of the internet and blogging. It was directed to program producers and listeners to Pacifica Radio after years of observing how this “alternative” media outlet malfunctioned, even at its best. Given how polarized our political culture remains, I hope that readers of all ideological preferences will read the notes as a plea for a more constructive and creative dialogue. You might want to read these first: https://clarespark.com/2009/08/20/shakin-the-blues-away-primitivism-rock-n-roll-and-mental-health/, https://clarespark.com/2009/08/18/storming-pacifica-revising-my-view-of-pacifica-history-july-22-1999/, https://clarespark.com/2009/08/13/my-life-at-pacifica-radio-a-memoir-part-one/, and https://clarespark.com/2009/08/14/my-life-at-pacifica-part-two-with-gory-details-and-more-on-identity/.

[Christopher Simpson, 1994:] Entrepreneurial academics modeled the scientific tools needed for development of practical applications of communication-as-domination on those that had seemed so successful in the physical sciences: a positivist reduction of complex phenomena to discrete components; an emphasis on quantitative description of change; and claimed perspective of “objectivity” toward scientific “truth.”  With few exceptions, they assumed that mass communication was “appropriately viewed from [the perspective of] the top or power center…rather than from the bottom or periphery of the system (6)….U.S. social science, including mass communications research, helped elaborate rationales for coercing groups targeted by the U.S. government and Western Industrial culture generally (115).  Roughly similar psychological and linguistic structures seem to have played a role in certain phases of Turkish Ittyad efforts to exterminate Armenians during World War I, in atrocities during Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union, and in U.S. exploitation of former Nazis in intelligence operations.  There are many obvious differences, of course, between the psychological and linguistic dynamics of atrocities and those of psychological warfare projects.  Nonetheless, there are enough similarities to suggest that euphemistic “cover stories” are integral to much of modern political communication (144).[1]

[Reinhold Niebuhr, “The Truth in Myths,” 1937:]  …religion is forced to tell many little lies in the interest of a great truth, while science inclines to tell many little truths in the interest of a great lie.  The great truth in the interest of which many little lies are told is that life and history have meaning and the source and the fulfillment of that meaning lie beyond history.  The great lie in the interest of which science tells many little truths is that spatio-temporal realities are self-contained and self-explanatory and that a scientific description of sequences is an adequate analysis of causes. [2]

[Clare’s blog:]      Make no mistake, the culture wars will be fought to the death, and not because scientists do not “tolerate” religious values, but because there is no center, no middle-ground between secular and mystical world-views; either intellectual debate is worth the trouble, or it is a waste of time; either popular sovereignty is to be made rational and competent, or we should return to enlightened despotism.

Certain conclusions for theory and practice flow from my reflections on the devious cultural politics of nineteenth and twentieth-century America and Europe.  What has been most strenuously dismantled in the last tumultuous period of academic reform is The Big Lie of materialism, mega-weapon of Western Industrial culture (according to Christopher Simpson).  As I have tried to show throughout the blogs posted on this website,  however, most public “liberals” and “leftists” today (ethnocultural structuralists) are inheritors of social ideas that were never libertarian and universalistic.  These particular “multiculturalists” decapitate political animals insofar as they prejudge coherent narratives (i.e., authoritative, chronologically ordered, fact-based accounts) of historical change and conflict as totalitarian, racist, and genocidal.  We are toothless without the relatively objective criteria that would make elected authority accountable to its constituency, helpless in identifying the social divisions and antagonisms that most persuasively delineate the trajectory of history at any given moment.

Often with the best of intentions, the Populists and Progressives, the Leninist Left, the Frankfurt School critical theorists, and many New Left anti-racists admiring Simpson or Niebuhr advocated free speech and cultural relativism in ways that would logically undermine confidence in common readers scrutinizing rival political platforms, thus hindering  the coalition building necessary for earnest (goal-directed) politics.  The primitivists/libertines among them sought emancipation from the slavery of romantic love, finding equality in the acting out of repressed “instincts” that the workaholic bourgeoisie had squashed; some critics of essentialism/identity politics argue from the positions of Heraclitus and Nietzsche: the aristocratic radical (Cormac McCarthy?) again looks askance at uppity artisans, the murderous children of Cain.  Our generation of intellectuals might do well to distinguish between 17th-18th C. and late 20th C. conceptions of science, democracy, history and international brotherhood.

As the quotations from Lewis Hill, founder of Pacifica radio and his successors demonstrated, it was the class war that the Pacifica pacifists were to oppose most emphatically: good labor unions collaborated with business as corporatist liberalism (New Deal policies mimicking the happy family) preferred; however, given the conditions of the Depression, during which every class was in crisis, the managed good news Lewis Hill advocated could not report negotiation between equals though that fiction would be maintained in contract law.  Implicit in Hill’s ideology was the notion that misunderstandings in communication (the source of conflict?) could be removed through enlightened workplace anthropology.  Pacifica would radiate good feelings.  Similarly, reformed curricula and canons, overcoming Anglo-American/Hebraic “liberal” hubris, selfishness, and avarice, would breed empathic workers and managers.  Intractable differences were only racial or ethnic or gendered: the powerless would be typed according to biological imperatives, each group possessed of marvelously unique, equally idiosyncratic, rooted points of view that could be freely expressed on public or independent or reformed media, yet these perspectives were finally untranslatable to members of different linguistic communities.  Such rights of privacy, aka group expression, would be guarded by socially responsible businessmen and their deputized academics, fending off melting-pot sharpshooters to their Right.  So far and no farther would freedom, independence, and equality be tolerated.

“Radical subjectivism” asserted itself against “Marxist” postulations of ruling-class “hegemony” by insisting upon the inevitable multiplicity of points of view, of de-centered loci of power and authority. Individual character gave way to “social character.” As one professor of “applied Christianity” put it, referring to the work of Erich Fromm, Clyde Kluckhohn, and Henry Murray, “In order that any society may function well, its members must acquire the kind of character which makes them want to act the way they have to act as members of the society or of a special class within it. Fromm is thoroughly aware of the grave dangers in this ability of society to pressure us into becoming what society wants. But he realizes also that freedom is achieved only in social relations and that one becomes a self only within a group or a people.”[3]

Such “diversity” was seen as both descriptive and desirable.  Like community broadcasting itself, radical subjectivism was a rejection of white male domination, hence progressive, not a turn toward the archaic, the medieval and the barbaric.  In the etiquette of The New Pluralism-Without-Snakes-and-Spiders, there are no lies, save the Big One.  Given this marvel of constructive disengagement, how might alternative media planners counter the cacophony of corporatist liberalism?

I. Discourse and critical method.

—–A. The ethnopluralists have been tracked throughout the blogs. To distinguish ourselves from these organic conservatives masked as genuine liberals we should avoid their buzz words insofar as they apply the terms of biological systems to social organization: e.g., “the community,” “the body politic,” “national character,” “group mind,” “roots,” “milieu,” “equilibria,” “cultural climate,” “balance” (understood as the harmony which ensues when two more or less hysterical people contradict or “check” each other), and “identity” (understood as essential group psychological characteristics transmitted in the genes).

—–B. We should challenge the deployment of the words “race” and “ethnicity” insofar as they are meant to describe hereditary intellectual capacity and other psychological characteristics, as opposed to the ideological construction of “group character” in historically specific moments of conflict.  We ask our audience to keep in mind this understanding of “race” and “ethnicity”: (1). Groups are treated differently on the basis of fictional categories that are supposedly “real” and uniformly applicable to everyone in the group. Such typing reinforces the divisive idea that we are not one species, hence cannot understand each other’s perceptions of reality.  Thus the need to defend and revise our possibly distorted assertions about politics to reach a consensus is made unnecessary: there are no universally perceptible facts, only “group facts.” (2). Even though we are one species, we are not necessarily perceived as such by others: the ideas of (always pure) “race” and “ethnicity” are plausible only as fictions too often considered  real.  (3). Antisemitism is not simply a variant of racism, but a particularly dangerous form of false consciousness because it strikes at “basic trust,” without which no rationally informed social action is possible.  Whereas racial prejudices may be overcome with contact, the switching Jew will always be a confidence-man, his promise of utopia (to know the truth, to build a more humane society) a ruse; the outcome is dangerous not only for Jews, but for the antisemite, because the target is her/his own critical intellect and emotions.  Hence Jews cannot overcome antisemitism through philanthropy or reminding the world about their contributions to modernity: it is precisely modernity and its promise, its open-endedness that is the threat. It is true that the Alien or the Stranger has always been distrusted by insular societies; but in the context of enlightened Europe, the content of the Jewish archetype was adapted to suit the needs of reactionaries. “Roots” secured the “identity” of the beleaguered institutions of the European Right  (comprised of the Church and landed aristocracy) against the “disintegrating” forces of liberal nationalism. Suddenly Jews were no longer convertible or useful; today’s “identity politics” are the tool of similar conservative localists, like the aristodemocrats described above. It is the same not-so-old “scientific racism” cleansed by association with Jewish cultural anthropologists like Boas and his students, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. Again: there is no way to rescue German idealism.  It was formed in reaction to rationalism, democracy and the Enlightenment and will always oppose intelligent, democratic, universalistic forms of social organization.

—–C. The current litany for progressive journalists and academics is the study of “class, race, and gender” by which it is usually meant that structural position will entirely predict behavior, desire, and point-of-view, i.e., we are molded and stamped to act in our own behalf (hence participating wisely in pluralist politics, neither befuddled nor capable of perceiving universal human interests which could suggest different forms of political organization).  Besides ignoring distorted consciousness, this functionalist theory of class, race and gender conflates dissimilar categories of analysis.  Although the term is hotly debated, “class” can be defined with regard to the possession or non-possession of resources (money, tools, land, special scarce skills) enabling survival, either allowing persons to walk away from a bad contract or forcing them to work or starve.  Such ownership is not a matter of opinion, it is an objective fact in the world.  Similarly, gender difference is real: e.g., at different times women are more or less tied down by child-bearing and nursing.  But “race” and “ethnicity” are entirely socially constructed, which is not to say that culture (or climate) does not affect or partially predict behavior.  The issue for the twentieth century has been whether or not a better social environment can create “the new man” thus making it unnecessary for each generation to strive anew to rear critical thinkers with humanitarian values.  Lamarckians and muckrakers (like Hitler) want a quick fix; geneticists (should) advise patience and effort.  A Lockean-neo-Freudian approach would see class and gender as a set of conditions that limit experience, but against which we may struggle as we increasingly comprehend the ways we repress those ideas and feelings that threaten illegitimate authority.

—–D. A materialist discourse describes historically concrete individuals and the many institutions in which they are asked to function (the market, the state, the family, education, media, etc.).  This includes (1). Abstract and impersonal social property relations (class structure, how classes reproduce themselves, and class relations including relations between members of the same class who may be either cooperating, competing, or both);  (2). Social movements which may be challenging or acquiescing in the rules of the game; (3). The exercise of power within institutions and between individuals: how is authority made legitimate?  How is consent obtained: through analysis of the system (rational persuasion) or appeals relying upon emotionally charged language and archetypes, on veiled or naked force?  How are the concepts of multiplicity and diversity deployed for and against equal opportunity?  Are persons expected to resolve irreconcilable differences?  Do agitators create or exaggerate differences where none need exist?  (4). What are the sources of change, legal and illegal?  (5). How have powerful interests defined the social psychology of the society or group under consideration?  How have these assessments changed with transformations in modes of production?

——E. An organicist discourse confuses because groups and nation-states are treated as if they were individuals.  Thus for moralistic anti-American New Leftists, “America” is one very bad person, stealing Africans, exterminating Indians, raping the environment, tricking the masses with false promises of cultural freedom, etc.  Similarly “the West” and “Western science” are genocidal.  By contrast, a materialist discourse would identify historically specific individuals and groups, often buffeted by social forces producing destructive behavior.  Comparative history and sociology will reveal that the humanitarian, universalistic values espoused by “Western civilization” are still only partially realized in practice, along with the technology that may someday lighten drudgery and toil for everyone.  Hence we should ask, what are the economic and cultural preconditions that enable people to be creative, peaceful and tolerant?  How have earlier Leftists answered this question and what have we learned from their decisions?

When all of these arduous (but not impossible) tasks are accomplished, then rational communicators may be said to have reached a consensus on the facts of their condition.  Obviously, societies that see human motivation and history as inscrutable and chaotic, an unfinished dialogue between God, the World, the Flesh and the Devil (the Flesh-made Word?) will resist (to the death) such processes of analyses and synthesis. [4]

II. Earning trust of the audience.

A. Spotting the phony liberals/radicals/protofascists.  They say they are not fascists, meanwhile replicate the cultural practice of earlier aristocratic radicals/corporatist liberals with an antimodern, antidemocratic agenda.  Rather than institutional analysis they purge/muckrake, implying that good fathers will make the system work; “corruption” or exploitation may not be structural in origin, but solely the product of moral weakness, e.g., an immoderate will to power and greed or decadent effeminacy and narcissism (consumerism).  Conspirators make history; conspiracy theories have prestige among groups lacking political education.  How should we deal with their “paranoia”?  Indeed, I have been charged by both leftists and conservatives with conspiratorial thinking even where I demonstrate institutional sources of unethical behavior.  Such attempts to discredit destabilizing historical research are to be expected; it is a form of psychological warfare that may cause all of us to distrust our own perceptions, experiences, and educated sense of danger.  But there are real paranoids out there, and opportunistic radicals have indulged irrational fears and hatreds, for instance in their uncritical support of cultural nationalism and populism, indulging the petit-bourgeois radicalism which sees money or “finance capital” as the demonic enemy.

In my view, good history drives out bad.  I respect the suspicions of oppressed people by identifying real historical conspiracies, but attempt to locate them at least partly in institutional imperatives and constraints.  Biographies will often demonstrate the clash between values and behavior, not because of the predilection for lying or hypocrisy, but because of class allegiance and mixed-messages dispensed by societies resisting the transition to a creative democracy  (e.g., multiculturalism is a form of “indirect rule”: an attempt to conciliate lower-class demands for autonomy while maintaining élite control).

B. The production of hopelessness.  College professors, like all intellectuals, have a choice; they may choose topics for research that examine class institutions and reform movements, showing how industrial societies, unlike their predecessors, produce the conditions for their possible transcendence or improvement.  Or, as is more often the case, professors may attack the “hegemony” of philistine puritans, the bourgeois businessmen who supposedly control their careers with an iron fist.  The first approach produces winning tactics and reasonable time lines for change; the second produces cultural despair, has chosen the bleak world-view of the dispossessed aristocrat railing against the false optimism of the revolutionary bourgeoisie.  The first approach emphasizes favorable conditions and possibilities for amelioration where they exist; the second dotes on human weakness, promotes dropping-out/ suicidal adventurism, ends with a sigh, in practice the passivity which only blesses the forces that are killing us. “Ah, Bartleby! Ah humanity!” and “God bless Captain Vere!”

C. Living with ambiguity and suspended judgments.  The condition of modernity is the unending search for truth, for an accurate description of ourselves and of the system (insofar as there is a single coherent system, which I doubt).  In my book, I called it Ahab’s “meandering railroad.” We inspect our closest attachments so that we may be less deluded about our own “pure” motives, desires for control, and other defenses against fear, anger, and rage.  It is a terrible thing to espouse radical politics for purposes of revenge, to mobilize others by stirring up traditional group hatreds.  I see no reason for any “democrat” to appeal to such emotions.  Marx’s irrational polemics stand in contrast to his ostensibly rational analysis of the capitalist system, to his compassionate account of the nightmare of tradition that burdens the brain of the living.  In my own experience, I have found that irrationally motivated radicals are identified by an attachment to labels: like conservative bureaucrats they want to file us in the proper drawers, the better to be manipulated, squashed if potentially “unmanageable” and “unpredictable.”

I doubt that I will ever be able conclusively to separate structure from agency, or pin Herman Melville or myself down.  What we are, where we were, where we are: these are portraits and maps that will more or less change as we revise and reconfigure the past and present, sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly working ourselves out of primitive fantasies and defenses.  Hence we emphasize the dynamics of change (not Jungian archetypes) in an atmosphere of safety and trust.  These comments about the fluidity of perception should not be marshaled to relativize the objective conditions of social institutions.  Whether or not workers are exploited, whether or not ordinary people have access to quality education, health care, mass media and state secrets, whether or not citizens are consulted about the decisions that affect their lives, the existence or non-existence of corporal punishment and other cruelties in the family, can all be established as facts in the real world.  Without an exhaustive and accurate assessment of  institutions (and they may be anarchic and messily unpredictable), we cannot test and judge “authority” or choose between rival claims for love and friendship.

How then will such values be expressed in practice?  If we wish to understand people in motion or mired in apathy we avoid typing people as conservatives, radicals, and liberals or as moderates and extremists as if everyone knew what that meant, as if these words had timeless meanings, as if no one ever changed her mind.  People have describable imaginations, values, and interests that may be modified in changing circumstances; these should be specified concretely.  Similarly, the appropriation of good buzz words in particular moments of struggle should be described: concepts such as pacifism, balance, the people, multiplicity, diversity, relativism, pluralism, and democracy may be claimed by democrats and authoritarians alike.  For instance, socialists might be pacifists in August 1914; American Nazi-sympathizers might be pacifists in 1938; during the same period isolationist conservatives might have feared that international war would create the conditions for another civil war (like the Russian Revolution).

Ideal formats for alternative or oppositional media cannot be prescribed in a vacuum.  “Innovation” and “experimentation” are good or bad insofar as they attempt to promote critical, independent thought and heightened awareness of ourselves and our environments, no foible left unexamined, no nuance of thought or feeling unexpressed.  If our goal is self-management and informed consent to management by experts, then there is no mystery about what to do and how to do it.  We must first determine the condition and preconceptions of our audience in all its varying states of consciousness.

If “commercial” (i.e., jewishly contaminated) mass media present a more or less phony aura of objectivity, self-control, and sanity should we defiantly praise subjectivism, stridency, and irrationality as “radical?”  I believe the competition should be praised for positive achievements where they exist; where their coverage of personalities and events falters, we should fill in the gaps and reconfigure the problem, if necessary, calling attention to the greater freedom that listener-sponsorship makes possible.  If we are not more objective, self-possessed, and rational, more open and scientific, more historically and sociologically informed, more respectful of the audience, more completely descriptive than “mass culture” and “mass media,” then there is no legitimacy to our claim for moral superiority.

Warmth need not yield to stridency or manipulative charm; nor should we talk down to the audience.  We ask ourselves if our revolts are primitivist, ascetic and sadomasochistic, the desire to be punished or to humiliate others; we may be pandering to sadism and masochism in the audience through the endless parade of atrocities and bondage.  Our élitism is communicated through excessive secrecy, obscurantism, false modesty, reductiveness, snideness, sloganeering, slang and obscenity.  We have a beautiful, expressive language that is hardly used; instead as radicals, we punkishly use the speech of the street to exhibit our trustworthiness.  Whom are we fooling?

[Bernard Mandeville, The Sixth Dialogue from Fable of the Bees, Vol.2, Oxford U. Press, 1924, first publ. 1714:]

 Cleomenes.  The natural Ambition and strong Desire Men have to triumph over, as well as persuade others, are the occasion for all this [fiery oratory].  Heightning and lowring the Voice, at proper Seasons, is a bewitching Engine to captivate mean Understandings; and Loudness is an Assistant to Speech, as well as Action is: Uncorrectness, false Grammar, and even want of Sense, are often happily drown’d in Noise and great Bustle; and many an Argument has been convincing, that had all its Force from the Vehemence it was made with: The Weakness of the Language it self may be palliatively cured by the strength of Elocution.

Horatio. I am glad that speaking low is the Fashion among well-bred People in England; for Bawling and Impetuosity I cannot endure.

Cleo. Yet this latter is more natural; and no Man ever gave in to the contrary Practice, the Fashion you like, that was not taught it, either by Precept or Example: And if Men do not accustom themselves to it, whilst they are very young, it is very difficult to comply with afterwards: But it is the most lovely, as well as the most rational Piece of good Manners, that human Invention has yet to boast of in the Art of Flattery; for when a Man addresses himself to me in a calm manner without making Gestures, or other Motions with Head or Body, and continues his Discourse in the same submissive Strain and Composure of Voice, without exalting or depressing it, he, in the first place, displays his own Modesty and Humility in an agreeable manner; and, in the second, makes me a great Compliment, in the Opinion which he seems to have of me; for by such a Behavior he gives me the Pleasure to imagine, that he thinks me not influenc’d by my Passions, but altogether sway’d by my Reason: He seems to lay his Stress on my Judgment, and therefore to desire, that I should weigh and consider what he says, without being ruffled or disturbed: No Man would do this unless he trusted entirely to my good Sense, and the Rectitude of my Understanding…(291-292).  When a Man has only his Words to trust to, and the Hearer is not to be affected by the Delivery of them otherwise, that if he was to read them himself, it will infallibly put Men upon studying not only for nervous Thoughts and Perspicuity, but likewise for Words of great Energy, for Purity of Diction, Compactness of Style, and Fullness as well as Elegancy of Expressions (293).

The various cultures, institutions and social movements we encounter, like all human phenomena, are difficult, if not impossible, fully to comprehend: still we should be wary of simplistic calls for “complexity.”  Rather than a healthy respect for the difficulty of achieving precise and relatively complete accounts of our condition, such warnings (directed at “levellers”?) may mean that we can’t ever know what we are experiencing: events are just too over-determined, too individualized, too particularistic, too mystical, too mysterious.  What was Hayek saying about the “social process which nobody has designed and the reasons for which nobody may understand”?  Was his statement descriptive of the present (1946), or was he saying that, given the limits of research into the motives and actions of others, at any period a Titanic, perhaps unfeasible project, the unfettered market offers the least coercive form of regulation and the most efficient and accurate marker of merit?  Shouldn’t “the Left” engage these and other libertarian arguments with an open mind? Is it not a sign of intellectual and moral weakness when opponents do not engage each other’s facts and programs, no holds barred? Can we say that either side of a debate is “scientific” when they do not engage?

Eloquence and sublimity are not achieved through bombast and obfuscation, but almost rush forth when we have mastered the precision and subtlety of language, when we care for others, as artists, giving them everything we’ve got, understanding suffering and sincerely striving to alleviate it.  In my own experience as a teacher and broadcaster, I have found that “ordinary” people–non-intellectuals–often ask for my assistance in illuminating the historical background of everyday problems; they appreciate being pushed a bit, they do not expect perfection from me or themselves, but self-criticism and progress.  I have succeeded when listeners and readers feel more confident in their own capacities to penetrate, comprehend and at least partially master reality.  Aristocratic radicals will scoff at such aspirations as the rotten odor of mechanical materialism.

Cultural cues are transparent when all the relevant conflicts are brought to conscious awareness; psychological warfare can be decoded and made as easy to read as comic books.  However, “prudence” and the defense of “expertise” forbid the direct, unpretentious communication of institutional or personal goals and operations.  “Two-way communication” is subtly authoritarian when we have not equal access to technology, facts, and skills; we have the microphone, they have the telephone.  We should not abuse our authority.  For instance “call-in” shows, like seminars, usually do not allow follow-up questions; hence may not identify areas of agreement, partial agreement or impasse.  Instead these interchanges sound like a play by Ionesco; the participants take turns speaking into the void.  To put it another way, program hosts ask for feedback from listeners, but do not necessarily act upon legitimate criticisms by self-examination or further research and reflection, nor do they often address the anxieties, rational and irrational alike, that have produced hostile responses.

Trust requires a prolonged period of testing through the individual and group processes of interactivity; this endless, boundless, sometimes joyful, sometimes painful process of testing authority, made meaningful through ongoing self-education and group education, is the distinctive feature of democratic institutions.

Notes: [1] Christopher Simpson, Science of Coercion: Communication Research & Pyschological Warfare 1945-60 (Oxford U.P. 1994).

[2] Reinhold Niebuhr, 1937, reprinted in Gail Kennedy, ed., Evolution and Religion: The Conflict Between Science and Theology in Modern America (D.C. Heath, 1957): 94.

[3]  Roger L. Shinn, The Search for Identity: Essays on the American Character (New York: Harper & Row, for the Institute for Religious and Social Studies, 1964), 2-3. Shinn is quoting from a Fromm essay of 1944 “Individual and Social Origins of Neurosis,” American Sociological Review Vol.9 [1944], pp.380-384, and reprinted in Personality in Nature, Society, and Culture, Clyde Kluckhohn and Henry A. Murray, editors (Knopf, 1948), 407. Shinn tips his hat to Gunnar Myrdal’s American Dilemma, p. x, a theme taken up in the essay by Kyle Haselden, “Race–And The Divided American Soul,” 133-152. But Myrdal, under the influence of Ralph Bunche, described “the American Creed,” not group character. For this author, however, the American character is divided and marred. “…the racial problem more than any other single factor has been the crux of our history. …the clash of the white man and Negro in American society–has had more influence on developing American character than any other single factor.” Haselden blames white racism for its handling of a “racially different minority in the social structure.” (p.137) The author ends with an appeal to moderation, avoiding “Uncle Tomism on the one extreme and aggressive black nationalism on the other” (152).

The call for inclusion, balance and stability within a restored natural American character runs throughout. See Harold K. Schilling, “The Transforming Power of the Sciences,” 39-54. Religion, not science, should direct the future. Using Loren Eiseley’s term “lethal factor,” Schilling warns of the coming apocalypse: “Since science has taught us what nature is really like, and what it means to be “natural,” we now realize that with the arrival of man on earth, there appeared a disturbing, lethal factor that has somehow upset the balance, self-consistency and naturalness of nature. Sometime in his history man has succeeded in producing an ever more destructive black whirlpool that is threatening to drag both him and his world into the bottomless abyss of death and oblivion. (Italics in original, p.54.)

[4] Students of alternative media should study the influence of evangelical Catholicism (revolutionary conservatives, the born-again moderns) in the theorizing of public broadcasting (as well as the formation of the academic disciplines of cultural history and the history of science, confessional psychoanalysis, and the ideology of “cultural pluralism”).  See Calvert Alexander, The Catholic Literary Revival (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1935), with its conclusion calling for a Catholic “free press” (copying the independent publications of Jews, Communists and Socialists) to combat the pernicious influence of mass media.

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