YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

February 19, 2016

Is the word “liar” un-PC?

liar-woman-lyingNumerous pundits on the Right have been stigmatizing certain candidates for calling one another “liars.” I found this startling, for in the theater of politics “anything goes.”

I have been aghast at this turn of group criticism, for in my youth, I assumed that fact-checking would be a prime responsibility of citizen-journalists and the candidates too, but I was unaware then, that “the search for truth” was considered a fool’s errand, indeed, a form of “monomania.” I blame the bad reputation that rationalism and empiricism have earned in this long period of irrationalism and the elevation of “feeling” as “freedom” over critical thought; i.e., digging into the archives with appropriate skepticism and the resuscitation of relevant contexts. https://clarespark.com/2014/05/08/index-to-blogs-on-postmodernism-and-its-spawn/.

The reason that scholars are supposed to use footnotes when challenging older versions of history harkens back to the early phases of modernity, but “postmodernism” has made the use of footnotes a bad joke, for “inter-subjectivity” and the unreliability of all “texts” fits all too snugly into multiculturalism and its “perspectivism” in which “facts” are relegated to the realm of “group facts”—indecipherable to other races, though you have to dig a bit to find that out.

Or the curious reader might consider this: an alarming number of persons, world-wide, believe in the real existence of the Devil, the Great Liar, whose antithesis is the Truth conveyed by either the Gospel or by the deity “in a better place” than “this vale of tears”; i.e., the inevitable deceptions of our earthly existence.

Of course, “everybody” knows who the greatest liars are: women and Jews. No kidding. https://clarespark.com/2014/01/16/hitler-and-the-big-lie-corrected/

British professor Simon Schama addresses a seminar entitled 'Facing the Climate Crisis' at the St James's Palace Nobel Laureate's Symposium in London, on May 27, 2009. The Symposium convenes Nobel Laureates from a variety of disciplines and world experts in climate change. AFP PHOTO/Shaun Curry/WPA POOL/AFP (Photo credit should read SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images)

SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images); found on Eddie Izzard’s AZL page

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June 19, 2015

Multiculturalism and the Charleston Massacre

RoofcapturedThe Wall Street Journal completed an editorial on June 19th, 2015 with “…the reality that evil still stalks the land.”

The notion that racism can be overcome by moralistic arguments is grotesque and misguided. What ever happened to clashes of economic interest, for instance, labor competition? Oh, I forgot, we don’t do materialism any longer. That would be too “modern.”

Instead the event has been interpreted through a medieval religious framework: Human nature is evil; this world belongs to the Devil. “Reality” is too mysterious or deceptive to penetrate—again the (lying) Devil’s work, and he is out to get us.

Entirely missing from this discourse is the assumption that “multiculturalism” (MC) is an effective remedy against “racism.” (I will use the abbreviation MC for multiculturalism in the rest of the blog.)

This entire website has been devoted to the insight that MC was a product of German Romanticism, aka German Idealism in the late eighteenth century (Loren Goldner, a leftist, warned me about it years ago, then I read the intellectual history of the concept in English translations for years, noting how the liberal establishment institutionalized MC as a weapon against “racism.” For links to prior blogs on the subject see https://clarespark.com/2013/07/02/groupiness-group-think-and-race/).

H. Strickland Constable, Harper's Weekly 1899

H. Strickland Constable, Harper’s Weekly 1899

Briefly, the collectivist notion that racially or ethnically defined groups can peacefully co-exist is an evasion of all the material considerations that actually divide groups. 19th C. “scientific racism,” supposedly transcended in the new dispensation, persists when we imagine that all whites, all Jews, all blacks, all Latinos, etc. each share a common, indivisible rootedness and world-view, incomprehensible to other groups. Nostrums such as “tolerance” or “diversity” supposedly avert conflicts that are only understood (by enlightened persons) through analyses of clashing material interests within the “collective” entity. Marxists and advocates of free market societies disagree about how to resolve such clashes, but no materialist would deny that they exist..

The better historians understand that ideology attempts to create consensus through scapegoating. Dylann Storm Roof, perhaps egged on by deteriorating “race” relations, blames blacks for “taking over the world.” This is racist ideology, pure and simple. Although family relationships should never be discounted, we don’t have to look only for mental illness specific to his family history as psychiatrist Keith Ablow declared on Hannity (March 18, 2015, the day that Fox News Channel mostly focused on the massacre made even more somber by its taking place in an historic black church). Ideologies provide the representations that feed into specific cases of mental illness.

woodrow.cooper_md

There is blatant racism, acted out by the shooter, but there is the more subtle racism inherent in MC. We are one species, and MC, the moderate (Wilsonian) solution to war and conflict, has joined other völkisch movements, in confusing well-meaning progressives with a bogus solution to hateful aggression. When the arguably racist but “internationalist” Woodrow Wilson called for “self-determination” he didn’t refer to individuals, but to the group-think/collectivism inherent in cultural nationalism (http://www.e-ir.info/2014/04/17/what-is-self-determination-using-history-to-understand-international-relations/).

MC is a mental illness (i.e., it distorts reality), and it is hegemonic in America and in the United Nations too.

photo Keith Bacongco

photo Keith Bacongco

September 24, 2014

Are “liberals” control freaks?

Control_FreaksA few days ago one of my FB friends, an intelligent and educated scriptwriter and novelist, posted a photo claiming that all liberals were not only evil, but were interested in controlling every aspect of our lives. I see the same sort of collective condemnation frequently on Facebook, emanating usually from conservatives, even from  neocons who should know better, having once been either [moralistic] leftists or [moralistic] social democrats.

This blog seeks to counter all-inclusive claims that demonize the opposition.

Do Americans believe in the devil? An alarming number of Christians do (80%), compared to Jews (17%). The Devil is nowhere to be found in Judaism, so I am assuming that uneducated Jews, perhaps engorged with pop culture, comprise the shocking figure of 17%. See http://washingtonexaminer.com/57-believe-in-the-devil-72-for-blacks-61-for-women/article/2536055. (On the conception of Satan as evil inclination in Judaism, see http://judaism.about.com/od/judaismbasics/a/jewishbeliefsatan.htm.) This is a worrisome number, for belief in the Devil signifies disbelief in science and what used to be called “empiricism” but it is now stigmatized as “materialism.” And “materialism” is associated with [demonic] communists, a corrupt working class, and even “secular progressives” who are anything but red, but rather “moderates” or “moderate conservatives.”

Belief in the devil is a catastrophe for democratic republics that demand of their citizens that they rationally focus on those issues that confront them in this world, rather than abjuring “worldliness” in favor of fixation on “another world.”

Control freaks. The notion that liberals and leftists want to control everyone and everything is possibly a projection of authoritarian and conformist rightists, who bristle at the thought of being “forced” to do anything by the state. It is not as if there are no rational conservative intellectuals, but the latest tactic in the political wars advanced by a few pundits demands that they play dirty just like the enemy, grabbing mass culture away from the devious, demonic enemy.

Some conservatives, on the other hand, advise their fellow rightists not to smear liberalism as “evil” or “demonic” but to patiently explain liberal mistakes, especially with respect to economic theories. As for the fantasy of taking mass culture away from “Hollywood”, fat chance of that. As I have argued here before, movies and other mass media have always been populist, appealing not to an aristocracy but to mass resentments of any and all elites who are believed to be repressive—and demonic, like Jews, gays, and femmes fatales.

Populism comes in many flavors, spanning the political spectrum from left to right. Populists are always self-righteous and enraged, encouraging demagoguery and reverence for the Leader who stirs them, vaguely enough to encompass a variety of targets for their hate.

Anyone who has ever studied the progressive movement knows that the statists were paternalistic and in their own minds, deeply moral, hearts bleeding for the oppressed masses. “The People” of course were oppressed by Jew-ridden capitalism and puritanical Mothers seeking to expand their empires over feckless sons. Progressives, taking their lesson from the Good Kings of fictional yore, would vanquish “laissez-faire” economics, bad Jews and battle-axe females, to reinstate “social cohesion” and “political stability” through the re-imposition of mystical bonds between competitors in the marketplace and in the workforce. In other words, they were upper-class moralists and true gentlemen. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/, or https://clarespark.com/2014/09/03/solidarity-on-the-left-vs-disunity-on-the-right/.)

The overall aim of the progressive movement, then and now, was the uplift and cooling out of the proletarian immigrants. Believing themselves to be the only ones trained to rule (see the career of Henry A. Murray of Harvard), they had no qualms about imposing self-control on themselves and others in order to restrain “greed” in their opposition on “Wall Street”. Nothing as vulgar and/or distruping as the nouveaux riches, so the Old Money (especially in New England) lived modestly and eschewed “conspicuous consumption.” I.e., they controlled themselves as examples to the consumerist masses, a tic that the Left copied in their zeal to stigmatize the anti-revolutionary working class that wanted material goods over red revolution.

“Madame Mirage”

This was my Rosh Hashanah blog. As long as the majority of Americans persist in believing in the devil or other forms of irrationality, I remain howling in the wilderness, a Jew till the end of time.

March 30, 2013

Philip Roth, The Following, and Identification with the Aggressor

Sabbaths_theaterI raised this issue after the third season of HBO’s In Treatment, (See https://clarespark.com/2010/12/12/hbo%e2%80%99s-in-treatment-and-boardwalk-empire/, and continued my theme in https://clarespark.com/2013/01/26/decoding-call-me-ishmael-and-the-following/. After having seen the PBS American Masters “unmasking” of novelist Philip Roth (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/philip-roth/film-philip-roth-unmasked/2467/) and noticing a representation of the devil on the cover of the 1995 National Book Award winner Sabbath’s Theater (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabbath’s_Theater), a novel about sex, adultery, and suicide, and roughly based on the life of artist R. J. Kitaj (who was indeed a suicide at age 75), I thought it was time to write a very short blog on the attraction to the demonic, a theme usually tossed off as wayward Romanticism, and yet devil worship and sadism pervade popular and high culture alike. (Think of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), that made his reputation in Europe and prompted many suicides.)

Why is such identification with the demonic so prevalent? Bill O’Reilly interviewed Christopher Ruddy, a Catholic professor of theology, and Rabbi Aryeh Spero, who is famous on the Right for defending America’s “Judeo-Christian heritage.” O’Reilly seemed surprised to learn that Jews have no conception of the Devil as an independent force in the universe, looking rather to inborn instincts at odds with one another: good versus evil. After pushing him, O’Reilly finally got the Rabbi to declare that there would indeed be heavenly rewards or punishment, thus bringing Judaism in line with the Catholicism that O’Reilly vigorously defends. (So much for the unbridgeable gap between Judaism and Christianity, not a popular theme these days.)

But that gap is not the subject of this blog. Rather, I want to focus on the popularity of gangsters and other rebels against such admonitions as “thou shalt not murder.”

Although it was never explicitly addressed in the PBS documentary, though the first part did dwell at some length on Roth’s middle class parents, we do learn that 1. His father expected him to be a lawyer; and 2. Before the release of the raunchy Portnoy’s Complaint, the novel that made Roth not only famous but financially independent, he “prepared” his parents for the shock of the content matter, reassuring them that the parents in the novel bore no resemblance to themselves, but were fiction. From the documentary, we might infer that Roth never separated from his parents, was afraid of their rejection, and has maintained a punitive, puritanical superego to this day. (Look at his home in Connecticut: it is a model of 17th century puritan architecture.) I would not be surprised if Roth takes his own life now that he has retired from writing, for he dreads a biography, as he made clear in the PBS piece.

PHILIP ROTH

How to explain this bad boy of literature and the fascination he exerts on millions of liberal readers? I have often mentioned authoritarian parenting on prior blogs. There are many ways to be authoritarian, ranging from physical abuse, incest, clinging, or abandonment to aggressive siblings or schoolmates, on to subtle or overt disapproval of the path taken by one’s children. Perhaps they marry out of the faith or “race,” perhaps they are bisexual or gay, perhaps they go native by choosing a life of bohemian lawlessness over middle-class respectability. Or in Roth’s case, perhaps some of the above, but also what if they write stories hostile to many Jews, literally taunting religious, unassimilated Jews in such stories as “The Defender of the Faith,” “The Conversion of the Jews” (published in Goodbye Columbus, 1959) or the novel Operation Shylock (1993) in which the protagonist and his double share the same anti-Zionist narrative of the founding of Israel and its subsequent history. In the PBS documentary, Roth asserts that he is not a Jewish writer at all (as many consider him to be), but an “American” writer.

Roth Conn

Finally, I get to my argument: as any clinical psychologist or psychoanalyst or social worker will tell you, a defense against the (usually repressed) rage felt against the cruel or confusing* parent or parents who may be internalized in the omnipresent superego, is to identify with the aggressor (some people call this the Stockholm Syndrome). By becoming the parent/perpetrator (even if only imaginatively), we avoid the stigma of victim and avoid intolerable feelings of helplessness, the dread of falling that we experienced as dependent infants or toddlers. (This is the profile of the sadomasochist, who, in my experience as a student of sadomasochism, harbors rage against the Mother who asks her son for unattainable perfection in a society replete with cognitive dissonance.)

I am not a Roth scholar; I have read many of his books, but not nearly all of them, and have enjoyed his writing, especially in American Pastoral and The Human Stain. Whatever I write here about him, is what I caught from the PBS documentary, and my ongoing study of the irresistible demonic in popular and high culture.

*I have not mentioned mixed messages and double binds that liberal parents often inflict (See https://clarespark.com/2010/04/10/columbia-u-s-double-bind-october-1917/). Roth mentions that his family was generally “left-of center,” implying that some were communists. But if he harbors communist sympathies, he is surely a Popular Front red, for FDR rescues the USA from Lindbergh’s fascism in The Plot Against America (2004). This novel is the closest he will get to the possible extra-parental traumas of his youth: the Great Depression, the second world war, and the (supposedly invisible) Holocaust. None of that is in the PBS special. [POSTSCRIPT. Since writing this blog, I have read Sabbath’s Theater, and admire it more than words can express. It is Roth’s masterpiece, and wonderfully funny and trenchant. Of all his contemporaries, he has made the best use of Freud that I  have yet encountered, and the protagonist’s traumas lay exposed for all to see.]

Kitaj: Where the railroad meets the sea

Kitaj: Where the railroad meets the sea

October 15, 2012

Orwell, Power, and the ‘Totalitarian’ State

[Updated 6-4-13:] This blog has three purposes: 1. To demonstrate that there is no such thing as “power” as an end in itself, and in Orwell’s most famous book, his villain O’Brien explicitly makes mind-control the chief end of the Inner Party. But in doing that he separates mind from body, suggesting that Orwell was never a materialist, in contrast to Freud and his materialist followers. In prior research, I noted that the formulation of “the will to power” (as an end in itself) was asserted by aristocrats, like Nietzsche, critical of the rising middle class, of rising women, and of the “jewified” bourgeoisie in general. 2. To suggest that social democrats fastened onto the term “totalitarian” (invented by Italian Fascists) in order to distinguish themselves from rival statists, whether these be fascists or communists. It is my contention (and here I find both Eric Hobsbawm and Jacob Talmon very helpful) that fascists and communists had antithetical orientations to the Enlightenment, notwithstanding their terroristic methods and lack of regard for dissent. But communists acquired adherents among artists, for instance, because they promised emancipation from the philistine bourgeoisie and the commodification imposed by “capitalism.” That Bolsheviks (including Trotsky) did not deliver on this promise is often forgotten by today’s New Left and the counter-culture with which it is in alliance. 3. To suggest that George Orwell was taken up by British social democrats, even though he was obviously concerned about the direction of the (anticommunist) British Labour Party as he wrote his last book. The companion piece to this blog is https://clarespark.com/2013/04/21/fascism-what-it-is-what-it-is-not/.]

One of the chief claims of Orwell’s 1984 is that, for the Inner Party (the state terrorists who destroy the autonomy of Winston Smith–one of the Outer Party intellectuals who writes history according to the ideological needs of Big Brother, but who struggles to maintain his inner freedom– the aim of O’Brien and his cohort is to maintain power for its own sake. Such an attachment to total control as an end in itself is a symptom of the ‘totalitarian state’, i.e. Nazi Germany and its supposed twin, the Soviet Union. “O’Brien” makes this explicit as he tortures Winston Smith:

[Part 3, Chapter 2:] “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?’ [O’Brien]

…’We are the priests of power,’ he said. ‘God is power. But at present power is only a word so far as you are concerned. It is time for you to gather some idea of what power means. The first thing you must realize is that power is collective. The individual only has power in so far as he ceases to be an individual. You know the Party slogan: “Freedom is Slavery”. Has it ever occurred to you that it is reversible? Slavery is freedom. Alone — free — the human being is always defeated. It must be so, because every human being is doomed to die, which is the greatest of all failures. But if he can make complete, utter submission, if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge himself in the Party so that he is the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal. The second thing for you to realize is that power is power over human beings. Over the body but, above all, over the mind. Power over matter — external reality, as you would call it — is not important. Already our control over matter is absolute.’” [End, excerpt from 1984, my emph.]

However, the fact that both loathsome dictatorships murdered millions of their own and warred with rival peoples, does not justify lumping them together as if each had exactly the same historical trajectory; as if each and every member of the Third Reich or the Soviet Union was successfully inveigled to love Big Brother. Indeed, Orwell may have been criticizing capitalism, not some variant of socialism, so as not to become commodified in a world where every human relationship is on the market, measured by “the [Jewish] money power,” as the broken Winston recites ‘Under the spreading chestnut tree /I sold you and you sold me –‘.

It is my suggestion that “totalitarianism” as a conception (from Italian Fascism, coined by Giovanni Gentile) was adopted by social democrats in order to remove the stain of proto-fascism from themselves. Hence, in opposition to these admittedly violent dictatorships, they could grab the flag of freedom, while conflating Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as structurally equivalent tyrannies, and as predictable outcomes of the Enlightenment. Such a strategy was brilliant, for it constructed statist New Dealers in America as the polar opposites of the hated dictators, notwithstanding the New Deal’s social policy rejection of the Enlightenment conception of the autonomous individual in favor of collectivist political identities and rule by Platonic guardians. (For more on the “integral nation” see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/20/an-awesome-inauguration/.) Indeed, many of Roosevelt’s social psychologists and sociologists were busy looting Hitler’s remarkable sykewar arsenal, admiring Hitler’s management of “the little man” whom they held responsible for his popular appeal. (For examples, see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/05/proto-fascism-and-the-democrat-peoples-community/, https://clarespark.com/2009/12/13/klara-hitlers-son-and-jewish-blood/, https://clarespark.com/2010/04/18/links-to-nazi-sykewar-american-style/.)

And so it is with numerous academic studies of Orwell, written by members of the British Labour Party,  in which the word “totalitarianism” is thrown around (or, in one case, was seen as somewhat old hat, as a Cold War strategy that became passé after the 1950s, yet the word was used by this academic). Similarly, they do not question the notion of “power” as an end in itself, which of course, in their emotional identification with “the working class,” they wholeheartedly reject.

Are these Labourite authors both narcissistic and statist (as one friend suggested today)? Reading British Labourites on the Orwell problem,* I tend to agree with the view that statists are narcissistic. Like George Orwell, they imagine “the working class” as one happy, warmly attached family, lodged in its compassionate, emotionally expressive, and self-enclosed “community.” So Orwell’s greatest quality is his identification with such working-class communities, where egalitarianism reigns supreme. Perhaps this confusion of themselves with working class students whom they teach,  is a projection of their own grandiosity as advocates of the (hypermoral) planning state.

Why do I then reject the  notion of “power” as an end in itself? First, the word power is abstract and empty. It only has content with respect to “power” over something. As I read Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938) and then 1984 (1949), I was struck by his belaboring of the theme of dirt and smell, all the while imagining that working class folk in Spain or in a future Britain, had the gift of comradeship and a lust for life, something missing in his own family and in his schooling. He also belabored/glorified suffering along with the total control exerted by his villains: in this he reminded me of a practicing sadomasochist (Steadman Thompson) in middle management whose collages and fantasies I examined in the Sadomasochism collection at UCLA Special Collections. Like Orwell in his latter years, S.T. believed that revolutions were pointless in that masters and slaves simply changed places, with former slaves becoming as brutal as the former ruling class. Second, the only character in the history and mythology of “the West” who wants power for its own sake is the Devil. One cannot argue across religious lines.

The persistent theme in S. T.’s writing was this: once he had subjected himself to caning or whipping by a maternal dominatrix, he was restored to the lap of the good parent. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/07/13/eros-and-the-middle-manager-s-m-with-implications-for-multiculturalism/.) Of all the biographies I have read, only Jeffrey Meyers has emphasized the masochistic elements of Orwell’s personality, but even Meyers does not report the tedious quality of  the early pages of Homage to Catalonia, dwelling as they do on the repulsive aspects of trench warfare in northern Spain for page after page. However, Meyers’s biography does pick up on the suicidal tendencies of Orwell’s management of his own health.

We don’t see often enough that middle managers (college professors or high school teachers) are masochistic insofar as they submit to the bullying direction of their superiors, but sadistic in depriving their students or the workers whom they manage of the skills necessary to reject illegitimate authority. By crippling their students of the power to think, and to see the inseparability of mind and matter, they are minor league O’Briens. (It is materialists like myself who insist on the unity of mind and body.)

From the vantage point of my years, I have often seen the desire for boys and girls alike to control Mothers—mothers who may cling indefinitely, or who, conversely, may separate too crudely and quickly from their small children. It is in such twisted experiences of early childhood that we might find the appeal of “power as an end in itself” or the notion of totalitarianism itself. The abandoned child wants to control straying Mother, while the suffocated child needs to push Mother away.  But in the real world of adulthood, such maternal imagos may not have the power imagined by Orwell or by his character, “the Last Man in Europe.”  The antimodernist Orwell, who sees Nature as a maternal refuge, apparently even in the hostile, punishing Hebrides, was emotionally and politically confused. One of his critics should point this out. Stephen Ingle’s second book makes a stab at the political confusions, but is limited by his “ethical socialist” commitments. But we must not forget that Orwell was worried about central planning by the new managerial class, as warned by James Burnham. I don’t want to psychologize this structural change and thus reduce it to family relations alone.

Owell passport photo

*Orwell’s 1984 was welcomed by rightists and Cold Warriors in 1949 and afterwards as proof that Orwell, as in Animal Farm, had exposed the bogus democratic pretensions of the Soviet Union. Much of the voluminous subsequent academic scholarship was devoted to retrieving Orwell for the “socialists” in Britain, not that these authors were themselves unequivocal in the accomplishments of the British Labour Party.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.

Brunsdale,  Mitzi M. Student Companion to George Orwell. Greenwood Press, 2000.

Hitchens, Christopher. Why Orwell Matters. Basic Books, 2002.

Ingle, Stephen. George Orwell: A Political Life. Manchester UP, 1993.

__________. The Social and Political Thought of George Orwell: A reassessment. Routledge, 2006.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation. Norton, 2000.

Newsinger, John. Orwell’s Politics. Macmillan, 1999.

Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia. Secker and Warburg, 1986.

__________. 1984. (Read online)

Rai, Alok. Orwell and the Politics of Despair. Cambridge UP, 1988. Chapter two is devoted to tracking the conception of totalitarianism, which he traces back to Giovanni Gentile, Mussolini’s confederate and a major figure in Italian Fascism.

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.

February 27, 2012

Chardon High School, “negativity” and depth psychology

I woke up to the news of the shooting of several students at Chardon High School, Ohio. As I write this, pundits are already attempting to add to the paucity of concrete detail regarding this student shooter with reassurances and/or warnings to parents. All we know as I write this at 12:20 PST, is that the shooter is a male, that he had made his preoccupation with death and vengeance known on Facebook last December, and that he shot his ex-girl friend’s new boy friend, Daniel Parmertor, now killed. Four other students are wounded. There may be more deaths. [Added 2-28: two more students have died, and the shooter was a student at a special school for “at risk” students; also described as “outcast.”]

Ever since I started reading about the history of American culture, I have heard endless repetitions on the theme that we are a violent people, owing to our history. And yet, polls seem to show that “negativity” in political ads is often rejected by a populace that is notoriously bloodthirsty and amoral. (Ask Cormac McCarthy about this.)

In prior blogs I have ruminated about the strong lobby against psychiatry and other mental health services, although we know a great deal more about child development than, say, our forebears at the beginning of the modern period in about the 16th century and 17th centuries, when witch burnings and other forms of torture were common in popular and high culture alike.

I have also argued that the particular form of co-optation of 1960s protest movements produced a willed refusal to look at what was common in human nature. Multiculturalism asserted that only members of a race or gender were able to opine about groups in which they did not belong, owing to the group “character” of the oppressed group du jour. Multiculturalists, along with their Stalinoid enemies, also made great generalizations about our national character. Amerikka was held to be essentially imperialistic, money-mad, racist, patriarchal, ecocidal, genocidal, and so on. Graduate students in  history were more likely to get a job if they adhered to this catechism, especially if they could prove their competence in “whiteness studies.”

It happened that the psycho-historian Peter Loewenberg (illustrated) was a professor in my department at UCLA, but his focus on power relations in numerous types of  “families” was considered to be a specialty beyond the ken of ordinary graduate students like myself, who were told by the numerous social historians that it was better to identify with the grass roots or mobs and their laudable resistance to upper-class atrocities, than to follow the path cleared by Freud, and before him the acute insights into individual and group psychology offered by every great writer in the history of the West, starting with Greek tragedy, and going on through Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, Schiller, and many others. (And I have not mentioned the revelations of the great visual artists, and before them, archaic religions, all of which interested Freud and his better followers.)

It is not likely that even our best private schools, aimed at training leaders, delve into the affective lives of their students, other than to preach against “hate” and to promote “tolerance” of those who are “different.” What would Freud have said? What did our Founding Fathers think? Where did the notion of childhood innocence come from? I will leave that last question unanswered for now. (Don’t blame the Jews. The better educated among us have no illusions about benevolent human nature, agreeable to shaping by social engineers educated by Rousseau.)

Clearly, there is a dark side to human nature, and it is common to every one of us. But the anti-psychiatry and anti-capitalist culture in which we swim does not consider our material bodies appropriate objects of study. Yet we are seething with rage, jealousy, and longings for revenge—emotions that are part of our human equipment from birth. In the medieval past, these common qualities were attributes of the Devil, and in this life, we were in his snares and subject to his constant lying. Madness was attributed to demonic possession, and many the death-dealing remedies that were offered to purge us of his maleficent urges.

Many pious Americans still believe in the Devil, and believe that “secularists” (include in that category psychologists, feminists and Jews) are in his serpentine grasp. But because teaching children how to manage their “negative” emotions is considered to be a violation of parental rights, schools back away from challenging the medievalists among us. Meanwhile, kids are flooded with terrifying images of monsters, vampires, zombies, and other projections of their forbidden anger—anger at being bullied, lied to, overestimated, underestimated, pushed, neglected, abandoned to the mass media (including comic books)– but make your own list of treacherous adult conduct.

Similarly, “narcissism” is now considered to be a personality disorder and also the chief feature of laissez-faire (a.k.a. free market) capitalism, according to many progressive intellectuals. Yet little girls are taught from early childhood to emulate the glitterati, turning themselves into decorative objects for the sexual delectation of strangers, men, and even family members.

It is now “cool” to identify with the demonic and with criminals. It is one way to defy authoritarian parents and authoritarian ideas, one desperate way to feel a modicum of power.  We are committing mass suicide in our resistance to taking a detailed family history, including how every institution we inhabit deals with the dark side of human nature.

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