YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

September 30, 2015

Pacifica Radio and how I achieved a measure of free speech

The day I got my Ph.D. 1993

The day I got my Ph.D. 1993

Several Facebook friends have sent me the same Guardian article claiming that the Pacifica Foundation is dying and on its last legs. That Pacifica is on its last legs may be true, but the blog is about how loose organization at the top enabled my own intellectual development and courage.

As I have mentioned in my sort of scholarly Pacifica memoir, Pacifica was a creation of corporatist liberals in coalition with such as the Ford Foundation and many Stalinists or Quakers.

Its glory days were at the height of the 1960s civil rights movement, which is when I got involved with it. From 1969 on, that decade  (the 1970s) was a happy and productive time for me, because I had my own radio program, The Sour Apple Tree, which was devoted to the internal politics of the art world, which few of the radicals then in charge knew of or cared about. These uncensored years were the happiest decade of my life, for management hardly noticed me, and I developed a following of curious listeners, many of them in the arts, academe, or even math or science.

Being connected to a diverse audience willing to put up with long, detailed interviews and an increasing number of essays (all initiated after I had started graduate school in history, 1983-1993, especially during the Bush campaign of 1988) gave me courage to strike out wherever the evidence led me, and I felt loyal to a growing, supportive, audience.

It was not until I became Program Director in 1981 that I learned that free speech at KPFK was sharply circumscribed by Stalinists whose influence till then was unnoticed by me. As I have written before, multiculturalism was enforced at all the stations shortly before I was appointed PD, and I misunderstood it, thinking it to be some kind of inclusive history with no holds barred. (The complete history is laid out in this set of links: https://clarespark.com/2010/07/04/pacifica-radio-and-the-progressive-movement/.)

I have written this very brief blog because many on the internet and Facebook believe that they are, in fact, practicing free speech. I questioned this assumption here: https://clarespark.com/2015/01/12/what-free-speech/.

Two factors enabled my political and intellectual development: lack of editing by higher ups, and connection to an audience that cared about the issues I raised. If my graduate education in US and European history was fraught with conflict and took many years, it was because I had already experienced relatively “free speech” and had no intention of regressing to the docility and ignorance that had marked my young adulthood. Loyal to my audience of autodidacts who expected me to “kick against the pricks,” I spoke up where other graduate students or faculty were silent.

In retrospect, I understand why my blog posts seem to be eccentric or ornery at times. Once you have experienced real intellectual freedom (limited only by your ignorance), you can’t go back to unquestioning deference to individuals or institutions. Luckily, I have found kindred souls (other misfits?) on Facebook and elsewhere.

The Pacifica Foundation has been ruined by underdisciplined anarchists or overdisciplined Stalinists. But I shall ever be grateful for the experiences that unleashed me before it was too late.

free-speech

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May 26, 2011

Who is a racist now?

Antique Japanese Swords

Following are two prior blogs and a bill that is before the California legislature that would further mandate the multicultural teaching of history in California schools. It is recommended that you consult them either before or after reading this new blog.

https://clarespark.com/2011/03/26/race-class-and-gender/

https://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/

http://www.aroundthecapitol.com/Bills/SB_48/20112012/.

During the early 1970s, a complaint was made to the Pacifica Foundation’s local advisory board regarding one of my collages for The Sour Apple Tree (my weekly program on the politics of culture). The complaint objected to the mocking of Asian-Americans because an actor had improvised an allegedly offensive riff on the subject of Japanese swords, which were then on exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  In my ignorance, I thought that it was bizarre to aestheticize a weapon, no matter how beautifully crafted.

But what did I know? The age of political correctness was upon us, and any organized group of angry ethnics or “races” could make trouble if the media were not relaying “positive” images of their group. Here was the triumph of “identity politics” in all its manifestations. Disappeared were the material facts and institutional structures and practices (including ideals) that made history.

The identity politics lobby, following the precepts of German Idealist epistemology, argued that language and images were constitutive of “reality” and that prior racisms and discrimination could be erased through the presentation of “strong” “role-models” in the schools and media.  Or, following the lead of earlier opponents of “prejudice,” if there was a bad person of color,there must be a good person of color in order to achieve “balance,” and as my dissertation director Alex Saxton used to say, that “good” minority group member was in league with the [fascist] ruling whites. The “bad” [black, red, or yellow] man was ipso facto someone to be admired for his defiance. Enter the criminal as hero and the romantic identification with rebels of color, the badder the better.

As I have written here before, the advent of social history in the hands of populist-progressives, the Stalinist Left and then the New Left of the 1960s, displaced from the curriculum the record of  actual decision makers of history (say the statesmen and generals studied by von Ranke), for these were now prejudice-tainted “literary sources” who covered their tracks, lying even to their personal diaries. The obvious populism of this move was not a departure from the practices of the “consciousness industry,” for it had always been directed to its mass audience, which had buttons to be pushed—class resentment, a suspicion of Wall Street and bankers, and of competing savages (including the wild man within)–and the designated monsters were standing athwart the path to upward mobility.

I have traced on this website the German Romantic influences that led progressives to adopt their collectivist lingo as part of their view that “national character” could be ascribed to every race or nation.  That this “cultural nationalism” was racialist in its very conception is not widely seen, and it now rules the anti-imperialist Left and the school curricula in California and other states.  The U.S.A., rather than being an exemplar of equality before the law, self-correction and (in its Puritan origins) republican simplicity, became conflated with the most vicious totalitarian societies or with the rigid war-crazed aristocracies of the Old World. For these racist “anti-racists”, there are no boundaries between past and present: the achievements of Freud and Einstein are supposed to shed their grace on me, but such ancestor worship does not help me master life skills. In spite of “Jewish” triumphs in psychology and physics, the rampaging White Man continues to infect and infest all “peoples of color,” and if we look very closely, we can often detect a Jewish nose, dragon claws, and a tail upon that oppressor.

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