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.



March 13, 2012

Dumbing down: when did it begin?

William James drawn by S. Woldhek

I. I have been mulling over the deterioration of public speech and what passes for social and political theory for some time, trying to pin down a date or social movement that I can identify as chief perpetrator of the Great Dumbing Down. (For the second installment of this blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/22/3760/: The Great Dumbing Down (2). Perhaps we (and everyone else) have always struggled with mass stupidity and the temptation of the dark passions, but if one studies the writings of the Founding Fathers of the U.S., one must be struck by the quality of their argumentation and the deep knowledge of European history that each brought to the debates that eventuated in the Constitution. Moreover, many of these men were all too aware of humanity’s dark side, so they looked to the law OR to the ordering forces of religion to produce what has come to be known as “American exceptionalism.” Although Biblical Christian fundamentalists (the “traditionalists”) have emphasized the divine origin of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, secular students of history have read enough late 18th century American history to recognize the materialism and scientific attitudes that many Founders deployed to construct a representative republic that fostered “liberty” and “meritocracy”—at least for propertied white males.

Still, we are left with the ambiguity that surrounds the questions of free will and determinism. What exactly do we mean by human “freedom”? Not to explore the strongly divergent meanings attached to “liberty” is fatal to education in a would-be representative republic. And Hamilton’s notion of popular sovereignty, what he called “the consent of the people” or the voice of the people as the source of political legitimacy (see Federalist #22), was obviously dependent on a quality education for everyone who voted. Hence the disaster of the Great Dumbing Down. Charles Sumner and Walter Lippmann were two important Americans, who, in either the 19th or 20th centuries, fully understood the danger of poor schools.

Note that I use Hamilton’s language in describing our political structures. He was afraid of mobbish democracies, and I cannot blame him. Liberty is a much abused conception that can be annexed by divergent ideologies, as we have seen in the controversies of the day, but it is necessary to strictly historicize each raging issue.

For instance, the U.S. Constitution, a timeless document for many,  was framed in the context of a mostly agrarian society, while European empires looked longingly at the Western Hemisphere for expansion/wealth. Much of our political and economic history cannot be understood without seeing the vulnerability of the new republic to invasion by rival European empires. Since that time, industrialism, urbanization, continental expansion, changing patterns of immigration, and ongoing rivalries between developing countries have drastically changed the meaning attached to our key words (e.g., “immigration,” just as these changes called forth social movements to defend entrenched interests, or in many cases, to challenge them with modifications that anyone would deem to be revolutionary in their implications. Such was the case with social democracy, communism, and fascism. In post-Civil War America, it was first Populism that challenged capitalism, then Progressivism (that co-opted populism) that dominated. With constant interaction between America and Europe and the other major states, the terms of social theory became weapons in the hands of ideologues, using words and comparisons to suit their particular propaganda requirements. This website has been devoted to sorting out such confusions. See for instance https://clarespark.com/2010/04/08/racism-modernity-modernism/.

II. What progressivism, socialism, communism and fascism have in common is their statism and collectivism. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish “right-wing social democrats” from the other authoritarian doctrines that have typified human history (for a definition of “right-wing social democrat” see my comment below or go to https://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa/). For instance, some persons on “the [far] Right” think that everything a progressive does is either socialist, communist, or fascistic. Social democrats do the same thing when they use the term “totalitarian” to conflate Soviet Communism and the various European fascisms that developed after the first world war. Indeed, London’s Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, an outpost of the British Labour Party (though there is no formal linkage), will host a conference later this year investigating psychoanalytic theory and practice in the “totalitarian” regimes (see http://historypsychiatry.com/2012/03/13/psychoanalysis-in-the-age-of-totalitarianism/).

“Totalitarian” is a made-up word that no historian or political theorist should espouse. That is why I think that social democrats of this stripe are responsible for dumbing down public discourse, hence undermining the Enlightenment—the Enlightenment that produced the doctrine of natural rights—a conception that was much abused by the Jacobins of the French Revolution.

Keep in mind that Progressivism in the United States was bipartisan and reacting against populism and/or the labor movement in the late 19th century. That is why hip scholars approve of the philosophy of the hugely influential William James, 1842-1910 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_James). Once you go for Jamesian pseudo-pluralism, stability and social cohesion over 1.the search for truth and 2. the best ways to level up/create wealth, you are left with ambiguity and confusion, what I call the anti-ideology ideology or “pragmatism” of “the moderate men.” You have donned the steel helmet, the perfect object admired by Goebbels. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/01/25/the-state-of-the-union-stinks/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/04/22/links-to-blogs-on-military-psychiatry/.

pragmatists Peirce and James

Moreover, these populist-progressives believe that “Wall Street,” is monolithic, and will undoubtedly play both the race card and will delve into antisemitism to beat “the big money” (“finance capital”) that they, along with some social conservatives, are already associating with Mitt Romney. And yet, a significant number of financiers remain strong Obama supporters, while others have broken away and support Romney. The latter believe that the Keynesian “demand-stimulus” solution to recession is ineffective and are upset over the mounting deficit, hence they worry about bankruptcy as has been threatened in European social democratic regimes.

What can parents and other concerned readers do? Silent acquiescence and going limp are not options. Study, fight back, use public libraries and the resources of the internet, and ask your children and students and friends what they mean by certain words. Draw them out and don’t be harshly critical, but stay with the subject until differences are clarified. We will even find agreement over some basic values, different though we may be at the outset. Start a book club. Study the curricula of your children and young adults and decode their agendas. (For part two of this series see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/22/3760/.)

December 2, 2011

The Whiteness of the Whale

Frederick Douglass not black enough

I have just listened to an 8 minute rant against the OWS protesters by podcaster Adam Corolla: (http://biggovernment.com/mrctv/2011/11/30/adam-carolla-explains-the-ows-generation/).  These polarized times are friendly to those personalities who can harness and provide a catharsis for conservatives and independents outraged by the ostensibly spoiled brats of hippie parents and others who like Big Government  (a.k.a. the Nanny State) as a solution to social inequality, or who were part of the self-esteem movement in multicultural education.

There may be something to what he says regarding giving undeserving kids trophies so that they won’t feel bad about losing to the stronger or more competent in school athletics and progressive education.  What Corolla did not include in this particular rant is the sea change in American education since the civil rights movement took hold in the 1960s. An entire generation of senior scholars in American history absorbed the troublemakers who instigated scary and destructive urban riots after the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy (the latter friendly to those who would relieve the horrors of urban ghetto life). By 1968, the white northeastern liberal establishment consciously co-opted what by then was militant black nationalism, while the “cool” leaders in the media industry went primitive, feeding into long term trends in popular culture—for instance the minstrel shows, later 1920s embrace of such as Josephine Baker and flamboyant sexuality in general.  Both strategies would have been labeled as escapist by such lucid political thinkers as the late Ralph Bunche (d.1971). See https://yankeedoodlesoc.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/carnegie-corp-and-the-negro-problem/.

By the time I hit graduate school in US history in the early 1980s, the determining structures were in place: American history was taught as if instructed by Soviet anti-American propaganda. Rather than being an exceptional nation, unprecedented in its governmental reliance on popular sovereignty as a source of instruction and legitimacy, “Zionist” America* was a rotten apple with a polished red skin, but rotten to the core. The entire field of American Studies (and its affiliated cultural studies) were devoted to proving this proposition. And even post-Civil War immigrants were held responsible for the misery of “Afro-Americans” as some called the black population, even Eastern European Jews fleeing pogroms and held to be communistic infiltrators.

Not surprisingly, conservative intellectuals are recuperating the Founding Fathers and writing about the making of the U.S. Constitution, in order to combat the Democratic Party’s emphasis on the antebellum period, the Civil War, and the failure of Reconstruction, events said to have entirely disabled living blacks today! How do we know this to be true? The history profession gives its major awards to those cultural historians who assert that the Civil War and white racism are the central sources of American character and cultural identity. The vanguard of Chosen People (asserted by Herman Melville! https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/) has been banished to the back of the line in Ivy League universities and in the humanities in general.  If you are not writing about “race” you are simply not in the academic game, and heaven help the feminists who do not focus their research on women of color. Similarly, if you write about the labor movement, you had better note their earlier hostility to black, Chinese, and Latino competitors. Throw in the Draft Riots of 1863, or the inherently narcissistic character of “American individualism,” or the peculiar institution (Southern slavery) as indistinguishable from capitalism (or its financial haul from slave labor funding capitalist development), and you are on your way to a job in the history profession in actually existing major universities.

To return to Adam Corolla’s rant against OWS. Beside the strong Third World or Maoist contingent of the current organized Left in OWS, add those who were educated to believe that capitalism is not merely a failed experiment, but is positively evil and an expression of our species’ “dark side”; that whiteness itself  is proof of demonic possession and the will to plunder and disrespect the whole, wide world.  Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?

* See this excerpt from Dmitri Volkogonov, 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.”

NOTE. This blog reflects my reading of the week: Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1962) and David Blight, Frederick Douglass’s Civil War (1989). 

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