The Clare Spark Blog

October 11, 2012

January 31, 2012

The Numbers Game, sadism, and the Decline of Magic

The “real” John Murrell

One of the virtues of the progressive movement in America was the increased deployment of statistics (see Before that, the political culture could rely on wild claims about the nature of the opposition, without deploying expert-developed “scientific” charts and graphs to prove a point. (Not that economists use the same sets of numbers or rely upon identical economic models.)

The reason I bring it up today, is the ongoing appeal of gory stories about the American past that I have found in both fiction and in the writing of history. While reading Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi (1883), I came across his account of the bandit and slave-stealer, “Murel,” but this turns out to be a heavily embellished “tall tale,” according to Wikipedia’s entry on “John Murrell (Bandit).” One cannot discount the public appetite for stories depicting in graphic detail dismembering, disemboweling, decapitations, defenestration, flogging, gouging, cannibalism, vampirism, and every atrocity known to our evil species. Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and White-Jacket may appeal to the sadomasochist public more than we know.

After reading about the disgusting “Murel”, I was about to apologize for my reproach to Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, for if Murel could perpetrate his massive crimes, why not the horrid characters who murder each other on the borderlands of the Southwest, described by McCarthy?  To be clear, I doubted that records existed that would have matched McCarthy’s imagined violence with real events, especially since McCarthy, unlike the poet-historian Paul Metcalf, did not give a note on sources for the history he purported to represent. The reader may object “but he never said it was history.” That only  makes matters worse to me, for if not grounded in fact, then the author is playing to blood lust in the reader, and to be frank, so does Mark Twain. Why anyone thinks of him as primarily a jolly humorist is beyond me. His work rather suggests a violent, antimodern and misogynistic imagination, larded with a huge dollop of cultural pessimism, (not to speak of internal contradictions). I don’t know how much Life on the Mississippi was influenced by Melville’s synoptic look at industrializing America, also located on the great river, The Confidence-Man, His Masquerade (1857), but the bleakness and accounts of mercantile fraud are common to both. And the Wikipedia article that surveys the many uses of statistical reasoning quotes Mark Twain as a nea-sayer: statistics were damned lies. Here is a sample from chapter nine of Life on the Mississippi that demonstrates a mixture of pride in mastering the technique of piloting a steamboat, but then lapses into regret that the world has been disenchanted by [science]:

[Mark Twain:] “…The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book — a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day. Throughout the long twelve hundred miles there was never a page that was void of interest, never one that you could leave unread without loss, never one that you would want to skip, thinking you could find higher enjoyment in some other thing. There never was so wonderful a book written by man; never one whose interest was so absorbing, so unflagging, so sparkingly renewed with every re-perusal. The passenger who could not read it was charmed with a peculiar sort of faint dimple on its surface (on the rare occasions when he did not overlook it altogether); but to the pilot that was an ITALICIZED passage; indeed, it was more than that, it was a legend of the largest capitals, with a string of shouting exclamation points at the end of it; for it meant that a wreck or a rock was buried there that could tear the life out of the strongest vessel that ever floated. It is the faintest and simplest expression the water ever makes, and the most hideous to a pilot’s eye. In truth, the passenger who could not read this book saw nothing but all manner of pretty pictures in it painted by the sun and shaded by the clouds, whereas to the trained eye these were not pictures at all, but the grimmest and most dead-earnest of reading-matter.

Now when I had mastered the language of this water and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition. But I had lost something, too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river! I still keep in mind a certain wonderful sunset which I witnessed when steamboating was new to me. A broad expanse of the river was turned to blood; in the middle distance the red hue brightened into gold, through which a solitary log came floating, black and conspicuous; in one place a long, slanting mark lay sparkling upon the water; in another the surface was broken by boiling, tumbling rings, that were as many-tinted as an opal; where the ruddy flush was faintest, was a smooth spot that was covered with graceful circles and radiating lines, ever so delicately traced; the shore on our left was densely wooded, and the somber shadow that fell from this forest was broken in one place by a long, ruffled trail that shone like silver; and high above the forest wall a clean-stemmed dead tree waved a single leafy bough that glowed like a flame in the unobstructed splendor that was flowing from the sun. There were graceful curves, reflected images, woody heights, soft distances; and over the whole scene, far and near, the dissolving lights drifted steadily, enriching it, every passing moment, with new marvels of coloring.

I stood like one bewitched. I drank it in, in a speechless rapture. The world was new to me, and I had never seen anything like this at home. But as I have said, a day came when I began to cease from noting the glories and the charms which the moon and the sun and the twilight wrought upon the river’s face; another day came when I ceased altogether to note them. Then, if that sunset scene had been repeated, I should have looked upon it without rapture, and should have commented upon it, inwardly, after this fashion: This sun means that we are going to have wind to-morrow; that floating log means that the river is rising, small thanks to it; that slanting mark on the water refers to a bluff reef which is going to kill somebody’s steamboat one of these nights, if it keeps on stretching out like that; those tumbling ‘boils’ show a dissolving bar and a changing channel there; the lines and circles in the slick water over yonder are a warning that that troublesome place is shoaling up dangerously; that silver streak in the shadow of the forest is the ‘break’ from a new snag, and he has located himself in the very best place he could have found to fish for steamboats; that tall dead tree, with a single living branch, is not going to last long, and then how is a body ever going to get through this blind place at night without the friendly old landmark.

No, the romance and the beauty were all gone from the river. All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat. Since those days, I have pitied doctors from my heart. What does the lovely flush in a beauty’s cheek mean to a doctor but a ‘break’ that ripples above some deadly disease. Are not all her visible charms sown thick with what are to him the signs and symbols of hidden decay? Does he ever see her beauty at all, or doesn’t he simply view her professionally, and comment upon her unwholesome condition all to himself? And doesn’t he sometimes wonder whether he has gained most or lost most by learning his trade?” [End, Twain excerpt]

[Clare:] Many a romantic author (e.g. Wordsworth) has enunciated the same sentiments: “Science”  has disenchanted the world.  Melville made the same complaint in his journal (1857-58), this time blaming the loss of poetic imagination on the higher Biblical criticism. During my graduate school training in history, I remember one tendency among the cultural historians to deplore “fact fetishism.” Such a nosy search for hard evidence was held to be a symptom of feminization, hence the decline of masculinity. The “feminist” demand for “no secrets” was outrageous (again, see Melville’s fear of being caught by the probing female gaze). Similarly, many conservatives rail against “the nanny state.” Are the real men all “lighting out for the territories?”

March 27, 2011

Progressive mind-managers, ca. 1941-42


The following is an excerpt from Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival, chapter two (slightly revised). I did not know when I wrote it how active Harvard University and other elite schools were in promoting interest in, and/or “tolerance” of the New Germany during the 1930s (see Stephen Norwood’s The Third Reich and the Ivory Tower)

Had Norwood’s book appeared earlier, I might have been less shocked by the formulations of Harvard- associated social psychologists and their “progressive” colleagues. For the continued relevance of Bateson’s communications theory, see

Staatsnation to Kulturnation. The official New Lights were formulated partly in opposition to the irreligious motions of radical psychologists in the late 1930s. For example, The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues was founded in 1936 as a pro-labor Progressive caucus of the American Psychological Association, vowing to disseminate the findings of social psychology to a broad public. Its First Yearbook was published in 1939, bearing the title Industrial Conflict: A Psychological Interpretation and included articles by Marxists, left-liberals, and conservatives in related disciplines who were sympathetic to the labor movement; one article helped workers and their allies to decode anti-labor propaganda disseminated by the Hearst newspapers. When the Second Yearbook, Civilian Morale appeared in 1942, there was little continuity with the more materialist group of authorities. One new presence was the anthropologist Gregory Bateson, originator of double bind theory, a diagnosis of structurally-induced schizophrenia. Bateson was not looking at the mixed-messages dispensed by corporatist liberals; rather, he held cold, rejecting-but-seductive mothers responsible for tying up and gagging their sons. Absent fathers were ordered home to block that Gorgon stare, redirecting the Libido away from red-hot, ice-cold mommas. In 1976, schizophrenia was still thought by Bateson followers to be caused by “the absence of anyone in the family, such as a strong and insightful father, who can intervene in the relationship between the mother and child and support the child in the face of the contradictions involved.”[i] (The Gorgon Face had already appeared in Weaver’s Melville biography of 1921.)

Bateson had been a member of the Committee for National Morale created in the summer of 1940 by art historian Arthur Upham Pope in the hope of founding a “federal morale service”; Bateson’s essay “Morale and National Character” pondered the tasks of Americans managing other societies.[ii] The concerns of anthropologist Bateson rhymed with those of the Texas populist three years earlier, especially in the matter of what Martin Dies more vulgarly called “class hatred.” Defending the beleaguered notion of national character, Bateson urged that his concept of bipolarity (“dominance-submission, succoring-dependence, and exhibitionism-spectatorship”) refine (or replace) the “simple bipolar differentiation” typical of “western cultures”:”…take for instance, Republican-Democrat, political Right-Left, sex differentiation, God and the devil, and so on. These peoples even try to impose a binary pattern upon phenomena which are not dual in nature–youth vs. age, labor vs. capital, mind vs. matter.” (my emph. Classical liberals and revolutionary socialists are in sharp disagreement over whether or not capital and labor are structurally at odds with one another. When I wrote my book, I was still writing from the left.)[iii]

Bateson, the hip pagan materialist, has rejected passé formulations like the mind-body dualism; thus we may give credence to his non-dualisms between labor and capital or youth and age. Like the rest of Civilian Morale, Bateson’s essay carried the same progressive “holistic” message as the Nation of 1919. (See Jeffersonian comrades were spun from neo-Hamiltonian Federalists to unify the “national psyche,” abjuring caste and standing with “labor” by regulating rapacious capitalists, yet guaranteeing the sanctity of property; gently substituting “social science research” for “punitive attitudes.”[iv] Gardner Murphy contributed “Essentials For A Civilian Morale Program in American Democracy” to the collection, deploying a simile from geology to nudge his materialist colleagues off the margins: classes, only apparently at odds, he argued, were really like stalactites and stalagmites, each growing toward each other to “coalesce” in mid-air to form one big pillar (407-408). Murphy, a reader of Vernon Parrington, knew he had to reconcile thrusting “Jeffersonians,” the grass-roots, Bill of Rights-oriented folk, with stubborn Hamiltonian gentry types hanging from the ceiling. But Murphy was pulling a fast one: stalagmites do not emerge from the earth, thrusting upward toward coalescence; rather, stalagmites are very slowly layered with tiny limey drips over thousands of years; the same drips from on high produce the stalactite. When stalagmite and stalactite finally meet, they have not performed like groping bodies in the dark, finding each other at the moderate center to form a more perfect union.

Not to worry; as Murphy implied, inequality was actually natural and earthy because ethnic and religious minority groups have different and diverse “taste or aptitudes or aims” but could shake hands “within the common framework of a reachable goal” (419-420). “Dissidents” must be fed accurate facts to modify their habitual, misinformed (“skeptical,” 410) name-calling, and taken into the Big Barn of civilian morale-planners, trailing clouds of hydrogen sulfide behind them:”The minority-group member can be shown the specific contribution which he can make. His contribution may add to the more placid and bovine contribution of the co-working group. Not only in Congress and in the press, but in the planning of local morale work itself, there should be some acrid critics, not just to buy off the critics as a group, but to introduce some sulphur into the planning process (420, my emph.).”

Not that the minority-group member was demonic. As Bateson had explained, the natural dualism between God and the devil was an outmoded crotchet of Western culture. Ethical distinctions between good and evil had been transcended. The new dispensation juxtaposed different roles: some folks were led into dominance, succorance, and exhibitionism; others into submission, dependence, and spectatorship. The progressive psychologist of 1942, as Gardner Murphy explained it, would lead his newly-inclusive, newly-fertilized, newly-inspirited crew of planners into the open-ended quest to discover “a workable amount and form of private property and of private initiative.” (424, Murphy’s italics). Oddly, the newly-minted Jeffersonian was not flustered by the given fact that “the press, necessarily under our system [is] an organ of business….” (428); moreover Murphy regretted that Dr. Henry A. Murray’s proposal for a “federal department of social science” had met closed doors in Washington (429).

But what of acrid Ahab and his tic douloureux; where would they fit in? Murphy explained that [isolatoes] were happier in groups lauding interdependence and “group thinking”: it could be shown through “existing data and fresh experiments” that authoritarian controls within democratic structures would be appropriate because “leaderless groups, formless democracies, are ineffective or even frustrating” (422-424). But the plan was not “totalitarian, laissez-faire or Marxist” because of its “respect for individual differences and the welcoming of criticism.” The individual (leader) finds “resolution” in the context of “mutual interindividual trust” and in the process of “trying to mold the group to his will under conditions permitting the other members of the group to accept or reject such leadership.” In other words, you could take a plan or leave it, but if you were led to reject the leader’s vision, you might be returned to the toiling masses, which would make it easier, perhaps, for the others to find “resolution” of difference.

The socially responsible alchemists were joined by the Frankfurt School German-Jewish refugees in the early 1940s. Like other progressive productions in social psychology, the massive and numerous studies of the “authoritarian personality” by Adorno, Horkheimer et al, have transmuted objective conflicts of interest and rational responses to economic crises into symptoms of personal irresponsibility. The refugee philosophers, Marxist-Freudians to a man, explained that the character structure of the middle-class with its falsely feeling mass culture and yen for agitators produced mass death in the twentieth century.[v] The overall project of their critical theory was to discredit excessively liberal values while subtly accrediting the discourse and world-view of organic conservativism–re-baptised by T.W. Adorno as genuine liberalism, like Wordworth’s “genuine liberty”(The Prelude, XIV, 132 [vi]), antidote to the protofascist “authoritarian personality.”[vii]

I speak in recollection of a time
When the bodily eye, every stage of life
The most despotic of our senses, gained
Such strength in me as often held my mind
In absolute dominion. Gladly here,
Entering upon abstruser argument,
Could I endeavour to unfold the means
Which Nature studiously employs to thwart
This tyranny, summons all the senses each
To counteract the other, and themselves,
And makes them all, and the objects with which all
Are conversant, subservient in their turn
To the great ends of Liberty and Power. (XIV, 127-139)
…I remember well
That in life’s every-day appearances
I seemed about this time to gain clear sight
Of a new world–a world, too, that was fit
To be transmitted, and to other eyes
Made visible; as ruled by those fixed laws
Whence spiritual dignity originates,
Which do both give it being and maintain
A balance, an ennobling interchange
Of action from without and from within;
The excellence, pure function, and best power
Both of the objects seen, and eye that sees. ( William Wordsworth, “The Prelude,” XIV, 367-378)

According to the Kleinian psychoanalytic theory of “projective identification” the self projects forbidden aggression into an external object which must be controlled. In the case of the upwardly mobile middle class, their (contemptible essentially Jewish or female) will to power is supposedly projected upon the (useful) Jews. Stubborn adherence to non-dualisms was identified with scapegoating, obviously a bad thing for mental health. Social psychologist Gordon Allport denounced group prejudice in his frequently reprinted Freedom Pamphlet of 1948, The ABC’s of Scapegoating. [viii] Allport advised Americans to adjust to pluralism by looking inside to check their “moral cancer” (7). Whites should stop scapegoating blacks, Christians should stop scapegoating Jews, “labor” should stop scapegoating “the spokesmen for ‘business’ ” (like Allport?), and conservatives should stop confusing liberals with communists by scapegoating FDR (26). Allport’s pamphlet is illuminated by comparison with the worksheets he earlier devised with Dr. Henry A. Murray for the Harvard seminar Psychological Problems in Morale (1941), meant to be disseminated to “private organizations” throughout the nation. As part of the Harvard Defense Council, the seminar was to be “an important component in a general program of coordinated research.”[ix] The materials for the course consisted of one short red-bound typescript, and numerous stapled worksheets, each methodically dealing with some aspect of propaganda, including a summary of Hitler’s personality and psychodynamics that would inform counter-propaganda. Hitler’s duplicity, irrationality and contempt for the masses was constantly compared with American rationality, which oddly enough, was derived from the protofascist and irrationalist social theorist, Vilfredo Pareto.[x]

In worksheet #4, “Determinants of Good and Bad Morale,” the authors outlined “aggressive needs in group coherence.”

First, there must be “outlets for grievances”: “Provision for the free expression of opinion improves morale.” Second, “scapegoat outlets” were another aid to good morale:”The direction of aggression against a subversive minority group may reduce tensions, and will be least disruptive if the scapegoat group is one which is in conflict with the total group in respect of major immediate aims. Aggression had better be directed against the external enemy, but if this is frustrated, or the group becomes apathetic, the subversive minority group may improve morale by either (1) reducing frustrated tensions of aggression or (2) reawakening aggression, or (3) displacing aggression away from intra-group aggression, or (4) displacing aggression away from the leaders of the group, if and when reversed [sic] are suffered (p.8).” [might the scapegoated group be “Jews”?]

I am suggesting that the ahistoric, irrationalist concept of “scapegoating” or “negative identity” cannot explain “prejudice”; rather, the pluralists are admitting there is no basis for unity in class societies whose politics are organized around national or ethnic “peaceful competition.” If the only unity is found in differing groups worshipping one “ideal self” (or artwork, which will, in practice, be designated by the elite), then the bad individualist like Melville will be attacked. Thou shalt not question the good parent’s benevolence or the possibility of “group adjustment” by reconfiguring the social structure along materialist, i.e., “Jacobin” lines. As Sartre noted in his wartime essay Anti-Semite and Jew, German unity was forged solely in the common project to remove the social irritant that prevented natural harmony. This “prejudice” against the Jewish intellect and its sulking reverence, so corrosive to “natural” family bonds, was specific to a pluralist society whose objective divisions could not be overcome without some measure of institutional transformation. The rooted cosmopolitanism of the moderate men, by definition masking class and gender conflicts with the bizarre notion of competing, yet peacefully co-existing, mutually adapting ethnic groups, is thus deceptive and discredits all science: its “pluralism” and “tolerance” attack the moral individual seeking common ground by straying outside the boundaries set by elites.

In the case of the Murray-Allport worksheets, those limits were scientistically delineated; the Jeffersonian tradition was co-opted and redefined in the indispensable “Values of the Past”: “The more awareness there is of the group’s heroic past the better the morale. (Freedom from Old World Oppression, Jeffersonian Democracy, etc.) The more awareness of a national tradition of which the group is ashamed or guilty, the worse the morale…The slogan “Make The World Safe For Democracy” was anchored neither in the historical past or future. A durable morale must be historically anchored in the past and in the future, as well as in the present (Worksheet #4, 4, 5).” So much for the messianic republican mission and Wilsonian Progressivism. The ever-questioning, self-critical temper of the Enlightenment, the very Head and Heart of the libertarian eighteenth century, could only lead to bad morale. Although the authors had discarded the Wilsonian project, they went on to say that racial or economic discrimination were bad for morale, that there could be no doubt about the prospects for a better postwar world. A hodge-podge of factors: “communism, fascism, economic chaos, depression, or uncertainty,” all would impair morale (6). Peace aims were suggested: an International Police Force would ensure that “There will be a better distribution of the goods of the earth; all classes will be benefited” (Red-bound typescript, 13).” But war aims must remain vague, for we were a “pluralist society,” not a “unified society”; there were different strokes for different folks: “Disparities of statements shouldn’t be too obvious or made visible” (#4, 7).Properly guided we would be historically anchored in promises of abundance and an illusion of unity, yet we were not fascists.

The section “General Attitudes Toward Leaders” anticipated the criticism that American propaganda duplicated Nazi methods. First the authors warned “the less the faith in sources of information, the worse the morale.” The next item suggested “Linking of Present Leader to the Idealized Leaders of the Past”:”The more the present leader is seen as continuing in the footsteps of the great idealized leaders of the past, the better the morale. (Picture of Roosevelt between Washington and Lincoln would encourage this identification.) The more the present leader is seen as falling short of the stature of the great idealized leaders of the past, the worse the identification (11).  By effective leadership the group’s latent communality may emerge through identification with the leader. If this smacks of the Führer-Prinzip, we would insist that
identification is a process common to all societies, and that what distinguishes the democratic leadership from the Nazi leadership is not the process of identification but the content of what is identified with. It is the function of the democratic leader to inspire confidence in the democratic way of life, in its value for the individual or the society and not mere identification with his person, or the mythical Volk (16).” (my emph.)

For the tolerant materialists Murray and Allport, as with David Hume before them, there is no foreordained clash between individuals and institutions, no economic relationships to undermine altruism and benevolence: man is naturally communal and “society” as a coherent entity, a collective subject, actually exists. The good leader is neither autocratic nor corrupt,“does not waver, is not self-seeking, is impartial, accepts good criticism” (#4, 10). As we have seen, tolerance, i.e., criticism of leadership, had its limits.[xi] Jefferson’s legacy had to be reinterpreted because critical support of political institutions in the Lockean-Jeffersonian-Freudian mode is not identical with “identification,” an unconscious process whereby primitive emotions of early childhood are transferred to all authority, coloring our ‘rational’ choices and judgments. Only the most rigorous and ongoing demystification and precise structural analysis (with few or no government secrets) could maintain institutional legitimacy for political theorists in the libertarian tradition, but, for the moderates, such claims to accurate readings as a prelude to reform were the sticky residue of the regicides. And where is the boundary between good and bad criticism? Alas, just as Martin Dies had suggested that the poor should tolerate the rich, Murray and Allport advised Americans to tolerate (or forget) “Failure in the Nation’s Past.” We must do better, of course.

The worksheet continues, recommending that traditional American evangelicalism embrace the disaffected, for there may be moderate enthusiasts in the new dispensation:”The submerging of the individual in enthusiastic team work is not altogether foreign to the American temper. This means Jews, the “lower” classes, the draftees, labor unions, and so on. It cannot be done by fiat, but the inequalities might be mitigated if not removed, so that otherwise apathetic groups would feel a stake in the defense of the country, and the middle and upper classes more aware of the meaning of democracy (16).” These latter remarks were intended to answer the question Murray and Allport had posed at the beginning of their book: “Certain themes in Axis propaganda are continually stressed, notably the self-righteousness and hypocrisy of the democracies in general and of the U.S. (and President Roosevelt) in particular. What’s to be done about it?” (4).

Virtually the entire postwar program of conservative reform was foreshadowed in these pages. As formulated in the mid-nineteenth century, abolitionist and working-class demands for universal education, equal rights, and enforcement of the Constitution would be redirected into the quotas of affirmative action or multiculturalism. In worksheet #17, “Long Term Aspects of Democratic Morale Building,” a program of integration and deferential politeness would rearrange the American people’s community: “…far from ignoring or suppressing diversities of intelligence, the objective of democratic morale-building should be their conscious integration into an improving collective opinion. The techniques of such integration exist. They are inherent in the democratic tradition of tolerance and the democratic custom of free discussion. They exist, however, in outline rather than in any ultimate or perhaps even very high state of development (4).

[Quoting Gordon Allport:]…Our pressure groups [the Jews complaining about Nazis?] are loud, their protests vehement and our method of electioneering bitter and sometimes vicious. In the process of becoming self-reliant Americans have lost respect, docility, and trust in relation to their leaders. Our habit of unbridled criticism, though defended as a basic right, brings only a scant sense of security to ourselves in an emergency, and actively benefits the enemies of the nation (5).” (Murray’s and Allport’s emph.)

And one such source of insecurity (i.e., subversion) was anti-war education and pacifism: “insofar as the disapproval of war was based on a rejection of imperialist patriotism, it engendered war-cynicism” (Red-bound typescript, 4). In other words, Murray and Allport were admitting that involvement in the war could not be legitimated as an anti-imperialist intervention, nor could there be any other appeal to reason. Leaders, past and present, would have to be idealized; all criticism bridled in the interest of “integration.” The disaffected should moderate their demands, settling for mitigation, not relief. And if, despite the neo-Progressive prescriptions, the road to national unity remained rocky, scapegoating, properly guided by social scientific principles, would certainly deflect aggression away from ruling groups.

[i] 87. See Carlos E. Sluzki and Donald C. Ransom, ed. Double Bind: The Foundation of The Communicational Approach to the Family (New York: Grune & Stratton, 1976), 11.

[ii] 88. The preface by Goodwin Watson reviewed the history of the Committee in the passive voice and with vagueness as to the politics of their group: “Concern with American morale in the face of a developing world crisis was evidenced at the meeting of the S.P.S.S.I. in September 1940. At that time a Committee on Morale was appointed, under the chairmanship of Professor Gardner Murphy. During the year 1940-41 interest in morale grew, and at the 1941 meetings several programs of the American Psychological Association and of the American Association for Applied Psychology were devoted to discussions of morale. In
accord with its purpose to communicate psychological findings on public questions, the S.P.S.S.I. decided in September 1941, to postpone some other yearbooks, and to concentrate immediate effort on a volume dealing with civilian morale. Professor Goodwin Watson of Teacher’s College Columbia University was appointed editor, and the book was planned in coordination with the president of the S.P.S.S.I., Professor Kurt Lewin, University of Iowa, and the Society’s secretary, Professor Theodore Newcomb, University of Michigan” (vi).

[iii]89.  Gregory Bateson, “Morale and National Character,” Civilian Morale: Second Yearbook of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, ed. Goodwin Watson (New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1942), 71-91.

[iv] 90. See Goodwin Watson, “Five Factors in Morale,” Civilian Morale, 30-47, and Gardner Murphy, “Essentials for a Civilian Morale Program in American Democracy,” 405-436. According to Murphy, the federal morale service (designed for both temporary and permanent morale) fell through because it evoked the Creel Committee of WWI; Americans would have rejected “active propaganda,” preferring “patient discovery by Americans of what they really thought about the world predicament.” See Murphy, 426-427, 429.

[v]  91. See T.W. Adorno, Leo Lowenthal, Paul W. Massing, “Anti-Semitism and Fascist Propaganda,” Anti-Semitism, A Social Disease, ed. Ernst Simmel (New York.: International Universities Press, 1946): 125-138; Nathan W. Ackerman and Marie Jahoda, Anti-Semitism and Emotional Disorder (New York: Harper, 1950) and the other publications in the series “Studies in Prejudice” edited by Max Horkheimer and Samuel H. Flowerman, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee.  See below for the links of their identity politics (usually attributed to Erik Erikson) to the Harvard/Chicago pragmatists:  Parsons and Lasswell. Cf. Hugh Seton-Watson, “The Age of Fascism and its Legacy,” International Fascism, ed. George L. Mosse (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1979), 365. Hitler was only slightly indebted to the capitalists (who did not extensively fund him, or put him in power), and he soon brought them to heel. The irrationalist interpretation of Nazism as an outpouring of bad middle-class taste was followed by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, defending modernism in its reconstruction of the Nazi Degenerate Art exhibition of 1937.

[vi] 92. Melville owned (and took with him on his 1860 Meteor voyage) The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth Together With A Description of the Country of the Lakes in the North of England, Now First Published with His Works, ed. Henry Reed (Phila.,1839). Some of his (surviving) annotations were discussed in Thomas F. Heffernan, “Melville and Wordsworth,” American Literature (Nov. 1977): 338-351. There is no mention of “The Prelude.” Hershel Parker states that Duyckinck brought the Appleton proof sheets of the poem to the Berkshires in 1850, and even reviewed it, but that neither he nor Melville read the poem at that time; see Parker, “Melville & The Berkshires,” American Literature: The New England Heritage , eds. James Nagel and Richard Astro (New York: Garland Publishing, 1981), 68. Parker suggests that Melville’s sympathies for the suffering poor were inspired by Wordsworth’s cottagers and his own professional or personal traumas of the early 1850s (78-79), while Heffernan noted the importance of  “The Excursion” to Clarel (351), a work displaying “the similarity of moral and religious concerns.”

[vii]  93. See T.W. Adorno et al, The Authoritarian Personality (New York: Harper, 1950), 71, 781-783. The “Genuine Liberal” type is anti-totalitarian and free of narcissism; in Adorno’s appropriation of Freud, the genuine liberal possesses “that balance between superego, ego, and id which Freud deemed ideal” (71). Adorno’s example of the type is a politically naive, but frank and independent twenty-one year old  woman, not given to ultra-femininity/feminine wiles; she is the daughter of a hiring manager at a railroad; in the family sexual division of labor, her loving mother represents emotions, her father, facts. She is religious (“Perhaps we will all be saved”) and reads Plato for Utopian inspiration. When asked how she felt about Negroes and Jews, she was “guided by the idea of the individual,” but she wouldn’t want to marry a Negro with dark skin or a man with a big nose. However, as a nurse’s aid, she did not object to caring for Negro patients. Adorno quotes her “joke” [what would Freud have said?]: “Maybe if the Jews get in power they would liquidate the majority! That’s not smart. Because we would fight back.” Admirably free of bigotry, she is also free of “repression with regard to her feelings toward her father: ‘I want to marry someone just like my father’ ” (783).  Distinguishing themselves from “manipulative” fascists, the authors, in their concluding sentence, prescribe an antithetical appeal to the emotions: “…we need not suppose that appeal to emotion belongs to those who strive in the direction of fascism, while democratic propaganda must limit itself to reason and restraint. If fear and destructiveness are the major emotional sources of fascism, eros belongs mainly to democracy” (976).  Henry A. Murray’s Thematic Apperception Test was used by Adorno’s colleagues creating “the F-scale” (the potential for fascist behavior);  Murray’s and Lasswell’s books are recommended in the bibliography.

[viii] 94. Gordon Allport, ABC’s of Scapegoating (New York: Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith, 1983, ninth rev.ed., first publ. 1948).

[ix] 95. Gardner Murphy, Civilian Morale, 427.

[x] 96. Murray-Allport worksheet #16, “Psychology of Influence (Education Persuasion) Applied to Morale Building in America,” 13.

[xi]   97. David Hume had confidently asserted that unpredictability enters politics when factions are infiltrated by radical religion; by triumphalist hypermoralistic, hyper-rationalist puritan extremists: the link between cause and effect would no longer be obvious. See History of England, Vol. 6, year 1617. The Hume entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1971, presents Hume as a philosopher whose major contribution was his demonstration that there could be no theory of reality, no verification for our assertions of causality. Faced with the necessity of action we rely upon our habit of association and (subjective) beliefs. And yet Hume is described as a thinker who saw philosophy as “the inductive science of human nature.” He is not  described as a moderate or a Tory.

August 18, 2009

Storming Pacifica: revising my view of Pacifica history, July 22, 1999

His Master’s Voice

[August 18, 2009. The response to my memoir, My Life at Pacifica, has been so strong that I am posting an essay I wrote while an internal civil war was taking place between factions in the Pacifica “community.” Some of my points are reiterated in the memoir, but the material uncovered by Matthew Lasar is so important, that I am posting my thoughts from 1999 here while the storm was raging, though Storming Pacifica is also available on the internet. For a more personal memoir plus links to postwar anti-democratic sociology see There are surprises here.]

As I write this, hundreds of Berkeley radicals are in their element: many believing that the Corporate State acting through Dr. Mary Frances Berry, Chief Officer of the Pacifica Foundation National Governing Board, is determined to destroy KPFA and the entire Pacifica Foundation (founded in their community fifty years ago this year), aggrieved Bay Area listeners and their allies throughout our country have mounted demo after demo since Berry shut “their” station down Tuesday, July 13. Among other actions they have picketed the KPFA transmitter lest it carry “scab” programming from KPFK (the Los Angeles Pacifica Station), formed a tent city to maintain an around-the-clock presence outside the radio station, kept the internet buzzing with accounts of the latest management outrages, demanded the immediate reinstatement of fired KPFA manager Nicole Sawaya, demanded repeal of the gag rule that forbids any discussion of the dispute over Pacifica air, demanded the resignation of top management (Berry and Executive Director Lynn Chadwick), demanded to see the financial records of what may be a failing organization secretly planning to sell off at least one of its valuable broadcast licenses (WBAI), and lobbied other media to cover this, the worst crisis in the long, contentious history of Pacifica radio. (Reports are coming in indicating that several protesters have been brutally treated by the police.) Meanwhile local board members from three Pacifica stations have sued the Foundation, complaining it illegally transferred all governance to the National Board, hence removing any input whatsoever from Local Advisory Boards, and, by the complainants’ inference, silencing the voices of the subscribers who pay everyone’s salaries, and who are free (solely) to withdraw their financial support. Most importantly, the protesters want all this activity to culminate in a massive transformation of governance, to grass-roots control of the Pacifica Foundation, and a return to the original Pacifica Mission as formulated by its founder, Lewis K. Hill.

Pacifica Foundation management depicts the opposition as paranoid and opposed to “growth,” “professionalism,” and “cultural diversity.” (Management, no less than the opposition, legitimates its rule by appealing to the original Mission Statement. For instance, in his Report to the Listener, July 20, 1999, the KPFK manager not only mentioned the Mission as [the Bible] of the current regime, but played a multicultural reading of that part of the Articles of Incorporation that mandates the study of the causes of conflict. The current conflict, he constantly emphasized, was the result of “over-the-top” uninformed violent activity by a tiny minority from “Berzerkely”.)

This is all very riveting, and I would be jubilant if I thought that “community control,” institutional transparency, and accountability would strengthen the Foundation, restore its financial viability, and help it to realize the liberal implications of its mission as formulated in the Articles of Incorporation. I am not jubilant; I am rather apprehensive. What the current battle does, however, is give us pause to consider the subtly quietist implication, or perhaps, more accurately, the implementation, of the original Pacifica vision that has, over the long haul, led to the current bizarre polarization–a polarization of people who share many core beliefs about radical politics.

Reading the rhetoric dispensed by the tireless and dedicated protesters, one would think that we are witnessing a revitalized democratic social movement. No one, to my knowledge, has pointed out that the intellectual assumptions that have governed public broadcasting, the counter-culture, much of the New Left, and Left-wing academia alike, especially since the late 1960s, are part of the legacy of the European Far Right. Sadly, the Pacifica dissidents share the same discourse as the managers they deplore. I refer to multiculturalism, a.k.a. cultural relativism as promulgated by the Populist-Progressive movement of conservative reform that reacted to the liberal, proto-socialist nineteenth century. “Cultural diversity” as promulgated by today’s “progressive” Left signifies the völkisch or “communitarian” or primitivist inheritance of J.G. Von Herder and German Romanticism generally, the blood-and-soil ideology that attempted to roll back the Scientific Revolution and its offspring: the Enlightenment, the rise of the secular state, individual civil rights (equality before the law), “careers open to the talents,” and popular sovereignty, creations of radical liberals. These rejected libertarian ideals were associated with “rootless cosmopolitans” as their rooted enemies called them. The rooted cosmopolitans, like fascist ideologues of the 1930s, wrote “history” as the struggle between Good and Evil. Their obsessive interest was in “social cohesion” and “equilibrium.” Money/”bourgeois society”/(later, the Bomb) was the root of all social and environmental disintegration or “disruption”; by contrast, the good King of the High Middle Ages held “the (local) community” and Nature together in the Great Chain of Being. As multiculturalists, the rooted cosmopolitans emphasize “inclusion” and “identity” conceived in the same static terms as medievalists and Renaissance humanists defending hierarchy and order against the incursions of science and other democratizing forces such as mass literacy. Rootless cosmopolitans, it was argued, not only had no identities themselves, they were the creators of mob society as their insidious materialist doctrines separated ordinary people from their families of origin, breaking what Edmund Burke would call narrative continuity with the (idealized, orderly) past.

It was the progressives who established public broadcasting, always understood as “expert”-controlled and top-down in decision-making, but adorned with “community discussion groups” as one political scientist associated with the Committee For Economic Development and the upper-class peace movement, Harold Lasswell, described this innovation in the late 1940s. (See especially his Power and Personality, 1948, and National Security and Individual Freedom, 1950). Indeed, Lew Hill, the revered, even deified, Founder of Pacifica Radio in Berkeley wrote the liberal-sounding Mission Statement to pacify the Ford Foundation (an early underwriter), other (conservative) liberals, and the FCC, according to Matthew Lasar’s recently published Pacifica Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network (Temple University Press).

In his prospectus of 1947, Hill reassured the FCC that “The whole object of the Foundation’s educational program in the field of public affairs and social problems is to study these matters, and to help the public study them with exactly that freedom from excusiveness and partisanship which the FCC lays down as a condition for the use of radio channels.” According to Lasar, Hill didn’t mean it; indeed he even covered up his radical past when he thought it would help his credibility with liberals (49).

Lew Hill, who came from big nouveau riche oil and insurance money in Tulsa Oklahoma, was a C.O. in World War II. Disturbingly, as Lasar tells us, around 1939-1940, Hill and his close friend Roy Finch (the source of this story) joined A.J. Muste in the belief that “stories about Nazi atrocities [were] anti-German propaganda, similar to false stories circulated during the First World War.” (14). After the war, along with Quaker allies and other C.O.s, Hill envisioned a radio station that would persuade working-class cannon fodder to resist the U.S. military, and most urgently, he intended to inject the principle of non-violence into the multi-ethnic militant Bay Area labor movement (44-45). Lasar complained that Hill “knew that on paper he would have to create a pacifist and a liberal radio station at the same time; he would have to emphasize pacifist ideas and dialogue as the path to peace, but also fairness and individual rights.” (43). Hill was dissatisfied with the tiny numbers of pacifists, as his first prospectus (1946) made clear: Quoting Hill, Lasar writes that war resisters, “especially since 1939–have been made to feel their severe impotence in the surge of public affairs outside their subscription and mailing lists.” Pacifists need to move beyond intellectual appeals or “ivory towerism,” as the prospectus put it, which had done little to alter public opinion. “Average beliefs have their form and interpretation in matters close to home, in the events of the neighborhood and city,” he wrote. “In the average man, on whom war prevention depends, the sense of right action is not a sense of large philosophical orientation, but one of a familiar and satisfying adjustment to the people and institutions in his immediate environment.” The task for pacifists, therefore, was to speak of peace not only through lofty principles but also through constant reference to “familiar things,” indeed to become familiar to the community by serving it as a radio station. “Pacifica Foundation,” Hill wrote in a single-sentence paragraph, “has been organized to begin this job.” (43)

Pacifica’s founders turned out to be postmodernists avant la lettre. As Lasar goes on to explain, materialist and historicist methods of analysis were rejected as deterministic (i.e., opposed to the concept of free will), hence were rejected by the “skeptical” Lew Hill, an admirer of Christian Existentialists such as Kierkegaard and Niebuhr. Lasar’s discussion of the original Pacifica Charter says it all. “The most important of the five purposes committed Pacifica to…the principle of pacifist dialogue: the idea that peace emerged not out of polemics but out of the process of diverse groups of people communicating with each other…To Pacifica’s founders, a lasting “understanding” between nations, races, or individuals did not mean that the parties involved had arrived at an objective truth but simply that through the exchange of language they had come to know each other better–as “humans,” rather than through some other ideological category, such as race, nationality, or class. “We really believed in the power of the word as the source of identity in human beings,” Richard Moore later explained. This knowledge, the first Pacificans hoped, would lead to the peaceful resolution of conflict…Richard Moore remembered a skeptic asking Hill what he would do if a Nazi broke into this house and pointed a gun at him. “I’d try and talk,” Hill replied. (44) [end Lasar quote]

They were all Heart. So much for the anti-intellectual foundations of Pacifica: “race, nationality, or class” were not facts in the real world (or factoids as in the case of race, though race and ethnicity are taken to be biological facts, with dire social consequences), but “ideological” constructions. Here is radical subjectivism at its most blatant. At its very inception, then, rigorous institutional analysis and the accurate (objective) description of institutional structures, discourses and practices were implicitly rejected as the devil’s work. The core values of liberalism: fairness and individual rights, values that had often led to reform and structural transformation where indicated, must be the cause of the wars and social violence (especially labor militancy?) that these particular pacifists deplored. Pacifica would talk to simple people about simple homely things. Moral reformer William Wordsworth, reacting to the tumultuous response to the French Revolution and the social movements it energized, couldn’t have said it better (see The Excursion as a guide to the etiquette of victimization, urging English intellectuals to instill the virtues and consolations of Faith, Hope, and Charity as the centerpiece of a popular education aimed at the rural peasantry and the uprooted industrial class alike). For the new Pacificans, music, poetry, and drama, Lasar notes, would serve pacifist ends, appealing to the diverse folk cultures of local labor (46).

Fast forward to the late 1990s, as other localists (“cultural nationalists” or as I would prefer to call them, organic conservatives) battle each other for control of the Foundation, asserting group facts, group rights, racial quotas, programming that must reflect changing demographics. The nationalists are deeply conservative in their (selective) ancestor-worship, while some of the anarchist, “anti-imperialist” protesters seem content with such backwardness and fragmentation as identity politics inevitably produce. Not surprisingly, “the peasant problem” (as some Marxists call it) is everywhere as individual programmers continue to fight over turf, claiming to represent “the community” that “looks like them.” And “the community” has no truck with dissenting individuals, freethinking artists experimenting with new forms, or empirical analysis of social problems; rather its advocates resort to the ritual repetition of slogans defining the enemy as monolithic and hegemonic, whether that enemy to simplicity and spiritual values be the bogus Enlightenment, the idea of Progress, markets, high culture, Amerika, white males, patriarchy, Wall Street, commercialism, consumerism, science and technology, positivism, etc.

Logically, with such overwhelming forces (the Devil is everywhere, remember) arrayed against the spiritually-attuned grass-roots, what must be the emotional and social consequences? Led by Lasar’s research into Pacifica’s early history, I now have a better view of the crisis, and why there has been so much desperation, impotent rage, alienation, depression, cultural despair, and acquiescence to corruption. Well-meaning radicals fatally continue to reject the “bourgeois,” hence tainted, critical tools that would have brought coherence and quality to Pacifica’s mandated (if vaguely stated) exploration of the causes of war and all forms of social violence. The current critics of Pacifica management should consider where the Foundation has been before it offers alternative forms of governance and programming to a muddled, ineffectual, and declining organization. There was no Golden Age; what we have now is a golden opportunity to rethink every aspect of public radio, but especially Pacifica. Shall it be bound to the illusory Good King, reaction, narrow racial/ethnic politics, and cultural backwardness or shall it be wide-open, experimental, and a safe environment for those who believe that an excellent universal education, grounded in the observable facts of the real world, is indispensable to a more peaceful future?

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