Ed, at Gin and Tacos:
The great masses of Americans cling so desperately to their own imagined versions of things like freedom of religion and right to bear arms because those are the only freedoms they can claim without deceiving themselves to have. If those are taken away they would be forced to recognize how truly un-free in any useful sense they are. If people are unable to find work that pays a sufficient amount to cover life’s necessities and to live in a manner and place of their choosing, then all of their many intangible rights and freedoms guaranteed by law provide only a superficial – important, but superficial nonetheless – freedom. We are free, in short, to do whatever we can afford, which, in the majority of cases, is to say “Not much…”
Without implying that the government owes everyone a job of their choosing in the exact location of their choosing, it’s fair to say that if you can’t find work that pays enough to live a life that gives you real choices and options then you are free only in the sense that you are not imprisoned (although there will be plenty of that as well) and nobody can tell you how many Jesus fish and Rush Limbaugh bumper stickers you can put on your car, nor how many expensive guns you can hoard in your meager home that you struggle to afford. Americans obsess over those largely symbolic freedoms, the threats to which exist only in their own imaginations, because even though we dare not admit it we understand that many of us lack anything better.
How many times do I have to say this? Loosen up, people. Have you ever tickled a cute little toddler? Been on a high school football team? What are you, some kind of sex fiend?
From Flagler Live:
More broadly speaking, however, is an issue that plagues both children and adults at summer camps alike: for fear of litigation, local interpretation of a state code very strictly forbids adults touching children, in any manner.From the New York Times:
Even to apply sunscreen to a burning child.
The players, both 17 at the time of the episode, had been charged with aggravated sexual contact and aggravated assault, among other crimes, and were tried as juveniles by a judge behind closed doors in Middlesex County family court.
Seven Sayreville players, from 15 to 17 years old, were accused last fall of attacking members of the freshman football team in a ritual that involved jumping and beating the younger players, groping their genitals or penetrating them from behind with a finger poked through pants. The scandal stunned the suburban town of 44,000 just southwest of New York City.
Lindsey Graham, a United States senator, on the man who landed a tiny unarmed gyrocopter on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol as a protest against the Citizens United Decision:
“He should have been subject to being shot out of the sky. I don’t know why he wasn’t, but our nation is under siege. Radical Islam is a threat to our home land. There are probably radical Islamic cells in our backyard already. And if somebody is willing to, you know, approach vital government infrastructure, they should do so at their own peril.”In a more advanced society, the senator would be kept in a quiet place and treated kindly until he was judged to be no longer a threat to others.
One area in which we in the US can still stake a claim to lead the world is the politics of paranoia, as Richard Hofstadter’s immortal essay made clear. And he wasn’t just talking about your garden-variety crazies like Ben Carson or Mike Huckabee; paranoia reaches even the highest rungs of the political ladder, as Richard Nixon so admirably demonstrated.
James Forrestal, one of my favorite examples, had a long string of impressive accomplishments, from excelling at (though not graduating from) Princeton, to claiming the first flag raised by American forces at Iwo Jima (the second flag-raising was captured in the famous photograph), to pushing racial integration in the Navy when his predecessor as Secretary of the Navy died of a heart attack and he became Secretary, to becoming our first Secretary of Defense. He was famously and uncompromisingly anti-Communist and anti-Soviet, concerned that the evil represented by Communism exerted a strong pull on societies decimated by the Second World War. His belief that Communism would not cease in attacking until it had destroyed all representative government might sound a bit paranoid, but Eisenhower, with whom Forrestal consulted during the War, apparently wrote in his personal diary that he “never had cause to doubt the accuracy” of Forrestal’s judgments on the issue. That level of paranoia, in other words, was pretty normal in those days.
After the war, Forrestal urged Truman to take a hard line with the Soviets over Poland. He also strongly influenced the new Wisconsin Senator, Joseph McCarthy, concerning infiltration of the government by Communists. Upon McCarthy’s arrival in Washington in December 1946, Forrestal invited him to lunch. In McCarthy’s words, “Before meeting Jim Forrestal I thought we were losing to international Communism because of incompetence and stupidity on the part of our planners. I mentioned that to Forrestal. I shall forever remember his answer. He said, ‘McCarthy, consistency has never been a mark of stupidity. If they were merely stupid, they would occasionally make a mistake in our favor.’ This phrase struck me so forcefully that I have often used it since.”
In the end Forrestal was asked to resign as SecDef and was quietly transferred to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda where the cover of his psychiatric diagnosis of depression could be maintained. For the same reason they placed him on the 16th floor. Unfortunately, his body was later found on the roof of the third floor, with some reports claiming a bathrobe sash cord was tied around his neck. While he had never been given an official diagnosis of paranoia, it was rumored that he harbored a physical and individualized fear that Communists were coming to get him. On the other hand, given his opposition to the partitioning of Palestine it is likely that he was in fact being followed, though probably not by Communists.
Poor guy, and what a paranoid and inaccurate conception of the world! To imagine that your putative enemy is so powerful that they never make mistakes and are completely consistent, properties unknown to human organizations or even individuals. They are aggressive and relentless, and the complete destruction of your way of governing and thus of your culture is their only motivation. They are not, in short, human, but simultaneously both superhuman and subhuman. And to imagine this was true of the Soviets, who lost an entire generation of men, had been reduced to poverty nearly everywhere, and were struggling to feed their people and rebuild their devastated country! But paranoia builds its own sorts of reverse-Potemkin villages.
If only Forrestal had lived in the time of gyrocoptors! But his spirit lives on in the senior Senator from South Carolina.
“He should have been subject to being shot out of the sky,” Graham said. “I don’t know why he wasn’t, but our nation is under siege. Radical Islam is a threat to our home land. There are probably radical Islamic cells in our backyard already.”
“If somebody is willing to, you know, approach vital government infrastructure, they should do so at their own peril,” Graham continued.
Even the Washington Times couldn’t swallow that one whole: “The small vehicle was unarmed and likely would not make a formidable weapon, even if used kamikaze-style.”
This man has a vote on serious matters. Or would if the Republican Congress ever made an effort to address its responsibilities. In practice, however, so little happens in the Senate that Lindsey gets antsy, talks of running for President, and starts singing war chants with his BFF.
Which way’s the boogeyman comin’ from, Senators?
Apparently the following is old stuff, but it was new to me. I therefore assume it will be to you, too, since how could you be better informed than I am? The excerpt gives the rough outline; for more background, go to Professor Wolff’s fascinating blog, which ought to be on your daily checklist if it isn’t already.
The UMass Afro-Am doctoral students dominate the annual conventions and have assembled a brilliant record of publication. The applicants, most of whom apply to several doctoral programs, still have appallingly low GRE scores. What’s up?
A good many years ago, a brilliant African-American psychologist named Claude Steele asked the same question, and launched a fascinating series of experiments to find out. [When I had dinner with Steele in Amherst, MA many years ago, he was the Chair of the Stanford Psychology Department. He is currently the Executive Vice-Chancellor and Provost of UC Berkeley.] Steele formulated the hypothesis that Black students are well aware of the widely-held view that they are dumber than White students, and this awareness, which Steele labeled “stereotype threat,” undermines their ability to do well on the sorts of “intelligence tests” that the White world expects them to do badly on.
Steele devised a variety of experimental protocols to test this hypothesis, and again and again, the data proved him correct. For example, Steele would put together a multiple-choice test, and give it to two groups of college students [mixed White and Black.] The first group would be told that they were being tested for intelligence; the second group, given the identical test in identical testing circumstances, would be told that they were being tested on their general knowledge. Sure enough, the first group of Black students did markedly worse than the second.
Steele then broadened his investigation to other stereotypes. Women are commonly thought not to be able to do math, so Steele tested two groups of women on the same math exam. Each group was asked to fill out a little personal data form before taking the test -- name, address, age, college class, etc. The last question on the first form, answered just before taking the test, was “gender.” The second form omitted that item. Lo and behold, the women who were called on to identify themselves as women just before taking the test did worse than those who were not so asked! Steele was even able to replicate the result by putting the gender question first on the form in one case and last in the other.
Further proof, not that you needed any, that comedians are smarter than other people. This is from Frank Rich’s interview with Chris Rock:
FR: What would you do in Ferguson that a standard reporter wouldn’t?
CR: I’d do a special on race, but I’d have no black people.
FR: Well, that would be much more revealing.
CR: Yes, that would be an event. Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.
FR: Right. It’s ridiculous.
CR: So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.
FR: It’s about white people adjusting to a new reality?
CE: Owning their actions. Not even their actions. The actions of your dad. Yeah, it’s unfair that you can get judged by something you didn’t do, but it’s also unfair that you can inherit money that you didn’t work for.
Here’s Richard Rhodes, in Why They Kill:
“The South, statistically the most violent region of the country, combines poverty, enthusiasm for military service, conservative Christian values and social segregation as well. Indeed, so-called black violence may well be a subset of Southern violence, since African American culture derives directly from the southern culture in which it was originally embedded before the great migration of African Americans to northern cities.”
Excerpted from Undernews:
The teacher was reading a book to the children and it was towards the end of the day. I’ve never seen anything like it. Kids were tilting back their chairs back at extreme angles, others were rocking their bodies back and forth, a few were chewing on the ends of their pencils, and one child was hitting a water bottle against her forehead in a rhythmic pattern.
This was not a special-needs classroom, but a typical classroom at a popular art-integrated charter school. My first thought was that the children might have been fidgeting because it was the end of the day and they were simply tired. Even though this may have been part of the problem, there was certainly another underlying reason.
We quickly learned after further testing, that most of the children in the classroom had poor core strength and balance. In fact, we tested a few other classrooms and found that when compared to children from the early 1980s, only one out of twelve children had normal strength and balance...
Why am I not surprised? But, once again, saddened at the nation of sniveling, fearful cowards that we have become. Zero-sum thinking is not the prudent, responsible attitude toward the normal risks of childhood; it is pathological. It is paranoid. Carried far enough it leads to Cheney land.
This quote from Carl Jung is apropos of nothing in particular, but it’s a bit of a mantra right now so I thought I’d pass it around.
Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.
Thurman Arnold was a Yale Law School professor who became the chief trust buster in Roosevelt’s Justice Department and later a founder of the Washington law firm now known as Arnold & Porter. Along the way he was also a Wyoming legislator, the mayor of Laramie, and a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He published The Symbols of Government, excerpted below, in 1935.
Those being times very much like ours it might be of some interest to see how things looked to Arnold back then. Not that we can do much more to fix those things than he could, this still being a nation populated by Americans rather than, say, Swedes, Costa Ricans or Finns. Different strokes for different folks.
Anyway, Merry Christmas and here’s Arnold:
From the humanitarian point of view the best government is that which we find in an asylum. In such a government the physicians in charge do not separate the ideas of the insane into any separate sciences such as law, economics and sociology; nor then instruct the insane in the intricacies of these three sciences. Nor do they argue with the insane as to the soundness or unsoundness of their ideas. Their aim is to make the inmates of the asylum as comfortable as possible, regardless of their respective moral deserts … No psychiatrist today attempts to differentiate the content of foolish ideas, and of insane ideas. It is equally possible to adopt a point of view toward government where ideas are considered only in light of their effect on conduct…
The advantages of such a theory for purposes of thinking about government is that we escape the troublesome assumption that the human race is rational. We need not condemn policies which contradict each other solely on the ground that the action of government must be logically consistent. We need not constantly worry about permanent cures, and discard day-to-day policies because of their effect in the future on the morale of the irrational people we are governing. We need not delay such necessary undertakings as public relief because we are worried about their effect on the character of the recipients. We need not compel persons on relief to pauperize themselves and surrender the insurance policies which may afford future relief to their children because of a moral notion that no one is entitled to relief who is not a pauper…
Russia under Stalin is not so far from Russia under a benevolent despot as we may imagine. It is true that the notion of equal distribution of goods to the proletariat as the chief justification for the exercise of governmental power, contains ideals which appear to be new; but if we examine them we find that they are at least as old as Christianity…
The concept of government as an insane asylum liberates us from the notion that wise men think up principles and schemes of government for their duller fellows to learn and follow, and that thus social change is accomplished. It frees us from the notion that “thinking men” decide between the relative merits of communism and capitalism, and choose the better form. Finally, the theory is based on a humanitarian ideal which seems to be indestructible in the march of society — the ideal that it is a good thing to make people comfortable if the means exist by which it can be done.
…watching the Louie Gohmerts or Sarah Palins or Glenn Becks of this world. From Psychology Today:
Fremdscham describes the almost-horror you feel when you notice that somebody is oblivious to how embarrassing they truly are. Fremdscham occurs when someone who should feel embarrassed for themselves simply is not, and you start feeling embarrassment in their place…
Besides the emotional response, Fremdscham-inducing events and items … also usually cause one to ask this question: “how on earth can these people be unaware of how stupid they are being right now?”.
And more than to lecture you about the beauty of the German language, I want to write about a classic psychological theory that laid the groundwork for addressing precisely this question of how people remain ignorant of their ignorance.
Dunning and Kruger often refer to a “double curse” when interpreting their findings: People fail to grasp their own incompetence, precisely because they are so incompetent. And since, overcoming their incompetence would first require the ability to distinguish competence from incompetence people get stuck in a vicious cycle.
“The skills needed to produce logically sound arguments, for instance, are the same skills that are necessary to recognize when a logically sound argument has been made. Thus, if people lack the skills to produce correct answers, they are also cursed with an inability to know when their answers, or anyone else’s, are right or wrong. They cannot recognize their responses as mistaken, or other people’s responses as superior to their own.”
Theoretically the mob is the repository of all wisdom and virtue; actually it is the ultimate source of political power. Even the plutocracy cannot make war upon it openly, or forget the least of its weaknesses. The business of keeping it in order must be done discreetly, warily, with delicate technique.
In the main that business consists of keeping alive its deep-seated fears — of strange faces, of unfamiliar ideas, of unhackneyed gestures, of untested liberties and responsibilities. The one permanent emotion of the inferior man, as of all the simpler mammals, is fear — fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants above all is safety. His instincts incline him towards a society so organized that it will protect him at all hazards, and not only against perils to his hide but also against assaults upon his mind — against the need to grapple with unaccustomed problems, to weigh ideas, to think things out for himself, to scrutinize the platitudes upon which his everyday thinking is based…
In America it is the newspaper that is his boss. From it he gets support for his elemental illusions. In it he sees a visible embodiment of his own wisdom and consequence. Out of it he draws fuel for his simple moral passion, his congenital suspicion of heresy, his dread of the unknown. And behind the newspaper stands the plutocracy, ignorant,, unimaginative and timorous…
It is precisely here, the first and favorite scene of the Great Experiment, that the culture of the individual has been reduced to the most rigid and absurd regimentation.
—H. L. Mencken, writing in 1920. The bogeyman of that time was the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, locally represented by unwashed and unintelligible immigrants from Italy, Eastern Europe and Russia itself. What he would have written about the Tea Party, Ayn Rand, the TSA and the NSA, we can never know. For even if the Great Misanthrope were to come back to life, his head would explode upon contact with Fox News.
I’ll write more about NewsBlur soon, but for now suffice it to say that I’m seeing more news of a variety of types with a far better coverage of the world beyond the US and the UK than I used to get from iGoogle.
With the feeds I aggregate at Newsblur I hear about lots of things I was missing when I allowed Google to select the top headlines. I can page through dozens of headlines quickly and catch what interests me. Today I quickly checked out the rise in open racism in Greece, the EU split over supplying arms to Syrian rebels, and the riot police who removed 3,000 mostly female protesters blocking a road outside Cambodian Nike factory where two workers were killed by part of a warehouse falling on them.
Then there are the pieces that aren’t quite news in the classic sense and wouldn’t be found in most American newspapers. Here’s Raymond Tallis defending metaphysics against Stephen Hawking’s claim that it was dead because it hadn’t kept up with modern developments in physics. He points out problems and paradoxes at the heart of physics, including its difficulties with time and consciousness. Summarizing his defense, he says:
Recent attempts to explain how the universe came out of nothing, which rely on questionable notions such as spontaneous fluctuations in a quantum vacuum, the notion of gravity as negative energy, and the inexplicable free gift of the laws of nature waiting in the wings for the moment of creation, reveal conceptual confusion beneath mathematical sophistication. They demonstrate the urgent need for a radical re-examination of the invisible frameworks within which scientific investigations are conducted. We need to step back from the mathematics to see how we got to where we are now. In short, to un-take much that is taken for granted.
A fine subject for meditation, that last bit.
I have no idea how link to a tweet, or even what a tweet is, and so I’ll just put up this screen grab from The Maddow Blog.
From The Selected Papers of Bertrand Russell (The Modern Library, 1927). We have not, of course, made much significant progress on any of these matters since. It is what it is. We are what we are.
All sorts of intellectual systems — Christianity, Socialism, Patriotism, etc. — are ready, like orphan asylums, to give safety in return for servitude. A free mental life cannot be as warm and comfortable and sociable as a life enveloped in a creed: only a creed can give the feeling of a cozy fireside while the winter storms are raging without…
From the point of view of psychology and physiology, fear and rage are closely analogous emotions: the man who feels rage is not possessed of the highest kind of courage. The cruelty invariably displayed in suppressing negro insurrections, communist rebellions, and other threats to aristocracy, is an offshoot of cowardice and deserves the same contempt as is bestowed on the most obvious forms of that vice…
Only a man dominated by fear would join the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascisti. In a world of brave men, such persecuting organizations could not exist, and the good life would involve far less resistance to instinct than it does at present…
Poverty, since the industrial revolution, is only due to collective stupidity. Sensitiveness would make people wish to abolish it, intelligence would show them the way, and courage would lead them to adopt it.
From Fox News:
The prospect of a renewed assault weapons ban in the wake of the Connecticut school massacre has set of a round of buying, as thousands of Americans head to their local gun store to secure the popular AR-15 — the model used by the school gunman — before potential government prohibitions on their purchase.
They are also buying the .223 ammunition used by the AR-15 and the type of high-capacity magazines covered under the last federal assault weapons ban, which Congress let expire without renewing…
George Packer has a piece in this week’s New Yorker that tells you more about how Washington (and the human species for that matter) actually fits together than anything I’ve read in years. It’s sad and terrifying at the same time.
The full text is behind a pay wall, but a summary is here. Don’t be satisfied with this, though, because the devil is in the details. Get hold of the magazine if you’re not a subscriber. It contains another wonderful piece, this one by Jane Mayer and available on line. It’s called “The Voter Fraud Myth.” The cunning little Bushie behind that myth is pictured below.
Our focus at Bad Attitudes is on bringing the good news. So here’s some for all you non-hard-working American taxpayers:
Researchers in New Zealand have found that people who work at least 50 hours a week are up to three times more likely to face alcohol problems. Earlier this month, the American Journal of Epidemiology reported on a global study showing that over-workers are between 40 and 80 percent more likely to suffer heart disease than others. The lead researcher of that study had previously found that middle-aged people working more than 55 hours a week tend to be disproportionately slow-witted, and to be more at risk for dementia.
I have known quite a few assholes in my time, as who hasn’t. But it never occurred to me that they could be monetized, and even deducted as a business expense. Just take an anus to lunch in the course of researching a book about famous ani.
Geoffrey Nunberg has written such a book, bless his hole, and called it Ascent of the A-Word. Here’s an excerpt from an excerpt on AlterNet. The last sentence belongs on everyone’s list of little lessons to live by.
Still, nobody would argue that being an asshole is essential to business success. The books on leadership that line the business sections of Barnes & Noble offer career models to suit every personality type. One can take one’s cues from successful leaders ranging from Bismarck and Golda Meir to Nelson Mandela and the apostle Paul, not to mention Generals Lee, Grant, Custer, and Attila the Hun. With that choice before them, the managers who make for the shelf that holds books on Patton and Jobs aren’t settling on assholism as a career expedient, they’re looking to justify their predilection for it. Few people become assholes reluctantly.
One key element in clinical psychology training is learning to pay attention at a finer granularity. Subtle shifts in wording, posture, and expression can convey much to the attentive observer. Even the inattentive are affected unconsciously. A corollary is that my own subtle shifts communicate a great deal to those I’m working with, and I need to be unusually aware of their detailed presentation.
As with most intrapsychic occurrences, this dynamic also plays out on the social plane. What feels like a subtle shift in mood and approach can speak volumes to those on the other end of the power equation. As a result what seems on one end to be a legitimate ruse to locate a dangerous enemy can be experienced on the other end as an invalidation of everything associated with the deception.
Such, unfortunately, is the case with the US employment of a fake campaign promoting and dispensing hepatitis vaccine in Pakistan as a means of locating Osama bin Laden and kin. Given the way vaccination campaigns were recently used, much of Pakistan no longer trusts them, and immunizers have been banned from Taliban territory, an area that includes over 300,000 children. What makes this particularly troubling is that the Afghanistan/Pakistan border area includes one of the world’s two “persistent pockets of polio transmission” according to the WHO.
The prospect of polio transmission draws the attention of national governments, and India has declared its children at risk of cross-border infection as long as Pakistan cannot carry out vaccination programs. And it cannot: recently immunization workers were publicly beaten in Islamabad.
As Laurie Garrett says at CFR:
Some people said a small amount of suspicion of vaccines from the CIA activities a year ago was merely collateral damage in the “war on terrorism.” Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States and its allies have over the last fifteen years killed about five thousand people. Today that collateral damage could mean that many children in Pakistan are at risk of dying or being permanently paralyzed by polio, and the reversal of eradication efforts that could swiftly spawn outbreaks across the entire region.
Ian Welsh gets it right:
Ordinary people hate other ordinary people who are doing better than them. The politics of envy isn’t about the rich, whom ordinary people almost never see, but about their neighbours. And Americans want a mean economy, one where everyone has to suffer like they do. As long as the union movement is about a few people keeping higher wages, it will continue to fail. A union movement which is centered around public service unions cannot stand.I think this is the real story of the Wisconsin elections. Corporate money was a factor, no doubt, as was conservative propaganda, but all the money and spin in the world won’t help you win if most people just flat out don’t agree with you. The fact is, demagogic appeals to people’s fear and envy almost always trump good will and common sense. Nowhere is this more true than in America, where the only thing we love more than money is kicking someone in the guts when they’re down.
But, say lefties like Michael Moore, poll after poll shows that Americans usually come down on the progressive side of the issues. Well, maybe, but election after election keeps putting reactionary Republicans and conservative Democrats back in office. Why is that?
I don’t care what any poll says. This country is firmly, staunchly, stupidly center-right. It doesn’t matter if a poll says most Americans favor single-payer health care, because those same people will turn right around and vote for some right-wing demagogue who cries that it’s “socialism!” Most Americans would benefit from bigger stimulus spending, extended unemployment benefits, and a strong labor movement, but all of that’s irrelevant. Rational considerations like that get thrown out the window as soon as a politician or a talk show host tells people that the dirty fuckin’ Mexicans are stealing their jobs, or that lazy government workers are prospering on their dime, or that class warfare against multimillionaires in the form of the capital gains tax is wrecking our economy.
If Americans are so damn progressive, why do we live in the least progressive nation of all the advanced industrial democracies? Why does public policy always, always, drift in favor of the rich and powerful? The divide and conquer tactics employed by the likes of Scott Walker succeed because so many American fundamentally agree with them. When they’re told about wicked teacher’s unions, they remember the high school civics teacher who always gave them detention and think, “Yeah, fuck teachers!” When they hear about public service workers getting higher pensions than themselves, they remember some petty government department that levied a fine on them for some minor infraction, and they think, “Yeah, fuck government workers!”
As for the Mexicans, they haven’t got a chance in this environment. Anti-Mexican bigotry is de rigueur among the white working class. It is openly and proudly expressed. It’s just taken for granted that Mexicans, who may work as dishwashers and sleep six to a room, somehow constitute a privileged aristocracy that the government mysteriously favors over good hard working white Americans when dispensing all the benefits. This view as common as the day is long, and it’s impossible to dislodge it from a brain where it’s taken root. I’ve given up trying. I’ve been inches away from fist fights over this issue. The fact is, they want to blame Mexicans for their problems for one simple reason: they want to blame Mexicans for their problems. Period. Keep your logic to yourself.
Appealing to the the lowest common denominator works because the lowest common denominator is our most potent driving force. We are the lowest common denominator. We are overlapping, interwoven bundles of lowest common denominators that, working together in perfect synergy, has produced a nation whose most salient traits are militarism, economic inequality, and authoritarian police agencies. There’s a deeply ingrained core of hysterical, money-grubbing, self-defeating stupidity that makes up a large part of our national character. It goes all the way back to pre-colonial times. It’s just who we are. Read Richard Hofstadter, or even de Tocqueville, where the theme also pops up.
(A side note: while of us liberals and progressives are wringing our hands in despair, I’d bet money that the big strategic brains in the Democratic party are betting that going against public employee unions is smart politics. I heard this being ever so gently mentioned on some of the talk shows after the election results came in. Rather than standing up for organized labor on principle, they’re going to kneecap it for short term political gain. Public employees unions are going to be the next bargaining chip, the next sacrificial lamb, in some Obamian grand bargain with the far right. Watch the Democrats sell them out. You just watch them do it.)
Nevertheless, I remain fascinated by one aspect of Tesler's research:
Even presidential pets were viewed through the same lens. Tesler showed 1,000 YouGov respondents a picture of a Portuguese water dog and asked how favorably they felt toward it. Half saw the dog introduced as Bo Obama, and half as Ted Kennedy’s dog, Splash. (Both political dogs are the same breed, but the picture was of Obama’s.) Those with negative feelings toward blacks thought less of Obama’s dog.
I found this interesting not from a news point of view but from a sociological one. It’s an exploration by Alexander Zaitchik in The Exiled of a Tucson subculture from which Jared Lee Loughner emerged. Not that the subculture was responsible in any way for Loughner’s murderous shooting spree last year; it plainly wasn’t. An excerpt:
Zaitchik: Where was he getting his information?
Taylor: He was listening to AM radio, I’m not sure which talk shows they were. But he was listening to talk shows about political stuff. When he tried to talk to us about it, we were like, “Whatever, let’s go chase some girls.” I just remember it was about the government, basically, but we weren’t interested. He didn’t trust the government. He didn’t trust anybody, really. And he was also into all the different religions. He’d say random things about different religions all the time. He was way into the 2012 thing. This was years ago, so it meant nothing to us at the time. The politics came out when he was messed up. When the drugs got more intense, it made it worse. It was like he was hiding it, but once he got messed up, he couldn’t hide it anymore. It would come out and no one could shut his ass up. As time went on, drugs, the combos of drugs made it more intense. Drugs magnified it. After we left that house, I’m sure it just got worse…
This from Mike Lofgren, a retired Republican staffer on the House and Senate budget committees:
An observer of the right-wing phenomenon must explain the paradox of followers who would escape from freedom even as they incessantly invoke the word freedom as if it were a mantra. But freedom so defined does not mean ordinary civil liberties like the prohibition of illegal government search and seizure, the right of due process, or the right not to be tortured. The hard right has never protested the de facto abrogation of much of the Bill of Rights during the last decade.
In the right-wing id, freedom is the emotional release that a hostile and psychologically repressed person feels when he is finally able to lash out at the objects of his resentment. Freedom is his prerogative to rid himself of people who are different, or who unsettle him. Freedom is merging into a like-minded herd. Right-wing alchemy transforms freedom into authoritarianism.
Here’s James Howard Kunstler with a close textual analysis of yesterday’s Superbowl half-time weirdness. He segues from the apocalypse into Madonna, but for that you’ll have to go here.
The Superbowl pageant is a window into the condition of American manhood, and the view is pretty pathetic. It’s a picture of men who feel so weak, insecure, and fearful that they have to compensate with fantasies of limitless destructive power. Ads for several new movies and (I think) video games followed the Silverado apocalypse romp. There were unifying themes throughout. All depicted the problems of life as 1) coming from outside our own society (or world); 2) in the form of aliens who wield mystifying technological destructive power; and 3) leaving a few human remnants on a smoldering landscape after a cosmic showdown.
These onslaughts from elsewhere in the universe always end with superior American guile and the latest technology defeating the purblind invaders. The aliens are vanquished by Apple computers, Air Force stunt pilots, and a little extra help from God Almighty, who is surely on our side. From these realms of engineered grandiosity, we slip in and out of the grinding ground game in Lucas Oil stadium in Indianapolis, another pseudo-military operation loaded with acronyms and jargon intended to confer an illusion of control and competence.
The reality out there in “flyover” land is an audience of diabetic fat men in clownish loungewear slouched on sofas in foreclosed houses enjoying stupendous portions of cheesy and lard-laden foodstuffs between cigarettes and beers. They have a lot to worry about and they have no idea how they might overcome their financial, familial, and medical problems. The real onslaughts besetting the nation in realms such as banking fraud, money in politics, peak oil, climate uncertainty, and economic contraction are at once too complex for the diabetic fat men to comprehend, and grossly misreported in the public arena, where Cable TV and newspapers work the levers of propaganda for one client or another…
…Dr. Stephen R. Keister reminds us:
“Tell big lies. Do not qualify or concede a point, no matter how wrong you may be. Do not hesitate or stop for reservations. The masses are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional natures than consciously, and thus fall victims of the big lie rather than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies but would be ashamed to resort to large scale falsehoods.” — Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf
Tim Dickinson disassembles Roger Ailes in The Guardian, from which this excerpt comes. Dickinson writes that Nixon was married twice instead of once and that Ailes lives in New Jersey instead of Putnam County, New York. But no one’s perfect, and the rest of the piece looks pretty solid to me. Scary stuff.
Ailes knows exactly who is watching Fox News each day, and he is adept at playing to their darkest fears in the age of Obama. The network’s viewers are old, with a median age of 65. Ads cater to the immobile, the infirm and the incontinent, with appeals to join class action hip-replacement lawsuits, commercials for products such as Colon Flow and testimonials for the services of Liberator Medical (“Liberator gave me back the freedom I haven’t had since I started using catheters”). The audience is also almost exclusively white — only 1.38% of viewers are African-American. “Roger understands audiences,” says Rollins, the former Reagan consultant. “He knew how to target, which is what Fox News is all about.” The typical viewer of Sean Hannity’s show, to take the most stark example, is a pro-business (86%), Christian conservative (78%), Tea Party-backer (75%) with no college degree (66%), who is over 50 (65%), supports the NRA (73%), doesn’t back gay rights (78%) and thinks government “does too much” (84%)…
In fact, a study by the University of Maryland revealed that ignorance of Fox viewers actually increases the longer they watch the network. That’s because Ailes isn’t interested in providing people with information, or even a balanced range of perspectives. Like his political mentor, Richard Nixon, Ailes traffics in the emotions of victimisation.
“What Nixon did — and what Ailes does today in the age of Obama — is unravel and rewire one of the most powerful of human emotions: shame,” says Perlstein, the author of Nixonland. “He takes the shame of people who feel that they are being looked down on, and he mobilises it for political purposes. Roger Ailes is a direct link between the Nixonian politics of resentment and Sarah Palin’s politics of resentment. He’s the golden thread.”
Generations hence, when the river of time has worn this presidency’s importance to a small, smooth pebble in the stream of history, people will still marvel that its defining trait was a mania for high-speed rail projects. This disorder illuminates the progressive mind…
Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons — to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.
To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.
Will gives away the game with the phrase “delusions of adequacy.” It is pure projection, since the whole point of the GOP’s own marketing is to keep the suckers quiet with delusions of adequacy. If the boobs can drive their car anywhere they damn please, no damn government Nazi is going push them around (that’s the bank’s job, the minute they’re late with a payment.) An AK-47 over every hearth is adequate to the task of protecting freedom-loving Americans from the feds who would otherwise enslave them (never mind Waco or Ruby Ridge.) And of course there’s nothing like a submissive wife and obedient children to make a fellow feel adequate. Except maybe pushing around a minority while you’re still, precariously, in the majority. Or that greatest delusion of adequacy of them all: belief in American exceptionalism as our ship of fools slowly sinks under the weight of their delusions.
More evidence that we are, as a species, just pathetic…
This (All links to PDFs):
In a field study, we collected data in a restaurant and manipulated bite size by providing diners with small or large forks. We found that diners consumed more from smaller rather than larger forks.
Very small but cumulated decreases in food intake may be sufficient to erase obesity over a period of years. We examine the effect of slight changes in the accessibility of different foods in a pay-by-weight-of-food salad bar in a cafeteria serving adults for the lunch period. Making a food slightly more difficult to reach (by varying its proximity by about 10 inches) or changing the serving utensil (spoon or tongs) modestly but reliably reduces intake, in the range of 8-16%.And this:
In two studies, one a lab study and the other a real-world study, we examine the effect of manipulating the position of different foods on a restaurant menu. Items placed at the beginning or the end of the list of their category options were up to twice as popular as when they were placed in the center of the list. Given this effect, placing healthier menu items at the top or bottom of item lists and less healthy ones in their center (e.g., sugared drinks vs. calorie-free drinks) should result in some increase in favor of healthier food choices.
From CNN we learn that Portland has a zero tolerance policy on urine. Its water bureau subscribes to the Dick Cheney theory of risk management, which on the national scale brought us the Department of Homeland Security (Heimat Sicherheit in the original German), endless war in the Middle East, and a citizenry of cringing cowards. Search a baby’s diaper for explosives at the airport, and a clear majority of Americans will call it regrettable, but a necessary price to pay for our freedoms.
Is it possible that nobody at the Portland Water Bureau has ever visited a public pool full of pissing, splashing and swallowing kids who nonetheless manage to survive? Are the Water Bureau’s managers incapable of calculating the number of ounces in a gallon, multiplying by 8,000,000, dividing by 16, and then having a good laugh over the immeasurable trace of piss remaining in a glass of city water? Of course they’re not, but the poor bastards answer to a public long since reduced to a permanent state of fear. Good Americans snivel their way through life's darkness, cowering at every small sound and literally worried sick.
Oregon’s Portland Water Bureau is draining an 8 million-gallon reservoir after surveillance cameras caught a man urinating into it this week.
The move will cost the water bureau $35,000 – $28,000 in lost revenue and $7,500 in disposal costs, CNN affiliate KATU-TV reports…
A healthy bladder holds up to 16 ounces of urine, according to the National Institutes of Health.
From Kitty Kelley’s dissection of the Bush dynasty, The Family:
As President, Bush kept a male fertility figure, which he had received from the President of Mozambique, in the Oval Office bathroom. The carved wooden statue, facing the toilet, stood three feet high and was anatomically correct, if somewhat exaggerated. The President kept a roll of toilet paper on the extended male organ. He liked to send young women into the bathroom and watch their reaction when they emerged.
“Alixe Glenn, who was deputy press secretary and about twenty-six years old at the time, told a group of reporters about George Herbert Walker Bush’s weird sex thing,” recalled one White House correspondent. “She said the President told her to go into his bathroom and wash her hands. She did as she was told and came out red-faced with embarrassment. The President thought it was killingly funny.”
2. Why did Ms. Glenn tell this story to reporters?
3. Why didn’t they print it?
4. If George Herbert Walker Bush were president today, would he Tweet?
5. If so, what?
6. Would Andrew Breitbart post it?
7. For sheer classiness, would you prefer (A) a president who finds it funny to embarrass a young female employee by exposing her to a giant wooden penis from Mozambique or (B) a president who allows a smitten young female employee to fellate him? “Neither” is not an acceptable answer; this is not a test of your political correctness. Choose one, and be honest.
8. Now rank the two presidents again, this time on the basis of psychosexual health.
9. Go to the bathroom and wash your own hands, as necessary.
No link to this, because I'm at a library on a PC rather than an Apple, and am therefore terminally confused. But it's from Rick Hertzberg's New Yorker blog, a link to which will be found in the sidebar to your right.
The era of the modern sex scandal began in 1988 with Gary Hart, Donna Rice, the S.S. Monkey Business, and the Miami Herald. It seems almost quaint now, but back then it was de rigueur for the press to maintain that the sex scandal of the moment was not really “about” sex. What it was “about” was lying, which in turn meant that it was “about” something more important than sex, i.e., “character.”
The problem is that lying is an inherent part of adultery and, by extension, of any illicit or potentially embarrassing sexual activity or proclivity. By itself, the fact that a person has lied about sex tells you nothing about that person’s general propensity to lie. Unlike most citizens, prominent politicians like Gary Hart, Bill Clinton, and Anthony Weiner make speeches by the hundred, give media interviews constantly, and have extensively documented public records. If the politician is a habitual or characterological liar, the public record will show it and the lying-about-sex is redundant. If the politician is not a habitual or characterological liar, his lying-about-sex is misleading — is itself a lie, in a way.
Another note on the decline of the American Empire from Robert Stein at his always interesting blog, Connecting.the.Dots. I hope I’ll be that sharp an observer when I get to be his age.
Never mind men in outer space or those slogging in Middle East mud, media attention is on a horny old Frenchman in Manhattan detention, a former body builder with no procreative self-control and a preening pack of politicians playing Chicken with the national debt limit.
In the Age of Viagra, masculinity is being downgraded everywhere. Even 60 Minutes is obsessed with strength cheating by Lance Armstrong and other cycling idols.
The Bogart-Eastwood days of strong, silent men are long gone, replaced by caricatures on the national stage, flexing fake muscles and abandoning all the responsibilities that used to be associated with responsible manhood…
Ain’t the web wonderful? From Popsci.com:
There’s also evidence, evolutionary psychologist Gordon Gallup, Jr., says, that women may actually go through semen withdrawal. In an unpublished study he conducted a few years ago, women in committed relationships who were having unprotected sex and were exposed to semen were “far more devastated and adversely affected [after a breakup] than those that were using condoms.”
He also found a risk of a rebound effect, where women who were not using condoms had sex with a new partner after a breakup within a couple of weeks versus several months for those who had used condoms. “I don’t think the evidence is conclusive, but it’s certainly very suggestive that it’s a response, in effect, to semen withdrawal,” Gallup says.
At Ketchup Is A Vegetable, Brady Bonk easily outshoots the NRA. Not that it matters. In a nation of cowards, fear beats logic every time.
A threatening person enters your home. You pick up a gun from your nightstand, and you successfully fire it into the person’s chest, ending his life and protecting your home. The police shake your hand and send you on your merry way and tell you what a good person you are.
It seems more likely to me that you’ll end up killing someone in your family or yourself and end up in jail or dead.
I mean, you think the guy on the phone this morning regularly takes his gun to a range? You think he’s had classes in gun safety, think he’s bothered to learn how to properly handle a firearm?
And, further: Do you think he has a fire extinguisher in his kitchen?
Well, I mean, come on. If your reason for keeping a firearm in your nightstand is that you have to defend your home, don’t you think you should be equally prepared to defend it from fire? And which of the five types of fire extinguisher does he own? And does he know whether to pick up his A, B, C, D, or K model depending on which sort of fire he’s got?
Does his family have an escape route in case of fire? Has he seen about installing a tougher deadbolt? Reinforced the windows? Locked down his sliding glass doors? Has he plugged unused electrical sockets? I mean, if you’re going to be the kind of guy who’s interested in defending his home and his family, then be that guy or stop with the bullshit nonsense…
History repeats itself, no question. And no surprise either. It was formed and deformed back then by human beings; it still is, and by an unimproved species.
There are two ways of looking at this regular reemergence of past follies in almost identical shapes: either we have learned nothing from our mistakes, never will, and are therefore all doomed; or what the hell, we lived through these stupid patches before and so we probably will this time too. Take your pick, bearing in mind that it is Christmas, a season of hope.
Meanwhile, here’s a patch that I lived through as a young man, more or less intact and still bitching. This description of it is by Richard Hofstadter, in a 1963 speech at Oxford which was later published in Harper’s Magazine as “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Read “socialism” for “Communism” and “Obama” for “Roosevelt” and you’ll feel right at home. Professor Beck and Deacon McConnell make their appearances, too, along with many other familiar folks.
But the modern right wing, as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialist and communist schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners but major statesmen seated at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors discovered foreign conspiracies; the modern radical right finds that conspiracy also embraces betrayal at home…
The basic elements of contemporary right-wing thought can be reduced to three: First, there has been the now familiar sustained conspiracy, running over more than a generation, and reaching its climax in Roosevelt’s New Deal, to undermine free capitalism, to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government, and to pave the way for s0cialism or communism. Details might be open to argument among right-wingers, but many would agree with Frank Chodorov, the author of The Income Tax: The Root of All Evil, that this campaign began with the passage of the income tax amendment to the Constitution in 1913.
The second contention is that top government officialdom has been so infiltrated by Communists that American policy, at least since the days leading up to Pearl Harbor, has been dominated by sinister men who were shrewdly and consistently selling out American national interests.
The final contention is that the country is infused with a network of Communist agents, just as in the old days it was infiltrated by Jesuit agents, so that the whole apparatus of education, religion, the press, and the mass media are engaged in a common effort to paralyze the resistance of loyal Americans…
As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, the quality needed is not a willingness to compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Nothing but complete victory will do.
Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated — if not from the world, at least from the theater of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for unqualified victories leads to the formulation of hopelessly demanding and unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same sense of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.
This enemy is clearly delineated: he is a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman: sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, luxury-loving…
Very often the enemy is held to possess some especially effective source of power: he controls the press; he directs the public mind through “managed news”; he has unlimited funds; he has a new secret for influencing the mind (brainwashing); he has a special technique for seduction (the Catholic confessional); he is gaining a stranglehold on the educational system.
This enemy seems to be on many counts a projection of the self: both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. A fundamental paradox of the paranoid style is the imitation of the enemy. The enemy, for example, may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry…
One of the impressive things about paranoid literature is precisely the elaborate concern with demonstration it almost invariably shows. One should not be misled by the fantastic conclusions that are so characteristic of this political style into imagining that it is not, so to speak, argued out along factual lines. The very fantastic character of its conclusions leads to heroic strivings for “evidence” to prove that the unbelievable is the only thing that can be believed…
The singular thing about all this laborious work is that the passion for factual evidence does not, as in most intellectual exchanges, have the effect of putting the paranoid spokesman into effective two-way communication with the world outside his group — least of all with those who doubt his views. He has little real hope that his evidence will convince a hostile world. His effort to amass it has rather the quality of a defensive act which shuts off his receptive apparatus and protects him from having to attend to disturbing considerations that do not fortify his ideas. He has all the evidence he needs; he is not a receiver, he is a transmitter…
This is from The Authoritarians, by Bob Altemeyer:
But research reveals that authoritarian followers drive through life under the influence of impaired thinking a lot more than most people do, exhibiting sloppy reasoning, highly compartmentalized beliefs, double standards, hypocrisy, self-blindness, a profound ethnocentrism, and — to top it all off a ferocious dogmatism that makes it unlikely anyone could ever change their minds with evidence or logic. These seven deadly shortfalls of authoritarian thinking eminently qualify them to follow a wouldbe dictator. As Hitler is reported to have said, “What good fortune for those in power that people do not think…”
Intrigued, I gave the inferences test that Mary Wegmann had used to two large samples of students at my university. In both studies high Right Wing Authoritarians went down in flames more than others did. They particularly had trouble figuring out that an inference or deduction was wrong. To illustrate, suppose they had gotten the following syllogism:
All fish live in the sea.
Sharks live in the sea..
Therefore, sharks are fish.
The conclusion does not follow, but high RWAs would be more likely to say the reasoning is correct than most people would. If you ask them why it seems right, they would likely tell you, “Because sharks are fish.” In other words, they thought the reasoning was sound because they agreed with the last statement. If the conclusion is right, they figure, then the reasoning must have been right.
Turns out the Greeks had a word for what ails the Republican Party — Anosognosia. To explore this disorder on its home turf, go to a Tea Party rally armed with official budget figures, agreed upon by economists of both the Keynesian and the Friedman schools, which prove beyond the shadow of a mathematical doubt that the Republicans are, historically, the party of high deficits. Now try to convince any random demonstrator of this simple historical fact.
The thing can’t be done, because the poor devil suffers from anosognosia. It is what allows him to cry out “Keep your government hands off my Medicare” without his head exploding.
Here’s a dictionary definition of what keeps his head together:
Anosognosia is a condition in which a person who suffers from a disability seems unaware of or denies the existence of his or her disability.
For more, go here.
It’s worth reading Matt Taibbi’s whole article in Rolling Stone on the tea party. This tiny sample contains a particularly fine specimen of snark — one that will ring true to anyone who has attempted communication with these muddled patriots.
Hardcore young libertarians like Koch — the kind of people who were outside the tent during the elder Paul’s presidential run in 2008 — cared enough about the issues to jump off the younger Paul’s bandwagon when he cozied up to the Republican Party establishment. But it isn’t young intellectuals like Koch who will usher Paul into the U.S. Senate in the general election; it’s those huge crowds of pissed-off old people who dig Sarah Palin and Fox News and call themselves Tea Partiers. And those people really don’t pay attention to specifics too much. Like dogs, they listen to tone of voice and emotional attitude.
To those of us who are getting along the news these days can seem, in a certain sense, comforting. After all we have been here before, haven’t we? — time after time, even. For an instance take a look at this, substituting Tea Party for pseudo-conservativism, Obama for Eisenhower, and so on as needed. Very few of Richard Hofstadter’s words would need changing if they were written for tomorrow’s New York Times. In fact they were written for The American Scholar in 1954. We somehow managed to stumble through that outbreak of national idiocy, soiled and tattered but mostly intact. With luck, we may even do it again.
The new dissent is certainly not radical — there are hardly any radicals of any sort left — nor is it precisely conservative … It can most accurately be called pseudo-conservative because its exponents, although they believe themselves to be conservatives and usually employ the rhetoric of conservatism, show signs of a serious and restless dissatisfaction with American life, traditions, and institutions.
They have little in common with the temperate and compromising spirit of true conservatism in the classical sense of the word, and they are far from pleased with the dominant practical conservatism of the moment as it it represented by the Eisenhower administration.
Their political reactions express rather a profound if largely unconscious hatred of our society … Adorno and his co-workers found that their pseudo-conservative subjects, although given to a form of political expression that combines a curious mixture of largely conservative with occasional radical notions, succeed in concealing from themselves impulsive tendencies that, if released in action, would be very far from conservative.
The pseudo-conservative, Adorno writes, shows “conventionality and authoritarian submissiveness” in his conscious thinking and “violence, anarchic impulsiveness and chaotic destructiveness in the unconscious sphere … The pseudo-conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or subconsciously aims at their abolition.”
Who is the pseudo-conservative and what does he want? It is impossible to identify him by social class, for the pseudo-conservative impulse can be found in practically all classes in society, although its power probably rests largely on its appeal to the less-educated members of the middle classes. The ideology of pseudo-conservatism can be characterized but not defined, because the pseudo-conservative tends to be more than ordinarily incoherent about politics. The lady who, when General Eisenhower’s victory over Senator Taft had finally become official in 1952, stalked out of the Hilton Hotel declaiming: “This means eight more years of socialism,” was probably a fairly good representative of the pseudo-conservative mentality…
The restlessness, suspicion and fear shown in various phases of the pseudo-conservative revolt give evidence of the anguish which the pseudo-conservative experiences in his capacity as a citizen. He believes himself to be living in a world in which he is spied upon, plotted against, betrayed, and very likely destined for total ruin. He feels that his liberties have been arbitrarily and outrageously invaded. He is opposed to almost everything that has happened in American politics in the past twenty years. He hates the very thought of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He is disturbed deeply by American participation in the United Nations, which he can see only as a sinister organization…
I can remember, vividly, the first time that I learned of the curious psychological concept of “emotional contagion.” It was, for me, an “Aha Moment” that put the incomprehensible 1960s and ’70s, with which I was (not entirely successfully) trying to cope, into slightly better focus. For those who are unfamiliar with the term (but probably quite familiar with the social phenomenon, itself), emotional contagion is the tendency to catch and feel emotions that are similar to and influenced by those of others. It is emotional contagion that makes human group dynamics tick along a vast spectrum of emotions; from a crazed lynch mob to an anti-war peace march, emotional contagion plays a role in human group-think.
Faced with another incomprehensible American epoch, I’ve decided to dust off the old text books and look for some comfort, or at least some sense in the context of emotional contagion. The ability to transfer moods appears to be innate in humans; anyone who has raised a child knows all about this innate ability. That knowledge of human behavior has been used to great effect in “persuasion” of all kinds from advertising to political propaganda. Want someone to buy your ridiculously over-priced anti-aging cream? Share your fear of becoming pathetic human detritus as a result of wrinkling and age spots. Want someone to vote you into the Oval Office? Share your fear of a national security breakdown if you are not elected to keep us all safe. A daily barrage of similar appeals to emotion is a familiar fact of American life.
One fine point having to do with emotional contagion that escaped me in my youth, though, is particularly useful in trying to understand the crazy (and quite unattractive) fits that our country is going through in 2010. That point is this most excellent distinction, made by Erich Fromm, that a higher cognitive development, autonomy, is necessary for human empathy but not for emotional contagion and, as most of us can attest, there is a pronounced variable of empathic capacity among humans. As with so many of our human reactions there is a primal element underlying a higher-functioning, thinking element; clearly, we are not yet so highly evolved that the higher functions always prevail.
With all of that in mind, it is a quite interesting conundrum that our generals and politicians are grappling with at the moment and some of the solutions that are being signaled are undesirable to say the very least. I have to assume that, by today, 99% of Americans are at least somewhat familiar with last week’s events in the Big Apple…
During the course of a fairly humdrum day on Times Square, a Muslim immigrant (no less) street vendor alerted NYPD that a van was double-parked, idling and smoking up his turf. Investigating officers discovered that the vehicle, a van, contained an odd assortment of potentially incendiary devices (propane tanks for gas grills, fireworks in a can, along with a footlocker full of (non-volatile) fertilizer. Now before any patriots get their panties in a wad over my making light of the danger to Manhattanites — a number of whom might have been incinerated, had this been a real car-bomb — I would emphasize the fact that this was NOT a real car-bomb. It was an ass-hat collection of things that might look remotely like a car-bomb to uniformed beat cops, on initial inspection.
Immediate suspicion fell on a skinny, middle-aged white man caught on camera changing his shirt in Shubert Alley. When the vehicle’s VIN number was traced, however, authorities discovered that it had recently been purchased by a young man from Connecticut who was born in — OMG — Pakistan.
In a cinematic race-against-time, Faisal Shahzad was apprehended on a flight departing JFK for Dubai, which event kicked off a bout of political hysteria.
By the time the Sunday Talking Heads were “on air” there was talk of expanding to a ground war in Pakistan and “modifying” Miranda Rights for terrorism suspects. Sheeeeesh…
Attorney General Eric Holder met little to no resistance from Jake Tapper (standing in for George Stephanopoulos) on This Week, when Holder pronounced that:
“Well, we’ve now developed evidence that shows that the Pakistani Taliban was behind the attack. We know that they helped facilitate it. We know that they probably helped finance it and that he was working at their direction.”
It never occurred to Tapper to “get the story” on the evidence that led to Holder’s statement despite plenty of unclassified, well-publicized reports to the contrary. Like these:
Then, on 60 Minutes, we had Secretary of State Clinton banging the drum loudly and matter-of-factly reversing our diplomatic stance toward “our Pakistani allies”:
“We want more. We expect more. We’ve made it very clear that if, heaven forbid, an attack like this that we can trace back to Pakistan were to have been successful, there would be very severe consequences.”
Surely, Clinton’s words on Sunday night were a reprise of a message already delivered to “our Pakistani allies” who pledged their allegiance, on Sunday morning, by carrying out a helicopter gunship assault on insurgent hide-outs in the Orakzai tribal region, killing 23 militants, according to local officials.
So now we have to choose between the “emotional contagion” of: the “Pakistanis are training each other to blow up Times Square so let’s pound them into oblivion” appeal or a more measured (and sure to be dubbed “sissy”) approach of gathering evidence and facts so that we can understand what we’re truly dealing with.
Certainly current events can be twisted to support the “Carpe Diem” approach that our politicians and military seem to favor. How fortuitous for the “Pakistan Problem” to rear its head just in time to deflect attention from our fool’s errand in Afghanistan, our tiresome hounding of Iran, or our loosening grip on global power and respect, generally.
Try, for a minute or two, to detach from the fear and loathing that might well prevent you from ever attending another Broadway show and let’s just look at the facts dispassionately…
Some of us may really, really want Faisal Shahzad to be taking orders from the Pakistani Taliban but most of the available evidence doesn’t support that scenario. Of course, if one has secret, inside information and isn’t pressed to produce any substantive facts, well … Bombs Away.
UPDATE: The New York Daily News published results of a poll of their readership, this morning, in answer to the question: Will the recent bomb-scare keep you away from Times Square in the future? The answers:
Good for you New York City!
Our unending state of stress-out is al-Qaeda’s greatest victory against the United States. As the AP reports today, al-Qaeda got one big message from the Underwear Bomber’s failure: “the group that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks and has prided itself on its ideological purism seems to be eyeing a more pragmatic and arguably more dangerous shift in tactics. The emerging message appears to be: Big successes are great, but sometimes simply trying can be just as good.”
Yeah, it seems like the simple cave dwellers have figured out big, complex, allegedly bad-ass America: we’re just a bunch of sticky fat kids crying because our ice cream fell off the cone. That wedgie-bait, Adam Gadahn (née “Pearlman”), an American in al-Qaeda, taunted, “Even apparently unsuccessful attacks on Western mass transportation systems can bring major cities to a halt, cost the enemy billions and send his corporations into bankruptcy.” He may be a traitorous asshole who can’t grow a decent beard, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Ask anyone who was at Newark Airport in January, where security imprisoned thousands of innocent people for six hours because some idiot took a shortcut…
Indeed, the right has so successfully torqued the country into what our enemies believe it is, it’s almost as if the GOP is a subversive arm of al-Qaeda. They have nearly bankrupted us, thus making any great social advances impossible; they have turned mild dissent into sedition; and they have turned the Constitution into a loophole-ridden contract, filled with more fine print than a subprime mortgage. They did most of that shit when they were in power. Now, out of power, the right is seeking, as it did in the Clinton years, but even more insidiously, to undermine the very functioning of government…
The poor-little-me ad for Dodge Charger during the Superbowl was, essentially, ineffable. But I’ll give it a shot anyway:
The commercial presumes — and who am I to say the marketers are wrong — that the American male is a brow-beaten, miserable, helpless, pussy-whipped drudge. The only recourse left for the poor wretch — his last, desperate chance at manhood — is to take out a loan for a new Charger. Each one comes with a 12-volt socket that doesn’t talk back and never gets a headache.
Looking at the bright side, here’s Maggie Mahar, at Health Beat:
For example, under the House bill, a family of three making $32,000 a year would pay $1,360 in annual premiums for good, comprehensive coverage; under the Senate Finance Committee bill, that family would be asked to lay out $2,013. Today, without reform, if that family tried to buy insurance, it would find that the average plan costs $13,500. For this household, the current legislation makes all the difference.
Too often, the press suggests that such a family would be expected to pay $10,000 out of pocket to cover co-pays and deductibles. That just isn't true.
Even if the entire family were in an auto accident and racked up $200,000 in medical bills, at their income level, the House bill caps out-of-pocket expenses at $2,000 a year. Under the Senate Finance bill, the family would have to pay $4,000.
Moreover, under both bills, there are no co-pays for primary care. Even private insurers cannot put a $25 barrier between a family and preventive care.
We are, as a nation, when it comes to sex, deeply insane. I am the father of five sons, all of whom at one point or another were both ten and fifteen years old. If anything so frightful, so revolting, so deeply scarring as this had happened to any of them at the hands of a pervert so vicious, I would not have rested until she was sentenced to harsh psychiatric evaluation followed by at least six weeks of group therapy, perhaps alongside the Prime Minister of Italy.
Under state statute, the only prison term possible for the former Tacoma school teacher, convicted of sex crimes involving a 10-year-old student and his older brother, was 25 years to life in prison…
Prosecutors contended that Rice had a sexual relationship with the 10-year-old boy for several months while she was a teacher at Tacoma’s McKinley Elementary School. The ordeal came to light in August 2007, when Rice sneaked the boy out of his home and drove him to Ellensburg. The two had sex at a rest stop before she returned him to his home, court documents alleged.
During the course of the investigation, detectives learned Rice also had sex twice with the boy’s older brother in July 2007. The boy was 15 at the time.
Steiner convicted Rice in April of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree child molestation and two counts of third-degree rape. He found the kidnapping and child molestation charges were predatory offenses because the victim was a student. The predatory designation – required when a teacher is accused of certain sex crimes – meant Rice faced stiffer sentencing requirements.
You’ve been hearing about the C Street house where Sanford and Ensign and Wamp and many another sinner of the GOP lived and loved and laughed together.
But it’s all a whole lot creepier that you even think, unless you happen to remember Jeff Sharlet’s 2003 piece in Harper’s called “Jesus plus nothing: Undercover among America’s secret theocrats.”
The book which grew out of it, The Family, is just out in trade paperback, and I urge you to buy it. And you will, once you read the 2003 piece. Excerpt:
It is April 2002, and I have lived with these men for weeks now, not as a Christian — a term they deride as too narrow for the world they are building in Christ’s honor — but as a “believer.” I have shared the brothers’ meals and their work and their games. I have been numbered among them and have been given a part in their ministry. I have wrestled with them and showered with them and listened to their stories: I know which man resents his father’s fortune and which man succumbed to the flesh of a woman not once but twice and which man dances so well he is afraid of being taken for a fag. I know what it means to be a “brother,” which is to say that I know what it means to be a soldier in the army of God…
From The Symbols of Government, by Thurman W. Arnold. He was a Yale Law School professor and FDR’s trust-buster, and then a founder of the Washington mega-firm, Arnold & Porter.
This is the attitude of the so-called “legal mind.” Thomas Reed Powell of Harvard has described that attitude as follows: “If you think that you can think about a thing inextricably attached to something else without thinking of the thing which it is attached to, then you have a legal mind.”
Arnold and Powell were advocates of what is now called situationism. Back in law schools of their day it was was called “legal realism.” By the 1970s the same general approach had been reborn as “critical legal studies.”
P.S. An hour or so after posting this, I came across this on Politico. Now “legal realism” is being used by the GOP faithful as a stick to beat Sonia Sotomayor. Reality is always the enemy of religion — in this case the absurd religion of the law.
You may have read G. Gordon Liddy’s thoughtful comments on the chances that 54-year-old Sonia Sotomayor will so crazed by menstruation as to be incapable of functioning on the Supreme Court.
Anyone who has read Liddy’s fascinating autobiography, Will, understands that he is deeply disturbed, and will not be surprised by the substance of his comments. But their style was striking. He stumbles and mumbles. Both his words and his thoughts wander. He seems to have crossed the line from simple nuttiness into incapacity. He is a husk of his former husk.
Sure it’s like kicking a cripple, but let’s explore the crossed synapses of the Newt brain anyway. Here’s Thomas Frank, the Wall Street Journal’s house liberal:
…As an example of this habit of mind, consider the essay that Mr. Gingrich published in Human Events last week. “The current liberal bloodlust over interrogations,” he wrote, referring to the Nancy Pelosi-CIA flap, is merely “the Left’s attempt to hunt down and purge its political opponents.” And yet, in a different essay he published on the very same day (this one in the Washington Times), Mr. Gingrich regretted that, in all the years of Republican rule, “there was a strategic failure to root out the left and the special interests of the left.”
Mr. Gingrich’s side failed to “root out” and destroy their opponents; now he imagines that this is what is being done to his team.
Psychotherapists might call this “projection,” and something similar pervades the essay the remarkable Mr. Gingrich published only two days later in the Washington Post. Here the former speaker can be found calling for a populist revolt in the “great tradition of political movements rising against arrogant, corrupt elites.”
A healthy sentiment, to be sure, except for the fact that “elites” are exactly what decades of conservative rule gave us by unleashing the banks, smashing the unions, and funneling the economy’s gains into the hands of the rich…
George W. Bush came close to winning the 2000 presidential election by pretending to be a closet Democrat — this being the barely-coded message of his “compassionate conservative” nonsense.
And Reagan won the 1984 presidential election fair and square by doing the same thing, although this is less generally understood. A while back I went into the question in some depth. I’m dusting off that 1988 piece now not because it’s particularly relevant to anything in the news, but because I was reminded of it yesterday when I posted that old video from Ronzo’s pink period.
And because it’s my party and I’ll post if I want to. So here goes:
Now Ronald Reagan has beaten the Democrats twice — not because he was an elephant, but because he had done such a good job of looking like a donkey.
Most foreigners could no more tell a Democrat from a Republican than they could distinguish between the male and the female of the Galapagos tortoise. But just as the tortoises are able to sort themselves out, so can we Americans. In the narrow mainstream of our politics, ranging from kind-of-far right to pretty-far right, the Democrats are the liberals and the Republicans are the conservatives.
The normal way to tell a liberal from a conservative is that the liberal is an optimist, while the conservative is a pessimist. The liberal imagines that the world can be changed for the better. The conservative imagines that it can’t. He looks into his own heart, supposes that all hearts must be similar, and concludes that very little can be expected of mankind.
Others must be as ready to attack him as he is to attack them, and so praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. Government is bound to be organized theft, so that the only remaining question for the intelligent man is who gets robbed. Liberated woman would prove to be no better than liberated man has been, and thus, in the interest of reducing the general level of mischief, should be kept barefoot in the winter and pregnant in summer. Only a sucker would believe that faith could move mountains, but greed will do the job just fine. Look at Appalachia. The mark of Cain is on all of us, and we are none of us any better than we should be. “In Adam’s fall,” as the New England Primer said, “we sinnèd all.”
These things being so, the path of history must lead downward, and it would be useless to stand in the way of this general decline. About the best a conservative can hope for is to preserve the status quo; the absolute best is to turn back the clock for a few moments, so as briefly to recapture some status quo ante…
In his most usual guise, then, the conservative is full of gloom and pessimism. He knows our sloth will drive us to bankruptcy, our lust to license; our anger to war; our envy to civil unrest, our covetousness to crime; our gluttony to a triple by-pass; and our pride to a fall.
The point is not whether this view is correct. The point, politically, is whether such pessimism is appealing.
Someone with a more favorable view of mankind’s capacities — someone, in other words, more liberal — might indeed think that the voters were up to hearing a few unpleasant truths.
Carter and Mondale seemed to have thought the country was mature enough for a little castor oil, at any rate. In Carter’s world petroleum was running out and the American Century was in danger of ending before it was over. His was a complicated world that required careful planning to manage.
Nor was Mondale’s world a cheerful one. It, too, required planning and discipline if we were to cope with Reagan’s deficits while at the same time restoring fairness to American life. Carter’s and Mondale’s faith that the voters could grasp these concepts was essentially liberal in its optimism about the human condition. And it was essentially misplaced, as the country showed both men on election day.
Reagan didn’t seem to see the world this way at all. In Mondale’s America, as the Republican commercials said, it was always April 15; in Reagan’s it was always the Fourth of July. Whether by temperament or by design Reagan ran as an optimist, which is to say that he ran as a Democrat.
His issues may have been traditional Republican ones, but this misses the point. If you campaign in poetry but govern in prose, as Governor Cuomo likes to say, then Reagan’s poetry was Democratic.
In both campaigns, but especially in the 1984 one, Reagan went beyond poetic license and into outright theft. The bands at his rallies played “Happy Days Are Here Again.” He adopted Roosevelt and Truman as Republican saints, and it worked; he sounded more like a Democrat than Mondale or Carter did. He talked about tomorrow with the cheerful optimism of the Happy Warrior, Hubert Humphrey; he talked about America’s role in the world with the mindless, adolescent macho of the early Kennedy; he offered guns and butter with the fiscal abandon of Lyndon Johnson.
In fact he made Johnson and those other Democrats look like pikers. They wanted to tax and spend; by 1984 it was clear that all Reagan wanted to do was spend. He was the Peter Pan of politics, never growing up and settling down. He was the grasshopper and the Democrats were the ants. Never mind what he actually said; after four years, everybody knew he didn’t mean all that stuff anyway. What he actually was, in both races, was the Democrat.
But how could he be the Democrat when he opposed virtually every social measure the Democrats had passed, over the years and over his dead body? The trick was that he went the Democrats one better. He said we had once had all these good things for nothing, and we could have them again for the same attractive price.
Cut red tape and the mighty engine of American industry will provide jobs for all. Cut funds for libraries and some new Carnegie will build them once again. Cut taxes for the rich and revenues will go up. Cut Matilda off the Social Security rolls and her children will take her in. Cut funds to enforce environmental and safety laws, and voluntary compliance will go up. Cut forests and you cut air pollution.
Reagan offered no-fault government to the Me Generation and to their parents, who often enough were vagabonding around in their RVs with messages like “I’m Spending My Children’s Inheritance” on the bumpers. (The message on their children’s BMWs was likely to read, “The One Who Dies with the Most Toys Wins.” The apple, the French say, doesn’t fall far from the tree.)
The old folks liked it that Reagan, old folks himself, stood foursquare for God, the nuclear family, enforced pregnancy to term, creationism, prayer in schools, heterosexuality between married adults — none of which would cost a nickel in taxes.
The younger folks had grown up in a world of homosexuals and casual sex and abortion and divorce. They seldom went to church. They saw little of their kids. But they forgave their permissive and nicely naughty Grandpa Ron for all his preaching, because they knew his fingers were crossed. No way he could really mean all those terrible things he kept saying about what had been, after all, his own lifestyle.
Reagan sounded like an optimist because he was able to sell Americans the notion that to retreat to the past was to advance, that yesterday could become tomorrow. That this might not be such a good idea didn’t occur to people who had little knowledge of what yesterday had been like. Their memories were either too short or, like Reagan’s, too selective.
In his 1986 State of the Union message, Reagan gave Congress an unusually explicit (for poetry) statement of his view that progress is just a question of retracing our footsteps:
Never has there been a more exciting time to be alive a time of rousing wonder and heroic achievement. As they said in the film, Back to the Future: ‘Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.’ Well, today, physicists peering into the infinitely small realms of the subatomic particles find reaffirmations of religious faith; astronomers build a space telescope that can see to the edge of the universe and, possibly, back to the moment of creation …
We are going forward with our shuttle flights. We are going forward to build our space station, and we are going forward with research on a new Orient Express that could, by the end of the next decade, take off from Dulles Airport, accelerate up to 25 times the speed of sound, attaining low-earth orbit or flying to Tokyo within two hours. And the same technology transforming our lives can solve the greatest problem of the 20th Century. A security shield can one day render nuclear weapons obsolete and free mankind from the prison of nuclear terror.
It’s all there. Magical time machines to take us back to the 1950s. White-coated scientists ranging out in front of the rest of us and stumbling over, of all the darned things, proof of God and His creation of the world. Trips to the Exotic East with Sidney Greenstreet and the gang in a sure-enough time capsule, this one so fast that you arrive hours before you started out. And the same science that gave us the space shuttle will soon give us a warm and woolly security blanket to keep us safe from the Russian bogeyman.
Never mind that the space shuttle itself just blew up a few weeks ago and that the majority of graduate engineering and science students in America are foreign exchange students. Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.
That all this stuff is nonsense doesn’t matter, any more than it matters that the poem “Xanadu” doesn’t make much sense, either. They both invite us not to think, but to dream.
And Reagan’s dreams are appealing. Where Carter and Mondale offered self-improvement, self-criticism, and self-discipline, like a couple of country club conservatives advising the lower classes to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, Reagan offered no-fault government. High-paid volunteers will take your place in the armed services. Never mind about all those dead marines in Lebanon: look at the way our boys rolled over those commies down in Grenada.
Don’t worry, mon. Be happy.
Mildly encouraging (depending on how you feel about tribalism) news from The Situationist:
White people don’t show hints of unconscious bias against blacks who belong to the same group as them, a new study suggests.
But this lack of bias only applied to black people in their group, according to the findings. Most white people in the study still showed evidence of some unconscious bias towards blacks who were in an opposing group, or who were unaffiliated with either group.
What impressed the researchers, however, was just how quickly these group bonds could form. The lack of bias toward fellow black group members was uncovered just minutes after whites joined the mixed-race group, and without participants even meeting their fellow members personally…
Peggy Noonan totally nails it:
The sale of antidepressants and antianxiety drugs is widespread. In New York their use became common after 9/11. It continued through and, I hypothesize, may have contributed to, the high-flying, wildly imprudent Wall Street of the ’00s. We look for reasons for the crash and there are many, but I wonder if Xanax, Zoloft and Klonopin, when taken by investment bankers, lessened what might have been normal, prudent anxiety, or helped confuse prudent anxiety with baseless, free-floating fear. Maybe Wall Street was high as a kite and didn’t notice. Maybe that would explain Bear Stearns, and Merrill, and Citi.
Final proof that we are, as a nation, mad:
(CNN) -- A former prison secretary has been sentenced to six months in federal prison for having sex with an inmate she was supposed to be supervising, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in the District of Colorado said Friday.
Janine Sligar, 47, of Wray, Colorado, was sentenced Thursday for sexual abuse of a ward. After serving her sentence, she will serve five years of supervised release and must register as a sex offender, spokesman Jeff Dorschner said in a news release…
According to the plea agreement, Sligar, a 14-year Bureau of Prisons veteran, said she and inmate Eric McClain met in February 2007, when he was assigned to clean her office.
“They began to have conversations and realized they had similar interests,” the plea agreement said.
That summer, they initiated a sexual relationship that included 10 to 20 sessions of oral sex and sexual intercourse, ending in October 2007, it said.
From today’s New York Times:
Now researchers have documented what they call an Obama effect, showing that a performance gap between African-Americans and whites on a 20-question test administered before Mr. Obama’s nomination all but disappeared when the exam was administered after his acceptance speech and again after the presidential election.
The inspiring role model that Mr. Obama projected helped blacks overcome anxieties about racial stereotypes that had been shown, in earlier research, to lower the test-taking proficiency of African-Americans, the researchers conclude in a report summarizing their results…
In the study made public on Thursday, Dr. Friedman and his colleagues compiled a brief test, drawing 20 questions from the verbal sections of the Graduate Record Exam, and administering it four times to about 120 white and black test-takers during last year’s presidential campaign.
In total, 472 Americans — 84 blacks and 388 whites — took the exam. Both white and black test-takers ranged in age from 18 to 63, and their educational attainment ranged from high school dropout to Ph.D.
On the initial test last summer, whites on average correctly answered about 12 of 20 questions, compared with about 8.5 correct answers for blacks, Dr. Friedman said. But on the tests administered immediately after Mr. Obama’s nomination acceptance speech, and just after his election victory, black performance improved, rendering the white-black gap “statistically nonsignificant,” he said.
The following piece ran May 17, 2006 under the heading, “Mission Almost Accomplished.” Now that Bush’s awful mission is completely accomplished, I put it up again. No updating seems necessary.
It’s been nearly four years since I first posted my analysis of the nasty psychopathology that has forced George W. Bush to fail all his life, and is causing him to fail so spectacularly now. Consider this from the Washington Post (emphasis added):
Bush’s job approval rating now stands at 33 percent, down five percentage points in barely a month and a new low for him in Post-ABC polls. His current standing with the public is identical to President George H.W. Bush’s worst showing in the Post-ABC poll before he lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton in 1992.The younger Bush’s career can only be understood as a lifelong obsession with disappointing the father he so plainly hates.
He follows his father’s footsteps in school, as a pilot, as a businessman, and finally as a politician. Unable to fill those footprints, he makes each one seem unimportant by pretending contempt for it. He gets C’s where his father got A’s; he ducks the combat flying that made his father a hero; he burns through the seed money his father’s friends gave him, failing in the oil business which had made his father rich.
Then at last he was taken in hand by a sleazy political op who realized that the father’s name and money would be enough to elect the wayward son governor of Texas. (Polls at the time showed that a significant portion of the voters thought that W. actually was his father.)
Then Rove set out to hand-carry his meal ticket into the White House itself.
Take that, you old fart, junior must have thought as he took the oath of office. Any asshole can get to be president. But even that wasn’t enough. Deep inside, where the Oedipal snakes writhed in his subconscious, there was still work to do.
What better to way to humiliate his father than to degrade the supreme office the old man had spent his life to reach? What sweeter revenge than to slime, like a slug, the presidency itself? And so he enlisted Rumsfeld and Cheney, his father’s ancient enemies, to help in the work of patricide.
Outdoing his father as president, the junior Bush must have known in his heart, was beyond his limited capacities. But his whole life offered proof of his ability to fail, and so he took the only path remaining. He would become, God help the rest of us, the worst president in history.
One normally thinks of a trailer as a modest form of housing that can be towed on wheels which depreciates in value, or the introduction to a film. However, Naomi Klein has produced a short trailer introduction to her book, which appears below. She also had made available a number of videos in which she is interviewed about The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism which follows this discussion — and a few more good links that would be helpful for those reading the book or those who are deciding on whether to purchase or borrow it from the local library.
As I read about nation after nation which has been convinced or forced to adopt the free market principles of Milton Friedman, I am struck by the huge gulf between the haves and the have-nots created when this economic plan is put into place. I am somewhat familiar with the situation in Chile as my niece is married to a Chilean. His family, although very well educated, barely scrapes by.
Most of these countries have a very small middle class. A very large percentage of the population of the countries that have adopted the Friedman plan are poor and a small few are very, very wealthy. Klein also has created her own website for the book, in which she takes on arguments, often lies, created by the likes of the Cato Institute, which deny the facts stated in the book.
Cato Crackheads insist that the countries which adopt the Friedman economic model are better off than they were under Keynesian or socialist economic plans. Iceland just went under. Which Scandinavian country will be next? I hope none. The Milton Friedman model is always held up by these True Believers as the best economic plan ever created, which this book proves beyond any doubt is not true.
As I continue to read through the book, I am struck by the parallels between many South American, Asian, African, and Eastern European countries which have been devastated by the Friedman plan and what George Bush has been trying and succeeding in getting away with in the United States. If these ideologues are allowed to succeed in adopting the Friedman economic plan in the United States, say goodbye to the middle class in this country.
Not that it hasn’t already happened to millions of Americans and not that George Bush was not successful in partially causing it to happen, as were Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Let us hope that although we have driven ourselves as a nation practically into bankruptcy, there is still some hope of rolling back what George W. Bush did to America during the long and tragic eight years he was in power.
And I continue to read the book slowly, as we just sold our old home and I have been embarking on many errands to get this one insulated and ready for the next small shock wave that is coming, the rising utility bills that we will see shortly.
The trailer for the book follows. If you have not read this book, which I consider a Klein masterpiece, I urge you to do so now. The way you think about the world we live in may be changed forever for the better. I am now able to understand things that are happening in the world that previously made no sense to me or which I could not properly interpret.
My psychiatrist son, Matt, emails this:
I have been dealing with the fallout from the election nearly every day as my more vulnerable and psychotic patients were genuinely frightened by the advertising portraying Obama as a dangerous man, and they have trouble understanding the difference between “Obama” and “Osama,” and now they are fearful and even more frightened that the world does not see the threat that so obviously looms.
This last fear is unwarranted, however. Much of the unmedicated world is also quivering before the peril that looms:
From North Carolina:
“People are very, very worried,” said Dean White, general manager of the firearms academy, gun shop and indoor shooting range. “We’re seeing a lot of people who have never even considered purchasing a handgun before coming in and saying that they want to buy one just because they think something’s going to happen and they may not be able to get it in the future.”
But Barack Obama is good for business. Last Wednesday, the day after Mr. Obama beat Arizona’s own Mr. McCain to become the president-elect, Mr. Chee sold $30,000 worth of guns — mostly the semi-automatics the National Rifle Association claims Mr. Obama’s administration will restrict.
“The election came, and now it’s just a madhouse in here,” said Mr. Chee, 31.
Soon after Barack Obama won the presidential election, Dennis Dupler bought an assault rifle that he had wanted to protect his home, fearful that a Democratic White House and Congress will impose gun-control laws or taxes on firearms…
“I have a feeling there’s some bad stuff down the road,” said Dupler, of Elizabethtown, holding his rifle purchase Thursday at a gun shop near his home.
During the week of the election, Flying Cloud sold over 20 AR-15 semiautomatic rifles. It typically sells four or five in a given month’s time … In the past couple of weeks, Smith said the low-end price for a AR-15 at his store has jumped from $900 to $1,050.
“The best defense against the Obama Gun Grabbing Machine is a solid show of force by law-abiding gun owners,” said Pearson. “The most forceful display of support for gun rights is for citizens to enthusiastically exercise their 2nd Amendment rights. By keeping the gun shop cash registers ringing and the FBI background check computers humming, citizens will send a very clear message that they do not take challenges to their rights lightly.”
And more from Pennsylvania:
Same thing in Brodheadsville, where American Sport Shooting owner Richard Flynn has seen an 80 percent increase of gun sales starting a week before the election. “People are stockpiling ammunition too,” Flynn said…
“The other thing that has people concerned is talk of a civilian security force equally funded as the military. Run by [Obama], I guess. We see that as the Gestapo,” Flynn said.
“The Second Amendment has nothing to do with hunting. It is about being able to protect ourselves against a government gone bad, which is what we have now,” Flynn said. “When a president wants to set up his own national army, that alarms people…”
“Let’s look to Hurricane Katrina. Government agents were going door to door, beating on doors, asking if they had guns, and taking them away,” said National Rifle Association spokesperson Ashley Varner. “It has happened in recent history. Let’s not say it could never happen.”
I haven’t been blogging much recently because being a full-time student really is a full-time job. I only go to class every three weeks but I’m busy all the time.
I haven’t had assigned reading for decades, and it’s really fascinating. Some of it I’m shaking my head No all the way through. I struggled, for instance, with the anarcho-primitivists. Anarchy is one thing; I’m in favor of it when humankind is sufficiently conscious. But primitivism leaves me cold. I don’t think hunting and gathering would be that great, even now that I know they were only spending three or four hours a day gathering food.
I admired some parts of Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, but emerged with the impression that his local market must have run out of fresh clues that day. He begins with the assumption that the religious impulse — what his friend called the oceanic feeling that the friend considered universal — is a leftover infantile response, while stating up front that he can find no trace of it in himself. He seems to have considered that the normal state to which well-adjusted people would tend.
I connected strongly, on the other hand, to the autobiographical Camus novel The First Man. Wow, that guy could write! Imagine being the first person in your family to learn to read, then winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. He says that when he was sent home with notes to his family, he had to read the notes to them. Rather than detail his shame he would simply summarize the note as “Punishment”. So there was an up side to an illiterate family.
What’s moved me most is a book I’ll have to read at least once more. Perhaps it was my antipathy to many of Freud’s ideas, but I found his prose somewhat denser than Jung. Freud, in my view, wanted recognition as a scientist; Jung saw himself as an explorer on a mythical journey, and enjoyed telling the tale. Which one’s more fun to read?
Memories, Dreams, Reflections is too crammed with juicy quotes and deep ideas to be representable in any sort of sample. But a couple of quotes I’m trying to work into the paper I’m writing seem worthy of presentation nevertheless. The first brought to mind images of true believers of various religious and political stripes, not that any of those have been in evidence recently or anything.
The secret society is an intermediary stage on the way to individuation. The individual is still relying on a collective organization to effect his differentiation for him; that is, he has not yet recognized that it is really the individual’s task to differentiate himself from all the others and stand on his own feet. All collective identities, such as membership in organizations, support of “isms,” and so on, interfere with the fulfillment of this task. Such collective identities are crutches for the lame, shields for the timid, beds for the lazy, nurseries for the irresponsible; but they are equally shelters for the poor and weak, a home port for the shipwrecked, the bosom of a family for orphans, a land of promise for disillusioned vagrants and weary pilgrims, a herd and a safe fold for lost sheep, and a mother providing nourishment and growth. It would therefore be wrong to regard this intermediary stage as a trap; on the contrary, for a long time to come it will represent the only possible form of existence for the individual, who nowadays seems more than ever threatened by anonymity. Collective organization is still so essential today that many consider it, with some justification, to be the final goal; whereas to call for further steps along the road to autonomy appears like arrogance or hubris, fantasticality, or simply folly.
Nevertheless it may be that for sufficient reasons a man feels he must set out on his own feet along the road to wider realms. It may be that in all the garbs, shapes, forms, modes, and manners of life offered to him he does not find what is peculiarly necessary for him. He will go alone and be his own company. He will serve as his own group, consisting of a variety of opinions and tendencies — which need not necessarily be marching in the same direction. In fact, he will be at odds with himself, and will find great difficulty in uniting his own multiplicity for purposes of common action. Even if he is outwardly protected by the social forms of the intermediary stage, he will have no defense against his inner multiplicity. The disunion within himself may cause him to give up, to lapse into identity with his surroundings.
This is one of the trials on the road to individuation. Another confronts us as we emerge from the fog of unconsciousness, and gradually become aware that our conscious minds are not the whole shebang.
A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them. They then dwell in the house next door, and at any moment a flame may dart out and set fire to his own house. Whenever we give up, leave behind, and forget too much, there is always the danger that the things we have neglected will return with added force.