Sunday, August 31, 2008



Robert Parry has a piece on Truthout (originally on Consortium News) entitled “How the Republicans Win”.

It struck me very hard because of a by-the-by historical vignette. In order to ensure that he would not be ‘cheated’ out of the Presidency in ’68 as he thought he had been in ’60, in the autumn of ’68 Nixon actually sent secret messages to the South Vietnamese delegates to the Paris Peace Talks, wheedling and threatening so that they would not come to an accord with the North Vietnamese before the elections in November. And they didn’t, pulling out precipitously and thus depriving LBJ and the Democrats of a desperately-needed platinum opportunity to bring the war to some sort of respectable conclusion in time for the elections.

But what hit me was LBJ’s and the Democrats’ response to Nixon’s treachery (which itself rises, possibly, to the treasonous): quoting from Anthony Summers’s book ‘The Arrogance of Power’, Parry reports that “Both Johnson and Humphrey believed the information – if released to the public – could assure Nixon’s defeat”. Quite possibly so.

He goes on: “In the end though, Johnson’s advisers decided that it was too late and too potentially damaging to U.S. interests to uncover what had been going on” and that “If Nixon should emerge as the victor [of the ’68 election] what would [this secret messaging] do to his viability as an incoming president?”

To all of the citizenry who have joined Us somewhat after ’68, this may come as a shock – and understandably so. That it was once part of the major priorities of a senior elected official in these United States to give serious thought as to the national common weal and to the integrity of the office that he holds, regardless of who wins in an upcoming election. Say what you will of LBJ, and I am not seeking to canonize him here, but they don’t do things like that anymore; they don’t make’em like that anymore.

Well – no. We do still make’em like that – but those folks don’t get very far up the ladder in the Beltway as it operates nowadays.

And to top it all off, “Johnson and Humphrey went into retirement – and to their graves – keeping silent about Nixon’s treachery”. Nah – things have reely reely changed around here.

And not for the better.

I’ve been toying with this in previous Posts but let me say it here: We have lost ground in the last 40 years, in a most fundamental and essential and vital way; in fact, along an entire spectrum of characteristics and capacities indispensable to the sustaining of a democratic politics and of a democratic polity and so of the Republic.

Cognitively, We no longer process information in a reasonable and adult fashion. Simplistic thinking, slogans and clichés, substitute for patience and insight and a true engagement with the substance of the challenges that face Us.

Emotionally, We no longer possess Ourselves in dignity and patience, conserving Our energies until We are more or less arrived at a conclusion of substantive analysis and deliberation. A quick ‘decision’ is considered a day’s work.

Societally, We no longer respect each other and trust each other. I’m not just talking here about the overriding acrimonies that have blotted out any effective sense of a common identity as ‘American’; I’m also talking about the dynamic downward spiral into fear and mistrust that must flow naturally from an increasingly wide descent into cognitive and emotional regression and immaturity.

Morally, there is no longer a common basis for mutual trust and respect. Postmodern and deconstructionist thought, in the service of vigorously destructive and destabilizing agendas has – willy or nilly – blotted out any over-arching or underlying mutuality of dignity that would call for a primary and undeniable respect for each other and for Ourselves.

And spiritually – well , there is not even a common official sense that there is any Beyond, any Meta (the Greek word) dimension, that exists ‘for real’. It may exist as a personal choice, but such a choice is considered purely idiosyncratic – if not indicative of psychopathy – and cannot be introduced into or allowed to have any effect upon public deliberation of large issues. Nor are individuals thereby Grounded in some larger, enfolding, sustaining reality that would balance them in this chancy voyage through Time.

And given that set of absolutely fundamental regressions, We can see secondary regressions in areas vital to Our common weal.

Politically, We have lost the ability to reason together and come to an arrangements respectful of human dignity and acceptable to all parties concerned. Indeed, few politicians now sitting have any experience of such a way of fulfilling their duties, so long ago were these priorities and guideposts deconstructed.

Legally, We have lost the ability to pass reasonable laws proportionate to the issues they are designed to address and simultaneously respectful of both human dignity and the most fundamental operating requirements of the Constitution and the Republic with which We have all, as The People, been entrusted for the duration of our respective ‘tours’ on this earth.

Internationally, We have wound up embracing and thus continuing some of the worst practices of Our former Cold War foe and rival, the USSR. In fact, rather than being a ‘foe’, it almost could be imagined that the USSR was a rival doppelganger, and that such a conception is evidenced by the fact that as soon as it disappeared, We instantly began to expand (and regress) to take its place, dreaming its dark dreams and stealing pages and entire chapters from its dark playbook.

The Hobbesian state of life – danger leading to vulnerability leading to insecurity leading to fear leading to self-destroying paranoia – has been replicated in the Victimist vision of life – danger leading to vulnerability leading to insecurity leading to fear leading to self-destroying paranoia. In an effort to meet this and that outraging emergency of each Identity, We have wound up making the same mistake by which the New York City Fire Department sank the powerful, modern, and majestic liner ‘Normandie’: in the frenzied efforts to put out the fire aboard her, they filled her with water (precisely not the way ships conceptually exist) and cut holes here there and everywhere in her to get at the flames and vent the smoke. And they sank her one day at a pier in Manhattan.

But they meant well. And they had been warned. But – hey – it was an emergency.

That ship never sailed again.

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Friday, August 29, 2008


Over on Truthout (originally a New Republic piece) Jonathan Cohn has an article about Joe Biden (“The Strange Silence on Biden’s Signature Accomplishment”,

We’ve been seeing a lot of this type of thing in regard to the Democratic Party itself and the Democrats’ doings over the past decades, and now We’re seeing it in re Biden. Something the Dems want verrrry much continues to elude their grasp and the writer (and the Dems) simply cawn’t think why. It must be some insidious force: racism, genderism, age-ism, ‘men’ – any one or a combination of those hoary and ancient foes of humanity.

In the present instance, ‘The New Republic’ is in on the act. The prudent reader will hold hem-herself at a certain distance from the emotional tug, so carefully shaped a charge. This is ‘The New Republic’, after all, and after its performance under the former boss Martin Peretz (“Marty’ to his many dear friends and colleagues inside the Beltway) no reader should approach the magazine with shields-down, as they say in Starfleet. It would be hard to say whether the mag is still faithful to its neocon allegiance, thus trying to stealth-deliver a boom-boom into the midst of the Democrats’ current urgent longings, or whether the mag is simply trying to reposition itself (sincerely or tactically) some distance away from its former ‘verities’ and pick up some creds with the resurgent if still fractious Democrats. It’s the Beltway, after all, and in Our modern American reality that’s the equivalent of saying “It’s Chinatown, Jake”.

Mr. Cohn points to the 1994 subset of that year’s crime bill that is colloquially known as the Violence Against Women Act – or VAWA, for short. This alone, he doth affide, is Biden’s “signature accomplishment in domestic policy”.

Well, I agree with Mr. Cohn. And I think that the signature should be most carefully examined.

Cohn runs through some of VAWA’s elements and the context behind them, all from the point of view that the whole thing was A Good Idea, nay A Great Idea. This despite the fact that after the thing was enacted and tossed ticking into the common weal, Biden blurted “It may not be a great law but it sends a great message”. And thereby the tale and therein the rub.

Cohn quotes a domestic violence program director. She says “At that time there were no victim rights and [somebody] had to witness an act of violence in order to prosecute it.” He leaves that snippet of hers out there, and then tosses in a second from her: “The criminal justice system lacked information and training on the dynamics of domestic violence and its effects on the family.”

Blessings and thanks to her. So much is there, hidden in plain sight. And let me preface my thoughts with the proviso – for such is Our modern American reality – that I do not hold any brief for assaults, chimpish or catty, nor for making light of the pain of others; not for nothing has this dimension been characterized as “a vale of tears”.

Somehow ‘victim rights’ is bethump't by a pesky obstruction known as the American and Western legal system (designed, as Correctness has it, by ‘men’, and ‘men’ who are both ‘dead’ and ‘white’). And while Correctness would at this point simply close its briefcase with a loud snap and demand What more do we need to know?, I’d like to carry things forward a bit further.

The particular pesky obstruction is that the American and indeed the West’s legal system had long required that a crime be witnessed, as part of the way to establish that the criminal act actually took place. It’s not a bad requirement, when you think about it. It prevents one person simply telling a court that another person ‘did’ something, in the hope that the court will then deploy the awefull majesty of the State against the accused with no further ado. It prevents fabrications whereby accusations can be made without evidence and hugely consequential State actions taken without evidence (can you say “Iraq”?). It prevents what was and still is a popular and actually essential legal practice of dictatorships, be they of the Left or the Right: denunciation.

Denouncing somebody meant that you could walk up to any officer of the law, claim that so-and-so just did this (or maybe did ‘this’ days, weeks, months, years ago) and the State would without further ado arrest that person. This legal gambit is immensely useful and valuable to a dictatorship: it saves the costs of a huge police force; it makes every citizen a potential informer and agent of the State against every other citizen (or, in advanced usage, against specific groups or classes declared as enemies of the State and of the People); it forces every citizen to continuously fear that State power is only as far away as the nearest person. A marvelous, ingenious little tool.

The problem as the Second Wave feminists (2WF) and assorted victimology advocates saw it was that their largest demographic (women ‘in relationships’, formalized or not) were so frequently in positions where ‘things’ could be done to them when there were – almost by definition – no witnesses around. They were right. And the legal system thus did respond to such he said-she said situations verrrrry slowly, if at all. They were right.

This, they loudly declaimed, was because ‘men’ put together the legal system in such a way as to ‘oppress’ women and give themselves consequence-free opportunities to vent their violence upon women in the oft-hidden intimacy of the sex act, and even more often in the ‘castle’ of the private home, wherein government dare not tread. It was mostly just a ‘male’ plot was what the Western system of justice was, and there could be no other explanation for why the system had not chosen to more forcefully involve itself in matters of intimacy, hearth, and castle for all these long centuries of painful ‘oppression’.

Again, as has so often happened in these ‘advocacy’ matters - We are beginning to find out – this was a hugely selective and self-serving explanation of the problem. Generally, Western justice had had the prudence – if not the humility – to realize that there was no way it could operate in the murky waters of adjudicating within the hugely personal and intimate spheres of relationships and sex. It would take ‘God’ or at least some entity with the skills and powers of a ‘god’ to find out what actually happened, and then to demonstrate through evidence to the parties and the public that its adjudication was grounded in sufficient fact so as to retain the vital public credibility that underlay the very judicial power of the State.

And in the American setting, the Founders were also anxiously obsessed with the myriad ways in which the sleepless police power of the government might – like a vampire trying to enter a house – reintroduce itself into the vital personal and intimate social spaces of the citizens, spaces from which it had only so recently been forcibly ejected and then hemmed in by the strictures of the Constitution and the careful praxis of Western jurisprudence.

This, to the mothers of the revolution, was far too much thinking. Action was required forthwith. If the blacks could be liberated from their few centuries of slavery and oppression, must not the huge female demographic be forthwith liberated from its millennia of ‘oppressions’?

This, We must assume, appeared a doable do to Joe Biden, and a good idea as well.

Revolutions don’t ‘do’ patience or complexity (neither do youth, come to think of it, and those are two of the Dems most significant demographics). ‘Women’ found themselves with a problem, ‘white males’ were a lost cause and certainly ‘white blue collar males’ were a dying breed anyway and soon to go the way of the dodo, so just as a political calculation something had to be done.

And so it was. As reason therefor, the ‘damage’ and the ‘pain’ and the outrageousness of the situation were pushed to the fore. That the police and justicial power of the government might not be able to do the job without deforming itself perhaps fatally, that awakening the power-lust of that power by inviting it into the hearth and heart of individual or personal life might bode large and ill consequences for the Republic and the Constitution, that such efforts would probably fail to pass Constitutional muster except by the most blatant legal fictions and maneuverings … none of these aspects stopped Mr. Biden, if he even considered them in the first place.

And within a very short time of that ‘golden moment’ in 1994, even as “battering” was now being expanded to include phone-call silences, the sex-offense mania got started. Neither has yet stopped.

And then along came Iraq: on the basis of an ‘emergency’, and an ‘outrageous’ one, war was undertaken without evidence or with manufactured evidence, no thought was given for consequences except to immaturely imagine that one’s best-case scenario would be the outcome, the military instrument deployed has been deformed to the point of irreparability even as it has failed in all the tasks assigned to it, huge suffering, injury, and death has been inflicted on vast swaths of foreign peoples, and the entire apparatus of the Branches has revealed itself as deeply corroded – even corrupted.

Maybe it was just a coincidence.

But even if – per impossibile – the war in the East had no connection to the domestic corrosions that preceded it, the domestic corrosions themselves must be seen for what consequences they have generated.

And in that regard, even Cohn, at the end of his piece, is forced to circumspection: “Advocates have claimed that VAWA cut down on domestic violence by 25 percent. And while that figure seems suspiciously high – precise estimates are hard to come by – advocates seem to agree universally about VAWA’s importance and Biden’s role in it.”


Only 25 percent? You mean to tell Us that after all the lethal consequences that have followed, even if only domestically – to the integrity and operations of the judicial system, to the legitimacy of the law, to the societal bonds of the ‘American’ identity that are essential to holding this Republic, and this People, together – this monstrosity of a law has only reduced the problem by 25 percent? And probably not even that, since Cohn – I’m going to imagine here – is pulling his punches so as to avoid the Incorrectness and ‘insensitivity’ of questioning the veracity of the “advocates” (though they themselves have already proudly admitted that in the service of their causes “facts don’t matter”). So much for advocacy-science and advocacy-journalism.

And the advocates had better stay agreed on VAWA’s importance. If the mania starts to wear off and questions start to be asked, they may find themselves in some of the same sweaty positions currently afflicting members of the Bushist Imperium – civilian and military – whose actions during their heydays may be dragged into the light of day. And if that day comes they too will claim bemusedly that they cawn’t think why things went wrong or why they are being held to account. Cawn’t think why – maybe it was the gods. Or ‘men’ – they’re always doing baaad things.

And will We ever get back to government ‘of the People, by the People, and for the People’ instead of government-by-advocate (which is itself really only another way of saying government-by-lobbyist)?

Cohn concludes that Biden, for his role in VAWA, “deserves a little more attention”. Well, who could deny it? VAWA and Biden both so deserve.

But such attention, like the Mona Lisa’s smile, could yield a lot more than an observer might wish.

Yet such attention is needed. VAWA and its sister the sex-offense mania are two major pillars holding up the structure of the National Nanny State, and that State is as dangerous to the Republic and to a democratic politics as the National Security State ever was.

What decent human being supports violence? But “the panicked, society-wide attempt to expel contingency from American life” (as his fellow TNR writer Leon Wieseltier puts it in the same issue) – whether out of womens’ pain or their fear or their desire to control every contingency – is twisting the fundamental structures of this constitutional Republic even as its Grounding in a mature People is corroded into dust.

I hold no brief for Chimpery. But I am hugely partial to liberty, to this Republic, to this People’s maturity and common weal, and to “a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations”. And I don’t think We’re there yet. Not hardly.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Over on Counterpunch, David Rosen has a piece (“The Culture Wars Are Over”,

Once again this election season, I see that the “culture wars” started not so long ago, “a conservative counter-revolutionary rebellion against the ‘60s”.

He’s got one part of that right, if only by inference: a lot of what went on in those “’60s” (specifically, the post-‘65 era in my schematic) indeed constituted a ‘revolution’. And as I’ve said, a radical politics and a revolutionary politics are not easily – if at all – compatible with a democratic politics.

The way Rosen has it, there was “yet another Christian ‘great awakening’ that propelled the culture wars”, thus “playing a pivotal role in the 2000 and 2004 elections”. Yes, but things didn’t start then. They started a long time before that.

They started when the Democrats – terrified by the twin monsters of angry Southern reaction to the Civil Rights/Voting Rights Acts and then the Watts riots (within a week of LBJ’s signing the Voting Rights Act), and both of those on top of the increasing failure of the Vietnam War, undertaken under Liberal auspices – hastily and uncritically embraced the strategy of raising up new voter blocs, opening the national doors to the feminism of the Second Wave (“2WF”), which was itself half-soused on a combination of social revolution, a massive but not-thought-out and counterintuitive societal and cultural agenda, and a revolutionary praxis (gleaned from Lenin and Mao as well as Goebbels) that required a ‘monster to blame and destroy’, thereby starting a non-shooting civil war here against ‘men’.

So when Rosen asserts that “the ‘60s partially fulfilled a progressive social agenda by promoting a series of major reforms”, he doesn’t quite touch all of the necessary bases. First, ‘progressive’ was not a term used in the ‘60s, but it seems to have been recently adopted to replace ‘liberal’ which suffers nowadays from soooo many baaad associations.

Second, many of those associations stem directly from that “series of major reforms” he talks about. There was “the ground-breaking civil rights legislation”: Yes, about which a large national consensus (excepting the Southerners) existed. There was the movement to force an end to the Vietnam War: Yes, although this was in that post-’65 Sixties, different from the pre-’65 in some fundamental ways.

And, he says, the Sixties “fostered a feminist movement that demanded a woman’s control over her reproductive life”: Well, now, there was no such national consensus about abortion – let’s not mince words here – and on top of that, neither the 2WF nor its Dem sugar-daddies wanted any such discussion and deliberation to take place; instead they opted for a revolutionary politics that did its work precisely by side-stepping or quashing any questioning, dissent, or objection (it was all ‘backlash’ was all it was) and thus sought to create a Fact On The Ground that all the citizenry would simply have to ‘get’ or ‘get used to’.

I’ll add only an observation here: there’s something very ‘American’ about all this: just as the country itself had to commit the great sins of enslaving one race and practically exterminating a second in order to establish itself (kind of a national Original Sin, if you like), the 2WF was fully prepared to countenance the extermination of millions of human futures in order to establish its ‘vision’. But there is something lethally un-American about it: because shrewdly realizing that there was utterly no national consensus on whether such extermination or the contents of its ‘vision’ of how American society should be organized, the 2WF and its sugar-daddies grasped the weapon of an un-democratic – even anti-democratic – politics that side-stepped The People and sought imposition of its vision by government laws and decrees; the ‘oppression’ constituted such a violation of ‘social justice’ that it effectively created an Emergency, and thus We started down the road to government-by-Emergency-decree.

So if then “Richard Nixon’s 1972 campaign launched the era of mean-spirited politics” I’d have to say Yes but that’s not all. His campaign also tapped into the huge well of the citizenry’s concerns about what extraordinary and not-altogether-pleasant agendas were being suddenly ‘valorized’ at the highest levels, with no prospect of questioning, discussing, deliberating, let alone doubting and opposing (all of the foregoing were simply lumped together and classifed as ‘backlash’, total-spectrum backlash).

And so when he then says that “the progressive (that anachronism again) movement … was in disarray by the mid-70s”, well – only sorta. The movement (I call it the Revolutions of the Identities) had a) started to suffer from a veritable explosion of Identities – each with its own designated ‘monsters’ and each with its own wide-reaching ‘agenda’ to meet its ‘emergency’ – and then b) started to slide queasily across the surfaces of national life as substantive resistance developed as a hard, almost ice-like layer under the tires of their revolutionary columns trying to occupy the whole territory of national discourse and praxis.

And when he then says in regard to Nixon that “Nothing, including what ultimately turned out to be illegal, was illegitimate in the battle for political power” he is only half correct. Nixon had his weaknesses and no doubt about it. But even then the revolutionary anti-politics of the Identities were equally lethal to the national discourse and to the common weal by their sidestepping of The People (without even getting into the acceptability or value of particular agendas and objectives).

“Three intimately linked developments took place during the ‘70s that framed the culture wars”. Well, first in my view, the Republicans realized that there was indeed this wide and dense (and hardly illegitimate) emotional resistance to the pressure-tactics, and to some of the agenda objectives; and the Republicans tried to take advantage of that. This happened, as Rosen infers, as early as the mid-‘70s; that’s how quickly the Revolutions of the Identities – the 2WF in the vanguard – stirred up public concern.

Secondly and as a clear and direct result of the first, “Christian evangelicals and other fundamentalists re-emerged as a forceful and very sophisticated social movement.” Yes, and this is what happens when public concern is dammed up rather than allowed to flow. And what monsters were loosed: not only the rise to power of the previously-fringe and maturationally regressive Fundamentalisms of the backwoods, but the emotional polarization of public discourse along clear and narrow lines and in a very immature mode: You’re either with us or against us. That mode was always there in the Fundamentalist approach, but that approach had been rightly marginalized as regressive; but then the 2WF with its abortion and ‘equal rights’ agenda (presented to the nation as an ultimatum, not a basis for discussion) re-introduced such either-or conceptual and emotional processing into what had been a somewhat more evolved national capacity for deliberation. Oy.

“And third, there was a significant increase in non-religious conservative organizations (including think tanks, foundations, and lobbying groups) and secular intellectuals challenging what they lambasted as the liberal establishment.”. Well, it’s not hard to see why this time around no Dems want to be associated with the word ‘liberal’. But that’s just playing with words, a POMO gambit that hardly erases four decades of revolutionary and radical anti-politics and the citizenry’s responses to that assault.

Furthermore, Susan Neiman, in the Introduction to her new book “Moral Clarity” sadly notes that while the Democrats opted for “political action” (she’s toooo kind; it was revolutionary manipulation) the Republicans and conservatives were “reading Plato and Aristotle” and thus equipping themselves to appeal to the unquenchable human need for engagement with matters of deepest and ultimate meaning in societal and individual life. In that regard, revolutionary nostrums and agitprop and tactical objectives have proved far too thin a gruel to sustain the height and the width and the depth of human need and possibility.

Thus neglecting so profound and powerful a dimension of people’s lives, the Democratic and liberal decision to focus on politics and tactical objectives has proven fatal (my word; I don’t have the text in front of me right now). And, I’d say, the Democrats and liberals (or whatever they call themselves now) can sense – even if only as through a glass darkly – just what a catastrophe they’ve created for themselves. And for the nation itself: because the horrible confluence of regressive Fundamentalism and sleazy neoconservatism in its second and especially third, political and imperialist phases, has been an unmitigated disaster for Us.

And that’s without factoring in the resurgence of Robber-Barony not only under the Republicans but under the aegis of a Clinton Administration that had already quietly realized that the Party had gone too far and would never again enjoy the trust of ‘the little people’, and thus enwhored itself to the ‘big people’. I mean – can anybody really believe that Bush and Cheney and all their brood of chimps-rampant have pulled off Our present matrix of debacles all by themselves in the space of eight short years?

I suppose now is the place to also observe that ‘Progressivism’ as it existed in the early-20th century actually represented a (sooo temporary) alliance of religious conservatives and evangelicals and blue-stocking activists who well-intentionedly sought to lift-up the lower classes. While Teddy Roosevelt made a bit of common cause with the Muckrakers (whom he tempermentally disdained) and began harnessing the power of the Federal government to impose some regulations on the abominable conditions of food purity, labor laws (child and adult) and even early environmental matters, a number of Progressives went into the tenement neighborhoods and the rural hamlets to help the individuals there to help themselves.

But it’s also true that another outcome of feminist activism, Progressive ‘reformism’, and Fundamentalist religiosity was Prohibition. And that was a disturbing phenomenon merely on constitutional terms, let alone as a grave example of what happens when governments try to legislate ‘ideals’ ahead of and over the citizenry. Although it’s not discussed much nowadays, the Revolutions of the Identities – I think – reflect more a regression to the conceptual and political mistakes of Prohibition than of an ‘uplifting’ of the national tone and the national maturity. And that’s on top of the Revolutions’ lethal infection by the praxis of Leninist and Maoist political ‘change’ and by Goebbelsian propaganda techniques designed not to inform but to manipulate public opinion.

And then Rosen says that “the culture wars were formally launched at the ’92 Republican convention”. I’ve been around long enough to know that he’s not quite on the mark at all, here. The first phase of those ‘wars’ was the anti-democratic assault upon public mores and discourse by the Revolutions and that 2WF, abetted by the Democratic sugar-daddies, back in the late-‘60s and early-‘70s.

He discusses Clinton’s impeachment as an example of “the Christian right’s [sic] efforts to restore the nation to moral purity during the first years of the new century”. Well, in the first place, it shouldn’t be too hard to see where a whole lotta folks were going to be concerned about moral purity by the time of Clinton’s Administration, especially since thorough public discussion and deliberation had not been permitted in the first place. And that gaping omission was actually the result of a deliberate repression of public discourse that was right out of the revolutionary play-book.

But secondly, Clinton’s impeachment seems to me to represent something far more important. It’s a grave symptom warning of the derangement of Our politics: in the absence of any substantive public discourse, or of any Legislative seriousness (the pols thinking: why go to the trouble of being ‘serious’ if you’re never going to be able to satisfy all the demands and could wind up being denounced by some telegenic batch of the somehow ‘oppressed’ and ‘outraged’?), then the only recourse is to totally decapitate the Party ‘in power’ and see what’ll happen. This is no way to run the ship of state.

And the 9-11 attacks? Our debauched politics had resulted in god-knows-what-way the election and re-election of the unripe chimp Bush, G.W., whose choker-chain was held by some seriously and dangerously whacked characters, and all of them were loose at the controls at a historical Moment when there was no longer any countervailing superpower to provide – even if only by default – any sense of limits upon their sleazy, half-adolescent delusions and aspirations to the grandeur of total-power. They were all so focused on a war with Iraq from the very beginning of the Administration that 9-11 sort of snuck in under the radar (I’ll not ‘go’ to the possibility that they allowed 9-11 in order to provide a powerful catalyst to public opinion and a sorta plausible cover for their imperial resource wars in the Middle East).

But they could not have gotten where they did without the derangement, debauchment of Our politics that had corroded and corrupted the whole shooting match for decades.

Rosen adds that “the right’s [sic] efforts to restrict sexual experience were part of a futile attempt to preserve a modern day version of patriarchy.” I believe that there are still enough competent adults among Us who realize that the adolescent dream of total sexual freedom is just that – a dream, but also a delusion. And that to the potentials of a full-spectrum human life un-mastered sexuality constitutes a profound and insidious danger to male and female alike.

It’s anybody’s guess (and I suppose it has to be, given the repression of accurate discussion and factual reporting) just how much of the national sexual brouhaha in its many forms stems not so much from any purported monstrous, insatiably violent sexuality built-into males as much as it is the result of increasing millions of citizens coming into sexual potency with utterly no training in how to master and limit and shape that capacity, and indeed, with the gauzy half-illumination that ‘sex’ is all good and that if ‘sex’ is simply allowed to do what ‘it’ wants the result for the individual will be fun, happiness, achievement and fulfillment … all of which concepts are defined by such heart-breakingly ill-prepared unripes as pretty much the same thing. Oy. Frakkin’ oy, oy, gevalt.

Rosen works toward his conclusion by asserting that “The U.S. is slowly recovering from the culture wars”. I would not agree at all. The stunning and lethal damage to Our politics is surpassed by the insidious unripeness now coloring the life-capacities of several decades’ worth of generations of children – male and female - who have been growing up essentially untrained. And many of the earlier cohorts are now ‘adults’ themselves, and have children – maybe even grandchildren. And the beat goeth on.

He concludes – almost weirdly, but maybe not illogically – on a sexual note: “[T]he culture wars were stopped by the deeper humanity evident among a growing majority of American people. These people know that among consenting adults, shame and guilt have no place in 21st century sexual life. Let’s hope that the next administration listens to these Americans rather than those seeking to preserve a modern patriarchy.”

First, the culture wars have not stopped, and surely their consequences will bethump Us for a hell of a long time to come (if We last that long).

Second, what We desperately need is a deeper ‘maturity’, which is essential to any further humanity; as best I can make out his definitions, ‘humanity’ covers toddlers making steaming piles wherever and whenever the inclination arises. There’s more to human beings than a basic ‘humanity’; there’s the achievement of ‘maturity’, of self-mastery (and I’d better not hear anybody bawl that the very term is too ‘masculine’ and thus ‘oppressive’ – We can’t afford these soap operas any longer).

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Over on Counterpunch, Jonathan Feldman has a meaty and comprehensive article on Our present economic situation and what has to be done to start steering away from the rocks (“Obamanomics”,

I’ll leave the economics to him: he makes awesome sense.

He raises a point, however, that elicits a thought or two: that ‘economic’ security (defined as economic health) is tied in directly to ‘national security’. Woooooof. What Citizen isn’t concerned about ‘national security’. And rightly so.

But Feldman points out the really critical problem: ‘Health’ is a big part of ‘security’. And he provides a masterful assessment of Our economic health.

I’d just like to propose that We take his conception – thus far so nobly begun – to the next level: what about Our maturational health? What about Our cognitive and emotional and moral and – yes – spiritual health?

Especially since We are no longer in possession of much fiscal wealth, and since We already aren’t wielding military power with any efficacy, then perhaps We might in some way redeem matters by developing some chops in fields so long neglected.

The way We process information. The way We balance thought and emotion in Our individual lives and what sort of balance We choose to require in Our societal and political life. The extent to which We ground Our individual selfs and then Our common policies in sufficiently sturdy and comprehensive ‘values’ (‘sensuality’, recently proposed by someone paid as a university professor … of religion, not qualifying under either of the foregoing criteria).

In fact, I’m not sure that ‘values’ really get to the heart of the matter. We cannot Ground Ourselves merely by walking down some this-dimensional smorgasbord buffet of stuff it would be nice to ‘be’. Putting this or that on a plate – no matter how tastefully accomplished - is an exercise not in ‘value’ but in ‘desire’, which ain’t the same thing at all.

For Grounding oneself is not a matter of meeting this or that ‘desire’, it is a matter of being. Of be-ing. Of Be-ing, capital B and gerundive. And it’s kinda physics to realize that a quantity X that seeks to Ground itself must do so in some reality greater-than-X. A reality that exists on a higher order of Being.

The revolutionary materialisms of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, in which the foremothers of the 2WF and all succeeding Identities were fatally steeped, insisted that life in this dimension was totally self-sufficient, completely self-contained and capable of taking care of itself, providing for itself.

Yes, some such as Camus and Sartre realized that such self-sufficiency was so inadequate in the face of this-dimension’s threats and challenges that self-sufficiency – or, so in accurately, ‘freedom’ – was really a cause for profound despair; a deliberate stance of courage would be the best a human being could ‘do’, despite the fact that such ‘courage’ was utterly irrational, inefficacious and thus in a very real way meaningless.

But the revolutionaries of Russia and Germany and 1970s America considered this-dimensional self-sufficiency to be The Very Thing. Human beings could dispense with the limits and shapes imposed upon the things and inhabitants of this-dimension by some other-dimensional, other-worldly authority –whether that ‘authority’ was impersonal or Personal. Freed from a reliance upon, and a subordination to, any such ‘authority’, this-dimensional life could proceed to live-itself into broad sunlit uplands of achievement and fulfillment. Just what would constitute an achievement, just what would constitute ‘fulfillment’ … well, there was great disagreement there, and no ‘authority’ to determine the ‘answer’.

But that’s what ‘revolutions’ and ‘revolutionaries’ were for: to ‘get it’, to grasp the accurate Answer – or at least to declare some particular answer to be ‘Correct’ – and, if necessary, enforce that illumination with physical coercion. This of course, was precisely the lethal infection from which the Catholic Church had – though only at the price of great suffering endured and inflicted – recovered.

But that hard-won wisdom was precisely what the revolutions did not want to hear, not in 1789, 1917, 1933, 1949, or in the 1970s. If they couldn’t woo folks desperate for meaning and assurance, if they couldn’t inveigle folks to go along with them, then the revolutions would degenerate into mere exercises in terror and coercion and manipulation, no matter how wide and long sustained.

Not for the revolutionaries that irreducible and unavoidable and unspinnable fact that human beings are desperately needy for assurance and re-assurance, for some thing or force or Person that would be their rock in this queasy dimension and its life, which is actually indicative of a much larger Fabric, whose Matrix was not even in this dimension but in another dimension beyond it, a Beyond that was also the very source of this dimension and of its human beings, and was indeed a Person Who took benevolent interest in their well-being in this dimension and in the Beyond. And that in light of that reality, human beings could begin to infer their nature and their characteristics, and thus shape their life in this dimension in harmony with how they themselves had been Shaped.

Nope. No self-respecting revolution could allow any such rival. Rather than attack the Beyond, they simply pulled the rug out from under It, declaring that only this-dimension existed. And shooting or otherwise stifling any human being they could get their hands on who said otherwise.

But no matter how hard they tried, the revolutionaries could never eradicate the human need for a Beyond, a need that might actually issue not from some species-wide flaw, but rather from the simple fact that the species turned toward a Beyond because it came from that Beyond and was in the process of returning to that Beyond. Human beings, like ‘facts’, are stubborn things; and the ‘facts of human beings’ then are doubly stubborn things. Nor does any this-dimensional revolution have the tools or weapons to destroy them.

Nor can a human being possess a ‘moral compass’ that is utterly self-referential. The whole reality of a compass is that it aligns itself to some reality beyond the ship and beyond the control of the navigator; and in reliably indicating the individual vessel’s position relative to that Alignment, provides a basis for selecting one’s way accurately toward one’s goal.

And in a culture and society that prize mobility and a certain rootlessness, and that depend upon the eternal possibility of re-inventing yourself ... well, if you can't or haven't been taught how retain a strong sense of some core self and an ability to navigate morally and to replenish and draw support from a Beyond that is everywhere - if you can't do that in such a fluid and ever-changing environment, then 'lost-ness' will be your lot. And if enough members of a society are 'lost' and if their culture can't help them, then the clock has begun ticking. If Western Civ goes, then a lot else is going down with it - Us included. This was an avoidable catastrophe.

It was for Us the fateful collision of 1960s ‘youth’ un-wisdom and the mis-wisdom of that century’s prior revolutions that created the anti-wisdom of postmodern life. We have, in the past century or so, regressed even more than progressed. The present condition of things indicates that the consequences of such anti-wisdom are now catching up.

Because if The People are the struts which anchor the ferris wheel of government as it spins around and around, and if The People and all the citizens individually be un-Grounded, then the whole machine is rendered unreliable, useless, and even dangerous.

Spiritual immaturity, immaturity so comprehensive as to entrap the individual – and many individuals – in the anti-reality of one-dimensional and this-dimensional existence … now that is going to undermine the health and security of this nation more profoundly than anything else.

This is not a veiled commercial for ‘church’. Too many of the churches have become pro-forma tenders and polishers of lamps without flames, and too many ‘believers’ have either despaired of the Beyond, console themselves with the fairy-tale that the Beyond is simply a permanent incarnation of this dimension, or maniacally exult in a Beyond whose authority – they feel – authorizes them to embrace their dark-side and to inflict it upon other human beings.

The Founders well understood the complexities and uncertainties of navigating: on the oceans of this dimension or the trackless seas of infinity. Not being church-goers themselves, they yet realized that the most they could achieve was to build the ferris wheel and hope that its struts would support it; they could not guarantee the Grounding of the struts. And if the struts went, the wheel would destroy itself in a final wild orgy of Shapeless energy.

I think that they prayed a lot, the Founders. They knew.

We don’t. Not anymore.

What then is to be done?

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Over on Salon, Rebecca Traister reports on still-defiant and mostly female Hillary supporters haunting the Dems’ Convention in Denver (“Angry PUMAs on the prowl in Denver”,

A couple of things occur to me.

The very name this bunch has given itself – Party Unity My Ass – says a mouthful (so to speak) about the Reckoning that the Dems now face after many decades of the Party’s endless-summery partay with the Identities, especially the particular revolution of the feminists of the Second Wave (hereinafter: “2WF”). The PUMAs are now claiming that there will be no ‘Party unity’ unless it’s on their terms – and those terms were, in a word, Hillary. And still are. The assumption that would have been and was made by almost any Citizen decades ago in the early ‘70s – that whatever an Identity sought, whatever ‘the feminists’ sought, was still subordinated to the common weal of American society – was not at all accurate. Nor was the assumption – Ted Kennedy’s misty if enthusiastic blubberings notwithstanding – that the Democratic Party would provide adult supervision to ensure the common weal of Our whole society.

The 2WF revolution was indeed a ‘revolution’, with all the implications therein contained that it would be in its very essence antithetical to a democratic politics and to the very reality of a common weal, of a common citizenry that formed American society and constituted The People. ‘Women’ were no longer envisioned as a subset (or even interest group) of that larger group called ‘Americans’; instead ‘women’ who happened to live in this country were to be seen as members of a world-and-History-wide oppressed group who were finally revolting against their storied oppression, and the ‘women’ of America just happened to have the good or bad luck to be born here, an accident of fate. They could no more consider themselves as citizens of ‘America’ than French resisters could consider themselves subject to the Vichy government and its Nazi masters.

Nor can it be forgotten that the Bolshevik vision was not only inimical to the governing arrangement constituted by the Tsarist dynasty, but in effect and intent to the Russian people itself, that lump that would never ‘get it’ and had to be goaded and stampeded like the herd of unenlightened oxen that it was. When building or even creating a New Order, ‘Terror’ was a more reliable tool and cement than ‘good will’ or ‘patriotism’, a point the irony of which should not be lost upon Us here and now.

And We wonder how We have reached Our present parlous point in a still-kicking History?

Traister’s particular plaint is that this small bunch of PUMAs is making ‘women’ look like “hysterics and harridans” and – marvelously put – “angry, broom-riding succubi”. But of course, the party (and perhaps the Party, by this point) was only going to continue as long as the 2WFs got their way, and the PUMA movement is clear evidence of it. The economy going into the crapper, a losing war on two fronts and a 3rd and even 4th (Iran and now Russia) in the wings – and perhaps nuclear exchanges tossed in, and the reliability of entire national ‘elites’ – money managers and bankers and economists, media pundits and reporters, military bosses, as well as the pols and roadies of both the Executive and the Legislative Branches – profoundly discredited in fact if not in appearance.

But no matter: it’s been about the 2WF revolution all along, and the mere accidents of History are and were of no more interest to the ‘foremothers’ than they are and were to their bastard, unintended spawn of a nephew, Rove. Welcome to all-in-the-family … for real. No Hillary – no nothing, and they will take their marbles and go home (although, if this country turns turtle, just what ‘home’ do they foresee? Glasses of chardonnay – even plastic ones – are not to be found in the rapidly metastasizing Third World, and not even Hahvahd can put all of them up for the duration). But if this is a tantrum – and who can deny it? – it’s not utterly spurious: the 2WF thought they had a deal; they thought We ‘got it’; they thought We were in the bag - either individually or through Our elected - you should pardon the expression - representatives.

But the marvelousness doesn’t stop there. Traister is very exercised by the publicity that the relatively few PUMAs are getting. “But this is how media fantasy gets made: a miniature tableau of political discord, played out in front of well-placed television cameras and a television host who finds fetishistic, hyperbolic meaning in everything …” By falling-for such “made for TV demonstrations” a gullible media are making ‘women’ look bad out there in Denver. The hot ironies!

Because of course, for decades now the mothers of the revolution have been masterful in leading the ‘advocacy’ media around by its ever-shortening hairs. How many Americans are not as familiar as Soviet citizens with the now-classic, socialist-realism tropes – a canny blend of Goebbels and ‘Pravda’ – of ‘reporting’ on issues of the Identities? With how many ‘outrages’ and ‘crises’ have We been bethump’t in this way: a small group of well-honed activists or ‘victims’, script memorized, placed in a symbolic location, cameras so focused on them that they fill the screen even if there are only a few of them, asked softball ‘questions’ by willing ‘reporters’ or – more often – simply asked what they ‘feel’ by ‘sensitive’ ‘reporters’.

No wonder fiction and reality are now so mixed that We can’t distinguish easily between them any more. If somebody tried to sell you a house this way, they’d be guilty of half-a-dozen violations; but how much ‘progress’ have We been sold on the basis of manipulation, hyperbole, and – I’m going to say – dishonesty?

And of course, History being alive and canny, as well as still-kicking, the Greed Masters of Finance, Real Estate, and Insurance and their Puppet Masters in Banking, have made hay while everybody else was being over-dosed on the shrewdly-staged plaints of the Identities, and then the Bushist Imperium felt confident enough to roll out its Death Star, which awesome weapon has to date proven far more lethal in the recoil than in the projectile. But like 2WF, imperial war will – We are assured – automatically work better if We just use it more. We received the same assurances about Vietnam.

Our situation is approaching the positively Baroque: echoes and fragments and fragments of echoes of previous melodies and themes now rush back and forth, roiling in a maelstrom of repetition and in their collisions with each other, simultaneously deforming and morphing into new mutations. Who now can see through the swirl? Who can chart a course not out to open sea that We might continue the journey and the mission, but just for the next short distance ahead, to avoid the rocks and reefs and other vessels now encircling Us close aboard?

And the most fateful and disconcerting of thoughts: the PUMAs are convinced that their theme is the main theme of Our history, and will seek to hold Our attention – through good publicity and bad – while the rocky consequences of a jilted History (let’s not even toy with ‘a jilted Beyond’) draw ever closer. And in regard to History and even the Beyond, what Baroque irony would it be, were this nation finally driven to Admiral Yamamoto's foreboding about the United States after the attack on Pearl Harbor was completed: "I fear that all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant, and fill it with a terrible resolve"?

No amount of beer and popcorn or chardonnay and finger-foods should be allowed to interfere with Our attention during these Conventions. Sackcloth, ashes, and a sober, serious, gimlet eye – those are the true tools of patriotism this election season.

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Friday, August 22, 2008


I’ve just finished reading the September issue of ‘The American Prospect’ (

I’m noticing a trend among the Democratic-friendly (or ‘progressive’ or – much less frequently – ‘liberal’) elements of the media: as the election gets nearer, two distinct trends are revealing themselves. One is to unify as many disparate voter-groups as possible by emphasizing themes more broadly based than the usual ‘visions’ and ‘demands’ of the Identities. But the second is for those very same Identities to double-down and claim that this is their ‘moment’ to finally establish everything they’ve ever wanted and demanded. Thus on the one hand there are outreaching emphases on ‘economic’ concerns, say, while on the other there are glory-eyed prophesies of an ‘America’ where this or that Identity’s vision is and/or can be wholly fulfilled, put forth with – you should pardon the expression – a confident intensity usually only seen in history (or ‘herstory’) when in the company of that mother of all slogans: ‘God wills it!’

So on page 6 there is a discussion of the ‘entertainment’ that will be provided at the Democratic convention. Rattling off a list that includes the latest hip-hop hero, much pleasure is derived from pointing out that this truly indicates the “scope of generational change in the Democratic Party”. Oy. Kids are great, but since they can’t even be trusted with a beer in the backyard, I’m not so clear on how it’s good that great attention is being paid to their ‘feelings’ about this or that candidate or just how those feelings are wholly relevant to the grave issues currently bethumping Us. You don’t have to spend more than a few minutes in a theater-full of the blessed young as they watch their favorite new blockbuster to realize that next week or next month their feelings will have moved on and their memories will have ‘deleted’ this present totality of cool awesomeness just as totally as if it had taken place in some distant and irrelevant and useless ‘past’. It’s what kids do.

It’s more disturbing to ponder this and realize that the Dems have yet one more reason for fearing that they are perceived as ‘unmanly’ and ‘weak’. They are not only in thrall to the still-biting mastodons (mastodettes?) of Second-Wave feminist radical agitprop, but they are also desperately seeking the approval of children. And – thanks to that Amendment back in 1972 – these children can – you should again pardon the expression – ‘vote’. Gawd.

Of course, the level of pre-mature cognitive and emotional functioning proper to youth may well be the level of ‘citizen participation’ that the Dems are looking for. Elect in a wave of happy frenzy, and then forget ‘politics’ and go party or Facebook themselves or text-message about their favorite celebrity.

And just how long will We retain the Republic with a citizenry thus limited in its abilities and concerns? And surely both of those tyrannosaurs – the National Security State and the National Nanny State – seek precisely that level of participation. It is the moist-dream of any Beltway pol nowadays, is it not? Get elected by the voters and then have the voters depart for gooey realms of enjoyment while you are left in charge of the checkbook and the arms-locker, free to party and preventively invade, to pander and to pull in the PAC money – although never neglecting to display ‘sensitivity’. It’s the fateful tragedy of “Animal Farm” debauched by liberal doses of bathos.

But the election is an “emergency”, isn’t it? Yet again. No time to think or to get serious; no, just enough time to do what you’re told, say Yes or just keep your mouth shut, and leave the rest to Those Who Know. Ach, ja. That’s worked so well for societies in the past.

Those deep, groaning screams and roars from deep down within? Those aren’t the ‘traditional’ sounds of the hull starting to break up; that’s an ‘old’ story. No, they are the ‘fresh’, ‘unconventional’ sounds of ‘creative destruction’ – and if everybody would just please calm down and accept that, then before long this ship will enter a whole brave new world. Oh, yeah – no doubt about that.

On page 9 Mark Schmitt gushes about “Big-Picture Power”. In doing so, he reveals what a lot of Us didn’t know about Beltway thinking these past couple-four decades. Political power is not just about “who wins a fight” (referring, by the by, to an ‘election’ – who says the Dems aren’t good at ‘war’?) No, it’s also about “Who decides which issues are up for decision and which are not” and “deeper questions about ideology, the definition of problems, and shared assumptions about what is possible”. Ah.

But I gather that none of these matters have been considered with too much reference to relatively indispensable and unavoidable ‘realities’ that are ‘out there’ beyond the Beltway cocktail parties and conference rooms. Funny, that sounds like the same sort of approach that resulted in the current military debacle(s) in the East. Or it that thinking too much?

What Schmitt calls the Big-Picture approach is of itself not at all a bad thing. There has been wayyyyy too much short-term, short-sighted analysis inside the Beltway. Too much one-step-ahead tactical shrewdness and desperately not enough long-term strategic deliberation, replete with consequences, dynamic flow of act-and-response-to-the-act, and means available to initiate and sustain a proposed act.

But the Big-Picture approach hasn’t really been tried. It’s still too small as currently practiced. Thus, while the Republicans and neocons and the rest of the menagerie responsible for the wars in the East only looked at ‘Big’ results and precisely did not try to get a comprehensively ‘big picture’, so for decades the Dems have indulged their Identities in their obsession with the ‘Big’ results of a nation and a society utterly changed in their very fundaments in the twinkling of an eye by politically violent and rapid change unceasingly imposed, and with no thought as to consequences further on down the line, or to the interaction of large and constitutive factors in societal dynamics, or even to the impact of the whole thing on societal and cultural and even national stability.

The Bushist Imperium invaded Iraq. They were so sure of the ‘value’ of their plans and also of their quick success: Was there truth in the reasons for ‘war’? Not necessary because it’s all in a good cause. Was it established – as considered even in the time of Washington and Adams – whether ‘democracy’ is exportable? Not necessary, because we know so much more nowadays. Were there enough troops to get the job done? Not necessary, because the people there will do all the work once we’ve gotten rid of the bad government. Has it been considered what we will do if things don’t go as planned after the government has fallen? Nope. It will all work out because America has been sent there by God, and America is on a mission from God. The Blues Brothers as channeled by the Mayberry Machiavellis.

The Democrats embraced every dream and vision of the Advocacies: They were sure of the ‘value’ of ‘change’ and of the historical inevitability of what the Advocacies wanted to jump-start (thus not only making History but getting one-step ahead of It). Is it certain that gender and identity are more fundamental to societal and national stability than economic well-being for all the citizens? It’s oppressive even to ask the question. Is it certain that ‘female’ characteristics specifically exclusive to that gender exist? And is it certain that if they do exist, those characteristics are better for society and that the so-called male characteristics have been bad for the country? And is it wise to sidestep wide public deliberation and simply impose these initiatives under the not-quite-truthful guise of ‘emergencies’ and ‘crises’? And what happens if – even after all your coercion through legislation and media amplification of not-altogether-accurately reported ‘outrages’ – your many deep changes do not result in a quick and comprehensive societal acceptance of your visions; will you keep society and the citizenry in a state of distracted agitation for decades?

Alas, in Our modern American reality all of these questions merely prove that You just don’t get it, but once we have succeeded you will see that our new world is so much better, and richer.

So now the Republicans are trying to back away from what they have done even as they also try to double-down to recover some or any success from the intensifying situation in the Middle East – and now in the Central Asian region as well. (Even as the Israeli government threatens nuclear war “to send a diplomatic message”.)

And so now the Democrats are trying to ‘look beyond’ what they have been doing for decades in the hopes of lulling enough voters into accepting them as a Party competent to rule and capable of repairing the damage, while simultaneously indulging their ‘base’ in its now frenzied desire to double-down and take this last chance to sweep all opposition from the political table, even as all of those all-too-real realities that were not part of the Identity-story – overwhelming military competence, incomparable manufacturing and financial expertise, unbreakable economic dominance and an unshakeable currency, and ever-expanding national wealth and resources – start to come apart in mid-air. And as those even more immaterial but utterly indispensable realities reveal the extent of their decay : a citizenry individually and communally Grounded in its own maturity and in the rock-like foundations of Ideals worthy of virtuous (though never complete) adherence and free of the terrible distractions of economic insecurity , and united in the confidence of a common achievement and dedicated to a common Project.

And what can it mean that each Party has a ‘base’ that is actually a radical fringe? Try to imagine the figure geometrically: not a triangular pyramid with a wide base at its bottom, not a rectangle or a square resting on a side large enough to support the weight of the rest of the structure above it, but rather … what? An inverted triangle, resting on its point – hugely unstable. A structure suspended in mid-air, with its largest element at one end of it? Impossible, for how does it support itself up there in the air? But perhaps ‘geometric’ thoughts were considered too ‘masculine’ or too ‘male’ for elite Beltway planning. Sure as hell, the pyramid on the dollar-bill (now worth some few cents) with that symbolic but hardly un-real ‘eye’ seeing all at its tip … sure as hell that might have given them pause. But elites don’t carry such small denominations. And radicals don’t care for economic realities. But there We are again.

So, Schmitt continues, politics is all about “how to put new issues on the agenda and then how to challenge prevailing ideologies and assumptions”. Ummmmmm – not primarily, no. You go to sea in a ship and your first responsibility as captain isn’t to “challenge” prevailing assumptions about navigation, buoyancy and the operational characteristics and dynamics of large vessels afloat in a storm, and to tie up the entire crew and command staff in such activity. Maybe if you’re in an experimental vessel specifically designed to ‘push the envelope’, but not a liner with – oh say - a couple-three hundred million passengers. And in crowded shipping lanes where equally large or larger vessels are also making their way according to their own illuminations.

You’ve got to work your best to keep this baby on a steady keel and on her way. Maybe a little time when things are quiet you can pull everybody into your sea cabin and push some thoughts around, but beyond that – well, if you can’t live with that maybe you really shouldn’t be in the command-at-sea business and ought to pursue some other path to personal excellence. Maybe become a faculty member at Hahvahd or Duke, or run a large newspaper or TV station. Some line where the quality of life of hundreds of millions isn’t going to go down the tubes if your excited illuminations aren’t quite on the mark. Or the physical lives of untold numbers aren’t literally snuffed if you start running into stuff – or, like – you start invading other ships. Geez, this isn’t rocket science. Or is that image too ‘male’?

Schmitt rises (descends?) almost to the level of self-parody: referring to the achievements and exertions of the “progressive” (he never uses the word ‘liberal’) world in the past ten years “has involved understanding the limits of the old approach”. By this he means that “instead of hoping to win elections and lobbying for good bills and against bad ones, progressive organizations are finally becoming more conscious about [sic] setting the agenda and fighting for a worldview”. Oy. Oy gevalt. Oy and frakking frak.

Does it carry you back – to talk about legislators “lobbying for good bills and against bad ones”? I mean, it still doesn’t refer to deliberating about whether a bill really is ‘good’ for the common weal or not, but at least “the old approach” had legislators actually trying to think things through and do the job they were dadblasted elected for. And “fighting for a worldview”?!! Fighting against whom, pray? Other Americans? Turning the entire American societal and constitutional stage into the bar scene from “Star Wars”? Or – worse and ironically so - into a bar brawl scene from one of those disreputable and quintessentially ‘male’ Western movies (oppressive, offensive, macho) against which the Revolutions have deployed themselves for forty long and biblical years?

Well, while everybody has been fighting or trying to avoid the fighting down on the saloon deck – captain and command staff included – the good ship of state seems to have headed into an ice-field, run out of fuel, and placed itself on a collision course with half-a-hundred other vessels. Though perhaps at the Naval Academy these days such a situation would not be allowed to reflect on the ‘competence’ of an aspiring admiral-to-be? It makes the denizens of an ‘American Pie’ movie look like characters out of ancient Greek theatre. Such enlightenment. Such progress. Thus We stagger on.

And for a “worldview”. We’d better get Ourselves a clear-eyed assessment of the ‘world’ pretty damned quick. “Worldviews” are phantasmagorical creatures, on the order of a unicorn. We are facing very real horses, here – and they kick very real kicks. And We have lost the reins. And it’s a mountainous, twisty road. And let me not repeat myself.

And on page 24 Rick Perlstein does his level best to twist and squash the corpse of FDR-era history into the casket currently (and ‘progressively’) fashioned for it. His take is that “presidents have to move quickly to enact progressive reforms before the windows of opportunity close forever.” He uses the examples of FDR and LBJ. His logic leads him sorta to this: if Presidents who have enacted great societal changes have only been able to do so under the pressure of great events, then agitating up enough great pressure will be necessary to get one’s own ‘great event’ enacted.

Such logic. And from a college-man. FDR was faced with the pressure of great events and a great crisis – but he didn’t make the crisis himself. Nobody purposely made it. Yes, Wall Street greed and government hesitation certainly led to the Great Depression, but that isn’t to say that the best way to ensure ‘change’ – progressive or otherwise – is to go and purposely create such huge pressures. As one of the alien characters, Quark, on ‘Deep Space Nine’ incredulously exclaimed of humans when he traveled back in time to America of 1947 and found out about the atomic bomb: “they irradiated their own planet??!!” Fire departments shouldn’t set off huge chemical explosions downtown just to demonstrate that they need a new budget to include chemical-explosion equipment. (We pass over as not completely relevant to the present subject the Israeli government ‘s threatening to start a nuclear war in the Middle East in order to let folks know that they’re unhappy with present arrangements, and as an earnest of their willingness to have their demands met in a conference of some sort.)

Ditto LBJ, who as the article acknowledges, in that Glorious '65 was able to surf a wave created by the assassination of JFK, and successfully rammed through the final success-elements of the Union’s victory in the Civil War. Surely it borders on the essence of imbecility to purposely recreate such a wave of “national emergency”. And haven’t We been through enough nation-wide “emergencies” and “crises” in the past decades? The drug ‘war’, abduction crises, assorted sexual ‘emergencies’, and then suddenly, while all the passengers and crew and command staff were busy with those, somehow nobody was on the bridge to notice 9-11 coming straight at Us, although there was clear notice well in advance. This script is getting repetitive; this ‘story’ needs to be reworked. Even the most empty suit in Hollywood could tell Us that. At this rate, “America” is going to become a movie with no ‘hero’. And that never sells.

But also: Perlstein says out loud what hasn’t really been allowed to see the light of day for decades. “During the span of just a few weeks in the summer of 1965, Johnson flew to Independence, Missouri [home of Harry Truman, HST] to sign Medicare – the reform JFK had run on in 1960 – and to Washington to sign the Voting Rights Act.” It was a Glorious summer indeed, the culmination of a struggle that not only extended back into and beyond the Civil War, but also in then-recent American experience to the awesome vision and exertions of Martin Luther King and his associates – white as well as black, male and female together – grounded both in scripture and the best ideals of a common American history.

And then, suddenly: “Five days later, on Aug. 11, the Watts Riots brought down the curtain on the liberal hour. After that he couldn’t even get Congress to approve $60 million for rodent control in the slums.”

It has not been sufficiently appreciated, how much that ‘liberal hour’ (that classic Democratic liberalism, to great extent) was cut short, undercut, by the riots in Watts, brought into every American home in color and often live. This is not to say that ‘the negoes’ themselves were responsible for the riots; nor is it the purpose here to ascribe blame. But the fact remains: before ‘racism’ ever had a chance to rear its head in response to the Glorious ’65, the actions in Watts so awesomely destroyed a Moment in American history, and through the riots a great event’s ‘wave’ of pressure, naturally generated, dissolved into a ripple.

In response to which, as can be seen just beneath the surface of this article, the Democrats were profoundly baffled as a political force, and in their weakness, allowed themselves to be seduced by radical elements that felt it only right and proper to ‘create’ such pressures again by any means necessary. And the Dems let themselves be drawn along by it. And as the shock of Watts was soon joined by the shock of increasing failure in Vietnam, the Democrats embraced a ‘liberalism’ that was now actually a radicalism in content but even more so in method, a radicalism impatient and even dismissive of a democratic politics and of the capacity of The People to deliberate and choose well for the country. And then other groups – that Second Wave of feminism first among them – quickly sought to grasp its opportunity, to make its own Moment, and enforce its own huge and untested visions onto the country and The People, by whatever means necessary. And other groups followed.

And here We are. If the champagne flutes are starting to tip in the first-class saloon, then you can be sure that the water is rising in the bunkrooms of third-class and steerage. Are issues of race or of gender more important, asks the ship’s newspaper?

I think that such questions aren’t really in touch with a certain monstrous reality. They ‘just don’t get it’.

Perhaps they never will.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Ira Chernus is a Professor of Religious Studies at U/Colorado in Boulder.

He’s got a book out entitled “Monsters to Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin”.

Chernus’s schematic vision is that the neocons are steeped in a change-averse, independence-averse, weak minded ‘conservative moralism’ characteristic of the pre-‘counterculture’ days of the Sixties, and that the ideology that they have developed to console themselves and insulate themselves from the pain and challenge of newness, freshness, change, and creative personal and societal thinking and mores … that ideology (and one would almost have to say ‘pathology’, in Chernus’s schematic) requires neocons to live in a world where Good and Evil exist, where an individual and a society must constantly struggle in that battle, and where self-definition and identity as well as an overarching purpose in life are achieved by having “monsters to destroy” against whom they can constantly wage war and thus simultaneously prove themselves, reaffirm their weak identity, and repress their abiding fear of ‘change’. And, Chernus feels, the present American situation is the result of the neocons’ – since they sorta lost the culture wars here – having to go abroad in search of fresh ‘monsters’ against whom to struggle and get their pathological and addictive ‘fix’; hence their demonization and invasion of this and that people in this and that country.

Neat. Many birds with the one theoretical stone: decrying the objective moralism against which the ‘counterculture’ and ‘radicalism’ (he often uses the terms interchangeably) of the Sixties struggled and still struggle; showing how all of those who believe in objective Morality are essentially weak and pathological unripes, and all their ‘ideas’ and ‘beliefs’ are fit only for psychotherapeutic intervention; explaining how the current wars in the East are all the Republicans’ fault through that Party’s embrace of the neocons (thereby absolving from war-guilt the Democratic Party, original embracer, enabler, and daddy-warbucks for the counterculture’s and the radicals’ Long March and the toxic brew of ideology that underlies the whole radical project).

And working in some of the Sixties’ trademark themes and thought-patterns: that ‘morality’ is whatever an individual chooses to believe, and does not exist outside the individual and cannot be forced upon an individual from the outside; that therefore no individual can be ‘judged’ or forced from the outside; that so much of what seems ‘real’ is actually just a matter of what you choose to believe and assume, so that if the neocons assume ‘sin’ and ‘evil’ and obsess over objective ‘morality’ then if only they would change their attitude then the world would be a better place; that there is no justification for presuming that human beings are prone to great evil, and so therefore any sustained concerns for ‘morality’ and ‘defense’ are merely symptoms of deep but self-serving pathology; and that any amount of disagreement with any of the foregoing constitutes the pathologically significant symptom of ‘denial’ and fuels what is merely ‘backlash’.

I think that there is great fruit to be gleaned from considering Chernus’s book.

First, to get a clear picture of (what Chernus sees as) the neocon development.

But to do that, a couple of definitions and clarifications:

A) I distinguish between i) the ‘countercultural’ movement of the Sixties and ii) the ‘radical’ movement. The counterculture were the Flower Children, making love – not war, usually high on pot, but beyond having ‘free love’ in or out of long-unwashed dungarees in shabby VW buses, they really did feel (it never got to the ‘thinking’ stage) that the world could work by everybody just groovin’, being nice to each other, and getting in touch with their ‘feelings’, and that – smaller being better - communes were the best form of social organization and ‘family’, preferably away from cities and structure and conformity and industry; it was a youthy, idealistic, golden sorta thing, strongly influenced by Romanticism. But hell and gone from that, the ‘radicals’ here were the youthful heirs of late 19th and early 20th century labor agitation (not a bad thing in itself, certainly), socialist and anarchist streams of thought and of the methods of revolutionary change that by the late 1960s flowed in a strong stream comprised of old Anarchism, Leninist and Maoist revolutionary praxis, and also a strain of shrewd propagandistic self-presentation and the manipulation of public opinion that derived in great part from the propaganda praxis of the Third Reich (which itself – wheeeee! – had gotten some great pointers from the early-20th century American advertising ‘genius’, Edward Bernays). Given all of this, Chernus’s failure to distinguish between ‘the counterculture’ and ‘the radicals’, is conceptually weak and improper; his subsequent lumping the two much-different phenomena together, and then declaring them ‘good’ as opposed to the ‘evil’ of the ‘conservative moralism’ of the ‘neocons’, is duplicitous.

B) When seeking to define or understand ‘liberalism’ I would divide the Sixties into two distinct halves: up to 1965 we have a ‘traditional’, and a genuine American liberalism, seeking through a democratic politics and a sustained civic engagement to fulfill Justice and Liberty for a segment of the population – the ‘Negro’ – generally acknowledged (except by Southerners) to be greatly wronged by the national social arrangements that had been in place for centuries; this ‘struggle’ not only united the bonds between black and white Americans (again, those intractable Southerners much excepted) but strengthened the essential public faith in American goals and the American vision as enunciated by Martin Luther King (with his indispensable grounding in scripture and religious faith) as well as such figures as Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln. After 1966 and certainly as a result of 1968, we have a ‘liberalism’ that is really a radical politics of agitprop and ruthless pressure in the service of alleviating problems about which there existed no such seasoned national consensus and which prompted vast amounts of public skepticism and hesitation and opposition – to such wide and sudden change, if not to the actual proposed goals themselves; and in response to which the radicals declared everything not fully supportive of their agendas to be benighted backlash, and proceeded to deploy every stratagem to manipulate, stampede or sidestep altogether public deliberation and discourse, choosing instead to ‘force’ government and courts to accept and then impose their agendas. And by this point, ‘liberalism’ has also undermined independent, robust reporting and coverage by ‘the press’ or the ‘media’, seducing with telegenic melodrama a mainstream ‘press’ already frightened by the declining reading capacities and habits of the American public – whence ‘political correctness’, which could never have existed without the press and the media. Consequently, as he once again performs his trademark lumping-together, Chernus confuses a genuine and traditionally American and ‘classic’ liberalism of pre-1965 with the radical and profoundly undemocratic (even anti-democratic) ‘liberalism’ of 1968 and in doing that he fails to inform and he actually veers toward purposeful manipulation.

Those ‘definitions’ being clarified, getting on with the first observation, I’d say that the ‘neocons’ went through several distinct periods. The first period, during the Sixties, was a period of often acute insight into the conceptual weaknesses and societal consequences of the counterculture and the radicals’ assorted agendas.

Chernus’s extensive quoting from Irving Kristol’s work written during this period reveals Kristol's as a literate and informed concern for the un-grounding and disconnection from the humanizing and maturing structures of objective ‘right and wrong’ and of ‘good and evil’; and from the constructive limitations that can shape a growing ‘self’, a developing individual, into a competent, responsible citizen and parent whose work contributes to the general welfare, to the common weal as well as to familial and personal enhancement.

Kristol in this phase mounts a reasonable critique of the eminently critique-able countercultural nostrums and half-truths and incomplete visions which threatened to literally fragment not American society (that would come in the Age of the Identities starting in the ‘70s) but a national societal consensus about the legitimacy and authority of moral standards, virtues, sin, and the moral and existential projects in general. This is the first phase of the ‘neocon’ presence on the American scene, and it is far from evil in its intent or its content.

Even Kristol’s reinforcement of the values of the traditional ‘religious’ and Judeo-Christian worldview, with their schematics and dynamics of envisioning oneself and one’s world as being imperfect, to some degree capable of a potential evil is well within bounds. And the resulting necessity of being watchful and cautious as to one’s own passions and thoughts as well as those of one’s neighbors and of strangers is equally valid, within the vision of that world-view.

Overall, in this first phase of neoconservatism, an intelligent and vigorous defense (more than was mounted by the churches at the time, certainly) of a matrix of beliefs that shaped and grounded and even fueled American society, was not only within bounds but – in light of Our current situation – as prescient as Solzhenitsyn’s.

In neoconservatism’s second phase, during the later ‘70s and into the ‘80s, a darker note is sounded. Reflecting the growing and intensifying public unease over the societal and ethical and moral consequences of the Democrats’ Identities and their Advocates, who preemptively sought to disable social and political opposition by claiming that there was no ‘objective’ or ‘greater’ or ‘higher’ reality that could stand in judgment upon their numerous and counter-intuitive demands and agendas, a raw political energy of great strength was now loose in the country, generated in response/reaction to the concentrated and bumptious political force honed and deployed by the Advocacies and their Democratic godparents; the Advocacies called it ‘backlash’ in order to try to cage it within a narrative advantageous to themselves, but this political energy was not so much reactionary as it was skeptical, concerned, and – ominously – tremendously anxious and disappointed: Did the Democrats really know what they were doing? Did all these new ‘ideas’ really work? Could the fundamental structures and grounds of American society and culture sustain so much ‘change’ all at once?

Neoconservatism began to trim its sails to take advantage of this tide, and one starts to sense the toxic and noxious infusions from sources such as Falwell and assorted fundamentalists, with whom the neoconservatives were now prepared to join in a political alliance as well as a conceptual affinity. From sagacious, prudent and acute comment on the moral, psychological, philosophical, and spiritual state of affairs in the country, the neocons were going to ‘take to the field’, doing what needed to be done to reach out, form alliances, and wage a public and political counter-struggle against the radical Advocacies.

Here we start to see the neocons making some far less universally acceptable assertions, and engaging in tactics that sacrifice wise sensitivity to the complexity and nuance of the human predicament in favor of unthinking ‘support’ of simplistic, least-common-denominator slogans, caricatures and by-words.

And in neoconservatism’s third phase we see a movement that now seeks to reach beyond American domestic affairs, to form alliances with the national-security Rightists and Nationalists, the imperially-minded defense contractors and industry, the equally though for a different reason ‘energy resources’ imperialists, the socially conservative and patriotic pro-military folk, and with the abiding interest of the Israeli state and its American supporters in pumping up the American protector into an aggressive, indeed preventive warrior, ready to intervene anywhere (but most especially in the Middle East) in the name of freedom and liberty (or at least under cover of same). And this is a monstrously dark – even reprehensible and corrupt - incarnation of neoconservatism indeed.

But my point is that there are different phases of neoconservatism. And that – even more to the point – that first phase was characterized by perceptive and acute and substantive critique of vast and almost wild forces loose in American society in the late 1960s, post-1968.

And it has to be remembered that a huge operative factor, not fully grasped at the time, was the Democratic Party, which in the later-60s threw its still-considerable weight and influence behind the Identities.

And therefore – willy nilly – behind the profoundly and potentially corrosive, though on its surfaces and in its intent inchoately ‘positive’, ‘deconstructionist’ theory that was purposely and deliberately devised (in France a decade and more before) precisely to undermine established structures of thought and practice in order to create conceptual confusion and thus ‘space’ for different (‘new’, ‘fresh’, creative’) combinations of social and political power among emerging post-colonial ‘minorities’ among the postwar post-empires of Europe.

That ‘deconstuctionism’ had quickly been tossed out of France as intellectuals and politicians realized that it was a ‘universal solvent’: a substance capable of eating its way through any material, so that no container could hold it, and any container that did try to hold it would be eaten away. Thus, that any society and government that embraced deconstructionism and thus tried to wield it and deploy it, would find itself societally and politically corroded, to the point of lethal weakness and even of collapse.

This was the vampire the Dems invited into Our national house, by not checking the intellectual baggage of their newly-adopted Identities. Its very essence and purpose is to confuse, to weaken, to delegitimize any established order or structure, with which it comes into contact. That’s why it was devised, by men who wanted to help the oppressed by giving them a conceptual tool to weaken the legitimacy of the ‘structures’ theoretically oppressing them.

The huge danger lay in consequences a couple-three steps down the road (and does this sound familiar, in the light of the Iraq War?): the deconstructionism that destroyed an established matrix of power so that some ‘oppressed’ group could make its way into power, would then start to undermine the legitimacy of whatever that ‘oppressed’ group tried to establish in its own favor. And therefore, either the newly-former ‘oppressed’ group would have to permit itself to be delegitimized in its own turn or else it would have to – in an act of brute political force and repression – simply declare an end to the process of ‘change’ and declare itself ‘the establishment’, the incontestable and unopposable ‘power’.

Thus, as the French sorta sensed (and the Dems didn’t), ‘deconstructionist theory’ led sooner rather than later to an anti-democratic politics, to a repressive authoritarianism and elitism. That the new authoritarian and elitist establishment is ‘saved’ by being composed of the formerly ‘oppressed’ … this point is not only irrelevant but from the point of view of democracy treacherously stupid. And – We shall soon find out – perhaps fatally so.

So Chernus’s gambit here is to bundle the ‘flower children’ of the mid-60s counterculture together with the radical and deconstructionist Identities of the late-‘60s and early-‘70s, and call the whole thing ‘liberalism’, and then oppose to that a monolithic lump of ‘neoconservatism’ that a) denies the ‘freedom’ of the individual and on the basis of deep psychopathology and moral deformity opposes positive social change and b) leads in a straight line from repressing innocent young free love and sex to perpetrating the invasive assaults of the Iraq War.

It’s too too neat. And, it seems, completely erases the Democratic Party as the source of any of the problems currently bethumping Us. Could any sober observer agree to so sweeping and convenient an analysis?

Chernus also understates the objectives of ‘the counterculture’, and leaves the reader to wonder whether he is actually so simple-minded as to believe what he is writing. “All the Sixties wanted to do was trade in traditional values for new ones – peace, love, sensuality, diversity, ecological harmony”. Once again, he’s not distinguishing between the ‘flower children’ and the ‘radicals’, conveniently (so I have to think shrewdly, too) mushing them together as “the Sixties”. The cutesy, barefoot wish-hopes of the Flower kids – which did not even rise to the status of ‘ideals’ (that would have required a serious, and therefore a limiting, commitment) – are blended with the radical, deadly earnest (however incoherent or shortsighted) revolutionary agenda of those radicals who formed the nub of the ‘70s Revolutions of the Identities and their accompanying Advocacies.

Then he minimizes the Sixties, making them cuddly and innocent: “All (they) wanted to do …” But then the mean, old neocons entered stage right and began beating on the Sixties kids to make them put their clothes on and not trust one another as if they were all just kewpie dolls on a carnival rack and to stay sober and – gack – take a shower a couple-three times a week.

Now I didn’t support the war, I didn’t appreciate being lied to every time a Pentagoon gave a briefing on the evening news, and I don’t much like conformity; and I have never ever liked to drink anybody’s Kool-Aid. But I sensed even back then that if you’re going to sail outside the normal shipping lanes, then you are not therefore free of the responsibility of being a competent navigator and sailor, but instead you have to accept responsibility for being an even better one.

Because life – like the battlefield, but also like apples hanging on trees in country gardens – is to some extent shaped by forces that both cannot be changed and that cannot prudently be imagined to not-exist. Tell yourself any ‘narrative’ you want: but if you stand under a tree then you’re going to get hit with a falling apple because apples fall because Gravity exists. The wise sailor doesn’t presume to make or choose a ‘different’ ‘narrative’ of what reality exists out there on the open ocean; rather, he/she masters him/herself and concentrates on learning what those forces are. And doing so not for the purpose of surrendering one’s humanity, liberty, freedom, uniqueness and individuality, but rather for the purposes of most efficaciously shaping and wielding one’s humanity in the service of some goal that will serve, in a large or small way, humanity. You get out there on Life’s ocean and you want to be able to understand those forces so as to use them to your advantage as best you might. And thus get to your voyage’s destination.

Which brings us to Chernus’s “traditional values”: given the tremendous presence of Judeo-Christian and classical ‘values’ in Western civilization, and thus in the America of 1968, the only way to be ‘fresh’ and ‘creative’ was to call all those values ‘old-fashioned’ (Chernus does) and come up with whatever ‘values’ you can find that are not-traditional.

So: ‘sensuality’(Chernus proposes it) … as a value? Yeah, maybe, but only after you’ve built the firm foundation of a self and a life using some rather more essential building-blocks. Don’t pick out the paint-scheme for the first-class saloon until you’ve got the hull really really figured out. ‘Sensuality’ is nice (and they do say now that masturbation can help prevent prostate cancer in males) but mostly just ‘feeling’ (in any sense of the word) does not a mature adult make.

And ‘love’ is now so confused a word that we have to distinguish between “a groovy kind of” it and the fierce burning faithful love of the Old Testament God and the unblinking and courageous respect-love of the New Testament and the almost superhuman love that stems – as the theory has it – from a love of Christ Who Himself loves all humans and then even the all-weather loving-kindness sustained throughout.

“How should we acquire our moral values,” – he asks – “through independent inquiry or by accepting some external authority?” Ah, the plaintive voice of the Sixties in the accents of grammatical precision and a certain wise authority. But the question indicates a throw-back, a regression back beyond the hard-won state-of-the-question that had already been achieved in Western culture long before the Sixties pop-eyed ‘searchers’ learned how to toddle. A human being can exercise independent inquiry in order to personally arrive at the deeply perceived and deeply felt realization that there is a Beyond, perhaps even a personal, ethical God, and with the conclusiveness of that sense of personally achieved ‘independent inquiry’ thus Ground him/herself in a Beyond that would become as a rock, thereby building the human self – and the community of human selfs – not on ever-shifting, ever-changeable ‘sand’ but on solid, sustaining ‘rock’ – as a certain image famously puts it.

To regress the question back to the either-or that was primitive even in the Sixties, to embrace a level of posing a question that was childish and immature even then … that was one of the great sleights of hand of the Sixties and its Advocates. And a double-sleight: they not only made it seem ‘fresh’ and ‘creative’; they made it seem like it was accurate. And a triple-sleight: they made it seem like a wondrously workable basis on which to ‘change’ and ‘govern’ an entire society and culture. Yah. That sure worked. Have We noticed how frakked up things have gotten since the Sixties? Since the ‘kids’ of the Sixties made their mark on national policy and government?

And can there be any doubt that this cognitively primitive ‘either-or’ is precisely the same infection that regressed the neocons and Republicans to bloody-minded chimpery after 9-11: either they’re with us or they’re against us. Oy.

Nor is it enough to say that it’s ‘creative’ for any individual to pick out whatever ‘values’ s/he thinks would be good for him/her. The sea isn’t quite that flexible.

Of course, maybe we aren’t ships, and there is no need to master any skills because life is not a sea and we aren’t captains of anything and maybe there isn’t or we don’t choose for there to be in our lives any destination and so the days and hours of our lives are not part of any ‘voyage’, let alone a ‘mission’, nor do we necessarily need to feel responsible for any cargo or for any smaller ships in company or even for how we handle our own ship.

Yeah. And thus you see the corrosiveness of deconstruction when it’s taken to the very heart of human be-ing. Even when it’s taken there for a ‘good’ purpose, for a ‘liberal’ purpose, for a ‘creative’ purpose, for a ‘liberating’ purpose. How do you shape a Self if there’s nothing ‘out there’? How do you shape a community of un-Shaped selfs? Or of selfs shaped according to no commonality beyond – say – eating and having sex?

How do you Shape a ‘self’? How can you Shape a ‘self’ if there is no acknowledged ‘shape’? If there is no acknowledgement that there are certain parameters and characteristics to which the ‘self’ has to be conformed – like a ship to the sea – in order to work at all?

How do a gaggle of un-Shaped selfs or largely under-Shaped selfs form and sustain a common weal?

For that matter, how does any group of humans so conceived and so dedicated maintain and sustain a society and a culture if any ‘commonality’ is instantly and loudly deconstructed as ‘oppressive’?

Chernus repeats the Sixties mantra that there are many rich, fresh new values ‘around’ us, waiting to be chosen or found or whatever. This is Flatness, no matter how groovy. How can mere mortals sustain their lives without some connection to an Above, a Beyond, (or in my use of the Greek term here) a Meta? How can any adult continually and faithfully haul oneself out of bed in the morning if there is no Ultimate Sustainment? And when the litheness and un-responsible day-glo days of teen-hood are gone, and when children and society and the common weal depend on one, how be ‘faithful’ if one be not Sustained?

How handle the pressures generated by Incompleteness and Imperfection and even Sin and Sinfulness if one be not Sustained? By simply living one’s life in permanent and utter ignorance and denial of what is happening to Us? By simply living in permanent and utter ‘outrage’ at whatever hyped ‘crisis’ is tossed to Us? By getting in touch with the Inner Chimp, the Inner Berserker? (That indeed is the awefull challenge facing so many of Our troops now, sent by Our inadvertence or ignorance into the maw of Fourth Generation War, saved from the inappropriate caresses of Dionysus only to be delivered proudly to the bloody, claw-like, death-grasping gauntlets of Ares Ferox et Atrox).

And “peace” wasn’t a ‘value’ in ‘traditional’ Western history? And “love”? Forget the Flower Children: does Chernus actually think this? Does he seriously think that ‘the Sixties’ were right to imagine that they were creating something totally new under the sun?

The Revolutions and the entire acid-action of ‘deconstruction’ were precisely in need of ‘change’ – lots of it, all deconstruction all the time, because the objective was to ‘deconstruct’ just about any structure of ‘power’ and ‘authority’; in effect, decapitating the target culture and society in order to take it over with one’s own head-full of visions and rules, laws and authority.

Nor did it occur to too many of the radicals that their ideas weren’t so much ‘fresh’ and ‘new’ as they were previously-rejected, by societies and cultures who saw how uncontrollable this deconstructive reaction, once initiated, could and would become. But it occurred to some; they overruled prudence. Prudence, after all, doesn’t make for successful revolutions. Ask Lenin, ask Mao. Don’t – it’s ‘unhelpful’ and ‘negative’ – ask their victims.

And ‘boundaries’ and ‘limits’ – well, they aren’t friends of any revolution, and they aren’t friends of kids – from the kids’ point of view. And the very word ‘shape’ pretty much implies limits. So it was necessary to have a limitless society; one with no boundaries (except for certain newly-hatched classes who can fully be abused); that Our society has started to lose Shape, to tend toward Shapelessness, psychologically, ethically, morally, spiritually … well, who knew? The very observation – harrumph – is ‘negative’ and probably ‘oppressive’ and definitely ‘offensive’ to … somebody. Thus We stagger on.

But of course, the Sixties (the later years, anyway) coincided with a moment in History when the Democratic Party was smarting from its failures in Vietnam, terrified that the wondrously uplifted “negroes’ of 1965 were not going to remember the Party that risked so much to pass the Civil rights and Voting Acts, and desperate to raise up new voting blocs to replace the Southern whites (male and female) who – as Southerners seem inclined from time to time to do – renounced their old allegiance and set up shop on t’other side of the river.

And as the deconstructing Identities began to multiply in the ‘70s, and the Dems found themselves trapped by the pressures of groups they themselves had raised up, and more and more sober-minded folk began to doubt the Dems’ ability to govern in the interests of the common weal, or even to stand up for any traditions or any national centrifugal forces at all, and as each Identity identified its own “monster to destroy” and the Dems set out after those thus-identified with the full force and power of the government … the Democratic Party in its deepest counsels came to figure that the only course left was to keep trying to go forward with its old plan. Sorta like Vietnam, actually.

It hadn’t worked: the new Identities didn’t simply open their newly-hatched eyes and gently select a spot on the grounds wherein to set up their tents and hearths and make sure to vote for their creators; they each had more and more demands; and when they didn’t get what they wanted then they threatened their Democratic creators with the loss of votes, even as those creators began finally to tally up the number of possible votes lost by their embracing this or that Identity in the first place. Doing the math simply agitated the addled Democrats even more.
Finally they gave up everything – honor, integrity, responsibility, the common weal – and simply tried to keep getting themselves elected, holding on – they told themselves – until that day when through the workings of time and death there would be no more to recall how it used to be, and fresh generations would have no memory nor education to realize how it used to be, and new arrivals would have no conception of whatever it was that used to be, and they could all start from scratch.

Interesting, if unimpressive, plan.

But now the Republicans, equally if differently debauched, have created such a disastrous mess that the Dems cannot but scent the possibility of a massive victory by default. And a massive victory – to a professional pol – is a great victory, nor is there any shame than being the default-party nor in being elected ‘on the rebound’, as it were.

But it’s worse even than that. Whatever the country may be in 2012, there may not be enough to keep things going until death and time and new arrivals so dilute ‘old’ visions as to make them mere phantasms. The Dems may wind up presiding, but over a nation so diminished that there will be precious little to offer as rewards to faithful voting blocs.

We are in dire straits indeed. A house divided by the Democrats and their radical and very demanding creations, a house put down as collateral by war-drunk Republicans in what looks to be a losing hand – and a doubling-down on a series of losing hands.

And far too many citizens with nothing to fall back on but the breezy wishful daydreams of the teens of a now vanished age – that Sixties when they not only had their youth in all its shallow but effervescent and perky confidence, but a country still cohesive and strong and able to provide a future for them – try to keep afloat, day by day.

This is not the spirit that built the West. This is not the spirit that sustains the West.

We have been seduced as a People, thanks to elites who knew less than they ever let on, into trading in a sturdy ocean-worthy vessel for a cutesy water-park duckie-float.

Yet still We face the sea. No elites and no fresh, new, creative ‘narrative’ can change that.

We must go down to Life’s sea – and in worthy ships. And We must do it quickly. The sea is rising.


I neglected to include one other very significant point in Chernus’s treatment: he accuses the neocons and the ‘conservative moralists’ of being the unique perpetrators of what the Advocates of the Identities have been doing to Us for decades now. In psychiatric terms he ‘projects’ onto the neocons and ‘conservative moralists’ precisely what his favored Dems and Identities pretty much invented as standard political tactics.

As example, on page 5 he goes after that truly jaw-dropping assertion reported by Ron Suskind and popularly presumed to be from the pudgy lips of Karl Rove himself: “We create our own reality”. But isn’t this exactly the type of thing Chernus is plumping for when he urges that humans can “choose their own values”? Aren’t – in the ‘liberal’ or the ‘progressive’ story – all humans simply browsers at a massive buffet, filling their personal plates with a scoop of this ‘value’ and a forkful of that ‘value’? Just as now – the hot ironies! – the Bushist Imperium sees the entire planet as a large buffet, with the agents of the US government simply browsing around the room, ladling this and forking that? Yoooo-hooooooo ….

Chernus continues: “Living within the safe shelter of their story, they see only the parts of reality that already fit into their story. They don’t test the truth of their stories by testing them against facts. The story comes first. … Instead of seeking out the facts, they create their own version of the facts.” No peeking now: tell me if this refers to A) the neocon imperialists or B) to the ‘liberals’ of the Sixties and their Advocacies. Or, worse by sooo far: C) both. Chernus would insist that the only answer can be (A). But I think that precisely the key point is that the answer is irrefutably (C). And that We are now in so much trouble because simply letting Bush leave office or dis-electing the Republicans is not going to put out the fire. We are at sea, on fire, and We don’t quite know just where the fire is or what kind of fire it is (Will water put it out or intensify it? Do we need sand? Chemicals? And if We need water, then We face the next problem of fire-fighting at sea: the whole idea of a ship is that you most certainly do NOT want to be putting water into it, because if you do, then … no matter what ‘story’ you have chosen, the ship is going to sink and you are going to have sunk it.

As may thus be clearly inferred: command at sea is not for the immature nor the faint of mind or heart, nor for the groovy nor for the perpetually outraged. And lest this seems like a sneaky commercial for the Republicans as that lost breed is presently and repugnantly construed: command at sea is not for those who would take a half-sinking ship and go and start unnecessary shooting-action just to prove that they can still do it.

But I’ll also say this in the interests of full disclosure: John Wayne, even on his worst day, would never have done it either. Nor Clark Gable nor Gregory Peck … well, Peck did take the Pequod on her fateful journey … so forget Peck.

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