Monday, September 29, 2008


In Sunday’s ‘Boston Globe’, Jeff Jacoby has an Opinion piece to the effect that Barney Frank and the Dems were very much a part of the rush-to-subprime that triggered what is probably the last great financial crisis in America’s career as a hyperpower – or perhaps even as a solvent sovereign entity.

He marshals the dates, times, and words during the past 30 years when Democrats exercised “pressure” that was “relentless” to make more mortgages available to minority neighborhoods. Does the ‘redlining’ crisis bring back memories?

In light of my take on American affairs for the past 40 years, I see it this way:

The Dems fell in with LBJ’s take on things as he revealed it in his speech at Howard University in June of ’65 – where a very hazy and fuzzy ‘next phase’ of civil rights was outlined and promised even before the ‘classic’ civil-rights era had been capped with success. (See my Post “We Bought What?” of last week.) Having fulfilled – finally – the promises of the Civil War and Reconstruction, the government and the Dems would take things to a whole new level with “affirmative racism”.

In the very year when economists were noting that America’s postwar industrial and economic pre-eminence was starting to decline relative to the now-recovering rest of the world, posing a challenge which should have summoned Our sustained and most careful and serious attention – as a matter of national prosperity (and now perhaps survival) – the seeds were sown for American politics and public attention to be hugely involved with the never-more-fully-explained plan unleashed by LBJ.

The Dems, We recall, were terrified that they would lose the Southern voters by supporting the civil-rights movement in its classic phase. They clearly had plans even before the summer of 1965 not to allow the huge changes of the past 10 years some time to be absorbed, but rather to escalate into that gauzy next phase of “affirmative racism”. Their determination was explosively crystallized by the monster Watts riots, scarcely a week after the Voting Rights Act was signed into law. And then the Republicans under Nixon started to make a play for the ‘black demographic’ and it looked like they were actually making more progress than the Democrats.

We note in passing that starting in about ’68 the Dems also began throwing their support behind the Feminists of the Second Wave, and as time thumped on, behind other Identities as they sprang up. But the Dems also cozied up to the corporations, legislatively erecting PACs to guarantee campaign funds that they could no longer count on from the increasingly balkanized and hard-to-satisfy Identity-groups that bombarded them with telegenic demands.

Meanwhile, the economy was starting to display odd signs. Nixon had to take the country off the gold-standard in ’71, there were sudden ‘shortages’ of beef and sugar (sirloin went over 50 cents a pound, candy bars jumped from a nickel to 15 cents overnight), then right after the Israeli success in the October War of ’73 there was the first OPEC-related gas shortage (Americans! Waiting in line for gas? How’d it evah happen heah?!! … No serious answer was ever given). And then in the later ‘70s Chrysler needed a government bailout and state governments started closing down their expensive mental institutions to save money that they suddenly didn’t seem to have - making many of the patients ‘homeless’ in the process.

My bet is that as the economy showed more and more signs of problems coping with the changing postwar world, the Dems simply tried to keep everybody happy, feeling like they had a piece of the old pie. The corporations began to see the fruits of their strategic assessments of new possibilities offered by the changing world: they’d undercut the New Deal labor laws and social arrangements by setting up shop in foreign countries with cheaper and unprotected – and undemanding – supplies of labor. The Dems kept taking the PAC contributions while trying to keep the ‘liberation’ ball rolling with the various Identities’ demands. They let the corporations pull the foundations out from under the ‘world’ that the working and middle classes had come to expect after the war as jobs and benefits began to seep out of the country like sand from a broken hourglass.

Then Reagan came along, and the Dems – although controlling Congress – had no alternative to his sunny assurance that the 1940s could be brought back again. Nor did they have any stomach for pointing out that the Great Oz was just a huckster; they decided they had more to gain by going along with him. The money began to flow – not through new inventions (although there was the PC; but the cars were crappy and imports were all the rage) but through all sorts of financial finagling. Billions and hundreds of billions were suddenly in the news for being ‘lost’ by banks – savings and loans – that were supposed to be the reliable servants of the saving classes. No prahblum! Greed was good, lawyers now boasted of making as much money as CEOs, and hotels got a lot brassier and glossier, just as Picard’s sparkling, computer-driven Enterprise made Kirk’s 1966 Enterprise look like a ratty trailer-park has-been.

Then the Soviets collapsed and now there was nothing to stand up against Us. The first Gulf War was fought for almost nothing; We put up the troops and equipment and the rest of the world’s major nations sent cash – lots of it. A Democratic President came in and who could doubt that somehow the Democrats would keep the New Deal going? But the Dems had quietly abandoned the New Deal and everybody who had come to rely on it; it was party-time, America was going to take a well-deserved splurge. ‘Business’ seemed to have absolutely nothing to do with making things any more; and the ‘smart’ life, even the good life, involved lots of expensive imported stuff. But in order to keep the little people happy, credit was expanded – credit cards became plentiful and if any of the small fry noticed that the whole ‘job’ thing was starting to get iffy, there was plenty of credit on the card to buy something shiny. Even big and shiny. All sorts of high-end stores opened, and not just in high-end locales. And seemed to make money.

The ‘economy’ was reported to be going through the roof. Not to worry, We were told; you don’t need to make things to have a stable and growing economy; empty factories and mills make great condos. And there’s Finance and Insurance and Real Estate. And takeovers and mergers: Cookie companies bought up famous old clothing companies and long-established free-standing companies providing this or that service simply became subsidiaries of something that did something else (newspapers and then radio and TV stations started going the same way). ‘Profits’ started to come from layoffs and reductions-in-force rather than from making stuff, but the bottom-line somehow came out as stronger than ever before. The evening news became a ‘magazine’ and it all started to sound the same. CEOs began to make money like the Rockefellers and the Astors and Carnegie made in the Gilded Age, though fewer folks seemed to know that much about American history.

Then the bedrock of Our ‘new’ knowledge economy, the internet and computing sectors, crashed. It had been a bubble, the word was. But not to worry: housing starts were going through the roof and real-estate was climbing to the stars (where We apparently were no longer heading in any real sense; commemorative tchochkes of the 1969 moon-walk’s ‘one giant leap for mankind’ (person-kind) suddenly seemed like ‘history’ too).

And the Dems found a way to get themselves a shrewd two-fer (the Dems have a serious case of being too shrewd by-half, as the Brits would say). They would insist that their Identities also get a piece of this exploding pie: sub-prime mortgages made the rich richer and the poor seem to be rich. The former was real; the latter was ‘spin’. But what they hey! – ‘facts don’t matter’ and anyway, Americans make history, they aren’t slaves to it. History – like bombing – happens to other people.

Immigration – the illegal kind – was another two-fer, even a five-fer: the rich could get folks who were humble and hard-working enough to clean toilets and pools with some regularity, liberated working women who were mothers could get nannies, their corporations and businesses could get cheaper labor with no New Deal-type expectations, the Dems could get a lot of folks who were not ‘white industrial males’ to build the brave new America envisioned by the Identities, and the lid could be kept on Mexican and Central American nations whose people were being overrun by the workings of NAFTA. Something for everybody. And housing was going to the stars.

And then came the invasion of Iraq. And as that operation blew through the ceiling of 100 billion bucks and started heading for the stars itself … well , shopping was the great engine of the economy. The credit cards were still working and it was the best way to ‘be American’, according to the President. History – God no longer being easily mentionable in public speeches – was with Us.

And here We are. And now the Dems are going to put a stop to it. If We would just kindly forget anything that happened any further back than a month ago, they’ll be glad to receive Our support. If they expect voters to have that short a memory, they’re going to have to start giving six-year-olds the vote. Or maybe not.

I am writing this not knowing if the bailout bill has passed, and whether it will actually help anybody besides the big-spenders who have been bankrolling both Parties for the past umpty years. But I have read somewhere that the International Monetary Fund is sending a ‘working group’ to come for a working visit, and Washington has said ‘OK’. This is what happens to small, third-world countries – ‘banana republics’ in the old argot – when the big boys aren’t sure that your country is solvent any longer. Their job is not to help your people (that’s your job) but to make sure that international creditors get their payments on time. It will – you must understand – help ‘your people’ in the long run because the contraction in the economy, no matter how drastic, will give them that much more opportunity to learn thrift, industriousness, self-control, and how to postpone gratification … all the great strength-making characteristics of advanced nations.

We’re all going back to school this Fall. Buy some pencils. Or get ready to sell them. Arbeit, it is guaranteed, macht frei.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008


I came across an article from more than half-a-century ago: “Conditions of Successful Degradation Ceremonies”. It was written by one Harold Garfinkel, and published in a scholarly professional journal. It’s available, among other places, at
Judging from the date, I’d say that watching the McCarthy hearings and all of the dark looniness surrounding it had something to do with inspiring the author as to the need for the article. And further back, he must have watched the increasing pattern of demeaning Jewish people during the Third Reich of only twenty years before. And perhaps the Leninist and Stalinist “denunciations” and “classifications” that took place without let-up from 1918 right up through the show trials of 1938.

Yet it’s a piece that doesn’t discuss any then-current or then-recent events. It’s careful, dry, clear, precise, and – well – ‘scholarly’, but in a crisp social science way (social science, at least, the way it was done back then).

But still you read it and you can’t help thinking about the McCarthy trials and perhaps Germany in the 1930s. And no doubt folks who read it in 1956 did just that. It held many rewards for folks trying to get a grasp on what those events meant for Americans and for human beings generally, for Us and for Our future.

I am reading it now. The McCarthy hearings are – thankfully – back in the past, as is the Third Reich and – after much tribulation – the blood-feverish visions of Communism. Forgotten … but not gone, I think. Because when you read the article, you get the eerie and disturbing sense that it’s very contemporary. You get the sense that it’s all very familiar. Too familiar to just be about something so far in the past. You get the eerie sense that Garfinkel is describing something in the present world, the world of contemporary America, Our world.

And that can only mean that whatever demonry he describes from his own world has now come into Our world. And hasn’t much changed.

The ‘degradation’ is aimed at “transforming an individual’s total identity into an identity lower in the group’s scheme of social types”; thus it is a “status degradation”. The “denouncer” has the goal of getting the onlookers “to appreciate the perpetrator and the blameworthy event as instances of an extraordinary uniformity”. To accomplish this the denouncer “must name the perpetrator an ‘outsider’”.

I could think of the Manichean denunciation and classification of those who are “goats” in the world, in their very essence beyond the rights of human beings and liable to human degradation and violence utterly justified as being God’s will – such is the fond, fierce practice of fundamentalisms everywhere.

We see it, from a distance, deployed against other people and peoples even now.
But I want to focus on how it is done much closer to home, and not spontaneously, but erected into law and incised into the popular mood among Us to such a degree that it comes to assume an aura of inevitability, as if it had been with Us all along and enjoys the status of a ‘good’ and ‘logical’ thing to do.

Garfinkel observes that whenever such a new ‘identity’ is to be imposed on a person or a group, “the identity must be ‘total’, meaning that the ‘identity’ “must refer to persons as ‘motivational’ types rather than as ‘behavioral’ types”. In other words, it’s not what they do, it’s what their ‘motivations’ are; it presumes that there is a ‘motivation’ common to the entire target group, and that this ‘motivation’ is somehow essential to the persons, predictably expectable from them. This dynamic was used to describe ‘Kulaks’ by the early Soviets, to describe ‘Jews’ by the Nazis, to describe ‘pinkos’ by McCarthy.

It is contrary to the spirit and practice of Western law, that with a due humility does not seek to divine motives or predispositions, but rather limits itself to judging acts. An act is all that is extended into actual events, such that an observer other than the act-or can see it, or discover irrefutable traces of it. This is all a human court can do. It’s all that humans, not possessed of supernatural powers of insight and knowledge, can with any reasonable certainty discover by the flickering lamp of human reason.

In the history of this country, the Salem witch trials were not a precedent but a throw-back, a revenant from a prior age, where certain believers felt that they could discern with certainty the causes and sources of certain suspect acts; causes that included supernatural beings, active in this world. The ‘mind’ of a suspected witch or warlock, one who cooperated with dark powers and dark beings, could be clearly discerned, if the right methods were used and the right assumptions were made by the investigators. And in the end, the suspect could be declared for what she or he ‘really’ was, a cooperator with the demonic and the infernal, and thus the accused could be ‘degraded’ in status, from member of the community to ‘evil other’; death would often be the result, as it was for many in Salem.

Western justice, freeing itself from theological entanglements with the immaterial and the unseen and the un-provable, limited itself. And was justly proud of the fact.
But in doing so it set itself a difficult task, although one that proves vital to a free society. Because there is a natural and not unhealthy capacity for “moral indignation” in all human societies: it is this capacity that enables a society to inculcate in its members what is acceptable and not-acceptable to it on a fundamental level. Deployed wisely, this capacity can foster a sense of identity and unity among the members of a society. Deployed otherwise, it can create unjustifiable divisions, excessive wounds – physical or emotional, and even inaccurate judgments that eventually undermine the commonality itself. In the Western system of justice, the court – through its careful investigation and deliberation - is there to not only to protect the community from malefactors, but to protect the community from itself. Because in the long run, the community can harm itself far more grievously than any individual or individuals among it.

“The paradigm of moral indignation is public denunciation. We publicly deliver the curse: ‘I call upon all men to bear witness that he is not what he appears to be but is otherwise and in essence of a lower species.’” It’s not simply that the person is other than he appears; saints are not so often what they appear to be to their contemporaries, and angels famously disguise themselves; you could make a case that Jesus did it. But it’s that this ‘appearance’ is with absolute certainty indicative of ‘inferior’ status. In a West influenced by Christendom, no human being has the authority to reduce the status accorded to a human being by the Creator.

Not acknowledging a God, the Soviets arrogated His powers to the State. Acknowledging a God but presuming utterly that He was on their side, the Nazis also arrogated unto themselves that power. Dispensing with God with a refreshing (and almost surprising) candor, the Italian Fascist, Mussolini, simply and flatly declared: ‘Nothing outside the State, nothing above the State, nothing against the State.” The State which, not coincidentally, he and his Party ran. But all of these instances were departures from the ideals of the West; and unless We wish to condemn every entity that fails to live up fully to its ideals, then We cannot condemn the West for what these vigorous monstrosities concocted in their rebellion against it.

“Moral indignation serves to effect the ritual destruction of the person[s] denounced.” Now that is a powerful concept: ‘destruction’. Human beings in their more deliberative moments have always considered themselves well-advised to employ it sparingly; it has proven itself to have a nasty boomerang capability, especially if wrongly inflicted.

Courts in the West have thus had to contend with this delicate but vital balancing act: to inflict some ‘partial destruction’ – almost never the total destruction of death – sufficient to the crime but proportional to it as well. The job had previously been left to the wronged himself, or if he was incapacitated, to the relatives of the wronged; among advanced tribal peoples this sometimes resulted in elaborate schedules of payment – ‘wergild’ is one instance – which the wrong-doer had to pay to the wronged or his family members. A more primitive alternative was simply to let the wronged, or his relatives, go after the (hopefully correctly identified) wrong-doer to extract or inflict whatever they could or whatever they felt was due. When the State assumed a monopoly on violence, then it assumed responsibility for correctly identifying the wrong-doer and assigning a sufficient punishment. The wronged had a way of going a bit overboard with a distressing frequency; a society could be torn apart in short order.

Transforming a person in his very essence is accomplished by “substituting another socially validated motivational scheme for that previously used to name and order the performances of the denounced.” By the denouncer somehow inducing the community to look upon the person through the lenses of the substitute system, the denounced person becomes [in their eyes] a different person”. Where yesterday in the village a man was simply a fellow-peasant with a few more cows and a larger hut, today he is a “Kulak”, and the only fate for the parasitical Kulak is to be put up against the nearest wall. And through the working of the new ‘lenses’, not many folks feel bad. Although, as the Soviets eventually discovered to their dismay, a lot of folks started wondering if tomorrow they themselves might not be declared a Kulak, especially if the definition of Kulak kept changing to expand the class of potential targets. A society with too many folks thus preoccupied and distracted is not going to get a lot of stuff done. And shooting even more folks turns out not to work so well in the long run.

In order for the whole thing to work, a couple of things must be made to happen.

First, “both event and perpetrator must be removed from the realm of their everyday character and be made to stand as ‘out of the ordinary’”. The denounced person or perpetrator must be seen to be ‘extraordinary’, and not in a good way. After all, if whatever he had done was ‘ordinary’, then there would be no reason for ‘destruction’ and the usual justicial workings of the community would apply. And if he was ordinary, then folks would not feel right about inflicting ‘destruction’; and their guilt, if overridden long enough to approve the ‘destruction’, might well boomerang, sooner or later, onto the denouncer. (This is one big reason why when this type of thing gets started, it’s hard to stop: the ‘denouncers’ and their collaborators – official as well as unofficial – don’t want the lenses to come off the people and the people’s guilt, now transmuted into anger, to be inflicted upon them.)

And this is where ‘emergency’ comes in. The ‘extraordinary’ nature of the act or the denounced person justifies the change in ‘lenses’ by which the people view the denounced person. Released from the cage of ‘ordinary process’, emotions can be loosed among the people which can overwhelm reason. Dictators and revolutionaries don’t cotton to ‘emergencies’ out of boredom or lack of imagination; they grasp the usefulness of ‘emergency’s’ power. And so often, the people don’t realize the painful truth of just how primitive or emotional they can be; the fragility of ‘civilization’ is not something most folks like to think about, in relation to themselves. As the Greeks famously assumed, ‘barbarians’ – by definition – lived somewhere else.

A sturdy court system, like a system of levees, will be able to handle such a tidal surge. But if it is driven by too big and well-orchestrated a storm, then – like the courts in Germany by 1934 – then they too will bend, and become deformed. And then, not wishing to admit the fact, the courts themselves become part of the inertia preventing recovery from the flood of emotions and what was done under their influence.

Second, both the act and the denounced perpetrator must be seen to have a preference not simply for the act, but for the type of act. Thus, this type of person will inevitably commit this type of act because it is in his essence to do so. Thus a Kulak must be killed not simply for what he purportedly has done in the past (be a parasite on the people) but because he will always try to do it in the future; and thus all Kulaks must be identified and destroyed, because there is no rehabilitating them – they are what they are and can never change.

And “event and perpetrator must be treated as a uniformity throughout the work of denunciation”. The Kulak and the parasitical theft and the essence of being a parasitical thief – it’s all of a piece, and there’s no breaking that chain. You will never be able to separate the essence of the man from the act, not under any circumstances.

And the people “must appreciate the characteristics of the typed person and event by referring to a dialectical counterpart”. Thus a Kulak should always be accompanied, even if only in the viewer’s mind, by a ‘good communist’ whose shining example throws the Kulak’s dark evil into even more vivid relief, the shadow appearing darker when contrasted with light. The curious American variant – more passive – is the ‘victim’, who is, in the lenses, innocent and deeply damaged.

Further, the denouncer must get himself to be seen by the people as not-personally interested in the outcome of the denunciation, as merely a heroic upholder of the ‘common values’, who can speak in the name of those values to the people, and who can speak in the name of the people to effect the destruction of the denounced person. Again, curiously, the American variant requires that the ‘victim’ be very ‘interested’, but under the influence of a certain feminist valorization of ‘feeling’, it is this ‘feeling’ and the sympathy that any ‘correct’ onlooker will deploy that actually launches the designated ‘victim’ over the hurdle of having a very significant stake in the outcome of the process.

It’s not hard to see how terribly fraught with emotion this type of dynamic is. Especially in the setting of a court, this can exercise a baleful influence. In a hundred or a thousand courts, the consequences to a society can be profound.

And since “not only must the denouncer fix his distance from the person being denounced, but the witnesses must be made to experience their distance from him also”, then this depersonalization introduces a toxic element not only into the court and its personnel (the judges especially), but among the people in whose name – theoretically – the denunciation is being carried out.

And finally, “the denounced person must be ritually separated from a place in the legitimate order, i.e. he must be defined as standing at a place opposed to it. He must be placed ‘outside’, he must be made ‘strange’.” The people must see – through the lenses – that this irretrievable perpetrator is also opposed to the order and well-being of their society, is an active and deliberate and purposeful enemy of it, and is no ‘member’ of it, but is rather some ‘stranger’. At times, the Soviets and the more tactful Chinese, augmented the ‘otherness’ of an enemy-of-the-people with a psychiatric label to reinforce the ‘strangeness’ (in their ‘science’, opposing or questioning the communist system was of itself a clear indication of insanity).

But it is of paramount importance that the people do not see the denounced as one of themselves. And this is also dangerously narcotic to the people, since they are lulled into the sense that what is happening to the denounced – since it only happens to ‘others’ and to ‘strangers’ whose attitude has been deliberately chosen and embraced – will never happen to them; they are ‘good’ communists, Nazis, Germans, fill-in-the-blank. Martin Niemoller, the former German naval officer turned pastor and preacher, noted that he took no notice when ‘they’ came for this or that group and did not speak up for the accused, until ‘they’ came for him and there was nobody left to speak up. Most people, when ‘they’ come for them, do not even achieve the consolation – stern as it is – of that much self-insight.

(Come to think of it – most Americans nowadays aren’t really going to grasp the concept of a ‘stern consolation’, are they?)

Thus Garfinkel. He was writing about what he detected in his times. I sense that it is among Us now. And that it is a product of two fundamentalisms: the fundamentalisms of a politically-ascendant if not mainstream Protestantism that reinforces its own identity by identifying and hunting ‘strangeness and otherness’ and of a feminist (of the Second Wave) hostility to ‘men’ and to ‘reason’ that seeks to gain leverage over ‘male domination’ by continually tapping into that inexhaustible font of powerful emotional grievance, sex. And the whole brew carefully blended by a government police power that has found that what authority it cannot expand on its own behalf, it can expand by cloaking itself behind the cover of ‘the victim’, on behalf of whose pain and outrage all manner of constitutional encroachment can be effected. And in the 1990s it all came together.

The fact that so much of what Garfinkel observed among Red-baiters (and tellingly among the genuine Reds themselves) and – I think – among the Nazis who copied much of the Soviet playbook in these matters is traceable to the tremendous borrowing that America made from the Nazis and the Soviets after the war. From the Nazis we not only got military tactics like ‘blitzkrieg’ and rockets and jets and ‘preventive’ war (and eventually the shape of their helmets), but also the masterfully developed propaganda trade-craft of the darkly brilliant Goebbels (who himself got some of his best ideas from the 1920s American pathfinder of ‘shaping’ (manipulating) public opinion, Edward Bernays). From the Soviets, especially through certain feminist theorists of the second-wave who borrowed heavily from Marx’s analysis and Lenin’s and Stalin’s praxis, and from advanced level ‘advocacy’ specialists, came orchestrated campaigns against targeted groups and imposition upon the public and the court system of ‘sex offenses’, packaged so as to be irresistible to an increasingly shallow and sensationalist mass media, and show trials, and dubious ‘science’ that is not accepted by any of the most reputable practitioners and institutions.

Why keep bringing this up? Because all of this is still operative through laws that even now continue to become more and more oppressive, and are passed without any serious justification or grounding in fact or science, and systems of registration that continually demonize large swaths of citizens.

As an example, the Supreme Court has stated that the whole system would raise constitutional issues if it weren’t for the fact that it is ‘rehabilitative’ and that it is not ‘punitive’. Yet no practitioners or researchers can point to a rehabilitation program that works, nor even a diagnostic system or etiological explanation that is viable. And Hitler – seeking the German people’s donations to his assorted schemes for assisting the needy – refused to legislatively mandate such donations; he simply published in schools and places of employment the names of those who did not contribute: harmless public notification?

And what does it do to the sense of community and the community’s sense of justice when such derangements are embedded in the public mind – and conscience? What does it do eventually to the legitimacy of Law itself?

We are operating Our constitutional system, having introduced great chunks of communist, fascist, and authoritarian praxis. Do We assume that since these chunks have been ‘baptized’ by being put into the service of ‘American’ society that somehow they will thereby automatically lose their noxiousness and toxicity?

We allowed Our economy to operate in the hands of those so ‘interested’ in it that they enriched themselves by all manner of schemes, and where has that led Us?

We allowed Our foreign policy to fall into the hands of unripes who deluded themselves into thinking that what failed for the aggressive governments of the early and mid-20th century would work for Us, and where has that led Us?

This can’t go on forever. It probably can’t go on much longer. If We don’t stop all of this, it will stop Us. That will be stern, but it won’t be a consolation. History doesn’t like being ignored on such a scale; neither does Reason.

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Friday, September 26, 2008


Over on Salon, Glenn Greenwald reports that the Army is permanently assigning a Brigade Combat Team to “NorthCom”, the new military command responsible for deploying troops domestically, i.e. inside the United States itself. (

The troops will be using suppression equipment recently developed to subdue ‘persons’ non-lethally. Of course, they would presumably also be available to help out in floods and fires, but somehow I don’t see them fighting brush-fires in Southern California or rowing boats in floods or standing around guarding property after a particularly big hurricane.

Among senators who voted for this enhanced degradation of the already-gutted Posse Comitatus statute – the military cannot deploy forces against the citizenry, an idea We got after having put up with King George III sending redcoats and Hessians (think Blackwater with pointy hats) among Us back in the 18th century – was Ted Kennedy. Not to single the gentleman out, but it strikes me that his vote is symbolic of the danger posed to Us by the so-called Left, by the (no-longer) ‘liberal’ elements in the national government, and by their recently constructed National Nanny State.

There has been a traditional fear of an authoritarian take-over of the United States from within. Historically, it was imagined that it would either come from the American communists and socialists or from the ‘rich’ who feared the ‘rule of the mob’ and – more specifically – having to share the wealth that they had amassed (not often through prayer, good works, and a life of exemplary Christian virtue). In the late 19th century, troops of the National Guard (as it was then constituted) or federal troops were sent to put down labor agitation and protect the property of corporations and of the great magnates of the First Gilded Age.

The construction of the National Security State starting in the late 1940s raised the theoretical possibility that the national government would actually deploy the military domestically in order to prevent ‘communist’ agitation among traditionally disaffected groups (workers, ‘negroes’).

Ironically, it was a Republican president, and former five-star general, Dwight Eisenhower, who sent the Army back into the South during the civil-rights struggles of the 1950s, in order to protect the ‘negroes’ from the official depredations of Southern law enforcement bent on maintaining Jim Crow. Cocky Southron cops suddenly lost their swagger and choked on their chaw when faced with armed combat columns deployed in assorted military vehicles that had last seen similar service advancing down the highways and byways of Hitler’s crumbling Germany less than 15 years before. And there in the South those columns were moving down roads that had last seen military action when General Sherman’s army – among others – came marching through, singing their Republic’s battle-hymn.

But Eisenhower’s deployment was made only after it became brutally and consistently clear that local Southern government was – to put it charitably – not up to the task of enforcing the laws that were passed to protect the rights of ‘negroes’ almost a century before, following the South’s not-winning the Civil War. It wasn’t as if the South had been blind-sided by any new-fangled laws suddenly and slyly passed without public attention. A very concrete federal promise to the nation’s black citizens, made 90-plus years before, was finally being fulfilled – and nobody (except perhaps the long-suffering Southern blacks themselves) had any claim to being surprised.

But that was then.

Nowadays, We have some claim – but only some – to being surprised. And not by local government, but by the federal government. As part of its long surrender of its fundamental prerogatives as the core Branch of government, Congress now permits the deployment of troops – although, of course, We shouldn’t worry and should Just Trust Them – or Just Trust the President. That’s worked so well for Us recently. The invasion and occupation of Iraq, the economy, 9/11 itself, the Military Commissions and military law … mah mah mah, a stunnin’ record of resoundin’ success indeed. Lawdy, lawdy.

Now the Southerners have pretty much taken over the military, abetted by their fundamentalist chaplains whose essential theological illumination is that if there’s an American-flag patch on the shoulder than whatever is done is God’s will, and whoever disagrees is an agent of Satan. As if the Divinity spoke His mind as clearly as Goring when he took over the German police: “Henceforth, a bullet fired from a police revolver is to be considered my bullet”. Ach, let us to pray, ja?

Maybe there was nobody else. After 30 or 40 years of the Identities deconstructing any ‘traditional American’ identity common to all of Us, it was only the Southerners who kept any sort of palpable tradition of American identity alive. Of course, that tradition came heavily larded with classic Southern characteristics of small-town small-souledness, Romantic militarism, a tribalistic sentimentality so thick as to mask the violence lurking just beneath, and a fundamentalist religion that urges obedience to the powers that be and that finds a ‘patriotism’ thus encumbered to be its only sacrament. We so need more better options.

But Southern ‘patriotism’ is not the only kind there is. And while We can’t wait another couple-three decades for whatever new ‘patriotism’ was going to eventually be cooked up out of the deconstructed left-overs of Identity-politics, there are models left Us by the Founders, by Mr. Lincoln, by Martin Luther King, among others. And Mr. Eisenhower certainly gave it his best shot, though nothing is perfect. Surely there’s enough there to at least re-start the fire in Our common hearth. When We are cold, We don’t function so well. And even if We are now so poor that We don’t have more than two sticks to rub together, well – the laws of nature holding steady, that should be enough. And “Inshallah” (to respectfully quote a recent public statement of a U.S. military judge) We might experience a communal drawing-together against the darkness such as inspired the earliest generations of Our people.

But getting back to Mr. Kennedy’s support for undoing Posse Comitatus. I worry very much that it betokens more than an instance of political horse-trading or a fit of absence of mind (or character). Rather, it indicates an ominous strategic decision among not a few Democrats (the party that’s supposed to be for ‘democracy’, sorta like the name says): Let the Republicans take the heat now, and then when we’re in the White House and in control of Congress, and people finally wake up to see just how much we’ve screwed up over the decades (because it’s all gonna come out, especially if we can’t fix everything we’ve broke now), and take to the streets, then we can ‘legally’ send in the Marines to save our swag and our seats and somehow keep the party going. Neat. Certainly the type of shrewd two-fer for which Mr. Kennedy is noted. Not much on the Big Picture, or consequences, but then he’s had so little experience with such things. Shrewd tactics have served him well enough all this time.

The National Nanny State, a creature of the ‘left’, although cloaked in ‘sensitivity’ and concern for ‘pain’ is every bit as capable of violence as the National Security State. A bomb dropped in a “humanitarian intervention” kills just as surely as a bomb dropped for the sake of imperial ambitions and “oil”. The children at Waco died just as surely in the flames even though Janet Reno (later) intoned her concern that they were being ‘abused’ and thus she wanted to help; all that can be said about that assertion is that in terms of absolute numbers her ‘rescue’ didn’t kill as many children as a rescue run by the Russians – not exactly setting a high bar.

And back here at home, just how hard is it to imagine that the troops at some point in the not-too-distant future will be deployed against assumed criminals – easy targets like, oh, say, sex offenders. There – who can argue with that? And then with political demonstrators whose ideas are ‘inappropriate’ and perhaps scaring ‘the children’? After all, if soccer-parents these days approve of ‘correct’ teachers gutting fairy-tales to remove evil step-mothers, witches, abandonment, abuse, and death – well, you wouldn’t want ‘the children’ exposed to Thomas Paine on the evening news, would you? Eugene Debs? The Bill of Rights? Why expose them to all that? Better to let the troops take those ‘agitators’ and malcontents away to where the nice folks at KBR have built a special camp for them. It’s being done for the children. After all, we’re decent folk here.

And somehow thus We are back to the troops marching into the South down deceptively sunny roads all those decades ago. Funny how History moves.

They will come for a lot of Us, one fine day. Unless things are stopped now. Unless We stop them. Senator Leahy – and there are others like him – is doing his bit. And fulfilling his sworn responsibility. A ray of light in a gathering gloom from which no ‘New World’ shall come to Our rescue.

We are the New World. The buck stops here. But not the Constitution. Unless We fail.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008


In the current edition of Harper’s (October 2008) Arthur Krystal has a review (pp.81-88) of a book on the 1960s entitled “The Sixties Unplugged” by Gerard DeGroot of Harvard. It isn’t available online yet.

Some thoughts occur to me.

Krystal quotes Casey Hayden and Mary King from 1965: “Sex and caste: There seem to be many parallels that can be drawn between treatment of Negroes and treatment of women in our society as a whole”. Well, sorta not exactly. This was one of the key derailment points of the Sixties where things started going off the track even as they sped up so fast that they probably were never be going to be able to stay on the track.

The feminists got it into their heads that ‘women’ (and as always, when I refer to ‘women’ here I am referring to the not-necessarily existent entity or entities hypothesized and asserted by Second-Wave Feminism – 2WF; I hold no brief against those very real individuals among Our citizens who happen to be not-male) were in pretty much the same position as ‘the negro’ (and among themselves would quietly opine that they were actually in worse shape and had been for several millennia longer, and for a far more fundamental reason than just ‘race’) .

The travails of the ‘negro’ community – including slavery and then the far more insidious post-Reconstruction constructions designed to sustain their continuing oppression – were generally understood to be baad by all Americans except the Southrons. And the impressive efforts of the 1955-1965 civil rights era won over large numbers of Americans of decency and good will. How could they avoid it, with Martin Luther King grounding the entire civil rights movement in the very heart of the American ideal, drawing on Scripture, American theology and religious thought, American history and America’s historical ideals, and the remarkable concatenation that was the Lincolnian sensibility.

Indeed, for many Americans the full scope of the darkness imposed by the South upon Negroes was only brought home in the newsreels and television: police dogs, clubbings, fire hoses, and the peculiarly repugnant chimpery of numerous Southern lawmen of the era combined with American idealism and sense of decency to generate a powerful wave of revulsion, amplified by anger at being hoodwinked: hadn’t this all been settled by the Civil War?

It was when LBJ – already starting to get ahead of the country – made his speech at Howard University in June of ’65 – that certain straws appeared in the wind. The Civil Rights Act (of ’64) and the soon-to-be-signed Voting Rights Act were fine. But they were not enough. After all this time, the ‘negro’ would need to be specifically singled out for government assistance. Part of the problem, he said, was simply the “inherited, gateless poverty” that also entrapped “many whites” as well, and at which education and medical care programs of the Great Society initiative would be aimed. So far so much common sense based on a consensus of observation and analysis. In addition to the actual Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, few were going to begrudge help to prime the pump, as it were.

But then LBJ immediately went on to assert that there was also a “special nature of negro poverty”. Worse, he started to get fuzzy: “We don’t know why this is”, it is “much more difficult to explain, and “negro poverty is not white poverty”. He named it as “the devastating heritage of long years of slavery and a [subsequent] century of oppression, hatred, and injustice”. And immediately, to head off a potentially logical but politically unpalatable line of thought, he insisted that “these differences are not racial differences” but instead “they are solely and simply the consequences of ancient brutality, past injustice, and present prejudice”.

He made sure the whole thing was given the politically correct spin by adding “For the negro they are a constant reminder of oppression. For the white they are a constant reminder of guilt”. Whether he meant Southern whites or all whites, he did not trouble to say.

So the seeds were laid for the end of the first civil rights era, and the beginning of something else indeed. For where the first era had drawn its moral and social legitimacy and strength – including its remarkable power to unite all Americans of decency and goodwill – from a wide common consensus, LBJ’s limning of the (almost entirely new) problem of ‘special negro poverty’ and its fuzzy but forcefully imposed explanation of the causes for it really got ahead of any consensus whatsoever. Indeed, it got ahead of any facts. And then immediately sought to impose a single interpretation on what was in effect an unclearly envisioned problem with even less clearly asserted causes.

And of course, the seeds of what the government would first call – in a huge Freudian slip – “affirmative racism” were sown here. Not only was there no consensus on the shape and causes of the problem of ‘special negro poverty’, but there was a certain shock and no small sense of being hoodwinked: after a long decade of King’s splendid but demanding struggle for civil rights and voting rights, suddenly – just as the long hoped-for victory was going to be achieved – the government asserts that there is a whole other problem, even worse and even larger, just beyond it. [I guess it sounds very similar to the American citizenry’s situation at the end of World War 2 when they suddenly found themselves facing an even larger and reportedly more dangerous enemy than the Nazis and Japanese militarists they had just defeated.]

And of course, this would lead to the fateful solution whereby the ominous control-seeking impositions of the National Security State were now to translate themselves into the civil-rights field, creating the proto-ground for the National Nanny State: because the government’s solution – just when it seemed wise to give the entire country some time and space to start coming to terms in its myriad incarnations of town and city, county and state, with the implementation of the huge changes just enacted – was to impose a top-down “affirmative racism”, a program that itself encompassed all manner of micro-management not only of actions, but of thoughts, opinions and the expression of opinion, and the deployment of the federal criminal enforcement power as well as regulatory power in the service of a particular group. Oy.

Nor did it help that immediately after The Glorious ’65 (which pretty much ended in early July of that year), the ‘negro’ movement itself simultaneously shocked the nation with the Watts riots and then fractured, as Dr. King’s approach of non-violent social justice for all (he started to oppose the war in Vietnam and talk of that ‘social justice’ that in this country had always been painted with a ‘pinko’ brush) was itself overcome by an impatient, cocky, youthy, violent, revolution-minded ‘black power’ mania that sought not a common cause with other Americans but rather a purifiying separation from ‘whitey’ and an immediate and outright ‘piece of the pie’ that had been for so long with-held.

Enter thus 2WF, just starting to hoist whatever sail it could stitch together, sensing that the wind was up and it was now or never. It absorbed not only French ‘deconstructionist’ theory and Marxist analysis and the Leninist revolutionary praxis (plus Nazism’s brilliant propaganda playbook as well as communism’s agitprop); it also sought to have the government do for it what the government was doing for the ‘negro’, while also spackling itself up with the brass-hard dampdreams of the Black Power movement.

And if the ‘method’ was thus hostile not only to the status quo but to a democratic and deliberative communal resolution to the problems, then the actual content and shape of the ‘problems’ that purportedly constituted the ‘emergency’ did not enjoy anywhere near the clear consensus as the public consensus about the situations that had for centuries bethumped ‘the negro’. Historically, the main American concern had been to give women ‘the vote’, and suffrage had already been bestowed (and Prohibition – most unhappily and ominously – had been imposed in short order, as not a few grown-ups in ’65 would have recalled).

But here was a long list of complaints and ‘outrages’ and demands that were hard to wrap the mind around, let alone come up with any workable solutions for. And it seemed that having the citizenry actually try to ‘think’ and ‘deliberate’ about the long lists of stuff was exactly what the 2WF and its enablers did not want to have happen; and Political Correctness was embraced in order to impose the ‘correct’ answers upon the citizenry forthwith; that is how ‘revolutionary’ enlightenment works – as opposed to Enlightenment enlightenment, which requires the individual to think carefully and confer seriously with other thinking individuals.

But the idea that the 2WF’s best move was to model itself and its agenda on the ‘negro’ and ‘civil rights’ model (with some Black Power revolutionary in-your-face stuff thrown in to spice up the stew) had taken hold. And before long, there were two forest fires burning, and burning toward each other. Presided over, alas, by the Democrats who had started out figuring that it would be greatly in their political interests to sort of clear demographic fresh ground with a ‘controlled burn’. Now they had two, before long there would be even more, the ‘burns’ were burning toward each other so as to promise a conflagration, and the average citizen was beginning to wonder if the government really knew just what the frak it was doing.

Before long, numbers of such citizens were hoping that ‘the other Party’ might be able to at least do a less bad job. And so here We are today.

[It is taken for granted that during all of the decades since the Sixties, the American postwar economic pre-eminence is slipping away, the ‘malefactors of great wealth’ and the malefactions of great wealth – once caged by the two Roosevelts – are slipping out of their cages since there is so much brouhaha and everybody is distracted, and before too long hit upon the marvelous treachery of passing off their own increasing enrichment as ‘evidence of economic productivity’, dragooning in the process the hapless politicians, who had no stomach for the political hard-work of actually addressing the shrinking productiveness of the American economy, and who were now becoming dependent on their corporate betters not only for PAC contributions but for any semblance of an American economy at all. The best the pols will manage to do is to try to pass out more frosting to the little people even as the essential cake has rotted away; credit becomes the ‘proof’ of America’s success and wealth, and as the actual vitals of the economy go into late-stage atrophy, even home-ownership has to be showered upon the little people to keep them ‘happy’. I hold no brief for the malefactors or malefactions of great corporate wealth.

But even if all of the corporations were somehow suddenly brought into line by some magical political combination of will and competence, the damage done to The People – especially the intangible damage to mind and heart and soul – whether directly or indirectly – by corporate chicanery and depredation would still exist, independently of its origin

There was indeed an ‘ethos’ to the Sixties (defined as post-’65 and lasting til say ’73, when the Vietnam War’s active phase more or less ended). If there was a youthy lustfulness looking not only to be liberated but to declare itself to be the very definition of ‘freedom’, there was also a youthy impatience at the slowness of ‘the establishment’ (defined as not just the government but anybody ‘over 30’, thus ‘grown-ups’ in general) to accept the ideals and visions of the young and to implement them forthwith – because if an ideal is ‘good’ because we feel it is, man, then it can only have – like - good consequences, right? And anyway, man, worrying about ‘consequences’ is just what old people do to avoid having to change – everybody knows that, right?

The ‘young’ are the most dangerous age cohort, contra the World War 1 insights as to ‘old men’ who sent young men to die; the youngsters actually signed up in their millions at the outset, and got the thing off to its monstrous start, after which nobody could put it out until it had burned through its awefull course. The young are self-assured though inexperienced, impatient of complexity and nuance, and certain that they have a ‘way’ that will get everything set right if older people – who screwed things up to begin with – would just stop trying to thwart them.

There’s a reason why they were valued as ‘infanterie’, the kids who would make the most enthusiastic cannon-fodder when the time came to charge the enemy, and the most implacable and callow killers when the battle-rage was on them. Hell, they were half-crazy before the battle and its rage even started. Experienced special-operations leaders don’t look for teens and early-20-somethings; they’d like less energy and a little more experience, because what’s needed is not lotsa shooting, but sure single-shot shooting. Kids do ‘burst’ better than ‘single shot’. What they do as ‘voters’ is a still insufficiently appreciated ‘unknown unknown’ that you’d think would be at least a ‘known unknown’ – but like so many of Our problems these days, that one will have to await the historians’ post-mortem, I expect.

“Disorder cannot shape historical narrative”, Krystal notes. No, though it can do a hell of a job on events themselves. Deconstruction and revolution – embraced by the Black Power folk and the 2WF, to no small degree – seek Disorder; indeed they require it, in order to pry open some space in the citizenry’s minds and to weaken the ‘established’ narrative by the terms of which the majority of the citizenry understands and evaluates its experiences and its challenges and any change. So ‘disorder’ became an objective, and the ‘establishment’ and ‘whitey’ and ‘men’ were soon to find themselves both tagged and attacked with no regard for ‘facts’ or ‘truth’ – and that became the new meaning of ‘politics’. And here We are.

But ‘disorder’ would then also have to migrate into the individuals’ interior sphere, because that’s where conceptions and judgment are located. So a certain interior Disorder was also the order of the day – so to speak. As if kids needed disorder to be ‘valorized’ on top of the whackery endemic to that stage of life. But that’s what happened.

So on top of the soul-squashing effects of corporate employment and consumerism, Americans were subjected to a ‘planned disorder’ that would render them more amenable to the Identities’ demands and visions. It would also, alas, reduce the citizens’ already frazzled ability to think for themselves and thus to function as The People, the utterly indispensable and vital struts that alone anchored the massive power of the Branches in the constitutional system. Nor can anybody now claim in stab at self-exoneration that such a consequence was unforeseeable; any more than the surge-induced collapse of the New Orleans levees was unforeseeable.

Krystal rightly faults DeGroot (born in 1955, only a young teen in ’68) for claiming that the Sixties were not that “special”. They were very special indeed. They were ‘speshull’ in the sense that the ideals and practices and characteristics of a mature adulthood were replaced by the values of an age not known for or defined by its ripeness and its readiness for primetime (and we’re talking college-students in the Sixties; now it’s high-schoolers – which statement on my part of course must be classified as an ‘age-ist’ if not also an ‘elitist’ assertion, but here I stand and damn the PC torpedoes!).

They were special in that they created the first incarnation of the National Nanny State, which would come to be as order-and-purity obsessed, as impositional and as directive, as the National Security State. Indeed, up until 9-11, vast tracts of damage that the National Security State would have liked to impose but which American tradition would not permit, were imposed by the National Nanny State under the rubric of ‘concern’ for ‘victims’, ‘the children’ and other handy shields that could be manipulated so as to provide a cover for what was really going on: the engorgement of the police power of the state. And as We have seen with both the Violence Against Women and sex-offense legislation, at great cost to the integrity of Constitutional protections and jurisprudential praxis that had been built on them over the course of centuries.

In an ominous by-the-by, Krystal observes that “to some it seemed as if the country was more divided at that moment than at any time since the civil War”. But of course. Because both the Black Power and the 2WF movements had become hugely tainted with actual revolutionary thought and praxis, their dangerous shame only barely covered by so gauzy a fig-leaf as ‘radical democracy’. The fact that gunfire – with only few exceptions, among the Black Power and other such types – was not deployed does not make the movements less dangerous.

In fact, given that they were revolutionary in content and method, the lack of gunfire helped conceal their actual nature from the citizenry; there was a naïve American assumption that if there’s no shooting then democracy is somehow working. But none of the ‘movements’ was looking to participate in a democratic politics; they were looking to get their particular revolutionary visions imposed by the fastest and easiest (and most ‘efficient’) route, and that was surely not by way of engaging The People in deliberation and debate. Krystal is more accurate than he may realize: A second Civil War did indeed start in this country in the 1960s, and while there was no shooting, there was also a far greater semblance to the revolutionary civil wars of 19th and early-20th century Europe and Asia than to the American Civil War.

So who can now be surprised that Our constitutional ethos and Our societal and cultural unity is in shreds? We’ve been in a ‘civil war’ or several (as the Identities increased, creating more fracture-lines) for decades now.

And what then is really holding Us together any longer? Just what can be left of the content of Our common ‘memory’ such that a Lincolnian appeal to its “mystic chords” could have any effect whatsoever? Try to answer that one.

Consequently, Krystal is spot on when he notes that 9-11 was a single, almost simple, event, compared to “the assault on the senses” that was sustained throughout the Sixties. There was in the actual late-‘60s “one gut-wrenching event after another, one crescendo hardly dying down before another began to build”. These were the birth-bangs of the Identities, and each one arrived with a scream of outrage, a list of ‘oppressions’, a designated enemy, and a list of demands – on top of an implicit or explicit accusation of bad faith thrown at American polity, American culture, and American society.

Some of the outrages – such as the jaw-dropping consistency of the treachery and bloody violence deployed against the Indians – were accurate enough; other such lists were not, and their issuing Identity sought to mask its conceptual weakness with loud and immediate squalls that would preclude any rational assessment whatsoever. It was by then ‘how the game was played’; and ‘the game’ had now become a Fact On The Ground. So ‘just deal with it, dude’ and ‘get over it’. Hitler, once established, wished the same fond thought upon the German volk, not all of whom quickly accepted his visions and demands; they say several of the Supreme Justices, Scalia especially, just wish We would ‘get over’ Bush v. Gore. Yah.

But Krystal uses the right word: “assault”. It was a purposeful and deliberate violence – although emotional and political rather than physical and military – deployed in the service of an objective and as part of a strategy.

And it was indeed deployed against the ‘senses’. ‘Common sense’, especially. It became one of the ‘holy water’ words (phrases, actually) that could stop any demanded ‘agenda’ in its tracks; hence – have you ever watched the 1985 movie “Fright Night”? – the vampire took great care to make sure that all ‘holy water’ was gotten rid of before serious vampiring was begun. The trusting citizens – too decent and too socialized to imagine that any creatures would actually seek to destroy their world – get rid of the ‘holy water’ as a gesture of politeness to the vampire’s ‘sensibilities’. See where that got them. But then, who in their right mind in America of 1966 would have imagined that revolutionary praxis and persons utterly dedicated to an identity other than being ‘American’ would actually enter the national forum and seek to overthrow everything by means of purposeful conceptual and societal and personal destabilization and imposed alterations to long-established tradition (rather than through the more obvious force-and-violence)?

And now that some practitioners are urging that We ‘get over the past’ (and accept what’s been done) and just ‘move on’ into broader and sunnier uplands … well what say We to that seduction? That some would say that good ideals or at least good intentions were co-opted … well, I for one am not sure that the ‘ideals’ were so ‘good’. But even if they were, the implementations demanded were clearly fraught with consequences, yet they just went on and brayed and bawled until the Dems and then the Republicans too tried to shut them up while making or at least not-losing as much political capital as possible. Sorta like the current Wall Street catastrophe, by curious coincidence.

Krystal notes that “The Sixties may be gone, but they’ve left a bad taste: identity politics, political correctness, the collapse of the nuclear family, a perversion of sexual mores, a decline in civility and disrespect for the law”. I’d say he’s wayyyy too nice, understating the effects (and consequences) of the foregoing as merely ‘a bad taste’ in Our mouth. We have been – as a society and as The People – pretty much ‘deconstructed’, and it was deliberately done to Us (and We let it happen). That the ones who started the forest fire had only intended to clear themselves a better patch and maybe make Us ‘better’ at the same time – that’s not hardly enough of a justification. No wonder the politically correct don’t want Us watching Western movies any more; there was a way of dealing with this sort of thing in the Western movie; and the best you’d get out of the townsfolk was a good meal the night before they hoisted you up the flagpole.

Kyrstal himself puts the beginning of ‘the Sixties’ at August, 1964, with the passage of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, that authorized LBJ to wage what would become the Vietnam War. From what is finally now known about that ‘attack’ on US Navy destroyers from declassified materials, it’s clear that there was huge doubt –even then – if anything even happened at all; not even the destroyer commanders were sure that they were firing at anything out in the dark night (although specifically tasked with electronic intelligence missions, their radars were not altogether operational, if you can imagine that), and the jet pilots sent to aid them weren’t sure they saw anything out there beyond the destroyers themselves, but fired off some rounds just to let the float-boys know they were sympathetic to the problem.

But Johnson needed ‘an attack’ and he browbeat and manipulated and selectively accepted just the details that would give him his ‘attack’ (he would do just the reverse when another Navy ship, the USS Liberty, was attacked repeatedly by Israeli jets and ships in June ’67 in broad daylight over the course of hours, while flying an American flag more than a dozen feet long in a stiff breeze). Reading the Tonkin thing, and seeing that a President can also make it work in reverse – that’s how much power he can exercise over the military and intelligence services in the short run – it’s hard not to wonder if Bush and his darkling band didn’t do the same thing in regard to the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, using LBJ’s slick moves as their guide.

Some thought is given as to just what happened to the generation of the Sixties – now in their sixties – that helped cause all this.

The Western movies and TV shows come in for accusation. In their vivid restatement of (or fantasies about) the American “myth of national origin”, “dominated by violence and personal freedom, male aggressiveness and daring, geographical mobility and restlessness” was a model for Boomers as kids to later stand up for ‘justice’. And there’s something to that. Although having accepted what was in essence a ‘revolutionary’ definition of justice, then the Boomers stood the old West on its head and became not so much cowboys as cadres. Ach, the hell-hot ironies. But they meant well.

Some of the blame lies with otherwise acute social criticism that saw the dangers of the 1950s’ conformity (which I’d say stemmed as much from lots of military experience and a general relief that the war was over as much as from a bowing to the pressures of corporate employment and group belonging). But the criticism, while acute, was feckless in its proposed solutions: where ‘conformity’ was bad, ‘insubordination’ was good and led to ‘freedom’; where too much “Enlightenment” emphasis on rationality was suffocating emotions, an embrace of emotions and passions and even primality were the path to ‘liberation’ (the current-day philosopher Susan Neiman makes a good case that the Enlightenment actually had such a respect for the fragility of ‘reason’ and ‘reasonableness’ in the human being, that it urged the highest levels of humility and circumspection before deciding that one ‘knew’ something with complete accuracy).

The problem with so much of the social critique was that its conception of the Life Space was insufficient, and so its proposed remedies were thus greatly weakened from the get-go. Human beings interiorly possess a capacity for growing, a Verticality if you will. And they seem most consistently (stubbornly, if you wish) to believe in some sort of Beyond, a dimension beyond this dimension. Thus in addition to the Life Space of the Horizontal, of the Surface and the Appearance, and of the Exterior, there is an axis of Verticality and Interiority, and quite possibly a Beyond. Hence, to presume only the Flat world of the Horizontal, of the Surface and the Appearance, and of the Exterior is to wage ocean war with an 18th century conception of the Battle-Space: only horizontally around your vessel, and to a range of a few hundred yards. Below you, above you, out to a distance of hundreds of miles, utilizing radio and radar and sonar, and all at the speed of computers … well, you see the problem with relying on an outmoded conception of the Life/Battle-Space when trying to achieve something. Or recommend a course of action or solution to somebody in rather pressing need of a good one.

But things are wrapped up with the observation that the Sixties are over now, “except, that is, for the political and cultural residue they’ve left behind”. And from what I’ve noted above, that’s a hell of a lot of ‘residue’. And it’s not just lying on top of the surface of the national pool, like so much inert scum, waiting for the national pool-boy to scoop it away so the party can start in earnest. It’s now a toxic brew of corrosive elements interacting with each other in the water itself, waiting to go to work on whatever goes into the water. “Welcome to fright night, for real” the vampire snidely joked, as he unsheathed his choppers and wagged them at the now-trapped guests. Our only hope is faith and holy water, but We’ve been nice enough to forego those so as not to re-traumatize anybody with delicate, if loudly asserted, sensibilities.

Will this be the end? Who will tune in again next week to see?

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Monday, September 22, 2008


I’ve had an interesting weekend, and it’s brought up assorted thoughts.

Walls block things. But they also hold stuff up. Some walls are more or less decorative; you can take them out or punch holes in them if you need to or you want to. But other walls are carrying walls: they can’t be taken out or have holes punched in them because their structural integrity is what holds the building up. Or if you’re on a ship: when you say you think you’d like more room in this compartment, so we have to take this ‘wall’ out, and somebody suggests that this bulkhead is part of the watertight compartmentalization, then you’re best advised to work around it rather than punch through it. Otherwise, there’s no telling what will happen; or – rather – if you spring a leak or hit an iceberg, water will go where it’s supposed to be stopped from going, and your last condition will surely be worse than the first. And if you try to get your way by hiring an expert analyst who produces a graph and a paragraph or ten demonstrating that if everybody simply chooses to believe that the watertight integrity won’t be harmed, then everything will be well … well, that’s not going to work with watertight integrity. Some things on the planet just aren’t a matter of opinion, no matter how enlightened it considers itself to be.

We are currently seeing a variation on Hannah Arendt’s ‘banality of evil’. It’s the ‘banality of treachery’. Congress has been backing off its responsibilities for decades now. There are no purposely evil congresspersons, or relatively few of them anyway. They’re ingratiating, smile a lot, and – up until recently – would kiss any baby within range. Unable to keep all of Our Identities happy, they figured they’d just humor them with whatever laws would keep them from showing up outside the office door with cameras and handkerchiefs; meantime, the honorables would give up on trying to make it on a salary and the myriad small donations of lot of little people (who could mostly never be kept happy enough to cough up a few bucks for the re-election campaign). Instead, they’d sell themselves to the highest bidder, accepting perks and PAC contributions in exchange for legislation that will make the little people littler and the rich people richer.

But once the rest of the world recovered from World War 2 or started to really imitate American manufacturing – around the late ‘60s and early ‘70s – then what this country really needed was some serious spackling up so that it could buckle down to the job of keeping itself productive and solvent. But that would have been a lot of work – telling folks that they had to buckle down and spackle themselves up and keep their lives in order. Chances were nobody would get re-elected, and that wouldn’t be any democracy worth living, the pols figured. So they just kept trying to pass out gravy, enough to keep the little people happy anyway, while the rich got richer and kept contributing to PACs rather than pay any taxes, and the sands of Time kept running out. Until they finally stopped running out. And that’s where We are now.

But although there were a few chimps in Congress, and some genuinely nasty folks, most of the Congresspersons were nice enough. Just not really up to biting bullets – although they thought that selling the things, or spraying them around the planet, was not a bad business – especially since the military was one of the few ‘industries’ they had kept up. So bullets became Our only remaining industry. And bombs – which are just awesomely bigger bullets. More bang for the buck.

And as a neat twofer, the bullets could be used to get a hold of neat stuff that We would need to stay on top of the heap without actually producing anything of Our own. Thus the party could roll on and the nice incumbents could stay in the big house on the Hill. Where usually – the Beatles said – fools dwelled. Although in the Beatles’ vision, the fools could see the world going ‘round. And that appears not to be the case on Our Hill.

No funny moustaches, no thousand-flag rallies, no strutting chimpery in medal-bedizened uniforms, no screaming into microphones at volk and foe alike. Just nice folks who used to kiss babies and now heard all pain and sympathized enough to keep battalions of cameras happy. But then the rallies and the medals and the screaming came anyway. And the bullets. And the bombs.

Stuff happens. If the voters aren’t thinking anymore, then why should their representatives? Let’s be reasonable. Or, at least, let’s be nice. And sympathetic. Respect is a guy thing; sympathy is what makes the world go round. Nobody who hears and feels pain can really be bad. And nice people can’t do bad things. The Bible says they can, but really – no matter what folks say – how many can really live by the Bible? Better to say it’s a private matter, although just how much privacy a sensitive state can allow is a good question: a lot of un-sympathy can hide in the penumbras of privacy. That’s got to be policed.

So the rule of law and the rights of citizens and the shapes and structures of Constitutional order and a society and a culture built on some sense of order, and the economy, and the promises economical and political that sort of make up the American social contract … all went by the board. But not with any evil intentions. The whole thing slid out from under Us. We lost it in a fit of absence of mind. Or character. Or soul.

The generation of the Boomers was raised on TV. Since watching TV doesn’t require the complex activity of reading from the printed page, then a generation grew up having developed less and less of those remarkable parts of the brain that distinguish humans from the rest of the mammals. And from plants and rocks. Now there are generations growing up that read even less, and spend huge amounts of time with electronic gadgets stuck to their ears, gadgets that radiate – well, radiation – and that starts to have an effect on their brains. On top of the fact that they aren’t reading so much, and certainly not out of books, but rather with their eyes glued to electronic screens – that also radiate. On top of being young, these generations will approach adulthood – and voting age well before the adulthood – with their brains both underdeveloped and irradiated. They might have been better off with more sugar and junk food instead. Although, many of them are having their radiation and their cake as well.

Men are being prosecuted for sex crimes in record numbers. Often times, the alleged victim is not required to undergo inquiry because that would be an ‘insult’ and would ‘revictimize’ somebody who’s already been victimized once, allegedly. Imagine trying auto accident cases like that: one driver, if from a certain class or type, cannot be investigated because that would cause more ‘pain’ on top of the ‘trauma’ of the accident. The other driver, however, is presumed to be guilty and if he says otherwise, why that just proves he’s not only guilty but morally turpitudinous. How can you run a court system like that and expect it to be respected? And expect it to find the truth? He is also presumed to suffer no pain or trauma from the accident; so Superman is real after all. But will he help Us in Our present difficulties?

The Congressfolk apparently never watched vampire movies. You can’t just invite a vampire into the house and then expect to keep it confined in the living room. Once you’ve let the thing in, then there’s no telling where it will go and what it will do in your house. Or to anybody it finds in the house. You can’t make bad law to keep some of your voters or contributors happy, and expect that it won’t have some sort of virulent bad consequences here, there, and everywhere sooner or later. Bad consequences; just because you didn’t think of them, that doesn’t mean they won’t come. And they’ll probably bring in more of their kind to liven up the party – that’s what demons and vampires do. It’s in the Bible. About the demons, anyway.

The 1958 Ford, I saw one on the road over the weekend. I thought: it’s fifty years old now. When it was new, it looked so completely different from the 1908 Ford of fifty years before that, so completely different that the two vehicles looked like they came from different planets. And in ’58, they figured that by 2008 – and probably well before – the cars would fly. And float, if you wanted to order one like that. But the 2008 Ford doesn’t look so much different from the 1958 Ford. Not anywhere near as much difference as between the 1908 and the 1958. We haven’t just lost productive capability. We’ve lost creative capacity. We don’t create things any more – except for arcane financial ‘instruments’ and preventive wars that don’t work, for Us anyway. We’re like a beached whale: now the very weight of the massive body will crush it; it will crush itself to death. Even before it dries out. Corporate managers aren’t creative; they’re paid to be predictable and organized and to keep things moving efficiently. That’s not creativity. That’s not inspiration – and you’re not going to go too far up the ladder if they think you can get ‘inspired’. That makes you unpredictable. And unreliable. You must be predictable and knowable, totally so. ‘Mystery’ isn’t what managers like to run into. They run from it. They’re paid to. They’re trained to. They pull out any other wiring in themselves that would threaten that predictability. There are terrible forms of self-abuse. Terrible forms of self-treason. No wonder there’s so much treachery among Us. It’s in the air. But like air, so gentle and hardly noticeable, except in a breeze. Or in a hurricane. Or a tornado. And there are more of those now.

On any Saturday when the weather is decent, I like to take a walk in one of the park-like old cemeteries nearby. Graves going back 150 or 200 years. I take a player full of Civil War tunes; the cd with the soundtrack of Ken Burns’s Civil War documentary is especially good. And there are lots of Civil War graves: youngsters in their 20s, many of them: “Wounded Antietam in Maryland September 1862; Died Washington, D.C., December 1862. Age 20yrs”. I play the music and think of them. Pray for them, even. I think they hear it. Straighten the Memorial Day flag on the grave if it’s leaning over; they do now, this time of year. “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” … it came to me that you don’t hear that song much any more. Not in public. Not in parades or in public places. Not like you used to. But imagine the trouble you’d get into; try to count how many possible feathers you’d ruffle: African-American concerns that you’re making fun of slavery; Native American concerns that cavalry songs make light of their ancestral travails; newer immigrant concerns that it isn’t ‘their’ history; Southern concerns that you’re mocking them for losing the Civil War or for seceding in the first place; women’s concerns that Johnny is a male; ‘proper’ parents’ concerns that it’s ‘inappropriate’ to let children think about war and death and treachery and mystery (which is why they’ve clipped up fairy tales so that Snow White is just a nice girl who was taking a nap one afternoon and a hot dude with a great suit kissed her and woke her up – but they didn’t go out for mojitos) … sweet pumpkin pie, We could use some good music about now. Music that We can all get together with. Just what is holding Us together any more? Don’t say the almighty dollar.

What will We be able to bear – a country whose younger citizens aren’t aware of war or death or treachery or mystery? Will they grow up and suddenly master it all by osmosis? The Royal Navy had youngsters aboard early so that they’d grow up with the sea and with ships, so that they’d master them early. And be ready for the inevitable challenges. Where do 20-something slackers and 30-something adolescents come from? What makes them? A too-long-delayed encounter with the serious job of facing the seriousness of life seriously. And adults who conspire to shield them until they’ll never be able to catch up. Can you develop a self in the absence of encounters with the serious? The treacherous? The mysterious? The Ultimate? In their absence, just what will develop in there behind those still-bright eyes? What will not develop?

The sands of Time are running out all over the country. The lamps are going out all over the country. Let us be wise virgins. As best We can manage it.

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Friday, September 19, 2008


I mentioned in a Comment Response to a recent Post several points that I think are important enough to say again here:

My concern however is not ‘feminism’ per se. It is the Second-Wave feminism because it was during the era of that Wave’s influence that most of the media imagery was set and the legislative ‘gains’ were registered and set into law. And it is precisely therein that one finds deeply troubling concepts and assertions. Yes, many of those ‘thinkers’ are now past their prime and their thoughts have either been countered or watered down, either from within the movement or from outside it, or shrewdly allowed to fall into the abyss; but those were the folks whose agendas or thoughts created problems for which Our present troubles seem in many ways to be but consequences of what constituted the Second Wave’s ‘vision’ and political program.

Whether the Democrats and the other politicians in general intended to support those visions or only sought to placate a desperately-embraced voter demographic; whether the Democrats and the other politicians actually realized the extent of those conceptual underpinnings or had given any real thought to the consequences that might play out; whether the Democrats and the other politicians were the willing or only the captive enablers of these agendas; whether the Democrats and the other politicians breezily thought they could ‘handle’ the feminists or whether instead they felt themselves at some point in the gut-thudding position of those who had ‘hired’ Hitler only to find out very soon that they were now inescapably caught in a web; whether the Democrats and the other politicians ‘failed’ in their legislative and regulatory imposition of the feminist visions of the Second Wave either because they were heroically trying to limit the damage to the common weal or because they realized they had created for themselves an inchoate but profoundly deep hostility among other voters among the citizenry and thus started trying to hedge their bets … these are all valid and fascinating questions for deep research. I imagine that one day historians will build entire careers trying to answer them.

But I don’t think it can be denied that the visions enunciated by many of the most well-known of the Second Wave, not necessarily the most balanced but the most vivid, were a tremendously significant element in the atmosphere that fueled some of the largest legislative initiatives and that set the lineaments of the ‘script’ that the mainstream media (that was pretty much the only ‘media’ there was at the time) adopted and pretty much continue to use up to this day, amplifying it and disseminating it through Our popular culture as well as supporting the changes to Our political and legal structures themselves.

And to the extent that those changes are still with Us – enshrined in law or regulation or jurispraxis, accepted without opportunity for examination or dissent by generations fearful of losing their jobs or by generations raised on television shows and films – then to that extent the Second Wave, as past its prime and mastodon-ish as it is seen even by younger generations of women, is still something We have to reckon with.

So, a few of the main points and themes:

1) Liberalism itself was seen as ‘masculine’, and thus hopelessly compromised and incapable of forming the conceptual vehicle for the vision. Since the equal-rights of women had been largely rejected and unsupported by Liberalism through its refusal to allow the state into the private lives of the individual citizen and of the family, then Liberalism was an unfit vessel and was indeed ‘part of the problem’.

2) Since democracy in the United States had been inextricably intertwined with Liberalism and with the bourgeois-capitalist [yes, the analysis does sound kind of Marxist] repression of women necessary to keep the system going, then ‘democracy’ as it usually understood was also unacceptable.

3) And certainly, since women’s rights were taken as a given, and since they had been ignored or actively repressed for so long, then this constituted an ‘emergency’ that required immediate action, and thus a democratic deliberation or consensus among the citizenry was far too slow a process upon which to rely. And since the entire ‘game’ was rigged in favor of men anyway, then the results of any such deliberation could not be accepted as binding [the presumption apparently being that a nation-wide public deliberation – either through hostility, inertia, or simple skepticism or doubt as to the scope, depth, or speed of the changes demanded by the vision – would not accept the vastness of the changes deemed necessary].

4) The alternative to Liberalism must be a ‘radical democratic politics’ [although there is no clear explanation as to how a ‘radical democracy’ differs from the imposition of a vision upon the citizenry by a vanguard elite that considers itself the only true and competent bearer and definer of the vision].

5) The basic unit of society is not the Individual nor the Family but rather the Identity, especially as formed by gender, considered to be the ur-category of Identity. [It is unclear how this assertion can be squared with American society and polity. It seems very clear just from the assertion itself that any commonality, any shared sense of unity, among the citizenry, will suffer from the raising up of Identity as the prime category. And this is true when considering only one Identity; in a situation – and it did rapidly develop – where there are multiple Identities, based on race or sexual orientation or degree of physical integrity or victimhood, then the bonds of unity among the citizenry, among The People, are further compromised. To bind all Identities together under one or another conceptual rubric – minority status or victimized status are two currently deployed – is not going to nullify the profound danger of communal dissolution. And would you care to have a go at imagining what it might mean to enjoy a “post-individualist freedom”? Or what it will mean to live in a “post-liberal democracy”? In this regard, I would paraphrase a Russian bon-mot: 'Radical democracy' is to 'democracy' as 'electric chair' is to 'chair'. Ah brave new world!]

6) Identity is constituted by an injury perpetrated upon one’s group. That injury has a perpetrator, and the protection from that ‘perpetrator’ and the punishment of that ‘perpetrator’ are the defining purposes of all members of the Identity. [This is a highly negative mode of grounding one’s identity, one’s purpose and sense of fulfillment in life. It is actually reactive rather than self-initiating or self-sustaining, and thus effectively keeps the Identity dependent upon those by whom it feels threatened. Thus, an insoluble problem is constituted at the core of any social dynamics between the Identity and the rest of the host society . There is also the almost inescapable possibility that motivations of Ressentiment and Revenge will permeate the entire society, as the Identity seeks redress for ever-expanding injury, and the legal system will become deformed under the pressure to demonstrate that it is sympathetic to this theoretically insatiable demand for punishment so as to achieve ‘closure’ – sound familiar?]

7) In light of (6), Security is more important than Freedom. If the Identity is not secure or does not feel secure, then it cannot exercise its Freedom and remains oppressed. [The valuing of Security – and especially a state-enforced security – over Freedom sparked the valorization of victimhood and the Victimist Identity, a still unchecked fire that demands an ever-expanding intrusion of the government police power even into the center of the Family and the home, areas heretofore considered as beyond the bounds of government police intrusion. And the erection of ever more clearly ‘tagged’ ‘enemies’ whose exclusion from society will theoretically somehow lead to more ‘safety’ and ‘security’; a fire that then leaped from US domestic affairs to foreign affairs, with increasingly unavoidable disastrous consequences.]

8) Liberty itself can only be defined as an absence of impositions and the license to do whatever one feels best for oneself and one’s interests. No constraints or limits can be imposed by any outside force or pressure. This however, only holds true for the members of one’s Identity; the oppressors and perpetrators of one’s Identity must of course be deprived of liberty since they have proven themselves, by nature, oppressors and perpetrators and have forfeited the right to liberty. [Weirdly, this sounds very similar to the Fundamentalist declaration of a person or group as being ‘evil’ and therefore beyond the pale of civic legal rights and membership. Such a double ‘support’ may explain the recent stunningly easy career of prison-expansion and incarceration in this ‘land of the free’, as well as Our catastrophically unhappy invasions in the Middle East. The definition also poses profound problems for any process of maturing, since the shaping value of limits and the trellis-ing value of structure, and the inevitability of encountering limits, is essential to any maturity capable of sustaining an individual intrapersonally or interpersonally or societally. ]

9) Since harm has been done to the Identity by the male oppressors – which justifies their being prosecuted by the police power of the state [which is already compromised in essence by being ‘masculine’ and a running-dog lackey of masculinism – go figure] then there can be no ‘privacy’ because within any such domain of privacy the male can oppress the female. [Thus, the guarantees of certain Amendments in the Bill of Rights are simply power-plays to maintain the subjection and oppression, and are thus – in the eyes of the Identity – illegitimate. And is there any wonder where Bush and his darkling band of history-makers got the idea that they could get away with pooh-poohing the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? The ‘left’ attacked those fundamental principles before the ‘right’, and that second attack was only after the floodgates had been knocked awry in the service of the security of Identity.]

10) Since the male oppresses in all domains of life, then the ‘political’ is no longer confined to the arena of public affairs; rather all of the areas or domains of one’s life are now to be governed by ‘the political’. [This plays hell with such historic and vitally nourishing non-political affiliations as the personal, the interpersonal, the social, the religious, the communal – even the patriotic – and their respective domains. The spiritual, of course, has already taken a beating from traditional American materialism and consumerism. And so much of this sounds so eerily Soviet or Maoist, like communist indoctrination; and as with those movements, the ‘cause’ rapidly expanded to engulf individual lives as well as societies and cultures.]

I would add a couple of other consequences, some of which are mentioned by Wendy Brown in her 1995 book of essays “States of Injury” (We recall 1995 as the year after the Violence Against Women legislation and the year before the sex-offense mania started up). Hers is a handy compendium of Second Wave thought, mostly readable although the going can get tough when she is quoting from thinkers who took large cues from Marxist thought or Leninist praxis or when she lets herself go and simply starts speaking in the hugely compressed and freighted lingo of pomo philosophy and thought.

There is a sense of dislocation, of human beings unable to ‘place’ themselves in the world, in life, in any wider or deeper context of meaning and purpose. Since ‘abstractions’ can easily mask ideological ‘justifications’ and ‘structures’ of oppression – however defined – and distract attention from the here-and-now political realm which is the only site of revolutionary corrective action, then ‘abstractions’ must be done away with. But this creates a hugely Flattened world, a world with no ‘ideals’ and – worse – no Beyond, whence cometh – in actuality or only in belief – much Help and even Companionship and Support.

In this sense, I think, Identity-ism, of which this Second Wave feminism is the first large American variant, actually shrinks the domain of meaning for Us, even as it purports to extend the realm of ‘freedom’, which is defined negatively as a freedom from oppression and defined positively as do-what-you-like-and-accept-no-constraints. And when I say Us I am not referring to simply ‘males’ or simply any non-members of this or that Identity. The same crushing – oppressing – effect is laid upon members of the Identity (or: Identities). This is a recipe for maturational, cultural, spiritual, and moral disaster.

There is no appreciation of the redemptive – even in the psychological or emotional sense – power of suffering. All suffering is ‘oppression’ or ‘injury’, the oppressor or perpetrator must be found and punished, and thus ‘closure’ will be found – sooner or later. But especially in light of the Flatness of Identity-ism’s ‘world’, and the lack of any Beyond that would act as Judge as well as Comforter and Sustainer, then I think it becomes clear why Our experience with Identity-ism and Victimism have proven such acid (and ultimately corrosive) experiences in prosecution and imprisonment: there is no Beyond where ‘justice’ will be done, so it all has to be done here, and before anybody ‘gets away’.

This explains the profoundly disturbing sentiment voiced by more than one ‘victim’ upon discovering that an alleged perpetrator has ‘died and gotten away’; or the sentiment voiced after an execution that the perpetrator has now ‘escaped’(and thus there will be no ‘closure’, especially if that ‘closure’ involves the ‘satisfaction’ of seeing the perpetrator suffer). And these are comments voiced by persons who would probably describe themselves without hesitation as ‘God-fearing’ and ‘believers’.

You might wonder how folks such as these think they are going to be treated by Justice for their own transgressions – there is that messy but ominous observation about the measure you measure with being measured unto you – but since there is no Beyond or any Justice in Identity-ism’s concept of the battle-space, then they probably haven’t factored it in. No wonder it was so easy for Us to go to war in the Middle East without a serious and accurate assessment of the battle-space.

And it sows the seeds for political disaster as well. Two of them, actually. First, because there is in human beings a deep-seated need for connection to some sort of Beyond. This need has been so strong and so consistent throughout human history that even the ancients thought it was not only a social or psychological (such as they had it back then) datum but actually indicated the nature of this reality and of that Other reality and even constituted evidence of some sort of Beyond. Yes, along came Marx and Freud and a host of others (not so much Darwin at all) who tried to Flatten the immaterial into the material in the name of a materially-bound science (and they called it 'progress'); but except among the trend-susceptible, this hasn't really worked. Thus, any 'movement', 'cause', or 'revolution' that seeks to abolish - even with force and violence (even with 'good' intentions) - or otherwise ignores this profound human characteristic is going to ultimately fail in its objective.

Secondly, any political regime that seeks to achieve this - directly or through its support of a materialism - is going to piss off a lot of folks. And those folks are going to reject it - directly or subtly - simply primarily because they sense and reject its Flatness and its assault on their need for the Beyond. If you climb onto a whale's back and stick your arm down so as to block its blowhole, then it will react negatively forthwith - not because it rejects you specifically, but because it senses a threat to its very life. Even the commies learned that.

And like all materialisms, Identity-ism (and its offspring Victimism) disenchant the world. We are left with a world not only Flattened but devoid of any sense of mystery or of any sense of a Beyond that can raise Us up out of the Flatness and the greyness. We are all Ninotchka, only not so good-looking.

As if industrial and post-industrial life, and the unending tug of consumerism, aren’t bad enough.
And like them, Identity-ism and Victimism too promise a liberation. But it is a freedom merely to slide further and faster along the hard and slippery surfaces of life, like ice skaters going downhill and not sure how to stop, or fat globules along the surface of a hot skillet. This is living? This is what a human life is all about?

This is enough to sustain a democratic politics? The Republic? The People? Can persons thus hobbled ever function as The People? If they can’t, then the rest of Our arrangements – the Constitution, the Branches , the Bill of Rights – will start to slide and twist into deformity.

And if We are hugely lessened, then Our government will be too. The Framers didn’t build Us a church. They built Us a system of government, a machine that needed to be tended, a ship that still needed to be crewed (as well as captained).

As the world has become more complex, as the structures of American society have become more complex, then We don’t first and foremost need more government. We need more of The People. Because if those struts are not capable of holding their position, then a larger ferris wheel and a larger motor are simply going to be a larger catastrophe waiting to happen.

Things have gotten so bad now that it doesn’t look like American politics is going to ever be able to let another Washington or Lincoln rise up, even though there are probably more than a few somewhere around here. So We are going to have to pull Ourselves up and pull Ourselves together.

We must live together or We shall surely all perish separately.

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