Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I’m Posting on this book for two reasons. First, it makes a great deal of sense to me and helps explain what has been going on down below the level of appearances in the country for the past several decades. Second, it was published in 1995, so We now have a chance to not only read the ideas but actually compare them to what has happened over the past 14 years.

Lind’s primary subject here is Multiculturalism. And he is acute in his definition: it is the assumption that there is no ‘America’, certainly no ‘American’ culture, but rather a collection of distinct racial Identities. Further, that these ‘races’ (I have always called them Identities, thereby including not only the group itself, but its informal but influential leadership and its ‘advocates’ and the political clout that they wield in the Beltway; I’ll use the two terms interchangeably here) must precisely not assimilate into the aforesaid ‘American culture’ but rather must retain their ‘uniqueness’ and ‘difference’ – which is the ground rule of Identity Politics.

You don’t have to think too hard to realize that this is not the garden-variety, happy-face ‘multiculturalism’ of the mainstream media (MSM) and the academies. This is a philosophy (so to speak) that is hell and gone from the traditional American approach of the ‘melting pot’, of immigrants coming to this land, adapting to it, blending their own experiences and culture and skills into it, to create a remarkable new alloy that has been called ‘America’.

It wasn’t always this way. And in the beginning it was definitely designed not to be this way. In the early 1960s, under the leadership of black leaders such as Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King, and LBJ himself (as Vice-President and then as President) the idea was that the formal obstructions to black Americans’ individual advancement would be strongly and quickly removed, thereby finally clearing away the official hurdles that the government had put in their way for centuries.

In consequence, it was expected, black Americans could ‘get on the highway’ of the American Dream and show their stuff, in a single sweep thereby achieving a better place and demonstrating their capabilities so long repressed or ignored, and thus strengthening themselves as their contributions strengthened the country and the nation.

That was the expectation, and it seemed – very reasonably – much more than a ‘dream’; rather it was a very probable future, guaranteed to bear fruit as surely as a farmer’s planting would yield a useful crop.

But it was not to be.

As early as 1963 the influential black thinker Whitney Young was talking about “ten years” of government racial preference. It was a bad idea, retorted LBJ; it would condemn the black American to a permanent minority status in the most profound and devastating way, by removing both the opportunity to prove himself to himself and also to the rest of the population. Worse, said Daniel Patrick Moynihan, once you set up a precedent like that it would be almost impossible to stop it – entitlements, as they would come to be called, were extremely hard to end once folks had gotten used to them.

But within the government bureaucracy – especially in the new Executive Office of Economic Opportunity (EEOC) whose predecessor was set up by President Kennedy – the thought of race-based preferences was already gathering steam. There would be quotas and racial labeling, enforced by the government – all in this good and great cause. It would be called “affirmative action” – although whether the planned ‘action’ would actually be a good idea was not opened to wide public discussion. After all, folks had suffered too much and too long for any further ‘delay’, including the ‘slow’ processes of democratic politics and civic deliberation – which, neatly, were suddenly declared to only further ‘victimize’ the ‘oppressed’. It was, then, an ‘emergency’ – and all in a good cause (how familiar that trope has become, in domestic and – oy! – foreign affairs).

Throughout the mid-Sixties the different approaches vied for position. Rustin and Randolph looked to a “color-blind, social-democratic liberalism”, one that would espouse opportunity for all and both fulfill the promises of the Civil War and extend to black Americans the benefits of the New Deal.

In the event, there would develop entrenched interests – black as well as white – that derived their sustenance from vastly-organized and highly-funded preference schemes: persons of influence, corporate interests, and political alliances would create an “iron triangle” of vested interest similar to the ominous “military-industrial complex” that had already been pointed out by President Eisenhower in his final address to the nation in January of 1961. And did We really want to raise up another one of those?

But in 1970 the EEOC Administrator, Alfred Blumrosen, decided that “discrimination” would include “disparity”, simplifying far too crudely the careful as well as cautious wording of Congress in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964*. Thus, the elimination of racism would not rely on the efforts of the citizenry and the government working together, but rather would simply be a matter of counting heads and insuring the correct ‘results’ were achieved (so eerily similar to the Vietnam War ‘body count’ strategy of the Pentagon).

And straightaway, in the 1971 Griggs case, as Ronald Dworkin observes, the Supreme Court held that “employment and promotion tests are illegal if their effect is to the disadvantage of any race and they are not necessary to a business purpose, even if the employer had not intended that result” [italics mine]. So you could now fall afoul of the preference schemes even if you didn’t intend to. Meaning-well and trying to get the job done was no longer enough to justify your actions – a principle, however, not applicable to the assorted schemes that the Beltway in all its Branches was coming up with. (Sort of the same excuse proffered for the backers of the Iraq War, by amazing coincidence).

And by the mid-1970s ‘multiculturalism’ as an actual philosophy of the nation had been raised up. America would no longer be a ‘melting pot’ but rather a “mosaic” or a “salad” – each distinct piece bringing its own bit to the overall mix, but – like onions, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, and celery – each retaining its own unchangeable and separate identity and ‘flavor’.

Quietly but with iron effect, in 1977 the Office of Management and Budget bureaucracy issued Statistical Directive 15. Throughout the decade the government had been trying to figure out a way to determine ‘race’, upon which the working of the entire quota and preference apparatus depended. The OMB solution, finally, was to issue a decree: henceforth, Americans would be officially divided into 5 races: white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian.

It made no difference if these official categories did not correspond to cultural realities: some ‘Hispanics’ did not speak Spanish, some Native Americans had long ago entered mainstream American society successfully. The government administrators needed some clear ground-rules and lines had to be drawn, bright and clear.

Worse, providing a certain support for the scheme, was the idea that the four non-white ‘races’ had been long ‘oppressed’ by the whites and therefore all four deserved the government’s preferential treatment – the mid-Sixties and the shining effort to finally eliminate racism suddenly became much much farther away. As the whites had ‘oppressed’ the blacks, they were now seen as having ‘oppressed’ everybody else as well.

Almost as ‘the next logical step’, the newly-erected racial groups were authorized to say who was and who was not one of their number; “ethnic committees” popped up all over the place to judge questionable claims.

Immigration was increased. That had been going on since the early-Sixties, in a nation that still saw itself as the great haven of the 1880s to the 1920s; and the world and the Commies had to be shown that America was still the land of freedom and opportunity. But LBJ had wanted to see an emphasis on “skills and training” among immigrants; Congress, however, changed the criteria to “family reunification”, which was something else altogether.

And then, under the auspices of Multiculturalism, immigration was welcomed in order to dilute the ‘white’ preponderance in American culture. Indeed, the noted liberal thinker Michael Walzer insisted that immigration had to be consistently maintained at high numbers precisely to prevent the assimilation of the immigrants; it was their ‘authentic uniqueness’ that had to be nurtured, not their assimilation into American culture.

And so it went. And here We are.

Lind calls the decades since the mid-Sixties “the Second Radical Reconstruction”. The first, you recall, was the Federal government’s attempt to utterly purify the conquered South of its racism in the decade after 1865. The Southerners having rebelled and lost their gambit, no kid-gloves were considered necessary.

In the Second Radical Reconstruction, the white folks having ‘oppressed’ everybody else, no kid-gloves were considered necessary.

And the Second Radical Reconstruction was surely even more ambitious (and potentially damaging) than the first. Where the First sealed off the South in a miasm of wrack and grievance for almost a century, the Second would take as its target not only an entire race distributed throughout the nation, but also the (then) most numerous fraction of the citizenry. And – for whatever reasons – that fraction whose culture had not only been traditionally perceived as the core American culture but that culture which had carried the nation through its stunning growth from tiny fragile settlements to the hegemony of the Western world.

You’d think that any government with even a modest endowment of wisdom would want to think such an ambitious and assaultive program through with some thoroughness, but that’s not how Reconstructions are done. In my own Posts I have emphasized the ‘Revolutions’ of the Identities, looking to the numerous similarities in content and method with the French, and especially the Russian and Chinese Revolutions, as well as the ‘lesser’ Revolutions in the Fascist mode. But both Radical Reconstruction and Revolution are useful terms of analysis. Although – oy! – the hour is rather late.

The Congress had initially been careful. It specifically prohibited busing in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But in 1968 Archibald Cox – WASPy future hero of Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre but then a professor at Harvard Law School – wrote his book “Constitutional Decision as an Instrument of Reform”, in which he opined with grave excitements that if Congress was going to drag its feet, then “liberal judicial activism” was justified “in order to escape the dead hand of the past”. Which was, when you think for a moment, not really very much of a Constitutional decision at all.

By 1971, by amazing coincidence, John Rawls, a philosophy professor at that same University, had published a theory that gave benefit-of-philosophy to Cox’s professorial opining: in order to right wrongs, those elites who were enlightened (those who ‘get it’, they might have said back then) were duty-bound to step up to the plate and make the Correct changes; he might have added “God Wills It” but he wasn’t too big on God.

This gave nourishment to the Supreme Court which had, in 1970, upheld what it chose to call “pure” diversity, diversity done for a good cause and with the right intention. In 1971 it held that busing students to schools on the basis of race – though expressly forbidden by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – constituted an acceptable “remedy” for past discrimination.

Where Congress had been the agent of the First Radical Reconstruction, the Supreme Court – apparently more amenable to ‘eliteness’, and certainly the Nine were easier for the advocacies to manage than the herd on Capitol Hill – was the agent of the Second. But Congress, having made the embarrassing error of trying to do things carefully and with some thought in the Sixties, would catch up soon enough.

And it was a Reconstruction that was not only Radical in a positive sense, but in a negative one. Not only did the government – through one or another of the Branches – twist everything into a pretzel in order to do positive things for blacks (and then for all the other preferred ‘races’). It began to slide, in the 1970s, into thinking of the ‘white race’ (and the white working class, and then the white working class male) as evilly oppressive, and lent itself to a sustained assault on that entire segment of the citizenry. As I have mentioned in previous Posts, this was not only not the American ideal, but smacked of similar ‘wars’ or campaigns waged by Lenin, Stalin, and Mao against hefty segments of their own populations. This was more than Radical Reconstruction, this was Radical Deconstruction – for which, nicely, a philosophy was soon imported to provide Serious justification.

But Lind doesn’t stop here.

He sees what he calls the White Overclass as the fount and origin of the entire thing. Desperate to prevent a populist revolt – a revolt by the populus, the People, against their financial and class overlords – the White Overclass sought to divide and conquer**.

And the manner of it, as Lind sees it, was on this wise.

Frightened by the Black Power ‘revolutionaries’ and the disruptive potential of the urban riots of the Sixties and fearful of the possibilities of a resurgence of the 1930s agitations against the monied classes, the White Overclass, easily enlisting the aid of vote-desperate and equally anxious Democrats who had lost the South and were in the process of losing Vietnam, ‘accepted’ the several black ‘leaders’ who rose in the aftermath of Martin Luther King’s death and created them a sub-Overclass. Thus co-opted, the black ‘leadership’ would accept the government’s programs and keep their people in line – so to speak, in return for which the black ‘elites’ would enjoy the bennies of elite-hood.

Thereby, the country would be divided vertically rather than horizontally. Rather than the underclasses of all races uniting to better their social and economic position together, the races would be divided vertically: each ‘race’ would have its ‘elites’ and its poor trash, but they would be a ‘race’ and happy with that.

Thus distracted, the citizenry would present no danger of demanding a serious reorganization and distribution of the economic fruits of American productivity.

It was diabolically clever. And not a moment too soon. Surely the White Overclass (the “Establishment” of the Boomer Age) saw that America’s marvelous economic hegemony following World War 2 could not last forever; Bill Clinton didn’t think up ‘globalism’ on his own – the real money power saw that coming decades before it actually arrived in the 1990s (in 1960, almost 100% of Motorola’s employees were American; in 1992, barely 60% were).

(Which raises the interesting possibility that the US government didn’t bumble its way into the present national economic situation, but sort of knew what it was doing all along. Reagan hid the problem for a while by considering ‘borrowing’ a form of ‘productive income’ and letting the flood of borrowed cash raise a lot of little boats, but that was a smoke-and-mirrors act, rendered winsome by his hugely competent vaudeville patter, that had to end. And thus now it can be announced: the show’s over.)

The effects of all of this on Our democratic politics have been lethal. Caught between the demands of its created and ‘empowered’ Identities (or Races) and the iron requirements of the Money Power, that White Overclass, the Parties pandered to both, writing (and accepting)checks with an unbecoming abandon.

Unable to rationally explain or justify their increasingly complex and jury-rigged and gerrymandered policies, the Parties gravitated away from their respective (and similar) Centers and sought the unthinking and visceral support of their Bases. Public and civic discourse coarsened and withered, replaced by shouting matches and insults, distracted by sob-stories and horror-stories designed not to enlighten but to enlist visceral reactions.

The Old Hamiltonian mistrust of ‘democracy’ and ‘the people’ – suppressed especially by that bright shining moment that was Lincoln’s assertion of “government of the people, by the people, for the people”, returned as a New Hamiltonian disdain of “the blundering herd” by the Progressive elites, and then by a (may I?) Neo-Hamiltonian elite disdain not only of The People but also of the Constitutional ethos itself.

From the Left, the Constitution was the “quaint” and “oppressive” device of Dead White Males; from the Right, the corporations got the dream they had always sought (and only United Fruit in the Banana Republics and the mob in Batista’s Cuba had ever achieved): a government that they owned, supported by herds of distracted tax-paying donkeys of diverse colors and ‘races’.

Worse, the focus of civic life was shifted from the individual to the group. This was a foundation plank of Identity Politics. It serves to profoundly destabilize the Framers’ Constitutional vision: the core dynamic of individual Citizen and a Citizenry of civicly mature Citizens acting in concert to exercise their role of Grounding their government is now diluted – ominously and perhaps lethally. Now each ‘race’ or Identity, represented by its lobbyist-advocates and its co-opted sub-Overclass elites, becomes the core element, replacing the individual Citizen and the Citizenry acting in concert.

And in a free-for-all where political clout is the only guiding force in the politics of the Republic, the ‘commonweal’ shrinks to being nothing more than the aggregate sum of each ‘race’s’ or Identity’s ‘goods’ that it manages to grab. But then, in the scheme, there is no ‘American nation’ anyhow, so …

It’s a stunning and frightening vision. And if it was freshly published a reader might console him/herself with the thought that it’s ‘interesting’ but who can predict the future and things probably won’t be that bad.

But this book was published in 1995 – and We read it with the benefit of knowing what has happened in the intervening 14 years. And however disturbing it is, it doesn’t seem so very inaccurate.

I am puzzled in a way: as you may have noticed, Lind discusses the several ‘races’ and Multiculturalism, but he says utterly nothing about the ‘genders’ and Feminism. Surely by the mid-1990s some of the not-so-good consequences of Feminism – especially in its radical variants – were clear, and to some extent already having their effects.

But to have also examined Feminism – which came along to piggy-back on the ‘race preferences’ – would have hugely expanded his task and the size of his book.

But that’s also the bad news. Just as the nation – citizenry, government and Branches – was bethumped by the vast and vastly expanding campaigns of government race-preference and Multiculturalism, it was simultaneously attacked by Feminism, especially in its radical variants (which, alas, seem to be the ones that set up shop in the Beltway).

And it’s also clear that with all that brouhaha distracting the populace, the Money Power was pushing, in concert with the interests of one of LBJ’s least wise foreign entanglements, for the US to look to its own future, cast off the shackles of the post-World War 2 international legal arrangements, and stretch forth its mighty arm to take for itself a plum place at the table of the Eurasian oil-lands. It’s now a replay of the early-20th century Great Power grabs in China.

Where then the polite official purpose was the “Open Door” through which the Great Powers would bring the blessings of modern-industrial commercial civilization, now it’s “liberation” – a hash of a code name intended to cast the tasteful veil of ‘democracy’ not only on the destruction of functioning sovereignties but also functioning – if Politically Incorrect – cultures.

The pot would be sweetened by a replay of Reagan’s faux largesse: this and that Bubble would provide a pleasant cash distraction to grease the alarums and excitements of race and gender ‘wars’ and then – who could be surprised? – foreign wars.

And then came 2008 and here We are: an economy that can’t truly ‘recover’ because there simply aren’t enough jobs for everybody who is here and ‘empowered’ to have one; a set of Great Power wars that are not being won; and a citizenry now both debauched and dispirited as well as distracted.

That, surely, is the fierce urgency of Now.


*With which We should all familiarize Ourselves. It still bethumps Us, as evidenced by the recent New Haven firefighter case – Ronald Dworkin has a useful commentary on it here. The initial caution of Congress – soon abandoned, alas – was replaced by a willingness to allow the federal bureaucracy and the courts to try their hand at shaping the most crucial national policies, and few of those initiatives have worked out well.

**For what it’s worth, this happens also to be the historic strategy of the Israeli government against its enemies: get them squabbling and fighting with each other, the easier to subdue them one at a time or at least paralyze them by distraction so that they couldn’t concentrate their energies against the Israeli realm. Which, also, was Hitler’s approach in Europe – up until he went after Poland, invaded Russia, and gratuitously declared war on the United States – thus uniting all the most powerful forces on the planet against him.


Lind quotes Thomas Sobol, the New York State Education Commissioner in 1989, to the effect that “the assimilationist idea worked for ethnic peoples who were white, but is not working nearly as well for ethnic peoples of color”.

It’s an interesting thought: that the core American vision is stubbornly limited. And not by some willful and ornery oppressiveness and evil on the part of the ‘white ethnics’, but rather some ingrained human resistance to close living with persons of other races and colors.

Is this true? Certainly, I think, there is something to the idea of a deep and reflexive human caution when initially encountering ‘strangers’, which would include – on some primitive and visceral level – humans differently colored. I don’t think it’s humanly limited to ‘white’ humans; although the history of white and non-white relations in this country certainly adds a weight to the situation.

Is this primal hesitation-in-the-face-of-strangeness insurmountable? Because that seems to be the assumption of the Multicultural approach: the whites are incorrigibly racist and therefore the Identities have to ‘do whatever it takes’ (to use the charming Israeli phrase) in order to get a bigger slice of the pie.

But this is a recipe for national cultural and even political dissolution – at least as a Constitutional and democratic Republic. And Our politics degenerates into a dog-eat-dog free-for-all, and with the elected politicians simply pandering to whatever Identity is able to pay the most or mount the greatest political threat if it doesn’t get its way.

I don’t think that the Multicultural approach and its Identity Politics are workable, or that they were ever necessary. Reading Lind and going back over the original texts of the Civil Rights Act and the Court cases of the era, it seems clear that that last era of somewhat sober and mature national politicians and persons of influence (the ‘public intellectuals' of the day) were actually trying to effect the great changes of the Civil Rights Movement without profoundly undermining the American polity.

Haste, the hubris of aspiring ‘experts’ and ‘elites’, immature and often revolutionary impatience with genuine democratic process, calculating manipulations by many individuals and interests angling to take advantage in whatever way they could, surely that White Overclass among them, an increasing number of vote-addled and frightened politicians, and finally a media increasingly torn between the addictive high of ‘advocacy journalism’ and sensationalist emotional sob-or-horror stories so that it yielded its indispensable responsibility to ‘report’ as a public trust .. all of these elements served to profoundly derail the ideals of the Civil Rights Movement.

And I also note that within Sobol’s observation lies the damning fact that if indeed non-white peoples were not doing so well in America, then until that problem was democratically worked out then there should not be a great influx of immigration, let alone unskilled immigration. Instead, indiscriminate immigration was increased exponentially – clearly on the assumption that rather than ‘fix’ the problem, the entire American proposition should simply be diluted beyond any capacity to retain a shape.

Which played no small role in turning the citizenry – of whatever color – into the cud-munching herd in the background of a Western movie’s ranch scene. And so much not only for the Western movies, but for the vision of a Constitutional and democratic Republic grounded in and by its individual Citizens acting in mature concert. Hasta la vista, baybeeeeee.


I can't help but recall that We seem to have experienced the same sequence of events as the Russians did in 1917. The first Russian Revolution - on behalf of Democracy - was in February of that year, leading to Kerensky's government. It was only later in the year that Lenin, taken somewhat by surprise at the speed of events, initiated his Communist "October Revolution" - which was not against the Tsar, but against Kerensky. Lest We forget.

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Friday, September 25, 2009


There’s been a spate of concern about the decline of newspapers and also of critical thinking (I’ll link to those articles below).

I see these dots as connected.

Alex S. Jones has written a book about the decline of newspapers, in a world that “is fast becoming a wild, manipulative clamor of information, without reliable filters, trustworthy actors, or agreed-upon rules”.

He seems to be going for the point that the problem is that folks are too distracted by the huge moosh of internet ‘information’ and that they should get back to newspapers – which is where the serious and professional reporting is done, by seasoned press veterans who dig for a story and give you their best shot at what’s going on, so that you as the Citizenry can make up your own minds.

Well, yes – and no – but mostly no.

Yes. The internet is a distracting cornucopia of facts, factoids, spin masquerading as facts, opinion along a spectrum from spontaneous bar-room bluster to serious and acute cogitation. The problem facing the average reader (to the extent that there are readers at this point) is in many ways the same as that which faces military intelligence officers: how to wade into the flood of stuff and select the ‘alpha stream’ – the most important and relevant material that will give you information, or at least clues, as to what is going on ‘over there’ and ‘out there’ and ‘up there’.

But the media aren’t really in that business any longer. The economics of ‘business’ in journalism has resulted in professional reporting being gutted by owners looking at the bottom line, unwilling to alienate ‘paying customers’. ‘Balance’ thus has become a code word for the paper not taking a position that will cost it readers (and thus advertising income); easier to hire inexperienced desk-hounds who won’t tread on any toes, but instead will accept faxes from this or that interested party’s PR folks and – with some input from above – snip and clip the faxes into a ‘story’ that corresponds to the paper’s alliances and interests at the moment.

And all ‘players’ and all ‘parties’ now have PR flaks – the Right’s ‘patriots’, the Left’s ‘advocates’, the corporations and the ‘complexes’ and ‘iron triangles’ of corporate interests, the government itself, and all the competing branches and agencies of the government (not excluding the Supreme Court). And none of them are paid to put ‘truth’ above their employers’ interests. But then, according to the insidiously useful postmodern insight (lifted whole from Pontius Pilate, though without attribution) there really is no ‘truth’, no Truth, no objective fact – so since Life itself is basically mushy clay, then what’s the problem with trying to shape the stuff the way your bosses want it shaped?

“And what is Truth?” asked the Roman bureaucrat, back in the days when that empire held sway over a hefty chunk of the known world. Human affairs, the affairs of this dimension, cannot allow themselves to be bounded, limited, hedged in, or – the outrage! – judged, by any larger criterion. Surely not be great States and Great Powers.

And nowadays, thanks to postmodernism, not by individuals either.

Power is all. Political power is the only arbiter – and the coercive force to enforce it. This has been true in this country as in all others. And in the past forty-plus years, it has become accepted, ‘normalized’, with a dismayingly increasing intensity and scope. The Left – self-indentured to the revolutionary content and methods of post-1965 Identity ideology – invited this vampire in the national front door, rather than keep it skulking around in the yard as the Framers had hoped their Constitutional ethos would ensure.

And then the Right – seeing that all the old constraints had been discarded as ‘quaint’ and ‘oppressive’ – joined in the dark welcome.

But ‘maturity’ – personal and civic – had to go as the condition of the vampiric welcome.
And the manner of it, I would say, is on this wise:

“Polarizing political talk, overwrought in the extreme, is making big headlines these days” observes a ‘New York Times’ writer. Correctness – ‘political’ mostly on the Left, ‘patriotic’ mostly on the Right. It is a symptom even more than it is a problem.

A symptom of something much worse, much more insidious, much more lethal.

Diane Ravitch recently noted this: she decries “the latest fad to sweep K-12 education [which] is called “21st Century Skills”. She wants “knowledge” to come back – some common knowledge that is and must be the basis for a shared cultural heritage – as Americans – that is indispensable for a national culture and – can anyone be surprised? – a national political ethos. Which in Our case would be not only the ‘American’ ethos but the Constitutional ethos (which you may have noticed has been slip-sliding away at a sickeningly increasing rate these past few decades).

In his 1995 book “The Next American Nation” Michael Lind acutely observed that Multiculturalism – now the Beltway’s conceptual framework of indenture to the mutant ‘liberalism’ of the post-1965 era – directly rejects the concept of any ‘American’ culture and ethos whatsoever, and any ‘melting pot’ approach to assimilation – that ‘melting pot’ approach which took all the immigrant cultures of the American past and molded them into a remarkable alloy called ‘American’. *

Instead the Multicultural approach demands that no ‘assimilation’ can be or should be continued. It’s all ‘oppressive’. Instead, American society is to be a ‘salad’ of distinct cultures, all of them ‘equal’ and retaining in common only the political clout – assisted by a preferential government – that protects each sub-culture’s distinctness and suppresses any thoughts or discussion, any public and civic deliberation, as to whether each sub-culture’s folkways and folk-thoughts are compatible with the national ethos. There IS no national ethos, intone the Multiculturalists.

And did We expect that any nation “so conceived and so dedicated” can long endure?

Fifteen years ago Lind called the post-1965 era the “Second Radical Reconstruction” (the first being the North’s efforts – laudable in their intention, not so much in their implementation – to ‘reconstruct’ the post-Civil War South). A century later Washington tried it again – against the whole country, its culture and its ethos. But you couldn’t say that either. Such assessments could not be publicly and civicly spoken out loud. It wasn’t Correct.

How did We get here?

I’ll go back to 1896 here. In that year Gustav Le Bon, a (now-) dead white European male, wrote a book entitled “A Study of the Popular Mind”. The text is here.

He was looking at the phenomenon of ‘crowds’ and the ‘mass mentality’ developing in the urbanized nations of Europe in the maturing Industrial Age.

Something happens to people when they are in the presence of a ‘crowd’, when they are compressed into a ‘mass’. They don’t think well. They seem to regress into a more emotional** mode of processing information.

Developmentally, human beings don’t have biological access to their full human capacities – their best capacities – until early adulthood. The prefrontal cortex – seat of all those abilities to reflect, postpone emotional responses in order to assess and deliberate in the brain – takes that long to develop. It is for this reason that children and teens are so unpredictable and inconsistent yet also so easily ‘worked up’: they are relying on the more primitive brainparts – especially the amygdala – to process information and experiences. And the amygdala – seat of the fight-or-flight response, among other things – is that part of the brain that relies on immediate ‘judgments’ based on visceral emotions. *** Delaying gratification, postponing action in favor of deliberation, thinking things through – all these things are the fruits of the prefrontal cortex, and precisely opposed to the amygdala’s insistent demand that something be done RIGHT NOW.

The current and perceptive commentator Henry Giroux notes that “language loses any viable sense of referentiality, while lying, misrepresentation and the deliberate denial of truth [have] become acceptable practices firmly entrenched in the Wild West of talk-radio, cable television, and the dominant media”. Yes, it has.

Le Bon’s insights – and they are numerous and densely interconnected – were not lost on one Edward Bernays, a Swiss countryman of Le Bon, who realized that such emotionality could be tapped in order to advertise the Industrial Age’s developing cornucopia of products available for sale to those now-employed urban working masses and the rising middle-classes, the ‘bourgeois’ bugbears of the Boomer Age.

Within that same timeframe the American Progressives – well-intentioned all – saw that the emotional masses of citizens would need to be guided even more than educated. They were – to use Walter Lippman’s ominous phrase – “a blundering herd”, which took Jesus’s insight about “sheep without a shepherd” in a wholly ominous direction – especially in terms of the Constitutional Republic and the American ethos.

And this ‘elite guidance’ would be manifested not only in do-good domestic reforms of the Age, but also in Teddy Roosevelt’s and Woodrow Wilson’s approach to foreign policy. And even before Teddy (R, not K) his predecessor McKinley – having taken to his knees in the White House one night – decided that God himself wanted America to ‘Christianize’ the benighted peoples of Cuba and – much more importantly – the Phillippines (who had been in great part Catholic for centuries).

Thus, with Cuba as the pretext for the Spanish-American war, McKinley immediately sent America’s first big overseas military expedition – ten thousand troops – to the Phillippines to convert Admiral Dewey’s victory over the puny Spanish squadron in Manila Bay into a full-scale American imperium, not liberating the Filipinos but rather replacing the doddering, centuries-old Spanish imperium with a more modern imperial master, who would be that much closer to the vast markets of China and the ‘Open Door’ – as the newly Westernizing Japanese nation noted acutely if quietly. (We were not, you may recall, greeted as liberators, and had to fight a nasty jungle war to bring Our blessings to natives who had the temerity to resist.)

Nor was all this lost a couple-three decades later when a certain little madman with a moustache came to power in Germany, ably assisted by his brilliant propaganda genius, Josef Goebbels. The citizenry was not needed to deliberate and govern the government – not at all. The citizenry’s role was to be whipped up, its opinion shaped by government propaganda into the proper support of whatever it was that the government thought was good for them and for their nation (Ger: Reich).

It should come as a surprise to nobody that this approach to the government’s shaping of public opinion was profoundly inimical to any genuinely democratic politics, and to any possibility of a Constitutional Republic. Hitler, you recall, destroyed one – the Weimar Republic – in an act of ‘creative destruction’ in order to make room for his Third Reich, that marvelous engine of progress and brute force that would last a thousand years and bring a New Order to Europe and the world. Well, except for that part of the world ably administered by the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. And that part – ludicrously – administered rather less ably by Mussolini’s reincarnation of the Roman Empire.

But at the end of World War Two, with the Soviets invited over the front door into the heart of Europe – ably directed by that vampire of all vampires, the one with the even bigger moustache, the American ‘elite’ realized that they would have to “scare hell out of the American people” in order to continue the marvelous hegemony of which Washington now found itself the master.
And once the Beltway got used to the whole idea of riding herd on that “blundering herd”, then after 1965, with the Boomers in the saddle and so much ‘good’ to be done – and done right now – they didn’t approach the American Citizenry with proposals for public deliberation, but rather borrowed from the Le Bon-Bernays-Goebbels Playbook .

Of course, with all the ‘revolutionary’ excitements of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and its ‘hundred flowers blooming’, and postmodernism’s assertion that there is no Power on earth except that which flows from the barrel of a gun or the voting booth (if the votes are cast by a suitably Correct citizenry or else imposed upon them by suitably enlightened elites) … well, you can see where things have gone.

And then factor in that humans are very similar to tuning forks and cattle: in large bunches, when functioning at the lower end of our range, it only takes one to set everybody else off. That’s why Our politics in the past few decades have come to resemble something between a mob-scene from the old movies and a series of stampedes. Come to think of it, that’s probably why now Our elected representatives, tax-paid hired ‘experts’, and variously credentialed elites walk by Us as if We were the herd in the background of a John Wayne ranch scene.

It was ominous – as Alexander Cockburn notes recently on Counterpunch – that the 1970s saw the decline of genuinely reportorial journalism and the growth of ‘personality journalism’ and ‘soft news’. This was a perfectly logical development – in the guidelines of that Playbook – because it would be quicker to distract folks from the ‘hard news’ of public Reality and sink them into the more confined prisons of their own emotionality and their personal, private ‘worlds’.

So public discourse sank into emotionalism. And – as many note today – such emotions soon took an ugly turn. As they had to – since Goebbels himself had a rather ugly vision of ‘citizens’ and their relationship to government. Let them sink into their lesser potentials, wrestle with their own personal pillows, rather than have them trying to have a say in what their governmental elites have already determined was good for them.

But before the Republicans under Atwater and the Reagan-era American ‘morning’, there was the Politically Correct civic thuggery of squashing ‘backlash’ to what clearly had to be accepted as the Coming Thing of this or that post-1965 imposition. And ‘1968’ simply erected the whole thing into a Good Thing and the only acceptable Good Thing – no dissent to be tolerated, no debate necessary.

Whether your ‘treason’ was to the Left’s ‘Dream’ or to the Right’s ‘patriotism’ was purely secondary. The entire deliberative civic process was squashed. And new generations of youth and masses of immigrants would be so formed.

And here We are.

Le Bon was right, and possibly more so than he realized.

Nor is such a destiny in Our ‘stars’. It’s in Our brains – human maturity is a fragile if dynamic thing, nor is it guaranteed. It takes a society, a culture, an ethos to support the biological development of the brain with a healthy and indispensable encouragement of all the best potentials in the human repertoire. A Citizenry raised on nothing but the noxious brew of Goebbelsian manipulation and postmodernism’s brutalizing developmental Flatness and regression, the stultification of the growth of the genuine potential of the human spirit, is not simply going to ‘plateau’ at some regressed level of development. No, it is going to descend into the maelstrom of its own lesser – and worst – potentials.

Nor is any sort of collective tribalism – rather than a support for genuine individual development – going to work for Us. Identity Politics reduces the human individual to mere membership in a collective – one’s Identity – and then Multiculturalism goes further and insists that there is no American ethos to which any new members of the national community must adapt themselves (there is, after all, no national community at all in the Multicultural view of things).

We are becoming worse than a Volk. We are becoming a hodgepodge of several Volks, united only by Our common occupation of the same geographic national territory, and bound only by the iron hoops which this or that Identity’s political clout can manage to forge – with the help of a Beltway that sees the American citizenry merely as a gaggle of tax-paying donkeys sunk in their own internecine squabbles and personal excitements.

We need to stand up on the only two hind legs We have and remind the Beltway – and the world – of just what an American Citizenry can be.

It is in that sense – and that sense only – that We can rise and prevail. Or else We shall surely fall together – into a night from which, once upon a time, in what now seems a galaxy long ago and far away, We were delivered in that bright shining Moment two-hundred and thirty-three years ago.

This is the fierce urgency of Now.


*I’ll be Posting on this remarkable book shortly.

**I don’t agree with Le Bon’s analogy that this very real emotionalism equates with ‘feminine’ processing – and he veers into referring to it as “hysterical”, opposing it to a more “masculine rationality”. There is indeed a ‘hysterical’ potential in human beings, but it is not a ‘feminine’ as opposed to a ‘masculine’ potential. Males are equally as liable to ‘hysteria’ and I’ll explain that above in the text of the Post. Freud, somewhat a contemporary of Le Bon, was getting around to that insight – although it was not widely accepted and has never received the wide discussion it deserves.

But that being said, Le Bon’s insights as to the dynamics and consequences of this ‘hysterical’ or overly emotional human mode of processing information are hugely valuable, and historically came to play a huge role in subsequent political developments in the early 20th century and beyond. And those dynamics bethump Us even unto now.

***Which gets you to wondering if a ‘youth-determined’ society is such a good idea. The Boomers in their salad days were not in full possession of their highest brain capacities – which is par for the course with late-teens. But then, of course, they erected their deficits into an operating philosophy that came to insist that ‘maturity’ and ‘adulthood’ were ‘oppressive’ and ‘up tight’, un-creative and altogether fuddy-duddy. And so, under the auspices of the youth-addled and vote-addled Democrats, ‘maturity’ and ‘adulthood’ and a whole host of related concepts went out the window and overboard.

But such a ‘youthful’ ethos proved hugely useful to consumerist corporations seeking to entice immediately gratifying purchases for the latest fads and governments – oy gevalt! – seeking to manipulate the ‘public opinion’ of their citizenries and drive – or stampede – the herd in the direction thought best for it.

Clearly, a Party – and later a Beltway – eager to forget its screw-ups and mismanagement of national affairs, and eager to impose a new ethos that would ‘forget’ the Past and embrace not the Reality of what was happening but rather the ‘Dream’ of what will most surely come about if everybody kept their mouth shut and went along … clearly, such a youthy descent into emotionalism would be of no small use. And so it is today, as the Boomers are now followed by generations of children who have been raised without the opportunity to genuinely mature as full human beings (and Citizens).

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009


I’ll be on vacation for two weeks and moving around a great deal. I shall return.

So asks Michael Lind on the Salon site.

One of the less examined yet crucial aspects of the past 40 years has been the synergy of allegedly ‘liberal’ advocacy goals and so-called ‘conservative’ goals.

So for example, in criminal justice We have seen – whether We realize it or not – the confluence of a rational feminist desire to ‘re-balance’ law so that it leans more toward ‘women’ with a mid-1990s resurgent Republican urge to expand the police power of the government, resulting – with the addition of radical feminist damp-dreams about a ‘war’ on ‘men’ – in the hugely dubious aspects of the domestic-violence initiatives whereby the courts, on the simple word of one party (usually the female), can now oust a man from his house, access to his children and even his auto, for as many as 30 days.

This is a monstrous undoing of the entire Anglo-Saxon legal tradition upon which the Constitution is based, and it constitutes a regression to the Continental, government-heavy legislative philosophy that sees the Crown as the source of all laws and the people merely as the property of the Crown. Whereas for centuries, culminating in the Constitutional vision*, the entire thrust of the Anglo-Saxon tradition was to get the Crown (the government) out of the homes and hearths of the citizens.

Since the first Clinton Administration, the government – supported by ‘liberal’ feminism as well as ‘conservative’ Republicans – has been invited not only into the homes and hearths but the very bedrooms and beds of the citizenry. This is nothing less than a monstrous regression, and the Continental legal philosophy – no matter how dressed up in ‘modern’ puff or demanded because of the ‘emergency’ asserted by this or that advocacy – may yet prove lethal to the Constitutional reality of ‘America’. And can it be any wonder that We have been seeing so much Constitutional failure in the past two decades?

And does anybody really think that all by himself Alberto Gonzales thought up that bon mot about the Constitutional protections being “quaint”? He got it from those folks who think that the Constitution, having been concocted by Dead White Males is nothing but an ‘oppression’ and essentially illegitimate. That, I am convinced, is what they are teaching in law schools and have been for quite a few years now.

And yet wasn’t the Continental tradition itself concocted by Dead White European Males? Such are the disconnects and incoherences which have been imposed upon Us by the anti-democratic ‘revolutionary’ “liberalism” of the past few decades – and those turkeys are on their way home to roost, if you haven’t noticed.

Anyhoo, Michael Lind sturdily questions whether the Democrats – sodden with forty Biblical years of pandering to any ‘advocacy’ that claimed to be able to deliver its Identity’s votes to the Party – can really expect to usefully maintain a Party comprised of an ‘elite’ of college-educated and oh-so-Correct ‘knowledge professionals’ riding benevolent herd on a ‘diverse’ serfdom of immigrants (of diverse legal status), poor women, their un-fathered and un-familied kids, and assorted other persons and sub-groups.

Lind’s thought, I think, has two parts: first, how can you maintain a political Party that fails to include the working class white males (and the women who have committed to them) and second, how can you sustain an economy based on a small ‘knowledge elite’ producing ‘ideas’ and a serfdom blowing leaves, minding the elite children and pouring specialty coffee drinks … ?

These are not irrelevant questions.

How the frak We got to this point is of some relevance. And I will relate my view of things again:

In the later Sixties, doubly shocked by the ballooning failure of ‘their’ Vietnam war and the urban-riots that proved the most immediately tangible result of their embrace of ‘civil rights’, the Democrats sought to save themselves as a Party by means of a two-part strategy: first, they would give any telegenic advocacy claiming to represent any useful voting demographic carte blanche and thus cobble together a reliable number of votes; second, they would give to corporations willing to pay into Tip O’Neill’s newly-devised PACs carte blanche to do whatever they wanted to make money.

Thus the Democrats, and later the Republicans who were allowed to buy-into the plan, became indentured to their rather radical bases (each Identity had its own cadres of true believers; the Republicans went out and discovered the Fundamentalists who were, by their own definition, the only true and accurate believers). And both Parties became indentured (to put it nicely) to the corporate interests, and then, as the industrial infrastructure withered, to the financial interests.

The media were happy to accept faxes from the assorted advocacies in lieu of expensive though genuine reporting, and realized that it was cheaper to simply give each side a chance to publish its faxes rather than face lawsuits and – the horror! – demonstrations by ‘victims’ or ‘outraged patriots’ or what-have-you. And since the PR elements of both Left and Right always thoughtfully wrapped each fax in a telegenic sob-story or horror-story, then the media could turn themselves into a semi-official version of telenovelas and soaps. Everybody wins!

Except The People.

But a sizable number of The People were ‘males’, and Industrial Age males at that – drenched in both violent macho posturing and “quaint” concepts such as ‘character’, ‘virtue’, ‘commitment’ and other such oppressive ‘abstractions’.

The feministicals wanted to get rid of this bunch. And the corporations wanted to get rid of this bunch because this bunch enjoyed the benefits of the New Deal and Detroit Consensus labor arrangements whereby industrial workers were well-paid and given benefits, and thus fortified bought the products that other American workers had made.

The feministicals and the corporations made common cause on their common objective: to rid the country (and – stunningly – the military) of the ‘classic’ white American male and all his pomps and all his works: ‘character’, ‘virtue’, ‘commitment’, labor unions, the New Deal - it would all go overboard, to be replaced by ‘knowledge elites’ and a brightly diverse ‘service society’ for the menial chores. No more commitment to the corporation in return for a steady job at a good wage; no more ‘achievement’ – it was enough that one’s self-esteem was enhanced by whatever effort one felt was ‘enough’ to feel good about oneself.

It may seem strange that any major national Party in a great nation would lend itself to such a repugnant (and politically insane) project – but the Dems were desperate and – led by the likes of Teddy Kennedy – found that they too really considered Virtue and Character to be “quaint” and certainly oppressive. And, as Teddy knew so well, you could package all sorts of crap as “liberal” and make folks swallow it whole.

“Liberal” and “liberation” – they sounded alike so they must be the same thing. And who in the Beltway didn’t want a Writ ‘liberating’ him from any responsibility for character, virtue, maturity, integrity, ripeness? … Yes, the more Teddy and the bhoys (and gurls) looked at it from their Beltway aerie, the more they realized that they too would benefit from such liberation - responsibility for character, virtue, maturity, integrity, ripeness can be damned oppressive. And for a lot of them, it would require a whole lotta catch-up, and that time and energy could better be spent in fundraising. Let a hundred revolutions bloom!

And realizing that the postwar American economic hegemony was coming to an end, the Dems and later the Repubs figured that the White Working Male and his world was doomed anyway – though that was an elite ‘secret’ deemed unfit for the floppy ears of the “blundering herd”. Feminism and the corporation, with the help of an engorged police power, would, if given the proper and full political support, put an end to the ‘world’ that the Beltway elites could no longer guarantee – and new Identities would be raised up or imported who knew not the blessings of the New Deal.

And when the feministicals hit upon the idea of making sex a crime (and some of them asserted that all sex was violence), thereby guaranteeing an almost eternal expansion of the government police power (against males, anyway) then the Republicans were truly in heaven.

And the women could staff the military and with the Commies gone now, you wouldn’t need a military for anything anymore anyway – paperwork and parades would be the only thing, and you don’t need ‘men’ for that. Sensible shoes were more suited for the task than combat boots; ‘your father’s Navy’ and the ‘Old Army thinking’ were consigned by the Beltway to the dustbin of history. (Until History cast its vote, alas.)

So the sitting government of a major nation actually turned against a huge fraction of its own citizenry. The last instances of that were Mao and Stalin – which weren’t so long before, come to think of it.

Of course, with such a whacky vision (it would be laughable if untold lives weren’t being frakked) it would only be a matter of time before the country had to do something to keep its place in the world. I mean, how many ‘ideas’ must be produced per annum per capita to keep a superpower ‘super’?

No, something else was needed. And so America came to be the world’s “protector”, with a ‘right to protect’ anywhere, anytime. Hell, it was working domestically, with the police and the courts now in every bedroom looking for male violence. So substitute the ‘military’ for the ‘police’, substitute ‘the world’ for American domestic society, and the Beltway could keep itself in business doing for the world’s victims what it was doing for America’s victims. The ‘crime and closure’ industry and the defense-industry were the only two real money-makers left. And the Big Pharma that would keep large fractions of the serfs medicated or obsessed with getting the latest drugs.

And so America would exert its military might on behalf of the world’s victims. Whenever it felt like it. Whenever it needed to. For whatever reason it saw fit. And whenever and where ever that would be, it would be an ‘emergency’ and there would be no time to deliberate, to assess, to discuss. We would ‘just do it’. Because America and only America would really ‘get it’, and was empowered by ‘the emergency’ and/or God to re-educate those who ‘just don’t get it’.

As with the Japanese Empire in the early 1930s, the first run-out of this plan had gone well: the Balkans in 1995 turned out about as well for the Beltway as Manchuria had for the Japanese.

But then things stopped going so well. We went in to ‘rescue’ Iraq and clean up Afghanistan; the Japanese took on larger military adventures. Nothing worked out so well as it had at first. For either empire. The Greater Southwest Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere turns out to have more in common with the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere than anyone had imagined.

There’s still a strong possibility that the whole thing over there is as much of a plan as the erasure of the ‘working class white male’ and his worldview has been over here.

Maybe the plan from the beginning over there was not to enforce any ‘law’ but rather to grab a bigger slice of a now vital pie for the corporations, the elites and the Beltway – oh, and the ‘national interest’. Just as the plan over here wasn’t really ever about ‘justice’ or ‘rehabilitation’ or ‘closure’ but about grabbing a bigger slice of the pie.

Well, the white working class male hasn’t gone gently into that good night – at least not fast enough. Nor have the new members of The Greater Southwest Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

And now the Beltway elites find themselves in the embarrassing position of needing – or at least needing to deal with – the ‘demographic’ that they had consigned to the dustbin of history.

Or it would be embarrassing – if the Beltway banditti had any need or perhaps capacity for such an emotion. But they have been re-districting like mad, to the point that most of them are at this point un-diselectable; they comprise a true nomenklatura.

Teddy K is gone – but his nightmare will live on. He was a dreamer, alright, but in the wrong way. His dream was ‘up there’ but not so much connection to ‘down here’ – not in his personal life and not, I believe we shall see, in the pander-and-pay-to-play gamesmanship that is now being spun as ‘liberalism’ and ‘liberation’ and ‘concern for the poor’ and ‘opportunity’ in all the funeral and post-funeral speechifying that seeks not so much to praise Teddy as to bury Us as a competent Citizenry.

If the Beltway intends to keep that dream and that game going then they are going to repeat the Vietnam era domestically as they are now apparently repeating it in foreign military adventures.

But they truly have – in Jefferson’s vivid phrase – ‘a wolf by the ears’. How back away from Identity Politics? How back away from an alien legal philosophy that may be the death of the Constitutional ethos? How find a productive role in the world economy, one that does not require the endless imposition of military force on places and peoples that are either ‘victimized’ or sitting on top of increasingly valuable resources or advantageously positioned in strategic locations?

How back away from those to whom they have over the course of decades indentured themselves?

And indentured Us.


*Yes, imperfect as it was in the matter of slavery.

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Monday, September 07, 2009


An article by a historian named Thaddeus Russell prompts some thoughts.

He’s writing about Labor Day and recounts some of the history of labor here, and the “philosophical conflict embodies in Labor Day” – which strikes me as an excellent project.

He goes back to the Pilgrims and the Puritans. In 1625 – only 5 years after the landing at Plymouth and 5 years before Boston was formally founded – a party of party-goers set up shop just south of Boston and well north of Plymouth on the Merrymount peninsula in what is now Quincy. Their approach to life was to pretty much party-hearty in a land free from the strictures of post-Reformation England; in that regard they remind me of the students at a party-college in the bad old days of the Twenties or even the Fifties.

Or perhaps the Flower-Children and Hippies of the mid-Sixties. Although the Boomers in some ways felt they were making a statement; and their ‘philosophy’ was that the natural freedom and goodness of the self was paved over by the asphalt of (adult) society and corporate employment or – alas – any steady employment at all. It’s sort of a ‘summer’ philosophy, a ‘sunshine’ philosophy, unsuitable for winter or un-sunny climes. Which is maybe why there was only a Summer of Love but not a Winter or a Year of Love. And why so many of the most serious – as it were – devotees wound up heading to reliably sunny places.

Anyhoo, in 1628 the Plymouth Colony decided that this bunch needed to be dissolved; they sent the redoubtable Myles Standish and an armed force all the way up the coast and to nobody’s surprise the squadron captured or arrested the whole Merrymount crew and chopped down their may-pole.

The Pilgrims-Puritans of Plymouth were party-poopers, and quite successful at it. But I don’t think that they needed to poop the partygoers merely out of a joyless urge to stamp out fun, or even because they didn’t like having an alternative and opposed ‘philosophy’ so close to the site of their own labors.

Merrymount was growing fast – faster even than the Plymouth Colony. To the vast majority of human beings partying always offers more attractions than the sustained discipline of carrying on the hard business of surviving and of sustaining a civic polity, especially in a wilderness world; and with the ever-touchy relationships with the tribes tossed into the mix as well. And apparently a number of folks were joining the party, coming either directly from England or leaving the Plymouth Colony.

So in that sense, you can surely imagine that the Pilgrim-Puritans were not so much amusing themselves by stamping out everybody else’s fun or ‘leisure’, but rather trying to prevent something from happening that would have endangered the entire process of building a ‘new world’, not only undermining the Colony itself but the entire colonial effort. It was, I would say, a remarkably realistic and – may I? – adult situation. In that sense I don’t buy the Puritans-as-mean-killjoys angle so fashionable in the Twenties; it’s a cartoon.

The author tackles the contorted conceptual terrain here. He nicely notes that the Merrymount party-goers were “threatening to create a new land that looked less like the Puritans’ vision of a pure society and more like their version of hell”. Yes.

But the Puritans’ version of ‘hell’ was not arbitrarily laid upon the Merrymount Mode simply because it was ‘different’ from their own. The Merrymount Mode cut to the very heart of the qualities required of individuals and a polity that had perforce to build a life in a challenging and threatening world.*

And, as the Puritans knew, it is a job of work to ‘valorize’ reliably those aspects of the human self that can postpone gratification in order to accomplish a task, even a task that is – on top of everything else – dangerous and unpleasant. But necessary to the survival and the flourishing of oneself, one’s family, and one’s community. Such ‘growth’, such ascent of the ladder of maturity, does not come naturally – it has to be grounded in a person – preferably early on – and then nurtured and supported by a like-minded community and its structures and institutions. And the individual person has to keep at it all the while as well.

So ‘partying’ in the Merrymount Mode constitutes a grave distraction from the serious work of self. And, unlike Sartre, the Plymouth folks saw hell on this earth as being a whole lotta unripe folks indulging – as modern social workers would say – the lower end of their range.

It’s not the only distraction; some folks don’t go for the party-hearty mode but simply allow themselves to settle onto a certain distracted plateau of consciousness, and shuffle through their days. But the Plymouth folk were more concerned in their day with the Merrymount Mode; ‘shirkers’ didn’t last long in the early decades of settlement – that came later, towards the end of the century, when the urgency of simply surviving daily life was not so acute. The active party-animals were the clear and present danger in the 1620s.

“Leisure” is another element to the problem. You can’t ‘work’ all the time; even a sea captain has to come in from the sea once in a while, because no human being can bear permanently and unremittingly the responsibility of mastering a vessel at sea. Ahab was the exception that proves the rule.

But there’s leisure and then there’s leisure. Aristotle saw leisure as grounded in the nature of the human being: once you have figured out what the nature and goal of being human is, then leisure is what promotes that goal when you aren’t simply working to survive. It is the development of the ‘finer’ human potentials: to appreciate art, music, learning, deliberation, even contemplation, as well as how to share the fruits of those developed potentials with others who are also committed to the same project. So leisure plays a vital role in the development of a genuinely human society. It’s not a second-string concept at all.

But in a democracy – especially one where it is taken as axiomatic that a person can do whatever they damn well please (and America to some extent has always been ‘about that’) – nobody can ‘tell’ anybody else how to enjoy themselves. Although ‘enjoying yourself’ isn’t quite the same thing as ‘conducting leisure’. Leisure in Aristotle’s vision is part of a purposeful working-toward fulfillment and maturity and ripeness; ‘enjoying yourself’ is something a lot different, if not also a lot less.

And in Our own era, with its consumerist and youthist and deconstructionist and anti-elitist tropes (although We are more and more coming to be ruled by ‘elites’, overtly or subtly), it will take more than a village to raise the young, because the entire common-purpose of the village has been conceptually deconstructed and the young are considered ‘naturally good’ and should be kept from the ‘oppression’ of anybody else’s idea of how life should be conducted and what life is for or about.

So the Plymouth Colony won that round. And in so doing, they and before long their Boston brethren “planted the seed of what would become the great American work ethic – the belief that work itself is virtuous”.

Wellll … yes. Sorta. Although that work-ethic is now a thing of the past (as is, alas, the work itself) and ‘virtue’ has been deconstructed along with ‘ethic’ as merely another tool of oppression. If only the Merrymount myrmidons had taken the trouble and applied themselves to some books and thinking, they might have invented ‘deconstruction’ themselves and then … how would it all have turned out?

Yet “among Americans, the spirit of Merrymount lived on”. Well, among humans – it is a human characteristic, after all – this preference for ease rather than exertion. Although different cultures have done different things with that characteristic.

But then he notes that “most European settlers in Colonial America lived as if they had never heard of the work ethic”. One wonders how there ever came to be a country at all. So it’s probably a bit of an overstatement, the way he puts it here.

But not inaccurate. R.W.B. Lewis, forty-plus years ago, recounted in his biography of Carry Nation just how much liquor Americans (the Puritans and their clergy included) made and consumed. If I recall correctly, Albany, New York at one point had a per capita consumption of something like a hundred gallons of spirits for every man, woman, and child in the place. And that’s not to say that the kids didn’t get any. Autres temps, autres moeurs.

But as things progress into the Industrial Revolution, more complication.

“Labor” is not simply an essential requirement of building and sustaining a life, a family, and a community. It is not simply (!) an essential requirement for the full expression of the creative potentials of the human spirit – as even the Catholic Church insisted.

Now in the mid-19th century it becomes the vehicle by which the great machinery and the companies and then the corporations that own the machinery turn out the products that make the nation a burgeoning industrial and economic power. And the factory owners and corporations start to treat their ‘laborers’ the same way they treat their machinery; start to see them as both ‘property’ and ‘machines’, part of the vast and profitable web of organized production.

Now the issue is not so much the nature of ‘leisure’ but rather the fact that the workers, crammed into their tenements, are working 12 hours a day, six days a week, and have no ‘free’ time at all. The great struggle will be to get them that free time; how they fill it is a question that fades.

Only the wealthy have ‘leisure’ time, and the money to do things. Some patronize the arts, but – and this can’t be surprising to any student of human nature – most of them do not credibly improve themselves or their time. The dull-eyed flatness of a worker at a bar or over a beer-pail is matched by the vacuous shallowness and frippery seen at the ‘better’ venues of entertainment and diversion. Ripeness and maturity are not products of ‘class’ – some humans, regardless of social class, are going to achieve it, and others – no matter how much money and free time they have, are not.

But the plight of the industrial worker, more than the backbreaking challenges of the farmer captures the national attention. But I wonder: is a herd demanding to be milked or a crop that has to be harvested any less insistent than a factory boss demanding more output or a machine demanding to be supplied?

And perhaps rightly so. To be so indentured to the elements, as a farmer is, seems somehow less oppressive than to be indentured to another human being or to an impersonal taskmaster like a corporation. And the demands of the farm seem somehow more ‘natural’, and certainly traditional, than the demands of the factory and the office. And it is clear that for all of the labor that is being expended, most of the laborers are not getting much of a return; the profits are going to others – in very large quantities.

Noah Webster’s primer – used in schools throughout the 19th century – pithily echoes the old Puritan approach: “The wise child loves to learn his books, but the fool would choose to play with toys”. But while the pithy sound-bite is so quintessentially American, it fails profoundly because it cannot convey the depth of the philosophical and even religious vision underlying the maxim. The Puritan idea is that you have to keep a tight rein on the desire to give yourself a Merrymount Moment, and instead you have to work at becoming and sustaining a self. No ripening self, no genuine leisure; the one supports the evolving development of the other.

Otherwise you’re just wasting your time, killing it – although if you’re spending lots of money to do it, then you are keeping the economy going, much as the workers in the great German film of the 1920s, “Metropolis”, lubricate their huge machines even as the machines consume them, chewing them up in the gears.

But what good is it, really, to keep an economy going if you have to literally squash the workers – who are also citizens (and human beings) to do it? That’s the sixty-four-dollar question, as they used to say.

The relationship of ‘entertainment’ to ‘leisure’ introduces another layer of complication. Aristotle surely would not have been impressed with the Roman crowds in the Colosseum, watching and spectating. This to him would not have been ‘leisure’. And perhaps not ‘entertainment’ either; since few seem to be drawing any lessons about life and living from it. Indeed, it seems that in most ‘entertainment’ experiences today, far too many attend precisely n-o-t to have to ‘learn’ anything, but rather to ‘escape’ from having to learn anything; learning seems to be a form of oppression, or at least ‘effort’, and far too many would rather not, thank you.

When Grover Cleveland signed the Labor Day proclamation in 1884, it was a good question whether “American workers would far rather have been relaxing at the ballpark than marching to celebrate their jobs”.

Well, of course, just now I imagine that many many Americans would be willing to celebrate their jobs, if they had one.

But back then, quite possibly the worker saw the job as an oppression; saw it as an imposition on himself rather than an expression of his own creative potential. This was something Marx saw in the industrial worker (not so much in the farmer, although the life of the peasantry in the Old World was certainly not conducive to a ripened and fully realized self): the industrial worker, so often an urban tenement dweller, had lost any connection between his own sense of self and his job, since he was not sharing in the profits. The Popes of the era – certainly Leo XIII – saw in an even larger sense that the worker was alienated not only from the shared profits, but from the vital connection between his self and his labor as an expression of that self. This was dehumanizing, he saw.

Whether recent society has solved that problem, or simply declared victory by slapping a thick lard of frosting over the alienation and calling it ‘the success of consumer capitalism’ … is a good question.

So, the author concludes, We are now in the situation where the President is urging Us to “put away the things of a child” and buckle down, while a lot of Americans are planning nothing more developmentally strenuous than having a good time.

Given that the corporations have been using folks, and given that the country officially and for all practical purposes has abandoned any attempt to sustain a comprehensive vision (such as the Puritans had) as to the nature of human being and the role of work and leisure, and given the fact that on top of the natural human tendency to opt for ease rather than exertion the American reality now poses a shocking threat to any sane person’s peace of mind … it’s understandable that most folks can’t muster the motivation to embrace anything more strenuous than partying and spectating.

But you can’t keep a culture and a civilization and a society and an economy going like that.
Sooner or later, a whole lot of individuals have to tackle for themselves the question of whether the Plymouth Colony or the Merrymount-ers had the better approach to things. And then, without waiting for the government to reach down from the murky Beltway clouds, take counsel as to what is best to be done now. And, in best American fashion, let their government – the one they hired to work for them – know just what they want to see done.

Because in between the 17th century and the 19th, there was the 18th – where the Framers put together a Constitutional Republic and bequeathed it to Us.

And whether the economy or the Republic is in greater danger right now, or whether you cannot save one without letting the other go, or whether you have to save both if you are to save either … these are huge and pressing questions that constitute this era’s rendezvous with destiny.


*In all of this, I am not minimizing the ‘threat’ that the colonists posed to the tribes. That is yet another circle of the hell that is built into human history and which operates in this event. Indeed, the Merrymount Mode would probably have been much more acceptable to the tribes’ best interests: the party-goers could not have lasted long on New England’s inhospitable shores, and had they become obnoxious to the tribes they could have been summarily dealt with while conducting their liturgies around the Maypole.


Friday, September 04, 2009


Yes, another Post on Teddy Kennedy.

Let me say here: I’m not doing this out of obsession. But things keep unfolding. And the more I look at these ongoing unfoldings, the more I sense that they are connected, and that these unfoldings are actually the working out of some sort of plan. A shrewd and sly PR plan.

And that this type of thing is now rife in American politics and in public discourse and in the media.

So in my last Post* and in one about Obama and Teddy’s letter to the Pope** I had noted how convenient and useful each of the series of moves had been. Convenient and useful not only to Teddy himself and his ‘legacy’ but also to all of the Beltway (and not just Democrats) that had embraced what has come somewhat inaccurately to be termed his “liberalism”, as that term has morphed since the late Sixties.

Then a few days ago there came a spate of theological discussions by noted churchmen and theology-spouting priests. The first element was priests who teach theology – especially at such big-name and theologically ‘liberal’ venues as Boston College and Notre Dame - opining that it was heart-warming to see Teddy making his peace with the Pope. And that the fact that the Pope replied with anything less than a formal Anathema was a sign that American liberals could take heart that Teddy had received the approval of the Roman Church and the Pope of Rome – for everything.

Although one Notre Dame prof did sniff that the Pope’s reply was bit formal and abstract. And could that really be surprising? Here the Pope has to respond to somebody with Teddy’s own grossly chequered personal history (about which more below) while at the same time (did you think there all amateurs at the Vatican?) realizing that any response at all was probably going to get trumpeted all over the world by the Teddy-Machine – its professional administrators, its political allies, its media friends, and its assorted ‘useful idiots’.

The Pope (or actually the department that answers letters for him) politely thanked Teddy for praying for him, expressed sadness at Teddy’s incipient demise, and offered the traditional consolation and assurance of the Church to those of its children in such straits. It put politics aside – and with a polite and adroit generosity took no formal notice of the politics purposely hovering about the whole thing like Dementors over Harry Potter’s head.

What more could he do? Tell Teddy that all was forgiven? You have to confess in order to be forgiven, and Teddy has never been ‘about’ confessing. Not in the real sense required by Catholic theology.

Then a few days ago, a brouhaha was ‘reported’: the Boston Cardinal was apparently being taken to task for appearing at Teddy’s funeral Mass at all. Given Teddy’s about-face on abortion, and his lock-step public and official support of it for many years, some ‘conservatives’ were trying to rain on the parade by saying that the Cardinal shouldn’t even have showed up – perhaps not even have permitted a Mass.

But the Cardinal is on solid Catholic ground: in death, in all but the most overt circumstances, a child of the Church, a ‘soul’, deserved prayers and the consolations of a Mass. Hell, just yesterday the Church in Boston gave a decent religious send-off to one Gennaro Angiullo, deceased, who was the old Mob boss of Boston back in his heyday. Should those priests be censured for conducting the services and the Mass?

It gives a few interesting political opportunities: the Boston Cardinal, sore bethump’t by the clergy sex-abuse stuff, gets to actually be on the same side as the reigning “liberal” elites of the “Athens of America” as it was once known. And as aforementioned, it allows those “elites” to continue waving the Pope’s letter around as if it were an Indulgence.

Then just a day or so later, it is reported in the ‘New York Times’ and its failing stepchild the ‘Boston Globe’ that Teddy had written a book. In which he ‘confesses’ to being “haunted by” what happened to Mary Jo Kopechne that July night in 1969 on Chappaquiddick.***

This is not a Catholic ‘confession’. This is an Oprah confession: I am in such pain, and even more so now that people keep talking about it – I am a victim of all that ‘talk’. Yah.

And - soooo 'Teddy' - he 'tells all' about Chappaquiddick, which he has avoided doing for forty Biblical years despite every opportunity, in a book suddenly published a week or so after his death - when he will not be available for questions but relies on the 'sensitivity' of the public to take his word for it.

And this morning that same Kennedy-friendly ‘Boston Globe’ publishes a top of the fold primary Editorial to the effect that Now that Teddy has confessed and is gone, can’t we leave him alone and just respect his marvelous legacy and ‘move on’? Neat. A stampede of sensitivity to move everybody away from Chappaquiddick and get everybody into Saint-Teddy gear, while also – nicely – rededicating everybody to the “liberal” agenda which has in no small way helped bring the country to its present condition (not that I hold any brief for the equally depraved posturing of the Right, so wrongly styled as ‘conservatives’).

We can move beyond Teddy failings without giving them any further thought, and in the process grant a full public Citizens’ Indulgence to the frakkery of the past forty years in the Beltway. And thus We can all “unite” over this redemptive death and stop asking any more damned questions. About anything.

A genuine sentiment-fest, beloved of the strategically-sentimental Irish mood, and of the Oprah crowd, and also of pols who reely reely don’t want to have their tires kicked.

But I say No to all of that.

Because Teddy’s behavior at Chappaquiddick in those days was revelatory of a whole lot more than the Machine would like Us to think and because We really have to get out of the habit of ‘feeling’ without doing any ‘thinking’ or tire-kicking in matters of grave public import.

Teddy’s ‘mistake’ at Chappaquiddick was not some sudden and quickly-repaired lapse. It wasn’t just the shock of having just had an accident and having to swim in difficult currents to safety. That was bad enough, leaving his passenger in the car. And a woman at that - which, in those days, was considered to be most ungentlemanly. But then, Teddy has for decades supported those who gleefully 'deconstruct' such 'quaint' strictures and 'oppressions'.

He made his way back to his digs, and made a whole mess of phone calls to his Machine operatives immediately. While she was still in the car under the water beneath the bridge.

Only then, much later in the morning, fortified by a whole bunch of huddling with his lackeys, did he go to the police station (to talk to a small-town police chief who left the State Police because he didn't want the pressure.

Eventually, the emergency resources of the town were dispatched to the bridge. The body – and by this time it most certainly was – was duly retrieved. The body was found in a position indicating that she had tried to contort herself so as to take advantage of the air pocket that formed in the car when it went into the water. She had been alive for a while after the wreck.

The experienced Fire Department diver – who had been dive-trained in the Navy – noted that all the tell-tale indications of air still being trapped in the car were there.****

She might have been alive up to six hours after the car went in.

The medical examiner arrived on the scene , examined her for ten minutes, and pronounced her “the most drowned body I’ve ever seen” – since, the ME claimed, there was a gush of water from the mouth at the slightest pressure on the chest. Although the local undertaker, standing right there with the ME, recalled that there was more foam than water and indeed “much less water than I would have expected” and certainly no “gush” or “flow”.

Despite the guidelines as to when perform autopsies, in his own book written for the guidance of ME’s, this doctor pronounced death-by-drowning following an auto accident and said that clearly there was no need for an autopsy. “Routine drowning” – case closed.

In a gesture of sensitivity and sympathy for the family, Teddy and his boyos made sure that first the body – cleared, however dubiously, by the ME - would get out of town as well. A death certificate was quickly produced by one of his aides, a private plane marvelously appeared, and the body left town. And – the generous sympathy! – left the jurisdiction of Massachusetts altogether (Miss Kopechne’s parents lived in Pennsylvania).

Having seen her safely off (so to speak), Teddy and a posse of lackeys paid an official visit to the police chief (who would manage to lose all of the records in an office fire a few years later – an inferno that consumed (waitttt for it) the single filing cabinet where all of the incident’s paperwork and reports had been stored, copies and all). The local prosecutor, friend of both Teddy and some of his ranking flunkeys, gave his blessing (he would later receive an important appointment to the Bench).

Kennedy went to Pennsylvania and deplaned for the funeral suddenly wearing a neck-brace. That prompted so many guffaws and snorts that he suddenly got better and ‘lost’ the neck-brace for the remainder of his stay.

Meanwhile, back at the scene, a major attorney for Teddy met with the prosecutor and the police chief – deep in a forest glade to avoid being seen – and it was arranged that Teddy would plead guilty to ‘leaving the scene’. Case solved. Both lowly public servants, as aforenoted, were on the brink of major promotions and an entry into the Valhalla of ‘elite’ high-ranking public servants.

But then in a surprise development attributable to Massachusetts politics or to ‘conscience’ (I’m betting on the former) the regional prosecutor filed with his sister-jurisdiction in Pennsylvania to have the body exhumed for an autopsy.

Richard Cardinal Cushing – himself less than a year from death – a ‘friend of the family’ as far too many important local Catholic clergy have been, took it upon himself to fly out to Pennsylvania, literally show up on the Kopechnes’ doorstep, and remind them (verrrry inaccurately) that it was against Catholic teaching to allow autopsies. Thus advised – and with a $140,000 check coming to them (in 1969 money!) - the parents responded to the Pennsylvania court’s invitation to offer their views by saying that they were agin’ it.

That judge – against all legal protocol of one jurisdiction honoring another jurisdiction’s request for investigating a suspicious death – made the Decision that since there was no proof of any criminal activity (which is precisely what an autopsy is designed to discover) then there was no reason why he should upset the family – and anyway, Massachusetts let the body go when it had the chance to order the autopsy so why bother Pennsylvania now?

Case closed.

What I see in all of this is not an impulsive and privileged playboy who had a ‘bad moment’. This whole record indicates a cold, calculating ruthlessness in the matter of self-preservation and the avoidance of the consequences of one’s actions. This is a deep and profound characterological predisposition, not the momentary lapse of maturity and moral decency under extreme pressure of an unexpected event. There is no integrity in this thing – not anywhere. Not nohow.

Who’s left who was a player in this thing? Are we faced with the problem last experienced in Robert McNamara’s death – that he was privy to all sorts of Vietnam and Six-Day-War era goings-on, was almost the last survivor, and had been allowed to go to his grave and thus truly Get Out of Town?

Well, who’s left? McNamara showed up at Hyannisport that afternoon that Teddy got out of town. So did Sargent Shriver and Ted Sorenson, among a bunch of lesser luminaries. Mr. Shriver is himself recently bereaved, but has had a nice run – although they say his mind is going. Mr. Sorenson – long suspected of having written a book for JFK in his early years – is still above ground, playing the role of the sage counsel, full of wisdom and years. Perhaps his encyclopedic mind might recall a factoid or two from those huddles at Hyannisport.

Or perhaps, sort of like McNamara in the case of the Israelis' brutal attack on the USS Liberty, he can recall what he had for dinner the night Marilyn Monroe gave him a compliment at some gala in the misty past, but has utterly no memory of those long-ago vital and portentous huddles in July of 1969 behind closed doors in Hyannisport. The memory is such a tricky thing, no?

Well, We – The People – cannot allow Our memory to slip. With the Beltway now having demonstrated over decades so remarkable an inability to conduct the affairs of a large and (once) prosperous nation and world-power, right up to the present day, then We are America’s last line of defense.

We absolutely must stop believing every manufactured and rehearsed sob-story or horror-story that shrewd PR machines - whatever their 'good' intentions and purposes - put in front of Us, expecting that We'll lap it up like a cat at a bowl of cream. And expecting - with far far too much accuracy - that on the basis of those 'feelings' We'll acquiesce in whatever the elites plan to do.

We must remember History or the-powers-that-be, in all their elite smugness and arrogance, will continue to drag Us into its dustbin.


*See “Teddy and the Magic Dream”, August 31, 2009.

**See “Obama and the Pope”, July 12, 2009.

***In case you're wondering whether you are being targeted by a professional 'stampede' squad, think on this: in this new book, Teddy reveals - Oprah, we hardly knew ye! - that as a 9-year-old at a prep school he was fearful that one of the school administrators wanted to "abuse" him. To which, in best polite style, one can only respond: Ovvvvvv course.

****See “Death at Chappaquiddick”, by Richard and Thomas Tedrow: Ottawa, IL; Green Hill Publishers, 1976.

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