Thursday, October 28, 2010


I continue this look at Saul Alinsky’s 1972 book “Rules for Radicals”* that – I believe – has exerted and continues to exert a substantial and deforming influence on national politics.

His fifth chapter is entitled ‘Communication’.

“One can lack any of the qualities of an organizer – with one exception … communication.” (p.81)

He defines communication-with-others as taking place “when they understand what you’re trying to get across to them”. A functional approach, to say the least.

As usual with him, he ‘defines’ a term only in relation to what he particularly wants to see in it, in terms of its usefulness to his own approach. And that’s getting ‘words’ and ‘definitions’ exactly backwards: you accept the framework of the definitions. You can't just go and shoe-horn your own preconceptions into the words as if you were stuffing a suit-case on the way to the airport.

In the first place, the density and (though I don’t often trust this word any longer, seeing how it’s been abused) ‘richness’ of the human self and its interactive potentials with other human beings requires the greatest possible commonality in ‘definitions’ – and purposely limiting a definition for your own convenience throws a monkey-wrench into all that.

There are numerous vital purposes beyond manipulating-folks for which human beings communicate. Sharing thoughts and feelings, seeking understanding … these are just some of the major ones. The species evolved common rules for definitions precisely in order to facilitate that communication.

In the second place, such commonality is essential in order to ensure a common ground for exchanging or discussing information. Especially in a public forum and especially in a democracy.

Alinsky’s approach is – not to put too fine a point on it – manipulative and leaves open an awful lot of room for mistakes in understanding and comprehension, and in a world-‘room’ where humans are already like tuning-forks and can set each other off, adding this manipulative element of his simply opens up vast possibilities for misunderstanding and – again not to put too fine a point on it – deceit.

And We have surely seen in the post-9/11 era what happens when a government deliberately engages in deceit. And not simply the old-fashioned reasons-of-state deceit practiced among diplomats along the lines of Machiavelli, but rather a more fundamental and thorough-going form of deceit that the government practices on its own Citizenry.

But this was going on long before Bush-Cheney. Alinsky’s presumption that Nothing Is On The Level justified the debasement of language (precisely what George Orwell feared) since ‘language’ and its ‘rules’ (and perhaps ‘truth’ itself) were merely tools for the Haves to extort and oppress the Have-Nots. In which case the only ‘honorable’ (though Alinsky would not use the word) road was to take the ‘low road’, even in political discourse.

And this toxic stream of his blended with Deconstruction in an awful synergy: since there was no ‘objective reality’ anyway, and since there could be no ‘Big Picture’, then the ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ of things was up for grabs, and would go to the most politically pressure-full bunch.

Indeed, since the entire corpus of civilization – in both Alinsky’s essential economic view of life and in the radical-feminists’ essentially genderist view of life – was nothing but a tattered but heavy blanket designed to smother the (fill in the blank) minority, then ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ became piñatas to be Deconstructed, and the sooner and the more thoroughly the better.

And yet, of course, in the great national piñata party of the past 40 Biblical years, those who ‘get it’ would not have to wear blindfolds, and could also maneuver the rest of the party-goers around with gentle or forceful shoves; and in that I would include the purposeful manipulation of language by debasing words. Thus so much that was done (with vigorous Beltway backing) for the most assaultive and destructive (and Deconstructive) purposes was spun as merely being ‘reform’, ‘change’, ‘tweaking’, and ‘progress’. Which, really, was hardly the case; certainly was not ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’.

But then, since Alinsky starts (as do so many Advocacies) from the assumption that Nothing Is On The Level, then those who seek to do good (meaning to help the Have-Nots) must ‘walk on the dark side’ in order to Do Good. Which, of course, was a Standard Operating Procedure that burst the containing walls protecting the polity from the likes of King-Kong Cheney and his sock-puppet Deciderer.

BUT by the time Bush-Cheney got into positions of great power the walls were already swiss-cheesed all to hell.

“Educators are in common agreement on this concept of communication” he asserts (p.82) although this is a pathetically deficient description of the breadth and depth and height of the potentials of human communication and I can’t imagine that when he started spreading this stuff around that comment was true. Nowadays, of course, after 40 years of Alinsky-ite indoctrination by the Academy and the Beltway I can’t say the same – and woe is Us because of it.

But characteristically, he immediately adds his own little toxic and revealing comment: “… even though few teachers use it [this concept of communication] … after all, there are only a few real teachers in that profession”. (p.82) Zang! Zing! Biff! Pow! There are so few ‘real’ anythings, because they don’t agree with Alinsky, and perhaps in the beginning opposed his thought, until the Advocacies and their Beltway goons jammed their needles into the national Arm with the pressure of an IV-push. And now the national Patient is confused, dazed, and often happily mumbling in some half-lit dreamworld of purposely-induced illusion and immature mental processing. And here We are.

“Since people understand with their own experience, an organizer must have at least a cursory familiarity with their experience.” (p.82) But NOT to understand people so much as to use their own experience to cloak the manipulations you as an organizer intend to perpetrate upon them, using their own language abilities. ALTHOUGH, of course, it’s for their own good.

And, in a hell-hot irony, We wind up today a People comprised of many many Have-Nots and a very few very wealthy Haves … replicating more so than at any other time in American history the society of Tsarist Russia against which Alinsky’s intellectual mentors waged their struggles.

“When you are trying to communicate and can’t find the point in the experience of the other party at which he can receive and understand, then, you must create the experience for him”. (p.83) In other words, you know what s/he SHOULD be experiencing, so you have carte-blanche to ‘create’ what you are already sure must be there. Thus, among other things, the unending series of ‘symbolic incidents’ that are designed for no other purpose than to convince large numbers of people (modern communications technologies are far more efficient in pulling this gambit on masses of people rather than the slow one-person-at-a-time approach) that derange a democratic politics, derailing it from a ‘politics of substance’ and rendering it merely a ‘politics of symbolism’ and ‘apprearances’.

His vision spreads like a toxic flood: “For another example of the same principle, here is a Christian civilization where most people have gone to church and mouthed various Christian doctrines, and yet this is really not a part of their experience because they haven’t lived it. Their church experience has been purely a ritualistic decoration.” (p.87)

So church-goers and decent believers are all lumped in with those many ‘educators’ who – really, in Alinsky’s assessment – are nothing but frauds and fakes. Which, amazingly, echoes the plaint of Holden Caulfield in the throes of adolescent alienation: everything and everybody is “phony”.

It’s an incomplete world (the Eastern philosophical term ‘dukkha’ comes to mind) and an imperfect one. Sin – the abiding human ability to act counter to its own most genuine nature – is everywhere, as once was taken for (and recognized as) ‘reality’ and perhaps as ‘Reality’.

But for Alinsky the abiding incompleteness of things – the lacrimae rerum – with its darker tinge and twist of deliberate sin … all of that is merely phoniness or the witless misdoings of those who don’t really embrace the full reality of Life and History. They ‘just don’t get it’, the ‘it’ being Alinsky’s penetrating insight that sees through everything to the phony core beneath.

No wonder the follow-on Advocacies, committed to Deconstruction, had so easy a time with their deceptively ‘well-intentioned’ and robust efforts to ‘crush the infamous thing’. All of the civilizational structure was a rotted door; and – in a marvelous channeling of the deluded lunatic with the little moustache as he unleashed his goose-stepping legions against Russia – “you have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down”. Ja! Yah.

Church-goers are by and large ‘phonies’, either out of deliberate deceit or dumb-assed mediocrity. And thus, ‘Church’ must be nothing more than that too. Adolescent sensibility, adolescent logic. But, of course, in 1971 the Dems were getting ready to declare themselves the Party of Youth and so on and so forth, and would give the kids the vote – at age 18 – in 1972. Wheeeeeeee!

For all his legitimate sensitivity to the incompleteness of human efforts in just about everything they undertake, Alinsky has a evolved here a pathetically insufficient explanation and a toxic ‘solution’. Adolescents – at least before that time – had a shot at growing into a more mature and tempered view of the great vessel of civilization that carried them through the chaotic waters of Life and History.

But since then, they have been assured that you can simply chop the vessel up in order to re-arrange it. And, increasingly nowadays, that Oh well, swimming’s more fun than hanging around on a musty old ship anyway! Alinsky, I would say, has never really been to sea – out on the vasty deep. Or if he ever did venture that far out, he ‘just didn’t get it’.

“Christianity is beyond the experience of a Christian-professing-but-not-practicing population.” (p.88) Not that Alinsky is going to help improve the quality of the anybody’s Christian dedication and praxis. Crush the infamous thing! That’s about all he comes up with.

But like Canute, as the Beltway has now discovered, your sovereign authority as human or as a pressure-group that pulls the strings of a vote-addled pandering Beltway … cannot and never can command the tides and the deep waters. And most of the planet is comprised of such ‘waters’, as is most of human experience – the experience that humans create together, as incompletely as their own human nature imposes.

Rather than ‘fix’ or ‘improve’ Alinsky will Deconstruct – even though the formal term itself was still just coming into vogue when he wrote. His thoughts and Deconstruction created a lethal synergy in national affairs and in the life of the nation and The People, and it bethumps Us still.

He will engage in a bit of Scriptural investigation, as phony as religion is. Moses (“a great organizer”), suddenly finding himself – in Alinsky’s reading – suddenly finds God referring to the Israelites in the desert as “thy” people, and Moses is a little annoyed that he’s going to get saddled with running the show.

So Moses “kept his cool” and “he knew that the most important center of his attack would have to be on what he judged to be God’s prime value”. (p.90) This is what Alinsky gets out of a profound Scriptural experience: you are about to be extorted by the Ultimate Have, and you have to ‘attack’. I’ll leave it to you to read Alinsky here for yourself (and maybe glance back at the Moses-God story in the Bible itself).

Suffice it to say that Moses “tells God to cool it” and that if God destroys the Israelites because they have been ‘incomplete’ (my word) in their faithfulness, then God is going to lose his worshipping (and viewing) audience if He goes and punishes them; and on top of that all the other peoples in the vicinity will figure God is some whackjob you can’t believe in because He is lets his temper get the best of Him.

God, in Alinsky’s take on it, is convinced it would be in His best interests to strike a deal. And that proves Alinsky’s approach works and that it is – by the by – a valid expression of the core of Western civilization. (That same civilization which Alinsky dismisses largely as phony and populated by phonies … but of course there is that saving remnant who ‘just get it’ who will have to manipulate-unto-Glory all of those lumps ‘who just don’t get it’. Wheeeeee!)

You can see why a whole lotta people felt reely reely good assigning themselves the role of Those Who Get It in Alinsky’s vision of things.

“Is this manipulation?” he asks. (p.92) “Certainly, just as a teacher manipulates, and no less, even a Socrates.” So Alinsky has promoted himself to Socratic as well as Mosaic status, and of course Those Who Get It are authorized to “manipulate”. THIS was not something that any democratically elected and Constitutionally-bound body of politicians needed to hear.

And, naturally, although actual teachers and actual believers are nothing but phonies, Alinsky’s elite corps of vanguard elites will remain true and pure and utterly dedicated. Ovvvvvv coursssssssse.

He urges incessant questioning. BUT ONLY until folks have come to the one answer you want them to arrive at. After that, the time for thinking has passed. Ach.

As you may imagine, I get a baaaad feeling about this (one way in which, I think, young Skywalker’s comment in the original 1977 flik expressed a cultural sensibility too deep for anybody to forthrightly express in a public forum).

But it has been, and shall ever remain, a sad reality of American history that We were not able to communicate that profound unease effectively.

And here We are today.


*My copy is the paperback Vintage Books/Random House edition that reprints the original 1971 edition. The ISBN is 0-679-72113-4. All my quotations and page references will be taken from this edition.

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Saturday, October 23, 2010


I came across a short piece in ‘The New Republic’ and it seems to me to clearly connect to Alinsky, among other things, so here goes.

In the September 2 print issue, online here, is a piece entitled ‘The Nowhere Bomb’. This mag’s not the place to go for serious (and therefore frank, candid, and accurate) talk about the whole ‘Israel thing’, but you get an idea what one side is talking about and how it would like to spin matters.

The article opens with a question: “Should Jerusalem bring its bomb out of the basement?”

For those viewers who have recently tuned-in (as they used to say) this seems like a candid and frank question. And in a sense that’s true.

But in a larger sense it’s not really so true at all.

What’s going on here is that in a public forum somebody is actually discussing something that was a violation of international law and has been since its inception back in the days of Eisenhower, and that came to a head – it has to be said – in that fateful summer of 1963, a few months before – it also has to be said – JFK’s assassination. You recall that in that year JFKwas deep into his efforts to get a Test Ban Treaty going with the USSR to reduce the threat of nuclear war (the Cuban Missile Crisis had taken place in the previous October).

On July 5th of that year, JFK wrote to the brand new Israeli Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol (who replaced David Ben-Gurion, an Israeli ‘old fighter’ who had helped bring the Israel State into existence). In no uncertain terms JFK told Eshkol (as he had told Ben-Gurion, to no effect) that the US could not and would not countenance Israel’s under-the-table efforts to acquire The Bomb and that any continuation of Israel’s efforts would not see success on his (JFK’s) watch.

Then suddenly JFK’s watch ended in that assassination in Dallas in November, which was explained as the work of a lone lunatic and that “magic super-bullet” that did so much damage from several directions and ended up in almost pristine condition to be ‘discovered’ later lying peacefully in the Presidential limo.

Israel’s efforts apparently continued, including hundreds of pounds of vital atomic fuel-material that somehow got ‘lost’ in a Western Pennsylvania district’s nuclear-processing facility owned by a rabidly pro-Israel businessman and situated in a district that would soon be represented on Capitol Hill by Arlen Specter, then a staffer on the Warren Commission inquiry into the assassination and – by amazing coincidence – the guy who came up with the magic-bullet ‘explanation’ for the assassination.

Funny how the night moves.

It was on LBJ’s watch that the material went missing in 1965, the same LBJ who, when the USS Liberty was attacked repeatedly in broad daylight by Israeli air and naval units with great loss of sailors’ lives, ordered the rescue fighter-jets from the carrier USS America to be recalled and later ordered the naval inquiry to ‘find’ that the whole thing was just a mistake because – LBJ insisted – “we don’t want to embarrass our Israeli friends”.

Cut to now.

The article here notes with a deceptive matter-of-factness that Israel is “the only nuclear-armed nation to hide its cache behind a façade of official silence – neither confirming nor denying its existence”. Although the article admits that Israel does indeed HAVE nukes.

Which is an on-going and long-standing violation of international law (in case you might think that Bush invented violations of international law with his preventive-war theory).

The article suggests that it’s time for a “reconsideration of this stance”. In other words, that the on-going international crime, heretofore hidden, should be openly admitted.

But only for the “advantages” such an admission – or, rather, ‘announcement’ and declaration – would have for Israel’s international position.

I can’t help but notice what a poor example of law-abiding, let alone ‘moral’, behavior this sets.

And doubly so: first that the crime was committed and kept going for so long, and second, that its poisonous fruits would now be capitalized-upon in the Great Game. (For the moment, let’s put aside the numerous lives lost in consequence of the whole gambit, perhaps – it would have to be considered – including JFK’s.)

The article – again with deceptive though illuminating candor – discusses the downsides of the idea, because “disclosure poses its own challenges”. So true, as Al Capone’s attorneys probably advised that noted businessman back in the day.

Were Israel to make the admission, then “the nuclear pariah spotlight” which presently and soooo nicely “shines on Iran” would shift to Israel “given global political biases”. [italics mine] In other words, if you were to think ill of Israel for this on-going international crime then you would clearly be ‘biased’. An argument I’m sure Capone would have loved to have made in open court, if he thought that such a claim wouldn’t have reduced him to instant and contemptuous ridicule.

So if you were to be upset at the commission of this on-going crime, you wouldn’t be concerned for international justice, say; you would merely be ‘biased’ (and I suppose it’s an interesting straw in the wind now that the article doesn’t deploy the time-worn ‘anti-Semitic’ epithet).

Quietly and perhaps without intending to, the article also admits that such ‘bias’ is now “global” – which might lead one to think that the world is becoming more concerned for international justice, but which apparently means to the author that the world continues to be ‘against Israel’ for whatever dark and nasty reasons. Though, of course, he cawn’t think why.

It might “legitimate Iranian nuclear weapons in the court of international opinion” – though he cawn’t think why. That most of the world is aware of Israel’s on-going international crime, that other nations in that sore-bethumpt and fractious Middle East might have figured that if Israel can ‘do it’ so can they (and perhaps that if Israel has The Bomb then they’d better get one of their own pretty damned quick) … these utterly predictable and forseeable and – not to put too fine a point on it – logical international possibilities do not merit notice.

Israel would prefer to imagine itself, it would seem, newborn in the 21st century, with no 60 prior years of history and no responsibility for ‘having’ The Bomb (which it ‘has’ but never seems to have ‘acquired’; much like the old Boston Brahmin lady who does not ‘buy’ her hats, she simply ‘has’ her hats: such a dignified dowager would never degrade herself by going into a store and actually doing the dirty work of ‘buying’ anything).

But Israel could “complicate the mullahs’ risk calculations” and do so “without exciting the Arab street”. As if the Arab street doesn’t already know that the Israelis have been engaged in this on-going violation of international law for almost half-a-century. And that the US has, since LBJ’s time, been complicit not only in keeping up this charade but in helping the Israelis get the damned Bomb to begin with.

In best Beltway and advertising style, the author here has even given his new plan a catchy moniker: “Opacity Plus”. In his own words, Israel will find “subtle ways to draw attention to its nukes without explicitly abandoning its current position” (which is already to cover-up an ongoing crime).


Alinsky’s approach is in this, as well as Lenin’s, Goebbels’s, Edward Bernays’s, and Machiavelli’s. There is only ‘the low-road’, and since Nothing Is On The Level then whatever you decide you have to do isn’t any worse than what’s already been going on.

And all that’s required now is to ‘spin’ this and ‘sell’ this, since there can be no ‘moral’ discussion in a world where only “the low-road” exists.

And you wonder where ‘moral discussion’ and assessment and ‘judgment’ (you surely don’t want to be ‘judgmental’) have gone.

Without admitting the implications of what he’s just said, the author slyly and immediately moves on to ‘justify’ what he prefers not to admit: Israel “looked out at a daunting strategic landscape” in 1948, “surrounded by adversaries”. Which is precisely what so many seasoned diplomatic sources of that era had warned would be the case; which Harry Truman, riding the crest of America’s immediate-postwar dominance but hugely worried about his re-election possibilities, did blithely and with callowness aforethought ignore as he noted that he “had no Arab voters” but a hell of a lot of “Jewish voters” and instantly recognized the State.

Worse, the article whines gently that Israel “had also failed in its efforts to enter into a military alliance with either Europe or the United States”. Which isn’t quite so. First, there was no sovereign nation called “Europe” and never has been; second, Israel purposely avoided any treaty with the US in order to avoid having to admit that its long-term plan was to take over the whole of Biblical ‘Israel’ before it was finished. A mutual defense treaty would require a formal description of each contracting State’s borders, and their long term plan was a dark secret the Israelis didn’t want to admit openly.*

And, of course, the article notes that the Holocaust was involved: against such a replay of events, “David Ben-Gurion latched onto the idea that nuclear weapons would provide the ultimate security blanket”.

Was he wrong? I don’t mean morally; let’s keep it at the level of ‘strategically’. Have the yes-and-no nukes made Israel a more respected member of the international community?

And both law-enforcement and prosecutors and competent therapists will recognize "latched onto" as what is called in those trades "minimizing": a person responsible for an act tries to use words that make it sound a lot less serious than it really was. "Latched onto"? You decide to take a country and violate international law, in a matter of atomic-nuclear weapons, which you intend to achieve by whatever means necessary, legal or not, and then to cover that act up, and you want to say you just sorta "latched onto" the plan?

Washington was not pleased with Israel’s Eisenhower/Kennedy-era efforts to get The Bomb because “Washington was obsessed with curtailing the spread of the bomb”. Obsessed? Like it was a bad thing? Like it was a form of mental-aberration? Like Israel should be applauded for retaining its ‘sanity’ while Washington went off the deep end?

Surprisingly the author notes that while Eisenhower raised objections to Israel’s efforts (with the help of a Vichy-guilty and anti-American France) to set up the Dimona facility, JFK (in the process of forging a test-ban agreement with the USSR) was the one who actually refused to accept Ben-Gurion’s (deceitful?) “assurances that Dimona served civilian purposes”; thus it was JFK “who would make the lone serious effort to halt the Israeli program … even threatening to re-evaluate the whole [US-Israeli] relationship”.

Without any comment or hint of irony, the author concludes that thought with the flat sentence: “Because of Lee Harvey Oswald that confrontation never happened”. Which, to the detectively-inclined might constitute powerful ‘motive’, as they say in the police procedurals.

But, following LBJ’s “letting the matter slide”, Nixon ( a Republican, neatly) and Golda Meir “finally came to an informal understanding” in 1969, in which the US would not “impede” Israel’s efforts so long as “the program remained opaque”. In other words, an on-going violation of international law was OK, as long as nobody got too obvious about it. I think there’s a crime in there somewhere. Or a crime to cover-up a crime.

But since that arrangement has been “endorsed by all subsequent American presidents, Barack Obama included” then what even the author calls a “pretense” can’t be objected-to at this point; support for this thing has been ‘bipartisan’, as they say. So since the bank was robbed and the money spent – wisely or not – then the crime can’t be prosecuted? The philosophy of law has really lost even more ground than We had previously thought in this country.

And around the world. And can anybody honestly be surprised?

So here’s a situation – and it’s no doubt not only an open secret but a classic example of How To Do It inside the Beltway and has been for decades – that openly undermines not only truth and the rule of law but also the fundamental political basis of language as a means of conveying to The People accurate truth about what is being done in their Name and on their Authority. Orwell warned everybody about this.

And it no doubt migrates into other areas of national activity, these assumptions that Nothing Is On The Level and that It’s OK If WE Do It But Not OK If THEY Do It.

This type of activity degrades and coarsens not only politics and not only the political discourse but the politicians and diplomats themselves. It breeds not simply a well-intentioned but profoundly cynical ‘organizing’ – as Alinsky consoled himself to think – but also a fundamental derangement of the practitioners as well as the political discourse. And the not-a-secret support of such a scam cannot but pull the rug out from under any wide international confidence in anything resembling fairness, let alone in truth and justice, in international diplomacy and relations.

AND THEN the author goes on to rub his hands gleefully about the possible benefits of this debasement of politics and language: Israel should put all of this out in the open in order to “allow a cacophony of debate among the chattering classes, to generate ‘crazy’ as well as tempered ideas”. I get the impression that “chattering” includes discussions of the morality or legitimacy or legality of this whole frakkulent gambit, and that any idea that doesn’t agree with what’s been done will not be acknowledged as “tempered” no matter how insightful it may be, but rather the idea – and probably its proponents – will be labeled as ‘unrealistic’ and ‘shrill’ and ‘irrational’. That, apparently, is how the Game is best played.

This will bear poisonous fruit indeed, or rather will continue to do so as it has for the past half-century.


*You can read a short but candid assessment of Israel’s attitude toward an actual treaty – the only way one nation can formally and actually be an ‘ally’ of another nation – here.


I can’t pass this up. Michael J. Totten just published an interview he did with Martin Kramer.

I don’t think you can get a better insight into how these things are arranged than by reading it.

Let me begin by saying that there are, as I see it, three types of interview.

First, there are hostile interviews: the interviewer doesn’t like the ideas or perhaps the originator of the ideas, and is determined to expose them.

Second, there are constructive interviews: the objective is and remains the public exploration of the ideas, the interviewer drawing out the positive and negative aspects of the idea(s) so that viewers depart with more accurate information than they had before.

Third, there are the friendly interviews, or ‘puffs’. Their purpose is merely to give the ideas and/or the originator a platform to publicize a desired ‘line’ (as in Party Line, that sturdy old Bolshevik phrase).

This Totten-Kramer job is very much in the third category, so much so that Totten becomes nothing more than a jukebox that doesn’t need a quarter to play the tune.

Essentially, the interview is designed to trot-out the latest Israeli ‘narrative’ by which the true believers and cadres are to understand and explain the most recent phase of the sempiternal Israeli game-plan.

There is no longer a Middle East: there is a “Levant” (resurrecting an ancient geographical term) that includes the Eastern Mediterranean and then there is the Persian Gulf (which is not to be thought of as actually belonging to Iran – home of the Persians – but the world is stuck with the common usage even though it is inconvenient to the Israeli spin and, anyway, it’s really only the Persians who call it the Persian Gulf and the Arabs would like it called something else (although, as I recall, there is already an Arabian Gulf so perhaps it should be re-named the Israeli Gulf) /

The “Arabs” live in the Levant and the Iranians live above and along the Persian Gulf /

The Iranians don’t have much of an economy (“some carpets and pistachio nuts”, as Kramer minimizes it) or natural resources (beyond the pistachio nuts aforementioned) so they will try to set up like mobsters to horn in on the Gulf, which carries much of the world’s oil trade /

This makes the Arabs nervous and the Israeli’s concerned for their well-being /

And also frustrates the Israelis because clearly the US is not stepping up to the plate as regional hegemon (or, take your pick, world guarantor-hegemon) and insuring that it will either keep the Persians out of the oil rackets or guarantee that the Israelis – as America’s Deputy – will have full American support in case they decide to do ‘whatever it takes’ (as the Israelis love to put it) /

So if they have to, the Israelis will step up if the artistes formerly known as Persians try to get nuclear and will if need be – but not before – go nuclear if the Iranians get nuclear /

The former-Persians are not really interested in “the Palestinians” or genuinely concerned for “justice for the Palestinians”, by the by, but rather are simply playing the old agitprop game of creating a diversionary ‘issue’ (or ‘emergency’ or ‘outrage’) so nobody should really worry about the Palestinians and everybody should worry about the formerly-Persian Iranians /

The former-Persians now “plan” to dominate the Persian Gulf (so, apparently, any speculation about a long-held Israeli plan to get back all of the Biblical Israel can be forgotten, thank ya vurrry mutch) and the whole neighborhood is beginning to resemble Virginia City and environs without Ben Cartwright and his boys; in fact Kramer voluntarily ‘shares’ with puffboy Totten his own personal impression that the former-Persians remind him of no one so much as – WAIT FOR IT – Saddam Hussein, deceased, who threatened to burn down Israel but burned down Kuwait instead (hence ‘the Arabs’ are getting nervous and restless, as natives so often do) /

The US should step in now (unstated middle: while it still has enough steam left to make at least a credible showing) or risk losing face as Great Hegemon, which would distress the Israelis on top of their already aching concern for the upset ‘wa’ of the Arabs /

And the US should not be selfish and say that since it doesn’t actually use much of the Gulf’s oil (at some point in the past few minutes we have arrived at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, clearly) but everybody in Virginia City expects the Ponderosa to either do its bit or simply delegate its role as God’s Deputy by Deputizing the Israelis (who, I was under the distinct impression, were already God’s Chosen in their own right) /

As regards Israel’s possession of a nuclear bomb (in rather clear and ongoing violation of international law), the Israelis are sorta like the Japanese in the sense that either one has The Bomb or one is “only one screw away from it” (although how the Japanese and sex got into this whole thing is beyond me) /

So the formerly-Persian nukes are really a “world problem” and if the US doesn’t want to do its job, then the Israelis announce that they will be glad to stand up for Jesus and step in to save the Arabs /

Oh, but of course it should be perfectly obvious that if the Persians have nukes then Israel will – alas – have to keep a tight grip on ALL of Jerusalem and fortify the whole place so that it will become simultaneously a ‘deterrent’ and a secondary command post in case the Persians want to attack what would now be an Arab holy place-cum-Israeli-command-center and in fact Israel would have to keep pretty much all of the control in order to ensure that the State of Israel remains “viable” in case of a nuclear war /

Oh, and since even “a small faction” of Iranians who are Bomb-happy cannot be tolerated in the Iranian government, then [Kramer leaves this conclusion unstated but planted just under the surface like a road-side bomb] if even one such former-Persian remains or get into the Iranian government – even just one – then “the Iranian threat” will still remain, so, barring the almost utter impossibility that the Iranian government would contain TOTALLY NONE of the pro-Bomb faction (widely defined, no doubt) then Iran is going to have to be attacked no matter how much it tries to comply with the Israeli dampdreams  – preferably with nukes (since not even the US has the ground forces for the job, especially in its present condition.)  (And of course, this comment lets the Iranians know that they are pretty much going to be attacked regardless, even if they install a government of 99 percent Girl Scouts; which, nicely, will undermine any moderates in the Iranian government and strengthen the hand of whatever pro-Bomb, or even pro-war lunatics, who already have a say in what Iran will decide. Diabolical. And, although nobody can accuse the Israelis of hewing to the Bible in anything except their insistence that it constitutes a Real-Estate Deed of Ownership of great antiquity and statute, there is that bit in the Book of Genesis (the first book, so it’s not like the story is buried in the back pages) about Lot asking God if He will destroy Sodom “if even only one just man” can be found, to which – you recall – the Deity agreed that He would not destroy the city if only one just man were found within.)  /
Oh, and Yes, it’s going to make any arrangements with the Palestinians wayyyyy more difficult but that’s a price that – for the sake of the Arabs and the world – the Israelis are willing to take on, as they have taken on so many other unrewarded burdens /

And, come to think of it, given all the complications of nuclear exchanges and such, the whole Palestinian thing should really be accepted as a secondary problem that cannot be allowed to interfere with the well-being of so many various peoples in that Levant and Israel is just going to have to man up and accept the fact that it will have to run Jerusalem and environs until the cows come home (which, in those parts, might be quite some time) /

And lastly, Israel will have to be logical about its new responsibilities as savior of the Arabs and move just about all of its most vital assets into Jerusalem – technological, economic, industrial – sort of like as if Jerusalem were the capital of Israel (although in no way is this to be construed as a fulfillment of any hypothetical pre-determined plan to take over all of Biblical Israel with Jerusalem as its Biblical capital.

Well, there you have it.

There’s something rather unserious about all this. It seems to me to be a glaring characteristic of this Age that while the problems are serious indeed, the humans are queasily unserious. (A headline today asks if “Comedians can save Democrats”, referring no doubt to Jon Stewart and Mr. Colbert (pronounced Col-bear)).

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I continue this look at Saul Alinsky’s 1972 book “Rules for Radicals”* that – I believe – has exerted and continues to exert a substantial and deforming influence on national politics.

His fourth chapter is entitled ‘The Education of an Organizer’.

He starts off by ticking off the assorted types of students he’s taught. The breadth of it gives you an indication of just how many aspects of American society, culture, and politics were directly influenced by his vision and his approach: “… middle-class women activists to Catholic priests to Protestant ministers of all denominations, from militant Indians to Chicanos to Puerto Ricans to blacks from all parts of the black power spectrum, from Panthers to radical philosophers, from a variety of campus activists, S.D.S and others, to a priest who was joining a revolutionary party in South America. Geographically they have come from campuses and Jesuit seminaries in Boston to Chicanos from tiny Texas towns, middle-class people from Chicago and Hartford and Seattle, and almost every place in between”. (p.63)

Take a moment to imagine the priests and seminarians and assorted Protestant ministry types: how do you see Alinsky’s vision and approach working in a church or religious setting? In this country, as opposed to, say, some Third World autocracy or kleptocracy** or chaotic Hobbesian tribal pandemonium?

In that regard, Chris Hedges has a recent article on the Truthout site in which he quotes Aristophanes to the effect that “Normal men don’t know that everything is possible, refuse to believe their eyes and ears in the face of the monstrous. ... The reason why the totalitarian regimes can get so far toward realizing a fictitious, topsy-turvy world is that the outside non-totalitarian world, which always comprises a great part of the population of the totalitarian country itself, indulges in wishful thinking and shirks reality in the face of real insanity. ...”

I’d say that ‘totalitarian’ is true as far as it goes, but doesn’t quite go far enough to cover the current American situation: Our politics has been attacked in a deliberate and deliberately permanent civic-war, by classic revolutionary tactics, techniques, and stratagems that have been ‘baptized’ merely by their ‘good intentions’ and the restrictions on physical and armed violence still operative here.

Most Americans had no idea that their politics would be so treacherously attacked. But then, most Americans didn’t consider themselves as illicit Haves and didn’t realize that they had already been declared as such (and targeted as such) by the Alinskyite vision.

And can you imagine what effect Alinsky would have on a church or religious group?

How did the reverend whatevers cover the huge gap between letting the tares grow with the wheat and the call for immediate and radical civic-war-as-God’s-war? And, for that matter, how did the Alinsky-trained divines maintain a serious commitment to – not to put too fine a point on it – the divine, when they had been schooled to the point of gaga in a vision that was Flattened into a this-dimensional force, said Flattening serving to intensify the pressure for ‘change’ and not allow any of that precious hydraulic energy to be siphoned off and dissipated by such opiate illusions as God’s Providence, God’s Grace, and that tares-and-wheat patience and prudence?

The education of an organizer requiring long hours of conferences (on such topics as ‘conflict tactics’ – see below), their “marriage record” is “with rare exception disastrous”. (p.65) You might think that at least the Catholic seminarians would have weathered that storm but then they would have run onto the rocks of Godlessness, since Alinsky wouldn’t have been in business had he acknowledged a God Whose Providence somehow worked to support at least a modest prudence in the conduct of civic affairs.

And, Alinsky being a man of the Old Left, and in light of “the tensions, the hours, the home situation and [marvelously] the opportunities”, then “with rare exception, I have not known really competent organizers who were concerned about celibacy”. (p.65) Being an economic Have-Not didn’t mean, apparently, that you had to be a total Have-Not. But that was before the Alinskyite vision was taken over by assorted other ‘non-economic’ oppressees, of course.

“As I look back on the results of those years, they seem to be a potpourri with, I would judge, more failures than successes”. (p.65) I would like to think that he wasn’t simply deploying false modesty here. But yet, being honest about this, he did not for a moment hesitate or doubt and kept pressing his plan.

Looking back from the vantage point of almost 40 Biblical years later, you are welcome to consider whether Alinsky’s legacy has had more success than failure, or the other way around.

“If one thinks of an organizer as a highly imaginative and creative architect and engineer, then the best we have been able to train on the job were skilled plumbers, electricians, and carpenters, all essential” but incapable, really, of taking the Grand Design to new levels. (pp.65-6)

He recounts the tribulations: college-activists who could whip up a bunch of students but couldn’t communicate with middle-class grown-ups; labor organizers who were used to set-piece, fixed-point campaigns but couldn’t handle the fluid and fast-moving operational milieu of “mass organizing” which “is a different animal … not housebroken … no fixed chronological points or definite issues”. (p.66)

No definite issues? Again, Alinsky is more than just ‘fluid’ and ‘adaptable’: he is given to civic-war whenever, however, on whatever basis will get people worked up. Because, after all, the world for Alinsky is a version of Camus’s Plague City: the Haves are reliably trying to extort the Have-Nots everywhere, all the time, every old which-way. The pervasiveness and semi-permanence of this Evil, come to think of it, offers a passable simulacrum of religious commitment, if you don’t look too close or actually try to take the thing for a spin up into the wild blue Beyond.

Nor was he impressed with ‘social worker’ types. Direct descendants of the Progressive Era’s ‘settlement house’ workers, they “organize to get rid of four-legged rats and stop there; we organize to get rid of four-legged rats so we can get on to removing two-legged rats”. (p.68)

I appreciate and respect his sense that some humans will behave like rats toward other humans. I appreciate – find it refreshing – that he will use such vivid terminology (and I’m sure he meant it; it wasn’t just a public pose) as ‘rats’. Alas, though, I think 40 years of his legacy has actually created more such ‘rats’ than at any time since the Gilded Age … or perhaps more and larger ones than in the Gilded Age.

But you can’t impose a ‘rat’-hunting mentality – let alone an entire Approach with techniques and assumptions and rules for the cadres – on a democratic politics. If there are so many Haves that you are going to be in a state of permanent civic-war (and this was BEFORE the Revolutions of the Identities created gender-Haves and Have-Nots, race-Haves and Have-Nots, sexual orientation-Haves and Have-Nots, and on and on and on) then you are bringing on a Permanent War or Permanent Emergency politics FROM THE LEFT. (Which, ironically, handed to the jingoist, hyper-nationalist and corporatist Right the very bridge their kind always needed but couldn’t openly create without making themselves look like fascists effecting a take-over.)

It goes to show, I think, that the opposite of ‘liberal’ is not ‘conservative’ but ‘illiberal’ – precisely what Political Correctness and the Alinsky-soused cadres of the Advocacies were and precisely the types of realities they have foisted on the country, the polity, and the politics.

An organizer needs ‘curiosity’; the organizer “becomes a carrier of the contagion of curiosity” because he will support Have-Nots who begin to ask Why when they consider their situation. This is the “reformation” stage that must precede the actual revolutionary stage. (p.72)

All perfectly orthodox revolutionary doctrine – but what business did it have in a democratic republic? Especially since it was embraced not only by the fabled ‘limousine liberals’ of the East Coast, but by the Beltway (the Dems first, the Republicans following after a while). This was not ‘fresh thinking’ – this was the old revolutionary stuff that had led Russia down the dark path, and so many reformers in so many countries after that.

It had been unable to gain traction in the United States. Until, desperate in the later Sixties, the Dems were willing to sign hall-passes for anybody who promised to burnish their creds as a party of the people (though it turned out, it would actually be a Party of the Identities and their cadres, and The People would be assigned the role of ‘the masses’ – not really a respected job-description in the classic revolutionary schema).

Typically eager to demonstrate the creds of his own Approach, Alinsky quickly asserts that “Actually, Socrates was an organizer … the function of an organizer is to raise questions that agitate, that break through the accepted pattern”. (p.72) And so far so good – it’s precisely this type of awareness that fuels a democratic politics.

But Alinsky then reduces the famous Socratic injunction to ‘know thyself’ to the Flattened sense of ‘knowing’ that you are a Have-Not and thus being extorted and oppressed by the Haves. Socrates, therefore, was not “carrying out the first stage of making revolutionaries”. (p.73) Socrates worked in a Larger world, whose planes of existence included an Interiority and perhaps even a Verticality; the human self was a cosmos and constituted a ‘new world’ and a genuine ‘frontier’ the hidden reaches of which every human being had to enter, explore, and master.

To Alinsky, as to all materialistic revolutionaries, energies directed toward the mastery of Interiority constituted nothing less than a dangerous distraction, a siphoning off of human energies that should – must – be better spent changing the material, external world. Interiority is the enemy of every revolution.

(Hence, again, you can only wonder what effect Alinsky’s approach had on the seminarians and divines who immersed themselves in his teaching.)

Especially since the next characteristic Alinsky requires in an organizer is “irreverence”. Because “nothing is sacred”. (p.73) Now I am all in favor of the assertion that nothing purely earthly is – or should be – considered ‘sacred’. But there are things not of this world, not originating in this plane of existence humans rather too-easily call ‘life’ and ‘history’, that must indeed by considered ‘sacred’ because humans have a need for ‘sacred’. And not just for any ‘sacred’ but for THE Sacred.

And if you try to decouple humans from THAT Sacred, if you claim that there is no Sacred (and Alinsky was soon put into synergy with the French Deconstructionists and Postmodernists who arrived at that same frakkulent place because they too drank from the poisoned well of materialistic reductionism) then you unbalance humans, pull the Ground out from under them, squash their Meaning and Purpose into the Flatness of a mono-planar and mono-dimensional existence.

What the Greeks imagined Hades to be for the dead, 20th century revolutionaries asserted was the only life for living humans.

Directed at the genuinely Sacred, the human capacity for reverence is not only healthy but indispensable to a balanced and Grounded individual and a balanced and Grounded society.

Simply devising an insufficiently comprehensive and a Flat vision of human existence, and then urging humans to immerse themselves fully in it, does not substitute for a genuine reverence or provide a Meaning and Purpose sufficient to the complex and multi-dimensioned needs of the human being.

And “imagination” is necessary to an organizer. (p.73) The organizer must be able to visualize the objective in bright, sharp clarity no matter how dark or dim the situation may seem. And the organizer must be able to sharply and clearly picture their situation to the particular Have-Nots who are being organized at the moment.

The organizer must use that imagination to suffer with mankind “and becomes angry at the injustice and begins to organize the rebellion”. (p.74) This is a dynamic that begins well – and I would say indispensably – for a decent society: you extend yourself to embrace the suffering that you perceive in others around you.

But then you “organize rebellion”.

Nor can I accept that this is just Alinsky’s perfervid turn of phrase. This entire book works on a dynamic that reproduces the attitudes and dynamics of rebellion.

Alinsky moves quickly to quote Clarence Darrow to the effect that Darrow’s “sympathies always went out to the weak, the suffering and the poor … realizing their sorrows I tried to relieve them … “ (p. 74) But Darrow moved to “relieve” those sorrows through the democratic politics and in the attempt to extend the ideals of democracy where they had been obstructed.

Alinsky, equally moved by sorrows, equally angered, chooses not a robust democratic organizing but a darkly-tinged organizing for civic-war based on the assumption that Haves and Greed will outweigh any possibility of common-weal. Like Machiavelli, his surrender to the dark potentials as not only ‘real’ but as the constitutive ‘reality’ of American – or any – politics, has led him to assume (eerily, so much like Bush-Cheney would claim 30 years after his death) that Evil must be warred upon.

And a ‘sense of humor’ is necessary – to relieve the tension because “essentially life is a tragedy, and the converse of tragedy is comedy”. (p.75) True enough, although if you are up against something that is of the ‘essence’, then the ‘converse’ becomes kind of theoretical and abstract: an ‘essence’ is by definition something that isn’t going to get changed.

But he then pushes on into deeper but murkier water: “One can change a few lines in any Greek tragedy and it becomes a comedy”. (p.75) I’m not sufficiently familiar with the corpus of Greek tragedy to know if he’s correct, but changing lines in a book text or a script is one thing and shifting or igniting or otherwise manipulating the force of human lives is another thing altogether. But revolutionaries do indeed have and have always had – and by definition always have to have – a ‘script’: they are never dealing with ‘reality’ in its stubborn incompleteness; they are dealing with their vision of what they are going to make because what there is isn’t worth a hoot.

And you can’t run a democratic politics if you’ve got a bunch of organizers who are convinced that what there is isn’t worth a hoot.

“Contradictions are the signposts of progress.” But they are not the fundamental ‘stuff’ of a democratic politics.

Nor does he make things better by claiming that “With very rare exceptions, the right things are done for the wrong reasons. It is futile do demand that men do the right thing for the right reason – this is a fight with a windmill. The organizer should know and accept that the right reason is only introduced as a moral rationalization after the right end has been achieved, although it may have been achieved for the wrong reason – therefore he should search for and use the wrong reasons to achieve the right goals. He should be able, with skill and calculation, to use irrationality in his attempts to progress toward a rational world”. (p.76)

Again, eerily, this advice seems to have been tailored to justify precisely the gambit deployed by Bush-Cheney in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. What was sauce for the Leftish organizer became sauce for the Rightist government. And as always with the Alinsky-ite approach, ‘war’ came out of it.

But also, note how this approach by its very nature undermines any Ground for attempting to take the political ‘high road’, to conduct an honest and open and up-front and reasonable and deliberative and democratic politics.

I am NOT here trying to create an impossible Good Position from which ANY less-perfect efforts can be simply dismissed as Bad. This dimension of existence, this Plane of existence, is by its nature incomplete and imperfect. (Alinsky reduces the cause of that to Greed, which, nicely, in the Christian and the comprehensive Catholic worldview, is a sin – and Sin is the factor that continually derails human efforts at achieving a lesser-incompleteness through efforts at improvement.)

I say ‘lesser incompleteness’ rather than using the term ‘fulfillment’ because I think We’ve had enough hyper-agitated excitements based on this or that group’s assurance that if only this or that Agenda is established, then Fulfillment will be reached. Politics is the effort of a human group to determine a course, necessarily imperfect and incomplete, by which the polity might move a bit more forward. But it is not in the Catholic (although it is in the Fundamentalistic Christian) view possible to ‘fulfill’ anything in this dimension or on this Plane of existence.

But as I have said previously, Alinsky – following the Flat materialist and reductionist worldview of Marxism and Leninism – must force all possibility of fulfillment into this dimension and squeeze it onto this Plane alone, and consequently must invest any efforts he makes with the Aura of Fulfillment in order to motivate and justify his followers.

That works out to a bad plan chasing a phantasmagoric goal that can never be achieved; it is a campaign based on a hugely mistaken ‘map’ and on a hugely mistaken assessment of the real (or Real) situation. And THAT, of course and not by coincidence, resembles the track of so many of the domestic policy gambits (from the Left) and the military misadventures (from the Right) – to the extent that Left and Right are distinguishable in the current merged mutation I call ‘the Beltway’.

He then goes on to observe that “the organizer must develop multiple issues”. (p.76) He gives as reasons: that if you want to build a widely-based membership you have to agitate along a number of issues; he uses the example of his own organizing days when rival or disparate unions joined him for their own ulterior motives but “We didn’t, of course, care why they’d joined us – we just knew we’d be better off if they did”. (p.76)

Now this is a completely understandable and on some actual level commendable bit of tactical thinking.

But I can’t help but notice what happens when the Alinsky Approach was adopted by numerous follow-on Advocacies, agitating for agendas based not on clear and palpable economic matters but rather on all sorts of assertions that demanded the most wide and deep and profound changes – and immediately – to the structure and fabric of American society***: you wind up with all sorts of ‘war-minded’ politics claiming justification on far less demonstrable grounds than the age-old economic struggle between Haves and Have-Nots that is the gravamen of Alinsky’s own use of his techniques.

And of course, add to this equation the tremendous impetus endowed by a government – originally the Dems – that not only embraced but indulged (‘empowered’, if you must) the entire pastiche of demands, erecting them with little deliberation and less public discussion into national policy and law.

It also means that not only do you try to become a ‘multiple-issue’ agitation, but you also have to keep coming up with ‘issues’ as time goes on or else your agitation will lose steam. So any society and any polity thus bethumpt by Alinsky-ite agitation is guaranteed an unending series of (possibly ‘manufactured’) alarums, outrages, and emergencies. Without them the Alinsky-ite technique cannot ‘keep the pressure on’.

And, Alinsky intones, “It is axiomatic that a single-issue organization won’t last”. (p.77) So ‘organizing’ isn’t an ad-hoc thing put together for a specific purpose and objective, but rather it’s a way of life and a way of permanently conducting ‘politics’. And this, I will say, is why American politics has been so corroded and degraded in the past decades; why Citizens have lost a great deal of political competence as well as political influence over their elected legislators and representatives and officials; and why at this point Obama and the Dems are desperately trying to figure out how to cobble together an electoral majority out of the frakkulently fragmented ‘base’ groups and the thoroughly disillusioned ‘undecided’ among the Citizenry (who may even have an inkling as to how this mess came about).

An organizer must also “become schizoid, politically, in order not to slip into becoming a true believer”. (p.78). This is a decent thought – Alinsky wants to prevent a certain ‘fundamentalism’ among his organizers. But if the organizer then doesn’t really believe in anything s/he is doing, then what sort of quality of political maturity is going to result? Or will it all, rather, decline into merely an exercise in ‘technique’?

American deliberative politics was envisioned as a method for resolving substantive issues relating to the common-weal that had been maturely considered and widely discussed. If Alinsky’s ‘controlled burn’ fire of technique gets loose from such personal boundaries as Alinsky has set for it, then the entire forest is at risk of a wildfire (or a whole lot of them burning toward each other from different parts of the forest).

Which is precisely what has happened in the ensuing 40 years. Genuinely forward (genuinely progress-making) movement is going to be dissipated in the constant need to expend energy on all the sideways (and regressive, perhaps) movement that is being demanded. And in the past 40 years that is, I will say, exactly what has happened: massive and vital and profound questions as to how to maintain the quality of life for Americans by keeping the country’s productive economy competitive in the evolving world situation were sidelined, and the consequent failure to keep-up masked by borrowing (Reagan), selling-off (Clinton) and Bubbles (Bush) – and now all of those illusory balloons are drained, deflated, and flat.

‘Progressive’ in a genuine sense has been undermined by ‘progressive’ in some sort of secondary, spin-meister sense. It reminds me of the Japanese government in 1944: it kept telling itself (and its people) that it was winning right up until the B-29s appeared over Tokyo, and even THEN …

An organizer must also have “Ego”, which Alinsky defines as “unreserved confidence in one’s ability to do what he believes must be done”. (p.79) And if this isn’t a description of the Bushist-era’s ‘real men’ then I don’t know what is. You don’t need to ask questions, you don’t ‘think’, you ‘just do it’ – because you are the ones that really ‘get it’ and you are the ones who are on the cutting-edge of History and indeed are making History while the rest of the chumps – those who ‘just don’t get it’ – are passively sitting around trying to ‘think’ and ‘deliberate’ and see if there actually any justifiable and coherent grounds for what you are Just Going To Go Ahead and DO!

And, I note, this is a pretty good description of most of the organized Advocacies as well, for the 30 years before Bush-Cheney got control of things; by their time, the whole Standard Operating Procedure had been in place inside the Beltway for decades.

The organizer thus “becomes a flexible personality, not a rigid structure that breaks when something unexpected happens”. (p.79) Once again, there is Alinsky’s Boomerish (although he is much older than the Boomers) and revolutionary delusion that humans and their history are mostly fluid or plastic, like play-dough or putty, to be changed into some new form without much trouble.

I say again – repeating what used to be ‘wisdom’ in the West – that you need Shape, you need a Trellis (a culture and civilization) in order to give the human self something to grow up on and in. Otherwise the human ‘vine’ grows wild like kudzu, aimlessly spreading along the ground. Worse, the human self becomes functionally invertebrate, unable to develop motivation or unable to sustain the action to achieve it because there is no Shape to the human structure. Or both.

And folks become sheep and slackers, mindless fat globules merely skittering about on the hard surface of this Plane’s iron surfaces like fat globules in a hot frying pan.

Such ‘activity’ is merely ‘motion’ and not activity at all; it leads neither to achievement or accomplishment because it has no Goal and no Shape to platform its energies toward the achievement or accomplishment of the Goal. Or both.

Alinsky concludes the chapter saying “Finally, the organizer is constantly creating the new out of the old. He knows that all new ideas arise from conflict; that every time man has had a new idea it has been a challenge to the sacred ideas of the past and the present and inevitably a conflict has raged”. (p.79)

Again with tossing around ‘sacred’.

But he also presumes a) that anything new is by definition ‘better’ (and ‘workable’) and that b) that everything ‘new’ must come from conflict.

Yes and no but mostly no.

Humans are always going to Kick Tire when something ‘new’ comes along, especially if they sense that the novelty has to do with profound and vital matters such that screwing around with them might yield baaad and dangerous and expensive consequences indeed.

But THAT’S WHAT a democratic politics is for: to work through all that and achieve some workable outcome that everybody can live with (and that the structure of the polity and the culture can handle without buckling or caving in).

Alinsky’s Approach – so much the revolutionary approach of Lenin – is for those who have decided that they ‘get it’ and that everybody else ‘just doesn’t get it’ to organize to attack and undermine and ‘take the low road’ in order to do whatever it takes to get what they demand. All the while deceptively spinning their activity as just a little ‘change’ and ‘reform’ and ‘tweaking’ – until they can be in a position, as Lenin famously observed and Alinsky proudly recalls, ‘ballots can be exchanged for bullets’.

There is a violence (even if in America it hasn’t come to actual physical bullets) to Alinsky’s Vision and his Approach and his Technique. Nor is it sufficient to assert that since ‘oppression’ is violent then you have to take the low road and be as violent as you need to be yourself.

And in the course of human events, Bush-Cheney came along and asserted that since they were dealing with violent and dark and irrational and truly evil folks, then the US government and its troops also had to ‘take the low road’ and “walk on the dark side” and be just as violent and dark and irrational and – alas – evil. But of course, America being God’s Deputy, then – in the accents of Nixon – When America Does It, It’s Not An Evil.



*My copy is the paperback Vintage Books/Random House edition that reprints the original 1971 edition. The ISBN is 0-679-72113-4. All my quotations and page references will be taken from this edition.

**You can certainly make the case for America today being a kleptocracy, but that’s happened only after decades of skewed and distracted politics that were influenced by Alinsky in the first place.

***Feminism – as it morphed under the hot and sustained influence of radical feminism and the assorted ‘theories’ and ‘scientific studies’ and everybody-knows type of knowledge – requires the radical dissolution of the Family as it has existed in Western society and culture – and arguably in most world cultures beyond the tribal level – since their inception.

To assert that such a fundamental building-block is ‘merely a religious belief’ is grossly inaccurate as well as inadequate as a ‘response’ to objections, doubts, and questions.

In her 1980 book “The Sceptical Feminist”, in which the philosophically-minded feminist thinker Janet Radcliffe-Richards tried to bring some coherence to the feminist vision as it existed then, she admitted that in addition to many of feminism’s core justificational claims being “controversial”, the matter of the Family as it was structured posed an insurmountable obstruction to ‘women’. Feminists “want some new arrangement”, she said, although as philosophically and intellectually competent as she is, she seems not to be fazed (‘stunned’ might not be too strong a word) by the breadth and depth of that comment or of any agenda or policy that might flow from it.

At best, as she tries gamely and honestly to admit the complexity of the problem, she admits that “It not in the least obvious how this should be done” and yet – in the spirit of the age – said immediately “but that is a reason for dedicating the full energy and imagination of everyone” into this task of “the reorganization of life and work”. (See pp. 165-170)

This is so quintessentially ‘American’ (not in the best sense) and Boomer-ish (ditto) that it has to be rolled around in the mind to grasp just how massively boggling the entire project is. If you are going to fundamentally alter a major structural component of a civilization – perhaps of a species – and you want it done right away, then deploying Alinsky-ite tactics and technique before you’ve even tried to get a coherent grasp of what is involved has to be the epitome of hyper-excited and hubristic fatuity. (And the Beltway backed it, of course.)

‘Optimism’ and ‘everybody-has-to-get-involved’ are grossly insufficient; they do not constitute a serious and sober Plan, but rather just a bunch of flowery nostrums (and can you say ‘Iraq War Strategy’?). To change the fuselage structure of an airliner in flight is not a project that should be considered ‘cutting edge’ and marvelously ‘creative’ or ‘transgressive’ and therefore a great plan to get involved in. It is, rather, very very very ill-advised and – may I propose? – impossible. And surely dangerous in the ultimate extreme.

As if she half-recognizes that fact, she opines in conclusion: if ‘women’ had actually been asked to participate in the formation of civilization instead of being excluded by the patriarchy back in the misty beginnings of the species, she’s sure that SOMEHOW they would have come up with a better way.

I can recall, in regard to that assertion, an early-1990s article in the ‘Navy Times’ newspaper: females were being allowed onto warships as crew. The paper – not owned by the Defense Department but dependent upon it for circulation and ‘access’ – decided to take the bull by the horns, but only in the service of the Correct line. The article posed to the pert young female interviewee the following (and genuinely serious and real) scenario: you are in a rapidly-filling compartment, there is an unconscious male sailor alone in there with you, and his inert body has to be quickly lifted up a ladderway to avoid drowning – how will you as a female manage to achieve that, since your muscle-mass and upper-body strength are limited? Instantly – in the text of the piece – she smiled brightly and said “I don’t know – but I just know I’d figure out a way if it ever happened!”. End of article.

It was not until I read very recently Radcliffe-Richards’s book that I realized that her game but lame gambit – ‘we would have figured out SOMEthing’ – had become a standard (and cute and shrewd) response to blow off questions about the most serious weaknesses in the feminist agenda.

Thirty years later and it is all ‘national policy’. And is THAT working for Us?



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Saturday, October 16, 2010


I want to take a quick break from Saul Alinsky; but I don’t want to wander off too far afield.

It’s taken a while to get to Henry Adams’s 1905 book “Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres” (not published until 1933). But I’ve been reading it and it strikes me that Adams is an interesting counterpoint, not just to Alinsky but to an entire dynamic that’s taken Us to where it has these days.

Adams was the kind of soul that saw the darknesses in things. He lived in America – a scion of the famous Adams family of Revolutionary and presidential fame . He was, in Alinsky’s classification, a Have: economically he never had to worry about money.

But he was not a ‘Have’ in the sense that he enjoyed the company of the ‘establishment’ – political, financial, or social – of his day. He watched America morph around him in the immediate post-civil war era; from the antebellum America that still retained a strong resemblance to the America of the Framers. But then he saw the development of the corporations that accompanied the waging of the Civil War – described by one participant as ‘the age of shoddy’ for the profiteering and cheap, shoddy supplies that some businesses provided to the troops in fulfillment of their Army contracts (Union troops in the field found themselves with new uniforms that came apart in the rain because paper-like materials were blended into the fabric to maximize profits, and new boots that came apart after only a few miles of marching).

He saw the traditional American exuberance and – let’s face it – thoughtlessness in the face of the stupendous natural abundance of the country channeled into the making of profits, even as large numbers of Americans left farms to come to the cities for employment in factories and offices, joined by numbers of immigrants after 1880 who were needed to provide sufficient labor in the factories. *

 Adams saw the culture as well as the society changing all around him, and not – he felt – for the better.

But in those days, the country was rich in both productivity and material potential. The agrarian Republic was becoming – had rapidly become – an industrial, producing Republic, urban and a melting-pot of all sorts of folks from many backgrounds, all of whom had ‘come to America’ (though a surprising number, not often noted, then went ‘back’ after realizing that the streets were not paved with gold for just anybody to pick up and enjoy).

The country began to realize (after the shocking Depression of 1893) that industrial capitalism was a creature of ferocious moods and unpredictable performance, and that the solution was – had to be – a wide and utterly reliable access to ‘markets’ around the world. It started to reach out – through guile and outright military adventure – South into Central and South America, and across the Pacific to Hawaii. This iron rule of markets helped McKinley move the country into the ‘expansive’ phase of its history (although the Indians would have said the country has been in an expansive phase since the first English colonists got here in the 1600s and the Spaniards perhaps, a century before that.

Under the remarkably adroit war that was arranged with Spain, McKinley let Teddy Roosevelt go charging around to free Cuba, while ‘the real men’ went to the Philippines, with 10,000 troops – the largest American force ever sent overseas up to that time. In a hell-hot irony – from Our perspective nowadays – they were expected as ‘liberators’ by the residents of that island group, but came as occupiers, plain and simple. But the islands made a perfect base for conducting commercial enterprises in the fabled – or excitedly imagined – ‘market’ of China, while also providing the western end of a daisy-chain of ‘coaling stations’ and naval bases that stretched from the US West Coast, through Hawaii (the deposing of whose last queen had been arranged by the sugar interests), and on until you reached the Philippines.

The whole thing struck Adams as a subversion of the American Ideal as envisioned in 1776 and 1787, and it added yet another frothy layer to the dark gurgling brew that included industrial corporatism, urban complexities of shocking proportions, and concentrations of wealth never seen in any democracy before.

All that change, and the possibility – perhaps probability – of a whole lotta baaad stuff, made Adams profoundly uneasy.

Given his temperament and social position, he turned to Europe. But not the even more shockingly industrialized and urbanized Europe of the late Victorian era, but an earlier Europe – the Medieval Europe of the 12 to the 13th centuries. There was something in that civilization that Adams sensed was hugely valuable and worthwhile, and through the Renaissance and the birth of the Modern Age (that started about 1600 or so) that tremendously valuable something had been fading. He thought it was a great loss, and worried that nothing of equal worth and value had replaced it, and that the development of the corporatist industrial nations of his own era were surely not going to improve matters.

I want to quote a passage from his book and then say a few things.

Looking at the ancient abbey-complex built on the slopes and the crest of a small island just off the Atlantic coast of France (reachable by causeway, or by walking if the tide was out), he studied the many-layered architecture that successive generations had built there since before 1100 AD.

I won’t go into the architectural commentary he provides at great and competent length.

But in the final paragraphs of that chapter, he says this:

“The whole Mount still kept the grand style; it expressed the unity of Church and State, God and Man, Peace and War, Life and Death, Good and Bad; it solved the whole problem of the universe. The priest and the soldier were both at home here, in 1215 as in 1115 or in 1058; the politician was not outside of it; the sinner was welcome; the poet was made happy in his own spirit, with a sympathy, almost an affection, that suggests a habit of verse in the Abbot as well as in the architect. God reconciles all. The world is an evident, obvious, sacred harmony. Even the discord of war is a detail on which the Abbey refuses to insist. Not till two centuries afterwards did the Mount take on the modern expression of war as a discord in God’s providence. Then, in the early years of the fifteenth century, Abbot Pierre le Roy plastered the gate of the chatelet, as you now see it, over the sunny thirteenth-century entrance called Belle Chaisse, which had treated mere military construction with a sort of quiet contempt. You will know what a chatelet is when you meet another; it frowns in a spirit quite alien to the twelfth century; it jars on the religion of the place; it forebodes the wars of religion; the dissolution of society; loss of unity; the end of a world. Nothing is sadder than the catastrophe of Gothic art, religion, and hope. One looks back on it all as a picture, a symbol of unity; an assertion of God and Man in a bolder, stronger, closer union than ever was expressed by other art; and when the idea is absorbed, accepted, and perhaps partially understood, one may move on.” (p.50, or the last page of Chapter III).

A couple of thoughts come to me.

First, I am not trying to suggest that We need to get back to the Medieval Synthesis or the society of the Medieval era. It is a profound bankruptcy of civic competence and imagination, a trahison to Our responsibilities as Citizen-Stewards of the American Vision, to merely look back at some fancied ‘better’ time and thereby escape Our responsibilities in the Present and to the Present.

What I AM trying to do is to put before you – as a Citizen – the vision that Adams saw, so that you might make of it what you will, and perhaps it will help you as you try to develop a picture of where the country has gone and where it should go, what Shape it should take as well as what Course it should generally pursue.

There was back then not simply a Vision but a Sense – in the largest, deepest, highest meaning of that word – that somehow Life Has A Meaning, that Life Makes Sense. That the great actualities of human existence – Life and Death, religion and government, people of different views and life experiences – somehow connected one with the other, held together.

And in so doing, provided a Web or Net of Meaning. You weren’t alone in a meaningless booming, buzzing confusion (let alone in Alinsky’s ‘permanent civic-war’ or Post-Modernism’s Flat world where no Big Picture is even possible and everything is broken up into dirty fractals, sharp-edged and glittering with spiky troubles and danger).

Sinners were welcome – and, since it was for them back then firmly established that EVERYbody was a sinner when you got right down to it – then this was a deeply inclusive welcome indeed, reaching throughout the entire society that depended on both the wider world and the Higher world for support. Conducting a human life in this Vale of Troubles – let’s face it – is not something you can do on your own.

Nor is it something you can expect a government to competently and completely handle. Because the Mont insisted that Spirit and Soul and Belief had to be strong, as strong as the society could make it. And that’s not something governments and sovereignties can do. Indeed, the King and the nobles came to pray along with their subjects and their peasants and villagers.

The entire society was under judgment, rules and ruled together.

But if under judgment, under the shelter of a Presence as well. Not an alien Presence, but rather a Presence that had precisely called the people and their society and their culture forth from a prior chaos, and Shaped it into a Trellis that offered a support and a dynamic strength that transcended any flames of motivation that could be fueled merely by the things of this dimension.

And actually, there were not simply chapels where you could formally exercise your relationship to the Beyond, as an individual and as a community, but there was also a pons seclorum, a Bridge of the Ages, over which, it was believed (and perhaps sensed) that the dead passed back over in spirit to assist those still laboring in this demanding dimension of human history.

“God reconciles all.” Not in the sense that there will be no suffering; there is an incompleteness to this dimension, a lack of perfect fullness, and complications seep quickly into the vacuum. But in the sense that no suffering is Ultimate, no matter what pain it inflicts. Death had lost its Ultimate Authority – and not even the Greeks, with their shadowy Underworld of dysphoric, aimless, disembodied spirits condemned to an eternity of hopeless existence as a ‘shade’, could claim to have accomplished THAT.

Although – and it was taken as Good News indeed – humans hadn’t actually accomplished it either: it was Given to them as a Gift; they had only to use it well. And there was Help as well for that task of making good use of that Gift.

The Help wasn’t so much centered in the Mont like some pagan deity was centered in its statue, set up in a temple or a sacred grove. But even if you couldn’t read, or couldn’t organize yourself enough to focus, you could come here and see your own life connected to Everything, and well. And you could sense the Presence that perhaps the heat and dust of your day and your ‘day-to-life blocked out like some sad small lonely planet’s dense cover of cloud blotted out much of its sun.

The Mont reminded you, in literally rock-solid terms, that there is a Trellis that simultaneously Shapes and Energizes, that frees you from the death-in-life of Meaninglessness. Such a ‘freedom’ cannot be endowed by any earthly power because it flows out from Beyond the grasp of any earthly power. And in those days, the earthly power knew it.

Even war would be reconciled in God’s Plan. You didn’t know how, but then you weren’t God.

Nothing was perfect – far from it – but somehow it made Sense. More, it was Held Together – and Who did that Holding was a lot more reliable than the average run of the mill human or some mysterious magical force.

But as the world got shinier, human beings – at least the shiny ones – fell into the baby’s eternal trap and figured that if it was shiny and they were shiny, then that was all you needed to be happy. You and your shiny – nothing else was necessary.

It wasn’t that after the breaking of the Medieval synthesis there were wars or suffering as if there wasn’t violence and suffering before the break.

It’s that the Meaning – a dynamic Meaning that Accompanies, Supports, and Vitalizes across all the spectrums of human existence – is gone now.

And Meaninglessness – even when it is sheeps-clothed as some sort of ‘new’ Meaning – brings a darkness all its own, one that can hide in humans’ very refusal to see it.

But it happened. As Adams realized a century and more ago – and you have to “move on”.

But you should to the best of your ability get a least a partial grasp on what was lost.

So that you might have a better chance of figuring out how you might usefully salvage something for the Present.

I’ve been hard on Alinsky and I will continue to be. But the motivating perception of human suffering that fuels him is legitimate and decent, as was the motivating perception of Karl Marx. We live in a society where Wealth concentrates.

And the Modern Age wanted more room for humans to try to make things better, on a timetable shorter than God’s. And after a while, things seemed to be working so well that God came to appear as a Hypothesis for which there no longer existed a need.

And along with Himself went the Beyond, the overarching and under-arching sense of Meaning.

As Adams quotes the Archbishop Hildebert from the 11th century: “God is over all things, under all things, outside all, inside all, within but not enclosed, without but not excluded, above but not raised up, below but not depressed, wholly above presiding, wholly beneath sustaining, wholly without embracing, wholly within filling”. Or, as Gregory the Great had put it half a millennium before Hildebert: “sursum regens, deorsum continens” – reigning from above, sustaining from below. (p.320, second page of Chapter XIV)

And what has Modernity managed to put up to replace that? “Nothing outside the State, nothing against the State, nothing above the State” said Mussolini (and it’s not impossible that he was thinking of Hildebert and Gregory when he formulated his own pithy little theory – they got an education in those days, no matter how poorly they used it).

But Mussolini was a man of the Modern Era.

In the Postmodern Era (since 1970 or so) you can’t even accept the possibility that any Big Picture is possible. Any such Big Picture would be – shades of Alinsky and his Marxist-Leninist forebears – merely an illusion deployed by those with the defining social power against those who have no power or voice to define. God himself, back in the Medieval day, was just another illusion designed and deployed to distract people from the extortion being wrought upon them.

But human beings without a Big Picture … they don’t do so well, over the long haul. What the Medieval era – the Medieval Synthesis, as it is called – offered human beings was a coherent Narrative of their lives that was at the same time SUFFICIENTLY COMPREHENSIVE to offer Meaning that covered ALL the dimensions of human existence.

And this is something the Modern Era never could do and most surely the Postmodern Era cannot do (it refuses to accept the possibility of any Big Picture at all, as it also refuses to accept any possibility for a politics except the fractious fractals of Identity Politics).

Since the Medieval Synthesis (and I am not proposing to return to the Middle Ages either in actuality or in some sentimental nostalgic phantasmagoria) no philosophy or theology has managed to do that. In order to make more room for ‘Man’ (not meant in a genderist way) the Modern Era had to engage in a zero-sum wresting of Power (including the Power of Narrative) from ‘religion’. But rather than that being simply a power struggle between one and another earthly institution (the Church on one side, and Man and his States and works on the other) the entire Beyond or Higher dimension of existence had to go.

Which Flattened the human ‘world’.

And tried to Flatten humans themselves. But THAT didn’t work because it never could work: there is a stubborn awareness of the Beyond in humans. Marx – and he wasn’t the first – tried to explain this away as some sort of ‘opiate’ effect imposed on people or that people were ‘weak’ enough to induce themselves. Or perhaps the Beyond was – as Dickens put it in the mouth of Scrooge confronted by Marley’s Ghost – “an undigested bit of beef”.

For centuries, with not only the conductor (religion, and in the West the Church, grandsire of all Western religion) gone but even with the Composer tossed out of the hall, various instruments or groups of instruments in kaleidoscopic combinations tried to play the Symphony according to their own interpretations. The result for the Symphony have not been good, and in Postmodernism you see the whole thing taken to the absurdity of orchestral players now wishing to be listened to as they play, though they refuse to accept that there can be any Symphony – let alone Composer – at all.

In the United States, Alinsky – as one example I’ve been considering in Posts recently – tried to provide a Narrative of Meaning by reducing all human meaning and purpose to the eternal war of Haves against Have-Nots. This results in a Hobbesian world (and politics) of civic-war against “the status-quo”, whatever it may be.

Interestingly, Jean Courthoys, noted European feminist thinker, in her brave and intelligent effort** to discern the rhyme and reason and purpose and meaning of feminism, admits that the greatest moral value she can find in the formal movement of Feminism in the West is that it provides a shining example of a group willing to “challenge the status-quo”, echoing – and I doubt it’s a coincidence – Alinsky from 1971, whose Vision (such as it is) and Approach (ditto) was a strong influence on the ‘thinkers’ of the Movement in its early days.

But to simply claim that you are going to oppose and oppose and oppose whatever is established is hardly sufficient to ground the desperate and profound need for Meaning in any human life (male or female). Indeed, a psychological assessment of an individual whose basic life-plan is to ‘oppose everything that’s established’ might well be Oppositional Disorder.

You cannot sustain a culture or a civilization or a society on such a basis. And I assert that NOT because ‘it is written’ that you have to have a god or a God or a Beyond, but rather because human beings dwell in more than one dimension or plane of existence and to cut them off from any but the this-worldly plane of existence is going hugely damage them. And, if you recall what happens if in playing with a dolphin you try to put your hand over its blow-hole (whence it breathes), it will agitate the human immensely and lethally.

Nor can it be enough to assert, as the Dems did in the early 1970s, that ‘religion’ is a ‘private’ matter and doesn’t belong in the ‘public’ sphere. This is a variation on the old schematic, going back to the early Western monarchs’ power-struggles with the Papacy in the later Dark Ages, that the Crown deals with people’s ‘bodies’ and the Church deals with their ‘souls’.

But Thomas Aquinas would have none of it. God works not simply on the individual soul but rather His Grace informs the entire human dimension – public and private, individual and social – and energizes it. It is not only artificial but grossly mistaken to imagine that the Beyond is limited to the ‘individual’ and the ‘soul’ and the ‘conscience’.

This was one of the deepest assumptions of the Protestant Reformation (in its more radical manifestations). That movement rightly realized the vital struggle that takes place in each individual soul, created by God and called by God. But the movement wrongly assumed that since this struggle within the individual human soul was so VITAL then it was the ONLY site and portal through which God’s Grace worked on the human plane of existence.

And THAT theological ‘map’ was – like so many other maps of the era – hugely insufficient to the vast reality that is the Beyond interacting with, intersecting with the human realm.

The bald fact remains, I am saying, that the Medieval Synthesis was and remains the most comprehensive and – I will also say – accurate map of the cosmos: of the several planes of existence, of which the one humans know as History and ‘the world’ and ‘life’ is but one … and not the primary or ultimate plane of existence either.

And I think further that Adams – who in the 1890s-1900s saw this against the backdrop of an America that was still on the ‘up-swing’, swelling still toward a large power and substance on this plane of existence - was drowned out by the excitements of that continuous prosperity and power. His realization could not compete against the vastly strong and attractive undertow of American ‘success’ and ‘power’ (which, neatly, were taken as God’s seal of approval on everything that America and Americans did).

But it’s not just a matter of ‘natural resources’; it’s a matter of how well a culture and society can metabolize those resources, and turn them to productive use.

America at this point – its society and culture as well as its productive ‘infrastructure’ capacity – is now … well, no longer on an up-swing.

And as the dust of the huge American brass band marching along, and the brassy brazen music of its marching, start to subside, I think that it will become clearer to Americans than perhaps ever before since the Founding itself, that there is more to life than what had previously been thought. As the Great American Parade starts to wind down, and the delirium and pleasure that all humans take in an entertaining diversion fades away with the music, there will arise a chilly sense that ‘reality’ is coming back now. The Parade was able to replace reality for a while, but that’s ending now.

I do not take this as necessarily a bad thing. I don’t – as I have said here – want to see folks retreat back into some new ‘parade’, a retreat into a ‘past’ that is now irretrievably gone (whether it is Adams’s Medieval Era or some earlier Era of American greatness***). You know how you’d feel if the day after or the week after the big 4th of July parade you run into somebody eagerly buzzing around on Main Street trying to tell every passer-by about the parade, as if in the constant, agitated, obsessive re-telling the parade could be kept alive to illuminate and give meaning to an otherwise empty life and self.

BUT I do fear that this is precisely what is going to happen here. And I think that American politics, desperately in need of ‘good news’, will settle for some form of National Greatness Remembering in order to mask – like pepper on the spoiled meats of a Renaissance feast – the essential rot.

It will be as great an ‘opiate’ as any religion. But unlike the Medieval Synthesis it will not be able to help because, most essentially, it is so fundamentally un-real, and perhaps even anti-real. So opposed to the real that is also, the human plane not being the Primary plane of existence, anti-Real.

The challenge that Henry Adams sought to offer to his times may yet find that its time has come.

We have a rendezvous with that destiny (and that Destiny). And We, even We here, must rise to the challenge. That challenge exists in no small part because it has been on Our watch – the generations of Americans now living – that so much has gone wrong and been done wrongly.

Making amends, as best may be done, will surely offer a more realistic and – I would suggest – Realistic source of Meaning than any effort at mass escapism through the cheering of increasingly tattered parades.


*If you’re looking for a meaty read, yet a well-told story, I can recommend “Rebirth of a Nation: American 1877-1920” by Jackson Lears, now out in paperback, light to hold and less than $20.

**Her 1997 book is “Feminist Amnesia”.

***On the streets of his hometown, banners now advertise JFK’s winning of the Presidential election of 1960, now a long, long half-century ago. “Jack’s Back!!!” the ad-banners hopefully and shrilly proclaim, their half-prayer superimposed on a photo-image of him in that year. But Jack’s gone and his world and – for better or worse – his America as well. Were he not now otherwise preoccupied, no doubt little brother Teddy would be polishing up his ‘Dream’ speech to phone-in with ponderous portentousness at this and that civic commemoration-cum-election-rally. I find it more than interesting that in all his speeches, Teddy never put in plain words just what his platform always was: Ask not what you can do for your country, but what your country can be made to do for you.

And while We're on the subject, a news article reports today that there is much brouhaha in Berlin over an exhibit of German history that includes a photo of a young Hitler among the crowd cheering the Kaiser’s exhortation to war in 1914. It’s a sign of a great lack of Meaning when folks are so personally invested in a long-ago (and frakkulent) past. Their sense of Meaning in the Present and in their own lives (nobody alive now lived in those days of 1914) is insufficient to engage their emotions and their attention.

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Monday, October 11, 2010


It can come as no surprise that the Dems’ commentariat is at work trying to deal with the upcoming election.

Michael Tomasky is editor of the magazine “Democracy: A Journal of Ideas” and is – ummmm – not known for his conservative or Republican leanings.

He’s got a piece in ‘The New York Review of Books’: “The Elections: How Bad for the Democrats?”*

“How did things get this bad for Obama?” he asks, after rehearsing the sobering election possibilities. He ticks off a passel of procedural, historical and statistical responses.

But he has a marvelous way of saying something without actually revealing anything that might actually create enough of a blast to penetrate the Fog of Events. So, for example, discussing some areas where Dems had picked up some seats from the Republicans in 2006 and 2008, he ho-hums that “some of these areas were changing enough demographically to make Democratic candidates more credible” and quickly moves along.

The question as to just How Indeed the Dems have been trying to fiddle with ‘demographics’ for the past 40 years, including lots more immigration by folks who wouldn’t be expected to have any larger a grasp of democratic politics than remembering which Party was their patron … doesn’t seem to engage Tomasky’s attention. Indeed, he even manages to be upbeat while remaining stunningly bland: there are “more Latino voters in the Southwest (even Texas might be a Democratic state by the 2020s)”. Just HOW that came to be, he’d rather not say.

But having ticked off all of the challenges facing the Dems this time around, and noting that admittedly things have come to a disturbing pass, he continues with an impressive and suitably objective poker-face: “Among Democrats and liberals there is, as usual, little consensus about how matters reached this point”.

How indeed. Dems would have to come up with a story that would a) acknowledge the mess without b) suggesting, implying, inferring, or otherwise in any way admitting that anything the Dems did or have been doing might have made any conceivable contribution to the wrack and wreck.

And THAT would not be an easy task at all, given the historical realities of policy and politics here for quite some time.

Obama was too liberal, not liberal enough, too bipartisan or not bipartisan enough, or didn’t try to “set the terms of the debate early enough”.

This last is a useful point: the whole idea of American politics – which may not yet have made it into the civics textbooks – is that pols no longer get together, face a problem, and then come up with a Party response, both of which are then argued until with luck and perseverance both sides can hammer out a workable policy that both sides can live with AND that does the common-weal some palpable good.

Instead – and for quite some time now – the scam has been to get your own ‘story’, complete with the innocently-mentioned assumptions, gently phrased, that are mentioned shyly at the outset, inviting the unsuspecting and politically incompetent voter to agree … and once that agreement is given to the ‘framing’ of the problem, then the Dems’ already-determined course of action appears to the hapless voter as exactly the right thing to do and the sooner the better.

This is the sort of thing that doesn’t happen – or didn’t until recently – in court or around a table of scholarly inquiry. In those venues, no matter who got their ‘story’ told first, both sides would be carefully heard and then deliberately and with care things would be sorted out through skeptical, objective, detached questioning and thinking.

But around the breakfast table, kids are dumb enough to think that whoever can get to Mommy or Daddy (or Today’s Adult Presence in the House) and blurt out the desired spin is going to ‘win’. You’d think that politics for adults would have proceeded beyond the scams and plot-lets of the breakfast table, but actually – in the service of pandering to their ‘demographics’ – the Dems pretty much regressed to trying to pass off the Breakfast-Table Follies as the very essence of cutting-edge liberal thought. And in so doing, regressed the country as well.

Anyhoo, Tomasky is not your average commentariat-zoo bear (or doesn’t want you to think so, at least) so he has his own answer to how things got this way. (Hint: if you are expecting him to admit that the Dems took a huge and lethal risk with their Erect-Many-Identities-Quickly-and-Forcefeed-Them strategy of the late 1960s, then don’t pop that champagne cork yet, nor sacrifice the family dove in thanks unto the gods for the long-awaited triumph of truth.)

The problem, he says, “goes back to the Reagan years” (though he doesn’t actually blame Reagan here) and the manner of it is on this wise: Republicans speak constantly of Liberty and other Big-Thought themes, while Dems speak of small-thought topics such as specific programs and policies and they “steer clear of big themes”.

I do believe the gentleman is on to something here, although I can’t quite imagine he intends to sacrifice himself by jumping on the grenade and preserving the life of Truth. On the postmodern political battlefield, nobody jumps on no grenades for nobody else; or as Rick put it effortlessly while watching yet another customer being dragged out of his joint by Captain Reynaud’s police: “I stick my neck out for nobody”.

Well, so Tomasky has this grenade and he’s pulled the pin: now what?

“There is a reason for this: Republican themes, like ‘liberty’, are popular, while Republican policies often are not … Democratic themes (community, compassion, justice) are less popular, while many specific Democratic programs – Social Security, Medicare … have majority support”.

If you have never taken a moment to marvel at the ingenuity of the human mind, yet also simultaneously at the deviousness of the human spirit, now would be a perfectly appropriate time to do so.

For forty Biblical years the Dems have been avoiding the ‘big themes’ that have always proven of vital and essential importance to Americans because those same Dems had embraced a whole bunch of demographics who A) very much intended to ‘reform’ the outmoded and oppressive aforesaid ‘big themes’ while B) those same demographics also intended to wage civic-war across many axes (the whole gist of Identity Politics) in order to conduct a revolutionary politics-of-suspicion against anyone who had the nerve to disagree with them or even question them. For quite some time now, in these parts, the Dems have been slyly avoiding big-theme talk because their demographics didn’t and don’t want The People being reminded of just what vital items were beginning to disappear from the national stage.

Democrats were advised by their handlers to talk-up the small ‘reforms’ that were actually the thin-ends of the huge revolutionary wedge by which the newly-minted demographics (actually gimlet-eyed, fever-swamped revolutionaries hoping to whack History in the chops and make it turn off meekly to be herded in a different direction) were going to flip the whole American thing over on its back, chop it up, and give it away to … whatever. And the Democratic programs have ‘support’ because they are the ones that pass out money like it was going out of style (which, by the oddest coincidence, it now is).

Postmodern ‘thought’, you may recall, does not admit of the possibility of any Big Picture or Big Ideas anyway. Better that the sheeple be kept in their pens until they’re needed as extras when it’s time to film the stampede scene.

The whole Citizenry is now broken up into myriad little ‘interest groups’ based on Identity (race, gender, disability, ethnicity, weight, height, age, religious preference, sexual preference, sexual self-identity, and so on and so forth and call-me-when-you’re-done).

But human beings being what they are, the Big Themes speak deeply and irresistibly to them. As has always been true of the species. At least until the gimlet-eyed fever-swampers were suddenly given security-clearances and invited into the all the best venues inside the Beltway, courtesy of the eager-to-pander Dems.

You are asking for a Mad Hatter’s hat if you really try to claim that when a human being speaks for a need for belief and ideals, and for some amount of tradition and order, that human being is merely and willfully and obstinately being a ‘backlasher’ (while avoiding the devastating admission that destroying beliefs, ideals, traditions, and order is pretty much the Prime Directive of your game-plan).

But the Dems and their demographics have been running that game-plan for 40 years, or at least since the 1972 Convention, and it’s too late for them to claim that they haven’t.

Their plan, I expect, was to imagine that instead of coming up with a defensible plan based on reasonable assumptions, they’d simply sneak in a bunch of changes that would include their truly extraordinary (as the Brits might politely say) plans and objectives, squelch any public discussion or any negative consequences, and in a while people – like some sort of lower-order mammal – would eventually ‘get used to it’ and consider it all ‘normal’.

Ironically, the feministically-fervored Dems adopted the strategy of the female praying-mantis: after it is over (the act of … you know), she cuts off the head of the critter she has enticed to her. The Citizenry were lulled and seduced by the drugs of optimistic and euphemistic language specifically pitched to make it sound like all the ‘changes’ were just tinkering that was going to make the old Constitution run more smoothly. So move along, folks, and be hapski – nothin’ to see here.

But the bottom fell out of the plan before all the people who still remembered how it used to be had shuffled off this mortal coil. Stalin didn’t make this mistake: as soon as he could, he not only killed all the anti-communists he could get his hands on, but he also killed all the COMMUNISTS who didn’t agree with his version of the Revolution.

The Dems – alas – did not have Stalin’s options; and while I don’t think their demographics would have minded, yet you couldn’t just go an shoot or send to Siberia the majority of Citizens in the country.

So the Dems passed out money in one form or another and just substituted checks and entitlements for public discussion and deliberation. And then quickly claimed that they had lots and lots of support.

“What Democrats have typically not done well since Reagan’s time is connect their policies to their larger beliefs. In fact they have usually tried to hide those beliefs, or change the conversation when the subject arose.”

We are apparently to get the impression that this was merely an oversight. Although an oversight lasting for so very long (30 years) in a matter so vital that the Dems may lose their hold on Congress because of it.

I don’t think so. The Dems haven’t connected their specific policies to larger beliefs for four decades for two very solid reasons. First, the policies themselves were hugely dubious and questionable and the Dems (advised by Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals”) didn’t dare open up to public discussion their programme of pandering to the newly-erected Identities.

This was a comprehensive policy requirement. Because what the Dems had taken upon themselves was to essentially terraform American society rapidly, widely, and deeply in response to the varied demands of the several Identities.

And, in point of fact, this was NOT a matter of public comment on a particular policy or two; rather, this was a government-embraced revolution, whereby so much would be changed so profoundly so quickly that the vast body of the Citizenry would be overwhelmed. At which point, so long as public discussion was continuously prevented – distracted, diverted, deranged, or baffled – then it would only be a matter of time before folks would, like lower mammals, simply ‘get used to’ the new state of affairs and take it for granted as ‘the new normal’. (One of the first warning signs that this plan was going to come a cropper was Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that invented a Constitutional basis for abortion pretty much on demand: as the years passed after 1973, with the exception of abortion when the mother’s life was directly and lethally threatened, the public steadfastly refused to accommodate itself to the policy.)

The second reason was that the Dems could not permit ANY reference to ‘belief’ in public. The entire panoply of policies to be imposed at the behest of the assorted Identities required that such patriarchal and oppressive ‘abstractions’ as Reason, Tradition, Common-Sense, Order, Virtue, Character, God, be rigorously denied any place in public discourse.

In 1965 one thinker, Herbert Marcuse,who as a young man had had up-close and personal experience of Goebbels’s manipulative wizardry in the area of propaganda, had published a book insisting that there were ideas that simply could not be allowed into public discourse and that were legitimately to be barred from public discussion. He had been thinking about some of the most outré Nazi ideas, but his general formulation well-served the needs of the American revolutionary cadres of the Identities.

It served them so well because revolution was precisely what they were about, although they would sheeps-clothe that reality, with the Dems assistance and under Alinsky’s guidance, in far less threatening terms, spinning this, that, and the other imposition as mere ‘change’, ‘reform’, or a bit of sensitive and responsive ‘tweaking’. Even when, by the 1990s, so-called ‘governance feminism’ was supporting Domestic Violence and Sex Offense Registration regimes that deployed precisely some of the most ominous elements of totalitarian police-state practice, the public was stampeded by the ‘emergency’ into accepting laws that were passed without even being read by legislators. (And after 9-11, the Patriot Act would be passed in precisely the same way.)

And in pitch-perfect imitation of Leninist ‘vanguard elite’ praxis, the Dems and their budding Beltway elites accepted the axiom that since ‘the majority’ were not in possession of the secret knowledge of the Revolution (and therefore the majority ‘just didn’t get it’) then there was absolutely no use in wasting time discussing the revolutionary agenda with them. The (Soviet) Party would impose its revolutionary changes through the efforts of its vanguard-elite cadres; the job of everybody else was merely to ‘get used to it’ and accept it.

Under the cumulative load of all this, the Dems could not, dared not, and did not allow themselves to be drawn into substantive public discussion of their beliefs.

What were they going to say? ‘Hi, we’re the Democrats and we believe that half this population are violent rapists by nature and we want to get rid of family and marriage; we want to make sex a crime as far as is humanly or inhumanly possible; we want to get rid of all the smelly, macho industrial stuff and turn the entire country into a combination of a PBS TV set and a computer corporation’s office park campus; and we want to bring in as many non-white, non-male, and otherwise non-American folks we can get our hands on in order to dilute any possible electoral opposition to this plan by folks who remember what the country was like before we decided we had to change it if we wanted to stay in business as a political Party. We believe you can kill the Goose that lays the Golden Eggs and still enjoy the Egg supply; we believe you can keep 300 million people sufficiently employed in a knowledge-and-service economy even though the knowledge sector requires huge government financial support and the service sector will pay peanuts; we believe that effort and feeling good about yourself is just as effective for keeping a country solvent and productive as any old stuff about actually achieving results or producing products that are marketable; and overall we believe that human nature is totally plastic, that human beings are totally autonomous, and that there are no consequences that Americans can’t get out of through optimism and hope.”

You can see why what Tomasky is trying to soft-sell as a minor oversight HAD to be a rock-solid and nonnegotiable element in the Dems’ entire political stance.

It wasn’t a shy modesty or bashful diffidence that kept the Dems from talking about their beliefs. It was the sleazy, queasy, and calculated awareness that they were in the process of pulling off a huge scam – I would call it a treachery – and their only hope for success was to keep the people from finding out until, through the introduction of a regressive and immature politics, The People would cease to exist as a competent, efficacious entity and the elites could govern the civic cattle ‘in the open’.

Feh, frak, and phooey.

So the Tea-Party Movement is “well-financed”? The right wing is getting ready to claim the Dems are pushing nothing but “socialism”? So what? These gambits are miniscule compared to the jaw-dropping chutzpah of the Dems’ overall revolutionary game.

More accurately, Tomasky does dare to include the charge that the Republicans are going to “paint the President, his ideas and policies, and his supporters as not merely un-American but actively anti-American.” [italics Tomasky’s]

A little more courageous than the average bear, but still – as perhaps must be the case – sleazy. None of the ideas that are costing the Dems hugely are Obama’s. The man is a junior-varsity player elevated to NFL rank because to the still-pony-tailed the idea of a ‘black’ president would be a final ‘victory’ for a misguided life-long vision that they had been pursuing like a pillar of swamp-gas in the night.

I couldn’t care less about his color, but his competence is hugely insufficient for the lethally complex challenge at hand, which is itself the result of 40 years of Beltway frakkery, first by the Dems and then bipartisanly embraced. If he brings some decency and honesty to his job, and I believe he does, that will hardly be enough to stanch the feculent flow generated by the entire upper 3/4s of the sitting political and bureaucratic classes inside the Beltway, let alone the advocates, lobbyists, experts, and other elites.

And the Beltway media now swim like infected koi in a cesspool all their own.

You or your enabled Identities call the Constitution “deficient” and “oppressive”; adopt Marxist and/or Leninist thinkers upon whose advice you will deploy ‘war politics’ and ‘war ethics’ that were developed precisely to overthrow a sitting government; trumpet that ‘revolution’ is a good thing and many revolutions all at once are even better; openly abet civic-war and the fracturing of the Citizenry in gender wars, age-wars, wars for victims’ vengeance, and call it all ‘good’; reduce a deliberative, democratic politics to the shallow, shrill, childish and primitive politics of Stampede and Emergency, of ‘rage’ and ‘vengeance’ … you do ALL of this and more, and you cawn’t think why anybody would consider you not simply un-American but anti-American?

My God.

But to establish his creds as a detached, objective and sage observer, Tomasky then intones with an almost British understatement: “I believe the Democrats’ hesitance to tie their programs to larger beliefs has been demoralizing to liberals and confusing or off-putting to independents. The impression is left with voters that Republicans are fighting for the country, while Democrats are fighting for their special interests.”


Not that I have any confidence in the Republicans’ politics: the wrack and wreck of American politics has undermined them as grossly as it has the Dems.

But here is Tomasky trying very hard to give the impression that what folks rather accurately have perceived (it appears that those who ‘just don’t get it’ actually ‘get’ a lot more than the elites ever wanted or expected them to – who knew?) is, when you come right down to it, a mistaken impression.

But I will say that Tomasky has precisely limned what the Citizenry has already figured out and that the Citizenry has figured out precisely what the Dems have been up to for the past 40 Biblical years.

I say again: this is not me making a shrill charge in a blog; this is Tomasky, accredited Dem insider, saying it. All I’m doing here is pointing out that what he is trying to spin as a mistaken-impression on the part of the Citizenry, I am asserting to be a rather largely accurate impression that the Citizenry has formed after decades of first-hand observation and quiet deliberation.

And No, I don’t believe the Republicans as a Party are “fighting for the country”. I don’t think any person so conceived and so dedicated could make it in either Party’s politics nowadays.

BUT anybody who is trying to somehow restore some dynamic connection to the genuine Vision and Principles of the Framers, and who is actually committed to what used to be called ‘the common weal’ (abolished by Identity Politics) … THAT person is somebody I’d like to vote for.

Tomasky has the nerve to whine that – alas – the Congress that will convene next January will have lost “the last remaining links to the Senate’s better days” … he refers to Teddy Kennedy; he of ‘The Dream’ – Anaheim or Orlando on the Potomac, Fantasy rather than Vision, Appearance over Reality, Feeling over Substance. In 1961, JFK intoned “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country . By 1971 when Teddy needed to ingratiate himself with any available electoral takers in order to climb out of the Chappaquiddick death-pit he had dug, he supported the thorough inversion of his older brother’s civic philosophy. And since then the politics of the country and certainly of the Democratic Party were set on a dark and fetid road … and, like Teddy himself, never looked back.

And they have striven mightily to ensure that We never looked back either. Focus on ‘the Dream’, dear cattle, and forget Reality – your government has.

Tomasky is right about one thing: if the Republicans as presently constituted get enough seats, there will be yet another ‘impeachment’ soap-opera.

But what else is there left to do? Speak the truth about national policy in front of all those who ‘just don’t get it’?

Anti-American indeed.


*Issue dated October 28, 2010. Pp. 6- 10.

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