Saturday, April 30, 2005
Publius/Strauss Comment, for pity's sake
"The object of philosophy is to prove that you are right in doing what you want." O. W. Holmes
(Publius): "Correlation is not causation"
I think you're right to point out that too much can be made of the Straussians' influence on the current GOP coalition. It's easy to get to pat about this stuff, and it's easy to SEEM too pat when you're trying to be blog-brief, as I think Billmon might have been doing. But correlation doesn't exclude causation, either. Correlation is correlation.
It's not very easy to empirically 'pinpoint' this kind of influence, and as I said in an earlier comment, philosophical concepts can get pretty muddied or corrupted by the time they get to the political realm. And furthermore, neocons aren't identical with Straussians. But I think the more familier you get with Strauss and some of his students (like Bloom of 'The Closing of the American Mind' and 'Ravelstein' fame), you have to wonder if the closeness with which the current political order often tracks Strauss & Co.'s ideas can really be just happenstance. I think it's a symbiotic relationship. The two correlate for a reason.
Drury has been aware of the Strauss cult for a long time (she is a philosophy prof), and notes in several places that most of the Straussian acolytes had ended up not in academia, but in 'think tanks' and other politically subsidized 'foundations' and the like. That is probably changing lately, but formally (according to her), the acolytes were often found to be well trained in Straussism but not so well trained in actual philosophy, and hence were sometimes not hired by universities.
Xenos, in the article linked above, also says:
The Straussian network is really an amazing thing. Any political theorist or anyone who has been around political science departments has seen it at work. Long before attaining public attention, the Straussians were often ridiculed for their cult-like qualities: they speak and write the same way, they write the same books on the same themes over and over again, they dress alike, they are almost all men, they went to the same schools—those sorts of things. It thus comes as a shock to discover that Leo Strauss may turn out to be the most influential political theorist of the last fifty years in the United States with respect to the exercise of political power.
...in the mid-1980s some commentators ....noticed that something strange was going on in the Reagan administration. The first sign of this was in an article by Stephen Toulmin, a historian of science, in the New York Review of Books in 1984, in the middle of a review of a book on Margaret Mead. Toulmin used Mead as an example to which he compared the then-current State Department policy planning staff, where, he said, they had more people who were acquainted with the writings of Leo Strauss than they were with the cultures that the State Department has to deal with.
(emphasis mine. Xenos goes into greater detail, of course). That doesn't 'prove' anything, exactly, but it's crazy to think Strauss' influence means nothing.
(pub) it just doesn’t follow that Strauss has been the source of all this. Perhaps this my own bias, but I tend to favor material explanations to ideological ones.
Of course he isn't The Source. He plays his (considerable) ideological role and materialist factors play theirs. Materialist vs Ideology doesn't make sense; it's not an 'either/or' situation. When is it ever?
..let’s assume that the war was not about democracy promotion, but was about something else. My point is that even if it is about “something else,” that doesn’t make it “Straussian.”
The Straussian idea is that it makes no difference what you say the war is about, or what it indeed IS about. War qua war is a value. I have to admit that I never got all the way through 'The End of History', but from what I did read, and have since read by Fukuyama, he doesn't seem to be the quintessential 'Straussian'. For Strauss, the End of History is a major (not minor) crisis - it is The Crisis. General prosperity, peace, widespread leisure, mass entertainment, etc. were anathema to him. Without constant struggle, the spirit of man dies. The Iraq war, and indeed an open-ended global war on something is exactly, precisely, what the doctor ordered. Endless war 'ennobles' us.
Yes, it's easy to get too facile about the 'noble lie' business, but you can't ignore Strauss' conception, or rather his transformation of Plato's conception (Strauss thought he was just finding Plato's 'esoteric meaning', in other words, revealing - albeit also esoterically - what Plato 'really' meant). Plato's noble lie was a lie which tells the truth; Strauss' is a lie for our own good. I'm not going to argue about how to designate the WMD lie, except to say that that it could be seen as a little of both: I think a lot of Americans kind of knew that there might be another reason or reasons for the war, aside from blood lust: oil, vaguely 'doing something' about the middle east, you name it. The whole acquiescence was extremely dysfunctional. I know there are people who seem to really still believe that there WERE WMD, or that Saddam really WAS involved in 9/11, but I don't think either brainwashing nor simple denial can explain the relative lack of broad outrage over there not having been WMD found. I think Bush really is a Leader - a profoundly BAD leader, but a leader nonetheless. He knows his audience.
One final thing. I think your likening Strauss to Burke is right as far as it goes, but it's sort of barking up the wrong tree. Burke was a traditionalist and a conservative, but he wasn't a reactionary. He feared too-rapid change, but he didn't fear ALL change (and he certainly believed in his OWN power of reasoning). In his letter about the French Revolution, he compares England's slow, relatively orderly liberalization (there is no other word for it) favorably to what was happening in France. That makes him a very conservative person in an at least proto-liberal context. Strauss is reactionary. His favored 'tradition' is to be found WAY before the 18th century - probably before the middle ages. I'm positive there are LF readers who know a lot more about Burke than I do, but I think it's pretty clear that favoring 'gradual change' is very different from the brittle resistence to change altogether you'd find in a real medieval stalwart, for instance. You may be right, ultimately, that 'Liberalism replaced god with human reason', but functionally, I'd say it's more like 'liberalism replaced god's supposed earthly political representitives and institutions with reason'. Strauss replaces god with reason altogether (he was an atheist), but only with the 'reason' of a very very tiny elite (people like him, naturally).
To sum up: I tend to have a pretty materialist POV myself, but first principles DO matter - everything flows from them. And just as important, while I don't know that I would be as sweeping as Holmes, ideology/philosophy obviously do have a vital function in politics. In the present case, we may be talking about Straussism being an intellectual fillip (or excuse), but that's not cause for discounting it. Did Marx 'cause' the Russian Revolution? No. Would it have been the same kind of revolution at the same time without him? Also no, IMO.
Monday, April 04, 2005
The Tree of Liberty is Not Nourished By Uric Acid
connard du jour
Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.
Gosh, he looks like such a nice man. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas today :
...we seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that's been on the news and I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in - engage in violence.
The thing is, Congress is much less popular than the Judiciary - and for good reason. Gee, Senator...er..
Reminds me of a tragedy we've mostly forgotten about, namely, the time a few years ago when that guy somehow got into the Capitol with a gun. Awful. He shot some perfectly innocent Capitol Police officers.
I would never call for violence against members of Congress or anybody else even if I believed it was right (which I don't) because there's a decent chance I'd get a little visit from some guys in black suits and sunglasses. 'Splain to me, please, why this connard* can say what he said -on the Senate Floor no less - and it's acceptable? What d'ya have to do to get censured in this joint?
* French slang for prick, wanker or idiot.
painting by Lee Kroemschroeder
Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.
Ask anyone who knows me to describe me, and the first thing out of their mouths would probalby be 'Trend- gripped' . If Billmon and Publius can come back, so can outlying little me. My head will explode if I don't post now and then. Eric at Total Information Awareness - who, incredibly, hasn't taken a break yet - has been kind enough to post a few of my longer items over the months, and that will keep happening as long as he wants. But some shorter posts are in order, too. Members of congress are starting to think about trying to rinse away their swamp-ass a little in preparation for the midterms, and for that and other reasons, the 'tempo' of indignities should increase in the next thrilling months. Must. Comment.
Sunday, April 03, 2005
Ah...the Culture of Life
Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.
This post isn't mainly about Terri Schiavo, because the controversy to which her name became crazy-glued wasn't about her, either. It is impertinent (to put it mildly) for me to pronounce myself either glad she's finally 'resting in peace' or sad that she has passed on. None of this was ever my nor the public's business. Unfortunately, the 'drama' will probably continue; we're probably going to have to find out what kind of freak Terri's dad was, about her eating disorder, etc. etc. You can run, but you can't hide.
Just in case you couldn't bear to read Peggy Noonan's Schiavo 'piece' in the WSJ called, appropriately, 'In Love With Death' , I'll offer a few highlights shortly. Don't roll your eyes; yes, Noonan is pretty...pretty vacant, and has lots of harder-edged dimwitted company , but her piece is exemplary.
And it is indubitably a 'piece', not a mere op-ed. Peggy is good at what's known as 'creative writing' (it's not just writing; it's creative writing!), a concept invented in the US sometime in the late 60s - early 70s. A particularly cheesy remnant of that era, 'creative writing' was one manifestation of the vaguely leftish idea that 'expressing yourself' (however incoherently) trumps reason, persuasion, logic, critical thinking. In other words, just having an opinion or a 'feeling' of some kind is the total extent of your responsibility as a, pardon me, sentient human. This overall concept's wholesale political adaptation by the GOP gradually affected a change in how Americans see their own basic role as Americans: the role of 'citizen' was supplanted by that of 'consumer'. It's a subtle but fundamental change. A citizen is active and makes judgments; a consumer is passive, and has only to have an opinion. This confusion of the two roles is summed up in the cliche 'voting with your pocketbook'. That is such a common phrase and concept, we don't realize how absurd it is. You can't vote with your pocketbook anymore than you can breathe through your feet. You're doing something with your pocketbook, but it's not voting.
This change is a basic fault deep in the heart of the Reagan Cultural Revolution. It's usually euphemized as 'individualism', but it's really fetish-individualism, ie desperate. In practice it means a set of extremely rotten values: greed, self-absorption, atomization, suspiciousness, superstition, lying (especially to ones' self), responsibilty-shirking, resentment ('coveting'), and ultimately, nihilism ('rapture'). The very word 'citizen' in this context sounds 'collective' or 'social' - in other words, 'commie'! Can't have any of that! Civic Virtue itself has become suspect. The Reagan ethos was/is: Don't think, just feel; believe what you want to believe; there is no price to be paid for anything; if it feels good, do it; you can always have your cake and eat it too - and with extra frosting, if that's what your 'heart' tells you you ought to have. Forget about informed judgment, responsibility to people you don't know, consequences, forethought - all that stuff. Be positive! The Invisible Hand (and the Invisible Army) is a system! It just works by itself! (And if it doesn't, we're in the 'last days' anyway.)
'Magical Thinking' - a term of art in the psych world - is not only bad mental health, but, as a civic or personal ethos, is morally slack in any serious sense of the word 'moral'. It is opinion without knowledge. Action without consequences. Faith without struggle. Rights without responsibility. Sound familiar? Reagan embodied this way of thinking, as when, for instance, he explained that 'my heart tells me' we didn't trade arms for hostages, but 'my head tells me otherwise'. He instinctively wanted to have an opinion about a fact. This is beyond 'wishful thinking': it's Magical Thinking, and his 'revolution' institutionalized it.
Common sense tells you that there is more than a little Projection going on in the red-faced right wing cultural barking of the past several years. How can all those rotten values I mentioned before be described in one word? 'Permissiveness'. When you hear boomer 'conservatives' yack on about 'permissiveness' (usually for tidy sums), you know they know, deep down, that they're really talking about themselves. No wonder they're so angry! The stupidest part of the '60s-'70s ethos - a quite literally mindless Free-Lunch-ism - was co-opted by the Reagan Cultural Warriors, and they hate themselves for it, as well they should. They will never stop squirming and blaming.
The 'Culture Wars' are an expression of the self hatred of the warriors. The Republicans of the 80s won and profoundly changed the direction and cultural shape of the country. They, not Hollywood, or liberals (HA!) promulgated the culture we have now. Us Regular Folks out here in the real world (the 'American People') know perfectly well that politics shapes culture far more than the other way around. Politics, in the real world, is: who lives and who dies, who makes money and who doesn't, who's educated and who isn't, and what the rules are. American politics has been dominated by the Republican party for 25 years, and we live in the porno culture they stewarded.
Originally, I had a little delayed gratification here, tantalizing the reader with anticipation for the creamy-goodness, the sheer sugar-and-spice girlish charm of Noonan's piece to come. I'd had a brief detour into a column by legend-in-his-own-mind Nat Hentoff , who, as a 60s NYC hipster, I felt simply must be paired with Peggy in the context of this post. But...I thought better of it. Hentoff's column really didn't add anything, and was just full of stock lies you can read anywhere, like this one:
Terri Schiavo has never had an MRI or a PET scan, nor a thorough neurological examination.
Anyway, Nat Hentoff, meet Peggy Noonan. You kids have a lot in common.
The 'It' Girl
I do hate to wallow in this herpes outbreak of an issue (paraphrasing Eric, I'm not apologizing, I REALLY hate it), but Noonan's column sums up a lot about a lot, and is the most direct way through, I think. Her job - as a speechwriter and now - is like that of a gilder, in the sense that not just anyone can do it, even though it looks easy. Naturally though, it's not razor-thin gold she's expertly floating onto the frame. It's perfectly uniform cheese-food, fresh from the can:
[The Shiavo protesters] do not want an innocent human life ended for what appear to be primarily practical and worldly reasons--e.g., Mrs. Schiavo's quality of life is low, her life is pointless. They say: Who is to say it is pointless? And what does pointless even mean? Maybe life itself is the point.
I didn't realize that these protesters were Jains! My mistake. 'Life is the point', eh? OK, but that means no killing at all - of insects, of animals; no wars, no self-defense, no death penalty, no living wills, no nothing. No 'worldly reasons'. Life is the point. Deep, Peggy.
I do not understand the emotionalism of the pull-the-tube people.
Er...did you say 'emotionalism'? Hmm...emotionalism...emotionalism... Other than the hordes of liberals and white-coated, clipboard-clutching 'science-types' marching in the Florida streets chanting 'kill her!', I'm not sure who you're talking about, Peg.
The chairman of the Democratic National Committee calls Republicans "brain dead."
Tasteless indeed, albeit about a 'two' on the logarithmic 'tasteless scale' for this Very Special Television Event.
Michael Schiavo, the husband, calls House Majority Leader Tom DeLay "a slithering snake."
Well, that is horrible, except for the fact that he IS a slithering snake. By the by, I wonder if DeLay will someday have a deathbed change-of-heart, like Rove's mentor Atwater did (along with so many others)? Deathbed changes of heart come conveniently too late to stop or correct any damage done by the person, but it is the traditional way to insult one's religion one last time. Just wondering.
I don't "know" that any degree of progress or healing is possible for Terri Schiavo; I only hope they are.
Epistemological Peggy! It's perfectly alright that you don't "know" (important quotation marks, those). Let's make this the Happiest Place On Earth, Peggy, a Shining City On A Hill. We don't need to 'know' stuff. Ya just gotta believe! (Perhaps we can levitate the Pentagon! ) 'Knowing' stuff is for atheists. Clearly, Christian faith is not about a life of personal spiritual struggle and reflection - all THAT crap; it's about believing what you choose to believe! It's your right to believe what you want, right?
How do the pro-death forces "know" there is no possibility of progress, healing, miracles? They seem to think they know. They seem to love the phrases they bandy about: "vegetative state," "brain dead," "liquefied cortex."
How do they know? Or how do they 'know'? Yeah, those darned 'pro-death' forces do seem to love 'bandying' snappy phrases like 'liquefied cortex' around. They DO seem to love it! They DO seem..! They....I....it's...!
Ackk! Torture me no more! Tear up the floorboards! Behold the beating of the hideous heart!
The pull-the-tube people say, "She must hate being brain-damaged." Well, yes, she must. (This line of argument presumes she is to some degree or in some way thinking or experiencing emotions.)
Strawman Peggy! Cover-all-bases Peggy!
Who wouldn't feel extreme sadness at being extremely disabled? I'd weep every day, wouldn't you?
Terri Schiavo's brain damage denied her even the dignity of weeping.
But consider your life. Are there not facets of it, or facts of it, that make you feel extremely sad, pained, frustrated, angry?
We have arrived at the crux of the 'piece', and we can't avoid an unpleasant truth: this is about Peggy and her ilk, not Terri Schiavo. This is not 'respect for life' but fear of death.
But you're still glad you're alive, aren't you? Me too. No one enjoys a deathbed. Very few want to leave.
Consider your life, dear reader...the facts and the facets of it. The windmills and the highways and the byways of your mind. The Times of your life. Wouldn't it make you extremely sad if something icky happened to you, or even just something unpleasant - especially when you're still pretty hot for your age? Wouldn't that make you feel sad? Pained? Frustrated? But you'd want to still live, wouldn't you? Me too.
...why do those who argue for Mrs. Schiavo's death employ language and imagery that is so violent and aggressive?
Speaking of violence and aggression, Peggy goes on to compare what she calls the 'pro-death' forces to the Nazis, etc., calling them 'red-fanged and ravenous' (I'm not kidding).
And finally, since Peggy is definitive on all this, her piece wouldn't be complete without a word about those who - sadly for them - are 'still learning'; a word about.....wait for it.......the children:
And those who are still learning--our children--oh, what terrible lessons they're learning.....They're witnessing the Schiavo drama on television and hearing it on radio.
Ah, the 'PMRC Oral Sex At Gunpoint' phenomenon. Again. Yes, the children have indeed learned lots of terrible lessons from some of their pathetic parents in the past several years. All the humiliating National Porno you can eat, year after year. If people like Peggy took their cultural responsibility to their children and grandchildren seriously, they wouldn't project their own hysteria onto the entire country. (Not to mention the fact that it's all stultifyingly boring - no small sin.) This is solipsism writ grotesquely large. I guess when you've been 'washed' of all sense of shame and humility, when it's Morning Again in your soul, you need have no qualms...
Winning One For the Home Team
I part ways here with some 'moderates' from my side of the aisle, who feel that we should've been 'sympathetic' to the other side in this argument - and I mean the political other side, not Mrs. Schiavo's parents. The blowhards, the politicians, the charlatans, and the goofballs in FL, used Terri Schiavo as a human spittoon, a cypher, a psychic dildo. It's telling that most didn't even bother tolearn her name correctly ('She-avo' not 'SHY-vo'). They didn't give a shit about her, personally. Not one bit. The ugly truth is: if this woman hadn't really been in a persistent vegetative state, the whole circus would've been impossible. The 'forces of life' people needed her to actually be in the state they denied she was in. If she had been able to communicate, respond, etc., the whole thing wouldn't have 'worked'.
Feeling sick yet?
So! Are we as a nation content to, as it were, kick the dog when we really want to yell at our boss? Are we really facing our mixed feelings about abortion and euthenasia, and our fear of eugenics (and of science), when we seize on and demonize this poor Schiavo guy, and fetish his poor wife? It's called 'dysfunction' for a reason, folks - dis-function. The license to be spoiled , ignorant and credulous is a cherished American entitlement - Ronald Reagan (with the signal help of Noonan) effectively made it the law of the land two decades ago. Messing with that entitlement is the real 'third rail' of politics at the moment. But can we really afford it anymore? It is a terrible luxury - absurdly expensive. I see some 'hard choices' on the horizon. We going to have to deliberately step on that third rail at some point, and end it all. Only illusions will die.
I admit to being 'red-fanged', rhetorically, about this. I hope this whole awful 'in love with death' episode backlashes horribly on these ghouls, these American death-cultists, and the attendant profiteers. Unlike DeLay, Frist and Bush, my aim is not narrowly partisan; I'd just like to see a win for the 'home team', AKA homo-sapiens. I hope this is some kind of a watershed event. (Even though Terri is dead now, let's keep seeing those 2 clips of her face over and over on tv for another week or two. Since the damage is already done, since her inherent, basic human dignity - which was all she had left - was already pissed-on and sold out before she died, why not?) Institutional obsession with death, fear of our own learning and intelligence, religious superstition, solipsism - these things are literally a mortal danger to us all in the long run. Life itself IS the point.
[Cross-posted at Total Information Awareness ]