Sunday, October 29, 2006

One reason for hope

With all the similarities to Germany in the early 1930s that are evident from the efforts of the Boosh Gang to establish a one-party military state in America, it is worthwhile to note an important difference: the Nazis had very wide popular support.

In contrast, it is remarkable that, considering the constant barrage of propaganda from Fox and the other state-friendly media outlets, the relentless demonization of all opponents by the Royalist party, and the general passivity of the Democrats, that Boosh’s poll numbers have hovered in the 30-40% range for most of the last three or four years. Keep in mind, also, that despite all the heavy artillery that Rove and the Royalists have been able to bring to bear on elections, Boosh was only able to muster a 51% popular vote in 2004, and that indeed he would have lost without Ohio, a state tainted by strong indications of electoral fraud.

In my experience, the reality-based community tends to bemoan the ignorance of the public more often than not, seeing the American masses as apathetic sheep, easily swayed by militarism and prejudice. In truth, the history of the Boosh Gang’s rule provides an object lesson in how far brazen lying and fear-mongering can get you, especially with a corrupt and docile press. But still, there are the poll numbers. Over 60% of us, on the average, have continued to disapprove of Boosh’s performance, no matter what phony stunt or distraction he pulls out of his ass.

I am convinced that most Americans are far more intelligent than their so-called leaders take them for, or the media pundits. So we really are seeing the kind of “manufactured” consent that Noam Chomsky has talked about, where a minority view of political reality is maintained by the establishment, and made to appear mainstream, even though the majority of Americans think differently. Both political parties, and the media, represent the monied elites, and the views of this minority are projected as if they were the sane, ordinary, middle-of-the-road, established way.

I find this fact rather hopeful. A neo-fascist government will have difficulty operating with a disapproval rating of 60% or more. The Royalist power won’t hold without a larger base.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Props to Netter

Mark Netter is one of the better kept secrets in the blogosphere. I would like that to change. Nettertainment combines first-rate political commentary with smart, forthright film and culture criticism.

You can start with Not Insane for President from a month ago, or his great personal take on Punk and the passing of CBGB. Or just dive in anywhere. This man knows how to write, and I order you to read.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cancel the Elections

Two months before the November elections in 2004, Dick Cheney said the following at a town hall meeting in Des Moines: “If we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again -- that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.” (9/7/04)

In other words, the election of John Kerry would represent a serious danger to the national security of the United States. Assuming this was a fact, there’s one thing I don’t understand. Why were the elections allowed to take place?

If there’s one message that’s been consistent on the part of the Bush regime, it’s that national security, the so-called “war on terror,” is more important than any other issue. It’s more important than our Constitution (you can’t have civil liberties when you’re dead, as more than one Republican has said, turning Patrick Henry inside out), and more important even than morality (since torture has been justified in its name). So how could something as pitiful as an election be allowed to occur if the wrong result could make a terrorist attack more likely?

In fact, the idea of postponing the elections, if a terrorist attack occurred, was floated in July of 2004 within Homeland Security. I assume this was “floated” because the pattern within the Bush regime is to keep testing the boundaries of its power, and these kind of stories, in CNN or USA Today or wherever, do not appear by accident. The trial balloon was met with scorn and laughter, and Condoleeza Rice quickly denied that it was a serious consideration.

Then of course we have Bush recently saying at a Reno fundraiser: "If you listen closely to some of the leaders of the Democratic Party, it sounds like—it sounds like—they think the best way to protect the American people is, wait until we're attacked again." (10/2/06)

The implication is the same, although not as bald-faced as in Cheney’s rhetoric. The election of the Democrats represents a security threat. For God’s sake, then, why allow elections at all? If the opposing party represents that serious a threat, if we’re that unsafe under their governance, I don’t understand why it's even allowed to operate. Shouldn’t the Democratic Party be outlawed for the sake of our security? At least cancel the election until we’re safe from terror. This dancing on the edge of peril seems very foolish.

If, on the other hand, the government is unwilling to cancel the elections, we can only be skeptical as to the seriousness of the threat posed by the Democrats. In which case, and with all due respect, I would advise Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney to shut the fuck up.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

No Literal Truth

All meaning is transmitted by metaphor, through an act of poetry. This is the secret of all scriptures, all spiritual teachings, all wisdom of any kind that has been thought, spoken, or written down through the ages.

It’s a secret because society has hidden this truth, while proclaiming as law a falsehood called the literal truth. This law was motivated by the fear of death, and it pretends to protect us from annihilation through a system of belief.

As soon as the Bible, or any religious book, is declared literally true, it loses all meaning, because meaning is only accessible through metaphor. Metaphor is the gatekeeper of subjectivity. Even fundamentalists, who falsely believe that they are interpreting their scripture literally, only gain access to meaning for themselves through the power of the metaphors conveyed in their scripture.

Through mythology, the ancients combined metaphor, the language of the subjective, with interpretations of the cosmos that united communities in shared belief. But with the rise of science, born of an inextinguishable thirst for knowledge, mythology could no longer play this dual role. Modern fundamentalism clings to its mythology as objectively true, as if it were on the same level as science, while at the same time emptying its mythology of all metaphorical power.

Why? Because religion, for the vast majority of mankind, became a mere tool for social control, a method of domestication. Meaning was banished to the realm of the “esoteric,” the “occult,” “mysticism.” And if those who entered this realm—the mystics, the poets, the seers and seekers—got too close to the truth, organized religion would attack, punish, and persecute them.

Thus we have come to a time, our modern era, when religion must see through its own mythology, recognize that mythology is fundamentally different than science and cannot contest its realm—if it is not to become a completely negative and destructive force, in other words if it is to avoid the spiritual dead end of fundamentalism.

Spirituality is not going away. Human beings will always need to create and experience meaning in its many forms—such as love, beauty, wisdom, and compassion. The idolatry of sacred scriptures, the setting up of the literal truth as religious dogma, the attempt to project human limitations upon the unlimited, represents an obstacle in the way of meaning, not a way to meaning. The reified notion of a being out there who watches and rules is our darkest metaphor, a symbol of our fear of death. The secret of all religions, the supposed mystery of mysteries, always comes back to the self, the anonymous and impersonal self that we all are, the naked self that feels joy, hope, fear, and desire—the self that dies.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Enemy Mind

Labeling one’s political opponents as traitors or “enemies within,” as the Republicans are so fond of doing, is not a new phenomenon. One can trace this particular symptom all the way back to the beginnings of the Cold War. The Democratic Party occupied the White House, one should recall, for twenty straight years, over twelve of them under FDR. Being out of power that long fostered a deep resentment in the Republican Party. Republicans saw government as the servant of big business. They hated FDR and his New Deal, which they considered socialist. Prior to Pearl Harbor, they were opposed to going to war. They feared Stalin, not because of any knowledge of mass atrocities committed by the Soviet Union, but because communism was ideologically opposed to business. Many of them liked Hitler and Mussolini. The right wing of the party contained Nazi sympathizers. After the war, during the House Un-American Activities Committee’s anti-communist purge of Hollywood, a number of Republican Congressmen went on record as believing that America had been duped into supporting “the wrong side” in the war. Anti-Semitism was an integral element in the anticommunist movement, on both sides of the aisle—Southern Democrats like the racist, Jew-baiting John Rankin of Mississippi (a prominent HUAC member) made common cause with the Republicans.

The Alger Hiss case alerted the Republicans that there were spies in the government. The anticommunists ran with this, raising the alarm that the entire Democratic administration was infiltrated. They made no distinction between supporters of the Soviet Union during the war (when, in fact, that country was an ally of the U.S.) and actual spies. If you were a communist, or were a communist in the past, you were an enemy and must be blacklisted or worse.

From here, the Republicans, following the lead of Joe McCarthy, began to openly accuse, or at least imply, that the liberal (non-segregationist) Democrats were Communist dupes or allies—not just political opponents, but enemies. A typical example took place during the 1952 Presidential campaign, when McCarthy referred to Adlai Stevenson (with a chuckle) as “Alger…I mean, Adlai…” The Republican Party discovered that branding one’s opponents “red” represented a path to electoral success, because it played on people’s fears. Ricard Nixon’s career is a good example. He was first elected to Congress by claiming that his opponent was financially supporting communist-influenced labor unions. He became a Senator by slandering his female opponent as “pink..." (a slang term for communist sympathizer) ..."right down to her underwear.”

Over the years, this way of thinking and operating turned into an addiction for right-wing Republicans. The accusation of treason was not the sole province of the John Birch Society—it was gradually incorporated into standard Republican ideology, just as the party itself gradually became an almost exclusively right-wing enterprise. Apologists may argue that the fear of communism was justified, but I would counter that the idea of demonizing political opponents as security threats and traitors is so tempting to politicians looking for votes, and is so much simpler than having to debate the issues in a civil manner, that it became a self-perpetuating attitude that bore little relation to national security. And since the Republicans have generally offered no positive ideas, but only reactions against liberals (government programs are bad, taxes are bad, civil rights means blacks taking white jobs away, etc.) the “enemy” approach became more and more prevalent and addictive. Karl Rove didn’t invent this—stoking fear and resentment was a prime strategy of the Reagan group. But the reactionary takeover in the 1990s, and the subsequent appointment of George W. Bush as President, took things to a new level. Now we have the President and Vice-President telling us that Democrats are aiding and abetting terrorists.

The fall of the Soviet Union presented a political dilemma to the Republicans. Since their whole strategy is based on reaction to an enemy, not on any positive moral vision, they needed a new devil. Islamic terrorists fit the bill nicely. The rightists had to turn the neat trick of identifying liberals with fundamentalist Muslims, while allying themselves with fundamentalist Christians whose social views are identical in most respect to the Muslims. But religious ignorance and bigotry can sometimes do the impossible, and the politicians and mainstream media don’t notice the contradiction most of the time.

The “enemy within” strategy has worked for the Republicans in electoral terms. As far as governing is concerned, it’s proven to be disastrous, since it inevitably involves some kind of suppression of political opposition. The Democrats have proven remarkably meek and compliant in the face of this strategy, ever since Reagan. They still show little backbone. Yet the Cheney-Rove juggernaut has pushed so hard with its fear agenda that the public seems to be souring on it, and some Democrats are beginning to see the writing on the wall. If the right espouses an “eliminationist” philosophy, as its AM radio toadies do, saying that liberalism is the cause of terrorism, and so forth, then the Democrats will have to fight or die. Contrary to rightist mythology, Bill Clinton was a fairly conservative Democrat, certainly a lover of big business and not a leftist, and we saw what happened—the right went at him as if he were the reincarnation of Ho Chi Minh. Endless attempts on the part of the great triangulator to become more Republican than the Republicans only made them more determined to destroy him. There is a lesson here for Democrats. The so-called “centrist” strategy is a failure. The Republicans, like crackheads, will not relinquish their drug. They instinctively label Democrats and liberals as enemies and traitors because it’s been their ticket to electoral success for over fifty years. After decades of avoiding issues, most do not even possess the ability to debate them on their merits. Name-calling and finger-pointing are the only "skills" remaining for them.

It remains to be seen, of course, whether the Republican “enemy” mindset will eventually collapse from its own emptiness and irrelevance. It appeals to the worst in our nature, but that hasn’t handicapped it very much so far. I like to think that things have gotten so bad now, with the most corrupt White House and most corrupt Congress in the history of the United States, that a politics that is responsive to the needs of the people, rather than using fear and hatred to divide Americans from each other in order to win votes, may have a chance. But I’m not holding my breath.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Dregs of the Whine

I consider it a given that only a certain percentage of talk uttered by any human being is going to be interesting. The more time is taken before speaking one’s mind, the more considered the speech, the more likely it will be that something of what is said will be useful.

So consider the case of the radio talk show hosts. They talk for hours on end, every day, five days a week, all year long, excluding vacations. Leaving aside the intelligence of the speaker, or his or her political orientation, the mere law of averages would dictate that the vast majority of what is said will be boring rubbish, and that a considerable percentage of that rubbish will be simply false. I believe this because I’m keenly aware of the limitations of human nature. Even Homer nods, as they say—so what can we except from somebody taking calls on a radio show every day?

I would argue, therefore, that the very premise of talk radio as it is today guarantees an overflow of verbal junk. But of course the situation is far worse than that. The right-wing radio host, as pioneered by Rush Limbaugh, emits a stream of self-righteous opinion about everything under the sun, without the restraint of humility or doubt. Everything said is determined beforehand by an ideology of aggression and bombast. The breed of “personalities” that crawled from under the rocks in the 1990s, and which plagues us today, possesses a range of opinion so predictable that the only element of surprise is how offensive, how ugly, the expression might be on a given day. The AM airwaves are now owned by unscrupulous demagogues for whom no lie or distortion is off limits.

And yet, behind the arrogant presentation, underneath the swagger, we can hear, if we listen carefully, a sickening and pathetic sound—it’s the whine of the self-pitying victim. Everything would be fine if it weren’t for the liberals, the feminists, the gays, the peaceniks, the civil rights “crowd.” The radio orators rarely pause to consider anything positive. Everything takes the form of reaction. Tormented by the awareness of traitors in their midst, they spend hours berating one group or another, one liberal figure or another, in a relentless litany of complaint. Their standards are non-existent. If their own guy outs a CIA agent, they’ll find a justification for it. Would anyone in their right mind believe that if a Democratic president, a Clinton, or (heaven forbid) a Howard Dean, had outed a CIA agent, that the windbags would be justifying it? Of course not. And the fact that their standards shift according to whether the person involved is on “their side” or not, demonstrates that they have no principles at all.

After two decades of incessant on-air sniveling, the spoiled brat whine that knows no satiety in its “poor, poor me” sense of victimhood (even after their wingnut faction has taken power, they talk as if liberals are running things!), it’s a wonder that anyone can listen to this crap. How can people tune in to Rush, or Hannity, or Michael Savage day after day, week after week, and not go into a coma of rant-induced boredom? What pleasure can be derived from having some idiot complain for hours in your ear? Such is the mystery of the hate radio listener, but the polls are proving that they are a sad little minority.

One of the surest signs that sanity has revived in this country will be when these ridiculous shows lose what popularity they have. For real thought to occur, a certain amount of silence is necessary. Quiet minds speak wisdom. And may we see a day soon when the whiners are at a loss for words.

Monday, October 09, 2006

"Sexual Predator"

The language of our public discourse has been so consistently degraded that it is difficult to even notice the symptoms. A case in point is the use of the phrase “sexual predator” to describe pedophiles and other sex offenders. With the Foley scandal, we see progressives adopting the phrase (which was coined by reactionaries) as a kind of payback for Republican moral hypocrisy, in order to describe Foley and those who covered up for him.
“Sexual predator” is designed to dehumanize a subject, to turn a criminal into a monster. By demonizing in this way, we evade all responsibility to examine the problem, to locate its causes, and thus to find solutions that can help prevent it. This is one of the most basic right-wing methods, so elemental that in most cases it’s probably instinctive and unconscious. When we’re dealing with a monster rather than a human being, we can feel righteous about attacking the monster without having to deal with the complexities of the crime. This has become the standard way of responding to crime, and especially in the case of sex crimes, where the aura of fear and taboo is highly charged.
There is no need in this case to consider prevention. The monster is an inexplicable force, completely alien, and therefore cannot be prevented. In the case of the “sexual predator” we are told that it is not possible for the criminal to ever change, so we are justified in throwing him on the scrap heap and leaving it at that.
The “sexual predator” is a convenient figure by which a politician can win votes. Senator Self-Righteous Avenger can run on the promise that he’ll get “tough” on the monsters and protect us, while accusing his opponent of being soft. Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, for instance, one of Dick Cheney’s favorite tools, is running on this very issue.
To state that pedophilia, or other criminal sexual behavior, is a kind of sickness, is to risk being called “permissive,” or worse. If I were to point out that a sex offender is a human being who became a sex offender for certain reasons, some may assume that I show undue compassion for the offender and none for his victims. But one doesn’t need compassion in order to seek a solution to a problem that isn’t going away. If treatment can help sex offenders, then treatment should be supported, for our own sake. Calling someone a predator is the equivalent of hiding one’s head in the sand.
It’s obvious to me that “sexual predator,” however it may superficially correspond to a description of behavior, is a loaded phrase intended to make us think of a wild animal and not a person.
Of course I’m not excusing Foley, or those who protected him. But when progressives adopt demonizing language, language that turns people into objects, scapegoats for our rage, we are no better than the right-wing hypocrites who do the same.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The National Fallacy

One of the most heavily-used rhetorical sleights-of hand is to equate a country’s government with its people. If I criticize the government, therefore, I’m “anti-American.” You may recall the words of the decrepit Jeanne Kirkpatrick: dissenters are the “blame America first crowd.” As if the state itself was America. This is known as totalitarian thinking.
At Crybaby Boosh’s Sept. 16 press conference, the commandant was asked about Colin Powell’s statement that “the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.” This is how he answered: “If there's any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, it's flawed logic.”
Through the magic of totalitarian thinking, the United States government, the subject of Powell’s comments, has been magically transformed into “the American people.” And how dare you make a comparison between their compassion and decency, and terrorists?
We hear this kind of crazy-making rhetoric all the time. In the case of Israel, for instance, if I oppose their government’s military policies, I’m anti-Semitic. Or I’m against the very existence of Israel. The only rationale for such arguments is to avoid discussing any substantive issues, to permanently block meaningful debate, or keep it within “acceptable” parameters.
In The Need for Roots, Simone Weil made a compelling case for the complete separation of patriotism from the concept of nationalism. Patriotism is simple love for one’s land and people, including the people’s language and culture. Nationalism is an artificially created system of obedience to authority in the form of the state. The latter employs extensive symbolism in order to fix the attention of the people on authority, with a flag being perhaps the foremost example. Generally, the degree of reverence for a flag is in inverse ratio to the degree of patriotism, as surprising as this may seem. Flag worshippers are more likely to create enemies out of their fellow citizens, because their loyalty is to state authority, and if that means killing your neighbor, then so be it.
Patriotism is a natural sentiment. Nationalism is an indoctrination. Politicians, therefore, will always try to identify one with the other in order to confuse our minds and stifle dissent.