Dec 04 2009
I think the thing that fascinate me the most is the solemn and evangelical need for Americans to “be born yesterday”. This naivite is beautifully portrayed by Mark Twain and it continues to this day. That’s why it is so easy to fool Americans. I remember when I lived in Florence, Italy I knew some hustlers, mainly Papagalli or gigolos (I have a penchant for always associating with “low” companions) who told me that the stupidest people in the world and the easiest marks were the Americans by a long shot. People from other countries knew the score, knew what they wanted and got on with it. But Americans were clueless in the eyes of these professionals and wanted to be fooled.
So it’s no surprise that we have entire institutions built to convince us that we need to pull the wool over our own eyes. So the propaganda organs (and they are entirely that–I see no difference between Pravda of several decades ago and say NYT except that Pravda stories were better written. There is a party line in the U.S. media and there’s are pretend conflicts that resemble professional wrestling but no real fundamental political differences are ever seen in the official press.
Dec 03 2009
It’s been harder and harder for me to pay attention to “politics” such as it is. I don’t really see anything happening other than a kind of mopping up operation by the oligarchy. The deed is done the Republic can be buried now.
The most consistently accurate commentator of the left (I regard the “left” to mean opposition to the current power structure not an ideology) has probably been Arthur Silber (his blog is here). I suggest you read his stuff, not just the new stuff. Sometimes he’s a bit pedantic and self-righteous but he’s earned the right to it as far as I’m concerned.
To all those who repeatedly claimed that, no matter what “mistakes” he might make and regardless of the scope of the devastating effects of those errors, Obama had to represent a markedly better choice than McCain, take note: in certain respects, Obama is far more dangerous than McCain could have been.
Why is this?
Nov 14 2009
Back in the late 60’s I was part of a loose left-wing collective and we liked to chant “Smash the State” — we were sort-of anarchists and we were young and stupid. We held pep rallies, concerts and LSD was freely being taken. We ran from cops and kept moving.
I don’t think we really understood what we were trying to do. But I think all of us felt we needed to encourage our fellow humans to be fully human and less machine-like. We wanted to break laws and rules not just for the thrill of doing so but to liberate ourselves from our dreadful inheritance as Americans — something we dimly perceived but instinctually understood.
Sep 12 2009
I never really “chose” to be on the left side of the political spectrum. I just ended up there because the traditional left was more logical than right and center if you come at life from the point-of-view implied in the founding documents of the American Republic (alas, now past). In America the left is really fulfilling the role of conserving the ideas and ideals of the American Revolution. Generally we believe in the rule of law rather than the law of privilege. But most importantly we believe in using principles established during the enlightenment that reason and science should be appealed to in setting public policy. Religion does not work as a foundation for public policy because people differ in religious principles. We, in the West, did not invent reason but we were the first to realize that appeal to reason was the only way to wars like the Thirty-Years War which devasted much of parts of Europe (mainly Germany) much as Afghanistan is devasted now.
Aug 09 2008
I often puzzle over whether I should be concerned with our political situation and write about it or just get on with life. The situation often appears utterly hopeless, not because there’s nothing we can do but because there are so many choices and possibilities as well as too much information to process. Human beings are not meant to have so much stuff to think about which is why, as hard as we try, it feels like we are increasingly overloaded not just with things to do but also the knowledge that problems are multiplying faster than solutions. Any reasonable look at the current state of politics shows that every possible solutions to the critical short, medium and long term problems are just quick-fix-its that are designed to enrich some set of grandees. And knowing that, knowing that to put your faith in Obama or any conventional politician is a sure road to hell just plain hurts. We sit here at our screens and really we are in pain and if we are not in pain then we are largely unconscious or enlightened masters.
Information overload is the most direct cause of our political and social problems. The more intelligent and compassionate you are the worse it is. So how do we create a situation where expanding our knowledge can help us rather than weaken us and make us miserable. Other people just ignore stuff that is difficult or inconvenient to think about–why do we persist? Should we?
What we lack is a positive framework to put our insights and realizations into something we can build on. What that entails I’m not sure–but it’s worth thinking about.
But the first thing we need to do before we go any further is to have compassion for those that choose to hide and not think, yes even the yahoos who believe that the Bible is literally true. What if they didn’t? They don’t have the ability to navigate doubt and intellectual cross-currents–they would be swallowed up and driven mad so they survive by ignoring the blaringly obvious contradictions and clear fictions in the Bible (in fact few fundies actually read anything other than carefully selected passages of the Bible). Few of the people who actually vote for Republicans are bad people who are as glaringly selfish and destructive as the Republican public policy positions would indicate–they just want some sense of security and certainty and belongingness in a world that seems to have gone mad. That the people they are voting for actually seek to create a world filled with war, violence, pornography, materialism and hedonism and then blame others is to painful to look at. To seek alternatives that don’t offer them a place with dignity, that doesn’t offend their sense of public morality as abortion, gay rights and feminism as well as “patriotism” obviously is not going to happen easily. Most importantly these communities in the “red” areas of the country don’t want to move away from prejudices and traditions that make for a common sense of community. Generations ago it would have been far easier for them to stay in traditions because contrary information was not widely available–but today they must make a strong act of will to deliberately pull the wool over their own eyes (as the sub-genius movement suggests).
We may not “like” these people but we are required, if we truly believe in egalitarianism and democracy, to accept them and the fact they will not change sides easily or automatically believe in gay marriage or peace. Cooperation and compromise with them is required (and not with the Republican and some Democratic politicians that run confidence games on them).
Second thing we need to do is have compassion for ourselves and see how hard it is for us to swim against the current and acknowledge that just surviving without running screaming into the street (though some of us may do that from time to time) is quite an accomplishment. So we can pat ourselves on the back for a sec and then start looking for a way to use those muscles we have develop to start swimming with the stream creatively and get something done. With that in mind we must understand that inner and outer work is the same and that for that work to be effective we must, must, must be part of communities focuse on building something. Giving each other insights, keeping the information flowing as we have been doing is part of what we need to do but it is not enough because unless we build something with that information we will just get more and more frustrated–we build and create something. For example, building a wiki or database like this 9/11 timeline. There are other kinds of collective actions we could take as well–if anyone has any suggestions I’d like to hear them.
Aug 04 2008
One day I will write more on “everything connects” but I think it does. FYI, I prefer to use the term “left” rather than “liberal” or “progressive” because I see left, right and center to be a kind of organic whole and those terms are more inclusive. The “center” in fact is made up of two poles–one is where the left and right meet in a kind of compromise and is generally where the social conformists line up and is generally where politics operates (and is the only healthy place for it to operate in a Democracy by definition. On the other end of the center where the extreme left meets the extreme right.
Because our political and cultural system operates under the laws of systems analysis I don’t believe that anyone in our political system is “wrong” just that diffent ideological stances all have a positive function and that is to keep a balance (homeostasis)–the system is only wrong when it is out of balance. Currently we have a kind of cultural/political fever in which the right has become too strong (in fact cancerous) and the left too weak.
Jul 20 2008
While in a discussion in yesterday’s essay We’re Not In Kansas Anymore NLinStPaul asked me to expand my comments on the fact I believed that democracy cannot function the current cultural atmosphere and that we should hope that the oligarchs that run the joint can be wise.
To me this is an easy statement to make because democracy, as we have come to understand the term, is not a natural or common state of human culture. History and social science has shown us that most people inevitably follow authority and will follow authority. It also shows that power corrupts and that, in many ways, both the powerful and the weak cooperate in a kind of sado-masochistic scene (check out the Stanford Prison Experiment). People want and need norms and authority and will tend to gas Jews or torture prisoners if asked by the powerful to do so (see the Milgram Experiment). People will tend to conform to cultural views of reality even when it clashes with their own direct perception (see the Asch conformity experiments–you don’t even have to read about that to see how it has happened in this country particularly during the lead-up to the Iraq War).
Jul 02 2008
(Crossposted at DKOS)
In today’s WaPo David Ignatius wrote an important column. Ignatius is probably the best-connected commentator on the subject of the Middle East and reflects official thinking in Washington. When the Neocons were in their glory he wrote admiringly of them; recently he has distanced himself considerably.
First he indicates that the intelligence operations are not run well.
But according to knowledgeable sources, this effort shares the defect of broader U.S. policy toward Iran — it is tentative and ill-coordinated, and it undermines diplomacy without bringing serious pressure on the regime.
Argues a former intelligence official, “It’s a PowerPoint covert-action program. It looks aggressive, but it’s not a tied-together, long-term strategy that would make Iran change its policy.”
The money quote comes at the end of the column:
But so far, that argument for a rollback of Iranian power hasn’t prevailed inside a divided administration.
Finally, he indicates that any change in U.S. policy will wait the next administration:
The Iran question will confront the next administration from Day One, and the basic options probably won’t look very different from the current set: Talk or fight, or do something in between?
This column may be a slender thread but it is realistic to assume, having followed and corresponded (when he wasn’t getting so many Emails) with Ignatius for many years, that he reflects more or less where the dominant forces in the power-elite are. Furthermore, there has been almost no call for attack (outside of the radical right) for an attack on Iran in the MSM. The idea has gotten no traction and is ulikely to because, frankly, there’s too much money to be lost by the power-elite particularly the Financial/Banking community who still rule the roost, they trump AIPAC and the Likud/Neocon alliance.
It is possible that this column is just a ploy to downplay speculation but Ignatius isn’t like that–in the den of thieves that is official Washington he is honest in my view.
Oct 28 2007
Well, not really–that’s just what I am called because I actually believe conspiracies are an important part of our socio-political reality–so I will cop to the plea no matter how bad it sounds. Of course, we have all seen conspiracies in our lives and no one doubts it. What we have trouble is understanding that those in power are in power largely because they are part of groups or cliques that work together often in conspiracy to gain and maintain power. We seem to be of the opinion that things just “happen” and that things are unconnected. We are surprised when we find our government lies to us. Why that surprise exists has always astonished me–government always lie, always will lie, and currently lie. If they did not they would lose power. What we have to do is understand how power works.
Oct 03 2007
It is probably going to be difficult to stop the party of complaining about Congress, the media and the political culture generally and move towards a party of organizing a strong disciplined movement towards change. I believe our country needs a strong left, right and center. I believe the center and right show signs of strength and vigor but the left seems to be still weak. This is shown by the way Congress in particular has treated the concerns of the left-progressives even loyal Democrats. Many net-based activists have worked very hard to bring a Democratic majority to Congress and keep the election of 04 close despite and poor campaign strategy (as usual) from the party hacks. The realization that the Democratic Party has little interest in the sorts of concerns voiced in the left-blogosphere seems to have shocked many people. Well, clearly something isn’t working. So what next?
Oct 02 2007
(This was originally posted earlier on DKOS and slightly altered)
It’s not that I’m sick of hearing how the Dems are selling out and all that–it’s always good to vent, to express yourself and so on. But here’s my beef: enough already! We know the score or should by now–nothing wrong with a little ranting but at this point let’s rant creatively and in an entertaining way rather than constantly expressing the obvious.
People in Congress are there to respond to realpolitikal conditions they see–that’s their expertise. They are not in their position because they are philosophers, mystics, men and women of letters, common ordinary folks–don’t expect them to “do the right thing” that’s not how the world has ever worked except on rare occasions. In a few instances men (usually) of extraordinary abilities got together and made sine little miracles that change history. Our own country was founded by these extraordinary characters. The last three political leaders that had that kind of stature were John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King; true, they all had flaws but they were extraordinary human beings that would have set the groundwork for a very different society than the Bush family and others have created.
Sep 26 2007
(This is an updated version of a diary that appeared today on DKOS)
In case this is news to anyone, political power is not a function of being able to convince others using reason to follow a particular path. Political power may flow from elections and democratic institutions but, as we are currently constituted in the United States, this is not the case. We have a President that can still do pretty much as he pleases whether he has an 80% or 20% approval ratings and whether or not his party has a majority in Congress. There are reasons for this that come down to this: as a practical matter if you can control what is “real”, i.e., control information you can rule in today’s environment. Information is controlled not through banning alternate views but rather by the ability to endlessly repeat one view. The blogosphere can present all kinds of contrary information, but if cannot repeat with the automatic weapons of propaganda that the mass media use to make even the most aburd ideas into truth. This happened, in its most obvious way, by endlessly associating Saddam with Al-qaeda and WMDs even though most experts knew very well there was no truth to either claim. But because the propaganda organs endlessly repeated it became “true” for most people during the time the campaign was underway and remains true for many people even after the officials admitted that those associations were false.