A Not So Definitive List of My Unpopular Opinions…

There is a meme free-floating around social media about unpopular opinions one holds.  I began to think about what unpopular axioms I hold as truth, and decided to some up with a list that will surely alienate someone about something:

Unpopular Opinions on Marxism:

IF economic and historical assumptions of Marx is not true, then Marxism is not worth defending as it is even as a progressive step. There is no moral reason to support it as it currently exists as a system of thought if one thinks it merely a step in the right direction.

The way most Marxists talk about teleology is eschatological–progress is domain specific even within a totality.

All ideological schools of thought, even non-political ones, are necessarily “vanguardist” in a loose sense, and explicit anti-vanguardism becomes incoherent and actually has a higher tendency to develop into personality cults.

Democracy as a concept is not good or bad, but a formal impulse that itself is actually value and polity neutral. The form of democracy is actually probably not value and polity neutral, but cannot be explored outside of specific historical contexts.  Marxists are not seeking then merely “economic democracy” which is an idiotic division of political economy rendered into a slogan.

 

I don’t think degenerated workers states or state capitalism actually completely describe the failure of actual socialist states to achieve even their own internal goals.

We desperately need serious class studies look at the stratifications within the working class, and not just on race, ethnicity, and gender, but also in field of employment, region, etc.

Marxism as a humanistic ideology desperately needs to take research on anthropology and psychology more seriously.

A Marxist society cannot simply develop on capitalist technology and the stage to impose itself by controlling the state.

Social, political, and economic revolutions are all needed, but they don’t all happen at once. I believe that having the political revolution happen before the economic one is a large part of the problem of Marxist development.

I do not think conflating “communism” and “socialism” is in line with later Marx’s writings, and I do think Marx was actually a stagist fairly explicitly even if I don’t agree with that element of Marx’s own writings.

Most of the hatred of Marxism is honestly earned.

 

Unpopular Opinions on Politics in General

Carl Schmitt is right about the way states of exception work for political communities and the definition of political world.

I have learned much from anarchism, including that I am not one.

Any moment that wishes to radically change a polity could learn more from Hezbollah than the New Left.

Anti-Americanism alone is the anti-imperialism of fools.

There is no such thing as nationalism of the oppressed.  That is like chauvinism of the United Colors of Benetton.

Most critiques of Eurocentrism are themselves Eurocentric.

Liberalism is dying from success.

The problem with most anarchism is negation is rarely ever enough.

 

Unpopular Opinions in Ethics, Morality, and Politics 

Virtue ethics is the mostly defensible meta-ethics. The impulses that cover deontological and consequentialist ethics are actually covered in virtue pluralism.

Morality and ethics are distinct but related categories.

Morality is the conception of the limits of one’s self-conception in relationship to one’s actions.

 

Ethics is the normative conception monitoring relationships to others.

Morality often drives epistemology and metaphysics (like it did formally in almost all ancient philosophical systems, or they conflate morality and metaphysics and derive epistemology form that), not the other ways around.

There is no one moral way to engage in relationships, marriages, etc. There are, however, tons more immoral ways to engage in them.

One should not completely separate one’s morality from one’s normative politics, but one HAS do separate one’s morality from one’s descriptive politics.

Good and evil aren’t particularly helpful in A LOT–read most–everyday moral questions.

Ethics and morality are contextual even in absolutist cases.

 

Unpopular Opinions in Education: 

Learning Styles don’t exist, those are only learning preferences.
All the psychological research agrees with me, educational research doesn’t but see the next few points for why.

Overuse of technology in education is a cause of executive function decline. All the psychological research agrees with me, educational research doesn’t but see the next few points for why.

Despite recent educational research for administrations, the distinction between skills, content, and behaviors is actually not psychologically meaningful as they are all forms of knowledge and this pretending of a distinction in assessment cuts against most administrators concern for student achievement.

Most education research is methodologically unable to question its assumptions, and its notions of best practices are often statistically questionable. This is why there are all kinds of small level effects found in education research statistically, but achievement has not improved in aggregate for the entire student body much since 1970s and even educational research book I have ever read admits that. Many assumptions in educational research look for implied statistical significance in ideas that have been completely debunked in the fields that they originated in, but since applied research in education is all based in correlations and it is frankly a-scientific, and thus cannot build proper causing models.

Administration and systems are much, much more important than most teachers realize.

The whole “factory model of education” is a myth itself. The models of education even during the Prussian period are influenced by military models and ideas of human capital, and Dewey’s models of education have been influential since they existed. This is actually a myth about both the Enlightenment and economics that pushes as consumer model of education.

Educational choice in schools is only bad because of the way educational funding is structured.

Most educational research is also questionable because it results more than any other field seem to match up to things in recent legislation or administrative decisions and NOT research in humanistic fields.

Economists meta-studies in education are perhaps the worse of the fields in education studies.

 

The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia: Wonktopia’s Little Big Horn or Wonktopia’s Crossing the Rubicon.

Plot Twists abound: I have been avoiding continuing to blog about the minutiae of Trump transition team and general Democratic reaction to it.   I have been avoid this because it is droll, complicated, and I want to see how everything plays out. However, recent events have let me to write on what I am seeing as a dangerous trend in progressive circles.

You can’t save wonktopia with wonks in the security sector of the executive giving vague releases. The CIA’s consensus view that Russia was election tampering has been picked up with a confluence with the faithless elector argument.   Podesta and the White House seem  trying to expand the argument by having a report given to the Electors. The issues with using an anti-democratic institution to restore a popular vote without either legislative, judicial, or state oversight should be obvious as it creates precedents that literally violate several state constitutions and statutes on faithless electors, tries to bypass the one function of the electoral college to favor another function, and does nothing to address that legislative and state (and probably judicial) would have absolutely no incentive to government with a Clinton executive.

The compromise elector is to the install a moderate Republican as a compromise, but in light of the CIA’s supposed revelation, there is an urgency to do something. Most progressives favor Kiasch or Rubio being installed, which would be interesting in so much that almost no one voted them and would destroy the primary/caucus process that is a province of the states.  If they put in Clinton as the executive, it would be worse.

The problems is that Electoral College is anti-democratic but it keeps large swaths of the country from feeling like they have no federal recourse. In Latin America, where no such institutions existed in the post-Revolutionary Republics both rightists and far leftists in non-metropoles were kept out, and the results were either a quasi-dicatotorships like the PRI in Mexico or lots of civil wars like most of Central and South America. Without the states having more representation of urban areas and without significant work at state level, this use of executive and procedural power that Wonktopians have become addicted to since 1960s, risks empowering their opponents more and more as well.

Furthermore, the claims are thin: The Democrats are asking the entire country to embrace faithless electors off of a statement by the CIA prompted by a President of the opposing party that has not proven anything but illegal release of true documents and possible theft of RNC data. IF there is vote hacking or manufactured documents, then we need to know. We don’t know that. The Democrats are essentially asking for a anti-democratic institution to save democracy from an election where a foreign power may have done agitprop and that is so far all we have evidence for. The FBI seems hesitant to endorse the claims as well. 

The kinds of constitutional crisis this can provoke as serious, and while it is a stretch to imagine civil war immediately, the use of executive procedures would prompt popular revolt in most of the states and would lead to pressure for amendments to the constitution and a possible backlash against Democrats in the next congressional election period whereas such an election would traditionally favor Democrats if prior history is an indication. This would be effectively risking killing most of the structures of the Republic t0 save the popular legitimacy of the Republic. It either looks desperate and doomed, or like crossing the rubicon.

Either way, it would make progressives complicit in their supposed worse fears of constitutional crisis.

 

Another Reflection on Dangerous Ideas: A New Interview with Keith418

Keith418 is one of the most controversial figures in modern Thelema.  His interviews on the defunct Thelema: Coast to Coast were often rigorous and demanding, yet highly contentious. Keith418 and I have had a ongoing conversation on the development of right-wing and left-wing ideological developments, the meaning of Trump, and. You can read our other interviews, here,  here and here. There are nine so far. 

C. Derick Varn: The Trump candidacy and eventual win took a lot of people by surprise, but not you in particularly.  How has the Occult community you are exposed to reacted, and, perhaps, more importantly, why have they reacted that way?

Keith418: The thing with Trump, that few people really grasped, is that many of his supporters were smart enough not to tell anyone. They knew they’d be condemned and so they kept their thoughts to themselves, or perhaps shared them with close friends they knew were in agreement. I had people in my circles who I could tell were going to back him, but were choosing not to say anything and I brought this up early on. Predictably, it got very little play with anyone else.

All of the “conservative” people I know in the occult community backed Trump fairly enthusiastically. Weirdly enough, this included many self-proclaimed “small government” advocates and “libertarians.” All – and I mean ALL – of these people have heavy issues with authoritarianism in general, an unexamined pathology that I see as being very damaging to their occult work.

The vast majority of occultists and “Thelemites” are mainstream liberals who went with HC. The American leader of the OTO made some noise this year about the need for “Thelemites” to not only fight racism and sexism, but to do so “effectively.” Unsurprisingly, he offered not one bit of a positive example or gave any other instructions beyond hectoring or pleading. I suspect this was more a matter of reacting to the BLM stuff, but it may have been a coded response to Trump.

Overall, the reaction to Trump is the same as you see throughout the rest of mainstream society – it’s not even a little bit different. No matter what they tell you, occultists are more like average Americans than they ever want to admit. This is particularly true when it comes to politics. They have managed to totally divorce any of their occult ideas, or, say in the case of OTO members, the teaching of Aleister Crowley, from their politics.

C.D.V.: What do you make of it taking a real estate celebrity like Trump to achieve this?

Keith418:This whole situation is due to a series of colossal failures made by the managerial elites. The people running the government (especially foreign policy), the economy, the banks, and the media have failed over and over again. Trump is the result. Criticizing him and his supporters without blaming the people running the show, who allowed for all of this, is insane.

As I put it earlier this year, if you don’t want what happened at the conclusion of the Weimar period, then you better not create a Weimar society. Yet that is just what our elites seem to have been doing. Without their many mistakes, we never would have had a Trump. It’s nuts not to blame the people in charge. But many people now see demanding that kind of accountability as taboo. It’s like TINA (“There is no alternative”) has become so entrenched that it’s not just the overall system that can’t be questioned, it’s the decisions of the leaders and elites that no one can really go after. Trump may change that, but he’s still going to be dependent on these elites for all the reasons that every leader of a technologically advanced, dense-population country is – they are the only ones who know how to fly the plane.

If anything, I find that my own criticism of these same elites, which goes back for well over a decade, has proven to be prescient. The Sam Francis book (“Leviathan and Its Enemies” – which I hope you’ve read) is a fascinating and well-argued approach to this whole problem. It could not have arrived at more auspicious time.

C.D.V.: Why do you think it has been so hard for even supposedly counter-cultural movements like Thelemites to deeply criticize elites? It seems positively bizarre to me how many people felt like they had to support the status quo even when it became more and more obvious that weight or hubris was beginning to have a real effect? On Sam Francis,, why do you think even supposedly alt-right thinkers let him languish in obscurity for so long?

Keith418: Are these occult “movements” really counter-cultural? Heidegger once said something to the effect that a theory was too superficial even to be called “false.” I haven’t seen anything even remotely “counter-cultural” in any occult group since the 1990s ended.

People do what they are told to do. They have the arguments they are told to have and root for the teams they are told to root for. Occultists are really no different from anyone else. if our society moves back towards allowing for transgressions, we may see a change from them. But to expect them to change without the larger society’s permission? Never going to happen. They do not have the courage.

I don’t think the alt-right people let Francis languish. Paleocons and the people on the right have been pushing his stuff for years. This book was part of his estate and they got into print when they realized its worth. I’d argue that his orientation, via Marcuse and others, is a little too left-wing even for them.

I wonder what Francis and others would make of Trump’s own hedonism. He’s a casino magnate who has been married how many times? He rose to the top of the hedonistic, consumer society that Francis implicitly maligns. I am convinced it is this hedonism that is going to be the undoing of any really “revolutionary” work on the part of the alt-right. They don’t have the self-discipline to reject a consumer society based on sensual gratification and hedonism; not in the numbers they will need.

C.D.V.:I can definitely see that in a sense but I don’t know how many people on /pol/ would know what to do with someone like Francis. I was noticing the how some of his insights actually seem highly prophetic: “since purely racialist movements can appeal only to members of a given ethnic group, which by itself is a minority, no such movement, black or white, can take power in the United States merely by relying on racial rhetoric and ideology,” which is early in his Leviathan. What do you make of the paradox Francis is describing?  

Keith418: Francis was not a dreamer. He could see how demographics doom white nationalism in the USA. I believe that he would also agree that the partition schemes are unlikely. Nevertheless, as we can see, the US is far from a post-racial society. So what happens? This paradox is now confronting the left as well. Demonizing white people isn’t working for them. So what’s the next step?

I’d also argue that the focus on Francis’s book needs to be on the elites. That’s what it is about. And why isn’t the left attacking them now in much the same way? I have asked you that for years.

C.D.V.:You don’t seem that impressed with the current incarnation of the alt-right, why is that?  

 Keith418: I was never too impressed with the “alt-right.” It didn’t start out that well and then got worse. These are not cultured, sophisticated, literate people. As soon as it got to a certain point of notoriety, the clowns swept in.

C.D.V.: How has managerial aspirations really damaged occultism and what do you make with superficial flirtations with it in art and elite circles as exposed in the Podesta e-mails?

 Keith418:  The Podesta stuff was dismissed by Snopes. Those people have no need for occultism. To the extent that there are occult trends in the larger culture, they may be aware of that, but beyond this kind of shallowness? Let’s not go there. My contention has always been that occultists are influenced by society… and not the other way around. More prosaic, perhaps, and more boring, but this is the reality. Occultists don’t use the society. The society uses occultists. Occultists aren’t the players. They are the played.

Crowley was never a managerial manipulator. He famously attacked “stratagem” and “diplomacy” as methods. Modern occultists see anything but managerial manipulation as dangerous and immoral. In terms of a differentiation between “foxes” and “lions” – The Master Therion was a proud “lion.” The OTO’s current leaders distrust this approach instinctively. They aspire to be the kind of manipulating “foxes” they see represented in the managerial elites. Hence the PC propaganda the OTO’s leaders can be counted upon to trot out whenever they get the appropriate signals from the leaders of conventional society. If you do not believe me I can send you the address a local leader made at his OTO body at a fundraiser they were doing for… Planned Parenthood.

Is this “damaging”? Well if you expect the occult to be anything but the weird little cup holder for the status quo, it’s very damaging. If occultists can’t think beyond the confines of the present society, then what is to become of occultism? In this sense, it suffers along with the arts – with painting, literature, poetry, music, film, dance, etc. – in being unable to break out of the limits that have been set and the choices that have been offered. This isn’t an accident. The elites we have don’t want any opposition and they do not wish to have to contend with an alternative culture. I always hoped occultists would resist this confinement. Because of their class status, they can’t.

C.D.V.: How do you class status related to why a real estate business celebrity came to be seen as populace warrior against the elites?

 Keith418:  Well, the thing about Trump is that even as a developer he was always on the outside looking in – in NYC. The established people hated him. This is one reason he is the way he is. So the idea of him betraying these people by becoming a tribune for the white dispossessed – which is the way one narrative goes – makes sense. It’s revenge. Look, many rich people thought FDR was betraying his class too, didn’t they? If that makes sense for him, why not for Trump?

The difference was that FDR had the allegiance of the emerging managerial elites. I think Trump is more a symptom of the collective failures of these elites – in particular the failure of the media elites to prevent themselves from creating a monster. In fact, Trump’s success, like that of Brexit in the UK, is the perfect way to see who these governing elites have failed. They failed his constituents – which is why they voted for him. They failed to prevent his rise and actually abetted it for the short term gains it gave them (ratings). Remember, the adage that “the capitalist will sell you today the rope you will use to hang him with tomorrow” can be employed by a nationalistic right just as much as it cane by a universalist left, right? They have, as Peter Thiel noted, reduced the economy to a zero sum game which has then created an equally viscous zero sum politics.Instead of looking at these failures and this collapse, people are focusing on Trump’s personality and vilifying his supporters. Hicks in Kentucky didn’t collapse the real estate market, nor did they crash the stock market. Why aren’t the people who did those things getting any blame?

C.D.V.: How much to do Trump clashing with some of the elements of the old GOP he has had to court to keep a unified party?

Keith418: How different is the campaign going to be from the administration? That’s what everyone wants to know. During the campaign, it didn’t seem like Trump or his supporters cared about the GOP establishment at all. If anything, he did everything he could to annoy them and disparage them – and his people ate it up. Like Lenin and others, he may have to use the managerial elites once he’s in power, since they are the only ones who know how to fly the plane. We see signs of this now when he defends the establishment choices he’s making for his appointments and staff.

Compare Trump to Bernie. Bernie is bending over backwards to support the Democratic Party and the people who screwed him over. Imagine what might happen if he had pulled a Trump and started viciously attacking them? That didn’t happen, because his mission is very different.

C.D.V.: This is an insight that goes back to James Burnham, but most of the complexities of society are almost impossible without management. How does a political movement get on top of that?  What do you make of the notion that Sanders primary mission was to get people who were beginning to radicalize back into the democratic fold?

Keith418: I don’t know how anyone gets “on top of that.” I don’t think it’s possible. And unless more people start thinking about it, then there’s really no way out. I see people wanting to focus on anything BUT this question. They keep wanting to talk about identity politics issues rather than focus on who is really running things and if there is an alternative to them that’s possible. Too much of today’s political debate is one team of the managerial elites vs. the other team of the managerial elites. Until people can see this, what hope is there?

Regarding Sanders, I can’t think of any other way to put it. He was a sheepdog from the start. It’s obvious he was dragged along, past a certain point, by his fans and even then he couldn’t go very far.

C.D.V.: You have been pointing out that groups that think they are counter-cultural have been engaging in critiques of the mainstream culture that essentially make them part of it and engaging in general brainrot for years.  Recently, you have seen a mild turn against that with publications like The Baffler and Jacobin critiquing the focus. Yet you have pointed out that there critiques are still from people engaging in pop culture. How long do you think it will take for people truly to go back to doing counter-cultural work?Do you think counter-culture is still possible when it is so easily coopted and monetized?

Keith418:   I used to think the “so easily coopted and monetized” was the main problem. Now I have come around to seeing that there is a deeper need for approval and popularity that’s more insidious and more of an issue. Most people do not want to go very long without the support and approval of those around them. This is profoundly inhibiting to any counter cultural effort, since such an effort requires more courage than is being bred into people these days. We know this “approval seeking behavior” is exacerbated to an enormous degree on social media.  They are not encouraged to be courageous, they are not being rewarded for it, it is not expected from them. As a teacher of mine points out, people forget how violent and antagonistic the counter culture of the 1960s really was. They wish to remember it as being all about “peace and joy and freedom” and it was really more about sharp  generational conflict, paranoia, alienation, and physical violence. Kids today, especially middle class kids raised by helicopter parents, cannot handle even the whiff of this.

The people on the right in Europe have pointed out that you cannot fight the system and still seek to attain to “media cool” at the same time, since the media and the system defines what is “cool.” But those that forsake “media cool”? How do they appear to us? Inconsequential at best, hopelessly out of it at worst.I believe the solution is to watch what happens when more and more of the system starts to fail. When that happens, courage will be forced on people as a simple test of survival. I believe every counter cultural movement – from the Reformation on down – was instigated in large part by elite system failure. This is the opportunity generator. It’s how the elites “revolve” into power.

Remember Stalin himself was one of the people who first formulated a “cultural revolution.” But it had to happen after a political revolution (to seize the power of the state and its apparatus) and an economic revolution (to fundamentally change the way goods and services were appropriated). Only after these two revolutions could you get a cultural revolution. The West has been trying to start at the other end of the ice cream cone. The left wants to do culture more than it wants to govern and the smarter parts of the right want to do “metapolitics.” Is this reversal of the order of revolutions really going to work? isn’t any cultural revolution without profound economic and political changes just posturing? In the 1960s, people were able to see that these questions also applied to “nationalism” – like “black nationalism.” At the end of the day, doesn’t politics and economics bat last?

 C.D.V.: To you think this is why nationalism has become increasingly appealing?

Keith418:  Is nationalism an inevitable response by those who are, or see themselves as being, the victims of globalism and internationalism? What is the dialectical nature between nationalism and internationalism? Does such a dialectic exist and do we have one? Are we ready to have one?

A friend of mine works for an international firm and he supervises groups of workers in Europe. They all have much more vacation time and far stricter rules about what employers can demand than the Americans he also supervises. HC and the rest of the globalist Democrats seem oblivious to this. She was bewildered at why people were expecting what Bernie and his program was offering – as if it was bizarre and hopelessly naive. Well, folks, we WON WWII and these countries LOST. So why do their workers get mandatory six weeks of vacation every year? Why is it insane for Americans to demand this too?

I tend to focus on the hypocrisy of internationalism who still appeal to nationalist sentiments and emotions when it helps them in their immediate agenda. American “exceptionalism” is still being touted by the people who view open borders as a necessity. How exactly does that work and why isn’t anyone calling them on it? If citizenship needs to be granted to anyone who shows up here (and if anyone objects they must be “racists”), then how is this random collection of people exceptional and why do I, or anyone else, need to sacrifice our very lives for people who came here five minutes ago and may well leave five minutes later? This isn’t an issue for the elites who not only aren’t in the military, but don’t know anyone else that is, but in the red states – where everyone knows people in the military and many know people missing limbs or suffering in other ways from their service – it’s quite a different kind of question.

On the other hand, if we demand that people cease to make sacrifices for “their country” and start to struggle ‘for all humankind” then we must demand the same sacrifices not just from poor people from the red states, but from the rich kids in the blue states as well as from the kids living in wealthy European countries and Asia too. They must defend “humankind” as well, since if they don’t, then that jobs falls to Americans and that monopoly situation will then increase the tribalism and nationalism everyone wants to avoid, right? Is anyone looking at how half-assed and self-serving the elites are about their globalism? I don’t see that criticism coming from the left too often.

Do you?

 C.D.V.: Criticizing nationalism from the left in a meaningful way cuts too many people they see as opportunistic contingencies and cannon fodder out of the way.  Becoming nationalists makes them functionally no different from Stasserites and National Bolsheviks or, at least, Peronists. It seems like that contradiction is absolutely best avoided which is why I have a hard time imagining a serious left at the table in the US.

What are the unintended consequences that you see from this election? Is this truly a realignment?

Keith418:   Those seeking a true realignment need to ask themselves who they have trained to fly the plane. If they are depending on the same elites, the same “pilots,” then how can it be real realignment? Will Trump become the mirror image of Obama – saying the right things while serving the same masters? Has the left really come to terms with how that happened under Obama? Are we all just fighting over the window dressing?

On the one hand, most of the leftists I know bitterly hate the “Cultural Marxist” label they get from the shallow right. But, on the other hand, how are they not fulfilling that very description when they can’t focus on economics? Will the right be able to maintain its focus on getting jobs for all of the fat people in the red states? Or will it, too, descend into battles over “symbols” and try to refight every lost battle of the culture wars?

The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia: “Reality Driven Community” and the “Post-Fact World”

So far in this series of commentary I have been very harsh on wonks and those who love them, but recently there has been a rash of talk about the “post-fact” world.  Let me tell you something: we have always been in a post-fact world.  The consensus media that everyone seems to bemoaning does have more things to responsible to, but that was not a good check for “factuality.”

I remember in the Bush 43 days when liberals, under the humor aegis of John Steward, started calling themselves the “reality driven community” in response to a certain strain of Neo-conservative cynical belief that people needed to be controlled for liberalism to maintain itself.  This is often missed about neoconservatives: Yes, many of the first generation were former Trotskyists around either Max Shachtman or Commentary Magazine, but the Straussian elements aimed to save liberalism from itself.  The paternal esotericism in Strauss was aimed at saving liberalism from its own populist tendencies. That cynicism about truth was easily used for other purposes.

Yet, many well-meaning tendencies in left-liberalism have themselves been enemies of truth.  For example, mansplaning (or insert demographic or ideological typology-splaining) is that it comes from a real place of people’s qualitative experience being ignored, but it also is easily used to shut down conversation where information plays against ones identity.  Furthermore, liberals themselves have plenty of fake news sources or hyperbolic news sources. These play into their confirmation biases as well.

So is fake news really the problem with confirmation bias?  One, biased, outside of the ideological consensus post-cold war was an American and European tradition.  Freedom of press in from 1800s to around 1920 was freedom of bipartisan press and the high point of “yellow journalism.”  Two, the consensus media was highly selective in its reporting and still is.  What was reported from the Wikileaks scandals all revolved around Clinton, but there were tons of facts about Obama that leaked that were largely ignored, including that Citigroup shortlisted a lot of his Cabinet. Three, fake news is not new and its popularity is not new?
So, tell me, are you really going to trust Silicon valley, not even the government, to filter what is fake and not to you to rebuild a consensus that only existed in the US for one generation?  And you really think mainstream news is a whole better when they don’t have the money or business model for investigative reporting anymore?  Do you really think conservatives are the only people who are building confirmation bias filters into their interpretative heuristics?

 

Cairo Reflection: In Light of Leopardi

Man is born in labour:
and there’s a risk of death in being born.
The very first things he learns
are pain and anguish: from the first
his mother and father
console him for being born.
Then as he grows
they both support him, go on
trying, with words and actions,
to give him heart,
console him merely for being human:
there’s nothing kinder
a parent can do for a child.
Yet why bring one who needs
such comforting to life,
and then keep him alive?
If life is a misfortune,
why grant us such strength?
Such is the human condition,
inviolate Moon.
But you who are not mortal
care little, maybe, for my words. — Giacome Leopardi, Night-Song Of A Wandering Shepherd of Asia (Canti XXIII, translation by A. S. Kline)

Coughing up phlegm may be among the least attractive things a human can do, and, one supposes, that it goes beyond the bacteria,  glycoproteins, immunoglobulins, lipids, and dirt contained in sputum. It’s not just the contagion being forced out of your body and into the air, but that fact it reminds of us that even our most intimate recesses, the inside of nasal passages, lungs, and throat is not entirely ours. If beauty is symmetry in aesthetics and the promise of something better in morality–however thin the line between morality and aesthetic actually are–ugliness is not quite the opposite of those things, more an indication of the lack of health or the promise of a future.

The air is cooler now in Cairo and the breeze cuts through my apartment shoddy insulation–the new apartment buildings are concrete, brick, and rebar covered in a stucco of concrete on the outside and plaster on the inside.  The windowsills are rarely flush, weather stripping generally making up a large portion of the differences, and few things are level, plumb, or square. My two siamese cats, Moshe and Frida, keep me company and when the desert dust is not too high in the air and the smoke from burning foliage to make way for new crops on the Nile is not too thick, I go to my balcony and watch the street beneath, listening to the rutting honks of car horns–Egyptians communicate constantly and once one is used to it, it is endearing–or read my books or grade student papers.

I have been writing some more poetry lately, but they are love poems with a introspective and somewhat idiosyncratic nature.  I don’t like lack, but I lack the ones I love, and that space creates a more reflection on the nature of love itself.  It is a stark contrast with the political ranting I am often doing or the persona of the expatriate scholar I often wear.  I have been avoiding the gym as my lungs have not be able to handle the cardio as this bronchitis lingers.

In some ways, how strange gyms are?  The way machinery and technology becomes an extension of our bodies, a means of expression, expanding our minds, and yet the dangers of that technology making natural exercise a choir.  The sidewalks in Egypt blend with the street, one rarely uses them because the trash left for collection, the unregulated and uneven pavement, and the clattered of Egyptians in them.  No, you walk in the streets, in the bustle of life, weaving in-between cars and street dogs, like a platelet forced by the body’s pressure in capillaries. That pressure forces one into the social world, but is a little too chaotic for regular exercise. So those of us who don’t work manual labor jobs and who can afford it–which in Cairo is a fairly exclusive club–pay to exercise on machines to compensate for the lack of exercise elsewhere. This becomes its own status seeking activity, but for me, it is a necessary discipline that my last two weeks of travel and illness have let me to forgo.

Like Nietzsche, aesthetics was Leopardi’s gift and his respite from a mind so analytical and marred by disease that he often makes the dark Kantianism of Arthur Schopenhauer seem somewhat optimistic.  Indeed, Schopenhauer had more hope for human will than Leopardi.  Yet like so many analytic-minded depressives, Leopardi had a gift for hard truths.  Insights that, in reality, probably helped his assessment of his own condition little.Schopenhauer appreciate Leopardi as he stated in The World as Will and Representation:

But no one has treated this subject so thoroughly and exhaustively as Leopardi in our own day. He is entirely imbued and penetrated with it; everywhere his theme is the mockery and wretchedness of this existence. He presents it on every page of his works, yet in such a multiplicity of forms and applications, with such a wealth of imagery, that he never wearies us, but, on the contrary, has a diverting and stimulating effect.

Lately, I have had a similar jaundiced view and yet have become more gratitude for love and poetry myself. Leopardi, hunched over and ill, losing his love to death, lost faith in the later too.  I find myself reading Leopardi on the eve of Thanksgiving.  My partner back in the States with her family in a small town in the mountain West, I will visit her in the snows so foreign to my last four years in deserts.  The deserts abrade and, because of that, one realizes why people thought there was more god in the dust. The snows of Utah and Wyoming are barren in a different way–slowing the atoms and life down to the crunch of ice.

There is so much to grateful for despite all that changed. Leopardi wanted to die, and eventually got his wise, but his gift was probing the wounds of his mind intimately until the contorts of struggling under the weight of the clarity of depression.  I am not entirely depressed–once I was accused of romanticizing my brother’s depression the day he shot himself in the face, trying to see some good in what was tragedy.  I was accused of trying to make it special.  While he was healing a hospital in Georgia, I was in Mexico. Trying to come to terms with it.

I didn’t lose him, but I can see Leopardi’s grimness in both my brother’s action and my tugging at any straw to make it seemingly worth it. I am grateful that there are arms for me to come back, friends to love me when I go back, and that world is not crystalized in amber.  Beyond that: to assume that things can’t worse is a profound lack of imagination, but to assume they will only get worse misses that is always something to glint out of the counter of the eye, some piece of memory, some lost culture, some loved’s body, something.  I will see my partner for a week soon.  The desert wind is cooling. The beer in the fridge is cold. My best friends will see me over the summer, and I will have been on four continents. My cats will cuddle with me as write.

 

 

Review:Confucius and the World He Made by Michael Schuman (Basic Books, 2015)

Schuman assigns himself a difficult task, dissecting and sharing the extremely nebulous world of Confucianism in East Asia and the shape it has taken in China, Korea, Singapore, Japan, and Taiwan.  Schuman’s writing for the Wall Street Journal and Time aid him in developing a breezy journalistic style, his marriage into a Korean family give him both an insider and outsider perspective, and his willingness to do the research is laudable.  Beyond that, Schumann doesn’t just start with the Analects, but really does try to get into the history of Confucius himself, the history of Qafu, and the strange flexibility of Confucian doctrine.

Schuman gets into the difficulties of dealing with Confucius admittedly:  Confucius is a mythic figure and reformer already writing about a past that was mythic to Confucius himself. The layers of mystification are deep. Furthermore, Confucius and Confucianism comes off at first like a Sinological equal to a Hellenic philosophical school, and like Platonism, religious ideas accumulated in vaguely metaphysical notions prior.  It’s also important that early Confucianism was relevant on the study of classics existing prior to Confucius himself.

This flexibility in Confucianism makes it hard to pin down and hard to talk about consistently.  Confucianism has both democratic and anti-Democratic tendencies, both humane and inhumane elements, but has always been dependent on Imperial patronage.   Schuman’s history is interesting and in-depth, showing the development of different elements of Confucianism changing in response to legalism, Daoism, Buddhism, and even Christianity.  Neo-Confucianism role in many patriarchal imperial cults becomes clear but so does its deviation from classical Confucianism.  Schuman even hints at, but doesn’t go into, the idea that elements of Confucianism as we understand it were promoted by European missionaries.

Schuman’s writings on Confucianism in modern world, and its relationship to 20th century critics is more problematic. Schumann admires Confucius and East Asian culture, but as his last chapter reveals, is actually quite critical of the way it is being used by various governments in East Asia as a means of gas-lighting public order and painting more participatory ideas from democratic societies as Western, foreign, and corrupt. To combat this, however, Schumann often sounds like he is making excuses for Confucian excesses. In other words, Schumann knows his bias but out of respect for his topic, over corrects on the side of apologetics.

I found this book informative, readable, but very frustrating as it almost certainly will make no one completely happy. It isn’t an explication of the Analects. It’s not just a historical discussion of the development of Confucianism, and it is both critical of and apologetic for East Asian society. Schuman has difficulty dealing with post-Deng embrace of Confucius after the excesses of the cultural revolution or the criticism of Singapore’s ruler, Yew, to actually have Confucianism take off in Singapore.

The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia, Week 3, Day 2: The Anti-Fascism of Fools, Or Listen Leftist!

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Presumably by giving them free press.

As much as I love Umberto Eco, if I see his 13 Ways of Looking at a Black-Shirt essay on twitter again, I am going to get a baseball bat and figure out how to use it through social media.

It’s time for a talk. I am too old to on the dirt-bag Brooklyn left, too Southern for that too. I am too young to be some Boomer nostalgia head who beats off to the pictures of naked women protesting the Nixon election or Black Panthers lining the streets with AK-47s and copies of Chairman Mao’s book.  Or to be remotely convinced by Badiou’s recounts of Mai’ 68.

I said Occupy was going to be a failure a month in, and how it failed would be important. It failed in the worse way: Like 68’ers pretending that François Mitterrand would stop liberalization of the economy or stand-up to DeGaulist tendencies within the state.  Kind of way, progressives speak about their involvement with the Bernie Sander’s campaign as Tulsi Gabbard talks about possible positions in Trump’s cabinet. 

First, let’s deal with Eco.  I am an Eco partisan and I don’t think his thoughts on Ur-fascism are without points, but he is myth-making.  Interesting the semiotician most responsible for calling out our secular myths in the last thirty years ends up doing it himself. What right-wing movement doesn’t meet Eco’s criterion?  Nebulous notions of the past?  Selective populism? Selective modernism?

I saw the same essay applied to Neoconservatives in the Bush 43 years. When I was twenty, I even though there may be some truth to it when I was involving in the anti-war movement in Georgia. At the time, I was also reading the American Conservative and following the beginnings of a young Ew England rightist, Richard Spencer.

Lately, I see even NPR giving Richard Spencer press.  I am going to admit to something: I have had a correspondence with him. I have known what Alterative Right, National Policy Institute, and Radix was doing, and even pointed people to their use of Marcuse and Adorno in their theoretical work. I pointed out that Spencer was part of getting both Alexander Dugan, the Russian Fourth Positionist, and Alain DeBenoist, the French New Rightist, into marginal counters of American political thought. He has even hoped that the Alt-Light of Steve Bannon and the anti-SJW rhetoric would propel his message to larger and larger audiences.

Liberals, in your myths, you have been more than happy to be do so.  You have been kicking a gas can fire into a dry field in an attempt to scare people into voting for voting for DNC and a liberal status quo? Has it not occurred to you that your exposes may be spreading the very thing you think you are fighting?

Sure, Fascists reject modernism and have Heideggerian critiques of technology, but they also use that media better than most of their opponents. Sure, Trump and Bannon flirt with fascist like ideas, but they aren’t clearly fascists.  Fascists tend to be scorned ex-leftists who cynically use Populists.  Don’t believe me?  Really study Italy. Study the SPD involvement with the Freikorp.  Study how Chancellor Ebert, a centrist Social Democrat, aided and abetted the very militias that would form the core of both the SS and the SA. Learn how Oswald Mosley was a staunch advocate of Keynesianism.  Just because Jonah Goldberg wrote a stupid book about it called Liberal Fascism equating liberalism, the left, and fascism together (and ignoring the conservative parts of the fascist coalition), does mean it was all false as scholars of Fascism like Ze’ev Sternhell have pointed out.

So your reaction is to say that Trump, since he is supported by NPI and even gives token cabinet heads to people they like–such as Jeff Sessions–must be the same as NPI will have about as much effect as when The Federalists pointed out that the CPUSA endorsed Barack Obama. If you don’t drink the kool-aid, it doesn’t work.

So if not Hitler is it better to attack Trump for being Berlesconi?

Writing for Jacobin, a magazine I have mocked in the past,  makes some key points tangentially related to the above. Trump’s clear analogy to Berlesconi is actually weaker than it seems:

Trump and Berlusconi are both men who came to power from business rather than politics, and both have presented their inexperience with the political establishment as a mark of purity. They have both insisted on their entrepreneurial success as the most evident proof of their qualification to rule the country. Like Plato’s tyrant, they both exhibit an ethos based on a dream of continuous and unlimited jouissance and an aggressive and hubristic eros (though Berlusconi prefers to think of himself as an irresistible seducer rather than a rapist).

They both indulge in gross misogynistic and racist jokes and have reshaped public language by legitimizing insult and political incorrectness as acceptable forms of political communication and by embodying an exhilarating return of the repressed. They both revel in kitschy aesthetics and don the orange hue of artificial tanning. And they both allied with the far right in order to advance a political project of authoritarian neoliberalism and unbridled capitalism.

Yet as Arruza notes, these similarities are superficial:

Moreover, Berlusconi did not agitate for isolationism and protectionism, did not challenge international market agreements, and did not question Italy’s participation in the creation of the European Union and the eurozone — at least not until 2011. Finally, Italy does not play any hegemonic geopolitical role comparable to that of the United States.

These differences are significant enough to caution against facile predictions about the course of Trump’s presidency based on Italian vicissitudes. They do not, however, mean that nothing can be learned from the Italian experience.

The idea that you fight all rightwing populists the same way is belied by not knowing the conditions are different for different kinds of populism. Saying one is fighting fascism by pointing out how scary Trump fans are spreads a fascist message to those who don’t yet believe it, but are primed to by alienation. Saying that you are fighting a media mogul with no real substantive politics who rules with a coalition isn’t going to work with Trump either.

Arruza does point out the problems of anti-Trumpism that anti-Berlesconism could teach us:

Mainstream Italian anti-Berlusconism has always suffered from a grave form of selective amnesia. The effects of six years of harsh austerity policies and virtually no significant social opposition have never been taken into consideration as a decisive causal factor in the consolidation of Berlusconi’s power. Nor has mainstream anti-Berlusconism ever shown any willingness to admit the substantial continuity between Berlusconi’s second government’s austerity policies and those of the center-left.

Berlusconi’s attack on labor rights was, for example, just an effort to expand the casualization of work introduced by the center-left (a goal realized years later by the center-left Renzi government through the Jobs Act). His privatizations of public services were primed by the center-left’s embrace of the notion that “private” is better.

The center-right’s immigration law, which criminalizes illegal immigration, is nothing but an amendment of the previous center-left law. Italian participation in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars was made politically possible by the first violation of Article 11 of the Italian constitution — which prevents Italy from participating in wars of aggression — carried out by D’Alema to allow Italian forces to contribute to the bombing of Serbia.

Most of the things Trump will use as executive power were began under Reagan, expanded exponentially under Clinton, expanded under Bush, and even MORE expanded under Obama. So the Democratic left is going to have a hard time doing anything against it because it can’t own up to its own role in this. Instead, it spreads the ideas of the far right supporters of its enemy and hides the fact that it doesn’t have any ideas of its own to counter with. Keynesian stimulus and infrastructure? Well, Trump is going to try to do that, and when it fails, he will have a GOP congress to blame. Clinton didn’t even make that promise and Sanders would have been in the same situation but with a coalition of DNC Democrats opposing him as well.

Arruza also said something that I have been pointing out in this series on her personal facebook feed:

An element of useful knowledge is coming from Trump’s election: the neo-Nazi and white supremacist right has kept grass-root organizing and coordinating over the course of the years, while the ‘left’… well was busy discussing whether yoga classes and pumpkin spice latte are instances of cultural appropriation or safety pins are instances of white paternalism and guilt, and bashing any attempt at class analysis as economic reductionism and any attempt at having strategic discussions, and developing a politics of solidarity and universalistic demands as Western imperialism. It’s time to wake up from this sleep of reason, before their clubs meet our heads.

Trump may not be fascism, but keep it up, and see what comes next. You may even be in a country where you have no say in government and win the popular election year after year The funny thing is most of it will be from free press from anti-Trumpists and people who see opportunistically see the Trump admin as way to further some stimulus and alliances to demographics like the Friends of BJP.