Friday, August 23, 2013

Two Political Parties? Not So Much

Two Political Parties? Not So Much
P. Schultz
August 23, 2013

            In a book entitled, The Short American Century, edited by Andrew Bacevich, there is an essay entitled, “The Heavenly City of Business,” written by Eugene McCarraher, which is quite good. McCarraher argues that there is an “eschatology of corporate business” that animated American foreign and domestic policies and is endorsed pretty much across the political spectrum. By way of illustration:

            “Neoliberalism – or “neoconservatism,” its more bellicose twin – arose from anxiety over the prospect of the American Century ending. Shaken by the turbulence of the 1960s and the economic crisis of the following decade, American mandarins across the political spectrum detected a waning on imperial hegemony. So the imperial intelligentsia ensconced in venues such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, the New York Times, and the Washington Post set out to restore the nation’s economic supremacy and strengthen its domestic resolve….By the 1990s, intellectuals already enveloped in the piety of the ‘American Century’ had developed the ‘Washington Consensus’: unfettered global trade, privatization of public services, and deregulation of corporate finance and industry. A renewed obduracy marked the political elites of the American Century: as President George H.W. Bush told the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, ‘the American way of life is not negotiable.’…In neoliberal millennialism, God and History competed for the role of premier eschatological force. President Bill Clinton, for instance, alluded to Scripture when he told a meeting of the World Trade Organization in Geneva in May 1998 that the demise of communism and the end of the cold war has ushered in ‘the fullness of time’ – a biblical phrase denoting the birth of Christ.” [pp. 219-220]

Friday, August 16, 2013

A National Government Makes Fools of Us All

A National Government Makes Fools of Us All
P. Schultz
August 16, 2013

            Here is a story, a true story, from my past. Many, many years ago, one summer, when I and a friend had my house to ourselves, we began to make crank phone calls. You know: Call a store an ask, “Do you have Prince Albert in a can?” If they said “yes,” we said, “Well, you better let him out!” Hilarious, no?

            Well, during this time we called people randomly and would chat. One was an older man who was shrewd enough to engage us. As a result we called him back more than once and eventually even gave him our names. Also, one day, we called the Metuchen police department and said, “There’s a dead body in a house on New York Ave.” I had called and, of course, could not suppress some laughter before I hung up. Well, as you have probably guessed already, soon the police were on to us, and probably because of the old man to whom we had given our names.

            It was time for a meeting with the police and I knew I was dead, that my father would kill me after the police officer came to the house to address this matter. And the officer came, discussed how serious this was, how the police had gone up and down New York Ave., taking an entire day looking for a dead body! My father listened intently and, again, I knew my life was over. But then right after the officer left, my father turned to my mother and said, “Well, if that’s all the cops have to do in this town, we have too many cops.” And he walked away sans punishment for yours truly!

            Why “confess” this now? Well, because it struck me recently – say 20 minutes ago – how the actions of the Metuchen police looked comic to my Dad, who was no slouch when it came to discipline, and would look comic or at least useless to others. And yet, isn’t this almost precisely the kind of actions our national government is engaging in in the name of “national security,” and no one is laughing? Why is that?

            I am not sure but what I am sure of is that this is no accident. That is, what seems so dangerous when looked at “nationally” will often look comic or at least unthreatening when looked at “locally.” And I am also pretty sure one reason for this is that our national government is, for all practical purposes, cut off from any community. As a result of this disjunction, “context” is lacking and the national government can characterize or define activities as dangerous that if “contextualized” would not seem dangerous. Similarly, the national government can also characterize its own actions as indispensable when, if “contextualized,” would seem comic or even absurd. [Watch the Daily Show and the Colbert Report for illustrations of this phenomenon.]

            Here is an illustration of this phenomenon. Shortly before I was hired to be the girl’s JV basketball coach at Radford High School in Radford, Virginia, where I was teaching at Radford University, there was a dispute about prayer in school. Apparently, some athletes wanted to pray before games and this became an issue, which the city’s attorney decided should not be defended in court and the prayers ended. Well, as I think about this, I cannot help but wonder: “What is the big deal? Let the students pray amongst themselves. Why should anyone care?”

            Ah, but punch this issue up to the national level by bringing into this dispute the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and guess what happens? Yes, that’s right: This practice generates debates that are more often than not characterized by an intensity that appears, at least from a “common sense” or “contextualized” viewpoint, comical or idiosyncratic. How could some high school athletes saying prayers voluntarily before a sporting event affect anything of importance in our nation? Obviously, it cannot.

            [Another admission: I knew nothing of this dispute when hired to coach the JV girls team and so, when they, the girls, asked me if they could pray before games, I said, “Yes. I will just step out of the room and you can do what you will.” Oops!]

            It is then no accident that those who think that a pervasively powerful government is absolutely essential to the well-being of the nation are supporters of a national government precisely because such a government lacks any close connection with a community. And because such a community, such a “context” is necessary for seeing things as they actually are, this national government can and does characterize or define activities and its own actions in a way that serves to fortify it, whether such fortification is needed or not. And, strange as it may seem, this is labeled “realism” and those who advocate for such actions and for such a government are labeled “realists.”

Friday, August 9, 2013

Foreign Policy?

Foreign Policy?
P. Schultz
August 9, 2013

            Someone has noticed the connection between what we label “foreign policy” and what we label “domestic policy,” creating the illusion that these are two separate kinds of policy, each one dedicated to a different set of “problems” calling for different sets of “solutions.” In fact, as I use to say to students all too often, “foreign policy” almost always is formulated and practiced in the service of “domestic policy.” So, if you think that the creation of our surveillance state is meant to “solve” or help “solve” foreign policy issues, you have, as my mother use to say, another think coming. [“If that’s what you think you are going to do, Peter, you have another think coming.” Which I believe meant that I was not going to do whatever it was I thought I was going to do!]

            “It is at least clearer that our world, our society, is becoming ever more imperial in nature, reflecting in part the way our post-9/11 wars have come home.  With its widening economic inequalities, the United States is increasingly a society of the rulers and the ruled, the surveillers and the surveilled.  Those surveillers have hundreds of thousands of spies to keep track of us and others on this planet, and no matter what they do, no matter what lines they cross, no matter how egregious their acts may be, they are never punished for them, not even losing their jobs.  We, on the other hand, have a tiny number of volunteer surveillers on our side.  The minute they make themselves known or are tracked down by the national security state, they automatically lose their jobs and that’s only the beginning of the punishments levied on them.”

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Some More Random Thoughts on our Situation

Some More Random Thoughts on our Situation
P. Schultz
August 7, 2013

            The “liberals” and “conservatives” agree that a great nation is the appropriate goal for human beings and, hence, both are nationalists and both endorse nationalism. They have their differences although in light of their agreement on the pursuit of greatness, political, social, economic, and military greatness, these differences pale considerably.

            There is another area of agreement between the “liberals” and the “conservatives” as well, viz., the desirability of rationalization. That is, both of these sects want to rationalize society and its people, even though they endorse different means to accomplish this goal. The liberals look to bureaucracies to accomplish this task, that is, public bureaucracies, which of course the conservatives attack in the name of what they, the conservatives, call “small government.” But this conservative attack on the liberals should not be confused with an attack or rejection of rationalization because the conservatives seek to rationalize society and its people using private bureaucracies. “Privatization,” a buzzword for most conservatives, only looks like an alternative to the liberals’ endorsement of public bureaucracies, e.g., public as opposed to private schools, if their endorsement of rationalization is ignored. Many conservatives are as keen as are liberals for rationalization; the difference is merely the means used to rationalize.

            There is or should be nothing or little surprising about the perceived desirability of rationalization in modern nation states and, hence, the modern world. After all, it is difficult to imagine what other means works as well as rationalization for bringing order, security, and prosperity to a world composed of nations. As even Eisenhower recognized, the “military-industrial complex” makes a lot of sense. But as he also realized, it is at the same time a threat as it seeps into society and into us, depoliticizing us and, hence, dehumanizing us.

            Given this consensus among those elites that “govern” us, it is almost impossible to see alternatives, at least to see viable alternatives. Perhaps it will only be when this project, the modern project so called, comes crashing down that such alternatives will seem viable. But one has to wonder what will be left after the crash, after “things fall down.” And, besides, it is or should be easy to see that flawed projects, like flawed human beings, can stumble along, seeming to be successful, for a very, very long time.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Random Thoughts on Conservatism

Random Thoughts on “Conservatism”
P. Schultz
August 5, 2013

            A new “fact of life”: Conservatism is impossible at the “national” level and is only possible at the “local” level (and maybe the “state” level).

            Why? Because conservatism means small or “small-minded” government, concerned with maintenance, not with transformation, with goodness, not greatness. Conservative politics is an unambitious politics and, as such, is only possible “locally” or in “small” areas.

            Nations [and hence nationalism] are created for the sake of greatness, a greatness reflected by the glory harvested by their founders [see Machiavelli or Lincoln], for the sake of transformation or creation, rather than maintenance.

            All national politics is or becomes, eventually anyway, “progressive,” a politics seeking to “re-form” or “remake” society, to transform what it is into what it should be. This “progressivism” can take and has taken different manifestations. Today, “liberals” see government as the engine of progress, while the “conservatives” see what they call capitalism as its engine. Both of these sects seek “progress” and even greatness and, hence, are all too able to join together whenever the “progressive project” is threatened or failing or both.

            This helps explain why progressives must succeed, that is, here, there, and everywhere. Failure, anywhere, points to the delusional character of progressivism – viz., its failure to recognize that humans must live within certain limits or that they live best within certain limits, e.g., recognizing that limits imposed by a god like Eros or the erotic.

            But who can resist the “call to greatness” and the glory or fame or immortality reserved for those who appear to do god-like things and to be god-like?

            “The catechism of the New Frontier taught that Eisenhower’s people had lacked the intellectual depth to deal creatively with foreign policy. Characteristically, Kennedy assumed that Berlin, like all other foreign policy problems, could have been solved if Dulles and company had not been so dull.” [p. 106, Hell of a Gamble, book on the Cuban missile crisis, emphasis added.]

Bizarro World?

Bizarro World?
P. Schultz
August 5, 2013

            From Tom Dispatch. Just about sums up our current state of affairs.

“Close your eyes for a moment, think about recent events, and you could easily believe yourself in a Seinfeldian Bizarro World. Now, open them and, for a second, everything looks almost familiar... and then you notice that a dissident is fleeing a harsh and draconian power, known for its global surveillance practices, use of torture, assassination campaigns, and secret prisons, and has found a haven in a heartless world in... hmmm... Russia. That dissident, of course, is Edward Snowden, just granted a year’s temporary asylum in Russia, a.k.a. the defender of human rights and freedom 2013, and so has been released from a Washington-imposed imprisonment in Moscow’s international air terminal and the threat of far worse.

“Now, close your eyes, open them again, and for just a moment, doesn’t the world look a little more orderly?  After all, a draconian imperial power has taken one of its own dissidents, who wanted to reveal the truth about its cruel war practices and global diplomatic maneuverings, thrown him in prison without charges, abused and mistreated him, brought him before a drumhead military court and, on essentially trumped up charges of “espionage,” convicted him of just what its leaders wanted to convict him of.  That power, of course, must be Russia and all’s right with the world... oops, I mean, that’s U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning and the “evil empire” that mistreated him is... gulp... the United States.

“Think about it for a moment: if Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a place of asylum for American dissidents and the U.S. is doing a reasonable job of imitating aspects of the old USSR, we are on Bizarro Earth, aren't we?”

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Snowden and Kipling

Snowden and Kipling
P. Schultz
August 1, 2013

This is a comment posted in the NY Times on the lead article today on Snowden’s asylum in Russia. 

Stephen J. Johnston
Jacksonville, Fl.

Rudyard Kipling once wrote a famous poem called "IF." When my son and my daughter were young, I gave them each a Birthday Card which had the text of the poem memorialized there. Later, I taped each of their cards to the refrigerator door so that they would be reminded of it every day of their young lives.

The poem was meant as a guide to a boy about those faculties of character which, he must possess in order to become a man. To me it has always been obvious that the social skills, honor, integrity and basic sense of decency which Kipling enshrined in his poem are not just the qualities which a boy must cultivate in order to become a man, but rather they are common to the quest for validation as a great human being which must be undertaken by boys and girls if they are to live up to civilized standards of conduct.

Mr. Snowden has undertaken a manly act of standing apart from his group in order to tell truths which must be told to people who don't wish to hear them. That is they must be told if our people are to retain our liberal, democratic, Republic. He will be vilified by the members of a dysfunctional political duopoly because they stand four square for the American Security State, and their banal myrmidons are expert at studied non observance in the service of vapid complacency.

If: Snowden can "hear the truths he's spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools," without recourse to cynical petulance, he will prove a man in the Kiplingesque sense of "Man."