Monday, October 28, 2013

Cormac McCarthy's "The Counselor"

Cormac McCarthy’s The Counselor
P. Schultz
October 28, 2013

            In his Politics, Aristotle almost begins by arguing that human beings are, by nature, political animals. And he says that those who live outside the “city” are either beasts or gods. Perhaps what Aristotle is suggesting is that those human beings who think they are gods, that is, self-sufficient, become beasts.

            Those who live outside the city think that they need not deliberate about the good and the bad, the just and the unjust, the advantageous and the disadvantageous, just as if they were beasts or gods, neither of whom debate or need to debate these things. The beasts don’t debate them because they cannot but also because they need not: They are governed by their instincts, as it were, which seems for the most part sufficient. Gods don’t debate these things because they are self-sufficient and, hence, need not make choices.

            I think that in The Counselor, Cormac McCarthy is suggesting that we Americans - or we moderns or “postmoderns” - are beasts who think we are gods.

            A quote: “Human nature demands the city since without the city we cannot be human and reach our telos or end as creatures with logos. If we did not exercise our logos, we would not reach our telos; we would be no more than beasts and, as he says, the worst of beasts, ‘armed’ as we are with the ability to be unjust as well as just.” [p. 124, Athenian Democracy, Arlene Saxonhouse]

            In The Counselor, Cameron Diaz’ character, at the end and throughout really, admires the jaguar, the beast, because “there’s no difference between what it is and what it does.” It is “a hunter” and it does not debate its hunting – its killing – for the sake of survival and a kind of “acquisition” – and, perhaps, “satisfaction?” It is a hunter and it hunts. Diaz’ character finds this not only admirable but something to aspire to and to copy. She plays the goddess but is, has become, a beast.

            Aristotle also reminds us, early in his Politics, that humans are capable of the basest “impieties,” by which he means incest. Is it “impious” to “fuck a car?” That is, to fuck anything or anyone, without restraint? It would seem so, at least to me.

            If then McCarthy’s vision of us is at all accurate, we humans have become beasts, even “the worst of beasts” because we have sought to achieve a god-like self-sufficiency or to become like the gods.

Friday, October 25, 2013

It's the Project

It’s the Project
P. Schultz
October 25, 2013

A short “poem” for a Friday night.

It isn't the presidents; it's the project.
It isn't the politicians; it's the project.
It isn't the projectiles; it's the project.
"Where have all the soldiers gone, everyone?
"Gone to graveyards, everyone.
"When will we ever learn?
"When will we ever learn?"

Friday, October 18, 2013

Obama the "Winner"!

Obama the “Winner”!
P. Schultz
October 18, 2013

            Here is a quote from today’s NY Times, in a piece analyzing the results of the latest “crisis” – anyone know what happened to the “crisis” in Syria? – or at least pretending to.

“By nearly all accounts, Mr. Obama emerged the winner of the showdown, having stared down attempts to undercut his health care program or force other concessions, but it is not clear what he actually won. Did he change the dynamic of his tumultuous presidency and break the cycle of Washington gridlock, opening the way to more meaningful legislation in months to come? Or did he merely kick the can down the road three months so he and Congress will be in the same place again, repeating a pattern that will define his remaining three years in office?”  From the NY Times, today, October 18, 2013.

            There is one assumption, among many possible ones, that I like to make when it comes to analyzing the actions of our politicians and that is: I assume that most often they get what they want to get, they get pretty much what they intended to get. So, if Obama did not “change the dynamic of his tumultuous presidency and break the cycle of Washington gridlock,” then that is because he did not want to do that. Why would he not want to do that? Well, because he is essentially a status quo politician and president, whose main agenda is to preserve the prevailing alignment of forces in the D.C., those very same forces that the American people despise. Once one entertains this notion for even a little while, it becomes clear that Obama, like Boehner, would not want to “win” much as a result of the latest “crisis.” Nor would he or Boehner want to use that “crisis” and the resulting popular anger to do anything really significant by way of changing the prevailing dynamic of our politics. Obama has shown himself to be a status quo president over and over and over again, making me wonder why the Times’ analyst calls his presidency “tumultuous.” Perhaps it is merely part of an attempt, quite common in the mainstream press, to perpetuate the myth that Obama is an “activist” president, is concerned with the common good, or is concerned with the health of our political and social order. If one measures Obama by his actions, then it is quite delusional to think of him in these terms – just as it quite delusional to think of Boehner in similar terms. But any way, here the link to the article.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Some Musings on "American" Politics

Some Musings on “American” Politics
P. Schultz
October 16, 2013

            In Aristotle’s Politics, the books on the various regimes that exist or could exist in the political world are rarely taken as central to Aristotle’s political “science.” But this could be mistaken. What emerges in these books is that the political arena is characterized by multiplicity, not just because there are different regimes, six in all, but also because multiplicity exists within almost any “regime.” That is, all or any regime is actually a multiplicity, containing elements of the six  different “regimes” that Aristotle had identified in book 3. This is so much the case that one can ask if “regime” does not disappear in Aristotle.

            We today are more “mechanistic.” Hence, we are less aware of the flow, the complex flow of the political arena. We say: In 1789, a constitution was implemented, giving us a certain kind of government, where “government” is viewed mechanistically. And so, today, it is asked often: “Is the government broken?” Or “Is the political machine broken and in need of fixing?”

            But what if Aristotle was correct? What if politics or the political arena cannot be understood mechanistically, but is better understood as containing or being a multiplicity, i.e., an arena in which multiple forces contest for advantage, for prominence, continually, with the “balance of forces” changing constantly?

            Then how would our situation today appear? It would not be that “the government is broken,” that the political machine is not working. Rather, it would be that various forces are in contention with one another in an arena that is “messy,” and that is in a constant state of flux. And this arena cannot be mechanized or bureaucratized or routinized, no matter how hard we try or how much we might wish it were so. It cannot be rationalized, which is something we try to do over and over and over again. We even try to do this in foreign places, places about which we haven’t really any clues.

            Our metaphor should not be a mechanical one but rather, let me say, a musical one, where we seek harmony from a multiplicity. We don’t need mechanics; we need musicians, if we are to prosper. And these musicians need to be constantly seeking the all-too-ephemeral harmonies that might be available.

            But isn’t our mechanical conception of politics a reflection of our mechanical conception of the universe? Or is it vice versa? That is, is it how we conceive of politics that determines how we conceive of our universe, our situation, including ourselves? A mechanistic politics points toward – or reflects – a mechanistic psychology. “Aristotle’s politics” then reflects or points toward a non-mechanistic view of our psychology, our human beingness, our souls. For Aristotle, perhaps, our souls are characterized by multiplicity; they are the arenas wherein multiple forces – our passions - contend for prominence.

            And we may ask: Just as in the political arena, can these passions be rationalized, routinized, or even commanded by reason? Aristotle seemed to say, “Yes,” but if the soul reflects the political arena, then perhaps this is one of Aristotle’s “noble lies.” The “well-ordered soul” is still a multiplicity and, hence, is still an arena within which multiple forces contend for prominence in a contest that never ends.

Hence, both the indispensability and the limitations of the moral virtues, which for Aristotle were habits. And habits are indispensable insofar as they can order those forces, those multiple forces, within our souls. But then they are habits, i.e., merely habits. And the habitual is ephemeral given the soul’s multiplicity just as political “peace” is ephemeral given the multiplicity that characterizes the political arena. Both personally and politically, “constitutions” are beneficial; but although beneficial they are not decisive, either personally or politically. We might wish it were different but as the old saying goes, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

Friday, October 11, 2013

Syria's "Rebels"

Syria’s “Rebels”
P. Schultz
October 11, 2013

            Here is a post from the NY Times today. Maybe the US could send Senator John McCain back to Syria so he could “weed out” the “bad guys” from the “good guys.” Ah yes, the war on terror. What a wonderful idea. That is, especially if you want to increase the amount of terrorism in the world.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Politics of "Moderation"

The Politics of “Moderation”
P. Schultz
October 10, 2013

            Here is the scenario: A politician with considerable power takes “a stand,” which is generally and accurately described as “intransigent” and as bound to fail. And, in fact, with little surprise, this stand does fail in that it does not accomplish its goal or goals. Moreover, this is not the first time this scenario had played out with, of course, similar results. So the question occurs: Why? That is, why does this politician act this way? Why does he choose to “lose?”

            A popular theory is that he is caught in the clutches, trapped, by a part of his political party, a part that insists on fighting such battles as a matter of principle. If he doesn’t go along with these “crusaders,” bad consequences will follow – although no one can say what these bad consequences will be. After all, these crusaders are a distinct minority in the party and constitute no threat to this politician or his power. And this politician has a “safe seat,” so there is no danger of his not being re-elected. So the “trap” he is allegedly caught in seems less than real.

            Moreover, this politician does not seem to fear “losing” to the other party, apparently because he is risking nothing. That is, he makes his demands intransigently with no hope for success and when these demands go unmet, he “backs down.” But as a result of backing down, he loses nothing – because those in the other party ask nothing of him or his party by way of concessions or “reparations.” And this makes it clear that the game he is playing requires the collusion of the other party, which also benefits from the outcome.

            So, how to explain this rather strange behavior? The simplest way is by recognizing that this politician is actually winning in the sense that he will be rewarded for his intransigence. “How?” you ask. Well, his power will be enhanced within his own party, as the blame will fall on those who “trapped” him into behaving intransigently. He was, it will be said, relatively powerless and so should not be blamed. It is the others, the “crusaders” who should be blamed.

            Moreover, by behaving as he did, he will solidify his power within the prevailing order by reinforcing a “lesson” always worth reinforcing, viz., that in America today, politicians are incapable of undertaking significant changes because “the system is broken,” “D.C. is broken.” It is the system that is broken and, therefore, it makes little sense to think that changing those who control this system would accomplish anything significant. And, as a result, incumbents will be re-elected in impressive numbers despite the facts that most Americans despise the Congress and our “two” major parties. And it now appears why the leadership of both parties play along with this scenario.

            This is the game both parties are playing: Maintain the status quo against all odds. And this is labeled “a politics of moderation” despite the fact that it seems to resemble that high wire act recently performed over the Grand Canyon. Of course, we and not our politicians are the ones on the wire and without the benefit of a safety net.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"Moderates" and "Moderation"?

“Moderates” and “Moderation”?
P. Schultz
October 8, 2013

            Here is an article from the NY Times entitled “A GOP Moderate in the Middle…..of a Jam.” It is about Congressperson Charlie Dent who claims to be a moderate in an increasingly immoderate party. And of course, the crux of this “analysis” is that what we need in the Congress are more moderates like Charlie Dent – as was the case when Bill Clinton was president and the government was “shut down.” As the article claims:

“The dwindling coalition of centrist legislators on both sides of the aisle is one of the reasons the current Congress has all but ground to a halt.”

            Of course, such an argument seems to be only common sense, which is one reason it is being endorsed by almost all those who are watching the goings on in D.C. these days. “Oh, if only the immoderates would just compromise, all would be well. The government could govern and the country would be ‘back on track.’” Some even say that it is our alleged “two party system” which is to blame for all of our ills.

            But this article never asks: What does “moderation” get us? It gets the government “open” again but beyond that, what happens? It seems to me that the answer to that question is: Just more of the same. That is, just a continuation of the status quo. Which should lead to the question: Is continuing the status quo all that desirable?

            If you assume that our current leaders of our “two” parties are status quo politicians, then the “shut down” is hardly a failure or an indication that the system is “broken.” Rather, it is exactly what they want because it makes the status quo look desirable. Almost all focus on the “need” to “re-open” the government or extend the debt ceiling and almost no one focuses on change, that is, the kind of changes that are needed to improve an otherwise bleak situation.

For example, with the government “shut,” no one can think about how to improve our increasingly unequal society, how to stop our militaristic adventures such as the kidnapping that just occurred in Libya, or to stop our support for the new despots claiming the right to rule in Egypt or for the jihadists attempting to overthrow Assad in Syria.  And, apparently, the government “shut down” does not prevent such military actions or such imprudent “diplomacy.”

Moreover, the “shut down” reinforces the “lesson” we have been taught over and over again: Politics doesn’t “work” and there is little that can be done to remedy our ills. Preserving the status quo, across the board, is all that can be accomplished. And this is labeled “moderation.” In our current situation, I submit it would be better labeled “extremism,” as extreme for example as the reassertion of dictatorship in Egypt – which by the way is also being presented to us as “moderation.”

Friday, October 4, 2013


P. Schultz
October 4, 2013

            Here is a link to an article, an “analysis” in the NY Times that is headlined, “The Benefits of Intransigence.” And it claims that Ted Cruz is really shrewder than people give him and the Tea Partiers credit for because the impacts of the alleged “government shutdown” will not be as “negative” as many suppose them to be or they were when Bill Clinton was president.

            I have little quarrel with these conclusions but it is amazing that Tanenhaus, the author and “analyst” here, says almost nothing about how these results might or might not be affected by how the Democrats are acting. That is, if we take Tanenhaus’ words for it, the Democrats have no way or ways to affect the outcome of this “shutdown.” Why is this? Because Tanenhaus, like so  many others, simply assumes that the Democrats have nothing to gain from the “shutdown.” Once this assumption is held in abeyance, then a wholly different picture emerges, viz., a picture in which the Democrats are playing the role of facilitator for the Republicans, as are the establishment Republicans as well for the Tea Partiers. Why would they do this? Because their primary goal is to preserve the status quo and a government “shutdown” is a wonderful way to accomplish that goal.