Monday, September 22, 2014

How "Scandals" Serve the Permanent Regime

How “Scandals” Serve the Permanent Regime
P. Schultz
September 22, 2014

            Below is a link to an article that could be used to illustrate how what are labeled “scandals” serve to fortify the ruling political class. The article summarizes another article that appeared in the New York Times magazine on Gary Hart, his affair with Donna Rice, and how that affair and its revelation apparently impacted our political order as “a new generation of journalists trained in post-Watergate America, eager for their big breaks and not inclined to view the personal affairs of powerful politicians as irrelevant to their public stature” arose and fostered, among other things, the Clinton impeachment.

            Note should be taken of at least two things that result from the interest in such “scandals:” (1) No one any longer remembers what Gary Hart was about politically and (2) the Clinton presidency is reduced to or sucked into his “affair” with Monica Lewinsky as if it were a black hole, leaving his political agenda, which was at least as “conservative” as that of George W. Bush, to languish untouched by analysis or criticism. In other words, a “politics of scandal” does not bother the reigning political class to any great degree, which helps explain why it continues, because it is not a threat to their rule. Sure, a politician here and there is affected, but the ruling class itself is fortified as our attention is directed away from politics to, very often, sex. And, in fact, as both Clinton and the former governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, illustrate, these “scandals” don’t seem to have any long term impact even on those who are at the center of them.

            It is an interesting situation.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"Nation Building:" Disguised Tyranny

“Nation Building”: Disguised Tyranny
P. Schultz
September 20, 2014

            Here is another passage from the book, Shooting At the Moon, which I reproduce here to emphasize that a modern westerner’s view of “reality” is quite different from other views of “reality.” And of course to understand why what appear to be little more than “common sense” public policies, like building highways or universities, or nations are anything but “common sense,” it is necessary to understand how our “reality” must be imposed on others whether they want it or not. Shooting at the Moon does a decent job of illustrating these issues.

            “The tribespeople believed that every living thing had a spirit. Before they slaughtered animals the Meo talked to them, asking their permission. Before they felled trees, they told the tree they needed the wood. When outer beings died, the spirit went back to where it was born….

            “’By and large,’ Lawrence explained later, ‘the people never wanted to leave their villages because of their animistic attachments to this tree and that tree and this stone and that stone. You would find that they were going to build something somewhere. Only afterwards would you find out that they’d put the building at such-and-such an angle so that their Aunt Millie’s tree or her stone or her grave or whatever would look at the reflected light of the building early in the morning…. They wanted to stay local, and if they stayed, the family stayed. Up to a certain point, the families just did not want to move….’”

            “The nature of the challenge facing the Meo operation, Lawrence decided, was nation-building. In those years, ‘nation-building’ was a great catch phrase for Americans in Asia. Putting roads and highways was nation-building. Setting up rural aid programs to help farmers was nation-building. There were nation-building programs in South Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand, but no nation needed as much building as the haphazard stew of ethnic groups gathered by French colonizers into an artificial political entity called Laos.” [Pp. 109-111]

            Now, you may laugh or smile at the “animist” views of the Meo, but you also should laugh and smile at Warner’s phrase “an artificial political entity,” as if there are “natural political entities!” And, of course, Lawrence’s language, which Warner seems to accept, belittles the phenomena he was witnessing in Laos, thereby blinding him to any question about what happens to human beings and their societies when they sever the links between themselves and the “animal” and “natural” world. It was not an attachment to “this tree or that tree” that describes the Meo’s “reality.” Rather, it was an attachment to something sacred, a sacredness of place that includes “this tree or that tree.” Can a feeling of sacredness be preserved once we lose our connectedness to the world around us? And if it cannot, what happens to us, to our societies? Just wondering.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Problem of Slavery as a Philosophical Phenomenon

The Problem of Slavery: In the Age of Emancipation
P. Schultz
September 19, 2014

            Here is a lengthy excerpt from the book, The Problem of Slavery, by David Brion Davis, the third volume in his trilogy on slavery.

            “….Keith Thomas, in his invaluable account Man and the Natural World, shows that from 1500 to 1800, the biblical sense of human uniqueness and privilege gained considerable strength in Western Europe. As Europeans entered a wholly new stage of exploration, conquest, and colonization, including the transportation of millions of African slaves to all parts of the New World, there was a skyrocketing confidence in man’s right and ability to exploit the surrounding world of nature.

            “Renaissance men could draw on Plato, Aristotle, and other ancient Greek writers to reinforce the biblical view that everything in the natural world existed solely to serve man’s interests – that everything had a human purpose. Since beasts supposedly had no souls and no conception of the future, domesticated animals were said to be better off than their wild brethren, who had to fend for themselves and were vulnerable to predators and the sufferings of old age. Besides, wild or tame, most animals were designed to provide food for humans, and Western Europeans were especially carnivorous…..

            “Keith Thomas points out that Western Europeans were shocked and expressed ‘baffled contempt’ when they learned of the Buddhists’ and Hindus’ respect for animals, even insects. By the 1630s, any such respect was further weakened philosophically by the emerging work of the so-called Father of Modern Philosophy, Rene Descartes. As a great mathematician, it was perhaps natural for Descartes to conclude that ‘thinking’ was his essence, the only thing about himself that could not be doubted (‘I think, therefore I am’). Hence, his body was like a machine, a matter of extension and motion that followed the laws of physics and was controlled by his wholly separate mind and soul. Since he became certain that animals lacked both a cognitive mind and soul, they were really automata, like clocks, capable of complex behavior but totally incapable of speech, reasoning, or perhaps sensation…

            “The widening gulf between man and beast had important implications for what we might term social control and the spread of Christian civilization. Christians had regularly portrayed the devil as a mixture of man and animal, and the Antichrist as a beast. There had always been a tendency to animalize serfs and peasants, especially those who worked with animals and were darkened by manure and soil as well as the sun. Thomas points out that bestiality, the ultimate sexual crime, became a capital offense from 1534 to 1861…Edmund Burke expressed a typical dehumanizing view of social class when contemplating the French Revolution: ‘Learning will be cast into the mire, trodden down under the hoofs of the swinish multitude.’” [Pp. 25-26]

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

More on Community and Character

More on Community
P. Schultz
September 17, 2014

Here is more from the previous postings on an email exchange with a friend.

On Sep 17, 2014, at 7:43 AM, MB wrote:

Dear Peter,
I like your speculations and here is a question.
Last month, I submitted that the world needs less lawyers and more educators.  I wonder, do you think that we need more builders and maintainers of community (men whose work is the city) or educators of members of the community (men whose work is the school) in our place and time?

My response:

That is a difficult question for me to answer, Matthew. I know that whatever you decide to do, you will do well. And I think you might make a wonderful teacher - and I say I think because sometimes getting in front of a classroom is not easy. Although I think with your flair for the dramatic, in the best of sense, you will do fine. 

What I think has to take place is a change in consciousness and how does one plan that? I mean these changes seem to come about slowly, as with Christianity, and are, eventually, ratified from the top down. Jefferson and Jackson did it, modifying to some extent the consciousness that prevailed with the framers. Or perhaps they just managed to rekindle something that was, momentarily as it were, displaced by the Federalists. Certainly, Lincoln worked on such a change but it is difficult to say he was successful, at least in the short run. The Progressives eventually seemed to succeed and we are still living with the consequences of that success, for better and worse. There are glimmers of change "out there," I suspect, but only glimmers and these are, more often than not, marginalized by the powers that be. And with Obama, et. al., crying "crisis" about ISIS and Ebola and god knows what other false apocalypses, I have little hope of any change real soon. 

I think that Voegelin's take on Plato is relevant here, as near as I can understand it. There are times when the corruption has gone so deep that it's cure is beyond political measures, that philosophic change is needed. 

From Skinny Legs and All, by Tom Robbins
            “She understood suddenly, and for no particular reason of which she was aware, that it was futile to work for political solutions to humanity’s problems because humanity’s problems were not political. Political problems did exist, all right, but they were entirely secondary. The primary problems were philosophical, and until the philosophical problems were solved, the political problems would have to be solved over and over and over again. The phrase ‘vicious circle’ was coined to describe the ephemeral effectiveness of almost any political activity.
            “For the ethical, political activism was seductive because it seemed to offer the possibility that one could improve society, make things better, without going through the personal ordeal of rearranging one’s perceptions and transforming one’s self. For the unconscionable, political reactivism was seductive because it seemed to protect one’s holdings and legitimize one’s greed. But both sides were gazing through a kerchief of illusion.
            “The monkey wrench in the progressive machinery of primate evolution was the propensity of the primate band to take its political leaders – its dominant males – too seriously. Of benefit to the band only when it was actively threatened by predators, the dominant male (or political boss) was almost wholly self-serving and was naturally dedicated not to liberation but to control. Behind his chest-banging and fang display, he was largely a joke and could be kept in his place (his place being that of a necessary evil) by disrespect and laughter. If, for example, when Hitler stood up to rant in the beer halls of Munich, the good drinkers had taken him more lightly, had they, instead of buying his act, snickered and hooted and pelted him with sausage skins, the Holocaust might have been avoided.
            “Of course, as long as there were willing followers, there would be exploitive leaders. And there would be willing followers until humanity reached that philosophical plateau where it recognized that its great mission in life had nothing to do with any struggle between classes, races, nations, or ideologies, but was, rather, a personal quest to enlarge the soul, liberate the spirit, and light up the brain. On that quest, politics was simply a roadblock of stentorian baboons.” (pp.405-406)
Now, Matthew, think about how our mindset would have to change to be able to "snicker, hoot, and pelt" a Hitler with "sausage skins" rather than taking him seriously, that is, either to support him or to see him as evil incarnate. Think how different our minds would have to be to be able to laugh at those "leaders" who are little more than "stentorian baboons" so they would not even get a hearing. I am probably wrong but I think this is the kind of change - if not the substance - Voegelin was talking about. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

More on Community and Character

More on Community and Character
P. Schultz
September 16, 2014

Here is a follow up to my last post on Character, from an email exchange with a friend.

On Sep 15, 2014, at 1:25 PM, MB wrote:
Dear Peter,
I concur with your reversal of Berry; the corruption of the individual has its source in the corruption of the community.  I wonder, do you think that the cultivation of the individual or the cultivation of the community is more necessary and more important and critical in our time?

My response:

I like your question and here are some speculations: 

How does one cultivate character in individuals when those individuals are not in communities? Or, how does one cultivate what is now called  "character" when we think of human beings as "individuals?" As I use to say in class, I never met an "individual," only particular human beings who live somewhere, speak a particular language, know and tell particular stories, have a gender, a "race," often a religion, etc., etc., etc. "Individual" is a strange concept, an abstract concept, if you think about it. Perhaps once you begin to think of human beings as "individuals" then the pursuit of "character" is fated to fail. And how does one build and maintain a community, a genuine community or as Aristotle would say, a "polis,"  composed of "individuals?" Isn't that a pipe dream? Just wondering. 


p.s. As I read the quotes from Berry in the attached essay, I am not sure Berry would disagree that once communities disappear or are repressed, then "individuals" are corrupted too. Human beings, like flowers and other plants, need to be nurtured, they need "a garden," a setting which will allow them to grow and flourish [and not just "work" or be "civil"].

Monday, September 15, 2014

Community and Character

Community and Character
P. Schultz
September 15, 2014

            An email and my response. Enjoy.

Nice article. Thanks. 

"According to Berry, “the corruption of community has its source in the corruption of character.” 

I would reverse these and say, it is the "corruption" [or displacement] of community that leads to the corruption of character. No or little community and no or little character. And then it is necessary to repress humans via government and what we call "civil society," and both are called upon to make up for the lack of character and control - or at least seem to control - the pursuit of what the framers - and others - labelled "self-interest."  And this is just the political side of what is called "the conquest of nature" or the amelioration of the human condition. The results are presented with particular clarity in Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men," as well as his other novels. 

On Sep 15, 2014, at 7:36 AM, Matthew Brennan wrote:

On Mon, Sep 15, 2014 at 4:15 AM, Peter Schultz ‪<> wrote:

Sunday, September 7, 2014


P. Schultz
September 7, 2014

Here is a quote I ran across recently on the concept of “ideology,” which I think is quite interesting to ponder.

“And what is ideology if not a cover story so deeply lived as to be almost unconscious, that necessary story by which the individual steps into daily life and its collective webs of work, language, and sexuality.”

[From Cover Stories: Narrative and Ideology in the British Spy Thriller, by Michael Denning. ]

            I really like this because it makes ideology something that is “hidden in plain sight.” And aren’t those things always the most difficult to see, that is, to see them for what they are, here, called “cover stories?” We or I or some of us wonder, “Why is it that our politicians seem to do the same thing over and over and over again, even though that ‘thing’ did not ‘work’ the first time, or the second time, or even the third time?”

            My younger brother, Mike, was a psychologist, and he use to say to me every so often: “Therapy certainly isn’t the answer to everything and it isn’t for everyone. But those who don’t do it are likely to do the same things over and over and over, even though they prove to be futile.” I believe this “definition” of ideology helps us to understand the political manifestation of this behavioral phenomenon.

            Consider the idea that our soldiers, or some of them, are afflicted with something labeled PTSD, or “post-traumatic stress disorder.” This is pretty much taken for granted these days as a diagnosis and, as a result, therapy, individual and/or group therapy is recommended to deal or “cure” it. Now, think for a few moments what is assumed in this way of thinking about this phenomenon. One assumption seems to be that this condition manifests itself as a psychological condition and not, say, as a political condition. That is, the manifestation of this condition has little or nothing to do with the politics of the situation. Rather, it has to do with other variables such as an intense level of violence, bloodshed, physical harm and pain, and of course death.

            But what if this is just part of ideology? That is, what if whatever it is that is manifesting itself is connected not just to those variables listed above but also to the politics of the situation? That is, what if this condition results from the perception that a particular war is unjust or immoral or imperialistic? Now, if this were the case, then dealing with PTSD would require political measures, not merely what we call psychological measures. Also, this would imply that a communitarian approach to recovery would be [more] useful than a therapeutic approach.

            Now, of course, such suggestions as I have made above sound just silly or inane, don’t they? Who would seriously entertain that idea that it is our politics, the way we are politically in the world, our political “be-ing,” that conditions our psyches, sometimes to the point of creating “disorders?” No one I know. But this might be taken to confirm that this is part of the ideology we use to “step into daily life and its collective webs of work, language, and sexuality.” Who knows? This might be worth thinking about.

Friday, September 5, 2014

American Foreign Policy and Andrew Jackson

American Foreign Policy and Andrew Jackson
P. Schultz
September 5, 2014

Here is a response I wrote to a friend based on a link he sent, an article by Peter Beinart entitled “Pursuing ISIS to the Gates of Hell.” Here is the link:

Here is my response to Beinart:

“Well, first, I love the way some people, usually academics, create categories, usually multiple [because that proves how smart they are], that they then use to analyze stuff. Of course, they are often unaware that their alleged complexity is really a way of obscuring what might be called the obvious. I think Beinart has managed to do this here. Also, with his four categories, he can pretend to have "discovered" something "new" that is taking place, viz., the rising of "Jacksonianism," as he calls it, as our "new" foreign policy. I wish to say that I don't see anything "new" here as one could have heard the same rhetoric about, say, Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh, as one is hearing now about ISIS. It is all smoke and mirrors which serves to fortify the prevailing ideology of "leadership" and "power," especially military power. If it weren't so dangerous, it would be silly. 

“Second: "Jacksonianism" as described by Beinart resembles what Jackson was about as much as I resemble a young man. Here is Beinart:  "It refers to the peculiar combination of jingoism and isolationism forged on the American frontier. Bill O’Reilly is a Jacksonian. Jacksonians don’t want to fashion other countries in America’s image. They don’t care about fattening corporate bottom lines. But if you mess with them—violate their honor—they’ll pursue you to the gates of hell." 

            “I really don't even know where to start on this. Jackson waged a "war" on the national government, by some assessments an even more aggressive war on that government than Jefferson did. Why? Because he knew that such a government was the seedbed of an inegalitarian society, based on a growing economy that would benefit the few at the expense of the many. He tried to disempower the national bureaucracy by means of what is now known as the "spoils system." He set up a "kitchen cabinet" in order to disempower the formal cabinet. And he, with Van Buren's help, established a presidential nominating system, national presidential nominating conventions, that produced (a) party men for presidents and (b), not accidentally, mediocrities for president. The primary criterion for the presidency became party loyalty, not national reputation, not military glory, and certainly not charisma. Party loyalists are less dangerous than those men motivated by overweening ambition, men like those Hamilton looked to to fill the presidency, men characterized by "a love of fame, the ruling passion of the noblest minds."  

“How would such presidents conduct foreign policy? Well, not jingoistically. And not to reap the glory that comes from democratizing the world. [Here Beinart is accurate about Jackson not wanting "to fashion other countries in America's image."] Rather, they would practice a mundane foreign policy, which is not to say "isolationist." A mundane foreign policy would strike most today as merely "weak," and of course viewed in light of our prevailing ideology, it is weak. [Of course, my analysis is abstracting from the slavery issue, which makes it less than persuasive. Witness James K. Polk's war with Mexico, a war that was undertaken in part to try to create more slave states and, thereby, protect that institution against attacks upon it.] 

“Anyway, Beinart wants to make a point which I think needs to be made. However, he should do so in a way that does not obscure the consensus that underlies our current foreign policy and in a way that does not distort our history.” 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Political Insanity

Political Insanity
P. Schultz
September 1, 2014

            A friend of mine just wrote me an email in which he said, “The middle east is an insane place.” When I first read it, I thought nothing of it. But then when I read it again, before I was going to trash it, I realized how funny that assertion is, especially coming from someone in the United States of America.

            First, how else would one describe the United States except as “an insane place,” a place where unarmed people are gunned down by the police, who then turn up looking like space aliens, armed to the teeth, thinking – and this is the craziest part of all – that this will maintain the peace!? How insane is that? Or how insane is it that the national government thinks it will help the situation by arming local police forces to the teeth? Man, I can’t think of anything much more insane than that.

            Or, second, how about this? How else would one describe a foreign policy that takes a nation into unnecessary wars under false pretenses, wars that lead to the growth of the very phenomena those wars are meant to curb? If that is not insanity, then the word “insanity” has no meaning. As even Russell Brand has noticed, bombs and drones should be seen as “seeds,” that is, “seeds” from which more jihadists and terrorists spring.

            But, holy cow, for sure: The middle east is an insane place!!!