Monday, May 23, 2022

Thoughts on Michael Scheuer, the Perfect War, and Wasteland

 

Thoughts on Michael Scheuer, The Perfect War, and Wasteland

Peter Schultz

 

            Bin Laden as a “terrorist” is bin Laden objectified. Once objectified, we can do whatever we want to him, and we certainly don’t have to listen to him.

 

            Michael Scheuer writes about how Muslims see bin Laden and, thereby, he’s going beyond the objectified bin Laden, the “terrorist.” Scheuer is trying to experience bin Laden as Muslims experience him; he trying to move beyond what we know about him and trying to know him. He doesn’t want to know more about bin Laden; he wants to know his better or deeper.

 

            Following the production mode consciousness, intelligence agencies and agents want more knowledge, thinking that the more knowledge they have, the better prepared they will be to handle situations because these will be clearer. What they don’t realize is that what they should be doing is piecing together a whole, i.e., in bin Laden’s case, the whole person. They gather pieces of “intell,” the facts, but they lack the imagination to put these facts together to form a whole. So, they are repeatedly surprised by events that more imaginative people could and did see: Pearl Harbor, 9/11, Hitler’s invasion of the USSR, Egypt’s invasion of the Sinai, the Tet attacks in Vietnam, as examples.

 

            It wasn’t a deficit of facts that allowed 9/11 to happen; it was a lack of imagination. The production mode consciousness, the single vision, emphasizes deficits – here of facts. It is thought regarding 9/11 that we needed more facts, more intell, not a more expansive, imaginative consciousness. Scheuer is trying to expand our consciousness and, by doing so, is deemed to be subversive. Note the madness: Illumination, imagination is subversive! And, of course, it is. It always is. Just ask Socrates or MLK or Malcolm X.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Biden, Ukraine, and Technowar

 

Biden, Ukraine, and Technowar

Peter Schultz

 

            Joe Biden is following the dictates of the production model of war, which calls for increasing the “production capacity” of Ukraine and which was employed by the US in the Vietnam War. The problem is that in Vietnam, this model of war “simultaneously destroyed both [US] troops and the Vietnamese people, but it could not produce victory.” [The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam, p. 125]

 

            The emphasis is properly on the words “could not.” The only way to produce victory via the production model of war would be the total annihilation of the enemy. That this is so may be illustrated by the North’s conduct of the Civil War, and in WW II by Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. In Ukraine, the production model of war is destroying Ukrainian and Russian troops and the Ukrainian people but it cannot produce victory, just as it couldn’t in Afghanistan or Iraq.

 

            The slaughter, the savagery will continue despite Biden’s decisions to increase the productive capacity of Ukraine and despite Putin’s decision of the same kind regarding Russian forces. The war will end when it dawns on those with power that victory cannot be achieved militarily, as happened to the Russians and the United States in Afghanistan. With regard to Vietnam, the Vietnamese won because they understood that the war was a continuation of politics, not a prelude or an alternative to politics. Because the Vietnamese knew that the war could only be won politically, not militarily, they knew they could lose battles – some in the US say they lost them all – and still win the war. The US elites never understood this. Perhaps they will come to understand it in Ukraine but, given Biden’s decisions, it doesn’t seem likely.

Friday, May 20, 2022

If Voting Matterd, ETC.

 

If Voting Mattered, ETC.

Peter Schultz

 

            I have decided or did decide some time ago not to vote. Why vote when whoever you vote for will do nothing to correct or reform the oligarchic imperialism the defines American politics, and while voting legitimizes that oligarchic imperialistic order. We need “new modes and orders” and voting will not accomplish that as it reinforces or fortifies our “old” or the prevailing modes and orders. Which is why our leading politicians and others invested in the status quo pound away at the importance of voting, that we are duty-bound to vote as if the 11th commandment said “Thou shalt vote!”

 

            Voting is paradoxical because it’s both the exercise and the surrender of power. And the latter, the surrender of power, is the final, the longest lasting effect of voting. Once you’ve voted, you have given your power away, transferred it to someone else over whom you have almost no power. This is a dilemma that cannot be solved. Real reform, real change, has to come in other ways, viz., by people rejecting the approved “wisdom,” the conventional wisdom, by embracing what is labeled “extremism” because it rejects the prevailing conventional wisdom or, to get even more extremist, because it rejects all forms of conventional wisdom in toto. Once wisdom becomes conventional, officially approved, it is not wisdom – just as “near beer” isn’t beer or just as “reality tv shows” aren’t actually real [they all have writers writing script].

 

            This is why those who challenge the conventional wisdom are so dangerous to the “old,” or the established modes and orders. Just as Socrates said in the Republic that the poets had to be exiled, so too today those who challenge the established consciousness are “exiled” by way of marginalization. Those who see the conventional wisdom for what it is – illusion – produce what is labeled “entertainment,” which allows for “escapism,” stuff that is to be enjoyed but not taken seriously.

 

            Those who make, say, Jane Austen out to be either a “traditionalist” or a “left-winger” don’t see her extremism or radicalness. The same is true of others, like Mark Twain, Montesquieu, or Leo Strauss. Strauss argued that this is what disciples do, what Platonists did, what Jesus’s disciples did, what all disciples do, turn radical thought into conventional wisdom, thereby undermining the originality, the radicalness of genuinely creative human beings. Strauss, I would say, would not be a “Straussian” as that group is and wishes to be conventionally understood.

 

            Hence, Machiavelli recommended the necessity of returning to “the roots” of what were new modes and orders. These returns – are they eternal, ala’ Nietzsche? – might or will not be peaceful. Still, they are, as Jefferson put it, as cleansing in the political world as storms are in the natural world. And like storms in the natural world, the stronger, the more violent they are, the more cleansing they are.

 

            But Machiavelli told us also that there have been “unarmed prophets” who succeeded, who cleansed old modes and orders or who created new modes and orders, even without great violence. Of course, Machiavelli was writing about Jesus and the triumph of Christianity, a triumph that was non-violent so long as it wasn’t taken to be conventional wisdom. Once it had become the conventional wisdom, Constantine’s sword appeared and the pogroms, the crusades, and the inquisition followed. The sword appeared because conventional wisdom is illusionary and only way to maintain illusions is with force, that is, violently.

 

            Insofar as what some refer to as the “new world order” is our conventional wisdom, we should expect endless wars, wars that need not be won but wars that need to be fought in order to fortify the new world order and its illusions. Those who think that the new world order will bring peace don’t understand the human condition. As Plato succinctly put it: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

Friday, May 13, 2022

Hair on Fire: Contesing Consciousnesses

 

Hair on Fire: Contesting Consciousnesses

Peter Schultz

 

            In a bureaucracy, those who are “running around with their hair on fire” always lose the arguments because they are not being objective.

 

            And yet bureaucracies actually fuel the “hair on fire” phenomenon because they drive people to such behavior in an attempt to transcend objectivity to reveal “real reality.” People are driven to such “extreme” behavior, which is then, because it is seen as extreme, rejected. This illustrates the power of bureaucracy or of an objectified consciousness. Those who don’t buy into this consciousness are seen as “extreme” or “mad” or insane, and they are marginalized, ala’ the “Airplane 4 crowd” in the Minneapolis FBI office in the run-up to 9/11.

 

            So, the dispute over the “20th hijacker” in Minnesota was actually a contest between the consciousness of objectivity and another kind of consciousness. The same contest was evident in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks generally. But the dissenters aren’t aware of what’s going on, that they are in fact challenging “the single vision” consciousness that characterizes an objectified world. And they are not aware that there are alternatives to that single vision consciousness.

 

            Novelists and poets are more likely to be aware of what’s going on. In fiction, presenting an alternative consciousness is common. Witness Vonnegut, Austen, Twain, Greene, McCarthy, or O’Brien. For Twain, what of Tom and Huck, two alternative consciousnesses? Or Merlin and the Connecticut Yankee? Austen in Emma, the early Emma and the later Emma? And of course not only in Emma. Or what about Twain’s Joan of Arc? Did Joan represent an alternative consciousness? And both the Church’s condemnation of Joan and her sainthood miss her meaning, the meaning of her consciousness, as both her condemnation and her sainthood flatten her out, reduce her complexity to make her fit into the single vision. In these authors and their works, we can catch glimpses of “contesting consciousnesses.” 

 

 

            And perhaps this is what Aristotle and Machiavelli were about. Aristotle and Machiavelli were investigating what I’ll call “the political consciousness,” and looking for and indicating, at least covertly, an alternative. In investigating the political consciousness both Aristotle and Machiavelli engaged in irony and, hence, their teachings are at times humorous and meant to be humorous. And regarding Aristotle, I can hear Pascal and his argument that Aristotle thought reforming politics was like trying to bring order into a madhouse, meaning political consciousness is, in fact, madness. As Pascal wrote, there are people who think that being “king” and “queen” is something real. And Aristotle is famous for having asserted, “Man is the political animal," meaning that human beings have embraced political consciousness and even treat it as natural. And, regarding Machiavelli, because he was investigating human consciousness, it is misleading to call Machiavelli the teacher of evil, even though in some sense this is correct. Machiavelli was saying, I think, that the evil is there, it’s a fact, even the fact of life, but if it is objectified via government, it could serve to ameliorate the human condition. Objectified, evil is useful, even indispensable. Of course, it is easy to think of Plato’s Republic as his investigation of the political consciousness, presented ironically through Socrates, whose philosophical consciousness was humorously characterized by Aristophanes in The Clouds. And what of Augustine and his Confessions? Another investigation of human consciousness, one kind that is uninformed by God and another that is informed by God? 


            Defending philosophy is defending a particular and even peculiar kind of consciousness, a consciousness that is always in conflict with political consciousness. And this helps make sense of Socrates and his investigations of politicians, poets, and artisans in Athens to see what they knew. And it also helps understand the subversive character of Socrates’ conclusion that the difference between himself and the Athenians is that while both didn’t know the most important stuff, Socrates knew he didn’t know that stuff, while the others thought they did. For what could be more challenging to political consciousness than a recognition, a claim that we humans do not and probably cannot know the most important things because, after all, what all politicians claim, and what all societies take for granted, is that they know the most important things. A consciousness of ignorance is, as it were, always subversive. 


[I said recently that all politicians should learn to say, “We’ll see!” Which is what Zen Buddhists say.]

Friday, May 6, 2022

Two Nightmares: Vietnam and Watergate

 

Two Nightmares: Vietnam and Watergate

Peter Schultz

 

            Both the Vietnam War and Watergate have been described as “nightmares” and this description has taken hold. But “nightmares” are dreams, so they aren’t real. They are dreams and, so described, the war and Watergate disappear, become unreal. That is, it is not at all clear if they are described as nightmares, what they were.

 

            What was the Vietnam War? Was it, as it is often described, as a quagmire, that is, a series or mistakes or small missteps, that led to the US being pulled into a war in Asia, a war it never wanted? Or was it the result of an imperialistic politics? If it is thought of as the former, then it made sense for Robert McNamara, after the war ended, to hold a conference of US and Vietnamese to try to figure out objectively what had happened, that led to “the tragedy” of that war. If, however, it was the latter, it was an imperialistic phenomenon, then it would be necessary to confront the issue of imperialism, and especially of American imperialism. It would be necessary to ask: Why was/is the American political order imperialistic?

 

            Interestingly, the same question arises with regard to what is called “Watergate.” Of course, “Watergate,” as everyone knows, is shorthand for assessing the Nixon administration and its politics. So, was “Watergate” the result of a series of mistakes, of missteps that led Nixon, et. al., to commit acts that eventually forced Nixon to resign the presidency to avoid impeachment? Or did “Watergate” reflect the imperialistic politics that characterizes the American political order? Was “Watergate” a quagmire or the result of an imperialistic politics?

 

            Watergate began, as it were, with the publication of the Pentagon Papers, as Nixon and Kissinger were attempting to redefine US predominance in the world by ending the Vietnam War, creating détente with the Soviet Union, and legitimating Communist China as part of the international order. Nixon claimed that secrecy was absolutely essential to achieve his goals, that without secrecy his goals would have been undermined by his enemies, most of whom were “conservatives.” In fact, we know there were those in the Department of Defense, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who were spying on the Nixon White House in order to assess and undermine Nixon’s political agenda. Nixon learned of this, but he decided not to confront it publicly because that would undermine the secrecy he needed to succeed.

 

            But it is important to understand that secrecy, “secrecy and dispatch” in the words of Publius in the Federalist Papers, is always necessary given the imperialistic character of the American political order. Thus, secrecy can be traced throughout US history, for example, in the administration of JFK given his plans to pull out of Vietnam after he re-election in 1964; in LBJ’s administration as he planned to push into Vietnam after the 1964 election; Reagan’s actions in Nicaragua and Iran; Papa Bush’s invasion of Iraq to get Saddam out of Kuwait; Bush Jr’s. invasion of Iraq; and even the actions of the CIA in the run up to the 9/11 attacks.

 

            So, the two “nightmares,” the Vietnam War and Watergate may be said to have been the result of imperialistic politics, of an imperialistic political order in the United States, an order that, presciently, some of the Anti-Federalists claimed the new, consolidated government to be created under the proposed constitution would become. Ending these “nightmares” wouldn’t change much insofar as the imperialistic politics that underlay them continued. The US pulled out of Vietnam and Nixon was driven from office, but the imperialistic order continued on in different disguises, e.g., “morning in America” [Reagan], a “new world order [Bush I], “the war on terror” [Bush Jr.], or as “making America great again” [Trump]. And now, with Biden, it’s being disguised as “a return to normalcy.” It might be prudent, though, to expect another “nightmare,” perhaps one involving Ukraine.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Watergate: Our Long National Nightmare

 

Watergate: Our Long National Nightmare

Peter Schultz

 

            To keep things real, Watergate was and is illuminating as just another battle as the ambitious and the avaricious amongst us contended for power. That is, it was an all-too-typical event of the kind that characterizes American politics. Watergate illuminated and illuminates what we’ve become or what we’ve been.

 

            Because it was so illuminating of what we are, and because so illuminated we couldn’t help but be anxious over what we are, it was imperative to reduce Watergate to Richard Nixon. That is, as President Ford said immediately after Nixon resigned the presidency, “our long national nightmare is over,” meaning that our nightmare didn’t have roots in our political order but only in the person of Richard Nixon. Once Nixon was gone, removed from power, our “nightmare” was over and we could, apparently, sleep peacefully once again.

 

            In American politics, it’s always the “bad guys” who are to blame. So, to deal with Watergate, we only had to deal with Richard Nixon; we didn’t have to deal with the presidency itself as a potential source of our troubles. Moral failings explain our troubles, not the defects of our political order. We view the world moralistically, not politically, and so we always blame presidents but never the presidency. Our moralism blinds us to the political roots of our troubles.

 

            At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin gave, or had read, a speech in which he recommended not paying presidents. He did so because he thought that an office that appealed to the ambitiously avaricious or the avariciously ambitious was an office that would prove to be fatal to decent government. Unlike Hamilton, Franklin apparently did not subscribe to the thought that “the love of fame [was] the ruling passion of the noblest minds.” The love of fame, which is a pursuit of a kind of immortality, especially when rewarded materially, would lead to constant battles for power. So, Franklin argued, “the peaceful” would not seek office and civil peace would not prevail. Politics would be characterized by endless battles for power, characterized by constant calumny, to the detriment of the peace and decency of society.

 

            After examining the Watergate scandal for some time, it seems to me that Franklin had it exactly right. There were no “good guys,” although there were more than a few “bad guys,” if by bad is meant people ambitiously and greedily seeking power or to displace those who had acquired it. But then Watergate was hardly a unique event in American politics. The same phenomenon is visible repeatedly in our political drama, as mention of Bill Clinton’s impeachment and the Clarence Thomas and Bret Kavanaugh confirmation hearings will attest. And the reason these phenomena repeatedly arise is because our political institutions are defective, because they appeal to the ambitious and the avaricious and reward them when these vices bring them victory. The roots of our troubles are political and, as a result, our nightmares didn’t end with Nixon, nor will they end with the demise of Donald Trump.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Watergate and American Poltiics as A Morality Play

 

Watergate and American Politics as A Morality Play

Peter Schultz

 

            It will shock no one when I say that there is a tendency in the United States to see politics as a morality play; that is, as a conflict between the “good guys” versus the “bad guys.” Nor will it shock anyone when I assert that this is what Watergate became.

 

            It might shock people when I say that Watergate was anything but a morality tale. That is, it was a tale of a guilty president seeking to survive politically; a tale where the president’s closest advisers, Haig and Buzhardt, were trying to get him out of office before their “sins” were exposed; and a tale of journalists, working with an anonymous source, seeking to udo a presidency surreptitiously or covertly, almost like the CIA.

 

            But despite its character, the power of morality tale scenario is attested to by the fact that President Nixon played along with it. That is why Nixon, virtually from the outset, denied any White House involvement in the Watergate burglary, denials that weren’t true, although he didn’t know that, and denials that would come back to haunt him, and even cost him his presidency.

 

            Think about it: What if Nixon had decided to treat the burglary for what it was, as a crime. That is, if he had treated it as simple, straightforward criminality. If he had done that, he wouldn’t have had to “stonewall” or “cover up.” This was the genius of John Mitchell’s recommendation that the White House adopt what was called “the hang out” strategy; that is, let “it” all hang out with the purpose of punishing those who were guilty of those crimes. “Sure,” Nixon could have said. “Some people in the White House committed crimes and they will be punished. But these criminals are just that, criminals, and they don’t indicate that my administration is defined by immorality, any more than the fact that there are criminals in the United States means that it is defined by immorality.”

 

            But let me broaden our concern with this tendency toward moralization. After the attacks of 9/11, a debate occurred, ever so briefly, about whether to treat the attacks as criminal acts and their perpetrators as criminals or to treat the attacks as acts of war and the perpetrators as terrorists. The latter view prevailed of course as we all know. But if the former had prevailed, then what would have followed would have been investigations and then trials. As the latter prevailed, what followed was wars, torture, and assassinations. One may ask if we are better off as a result of the moralizing those attacks leading to the war on terror.

 

But there is even another consideration, viz., the question as to whether understanding the world in moral terms clarifies or obfuscates the human condition? Does understanding the world in moral terms shed light or darkness? [Remember: Vice President Cheney, who viewed the attacks in moral terms, said we had to go “the dark side” as a response.] Does understanding the world in moral terms enable people to see or blind them to “real reality?”

 

These are or should be serious questions, that is, questions whose answers have significant implications. For example, Aristotle seems to have ascended from a moral view of the world to a political view, as his Nicomachean Ethics ends by pointing to his Politics. Plato might be said to have ascended from a moral view to a philosophic view of the human condition. And Machiavelli might be said to have ascended – or should we say descended – from a moral view of the world to a “realistic” view. So perhaps it would be worthwhile to reconsider our moralistic views, not only of Watergate but of politics generally.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Gaslit, Watergate, and the Madness of Politics

 

Gaslit, Watergate, and the Madness of Politics

Peter Schultz

 

            As illustrated by the television series, Gaslit, the more I ponder what is called Watergate, the stranger it becomes. The conventional wisdom about Watergate, as illustrated by that series, is that it represented American politics as a drama about a quest for justice and/or democracy in the face of the threats represented by the Nixon administration and its covert and overt activities directed at its “enemies,” as well as at the democratic election process. And, in the end, the “good guys” won, as Nixon was forced to resign the presidency and, as President Ford said, “Our long national nightmare [was] over.”

 

            The conventional wisdom, however uplifting it might be, is anything but an accurate portrayal of what happened during Watergate or an accurate portrayal of politics generally. Watergate was a veritable madhouse, where, for example, as presented in Gaslit, an alcoholic, depressed, spurned woman played, allegedly, a prominent role in taking down the most powerful man on the planet – for better and worse. Watergate was largely the result of a “blindly ambitious” young man, John Dean, who was willing to chance exposing his girlfriend’s close friendship with a “madame,” who was managing a call girl ring by using the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate, all for the sake of his political advancement. The same young man was more than willing to implicate others in criminal activities to hide his own culpability. Watergate also involved, revolved around a paranoid president, Nixon, who allowed himself to be played by others to the point that he was forced to resign in disgrace, while his most trusted – and his most trustworthy – cohorts and colleagues went to prison. And this while his least trustworthy aides, e.g., Dean and Alexander Haig, were rewarded with accolades as “heroes” who helped save American democracy, along with those “enemies,” like Woodward and Bernstein, who, although hailed as heroes, willingly engaged in their own covert activities to take down the president. And that the CIA was also covertly involved in Watergate must be taken as fact now, adding another layer of madness to the scandal. “One flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.”

 

            Blaise Pascal wrote that when reading Plato and Aristotle, in their writings on politics, they should be read ironically, because they were convinced that trying to reform political life is like trying to bring order into a madhouse. If what occurred during Watergate wasn’t madness, then the concept of madness has no meaning. Apparently, Plato and Aristotle were as aware of the madness of political life as was Machiavelli. But despite his reputation for being “Machiavellian,” it seems Richard Nixon wasn’t aware of the madness that surrounded him and that, ultimately, brought him down. In fact, when reading about Watergate, it becomes clear that Nixon was naïve to a surprising degree, and this despite – or perhaps because of – his paranoia. Perhaps Nixon, like so many, believed that the political life is about justice, rather than a never-ending contest for power among those Aristotle described as “sick” individuals. There are lessons to be learned from Watergate and even from Gaslit, both about American politics and about politics generally. But learning them requires a capacity of irony, a willingness to see just how insane our cuckoo’s nest is.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Watergate: A Morality Tale with No Morality

 

Watergate: A Morality Tale Without No Morality

Peter Schultz

 

            To understand the Watergate scandal, it is necessary to pay attention to the fact that John Dean, in November of 1971, had his assistant, John Caulfield, tell Anthony Ulasewicz, another Dean underling, to walk through the Democratic National Headquarters offices in the Watergate office building. This order made little sense to Ulasewicz, and it has made little sense to most other people who have noticed it. For example, Gordon Liddy never understood why Dean wanted to break into and bug these offices. But Dean had a reason for doing so and it is key to understanding what became the Watergate scandal.

 

            Dean was then in a relationship with Mo Biner, the woman who later became his wife. And Mo was friends with a woman whose real name was Erika L. “Heidi” Rikan, otherwise known as Cathy Dieter. Cathy/Heidi, as she is referred to in the book Silent Coup: The Removal of a President by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin, had been a stripper in Washington, D.C. from 1964 to 1966, when she moved into management. That is, she managed a sex-for-money operation in D.C., which was eventually closed down. After that, she managed a sex-for-money “call girl ring” at Columbia Plaza, which is what she was doing when she met John Dean in the 70s, who was, as noted, dating, and living with Mo Biner, who was a good friend of Cathy/Heidi, even staying with her when Dean was out of town.

 

            Around Labor Day in 1971, an attorney named Phillip Mackin Bailley, Cathy/Heide, and Mo Biner, whose nickname in Bailley’s address book was “Clout,” met and discussed a new opportunity for expanding Cathy/Heidi’s business, namely, a Bailley connection who was a Democratic official housed in the Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate office building. Bailley thought it feasible that his contact, Spencer Oliver, or someone else at the DNC would agree to steer visiting politicians to women who could make their evenings pleasurable. After a couple of tries, Bailley was successful and managed to establish a contact who would, for a commission of course, steer politicians in the direction of Columbia Plaza and Cathy/Heidi’s women.

 

            Two things that are clear about John Dean is that he was quite ambitious – entitling his memoir Blind Ambition – and that he determined early on in his office in the White House that political intelligence, gathering and controlling it, was the way to rise in the Nixon administration. Although later he tried to minimize his efforts in this regard, it is fairly obvious that Dean repeatedly tried to get approval for political intelligence operations that would prove useful and would enhance his reputation. So, when Dean, who was “great friends” with Cathy/Heidi, learned of the DNC connection with Heidi Rikan’s business, he knew this would be, if tapped (couldn’t resist), a gold mine of political intelligence that could be used to compromise Democratic politicians, thereby advancing the power of Republicans and his own power. This was why he had Anthony Ulasewicz walk through the DNC headquarters, to assess the feasibility of bugging those offices in order to get damaging political intelligence on Democrats. That is, Dean knew what no one else knew, “that valuable intelligence information could be gleaned from the DNC.” It was opportunity an ambitious fellow like Dean would not pass up, especially as he had the personnel and the means to covertly enter the DNC and bug its phones and offices.

 

            The problem was – and it was or would become a big problem – that there was another agency that knew of and was taking an active interest in the call girl ring at Columbia Plaza, and that other agency was the CIA. For some time, the CIA had engaged in such clandestine spying in order to discover and record politicians in compromising situations. The CIA’ interests in this regard was two-fold: To draw up what it called “machines” or psychological profiles of politicians so it could predict what they would do and, perhaps, influence their doings as well. In fact, the CIA was involved in such clandestine activities with regard to the Columbia Plaza call girl ring, which included as “johns” some of the most prominent political and social persons in the D.C. area, including some judges and even a senator.

 

            Well, you can see the problem that Dean ran into. His operation to spy on the Democrats and the Columbia Plaza call girl ring could and probably would in all likelihood expose the CIA’s operation, which was of course illegal. Therefore, Dean’s operation had to be stopped, had to be undermined, which was made possible by the presence of at least two CIA assets working in the Nixon administration, E. Howard Hunt and James McCord, both of whom claimed to have left the CIA. But, of course, they hadn’t done that and by making “mistake” after “mistake,” making the burglary look like “a third-rate burglary,” as the Nixon people described it, the burglars were caught red-handed, as it were. And then with an assist from McCord, who wrote to Judge Sirica to say perjury had been and was being committed, the attempted cover-up failed and, eventually, Richard Nixon was forced to resign as the Watergate operation, an operation initiated by John Dean, was seen as part of a broader attack on America’s democracy. That this alleged attack on America’s democracy was subverted by the CIA acting secretly should lead one to question the conventional understanding of Watergate as a morality tale wherein democratic heroes from the Washington Post and elsewhere road to rescue of American democracy.

 

            In fact, if this was a morality tale, it was one where no one acted morally. John Dean’s attempt at a cover-up could be seen as his attempt to protect the honor or reputation of his love, Mo Biner, but of course that love and her honor didn’t stop him from undertaking a covert operation that, if exposed, would have compromised her reputation and honor as well, and all for the sake of satisfying his “blind ambition.” The CIA did not, unsurprisingly, act morally, as it gathered intelligence it could use to compromise politicians, thereby undermining democracy. Nor did Nixon and his administration act morally. Indeed, if Nixon had acted morally, that is, had he actually tried to discover what the burglary was about, and who was responsible, instead of covering it up, he would have saved his presidency and come out “smelling like a rose.” Nor did Nixon’s enemies act morally, as they proved willing to ignore aspects of the situation that would have lessened their animosity toward Nixon and compromised their desires to destroy him politically. But a morality play needs “good guys” and “bad guys,” and so Watergate continues to be seen through the eyes of those who were allegedly the “good guys.” And it is quite remarkable how many flaws get covered up by designating someone one of “good guys.”

Monday, April 25, 2022

Idle Questions: Modernity, Nihilistic Savagery

 

Idle Questions: Modernity

Peter Schultz

 

            Two idle questions: (1) What if in fact the United States does represent the peak of modernity? (2) But what if that peak proves to be a nihilistic savagery – disguised as “progress,” as “globalization,” as “the war on terror,” as “anti-Communism,” as “humanistic war-making,” or as “a new world order?”

 

            If so, then the savagery we see around us is not “aberrant behavior.” Rather, it lies at the heart of our “civilization,” “the Heart of Darkness.”

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Machiavelli: Learning Not To Be Good

 

Machiavelli: Learning Not To Be Good

Peter Schultz

 

            Machiavelli recommends that human beings should learn to be able not to be good. Most often, this is taken to mean that they should be “bad.” And, of course, there is some truth to that conclusion. But what of other alternatives, like being happy, being content with oneself, being successful?

 

            What Machiavelli is challenging is the aspiration to be good, and he implies that aspiring to be good is a common trait of human beings, so common that they have to learn to not aspire to goodness. So, it is useful to ask: how this aspiration might be criticized? What does aspiring to goodness produce? What does it produce practically and politically speaking?

 

            One possibility is that aspiring for goodness becomes, willy nilly, a sacrificial striving because humans, while they are disposed to want to be good, are not naturally disposed to being good. So, insofar as this is the case, such striving for goodness or moral virtue necessarily becomes sacrificial. Another possibility is that this striving, which is common to human beings, can be manipulated and used to control or rule over human beings, much as it could be argued that this is what Christianity did. The sacrificial striving for goodness becomes or became under the Christian dispensation the basis for what Nietzsche called “slave morality.” That is, the sacrificial striving for goodness is used to enslave the many for the benefit of the few, who are controlled by ambition, and do not strive to be good. They strive for, even lust after power, for rule, for conquest.

 

            And it is also possible that that phenomenon is not simply historical, that is, arose only with the rise of Christianity. It is possible that this phenomenon is common to political life, that it is a universal feature of political life. The few embrace and manipulate the sacrificial striving of the many to be good; they encourage the many to be good even as they provide opportunities for the many to be bad, as a way of controlling them, ruling them as they see fit. This is how the few, the ambitious few, the despotic few control and rule the many. Insofar as this is so, then the many should learn to be able not to be good to protect themselves and to establish a basis for republican government. It is only by means of such a consciousness – a self-regarding, non-sacrificial consciousness – that republican governments can be created and maintained. So, if the many don’t learn to be able not to be good, learn not to aspire to goodness, they will be abused and oppressed by the few. Learning not to be good, for Machiavelli, is the key to establishing republican or non-despotic governments.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Irony and The Human Condition

 

Irony and The Human Condition

Peter Schultz

 

            One problem with Jimmy Dore and some other political comics is that they aren’t ironic. Dore’s humor is like slapstick, that is, like a slap in the face as if intended to wake us up to what is going on. But there is also irony, another form of humor, and one employed by the likes of Plato, Aristotle, and even Machiavelli. It has been contended that each of these political philosophers embraced irony, and insofar as this is true, we may ask how irony illuminates the human condition.

 

            Pascal wrote in his Pensees that the political writings of Plato and Aristotle should be read as comedy, as irony because both knew that trying to reform the political world is like trying to bring order into a madhouse. That is, perhaps irony and its uses reflects the unredeemable character of the human condition. That is, irony is appropriate because attempts to politically redeem the human condition are bound to fail. It might even be said that irony is appropriate because of what may be called the nihilistic character of the human condition.  And one of the most common human thoughts, one of the most common human endeavors is to reform or redeem the human condition via politics. But what if any attempt to redeem the human condition politically is bound to fail? Or, even worse, what if any such attempt will, most often, make the human condition worse?  

 

            Playing with these ideas about irony, if we read Plato and Aristotle as recommended by Pascal, as ironical, then their political teachings may be characterized as warnings. For example, Plato’s Republic becomes a warning about the dangers of trying to politically redeem the human condition because it would involve such policies as arranging marriages by some mathematical formula – a formula no one has ever been able to make sense of – or communism among the guardians or even the rule of philosophers as kings. If Pascal is correct, Plato did not intend these recommendations seriously; rather, he intended them, and perhaps even intended Socrates himself, as pedagogical, as meant to illuminate the character of politics, of the political life.

 

            Reading Aristotle in the same ironical way, how likely is it that Aristotle seriously understood as true his first account of the origin of the polis, of political communities; an account that simply assumes that when men and women come together originally, they do so for the sake of marriage and procreation. This leads to households being formed, which include slaves whose origin is not revealed. The account is so simplistic, so ironical – I mean when I met a woman I found attractive, I wasn’t thinking about marriage and children – that it invites one to think about the origin of political communities in other ways. After all, Aristotle certainly understood that it wasn’t only men and women who come together intimately and that the coming together of “same sex” partners must be taken into account in forming any polis. And, of course, Aristotle’s best regime includes slavery of the unjust variety because, among other things, those who are justly held as slaves are worthless as helpmates.

 

            Even Machiavelli may be read this way, as ironical. When so read, it could seem that Machiavelli’s bold, shocking endorsements of cruelty, his “shock and awe” tactics, are warnings about the requirements of trying to politically redeem the human condition. They are pedagogical, meant to illuminate the character of politics, and not practical recommendations meant to be implemented. And the worth of his warnings may be said to be confirmed by the rise of “Machiavellians,” who because they think Machiavelli embraced inhuman cruelty, would have made Machiavelli chuckle and ask, “Are they nuts?” That Machiavelli was capable of such irony is made clear by his comedy La Mandragola.

 

So why irony? Because It both disguises and reveals. It disguises the nihilistic character of the human condition, thereby not being subversive of that most common of human endeavors, politics. Even if political life is like life in a madhouse, it is still necessary to make that madhouse as orderly, as humain as possible. But irony is also revealing; it reveals the nihilistic character of the human condition. That is, it reveals in a comedic way the emptiness, the madness of the political life. But this revelation is not open to all and because of the character of irony, this conclusion about the human condition can be and will be disputed.

 

Many, even most, don’t chuckle nearly enough when reading Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, to say nothing of his A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and his Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. There are not a few people who think that Twain genuinely admired Joan of Arc and thought her more than qualified for her sainthood, to say nothing of those who would make, on the basis of A Connecticut Yankee, Twain a supporter of what is now called “neo-liberalism.” And if you look at an institution like the British hereditary aristocracy ironically, you can’t help but chuckle at this attempt to paper over the nihilistic character of the human condition, as Twain did in A Connecticut Yankee. I would even say that people don’t chuckle nearly enough when reading Jane Austen, especially those who want to turn her into a modern-day feminist or a defender of what are called “traditional family values.” Austen chuckled and causes alert readers to chuckle at the “traditional family values” that underlay British society, to say nothing of its imperialism. She even made an anal sex joke about “admirals and rear admirals” in one of her novels [look it up].

 

Taking for granted momentarily the nihilistic character of the human condition and the limits of politics to overcome that character, what is the best option for humans? Well, here irony teaches us that best alternative is a kind of levity, a lightheartedness or, ala’ Jane Austen, genuine erotic attachments, in a word, romance or love. But whatever the case, the best options for humans are not available in politics, in the political arena, in a political life. And this seems to be a recurring theme running through the very best writers. I call it the “hedonistic alternative.” By this I mean that life should be looked at as a spiritual adventure, experienced in fellowship with other such adventurers, some of whom you may even be intimate with, even ala’ Jane Austen marry.

 

David Graeber, in his book Bullshit Jobs, points out that what he calls “playful sadomasochism” is superior to the kind of sadomasochism found in our corporate capitalism and its jobs because the playful sadomasochists have “safe words,” which of course are unavailable against your boss or the corporation you “work” for. Again, a private life devoted to pleasure seems superior to whatever is available in the public realm, whether that be the corporate world or the political world. But, as the long-running show, Seinfeld, illustrated so well, a private life is no guarantee against a narcissism that is, in the final analysis, quite despicable – as illustrated by the last episode of Seinfeld.

 

To conclude: Generally, the serious, the un-ironic may be dangerous human beings because, being un-ironic, they aren’t aware of their and our condition. They are not aware of the limitations of politics and seek to create “new world orders” of one kind or another. But irony recommends that we chuckle at them. As Tom Robbins put it in one of his novels: If only the Germans had been able to laugh at Hitler’s beer house rant and had pelted him with sausage skins, the holocaust might have been avoided. [Look it up.]


     

          

Thursday, February 24, 2022

The Conspiratorial Character of Political Life

 

The Conspiratorial Character of Political Life

Peter Schultz

 

            Here’s a question: Can American political life be understood without referring to conspiracies? A more general question is: Can political life itself be understood without reference to conspiracies? I think the answer to both questions is “No.” Conspiracies are central to political life in general and to American political life in particular.

 

            Regarding American political life, it cannot be understood without taking a conspiratorial view of, say, the assassination of JFK, as well as others. If that assassination was not the result of a conspiracy, i.e., was not planned for by persons for political purposes, then it was nothing more a random event, almost as if it were a traffic accident. And that’s how many Americans want to think about it. JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald, moving separately, ultimately met in Dallas, where they “ran into each other,” and JFK ended up dead. This is what “the lone gunman theory” of that crime meant and means. And it is a comforting theory, more comforting than if JFK was assassinated by the CIA, the Soviets, or Cubans who were protecting Castro from Kennedy’s attempts to have him assassinated. Such explanations are similar to those used to account for, say, the Vietnam War, which is said to have been “a quagmire” into which the US was dragged, almost against its will.

 

            One reason such explanations are popular is because we Americans don’t want to think that not only are conspiracies a permanent part of political life, but that they often control our political life. We prefer to think that our political life is controlled by laws, elections, Supreme Court decisions, and outstanding individuals, e.g., “great presidents.” To think that conspiracies are key to determining our political life would require us to rethink things we take for granted as “common sense” or “conventional wisdom.” This would be a major task; one most people have no desire to undertake. Hence, they are quite content to think of “conspiracy theorists” as delusional, paranoid persons who live in fantasy worlds of their own creation. But it could be that in fact it is the rest of us who are living in a fantasy world, although not of our own making.

 

            Aristotle wrote about political life as characterized by what he called “regimes.” That is, there are democratic regimes, oligarchic regimes, monarchical regimes, aristocratic regimes, and tyrannical regimes. These regimes are arrangements of power that reflect “the values” – as we say – of the most powerful. Democratic regimes rest on democratic values, values which are embraced by and motivate those who have them. So, democrats seek to maintain and fortify their democracy, and act in ways to accomplish that end. You may say that democrats will join together, act conspiratorially to maintain and fortify their democracy, whereas oligarchs will do the same. To see political life in terms of regimes is to see political life in terms of conspiracies. Machiavelli, famous as a conspiracy theorist, knew nothing about conspiracies that Aristotle didn’t know too. For both, conspiracies were the stuff of political life. Regimes can only be preserved or subverted by way of conspiracies, as Aristotle’s Politics and Machiavelli’s The Prince and The Discourses make clear.

 

            Most Americans don’t think about political life in terms of regimes, as did Aristotle. Even Machiavelli downplayed their importance, without ever downplaying the centrality of conspiracies in political life. This points to the differences between Aristotle’s political teaching and Machiavelli’s political teaching. Whereas political life was animated by conflicting ideas of justice for Aristotle, for Machiavelli political life was animated by psychological forces – as we say – by different types of human beings that are not best described in political terms. For Machiavelli, there are essentially the ambitious few and the insecure many, rather than there being democrats, oligarchs, aristocrats, or tyrants. Machiavelli redefined political life by minimizing or rejecting concerns about justice as central. Questions of justice and injustice are, for Machiavelli, ultimately irrelevant when understanding or constructing republics or princedoms. For Machiavelli, the best political order is not defined as the most just political order, as it was for Aristotle; rather it is the most secure, the most stable, the most prosperous, the most powerful, and the one that secures “the general welfare” and does so over time, “for ourselves and our posterity.”

 

            Despite these differences, however, Aristotle, like Machiavelli, saw political life as essentially conspiratorial. Democrats want a regime that is just as democrats understand justice, that is, as essentially egalitarian. But to achieve that goal, democrats join forces, conspiring against the oligarchs, the aristocrats, the monarchists, and the tyrants, while the latter are conspiring against the democrats. Appeals to justice are made. But the character of political life is not determined in the final analysis by such appeals. Rather, the character of political life, the character of any regime, is determined by conspiracies, i.e., covert and overt actions meant to secure and fortify the prevailing arrangements of power, whether democratic, oligarchic, aristocratic, monarchic, tyrannical. Because all arrangements of power are partial, all are unjust in some ways. Hence, all are unstable, even open to subversion. Democrats, oligarchs, aristocrats, monarchists, even tyrants must join forces, i.e., conspire to preserve their rule, their regime. And even the best regime, as Aristotle’s account of it in his Politics illustrates, would need to conspire to preserve itself.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Machiavelli, the Ancients, and Hedonism

 

Machiavelli, the Ancients, and Hedonism

Peter Schultz

 

            There is a very interesting paragraph in Harvey Mansfield, Jr.’s introduction to his and Nathan Tarcov’s translation of Machiavelli’s Discourses.

 

“To answer the question of why Machiavelli felt it necessary to change ancient virtue, we return to the criticism of Christianity in which he blames it for creating ‘ambitious idleness’ (DI, pr. 2) and for being interpreted according to leisure and not virtue (DII, 2.2). Idleness, or leisure (as ozio can also be translated), is the contrary of virtue in Machiavelli’s view. For Aristotle, leisure (schole) was the very condition of the virtuous. Machiavelli directs his venomous criticism of idleness against not only the priests but also the gentlemen (DI, 55.4), who were bearers of worldly honor according to the ancients. Thus, it is not enough to recover the honor of the world against Christian humility if honor is still be found in high-minded leisure. Leisure makes republics either effeminate or divided, or both: the idle or the leisurely are included among the enemies of the human race. Machiavelli puts necessity over leisure as the concern of the legislator. He wants men to seek that worldly honor – or, better to say, glory – that is consistent with vigorous devotion to answering one’s necessities. However much ancient virtue and Christian virtue are divided over worldly honor, they are together in their high-minded rejection of motives arising from necessity and, in general, of the acquisitive life.” [xxxv-xxxvi]

 

            There is a suggestion here that for Machiavelli, the ancients were too hedonistic as their embrace of the superiority of the leisurely life implies. For Aristotle, virtue is to be found in a life of leisure, not in a life of necessity, a life of acquisition, or a life devoted to the pursuit of glory. This implies that at least for the ancients, if not for Christians, pleasures such as contemplation define the peak of human potential. Gentlemen are not defined by lives of acquisition or by the pursuit of glory or fame, which is achieved through great political acts. And while gentlemen are not philosophers and so cannot enjoy the most intense pleasures available, their lives reflect the kind of life that is best, an essentially private life devoted to the enjoyment of the finer things of life, a life of “high-minded leisure.” For Machiavelli, such lives are effeminate, not manly, and, hence, are “among the enemies of the human race.” “Both [the ancients and Christianity] find the highest types – philosopher and saint – in one who puts the contemplative life over politics….” [xxxvi] In a material world, a world of matter, both of these arch types will prove to be dangerously weak, “and thus who could not be described as a ‘new prince,’ Machiavelli’s highest type.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Soulcraft and Politics Again

 

Soulcraft and Politics

Peter Schultz

 

            Machiavelli treats human beings as infinitely malleable; that is, not as ensouled. The status of the soul is the key, but oddly soulcraft isn’t what politics should be about because the political life corrupts the soul. Even in a way then moral virtue corrupts or enervates the soul, because moral virtue is the result of habituation and habituation flattens the soul.

 

            On the other hand, intellectual virtue doesn’t corrupt the soul, but the political life and intellectual virtue don’t fit together, at least not easily. Moderation isn’t an intellectual virtue but moderation is crucial politically and with regard to the moral virtues. Insofar as the peak of intellectual virtue is philosophy moderation isn’t such a virtue as philosophy is characterized by what might be called extremism, and not by moderation. In Plato’s Republic, Thrasymachus at the outset is an extremist, much like Callicles in another Platonic dialogue. But neither of them was a philosopher, although they might be called potential tyrants. Tyrants and potential tyrants, like philosophers, embrace extremism and are, as are philosophers dangerous , but in a different way. The most dangerous tyrants are those who pretend to be or are morally virtuous, their tyranny serving the cause of moral virtue, e.g., in the form of racial purity or racial supremacy.

 

            Both Machiavelli and the ancients reject the idea that politics is or should be about soulcraft, but for different reasons. Machiavelli not only rejects the idea that politics should be about soulcraft; he also rejects the idea that any human endeavor should be about soulcraft because humans are not ensouled. The soul is an illusion, so the best humans can hope for is to acquire fame, which is a kind of immortality, and the acquisition of fame requires that humans learn how to be able not to be good, as he said in The Prince.

 

It is pretty clear that the ancients would agree with Machiavelli regarding the way fame, human greatness is acquired. They would disagree, however, that this is the best humans can do. Because they are ensouled, humans can attain happiness when their souls flourish. And what causes souls to flourish are pleasures, both bodily and spiritual. There is a hierarchy of pleasures, the lowest being the bodily pleasures and the highest being contemplation of the highest things. In between, there are phenomena like play, that is, activities that are engaged in because they are pleasant and not for any ulterior motive, like fitness or wealth. When humans play, as when they contemplate the higher things like art or love, they are indulging their souls, not for the sake of improvement or re-creation, but for the sake of pleasure. Pleasure causes souls to flourish and perhaps the pleasant is the pleasant because our souls flourish as a result.

 

Although for very different reasons then, Machiavelli and the ancients agree that the political life isn’t about soulcraft. For Machiavelli, soulcraft is as illusionary as is the soul. For the ancients, the best to be hoped for is to live in political order that is open to, not opposed to soulcraft, understood as the flourishing of souls. The fate of Socrates should remind us that it is no mean task to create a political order open to “making our souls the best possible.”

Monday, February 21, 2022

CRT, Racism, and Slavery

 

CRT, Racism, and Slavery

Peter Schultz

 

            Oddly, even perhaps ironically, CRT, Critical Race Theory, disguises the race slavery that has existed and still exists in the United States, thereby helping to perpetuate it. How so? It does so by implicitly treating racism as “natural,” and not as the result of a freely chosen and maintained slave system, created and maintained, even now, for political, economic, and social  reasons.

 

            So, racism as a natural phenomenon is to be combatted, rooted up as it were, by “re-education,” i.e., without changing the political, economic, and social arrangements of power that exist in the United States. Hence, the agenda is: don’t have racial thoughts; take down Confederate and other statues; rename places and streets; have a “Black History Month;” don’t say “the N word.” But don’t do anything to dismantle the system, still a slave system, that exploits and oppresses blacks while allowing some of them to be successful, even to be, ala’ Obama, the head overseer of the slave system. Think “The Jeffersons,” moving on up to the sky, as if that emancipated them.

 

            But emancipation, genuine emancipation requires a redistribution of wealth and power in the United States. That is, it requires more than allowing some blacks entry into our elites. It requires creating middle class wealth and letting it “trickle up” to the wealthy, because “a rising tide lifts all boats.” This is the only way to destroy the US slave system, which is still visible in mass incarceration, black unemployment figures, and cruel acts like Bill Clinton, future president, going back to Arkansas during the 1992 presidential campaign to authorize the execution of a black man, a special needs black man at that. And when that slave system is destroyed by such redistributions of wealth and power, racism will disappear because racism is the result, not the cause of racial slavery. If you doubt this, look at nations without a history of racial slavery. As has been pointed out: “There are no black people in Africa!” By choosing slavery, we Americans chose and continue to choose racism. Unless our slave system is destroyed, efforts to eradicate racism will fail.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Politics as Soulcraft: Musings

 

Politics as Soulcraft: Musings

Peter Schultz

 

            Some, even many like to claim the high ground, so to speak, by asserting that politics is soulcraft. This means of course that their politics is high toned, refined, not concerned with the mundane and merely material. Yet such a claim is, at best, ambiguous and, at worst, dangerous.

 

            The idea of the soul points to the limits of the political. To say humans are ensouled is to say that they have a nature ordered toward certain ends, which is to say that they are not infinitely malleable. So, the soul both guides and limits politics, which is to say that soulcraft isn’t or shouldn’t be what politics is about. Of course, soulcraft does take place within a political context, within different regimes, as Aristotle would say; but it is ultimately not what politics is or should be about.

 

            The best regime – not to be confused with the “ideal” or “perfect” regime – is one that is open to soulcraft, allows for its possibility, but doesn’t engage in soulcrafting itself. A regime devoted to soulcraft would be repressive, even oppressive, because the means required would undermine, negate the end(s) sought, ala’ Plato’s Republic. The crafting of souls transcends, or should transcend politics, and should do so in ways that do not undermine the city or the polis. That Socrates could be condemned for corrupting the Athenian youth reveals the difficulty involved, the dangers faced by those who would engage in soulcrafting. But Plato’s Republic reveals the dangers of embracing politics as soulcrafting. Of the two dangers, it would seem that the latter is to be avoided at all costs as it leads to what can only be described as inhuman results. And the former danger, while real, seems more manageable, if not simply preventable.