Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Oliver Stone's Irony

 

Oliver Stone’s Irony

Peter Schultz

 

            Here’s an interesting sentence from Oliver Stone’s and Peter Kuznick’s The Untold History of the United States: “The election of Barack Hussein Obama, the child of a black Kenyan father and a white Kansan mother, who was raised in Indonesia as well as Hawai’i and went on to graduate from Columbia and become president of the Harvard Law Review, felt like a kind of expiation for the sins of a nation whose reputation had been sullied, as we have shown throughout this book, by racism, imperialism, militarism, nuclearism, environmental degradation, and unbridled avarice.” [549-550]

 

            This sentence is almost comical: the election of a biracial person, who attended Ivy League schools, and wasn’t raised in the continental United States, would expiate “the sins” that “sullied” the reputation of the United States. This one sentence reveals several of the myths that Americans cling to in order to remain believers in “American exceptionalism.” There’s the myth of exoticism, as if a biracial person would somehow have qualities that simply white or black people don’t’ have. There’s the myth that the United States committed “sins” that need “expiation” because they “sullied” the US’s “reputation; and not that these “sins” reveal that the United States is a deeply flawed, even sadistic nation, a nation so deeply flawed that the election of one man to fill one office could never redeem it. There’s the myth that our highest educational institutions, like Ivy League schools, impart a superior education and not an education geared to indoctrinating the future elites who will be committed to maintaining their own status and, thereby, the status quo, because for them “the American dream” isn’t the nightmare it is for a lot of other people. But as George Carlin use to say: “It’s called ‘the American dream’ because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

 

            “The suffering caused by misguided US policies had been immense. For many, Obama’s election offered redemption.” [550] Wow! So, US policies were “misguided,” the product of well-intentioned but definitely not sadistic or savage elites. And Obama would provide “redemption” for we Americans, thereby proving just how “exceptional” we Americans are. As Stone and Kuznick put it: “It attested to the other side of America;” that is, to the side that allows us Americans to go on thinking we are “the indispensable nation,” an “exceptional nation,” unlike any other. “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you!” There were those who believed that the election of Obama expiated, or erased centuries of slavery, genocide, savagery, imperialism, militarism, and unbridled greed. And, so, they also believed those “sins” weren’t revelatory of the kind of nation America was and is. It wasn’t only Trump who wanted “to make America great again.”

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Regime Poltiics, Modern Politics

 

Regime Politics, Modern Politics

Peter Schultz

 

            Let me begin with the assertion that modernity began as an attempt to replace regimes with governments. Regime politics, as Machiavelli makes crystal clear, require or facilitate what Machiavelli called “inhuman cruelty.” Regimes, which are dedicated to seeking domination, depend upon such cruelty. But while Machiavelli called attention to this phenomenon, he rejected such politics, seeking to replace regimes with “states,” or “nation-states” that would be “governed,” that is, managed by administrators or officials rather than ruled by leaders or groups who sought domination. The virtues or commitments required to create such regimes would be replaced by bourgeois virtues, by “law and order,” by “limited government,” “a government of laws, not of men,” and generally virtue would come to be understood as “civility,” as in asserting one’s “civil rights,” preferably in courts of law.

 

            “For forms of government, let fools contest; that which is best administered is best.” So claimed Alexander Pope, as quoted in the Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton. Regime politics, that is, democratic politics, oligarchic politics, aristocratic politics, and monarchical politics all seek to politicize psyches or souls, to penetrate psyches or souls; whereas governments seek to merely administer or manage human beings, primarily by way of institutional arrangements that deflect or channel the passions, especially the passion to dominate, that characterize politicized human beings.

 

            The Third Reich wasn’t a modern phenomenon; it was an attempt at politicizing Germany, Europe, and even the world. It was illustrative of regime politics, being fed by the desire to dominate, a domination fueled by racial supremacy. To the extent that the United States is controlled by what may be called “a triumphant nationalism,” it too seeks to dominate the world by penetrating psyches or souls, by “winning hearts and minds,” as the current jargon puts it. “American exceptionalism” is merely a justification for US domination, for making America great. And like the Third Reich, the desire to dominate has led to a holocaust, to mass murder at least since the end of World War II and since 9/11. The US holocaust isn’t fueled by a desire for racial purity as was the Third Reich. But it is fueled by a desire for supremacy which, whether “white” or “multi-colored,” has led to the current American sponsored holocaust.

 

            What to do? I don’t know. But what I do know is that we cannot go back to the Machiavellian option, or to the Enlightenment or “early modern” option. Government as administration has been overwhelmed by politicization, which insofar as Aristotle was correct in characterizing human beings as political animals shouldn’t be surprising. Insofar as “the fundamental things apply” – still – we need to accept that there is “no way out” of a political, a politicized world. In such a situation, the goal should not be greatness but rather goodness, a goal fueled not by the desire to dominate but rather by the desire not to do harm. As Socrates recommended and practiced, avoid being unjust, of doing injustice, insofar as possible. Be good; do no harm. For “the road to hell is paved with great intentions.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

My Fear

 

My Fear

Peter Schultz

 

            My fear: We won WW II, obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, won the Cold War, took out terrorism, and yet we have sacrificed our humanity.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Blaise Pascal: Again

 

Blaise Pascal: Again

Peter Schultz

 

 

 

            It seems to me necessary to dwell on Pascal’s take on the political writings of Plato and Aristotle in order to remind ourselves that the political life may be characterized as madness. While reading a book by Douglas Valentine entitled The Phoenix Program, I have been reminded just how insane political life is. But the madness, the insanity is almost invisible insofar as those who were engaged in waging war in Vietnam appear to be thoughtful, rational, and anything but mad. They have plans, apparently well-thought-out plans, like what came to know as the Phoenix Program. And often they are well educated people, graduates of Ivy League universities like Yale University or Harvard University. And these people think of themselves as well-intentioned, not as people who are doing insane things, things that are savage and inhuman. So, just as Plato and Aristotle were “talking [to people] who believed themselves to kings and emperors,” we too should realize that while kings and emperors are no longer the main actors in our political dramas these days, our politicians and bureaucrats do believe themselves to be rational, humane, and sane human beings seeking the good for humanity. And, so, we too should seek “to calm down their madness” so that they produce as little harm as possible. But this is a view of politics that we Americans will find not only na├»ve but even insane. Think about it though: Wouldn’t we better off trying to reduce the harm caused by our leaders rather than trying to empower and embolden them to, say, “Make America Great Again?” Might be worth a try.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The Human Problem

 

The Human Problem

Peter Schultz

 

            Let us say that the human problem is beastliness or inhumanity. That is, beastliness or inhumanity aren’t aberrations. They are, so to speak, the default position for humanity.

 

            Insofar as this is so, then Aristotle’s account of the rise of the polis in Book I of his Politics obscures this problem. Humans are not constructed, not pointed toward the humanity and refinement of the polis, as Aristotle argues. And The Politics needs to be read with this in mind – as Pascal argued regarding Plato and Aristotle. How seriously is Aristotle’s Politics to be taken? Or how seriously is politics to be taken? The same argument could be made about Aristotle’s Ethics – how seriously are his Ethics, or ethics generally, to be taken?

 

            Politics may be “as good as it gets,” but how good is that? Perhaps political leaders aren’t “stentorian baboons” but what exactly are they? Are they all potential tyrants? If so, this would be a massive fact or a fact with massive implications. If so, it would mean that politics or political life moves toward tyranny spontaneously. And, if so, then those who embrace the political life are, as Aristotle put it, “sick” or delusional insofar as they believe they are seeking the good as in the common good. Rather, like Lincoln’s description of members of the tribe of the lion, they’re seeking fame, immortality, seeking to be god-like. They are truly sick because they can’t be gods or god-like.

 

            So, what then is the highest humans can attain, the best they can be, if being the greatest politically is sick or delusional? What isn’t delusional for humans? How about the pursuit and appreciation of the greatest unalloyed pleasures, pleasures conferred by the beautiful? And, if so, how is beauty to be accessed? Through virtue, moral or intellectual? Or through some kind of inspiration? Who, i.e., which human types are open to inspiration? The morally virtuous, the dutiful? Seems doubtful. What of the artistic, the poetic, the creative types? Seems likely.

 

            Are philosophers creative types? Are they inspired? Were Plato and Aristotle inspired? Was Machiavelli? Is philosophy best understood as a kind of inspiration? If so, are “Athens and Jerusalem” opposites? Are they enemies?

 

            Note well how far we’ve risen above the beastliness and inhumanity said to be the default position of humanity. Buried within or circling above human beastliness and inhumanity is beauty, waiting as it were to be discovered or uncovered, which will only happen using our imagination, for example in imagining the best regime. Some of what can be imagined, the best of what can be imagined, isn’t imaginary at all. It might be rare, but it is nonetheless invaluable.