my splicetoday column this week is so good, so right, so true. or is it?
i was quite a bit angrier by sunday (splicetoday). i've been quite inspired by the protests. it may take a bit to catch my politics, if you're fresh caught, i realize. it is coherent, though? or at least as coherent as most, anyway.
Right, I'm in the Wall Street Journal today. The schtick will be familiar to readers of this blog, or really my opinion stuff since I started: will you people please talk like human beings? It's the reason I had to struggle to prove the existence of Al Gore, and tragically failed. Now, I want to say that I wrote that before the immigration order, and I would have difficulty writing right now with quite that airy tone. I'll show that in splicetoday any minute.
i think that this piece by roger cohen is one of the most irresponsible op-ed columns i have ever read: a symptom of the fact that trump has made people like cohen into evil idiots, or sort of images of himself. really look at that thing: it makes trump a racial suprematist gearing up for ethnic cleansing, a nazi. it predicts the apocalypse: like a ridiculous, insane panic, a crazy series of macarthyite libels with no evidence: just a real cognitive and moral and journalistic failure. i would never have someone of that calibre on my opinion page. and also, if y'all keep jacking up the hysteria, not bothering with any evidence etc, you'll help bring the brewing civil war.
i'd like to congratulate the washington post on this piece by jenna johnson, who followed trump around all year for them. i do not believe that the nytimes would have been able to do a story like that without sneering continually. i have not felt this in previous cycles, but i think the times's news coverage became profoundly slanted this year, which really discredits the whole operation. the moral urgency of defeating trump swamped their professionalism, their rationality, and their decency. but it is hard to escape the universal attitudes of one's demographic.
the new york times made it impossible for themselves to tell the story of this election, because they dehumanized trump supporters, treated them as monsters or animals or cretins. because the times couldn't tell their story, it couldn't tell the story. for the times, the distinction between the urban bourgeoisie and people living in rural or small-town america looms as a distinction between species. however, i'm not sure which is actually sub-human. but at any rate, one effect of this was to richly confirm exactly what trump was saying about the media, and what people like his supporters have said about the 'elite media' for many years. they became what trump said they were in their opposition to him.
and not only did they confirm that, they confirmed that there is half a nation that they find incomprehensible, or who must be controlled and fixed somehow (maybe the nea can help), or just superseded and excluded. that is, they confirmed the whole picture of the united states as depicted by, say, sarah palin: there is an elite, characterized by a perfect-sat style of mechanical pseudo-intellection, and they want to control us and fix us. and they are no better than us, actually. they certainly more than confirmed that last bit too.
i do know that the times's opinion operation this year was disgusting. i'd single out charles blow and timothy egan as the worst offenders: mechanical, repetitive, thoughtless, and manipulative. what's most pathetic is that the whole thing appeared to be a continual effort to convince times readers not to vote for trump. but times readers obviously were never going to vote for trump. they were talking about trump and his supporters, but only to themselves. they appeared to be arguing with opponents, but in fact the whole discourse was mere group formation and self-congratulation: an attempt to reinforce group cohesion by having a common enemy (=half the nation). like limbaugh or whomever: exactly like that. unlike limbaugh, they did it without flair, like the whole cohort was saying the same sentences in unison, none of which they wrote themselves.
this divide, i predict, is going to grow ever-more extreme, in part precisely because of the constellation of attitudes the times represents and codifies. i think it is likely to eventuate in various forms of violence as well as in a continually useless political system, because the vilification flowing both ways has reached hysterical proportions. the folks out here don't see how someone like timothy egan can be part of the same culture or nation as themselves, nor does timothy egan want to be. nor is he, really. this election was the end of the beginning, not the end, of the crazed partisanship that just might end the united states of america. we will not be coming together. the average guy out here in rural pa is a pretty good guy, actually, but he does not regard himself as belonging to the same nation as people like egan any more than the other way round. and honestly, while i don't share that pretty good guy's politics (well, any more than i do egan's), i'm sticking wherever people like egan, or indeed all the professors of america as well as the bankers, aren't.
i am tempted to wish trump on them; it is less than they deserve.
here's the splicetoday piece on the debate, or rather, turning to what happens next. the hillary admin is really really going to be long and scandal-ridden. i think that, from the periphery, trump/breitbart will continue to present the republican party with an extreme dilemma. he will relentlessly seek to delegitimize her; republicans in congress will waver continuously, but begin to go hyper-aggressive on investigations etc. hillary will go all hardball on her critics, and a scandal war will erupt. etc. dude this is really going to suck.
[near spring grove, pa. photo by jane sartwell]
so here i am in splicetoday, with the piece about the apartheid imposed on our heads and in the real world by demographics, polling, political consultancy, and so on. the basic use of demographic 'data' in politics is to find strategies to make groups more cohesive, more insular, and more hostile to other groups and their politicians. the politicians, meanwhile, are becoming little but representatives or stereotypes of group memberships. also, the two-party system is shifting under this influence from an ideological competition, albeit of remarkable narrowness, to gender/race parties. in my opinion, these divisions are very likely to increase even more, because they are working on it technologically, as it were. and also, what the hell: the 'science' under the data is grotesquely problematic and consists more or less entirely of the deployment of stereotypes. also, its general relation to reality is ridiculously problematic. anyway, i kind of think this is an important point! share the splice column here and there?
i guess i think one reason this has happened is because you have a critical mass of profs/pollsters/pundits/pols who have gone to college since the 1980s. the whole period in academia has been waves of identity politics. now, that kind of pomo moment could have gone many ways, circa 1990. if you thought of identities as 'social constructions' or artifacts of power a la foucault, for example, you had equipment to throw racial and gender identities into chaos, or open them up, or show them as liquid over time in many dimensions: "anti-essentialism' in feminism or critical race theory. instead we ended up essentializing and freezing identities, in an attempt to get justice for those that had them on the oppressed end. a breathtaking example of that is the way people have come to think of gay/straight or trans/cis: something you're born with, your very essence, your very identity, and something that can never shift.
i was working on race in the mid-90s in a way that had a definite identity-politics component. but what i wanted the upshot to be was to try to unfreeze the race binary, or to show the ways it was extremely optional and...not true. i actually think the right approach is neither to relentlessly emphasize the group identities a la 2016 politics not to relentlessly attack them. i think we should play with them and let them flow.
spliced, urging us all to let trump yap. also, i don't see anything particularly wrong with jr's skittle remark. also that was surprising how trump reacted to the shooting in tulsa. p.s., this is what it's come to; charles blow in an 'op-ed column': "This election is quite literally about the future, all of our and our children’s and their children’s futures." let me be clear: the future quite literally hasn't happened yet
this is just pathetic, but it's also characteristic of a whole demographic's response to trump. watch brooks really really struggle to formulate anything, then offer a 'diagnosis' in an deeply serious way: 'it's a condition.' what is the condition? it's following from one concept to another, or something. these people are showing themselves to be incredibly, literally stupid: they can't follow sarcasm, irony, hyperbole, or any sort of verbal play. they have no hermeneutic ability: they can't interpret words. they are our 'elite': they've been linguistically trained and anything that isn't a mechanical repetition of cliches and catch-phrases seems literally insane. tone of voice and triple entendres are not standardized-testable, hence they do not exist. our elites are unbelievably dull, and i think we live in an upside-down meritocracy.
the response to trump on the khans is universal condemnation. and it takes this form: you can't say that! you can't say that. you can't say that. what people don't understand is that for let's say a third of the country the fact that someone says what 'can't' be said according to all schoolmarms, left and right, is itself a qualification. the pall of boring repetitiveness, universally agreed-on formulae; the ban on a million locutions and ideas, the prohibition on talking like a human being in public, is an actual problem.
now each thing that trump does along these lines is a 'turning point,' the moment it went too far. not yet, i think! the ny times columnar staff is working itself up into a unanimous tizzy, day after day; it will prove hard to sustain. but the russia connection could end up being fatal. on the other hand, i think a fund-raising scandal could vitiate clinton at any time; i would look to come through terry mcauliffe, to take one angle.
offhand, i'm going to say that this is the worst op-ed column ever written: opinion journalism after the end. i think new york times op-ed columnists like bruni are also focus-grouping both their views and their phrases and have conceived their task to be exactly that of the clintonian politician: manipulating people to agree with them. in this case, they're manipulating people who already agree with them to agree with them; that seriously seems to be how the times' opinion operation conceives its mission. it's devoted to enhancing its readers' self-esteem by enhancing the self-esteem of its staff. they speak with the collective, contentless voice of a certain class or demographic, chanting incantations in unison. or they've just been annexed by political consultants. there used to be fierce, independent voices in a lot of newspapers.
i think 'frank bruni' is the nom de rien of the same software that writes katy perry's lyrics.
i'm spliced today, on the political parties as a swirly, supercool system of two black holes. they will stretch you out like laffy taffy and then crush you as though you were crispin sartwell's ego.
i think when paul ryan says, roughly, that donald trump is a racist, and i (paul ryan) support him, he needs to gaze at himself in a mirror for several days and ponder what he has become and how. moral black holes, i tell you.
it's worth saying every so often - though it never seems to help at all - that we have no idea what we're talking about when we're talking about race. 'mexican' is not a race, and even back in the day when people such as, say, carleton coon (actually, my great step-uncle by marriage or something) were enumerating races, 'latino' or 'hispanic' were definitely not among them. well, the child of a black person and white person in the usa is a black person; black/white is also conceptually indefensible; these are political/economic categories all the way down, and they could disappear. anyway, brazil is a multi-racial society, or cuba, right? or they would be if there were such things as races. they don't speak spanish in brazil. a lot of mexican folks look very 'indigenous' to me. watching the copa america, all the teams seem to have multiple colors (except perhaps haiti and jamaica).
so maybe the categories are important or something, or could be positive in some uses or in some respects. but i really do think that it's a serious problem that the terms are just meaningless but that we're obsessed with them anyway, on both ends of the political spectrum. or we're organizing the real world around them like we still believe in fairies. seems like if you realized there are no demons, you'd stop performing exorcisms. i think when you realize you're talking nonsense, you should try to talk differently.
this applies at least to some extent even if races are "mere" social constructions and not biological or genetic categories. first of all, the genetics was part of the social construction: we were supposed to biologically different. and second, we can't even coherently state the content of the social construction 'hispanic' qua race. we seem to know what we mean, we feel like we mean something. alright, then what do we mean, exactly? skin tones, hair colors, language groups, nationalities, hemispheric regions (of current residence or of [some of] your ancestry), cultural identifications, even economic statuses (statusae? stati?) and religions: they're all scumbled up in our alleged minds.
geez, when i tried to pitch a piece to the new york times with the headline what o.j. simpson taught me about being black, they rejected it, then turned around and gave it to mcwhorter. but really everything i know about being black i got from o.j.
if the nytimes editorial board had the guts to represent their own political convictions in public, they would have endorsed sanders and paul, not clinton and kasich. and why in the world, how in the world, have we reached the point at which the editorial board of the new york times doesn't have the courage to represent their actual political convictions in public? i think we've reached the pretty pass at which the editorial board of the new york times operates exactly like the politicians they cover: carefully calibrating polling, pitch, message, frame, making fine alleged differences in electability into serious reasons to keep the economy in the hands of citibank.
first, we might ask about what the newspaper biz has become. really, the shit is sad. but second, so many people are operating on this level: so many people feel it to be impossible, for example, to vote anything like their convictions, or anything that is not directly opposed to their convictions, as though (a) voting was a terrible moral dilemma, which justifies me always in (b) making a horrendously wrong decision by my own lights.
and then, perhaps you seem to yourself to have some vague commitment to democracy. well, you might want to refresh your appreciation of what that is: oh go back to mill's on liberty or dewey's democracy and education: now feed in to that a situation in which the press and very many members of the public simply will not act in public according to their own convictions, if they perceive those convictions as shared by only 49% of the population. or try to get that democracy thing to comport with the paradigm of strategic communications, where speaking the truth or speaking sincerely are held to be impossible or worthless projects, while controlling other people's behavior is conceived as the only goal of human communication. now we know what love is!
when they asked who they should endorse among the republicans - always an afterthought, of course - they thought to themselves and one another: which of the establishment-track candidates has the best chance of consolidating support and fighting off trump? then they looked at new hampshire poll numbers, endorsements from new england papers, etc. so first off, you might wonder why the nytimes is concerned to preserve the republican establishment at all costs. and then, you might ask yourself how things like that can be more important to, like, opinion journalists, than positions on nsa, mass incarceration, race, syria. really, i want y'all to look in the mirror and understand fully what you've become. if you're comfortable with it in and on reflection, i'm comfortable blogging about it.
how safe do you actually have to play this shit? what are you actually scared of?
i finally figured out what's up with the nytimes opinion section: courageously, counter-intuitively, they always go for max boredom. their goal, every time out, is to be literally dead center of the mainstream. they have noblest ambition of all, to make no difference whatever. what guides their editorials and their selection of op-ed columnists and contributors: an extreme desire for total safety, a profound commitment to not making any mistakes, a bold flight from bold opinions. really as they meet to decide on an endorsement, for example, you can see them asking one question above all: who is the safest choice for us? their range from egan or whatever on the left to brooks or douthat on the right is about a millimeter wide.
truly, were i operating an opinion page with the prestige of the times's, i would regard that as a license to continuous free-wheeling boldness. they view it as an unprecedented opportunity to be extremely extremely careful.
ross douthat: sanders is "arguably technically further to the left than trump is to the right." it seems to me like it would be hard to throw this shit around all day, as people do, without reflecting that you yourself have no idea what you could possibly mean. it doesn't seem to give even really smart people pause that the whole thing makes no sense, which is a real problem in this case, because it leads to unmeaning assertions. you can see that even douthat knows there's something wrong: "arguably technically": why not about seventeen other qualifiers?
not to get technical and shit, but just what sort of facts would be determinative in this matter? what would go to show that sanders is further to the left than trump is to the right? for decades, people have been arguing about who's left and right, or whether bill clinton or tony blair are on the left, etc. everyone who has a position somewhere along the spectrum (has an internally inconsistent position and) sees the whole line from their little point: everything to the left of their point is on the left, everything on the right is to the right, so it all depends on who's talking. but then, there is no line. also, even if there was, i don't really give a shit where any person is on it. those aren't the issues i'm worried about, and they concern social positioning rather than any substantive characterization of positions.
like i really, really don't see how people keep talking this way without quite becoming aware of their absolute inability to clarify the basic terms of their political structure. this inability issues not from their intellectual limitations but from the fact that the underlying concepts are inarguably technically gobbledygook.
Mass Shootings and Original Sin
By Crispin Sartwell
Responses to mass shootings, in the media or around the television or water cooler, long ago became merely routinized. People try, for example, to feed the latest event - from whatever particular angle it comes - into their political processors, after which they produce the same sentences over and over, each time around. They seem to think it is terribly important to find the right single word: is it 'terrorism' or 'murder'?
This is one way that we try to grapple with apparent incomprehensibility, the excess, the extremity, the seemingly inhuman in the human body, the unsayable or unfaceable, the opacity to us of things apparently so very much like ourselves.
It's an understandable response, even a necessary one. It allows us to take something that might seem impossible or debilitating or even wrong to assimilate and gives us somewhere to put it, a way to set it aside in its particularity and embed it in general categories or principles which we can grasp and affirm and communicate. But it's also a way of falsifying the real event, of failing to face it and experience it. Well, sometimes we need our cowardice.
But perhaps before we turn on a dime and renew our commitment once again to more surveillance or fewer guns, before we lob the event effortlessly into its pigeon-hole, we should try to live for a moment in the incomprehensibility, in the explosion of the event itself. The incomprehensibility of what happened in San Bernadino, for example, is important. It's scary not to understand it, but it's even scarier to understand it.
To say that an event like that is incomprehensible is, among other things, to disavow it, to say 'I would never do that.' Nonetheless, even if it seems strategic, I myself feel this incomprehensibility; I rarely write about mass shootings anymore because I don't know what to say. We need distance from the perpetrators to assure ourselves and one another that we are not just about to tip suddenly into violence directed randomly at the people around us.
In lieu of an explanation, then, an observation: we suck. I really do believe that in many dimensions human beings - and by this I mean myself as well as you - are irremediably flawed. Though I am an atheist, I feel the power of the doctrine of original sin: a seed of depravity or destruction inherent in all of us, inherent in myself.
When Christians such as Augustine or Jonathan Edwards asserted the doctrine of original sin, they had to grapple with the mystery of why a good God would create fundamentally depraved creatures or suffer them to exist. This is another way of saying that our hearts are incomprehensible to ourselves. We don't even know what we ourselves might do. And, in agreement with Augustine and Edwards, I don't think a treatment for this condition can come from pretending to be exempt from it, or pretending that we can leave it behind through policies or progress.
A treatment for our inherent evil could only begin by really knowing this about ourselves, knowing that we ourselves are irremediably flawed, that we ourselves are the sorts of things that are capable of killing, for almost any reason or for no reason at all.
Now, to produce a secular version of original sin, we'd have to generate some sort of naturalistic explanation. Perhaps it's a random mutation gone horribly awry. Evolution has produced, for examples, creatures with allergies and without eyes in the back of their heads. It's compatible with a lot of what we might tend to think of as mistakes. At any rate, it is pointedly indifferent to our moral aspirations for ourselves.
Counter-productive or gratuitous violence and rage varies historically in its objects and its forms. It might be a giant bureaucracy organized for genocide or a cult of human sacrifice or an outbreak of mass shootings, but as long as there have been human beings, we have been like that.
Anyway, that's no explanation, more of a feeling. But what I do want to say is: this is what we really are.
Crispin Sartwell teaches philosophy at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. His latest book is How to Escape, a collection of essays.
[piece i couldn't sell]
thought i might put up a few old op-eds, and then maybe i'll try to do some of the rock criticism too. this is from the philly inquirer, i'm going to say '96: let us together with confidence place our future on the broad shoulders of headless human clones
andrew sullivan is quitting the dish, and ana marie cox (the delightful original wonkette) is basically declaring the blog over as a medium, or whatever 'the blog' may be. i guess i started blogging - right here - around when they did or shortly after (2004). now first of all, burnout is legit. when i started blogging, i was getting tired of writing a weekly op-ed column, and really after i started blogging i realized i wanted to quit that gig, even if i also wanted back on the op-ed page from time to time. i've often taken a month or six weeks off without notice, although at other times i'm posting like mad.
but i've got to say: i fucking love the form, alright? for many reasons. i am a much better writer now, i believe, because i've written however many hundreds of thousands of words for 'publication'; some blog entries i've refined dozens of times. i publish, revise, and then publish again, the perfect cure for the problem of suddenly seeing a piece in print and so seeing it from a different or outside angle, and wanting and being unable to fix it. genres like the 700-word op-ed or the academic book or a twitter feed have some rigid parameters; a blog entry can take any length, any form; it is improvisational or jazz publishing. i poach it all the time for academic or opinion-journalist-type writings. i just love it as a place and way to write.
and also...it is an autonomous press that i control completely. there is something to be said for good professional editing (john timpane at the philly inquirer and i worked on a couple of hundred pieces together, i think), and something to be said against bad professional editing (naming no names). but there is a lot to be said for the unexpurgated individual human voice that knows it will not be edited except by the person who emits it. and that is what i think a blog ought to be, even if there are several voices on a blog, you old crusader. i published an underground newspaper starting in 7th grade, which was not unique in my era. my heroes william lloyd garrison (the liberator), josiah warren (the peaceful revolutionist), and emma goldman (mother earth) figured out how to make a free space for their voices, to tiny or big audiences. they had to figure out how to print it themselves. i see the blog as a continuation of that. i've said many, many things here that i could not say at the daily beast or huffpost.
andrew sullivan and ana marie cox were great bloggers at times. but they literally sold out the blog, if i may say so. cox's thing is that there are better ways to make money as a writer. on the other hand i have never myself sold advertising or done anything but pay to blog. i respect professional writers, coming from long lines of them, and i realize i have a nice position as an academic from which to do this (which is not to say i ain't broke). but cox and sullivan wanted to blog for someone; embed their blogs in the atlantic or the guardian or whatever. others were always calculating how to get the largest audiences and thus a good flow of advertising.
they sold their blogs, ok? it's not the worst thing, but maybe that's when they stopped blogging and just became staff writers or wheeler-dealers, with a comments section and a time posted, etc: the accessories but not the essence. this was a pretty straightforward choice for them, because they are people of relatively mainstream views who aspired to the biggest possible audiences. but there are plenty of bloggers for whom that wouldn't be an option, one way or another.
for years i just argued that there were no blogs on the nyt's opinion page, no matter how they were presenting stanley fish or whomever; they just called a column a blog, basically just edited it the same way, and so on. i'm not going to put any weight on the 'real' meaning of the term, but let's say the blog got co-opted and then died. that is ok, because post-collapse it might again become a space of eccentric voices with small audiences; it never stopped being that too: a verson of the diy zine. and it will remain one of the possibilities. at any rate, i've got no plans to stop.
boy they are crucifying chris hughes on this tnr thing. i don't doubt that he is annoying, and you might understand that no writerly person can listen to phrases like 'vertically integrated' without wanting to poke someone in the eye. but i want to speculate that chris hughes may also be tired of the ideology that the staff represented, albeit ably considering what they had to work with. the new republic has had a number of phases of real controversy and wild debate, but i would say that over the last decade it has sunk into a basically uniform, unbelievably tired, american liberalism. this has gotten so repetitive; it so lacks any sort of imagination; it answers every problem with a bureaucracy; it basically hasn't changed since about 1932.
i hope someone like chris hughes quickly reached the point where he was just, 'am i reading that again in my own magazine? oh man that is some tired shit. why would anyone want to click on that?' the left has just got to re-think. there just can't be more more more paul krugman and hedrik hertzberg and michael tomasky, e.g.: miserable elitists and hyper-enthusiastic oppressors in the name of human liberation. there are so many things a left could be besides state state state, so many people it could encompass besides people who are simultaneously proponents of equality and extreme hierarchy, and who express their position with rigid self-righteousness and really unbelievable repetitiveness. it can't inspire anyone anymore to do anything.
and the new republic sank into the opinion-journalism mode of the moment. they present stuff as though it was propaganda: emphasizing all facts that help and none that don't, along with a constant rhetorical pounding of the same sentences and ideas. but however, their audience is 100% people who already agree with them, so whose responses are they trying to control? obviously rush limbaugh or glenn beck do the same: it's like they are desperate to persuade people who are already persuaded, desperate for the manipulated agreement of people who already agree. it's as though they are trying to utterly expunge their opponents in a debate, but their opponents aren't even there, and the only effect is to make their audience ever-more self-righteous and less self-reflective. on both sides, killing the other side is just a performance for themselves, designed so that everyone can feel superior together. why is that a worthwhile project?
this webchat with zizek shows various things about him that i like and various things that i don't like so much. so first of all, i like that there's a philosopher doing a webchat at the guardian, and in general how free-wheelingly and frequently zizek writes about contemporary issues in the day-by-day media. at least a philosopher exists in that space, and he is quite the swashbuckler, either doing high-end history or philosophy or metaphysics, or writing columns on the economy. i think he writes boldly and relatively clearly in english for a continental killer. we need more folks who do all those things; these are things i would like to do and be.
now, on the very other hand, i would prefer almost anyone to hegel, marx, and lacan as figures to push into the future. i think he constantly constantly flirts with totalitarian communism, and always withdraws the most achingly disastrous conclusions. but he's always opposed to any sort of anarchism, and that's one of many things that lead one to think that, like everyone else, he's got the same old giant leftist state coming at you. the totalitarianism takes care of itself after that, btw.
indeed, most of the questions in the chat are political, and really several of them have that quite bizarre marxist-scholastic tone of like soviet apparatchiks. i guess in the back of my mind i figured that there were still people like that, but lord.
but zizek in response is typically both playful and always slightly fudging at the pivot points. it's awfully hard to know how seriously to take him at any given moment, and i think he's quite a bit more improvisational and probably ultimately more unpredictable than people usually give him credit for. these are good things to blow into the academy at this time.
and who should set immigration policy? how about sheldon adelson, bill gates, and warren buffett.i do think the latter two set policy in the obama administration to a very great extent. even people who seem like they should be anti-capitalist or something regard them as having tremendous credibility (=$$$) and benevolence.
at the very same time as the dems are listening to the richest people in the world as to actual policy, they're squawking about inequality. now also, i would just mention to anyone who might be editing the opinion page of the new york times that you just published a horrendous parody of english prose cobbled together by three staffs.
here's a slice:
A “talented graduate” reform was included in a bill that the Senate approved last year by a 68-to-32 vote. It would remove the worldwide cap on the number of visas that could be awarded to legal immigrants who had earned a graduate degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics from an accredited institution of higher education in the United States, provided they had an offer of employment.
another way to put this: send us your bourgeoisie. meanwhile we must crack down on, say, starving children, whom nobody wants whatsoever. one measures the value of human beings in cubicle productivity, which might also have a bit of a eugenic element: who do we want to add to the gene pool? probably we should have recruiters rolling around the world offering citizenship to people based on standardized test scores.
not to undercut my own attempts to sell it something, but i have gone very off the nytimes op-ed page. it would be hard to imagine a more superficial, repetitive, predictable discourse. one convention is that everything you write about has to show something pseudo-profound about where the whole culture is going etc. today's piece by david brooks about isaiah berlin and anna akhmatova is perhaps itself supposed to be an ecstatic tribute to poetic profundity or something. instead brooks tries to describe excellent and deep writers with flat, blank cliche-peddling: "Today we live in a utilitarian moment. We’re surrounded by data and fast-flowing information". why is that sentence and several more like it in this piece? oh because that's what brooks writes in every column. indeed, everyone has written it in every column since 1992. it is without signification, much less the love and pathos and power he is writing about. the volcanic passion he is supposed to be describing becomes "the whole Great Books/Big Ideas thing". he emerges as a person who could not possibly understand the intellectual and emotional exchange he is describing. he is the situation he's lamenting.
the quality of the arguments shows something about the intelligence of our leaders in various walks of life. but i do particularly like the portrayal of snowden as 'solitary' by brooks and others. this has a variety of rhetorical functions, even though it has no logical force. it's a typical bit of 'mere' rhetoric: the idea is a kind of ersatz peer pressure. even if it were real peer pressure, of course, it wouldn't be a reason. so, first off, if snowden were standing as a solitary sentinel against injustice - all alone at tremendous cost - that would be even more admirable, because even more courageous. but he's not alone. even these polls that people are trumpeting show 40% support or something. there are plenty of people who accept every word of the argument he made and who would have made it themselves. for all you know, he had a little group of libertarian friends.
he's 'solitary' only insofar as the state is the social in its entirety: the same old saw about the state being all of us all together. anyone who doesn't agree with that is a howling savage, beyond the pale, an isolate. no, actually, such a person might have plenty of real community. there are many ways to make connections, and many ways that dissent or revelation contributes to the social fabric. the unity you're recommending is false because coerced, but you're identifying it with the possibility of human community per se. the actual means that you're using to form all of us up into one community is a secret program to watch everyone all the time. really, time to face up to it: you are a person who could make an argument like that for a conclusion like that. but even the mainstream community depends on its defectors and subversives and truth-tellers for whatever decency and truth it possesses.
i do think that being in an elite and in particular exercising authority has an epistemically distorting effect. it's really like these people have lost their reason. what you do instead of giving easons when you have authority is just keep repeating yourself more loudly, or start to rant and screech at individual victims in your proximity.
it is amazing what's happening to edward snowden. the outpouring of revulsion is remarkable: it shows you every flavor of the authoritarian personality. also it is bullshit. jeffrey toobin on cnn practically jumps out of his skin with hostility and - like many others - constantly makes reference to snowden's age. i suppose 29 is too young to do the obviously right thing. say rosa parks had been 29; she'd have been a laughingstock. and he goes with 'you just can't do that' as an argument; just a sheer repetition of the authoritarian imperative. here are david brooks's complaints today:
He betrayed honesty and integrity, the foundation of all cooperative activity. He made explicit and implicit oaths to respect the secrecy of the information with which he was entrusted. He betrayed his oaths.
keeping your promises is one dimension of honesty and integrity, but it can be over-ridden by other moral imperatives, including the moral imperative to help other people. understand, that is exactly what snowden took himself to be doing.
He betrayed his friends. Anybody who worked with him will be suspect. Young people in positions like that will no longer be trusted with responsibility for fear that they will turn into another Snowden.
this is assistant principal bullshit. everyone will be punished for your transgression.
He betrayed his employers. Booz Allen and the C.I.A. took a high-school dropout and offered him positions with lavish salaries. He is violating the honor codes of all those who enabled him to rise.
to repeat, honor codes are important. they can be over-ridden by other considerations, and for that matter other honor codes. here the argument is that it's obligatory to violate your own basic values if you're being paid lavishly. that i guess is what david brooks would call a social contract.
He betrayed the cause of open government. Every time there is a leak like this, the powers that be close the circle of trust a little tighter. They limit debate a little more.
this is unbelievably tendentious, fallacious claptrap. on brooks's view, it serves the cause of open government for it to be a secret that everyone is under surveillance at all times. revealing that just causes more secrecy. truly, the logic is depraved.
He betrayed the privacy of us all. If federal security agencies can’t do vast data sweeps, they will inevitably revert to the older, more intrusive eavesdropping methods.
this 'backlash' style of argument has got to go. your resistance to oppression is wrong because we'll double the oppression. the correct answer is then we'll double the resistance. seriously, here's why keeping all your crap secret is a bad idea: it forces us to reveal your ass to the world. don't make us do it. you'll have only yourselves to blame. you're just serving the purposes of julian assange again.
He betrayed the Constitution. The founders did not create the United States so that some solitary 29-year-old could make unilateral decisions about what should be exposed. Snowden self-indulgently short-circuited the democratic structures of accountability, putting his own preferences above everything else.
this is mindless. i don't know what the founders thought about 'solitary 29-year-olds,' but brooks does. i want to say this: edward snowden is not alone. he is not a solitary figure. what he did, he did at tremendous cost to himself and out of an evident commitment to actual public service. he has a worldwide community.
the community brooks appeals to is an imaginary community simulated by secrecy and coercion. every one of these arguments is an argument that everyone should be secretly under surveillance at all times. but the arguments are just this anthology of desperate manipulations, meaningless spasms of the authoritarian mind, real stupidity.
no evil committed by an institution, whether a state or (for god's sake) a defense contractor cannot be justified by arguments like this. you could transpose these arguments directly to any fascist or communist dictatorship in the world; they could be and have been the ideology of every genocide. they are arguments that your conscience does not count, and hence you should do what we say. you don't even deserve to know the basis on which we're making our decisions.
you know, arguing for evil is annoying, but it's really the logic i find discrediting. so, your argument against revealing a massive secret police program to its victims is that the person who did it was a high school dropout. what's sweet about this as an example is that it both implicitly accuses snowden of stupidity on an inadequate basis (have you heard him talk?) and itself enacts stupidity (it's derangedly irrelevant, like a kind of incompetent surrealist poetry).
greetings from nola. here's a column i wrote last time i was down here, the mardi gras after katrina. with regard to the writer who declared that this is where she forgot the best moments of her life, i said that 'forgetting must always make you wonder whether regret is in order': that was perhaps too optimistic, because some folks are incapable of regret. one drawback of such people is that they are dangerous to themselves and others, because they will never undergo any moral development, or be better than they are now, which i would say it's obvious that they need to be. regret is a necessary condition of conscience, and not having any is really a kind or symptom or a mild case of psychopathy; the whole idea is to release yourself to do wrong or be disgusting or stupid, forever. i was negotiating my way back to the hotel through such people last night as they stumbled about swallowing ever-more alcohol and bellowing, or passed out in the alley puking, or tried to make out with strangers. these are, no doubt, the best moments of their lives.
on the other hand i had an amazing meal yesterday, and passed dr. john moving around with a cane on the outskirts of the quarter. everybody calls you 'baby' and makes you feel good just for being alive. the art that came and comes out of this place has changed the world. there is no doubt that these things are connected in certain ways, but not, i would say, by logical necessity or something, and even if the art is in part a transcendence of the degradation, it is also a self-reflection and something more than any particular source or experience can explain. honestly, the vice tourism isn't helping the quality of the art now, even if louis played the brothels in 1915 or whatever. it just freezes it into a kind of parody of itself and peddles it to these amazingly gross people from elsewhere.
if i sound puritanical, it's because puritanism is more or less the way i stay alive. i fail by its standards of course. but i am definitely opposed to these zones of moral impunity or moral vacation, and there is a catholic/protestant kind of split on this: mardi gras or the rio carnival are excellent examples, and occasionally people assert that these things are archetypal and necessary. but one problem is that these zones expand. every city has such zones. pretty soon, every saturday night is such a zone. but i do aspire to some sort of moral consistency. you have priests exempting themselves here or there from the values they profess, for example, and maybe confessing it later. that's a good way to become a monster.
ask yourself: you just married someone. they pledged monogamy. do you think as you pledge the same that they mean: except in vegas, except in new orleans, except saturday night, unless i'm really drunk? i've known people who actually became two people by this technique: the values they profess with total passion they violate in special zones or special occasions, when they have a completely different and incompatible set of values; they're like two moral agents, neither of whom appears even to know what the other is doing; personality b's acts don't count against personality c. it's a moral derangement, a form of dissociative personality disorder.
and then think about what actually happens to so many people in your zones of impunity. the hot young call girls, strippers, trade, who slowly decline into blank-eyed, broke, and broken victims. the addicts strewn around right there, under your very feet, leading lives of complete tortured misery and then dying. i guess the corpses stay in vegas. the people losing everything, including every shred of pride or decency, at the casinos. it seems like a happy harmless celebration. only if you are fucking blind, which is of course what you're trying to be.