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Monthly Archives: August 2010

Much as I reference the Fox News commentator on my blog, I don’t mean it to say he’s by any means a significant or worthy intellectual challenge. Really, I think he’s nothing but a pathetic propagandist. However, he is for better or worse a basic mouthpiece for a lot of what goes on in politics today.

I have a habit of listening to NPR in the morning, before I do whatever it is I do during the day. This morning NPR featured another story on Beck, and this time detailing his retraction of his “Obama is a racist” statement with a new “Obama is a liberation theologist” one.

I, very literally, guffawed as I was walking from my house when I heard that.

Frankly, I absolutely do not believe Glenn Beck has an understanding of liberation theology beyond what he might’ve read on a Wikipedia page. He has always struck me as a loud-mouth but a poor scholar, even his reverence for Thomas Jefferson and other “founders” has always seemed rather shallow and misguided in my opinion. But citing liberation theology is completely bogus, perhaps politically “effective” but bogus none the less.

What kills me is that through all Beck’s (and many others’ pegging of Obama as such and such) is the irony of truly “bearing false witness against thy neighbor.” Obama is a Democrat and by proxy no more than a witness to capitalism with safety nets. To say he’s a black supremacist, Muslim, Communist or liberation theologian is absolutely “far-fetched” (to use NPR’s astute reaction) and fundamentally untrue. Where is the link? Really, where is it?

It is absolutely imperative, if this country is going to get anywhere, that spokesmen like Beck be fully called out for their rhetoric. I mean by liberals and conservatives alike. Much as I disagree with Republicans I can for the most part meet them on common intellectual ground. I do not think Republicans and conservatives are stupid. I really, truly don’t.

The ones who I feel are truly “stupid” are those, regardless of political orientation, who rely upon emotional rallies and false pretenses to push an agenda. That is Beck, that is Palin. They are not adversaries for me to argue against; they are propaganda, mythologizers and anti-intellectuals who need to be kicked out of the politcal arena if any meaningful dialogue is to take place.

Namely, we are heading to a confrontation on who and what it means to be an “American.” I think that is the key matter. While much of the Tea Party and hardcore conservatives are painting an exclusive, country club notion of patriotism, I feel both right and left have grounds to challenge such notions and realize that in a *real democracy* ALL have an equal voice and claim to citizenship, patriotism, “American values” and dialogue.

Really, I’ve been laughing madly over Beck’s prophetic call to virtue and patriotism. Because I am a deeply committed Christian and, while not “patriotic,” very committed to realizing the greatest potential for American society. If he and his ilk wish to push a “God and country” rhetoric around his politics, I am perfectly willing to challenge him, tit-for-tat, on those very same grounds. Without apologies and with reason foremost.

Beck, bring it on.

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I understand from news reports that Beck’s recent rally in D.C. was meant not as a political rally but a religious one. So he claims. Though his job and fame is to make inflamed reactionary statements on television on politics… if that doesn’t send up red flags (no pun intended) then you’re sleepwalking.

Beck, which scriptures are you drawing your spiritual ideology from? Atlas Shrugged? The Road to Serfdom? Treason?

Because I have read that ol’ Bible so heavily praised. I do not recall every seeing Jesus confront the poor with claims of laziness and “why don’t you get a job?” Nor did the earlier prophets. Matthew 19:21. The only economic principle Jesus ever spoke of was charity. Giving to others who have less is the maxim. That is wholly incompatible in an economic system that promotes individual wealth and competition. No ifs, ands or buts there.

Sure, there can be charity in a capitalist system. It can abound, but the system itself goes against charity as a principle. Just as mercy can be shown in warfare, abundantly, but war is not merciful.

I thought to look for polls on the most significant books of right-wing ideology. One poll naturally put the Bible at the top (there go my eyes rolling again.) Also high on the list were two George Orwell novels. What lovely irony! Do they even realize Orwell’s politics? What he actually fought gun-in-hand for?

So lately I’ve been a bit obsessive over the “Ground Zero mosque” and Dr. Laura controversies. I find myself surrounded mostly by very sympathetic company. With friends, family and various online acquaintances there’s a general consensus that a conservative movement is simply walking over the Constitution for political ends. While I am not exactly in love with the constitutional democracy that we have, I make no claims otherwise, and I expect others to play by their own rules. I am reminded of G.W. Bush’s post-9-11 speeches that claimed terrorists “hate our freedoms,” particularly those of free speech and religious freedom. But isn’t it becoming rather obvious that many Americans hate their freedoms as well?

  • The right of the public to express criticism has been attacked, as I mentioned in my last post, by those who think some speech comes with an invulnerability from scrutiny or reprecussions. By invoking the First Amendment against critics, there is a disturbing implication that government could intervene to stop the public’s right to oppose certain beliefs and opinions.
  • The mosque opposition (in NY and TN) acknowledges that there is a right to build a place of worship, and their criticism against the project is in a sense no different from criticizing Dr. Laura. However, it does deeply diminish Bush’s words about religious tolerance. Here in America we just strongly suggest religious minorities remain in ghettos. Muslims are cordially invited to oppress themselves.
  • Our justice system is deemed to be ineffective for fighting terrorism. Suspects must be detained in Cuba of all places to allow the rights of criminals to be suspended. Those who do receive a trial should have it in military, not criminal, courts because criminal courts can’t be trusted for a proper verdict.

Quite a lousy thing, those rights. That a rich white person has their God-given right to fire off the n-word as they like, but “liberals” should be kept silent in response. That America embraces religious freedom, but minorities ought to stay in the closet. The basis of our criminal justice system is fairness, which is not effective for punishing our enemies. But what bloody use is a “right” if it’s to be suspended for those on the margins?

All liberal thinkers admit there are always limits to a right. Making a death threat against someone is not protected speech. The right to bear arms does not mean a right to use them at will. The catch is if you squeeze those rights away from those most in need of it–minorities and your political enemies–there comes a point where there’s no difference between liberalism and totalitarianism. In the Third Reich there was plenty of liberty for those who stuck to Nazi dogma.

Yes, I am invoking the Slippery Slope. Not to forecast an immanent plunge, but there is movement. What’s worrisome about these little fascisms is that they’re marketed as liberty and freedom.

I can already hear the sound of some objections, “If you think Schlessinger should be pressed not to use racial epithets, why shouldn’t Muslims be pressed not to build mosques in certain places?” The difference as I see it is a matter of what principle is invoked. To speak out against gratuitous use of racist speech is to say “I do not tolerate your racism.” To speak out against mosques near Manhattan is to say “I do not tolerate the presence of your religion.” Whatever choices you make are going to say something about where your values lie.

The controversy regarding Dr. Laura’s statements has taken yet another hopeless twist as Sarah Palin has joined in the crusade on the grounds of “freedom of speech.”

Dr. Laura herself has already risen to be quite a hypocrite. On one hand she made an official apology for what she said, claims remorse for her words, and says she was internally shaken by her outburst. Then in almost the same breath claims that she is the victim of a censorship and is looking for a new media outlet where she can speak without reprecussions. One cannot be apologetic and the victim, remorseful and proud.

Palin’s defense of Dr. Laura’s statements are absurd on several levels. On one hand she is suggesting that “n****r” should be normal parlance for any white person to use by dismissing public outrage over Dr. Laura’s use of the term; yet in the past Palin has publicly criticized others for lacking sensitivity in using the term “retard.” Of course, the latter strikes close to Palin’s heart because of her son, but that is no excuse for contradiction. She can’t have it both ways; or rather, a rational social policy cannot be based on Mrs. Palin’s own subjective feelings toward certain words.

Palin is also speaking foolishly because there is simply no ground for turning this into a First Amendment case. Dr. Laura was never censored or attacked by the government for her outburst. The public and the media raised the outcry. The public owes nothing in terms of support or affirmation for a negligent and racially-ignorant political demagogue. To suggest that a Constitutional right was violated also suggests that some measure could be taken to ensure justice, but what? Censor those who spoke against Dr. Laura? (Criticism is speech too.) Prohibit her employers or the advertisers who funded her from taking action?

I cannot know myself whether Palin realizes she’s a self-contradicting hypocrite or merely a polemic sophist playing politics. Given her track record for being rather ignorant in matters of law, governance and logic I would not be surprised by either. Yet this is significant. The right-wing excessively (and the political liberals to a lesser extent) toss their subjective beliefs through the television and rewrite law and truth to do so. There’s no First Amendment debate here. Unless in Palin’s “Dream America” the Constitution is used to stifle debate and criticism.

This is not democracy in action. This is a political party taking its subjective goals over the objective law. Palin wants whites to reclaim “n****r” to assert their freedom, to take offense is to hate freedom, but don’t say “retard” because it offends her. Muslims, while not officially stripped of citizenship and sent to camps, are expected to self-identify with Al Qaeda and terrorism out of shame. When the rules fall at the discretion of political leaders, that’s the first step to a new fascism.

Here would make an interesting challenge to Palin’s political team. If this is a free-speech issue you really want to put forward–the right to use racial epithets without reprecussions, subjectivity or the weight of history–hammer the point home in the next election. Why not a campaign slogan against Obama, “Don’t vote for the n****r!” Then tell America how the Constitution makes your words invulnerable and an affirmation of liberty.

To highlight just how much market decisions and a religious faith in progress has become our new Revelation, consider a story in the news.

According to Bill Gates in the future universities as physical entities will no longer exist. The process of education will take place through cyberspace. This is progress for the benefit of humanity.

Or consider Amazon, who after introducing their Kindle, declared that in the future books will be obsolete.

I have heard some debate on the topic. The cyber college issue was taken up last week on NPR. In the first corner there were the producers of technology assuring us that the future is technology. The counter-point side came on the show to suggest that cyberspace could never replace the “real” exchange of ideas in a traditional classroom setting.

What I found interesting wasn’t so much the position that either side was taking, but what they weren’t saying. Essentially, there were two prophets arguing over the inevitability of cyber universities. The key word for both: inevitability. Is it going to happen or is it not? Are books going to die or not? As if these things were simply natural cycles. The university may just disappear, but not through any actual agency or human action. Of say, restructuring universities, firing obsolete professors, tearing down or selling campus buildings, building (or probably buying from Microsoft) an online infrastructure. No, these things happen like weather cycles and evolution, we can only speculate how nature will run its course.

It’s particularly within the realm of technology that this very eschatological faith can take place. If tomorrow Coca Cola were to declare that in the near future coffee shops and cafes would no longer exist, that soda bars were the wave of the future, and the morning cup of coffee a thing of the past, then surely we’d think they were insane. So why is it so different when Microsoft declares computer technology the inevitable course of progress?

If you ask me, it’s about time we expose these prophets and their crystal balls for what they are: salesmen. And remind ourselves that we create society by the work of our hands and our minds, we’re not passengers of market fatalism.

Living in my city one frequently brushes into political nostalgia. Known as a liberal hotbed of the Midwest, a smaller San Francisco you might say, I myself tend to think of it as “a retirement community for the Flower Children.” Manifestations of politics round here so often tends to take a nostalgic “things were more radical in the 60s and 70s.”

Any my official yet loose affiliation with the U.S. Communist Party also comes with a twinge of nostalgia. Oh, for the days of labor strikes! What is a strike these days? Professional baseball players go on strike–the proletariat? It’s hard to think so.

In my constant re-engagement with political thought I find myself drifting more and more toward the truly modern. Initially, I was hooked in by the heroes of old: the Martin Luther Kings, the Pierre Proudhons, the Emma Goldmans. While they are all persons to admire, it just seems the world has changed too much for their ideas to be simply recycled. But fresh minds are producing fresh ideas out there, en masse.

As for the whining hippies out there, take a time machine or try “thinking” again, just go shove your flower power.

So when I come across something I like, and there’s a lot of really vanguard shit out there, a part of me wonders why it’s not spreading like wildfires. I mean, there are a lot of reasons to consider.  1. Just because “I” think  something is amazing doesn’t mean I must be right. 2. People are justifiably burnt out on politics. 3. Politics has become such a Gordian knot people just leave it to the care of “experts.” 4. Suppression? I’m not so paranoid but there may be a sprinkle of it at work.

One thing is for sure, it’s not for a lack of a communication medium.

So maybe I’m correct in my assessment that certain, radical political thought from the margins is really some potentially revolutionary shit. If I’m not going to fall into the hippie/Commie mythologizing that revolution is “something one must remember” what then?

I think that the issue is that we’ve really, really internalized the idea of being at “the end of history.” The Soviet Union died away, and the only new challenge is the archaic and conservative Islamo-theocracy movement that is more a qualified retreat than a step ahead. Above all, we’ve seen the culmination of the Enlightenment project. The belief that the sciences and technology would solve it all. Where once that involved developing the capacities of reason in people to know how to bring about the utopia, now (since we’ve “reached” utopia) the only thing that needs to be developed is accepting the telos and trusting the technocrats.

Democracy, as such, is purely an expression of opinions. It’s the comments section at the bottom of the page. Yes, no one has revoked the powers of the demos, but they know that an economy, security and such is best left to the business graduates on Wall Street and Pentagon officials. Even many of the “radical” left-wing icons of the times do not place themselves as actors and players in the political game, but like sports commentators simply analyze from a detached position. I’m thinking of the “Daily Show” and Michael Moore. Yes, they make one think about the situation but not much more than that. In the same sense that a Dilbert comic is funny only to those who are fully meshed into the corporate labyrinth. It gives us space for a therapeutic laugh at our situation, but offers no exit strategy.

I believe that the right-wing movements of the past and present have been more successful, not because they are at all a populist movement or a better solution. I’m far, far from conceding them any moral or rational victories. What I think has separated the right from the left is that the right is more willing to throw away the equitable, harmonious standard of liberal politics in favor of action. They don’t express opinions and sacralize differences. They act.

The left needs to re-think itself as a political agent again. Rather than grumble about how corrupt corporations are, as one grumbles about stormy weather, it’s time to re-gather and seriously ask the kind of questions that will lead to steps forward. Not a pure blind action, repeating some Soviet/hippie/etc. mistakes again and again, not hoping yet that Obama is going to really “change” anything for us, the Democrats are band-aids.

No navel-gazing, no simply mocking Fox News, no re-animating punk rock zombies, no revolutions in cyberspace, because this inward, reactive and nostalgic turn is not the way out, it’s just cursing the ocean as the ship is sinking.

I realize the contradiction of the armchair revolutionary. I know I can’t blog action. But the root problem as I see it isn’t simply a lack of action, but a failure to grasp how one can act. For that reason, for the moment, it may be best to really talk about what’s going on. To recognize the mental source of our paralysis.