The theory of crackpot realism Archives

March 17, 2006

Objectively pro-

The lengthy and lively discussion of a recent post got me musing,in my airy, metaphysical way, about the thought processes of liberal Democrats. One thingthat struck me forcibly in the recent donnybrook was the insistence, on the pro-Democrat side, that any opposition to the Democrats was "objectively pro-Bush."

Now in one sense it's easy to see the flaw in this logic. To use my favorite analogy, it's as if you were fighting off two thugs who are trying to mug you and also trying to do each other out of the spoils. It would be silly to reproach you, every time you land a punch on one of them, by saying you're helping the other one.

But that's hardly the end of the story. What's interesting to me is why people would choose to live under conditions of such sharp intellectual confinement -- a mental walnut shell in which the entire infinite space of political possibilities reduces to a modulo-two remainder, For The Democrats or For The Republicans.

In fact the larger space is not only uninhabitable, it's un-mappable. The structural symbiosis of the two parties in keeping the rich rich and the poor poor, can't be discussed, because that might suggest that one ought to do something other than just sing one's appointed part in the Decani or Cantoris choir -- bray like a donkey or bellow like an elephant, da capo ad infinitum.

It's an end-of-history theory, in a way: there are Republicans and there are Democrats, there is nothing else and there can never be anything else. No end to this state of affairs can be envisioned, because no steps that might end it can be entertained. You can put your chips on Red or Black. You can't kick over the table or even walk away from it, and you certainly can't keep your chips in your pocket. Change is ruled out of order and historical contingency has become immanent necessity.

Now I can imagine why a person might fail to realize that things could be different than they are. But what I can't quite grasp is how a person could be uncomfortable with things as they are and yet indignantly reject the idea that they could be otherwise.


More on the intellectual world of the Democrats' defense team.

Usually I think it's a little unfair to write a post arguing with a comment -- it's like a guy with a megaphone arguing with somebody without one. But I'll make an exception for our energetic commenter John, who writes:

Income for the poorest of the poor DID go up under Clinton.

Clinton DID reverse the gag order.

Bush DID reinstate the gag order.

Incomes for the poorest DID go down under Reagan, Bush the first, and Bush the 2nd.

Bush DID appoint Alito and Roberts and the Republicans DID approve them 100%, just like they SAID they would.

I'm not so sure about that "income for the poorest" claim, but let's accept it for the sake of argument -- what I'm interested in controverting here is not the factology, but rather, what I see as a flawed way of thinking about the problem.

What John is doing here is what I call "scorecarding." He's totting up what the Republicans have done and what the Democrats have done, and not surprisingly, he finds that the Republicans are way, way ahead in the loathesomeness derby; the Democrats are a furlong behind and it's all they can do just to stay there. Well, of course. No one doubts that the Republicans have been leading the charge for quite a while, and the Democrats meekly trailing along behind them.

Where John goes wrong, I think, is in thinking that the scorecard tells us all we need to know. To me, this is like noticing that there is a cinderblock six feet over your head, without also registering that fact that it's falling. In other words, if you eliminate the element of motion from your picture of reality, you are apt to make some bad decisions.

So one of the things I think we need to ask ourselves is, what's the direction of motion. And if we decide that the direction is a bad one then we have to ask whether our participation isn't helping to move it along. As I've argued elsewhere, I do think that "lesser-evil" votes for the Democrats help propel this this Alfonse-and-Gaston rightward staggerdance the two parties have been doing for the last thirty-odd years.

John's "scorecarding" view of politics also excludes, I think, considerations of structure and function. We've all seen those tables of what substances a human body contains -- so many cents' worth of water, of salt, of calcium, of iron, etc. But of course just tabulating the ingredients doesn't tell you much about how a human body is built, or how it functions. Similarly, the scorecard doesn't tell you how the Democratic Party is controlled or operated, or to what ends it works.

Like the modulo-two view of political space, discussed in a previous post, the scorecarding technique represents, I think, an odd kind of wilful blindness to aspects of reality that are in fact supremely important.

My refusal to vote for a Democrat reflects my assessment of what the party is about, what it's engaged in doing, who it's answerable to. Yeah, the Democrats may be Wilmer to the Republicans' Fat Man -- but they're both after the bird, and they're both thugs.

May 19, 2006

Odi et amo

Jan Frel on Alternet notes:
The wider public .... clearly aren't buying "John Kerry" or "Al Gore" at this point. A recent New York Times poll has both of them ranking below the worst president in history. Kerry is at 26 percent, and former vice president and presidential candidate Gore is at 28 percent. George W. Bush is pulling in at 31 percent.
And Jan understands why; he quotes Matt Taibbi:
The Democrats … don't want to be anything other than better caretakers.... They don't try to imagine a fundamentally better world, because they actually believe that there isn't one. They're buffoons straight out of Voltaire, running on a platform of "Our mild improvements to this best of all possible worlds."
But here's the conclusion:
All this said, I still want to be pragmatic. And remember, I expect to remain a Democratic Party cheerleader. I know it will be good if there's a Democratic House majority decided on the eve of this Nov. 2, even if it's clear they don't have the capacity to do more than whisper in the graveyard. Because even a President Hillary Clinton still could mean health care -- for millions who don't have it.
*Throws up hands in despair* What's the matter with these people? Can't Jan see that the lousy state of the Democratic party, which he grouses about at such length, is his fault and the fault of people like him -- people who don't like their party and don't believe it what it's doing, but who won't leave it?

June 15, 2006

Go, team

Another fine observation from ms_xeno, from a comment in another thread:
... I'm sure that Billmon's a nice guy. I'd probably even like Kos if I hadn't been privy to his bullshit anti-choice sexism elsewhere. That's the worst of it. They are nice people, and being nice (and solvent) enough to placate the Reids and Deans and so forth is what it's all about for these folks. This is what they think winning is.

Sure, the top Dems manage to shaft them over and over again even when they do win-- despite the usual rancid mix of cowardice, malice, cluelessness and ineptitude. ("Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes," as J. Alva would probably say if he were here.) But who cares ? It's like a bizarro universe full of rabid sports fans who genuinely think they *are* the team;Who love the team owners more and more every time they fuck things up; Who excuse every nasty peccadillo the top player avoids legal trouble over; Who snap up and proudly display every useless, shoddy, ugly piece of merchandise with the team logo on it. Anything to avoid acknowledging that ticket prices are outrageous, the team sucks eggs, and while the stadium looks as imposing and glitzy as ever, the neighborhood around it is falling apart.

June 16, 2006

If, if, if...

From Alan Smithee. Too good for a comment.
If Gore was president, money and candy would rain down from the sky while happy frou-frou elves go door-to-door delivering free Ben & Jerry's and trees would sprout ipods and Tommy brand jeans and fruit snacks! Palistinians and Israelis would lay down their arms and start forming ultra-cool ska bands!

Then Al would raise John Lennon and George Harrison from the dead, re-unite The Beatles and they'd all go on a world tour together performing all new songs John wrote while he was dead. And we'd all get free tickets and there'd be complimentary champagne and Doritos and...and...fruit snacks and stuff!

Cars would run on grass clippings and get 6,000 miles to the Hefty Super-Strong Lawn & Garden bag! MTV would start running music videos again! The Giants would win the pennant! Acne, hives and the heartbreak of psorisis would all be things of the past, if only Al Gore had been elected.

But noooooo! Thanks to that evil bastard Ralph Nader, terrorists flew planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon! Then he started the war in Iraq and sent his evil 3rd party minions to murder babies in the streets of Bagdad! And he stole all of John Kerry's votes and hid them deep beneath the ocean in his super-secret underwater lair! It's all true! I read it on the Daily Kos!

Not only that, but I found out that Ralph Nader is arab! It's true! And Nader makes TV stations broadcast crappy reality shows! And he makes me wear a seatbelt and brush my teeth and take out the garbage in Hefty Super-Duper Strong Kitchen bags!

And that's why I vote democrat!

September 21, 2006

My old Kentucky homeboy

What possible progressive purpose would this old brass beast Weaver from Kentucky serve? (Weaver is shown left, being endorsed, appropriately, by the utterly toxic Wesley Clark.) He's running for Congress against a central-casting fundi-belt Republican Piltdown man, but Weaver himself is an A-1 Rahmbo war mule.

Money quote:

"Enter 'the colonel.' At least that's what Weaver's aides always call him. In addition to his military record -- the Weaver Web site says he knows "what it means to defend our freedom on foreign soil" -- he prominently mentions his faith (Roman Catholic) and his family (11 grandchildren). In a campaign headquarters a stone's throw from a mobile-home dealership where doublewides are on sale, Weaver looks fit and angry enough to jump back into the trenches at any moment. He boasts that Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Weaver is the only Democratic candidate who intimidates him."

Saints preserve us....

October 5, 2006

Shock the donkey

What makes the Democrats tick? Surely, you'll say, it's the obvious thing -- the thing that drives any political party: the desire to take power.

I don't think so. Oh, they'd love to wield power if it fell into their laps -- as they hope it will do next month, thanks to the almost incredible blundering of the other side. And if there were some risk-free way of gaining power -- some Big Red Button they could push -- of course they'd push it.

But these are daydreams. The real, workaday, nine-to-five job of any Democrat is to hold on to what he's got, and risk it as little as possible. And I think that once we really take this idea in, it has some pretty important implications.

The conventional poli-sci picture of parties as vote-maximizing enterprises is deeply rooted in our brains. Reportage on what passes for "politics" in this country concentrates on who's getting votes and how they're getting 'em. Politics seems to be as much about votes as basketball is about baskets.

The difference, of course, is that in basketball, if you lose, you lose. But in our Byzantine, oligarchic political system, the losing party doesn't really lose -- and in fact, even the losing candidates often enough don't really lose either. They may have to play second fiddle for a while, but they're still in the orchestra -- and still getting paid, one way or another. The losing party may have to content itself with a smaller share of the goodies, and less distinguished tables in their favorite restaurants, but they're still in the game. Losing candidates may have to drop back to a cushy civilian job provided by some corporate patron -- don't throw me in that briar patch, Brer Fox -- or, horrors, serve a term in a think tank. But they're still employed.

They'd rather be congressmen, or senators, of course -- and once they become congressmen, or senators, or governors, or state legislators, or mayors, they'll do almost anything to stay in office.

In other words, they're structurally risk-averse. They won't bet their jobs on a strategy that might help the party gain power. Party, schmarty -- as long as the party stands behind me, I could care less about a majority in the House. And since the party's General Will is little more than the arithmetic sum of these individual wills, then the party's drive for power is feeble at best. The party is its individual time-serving careerists writ large, a Leviathan aggregated from a myriad of nonentities, like Hobbes' famous allegory.

If the party were about taking power, you'd think they would figure out that what they're doing is not working -- that they're failures. But they don't see it in that light. Every incumbent occupies his seat because his strategy worked for him; every incumbent is in fact a success story, and you don't change a successful formula.

That's why the only way to make them change is to make the strategy stop working. As long as they get a pellet when they press the triangulation lever, they'll keep pressing it. If they get an electric shock instead, they'll stop. A donkey is at least as smart as a lab rat.

Which brings me to my point: defeat is the only electric shock that will get the donkey's attention. And I mean defeat in the general election, caused by a "spoiler" third party, which is the only effectual kind.

Primary defeats, like Lieberman's, while satisfying, are more difficult to accomplish. Typically there is only one "progressive" challenger, so it's a head-to-head race -- no three-way splits. And then, of course, the only people who come out for primaries are the party faithful. And usually, the challenger is not a millionaire like Ned Lamont.

Moreover, even when primary challenges are successful, they don't necessarily succeed, as in the Connecticut debacle, where in spite of his primary defeat, Lieberman appears to be on his way back to Washington.

But when a third party really makes a long-standing party strategy stop working, then something has got to give.

Consider the fate of New York state's Republican party:

The seeds of the Republicans' current malaise were sown under [governor Nelson] Rockefeller, observers say. With Tammany's demise, state politics shifted from issues of reform versus machine to a more ideological focus. Rockefeller's brand of liberal Republicanism, increasingly out of step with a national party turning more conservative, began drawing more criticism even in New York.

The tensions boiled over in 1970, when Republican U.S. Senator Charles Goodell, appointed by Rockefeller after the assassination of Democrat Robert F. Kennedy, was defeated by James Buckley, who ran on the third-party Conservative ticket....

Since 1974, a year after Rockefeller left Albany, no Republican has won statewide without the support of the tiny Conservative Party, whose power lies in its ability to split the conservative vote if Republicans nominate someone not to its liking.

Now why can't we do that?

As I've said before, I personally would prefer to see the Democratic Party vanish as an institution. But even if you're not willing to go quite that far -- if your goal is to turn the Democratic Party into a real, "progressive" party, rather than to destroy it -- then your immediate strategy has to be the same as mine. You've got to shock the donkey, not reward it for plodding on in its well-trodden path.

October 19, 2006

Crazy like a fox

Part of my ongoing series, Dumb Crazy Bible-Bashers Are Really Much Smarter Than Most Leftie Intellectuals On The Upper West Side:

Conservative voters likely to stay home
By Ralph Z. Hallow

The Republican Party can stave off defeat with a strong turnout on Nov. 7, party leaders are telling the faithful -- but they are finding it tough to sell that message to some disillusioned conservative voters.

"The message hasn't gotten across because a lot of people are sick and tired of thinking the only reason for going to the polls is to vote for the Republicans because they are lesser of two evils," said Tom McClusky, vice president for government affairs at the Family Research Council (FRC), a leading social conservative group.

"Conservatives aren't motivated to come out, is what I'm finding," said conservative campaign consultant Rick Shaftan, who is based in Sparta, N.J. "They see no reason to re-elect the people who are in office."

November 23, 2006

The Cumulative Effect of Lesser Evils

A kind reader passed this along:

The Cumulative Effect of Lesser Evils
By Charles Sullivan

...during the 2006 mid term elections... a wave of euphoria swept across the nation and lively celebrations ensued. Millions of naïve voters actually believe that something resembling revolution was accomplished in a bloodless coup by replacing Republicans with Democrats in the House and Senate. Conservatives foolishly thought the same with the so called Gingrich revolution of the 90s....

Meanwhile, the system rolls on, and the people are left feeling that something significant was accomplished, and that they made it happen by voting. There will be no need for further action until the next election cycle....

January 10, 2007

Defeat through victory -- or vice-versa?

Here's where the Kosnik theory that "victory is everything" leads:

Both the House and Senate Dem caucuses right now preserve an artificial unity, for the sake of the party's institutional predominance. But the only way the "peace now" Democrats can ever make themselves heard is to bolt -- or at least, credibly threaten to bolt, and undermine that predominance.

All this blather on their part, about sticking together for the sake of the common domestic agenda, is pure pittle-pattle the great issue, the make-or-break issue, is the occupation of Iraq. The Peace Dems just flat-out don't mean it unless they're willing to say: "No, I will not caucus with killers and warmongers."

January 31, 2007

Not-mad-enough Max

Just read this in a comment at Max Speak:

...This voting for the lesser evil is getting pretty old, but the Dems definitely are the lesser evil.
synykyl | 01.31.07 - 12:19 am
'synkyl' was responding to this from Max himself:
....I will usefully remind you it was Clinton and Mad Albright who instituted sanctions against Iraq and affirmed the acceptability of the resulting hundreds of thousands of deaths of innocent Iraqi children.

Today the litmus test of an anti-war candidate and the "netroots" is where they stand on attacking Iran."

Sounds good, eh? Max the mighty. He backs up a bit further down in the comments, though:
I do not view the Dems as equally culpable. Not even Clinton. But judging Dems by comparison to Republicans implies a very low standard.
Miracle Max | Homepage | 01.30.07 - 7:01 pm |
Mighty Max is gone, replaced by Max the Mushy. Does he really think that somehow there is some small good in folks like Albright and blow-me Bill? Max of the mordant sarcasm?

The real problem here is guys who want to do some good. It's like diluting strychnine with spring water and then telling us it's not as bad as the full-strength poison.

May 30, 2007

Look on the sunny side of life...

From the "One Swallow DOES Make A Summer" Department, Mike Flugennock passes along this happy little item by Robert Naiman:

The progressive political world is wailing and gnashing its teeth over the failure of Congressional Democrats to stand up to President Bush on the war supplemental....

But before everybody else packs their bags and heads for the hills, consider this. Guess who voted no on the war supplemental?

Ellen Tauscher.

Why is that significant?

Because Ellen Tauscher is a Congressional Democrat who was targeted by activists for failing to vote Democratic in Congress.

In case you're still not getting it, the point is: the system worked. That is, Tauscher, who has always been an especially right-wing Democrat, is supposed to have cleaned up her act now because of an (obviously unsuccessful) primary challenge by a pwog.

Naiman cites an even burblier Nation piece by the ineffable Ari Melber:

[Tauscher] was branded a "top offender" on the website of Working For Us, a new political action committee.... founded by, among others, veteran labor strategist Steve Rosenthal, and backed by unions.... The strategy is set by two boards made up of traditional labor leaders like SEIU secretary-treasurer Anna Burger and pioneers from the Internet left like heads and Markos Moulitsas, founder of the top Democratic blog Daily Kos.
I'm a happy guy now. SEIU and Kos! It doesn't get much better than that, does it?

Naiman continues:

How many more such victories do we need? ...

[T]he McGovern timetable for withdrawal bill got 171 votes in the House. 218 would be a majority, so that means we need to move 47 Members - 11% of the House - into the "firm support for a real timetable for withdrawal" camp.

[T]hreatening incumbents with primaries has been shown to be effective. This means that some folks are going to have to be willing to run for office, and some people are going to have to circulate some nominating petitions, and some people are going to have to donate some money.

Of all these things, donating money is the easiest.... Make your anger productive for humanity - and pony up.

Mike F comments:
Pony up? Huh, dude. Don't you mean "Donkey Up"?

Victory, huh? Ph'waahh ha ha ha haaah.

September 6, 2007


Democrats Newly Willing to Compromise on Iraq

WASHINGTON, Sept. 5 — With a mixed picture emerging about progress in Iraq, Senate Democratic leaders are showing a new openness to compromise as they try to attract Republican support for forcing at least modest troop withdrawals in the coming months.

After short-circuiting consideration of votes on some bipartisan proposals on Iraq before the August break, senior Democrats now say they are willing to rethink their push to establish a withdrawal deadline of next spring if doing so will attract the 60 Senate votes needed to prevail.

Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, said, “If we have to make the spring part a goal, rather than something that is binding, and if that is able to produce some additional votes to get us over the filibuster, my own inclination would be to consider that.”

"Newly" is masterful, isn't it?

This word 'compromise' has an interesting meaning in American political discourse. If ordinary people used the word in the same way, you'd get conversations like this:

Mugger: Your money or your life!
Muggee: Can't we compromise?
Mugger: Okay. You give me your money, and I won't kill you.
Muggee: Deal!
Actually this analogy is quite misleading, though, as applied to the Democrats. The muggee, if he's a real muggee, presumably doesn't actually want to give up his money. But the Democrats are always quite glad to give up any faint opposition they've ever hinted at having toward the latest imperial adventure, whatever it may be; and of course they are, if possible, even more servile toward the Israel lobby, which very much wants Uncle to stay in the neighborhood, than the Republicans are.

So they're not getting mugged, any more than a pro wrestler is really getting beaten up. It's all part of the act.

January 1, 2008

The infection goes deep, very deep

The last man standing, or even semi-recumbent, has just lain down flat:

Kucinich Urges Supporters to
Back Obama on Second Iowa Ballot

For Immediate Release - Tuesday, January 01, 2008

DES MOINES, IA - Democratic Presidential candidate and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich opened the New Year by publicly asking his Iowa supporters to vote for him in the caucuses this Thursday, and suggesting that if he did not make the 15% threshold, their second ballot should be for Senator Barack Obama. "This is obviously an 'Iowa-only' recommendation, as Sen. Obama and I are competing in the New Hampshire primary next Tuesday where I want to be the first choice of New Hampshire voters.

"I hope Iowans will caucus for me as their first choice this Thursday, because of my singular positions on the war, on health care, and trade. This is an opportunity for people to stand up for themselves. But in those caucus locations where my support doesn't reach the necessary threshold, I strongly encourage all of my supporters to make Barack Obama their second choice. Sen. Obama and I have one thing in common: Change."

UPDATE: Obama responds:

"I have a lot of respect for Congressman Kucinich, and I’m honored that he has done this because we both believe deeply in the need for fundamental change....”

Poor Dennis. The Lesser Evil virus has reached the higher nerve centers. And he was such a mischievous, naughty boy when he was mayor of Cleveland.

Isn't it remarkable, too, much self-hypnosis can be achieved just by repeating the word "change" over and over again? It's like a meditation technique: Oooommm... Oooommm... Chaaaaange.... Chaaaange....

Of course this follows on yesterday's sad news:

Nader throws support to Edwards

MUSCATINE, Iowa — Ralph Nader unleashed on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton Monday ... and expressed his strong support for John Edwards.... [i]n an eleventh hour effort to encourage liberal Iowans to "recognize" the former North Carolina senator by "giving him a victory."

... Nader, a four-time presidential candidate, called Edwards a Democratic "glimmer of hope.... It's the only time I've heard a Democrat talk that way in a long time"....

May 21, 2008

The Hidden Imam

As Owen remarked in comments on an earlier post, nobody ever really knows what may happen in an election, particularly one with some novel features (e.g. a more or less black favorite). Still, it's hard for me to believe that McCain has a prayer.

But hey, I've been wrong before. I certainly hope I'm not wrong this time, though -- not because I expect anything of Barack except warmed-over Clintonism, but because if Barack is defeated, all these formerly disillusioned Democrats whom Barack has snake-charmed back into the fold will have no opportunity to get disillusioned again. Lost in a wonderful wilderness of if-only's, many of them will remain dedicated DP cultists for the rest of their lives, utterly lost to reason and enlightenment.

I haven't paid sufficient attention to the paradox of the Beautiful Loser -- the candidate you have really persuaded yourself to believe in, and can still believe in because he lost and never got the chance to sell you down the river. The Beautiful Loser is one of the main ways the Democratic Party keeps hope alive, to borrow a phrase.

Win by losing. Quite a trick, really. Get their hopes up. Then lose. And the experience of having hoped will keep 'em coming back, until the memory goes dim and the hapless souls who shared it have all died off.

Here's hoping that Barack wins in November, and gets a chance to show us unmistakably what he's really all about.

May 26, 2008

Purity Of Essence

A few days ago I posted some thoughts about a recent conversation with a highly intelligent and sophisticated woman -- let's call her Diotima -- who is completely mesmerized by Barack Obama. I keep recurring, in my mind, to this chat. It was very rich in matter for reflection. I wish I had recorded it.

At some point she mentioned how "exciting" Barack is, and asked, Don't you think so? Don't you sense it?

I had to confess that I just didn't hear the music. All the way back to his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Gulag -- er, Convention; the speech that had everybody so worked up -- the only response I had was to look at the flushed faces of people talking about it and wonder, What on earth has gotten into them? They're on the brink of orgasm over a tissue of unmeaning platitudes.

Perhaps I developed this theme, talking to Diotima, with more eloquence than tact. She snapped, "Well, I suppose you're just much purer than I am." Which set off a train of rumination about this incessantly-recurring theme of "purity", always a reproach from Democrats.

It's amazing how much subtext a single word can carry. There's a whole little movielet that obligingly unreels in the mental Bijou at the mere mention of the word. It goes something like this:

We have the "purist" -- let's call him Diogenes. Diogenes is so concerned with keeping his moral skirts clean that he has withdrawn from the battle, and looks upon it with snide, sanctimonious detachment.

And then we have the Diotimas -- represented, in this story, as folk like Teddy Roosevelt's famous

... man who is actually in the arena, whose face in marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Shame on the man of cultivated taste who permits refinement to develop into fastidiousness that unfits him for doing the rough work of a workaday world. Among the free peoples who govern themselves there is but a small field of usefulness open for the men of cloistered life who shrink from contact with their fellows. Still less room is there for those who deride or slight what is done by those who actually bear the brunt of the day....

... and so on and on. What a grandiloquent, ponderous windbag the guy was. And inexhaustible. To think he was actually asthmatic as a lad. Would that it had mortified into an early, galloping consumption.

But I digress. Whether Diotima had this particular passage of YMCA homiletics in mind, who knows? But it's the canonical statement -- from a very suitable source -- of the "purity" trope's underlying argument: the difference between Diotima, struggling, though impurely, to "do something, at least", and prissy, pure Diogenes, absenting himself from the "dust and sweat and blood" of the arena, and sneering at earnest Diotima from the safety of his tub.

The Diotimas love to congratulate themselves on the Promethean sacrifices they make -- including, of course, the sacrifice of their purity, such as it may be (and few who grow to adulthood have much left to sacrifice, in my experience). But in what do these sacrifices actually consist?

My Diotima will vote for Obama -- and will no doubt go home, or on to her job, feeling thoroughly imbrued with the dust and sweat and blood et cetera. Perhaps she will even contribute to the campaign, and feel as impurely, glorily gory afterwards as Genghis Khan after a long day of rape and pillage.

Maybe it's a failure of imagination, but this doesn't seem very, erm, gladiatorial. In fact, it's difficult to see that Diotima has sacrificed anything except a temporarily disquieting intimation of reality.

It's a little like that snide remark of Bertrand Russell's about Immanuel Kant. Russell quotes Kant saying that "It was Hume who first awakened me from my dogmatical slumbers" -- then Russell adds, "but he soon found a soporific that enabled him to sleep once more."

July 12, 2008

Hooray for Hollywood

Passed along by Mike Flugennock:
IF BARACK Obama doesn't win November's presidential election in the United States, "you can kiss the Democratic Party goodbye", the actor and director Robert Redford told an audience in Dublin last night.

Speaking at a public interview in Trinity College in advance of his conferral with an honorary degree by the university today, Redford said he hoped Obama would win because while John McCain "represents yesterday", the Democrat embodied the sort of change America needed....

"I think Obama is not tall on experience . . . but I believe he's a really good person. He's smart. And he does represent what the country needs most now, which is change.

"I hope he'll win. I think he will. If he doesn't, you can kiss the Democratic Party goodbye. I think we need new voices, new blood. We need to get a whole group out, get a new group in..."

Judging by Obama's council of wise men and women on foreign policy (Anthony Lake, Madeleine Albright, Sam Nunn...), it's not very clear just why Redford thinks Obama will usher in a "new group." But hey, the guy's time is valuable, you can't expect him to spend it on minutiae like this.

"I believe he's a really good person," Redford says. Much as I hate to say it, maybe this means that George Lakoff has a point. It's not what Obama says, or what he'll do, that matters. Here's what matters to Redford and the other Obamaniacs: Is he one of us? And of course the answer is yes. Which says more, perhaps, about them than him.

I wish I could believe that Redford was right to say that Obama's defeat this November would destroy the Democratic Party. Alas, I fear it would take a lot more than that. Drawing and quartering, burial at the crossroads in the dark of the moon, exorcism with bell book and candle -- do it all, and the fetid old bloodsucker would still somehow shabbily assemble its disjecta membra and come lurching relentlessly back.

July 31, 2008

The silly season....

... is upon us. But then, it started so long ago I can't even remember. Today's tempest in a teapot:

Indeed, the very next questioner from [McCain's] audience was another young woman who announced to the crowd: "I'm 18 and I just have to say that Obama, like, terrifies me. And I would just like to say I think you need to call him on every shot. Don't let him get away with a single thing. We can't afford it."

What a nation of poltroons we have become. Oh, I have to agree, up to a point: Obamacult scares me the way Scientologists scare me. But even over Scientologists I don't lose any sleep.

Fox News apparently put up a poll on their website -- since pulled, it seems -- asking people whether they "knew" anybody who's scared by Obama. Dirty pool! The donks, eyes blazing, nostrils flaring, stampeded up Indignation Hill and brayed their outrage to the unhearing firmament. As one of my correspondents wrote:

Knowing the Republicans will try to scare the electorate is like knowing the sun will rise in the AM. It's the standard Republican tactic of fear-mongering. That said, if one were actually "terrified" of an Obama Presidency then it would follow that one would be absolutely shit-yourself petrified of a McCain Presidency. Imagine the US involved in helping a Georgian independence movement? Scary beyond words.
Droll. I seem to recall the last Democratic President sending bombers in aid of a Kosovar independence movement. But hey, water under the bridge.

What's funny, even if you don't remember Clinton or Johnson or Kennedy at all, is to watch our Democratic apologist, without even taking a breath, doing the very thing he reproaches the enemy for. The Rs try to "scare" the electorate. So what does our man do? Try to scare 'em even more.

In fact this is a hoary, time-honored Democratic stratagem, going back (as another correspondent pointed out) at least as far as the famous Johnson-vs-Goldwater mushroom cloud spot in '64.

Yeah, our guy is a creep: but if their guy gets in... the sky will fall!

November 4, 2008

A fresh face

Election day. Record turnouts, or so they say, and I can well believe it. Everybody I encountered today seemed very jazzed-up.

Seen from a remote, intergalactic distance -- my preferred viewpoint, when I can manage it -- this makes a kind of sense. The country's in a desperate state (thanks to tireless bipartisan efforts over the last, what, eight, sixteen, twenty-eight, forty years?). People are worried, frustrated, keenly aware that the pooch can't take much more screwing.

How fortunate for our rulers that this hundred-year flood of discontent has, once again, been safely channeled into the storm-sewer of the Democratic Party. No structures are in danger. Traffic is moving normally. Stay tuned for the stock market report at 6.

* * * * *

I broke my usual rule, yesterday, and talked about the election with an old friend of mine. She's an old enough friend that she knows my views and, though she doesn't share them, she's kind enough to make allowances. But still. It makes her a little evasive and squirrelly on the rare occasions when the subject does come up.

So -- I asked -- explain it to me. Why Obama? I just don't hear the music. Why bother? Enlighten me. Seriously.

(I meant it, too. Seriously).

Her response, after some hemming and hawing:

-- You know, it's time for a new face. Not another tired, sclerotic old white guy. A woman woulda been nice too, but this is really, like, a huge step.

This got me thinking. A fresh face. Let's give our blood-spattered, cannibal-toothed old Empire a more attractive spokesperson.

My friend is a good-hearted individual and she doesn't approve of imperial blood-spattering and flesh-eating; and she's well-informed enough to know that our empire has done its share of these disagreeable practices. I don't think she really, rationally expects the empire under Obama to be that different.

But I suspect that on some half-conscious level she thinks, or hopes, that Dr Jekyll will soak into the fibers of Mr Hyde and transform him into a better global citizen.

It will be nice if she's vindicated. But the original story didn't turn out that way; and I've always felt that Stevenson is a very underrated writer.

The white Negro

From one of my lefty mailing lists -- let's call the writer Holtkamp:

I also have to say standing in a long line... really brought home to me what the possibility of having a black pres means to black Americans. I know many of them will be disappointed - and I also suspect many of them know pretty well what's likely to happen. (And it will freak the hell out of a lot of white racists.) Who am I, white boy leftist, to dismiss all that?
This guilty-conscience thing weighs like a nightmare on the brain of white American lefties.

It's more than understandable that a lot of black folks would be excited about the prospect of a brother in the White House. Rooting for the home team is human nature.

But if the team in question is not your home team... then you have the luxury of asking yourself: what is this team going to do for me? For the world?

In the Obama case, there's precious little reason to think that the world and I -- and Holtkamp -- are going to be much better off.

Holtkamp, I happen to know, is no fool. So why is he deploying this thoroughly stupid argument?

I suspect it's just apotropaic: Holtkamp knows he's done wrong, and wants to frighten away the harpies of criticism. So... wave the Bloody Shirt!

* * * * *

I just popped into the room where the rest of my family are watching the election returns -- as if it were Oscar Night. Barry O is unsurprisingly in the lead. I can look forward to four years -- maybe eight! -- of twitting Holtkamp about his cave-in.

Hey, we take the pleasures we can get.

November 28, 2008

This way to the outlet

In a comment on a recent post, dermokrat posted a link to a sermonette by Tim Wise (shown above).

Tim is following a well-trodden career path -- a self-described lefty who spends much of his time berating the left, with the battered but evergreen old tropes of purism, negativity, humorlessness, and of course ineffectiveness.

So far, so hum. Couldn't even read the whole thing. What did catch my eye was the subtitle:

We don't need the "everything sucks" analysis; Obama has mobilized millions of activists and that energy is looking for an outlet.
Tim's line of argument is nicely summed up in this formulation; he might have spared us the almost 2,000 words of clumsy vituperation that follow. Obama. Tim, thinks, has got people all juiced up and ready for action, and all "we" have to do -- "we" being Tim's non-purist, all-positive, laugh-a-minute, and highly effective section of the "Left" -- is show these newly energized and hopeful folks the way forward.

Alas, Tim has got it backwards. Obamaphiles aren't "looking for an outlet." They've found their outlet. They're not looking for more worlds to conquer; they figure they've conquered the only world there is. They've put a hip, cool, well-spoken, intelligent and highly-credentialled scion of the merit class in the White House.

Mission accomplished!

February 2, 2009

Kinder, gentler banditry, and its domestic chaplains

This hypocrite, whose holy look and dress
Seem Heaven-born, whose heart is nothing less :
He preaches, prays, and sings for worldly wealth,
Till old sly Mammon takes it all by stealth,
And leaves him naked on a dreary shore,
Where cant and nonsense draw in fools no more.

-- Timothy Bobbin, The Human Passions Delineated (1773)

Al Schumann earlier posted an LA Times article explaining how Obama is going to continue kidnaping people and shipping them off to secret dungeons in friendly dictatorships (a practice known by the somewhat sanitized term "rendition").

Al's normally aquiline eye seems to have overlooked what was, for me, the best part of the story:

The decision to preserve the program did not draw major protests, even among human rights groups. Leaders of such organizations attribute that to a sense that nations need certain tools to combat terrorism.

"Under limited circumstances, there is a legitimate place" for renditions, said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "What I heard loud and clear from the president's order was that they want to design a system that doesn't result in people being sent to foreign dungeons to be tortured -- but that designing that system is going to take some time."

In the meantime -- which may be quite a long time -- the tender-hearted Mr Malinowski can live with the dungeons, the torture, etc. All in the name of "combatting terrorism." Malinowski would probably deploy the word "realistic" if you taxed him about this.

Malinowski, like many liberal-schmiberals, has put himself in the position of serving two masters, a thing we are warned against on good authority. One of his masters is the rather nebulous but earnest ideal of "human rights". But the other, it would appear, is the Empire and its mendacious categories: "fighting terrorism", for example, is what a truthful person would call "suppressing resistance." And once you allow the validity of the Empire's claims and categories, you've given the game away.

This little item came along, happily, as I was pondering the dissociation of consciousness that my incurable-Obamaphile friends seem to be practicing. They won't actually defend any of the things I enjoy mentioning to them -- rocket attacks on Pakistani villages, for example. But there's a look on their faces that suggests I'm somehow being pedantic, or silly, or rude.

This is why I'm sometimes tempted to argue that people like Obama are actually worse than people like Bush, at least for the moral character of liberals. Back when Bush was kidnapping and torturing pro imperio, my liberal friends were quite willing to deplore these things. But now that Obie is doing it, it's sorta tacky to bring it up in good society, and there seems to be a tacit agreement that it would be asking far too much to demand that he stop it.

In practice, my friends' love of Obama has reconciled them to activities that they would otherwise reprehend.

This can't be comfortable for them. So they seem to have had recourse to what old Dr Freud referred to as a splitting of consciousness. The split components then pursue independent and indeed contradictory courses of action. One side tends the flame of high humanitarian moral standards -- by contributing, for example, to groups like Human Rights Watch -- and the other side kicks back in a cozy, well-lit, tastefully-appointed, book-lined living room of the mind with a big portrait of the Kidnapper-In-Chief above the mantelpiece.

Neither component wants to be reminded of the other's existence, and so when one is tactless enough to bring them into contact, they agree -- temporarily -- in exasperation at one's ham-fisted gaucherie.

It will be interesting to see how long they can keep this up.

April 1, 2009

Sansculottes, or brownshirts?


... or this?

Gonna be door number two every time, says 'brewman', in a comment on an earlier post here:

"Scratch a hippie, you find a fascist. At least that's what MJS's multi-point plan reveals.

I actually enjoy this site a lot, but cannot shake the feeling that you folks are just tools for corporate power. Deconstruct the Democratic Party --- or follow through on the tantalizing Lefty's Pledge --- and what do you get? Right-wing populism run amok, or fascism (I promise you, should the revolution come, this land won't become the People's Republic of will be more like the Fatherland), or good old-fashioned corporate authoritarianism.

Like it or not, lefties, the imperfect, lumpy, too-often-feckless Democratic Party is the only hope for the working man and woman in the USA. It needs continually to be pressured and cajoled to do the right thing, and it usually only half does it. But the alternative would be much, much worse. And that's not a scare tactic --- it's a realistic appraisal of politics in the USA. Give me FDR, LBJ (the butter, not the guns) and BHO anyday over what you folks have in mind."

The "multi-point plan" in question was actually a different Mike's, not mine, but the line of argument here deserves some consideration.

brewman concedes, in effect, that the Democratic Party's function is to block the General Will. But he concludes that that's a Good Thing, since the General Will is... Hitler!

Of course we don't know anything about brewman's own background or history. But this is an argument that I've heard a lot from merit-class types of my own acquaintance. What follows then is directed not at brewman specifically, but at a more general social phenomenon.

Fear of the mob has a long history. The precise form it takes depends on where you're coming from. The rich generally worry about Bolshevism and expropriation. The merit class worries about irrationality and atavism and the ever-looming dark intoxication of Fascism.

(For some reason, the rich aren't so worried about Fascism. In fact, they sometimes seem to be... promoting it; and we might add that the Democratic Party has been right there with 'em, on every step down this path in my lifetime. But I digress.)

The rich don't want their money taken away. That's understandable enough.

The nightmare of the meritoids has a different basis. Their amour-propre depends on the sense of being better, not just richer. They're an intellectual/cultural aristocracy, not a stupid inbred aristocracy of blood, or a coarse Philistine aristocracy of wealth. They're not richer than the mob, or even better-bred -- less, if anything, in my experience -- but they're more conscientious, more enlightened, kinder, less prejudiced, more rational and critical, and of course better-informed than the mob.

So by a process familiar to everyone who's ever heard the word "structuralism", the mob must be the opposite: bigoted, chauvinistic, irrational, ignorant, uncritical, and in short, the inevitable prey of a Hitler redivivus, unless they're kept in line.

Enter the Democratic Party, which we can depend on to keep 'em in line, and throw 'em a crumb every now and then to gratify our tender enlightened merit-class hearts.


September 29, 2009


The New York Times captioned this picture as follows:

Iran showed new defiance Sunday by test-firing three short-range missiles near the city of Qum.
The article to which this image was attached explained how Obie was going to improve on his predecessor by adopting a more aggressive attitude toward Iran. I suppose that counts as change, though it doesn't give me, personally, much hope.

But let's return to this trope of "defiance".

France has missiles. England has missiles. The US and China and Russia and India have missiles, and Israel has more missiles than a beggar has fleas. Having armed forces -- and missiles -- seems to be a privilege of sovereign nations. So how, exactly, is it "defiance" on Iran's part to have what other countries have?

This is what is known as "logic", but just try explaining it to an enlightened liberal American Obamaphile. You'll get a pitying smile, and perhaps your interlocutor will condescend to explain to you that you're being a silly head-in-the-clouds pedant. Everybody knows that Iran can't be compared to France, or England, or China or India because... because... because, well, just because. If you read the New York Times sedulously enough, it will all begin to make sense.

The "crackpot" is an important part of crackpot realism. The propaganda system requires not only adherence to certain beliefs and prejudices, it also requires downright unreason, the renunciation of the syllogism: countries have missiles, Iran is a country, therefore -- no no no, don't go there.

This aspect of the propaganda system is insufficiently appreciated. Social control requires not only that we be misled and misinformed, it requires us to embrace a thought disorder, and congratulate ourselves on having done so.

And of course the great thought-disorderers are our media megalotheria, the Times prominent among them. Daily they serve up a mile-long buffet of bare-faced illogic and unreason -- but they serve it with such bland assurance, such calm gravitas, such marmoreal magisterial confidence, that only a stubborn poorly-socialized person can resist getting sleepier, sleepier....

They are the gatekeepers of reality itself, and if they say that two plus two equals five, you better believe it.

April 6, 2011

Boxed in

Years ago, a girlfriend of mine had a pet turtle. She -- the turtle, I mean -- was a box turtle, not a snapping turtle like her cousin pictured above. Her name was Sweetie Pie. The girlfriend was a sweetie-pie too, about whom I think often and fondly; let's call her Susannah.

There was nothing wrong with Sweetie Pie's turtle skills, but apparently a sound understanding of right angles isn't very important for turtles on their own turf. Sweetie Pie was constantly getting herself wedged into corners, as Cuz is shown doing, and was sorely puzzled about how to get out. She was a fairly energetic, peripatetic turtle, so if we hadn't recently seen her deliberately transiting a stretch of floor, Susannah or I would notice: Have you seen Sweetie lately? No -- I'll check the bathroom. We'd always find her facing into a corner -- she had a couple of favorites -- and we'd pick her up, rotate her 180 degrees in the X-Y plane, and put her back down to resume her rambles.

Sweetie's perplexities came to mind recently when I read this item from Glenn Greenwald:

The impotence of the loyal partisan voter

Rachel Maddow [says]:

A Democratic President kicks his base in the teeth on something as fundamental as civil liberties ... How can the base itself possibly change this dynamic?
I'm not saying I know the answer....What would ever make Democratic Party leaders change how they view this dynamic?
Turtle skills are one thing, people skills another. Turtles aren't expected to understand plane geometry, but people, you'd think, would grasp the fact that you don't get out of a corner by persevering on the course that got you into it. Thus Greenwald's obtuseness here seems downright chelonian. (The less said about Maddow, the better; in fact, what is a bright spark like Greewald doing quoting a teevee talking head like Maddow in the first place?)

Two words, Glenn: third party. That will get their attention, if anything will; and if nothing will -- as I suspect may be the case -- then you might as well at least have some fun, and enjoy the pleasure of pulling a lever without holding your nose.

* * * * *

Speaking of which, Buffalo Beast editor and renowned prankster Ian Murphy is running for Congress on the Green Party ticket in New York's 26th District, formerly represented by Shirtless Chris Lee, the Craigslist tail-troller. I'm tempted to go establish residency in Buffalo just so I can vote for him. It should be fun -- there's a regular Demolican and a regular Republicrat and apparently a couple of Teabaggers too. Stay tuned!

June 14, 2011

The weenie roast goes on

Lately my Lefty mailing lists have been, as usual, a fertile source of material for studying the mental processes of Democratic Party apologists. Doug Henwood's list, I'm sorry to say, has been particularly rife with near-demented thinking, in connection with (of all things) the Wiener-waggler's, erm, comeuppance.

Some of us were pretty amused by the whole business, and several suggested that even without this particular Weiner, the roast would go forward without much alteration in its program. Our breezy nonchalance was quickly rebuked, by a half-dozen or so earnest souls eager to explain to us why the Weinerdämmerung was really a Very Bad Thing. A few samples:

I think it is a bad idea to cheer too loudly when the bad guys are taken down by the worse guys. As with Clinton taking hits for a blow job, Weiner taking major hits for sexting helps reinforce American puritanism, something that is already quite bad enough. And its being used as an excuse to give credibility to Breitbart. Hell with cheering that shit on.
it is amazing how quickly the reasoning process of certain sophisticated leftists can degenerate into mindless Cheneyism. Just as for Cheney there's a fixed number of terrorists and once you kill them all the terrorism stops, so too there are apparently a fixed number of ultra-Zionist politicians in Queens, and if you get rid of enough of them their race is extinguished.
This poor chap seems to be still hagridden by wounding memories of his college days:
And your semantic bullshit only makes you look like a fool. Reminds me of the Pomo profs I had who would attack endlessly how a student said or wrote something only because they were completely inept to deal with what they said or wrote
A profound Marxist theorist:
It matters on what basis a neoliberal like Weiner is tossed out of office. If a Clinton is impeached for sexual transgressions by the ultra-right, it tips politics more rightward still, as we saw after 2000. If the collapse of the Spanish economy led to the resignation of the Prime Minister at the instigation of the right-wing People's Party, it'd be a bad thing, whereas it would be positive if it resulted from an uprising like France in 1968....

Does anyone seriously suppose that center-left bourgeois politicians being forced from office by conservatives and sexual puritans advances the interests of the working class? Where's the evidence for this assertion?

A number of perennial themes here.
  • Quivering fear of the ultra-Right, and a corresponding belief that the centrists are somehow containing or countervailing it;
  • A devotion to universal values like anti-"Puritanism";
  • A template for revolution, which must be followed;
  • A fondness for incinerating straw men -- nobody, of course, had actually advanced the notion that Boner-Boy's political detumescence would "advance the interests of the working class";
  • And of course the usual coarse puerile personal abuse, well below the level of imagination and eloquence you'd hear in any schoolyard these days.
Lucullus dines with Lucullus. Among all these delectable dishes, it's difficult to decide which one is most delightful.

I think, on balance, it's the guy who was worried about the Puritan threat. There was a certain irony in this; at about the same time, another participant on the list -- a female one, as it happens; call her St Joan -- had incautiously described the odious school "reformer" Michelle Rhee as "an ugly cunt". Here's Rhee below; decide for yourself:

Poor St Joan was subjected to the near-universal hiss of the list. All based on the highest political principles -- of course.

I wish somebody would write a really searching critique of this concept "Puritanism". To use it in a serious way, as if it were a genuine analytical category, seems a desperately shallow thing for any thoughtful person to do. But the history and usage of the term, in its modern sense, would be an interesting study. There's a certain pleasing symmetry in the picture. "Puritans" (in the modern sense) often have vivid secret sex lives; and modern anti-Puritans often seem strangely -- and openly -- Puritanical.

About The theory of crackpot realism

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Stop Me Before I Vote Again in the The theory of crackpot realism category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

The theater of security is the previous category.

The thumbscrew society is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered by
Movable Type 3.31