Saturday, June 28, 2008

Reflections: Divide and Conquer - Two Game Plans

Over at my home-away-from-home, Ragged Thots, in the comments section under the title: Government at work (6/18/08 edition), a strange bird named Golub mused thusly:

Lastly, I am always baffled by the fact that Red States should be Blue States and Blue should be Red - in terms of taxation and in the support for more government spending.

NY absolutely should be AGAINST taxes and FOR localized government and rural states should be FOR more taxes and FOR more government spending.

Edited to fit this post, my response to that was, in part, as follows:

[W}here the logic of that fails is that rural folk tend to vote on cultural issues, rather than on economic ones. Therefore, the GOP is able to keep them Red based on issues loosely defined and lumped together as "gays, guns, and God."

[Below are some excerpts from George] Orwell's “The Road to Wigan Pier"… that describe these political forces as they pertained to middle- vs. working-class Brits in the years prior to WWII. The issue that was analogous to Red vs. Blue (rural vs. urban) in contemporary America, was Socialism vs. Fascism (working-class vs. middle-class) in pre-war Great Britain. In both cases, the negative pressure [giving rise to these opposing impulses] is applied by capitalism. But the antagonism between the two social groupings keeps them seeing each other as the enemy, rather than seeing the real enemy, who successfully divides and conquers.

So, Orwell:

Obviously the Socialist movement has got to capture the exploited middle class before it is too late; above all it must capture the office workers, who are so numerous and, if they knew how to combine, so powerful. …The people who have got to act together are all those who cringe to the boss and all those who shudder when they think of the rent. This means the small-holder has got to ally himself with the factory-hand, the typist with the coal-miner, the schoolmaster with the garage mechanic. There is some hope of getting them to do so if they can be made to understand where their interest lies. But this will not happen if their social prejudices, which in some of them are at least as strong as any economic consideration, are needlessly irritated.

…Economically, I am in the same boat with the miner, the navvy and the farm-hand; remind me of that I will fight at their side. But culturally I am different from the miner, the navvy and the farm-hand; lay the emphasis on that and you may arm me against them. [i.e., “turn me into a Fascist”]

…The weakness of the middle class hitherto has lain in the fact that they have never learned to combine; but if you frighten them into combining against you, you may find that you have raised up a devil.

[To stave off Fascism] all that is needed is to hammer two facts home into the public consciousness. One, that the interests of all exploited people are the same; the other, that Socialism is compatible with common decency.

The historical situations change superficially; but the mechanisms and machinations of politics and human nature remain virtually identical.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Reflections: The Fascist Impulse

From The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell’s thoughts on how a badly presented socialism can lead to fascism:

Fascism as it appears in the intellectual is a sort of mirror-image -- not actually of Socialism but of a plausible travesty of Socialism. It boils down to a determinism to do the opposite of whatever the mythical Socialist does. If you present Socialism in a bad and misleading light – if you let people imagine that it does not mean much more than pouring European civilization down the sink at the command of Marxist prigs – you risk driving the intellectual into Fascism. You frighten him into a sort of angry defensive attitude in which he simply refuses to listen to the Socialist case.

… In order to combat Fascism it is necessary to understand it… To anyone with a feeling for tradition and for discipline it comes with its appeal ready-made. Probably it is very easy, when you have had a bellyful of the more tactless kind of Socialist propaganda, to see Fascism as the last line defense of all that is good in European civilization. Even the Fascist bully at his symbolic worst, with rubber truncheon in one hand and castor oil bottle in the other, does not necessarily feel himself a bully; more probably he feels like Roland in the pass at Roncevaux, defending Christendom against the barbarian. …Fascism has been able to pose as the upholder of the European tradition, and to appeal to Christian belief, to patriotism and to the military virtues.

Orwell concludes that “Socialism is the only real enemy that Fascism has to face.” I, of course, agree with this assessment. Even under the best of conditions, capitalism creates an underclass of angry losers for whom criminal activity seems a better way out than any other readily available means. When things get bad enough, as they did in the 1960s, this anger is fairly easily organized into smoldering, widespread rebellion against the Establishment. What Orwell was predicting for Europe, prior to WWII, can be seen as a cyclical, recurring phenomenon. As the world economy worsens, we may be on the brink of the violent phase of another such cycle. But rather than in Europe this time, here.

Readings: Taking No Prisoners

from Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier:

One of the analogies between Communism and Roman Catholicism is that only the “educated” are completely orthodox. The immediately striking thing about the English Roman Catholics…is their intense self-consciousness. Apparently they never think, certainly they never write, about anything but the fact that they are Roman Catholics; this single fact and the self-praise resulting from it form the entire stock-in-trade of the Catholic literary man. …

A working-class Catholic…does not spend his time in brooding on the fact that he is a Roman Catholic, and he is not particularly conscious of being different from his non-Catholic neighbors. …In the Roman Catholic homes of Lancashire you see the crucifix on the wall and the Daily Worker on the table. It is only the “educated” man, especially the literary man, who knows how to be a bigot. And, mutatis mutandis, it is the same with Communism. The creed is never found in its pure form in a genuine proletarian.

It may be said, however, that even if the theoretical book-trained Socialist is not a working man himself, at least he is actuated by a love of the working class. He is endeavoring to shed his bourgeois status and fight on the side of the proletariat – that, obviously, must be his motive.

But is it? Sometimes I look at a [middle-class] Socialist – the intellectual, tract-writing type of Socialist, with his pullover, his fuzzy hair, and his Marxian quotation – and wonder what the devil his motive really is. …The underlying motive of many Socialists, I believe, is simply a hypertrophied sense of order. The present state of affairs offends them not because it causes misery, still less because it makes freedom impossible, but because it is untidy…

Nobody spared!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Readings: Born To Lose

As reported also by Plato, and Plotinus… I, too, seem to remember something like this:

Remember hovering, on the lip of darkness, on the surface of Eternal Mind? In the beginning of consciousness? – to enter, like spermatozoa into fetal egg, the world, for a try at it, and those who told you from the depths of the universe not to try it? – they were the Buddhas. It was dark, it was damp and like raining, there were overshoes in a damp closet, brown light in grim kitchens, and there was a struggle and many mysterious lights showing from everywhere and furors that made me want to go in my pants and I made a tremendous mistake. Born!

~ Jack Kerouac, Some of the Dharma

Drawn by the cosmic vibration of mama’s hot thighs: Before Rodak am, I was.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Readings: Orwell on Chronic Welfare

In The Road to Wigan Pier, his study of the plight of the working class in pre-WWII England, George Orwell makes the following observations on displaced workers living on "the dole":

When I first saw unemployed men at close quarters, the thing that horrified and amazed me was to find that many of them were ashamed of being unemployed. I was very ignorant, but no so ignorant as to imagine that when the loss of foreign markets pushes two million men out of work, those two million are any more to blame than the people who draw blanks in the Calcutta Sweep. But at that time nobody cared to admit that unemployment was inevitable, because this meant admitting that it would probably continue. The middle classes were still talking about "lazy idle loafers on the dole" and saying that "these men could all find work if they wanted to," and naturally these opinions percolated down to the working class themselves. I remember the shock of astonishment it gave me, when I first mingled with tramps and beggars, to find that a fair proportion, perhaps a quarter, of these beings whom I had been taught to regard as cynical parasites, were decent young miners and cotton-workers gazing at their destiny with the same sort of dumb amazement as an animal in a trap. They simply could not understand what was happening to them. They had been brought up to work, and behold! it seemed as if they were never going to have the chance of working again. In their circumstances it was inevitable, at first, that they should be haunted by a feeling of personal degradation. That was the attitude towards unemployment in those days: it was a disaster which happened to you as an individual and for which you were to blame.

The more things change, the more they remain the same, eh?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Readings: Compare and Contrast

Two excerpts below: the first the Buddhist-inspired, notebook musings of an American "beatnik" ; the second the thoughts of a fictional Brit businessman and WW I vet, on the brink of WW II:

As far as ordinary life in America is concerned, for 2,000 years and much more than that old Indian Mothers pounded cornmeal for mush in the hopeless drizzle of history here in North America; why should we therefore question ordinary simple life of eating, sleeping, keeping a shelter, in the name of "Modern" needs such as automobiles, washing machines, expensive clothes, up-to-date furniture and cultural experiments like TV and movies and every kind of unreal hassle to kill time and with all its attendant ambitions? What advantage is there in multiplying need? REST AND BE HAPPY

~ Jack Kerouac, Some of the Dharma

I wanted peace and quiet. Peace! We had it once, in Lower Binfield. I've told you something about our old life there, before the war. I'm not pretending it was perfect. I dare say it was a dull, sluggish, vegetable kind of life. You can say we were like turnips, if you like. But turnips don't live in terror of the boss, they don't lie awake at night thinking about the next slump and the next war. We had peace inside us.

~ George Orwell, Coming Up for Air

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Readings: What Boyhood Was Then

In George Orwell's novel, Coming Up For Air, the protagonist, George Bowling, recalls the first, transformative, summer day during which he was finally allowed to accompany his older brother and a gang of local boys on their adventures in suburban England:

I'd walked ten miles and I wasn't tired. All day I'd trailed after the gang and tried to do everything they did, and they'd called me "the kid" and snubbed me as much as they could, but I'd more or less kept my end up. I had a wonderful feeling inside me, a feeling you can't know about unless you've had it -- but if you're a man you'll have had it some time. I knew that I wasn't a kid any longer, I was a boy at last. And it's a wonderful thing to be a boy, to go roaming where grown-ups can't catch you, and to chase rats and kill birds and shy stones and cheek carters and shout dirty words. It's a kind of strong, rank feeling, a feeling of knowing everything and fearing nothing, and it's all bound up with breaking rules and killing things. ...Thank God I'm a man, because no woman ever has that feeling.

I was a boy long enough ago that days like that were still a part of growing up in the American Midwest. I fear that most boys today -- every highly-structured minute of whose lives is carefully planned and micromanaged by adults -- never feel the exhilaration of that kind of primitive freedom.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Reflections: McCain't

I was watching "Morning Joe" over a cup of same a bit earlier today, and I saw and heard Joe Scarborough, in response to the suggestion of an Obama supporter that McCain doesn't understand the situation in Iraq, loudly questioning over and over again, "You say that a man who spent five years in the Hanoi Hilton doesn't understand foreign policy?!?"

To that, I say "Huh?"

I mean, can somebody please explain to me how sitting in a POW cell in Vietnam provides a person with "foreign policy experience?" What wisdom does McCain bring away from that ordeal other than, "Don't get shot down and captured by the N. Vietnamese?" That should be pretty easy for Obama to accomplish.

How does being a bomber pilot train one to negotiate with foreign governments? McCain may know how to BOMB foreign governments (although he was clearly not that good at it), but does he know how to talk to them? What does being a warrior--somebody who is deployed by somebody else, after diplomacy has failed--necessarily teach one about being a statesman--or even, for that matter, a Commander-in-Chief?

In so far as he is a "war hero" and Obama is not, what is McCain's actual edge here? I don't see it.
Friday, June 13th

Tim Russert, R.I.P.

We have all just learned, as of this afternoon, that Tim Russert has suddenly died. He died with his boots on. He died way too young. The comments section of this post are open to thoughts anybody might have concerning Russert's passing.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Quote du Jour

Prior to becoming a successful novelist and journalist, George Orwell, still using his real name, Eric Blair, spent a couple of years working as a policeman in colonial Burma. It was, in large part, the disgust that he developed for this role that led to Orwell’s subsequent anti-imperialism and aversion to rank and privilege in British society. In the quote that follows, his biographer, Jeffrey Meyers, gives an account of the only public hanging witnessed by Orwell during his stint as a cop. Orwell was moved to later write about this experience:

“A Hanging” is Orwell’s first distinctive work. It gives an apparently objective account of a ritualistic execution—from fixed bayonets to a bag over the head of the condemned—in which the narrator officially and actively participates. …The procession to the gallows is interrupted by a stray dog that leaps about and disturbs the solemnity of the occasion. In a strikingly human detail, the prisoner, who’d pissed on the floor when he heard his appeal had been dismissed, steps aside to avoid a puddle on the path—as if he feared he might catch cold on the way to his execution. This act of conscious will confirms his human existence. At this halfway point Orwell states his theme: “till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man. When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide.” Instead of invoking religion, he asserts a quasi-religious sense of life’s sacredness—the first expression of the instinctive humanism that characterizes all his work.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Reflections: Troll

It is now time to revisit the question with which I ended my post of Sunday, June 1, 2008: “What is a troll?”

In the comments section of that post, Brandon (who has convinced me that he wasn’t a snitch, but merely a bull in the china shop in flagging my illicit presence in the comment boxes of What’s Wrong With the World) reminded me that “troll” is a term originally derived from sport fishing. Having grown up in Michigan, in the midst of many freshwater lakes, I spent a good deal of time in the summers of my youth trolling for bass. An internet troll, then, drags his verbal bait slowly through the weed-choked shallows of the comment boxes of a blog, or dangles his lure in front of the other visitors to a chat room, hoping to catch a controversy and reel in some outraged flamers. His goal is to disrupt, and thus to dominate, the site.

Another meaning of “troll,” with which I became familiar in my New York City days as the consort of a dancer, is any unfortunate jamoke who is considered to be physically unattractive by a male homosexual. Let’s leave that one alone, other than to note that my pocket Webster’s defines “troll” as “a supernatural being [from Scandinavian folklore] as a giant or dwarf, living in a cave”. As I am part Swedish on my mother’s side, that one isn’t completely displeasing to me. But one can see where the queers are coming from: BOO!

A little trolling of Google, hooked this definition from Wikipedia:

An Internet troll, or simply troll in Internet slang, is someone who posts controversial and usually irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum or chat room, with the intention of baiting other users into an emotional response or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion.

The use of the word “bait” there seems to confirm the origin of the term in fishing.

Another site provided further insight into the motives of a troll:

A classic [troll] is trying to make us believe that he is a genuine skeptic with no hidden agenda. He is divisive and argumentative with need-to-be-right attitude, "searching for the truth", flaming discussion, and sometimes insulting people or provoking people to insult him. Troll is usually an expert in reusing the same words of its opponents and in turning it against them.

This is interesting, in that it assumes by saying “trying to make us believe that he is a genuine skeptic” that all chronic dissenters (such as was I at What’s Wrong With the World) are insincere and intent only on making malicious mischief. It assumes that they are never motivated by the enjoyment of an honest debate, or disputation in defense of an ideal, but only by a kind of naughty narcissism. It also assumes that the points of view expressed by the authors of the site in question are unassailably Truthful, and that any challenges made to its premises are necessarily acts of patent vandalism. It takes a good bit of egocentrism to see things that way, imo.

This inquiry, it must be remembered, has been instigated by my having been labelled a troll by Zippy Catholic, and twice banned as such at the site, What’s Wrong With the World. I plead innocent to being a maker of malicious mischief for its own sake. My attitude toward blogging is expressed quite well in the following excerpts that I came across in a book review of a biography of John Milton by Jonathan Rosen in the June 2, 2008 edition of The New Yorker:

For Milton, the great trial of life was to discover truth through error, but without falling off the path of good. His oratical vigor balances divine purpose and individual autonomy, and he displays an optimism that, in its mixture of manliness and statecraft, sounds like a speech by Teddy Roosevelt:

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. …That which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary.

Bloggers who feel threatened by any and all dissent on their sites would do well to keep Milton’s words in mind if they want their intellectual integrity to be respected, even where their premises are seen to be in error.

Friday, June 6, 2008

WWWtW-Watch #16: Letting It All Hang Out

Dedicated to the proposition that it can happen here.

Compare the central idea of this excerpt from a recent post at What's Wrong With the World...

In my estimation, Christians of the West ought to adopt the territorialist ethic of Islam: any territory falling within the compass of what once was Christendom should be considered irrevocable and inalienable, and Islamic influence therein entirely illegitimate, the Near East, for obvious prudential reasons, tragically excepted. No compromise. No quarter. We've got nowhere else to go, and we will be besieged, over the generations, if we acquiesce in the permanence of the Islamic cultural presence - because what Muslims have done in Europe, in establishing their no-go-for-Euros sharia zones, in what they will do, forever and ever, amen. The acceptance of Muslim tribal enclaves in the former Christendom is a courting of disaster, like ingesting a poison for which the body cannot develop a tolerance. the this excerpt from the Museum of Tolerance site:

From 1933 to 1939 the Nazis systematically excluded Jews from participation in German life. Jews lost their jobs, their citizenship, and their civic rights. They were isolated and cut off from society. But flight was still possible. Although the world knew the plight of the German Jews, little refuge was offered. The world watched while Nazi Germany became a testing ground for an accelerating persecution that ultimately became the epitaph for six million Jews.

We can see where this is inexorably leading us:

So I believe that I act in the spirit of the Almighty God: by defending myself against the Jew. I am fighting for the work of the Lord.

~ Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf. 1924

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Reflections: Some Perspective

We are so small between the stars, so large against the sky...
~ Leonard Cohen, Stories of the Street

So you think politics is pretty important, do you? Contemplate this...

Interlude: R.I.P.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Quote du Jour

Pishtacos! -- the ravenous ghosts brought to Peru by white people. The word began to travel in whispers through the crowd. The conquistadors had brought the pishtacos to Cajamarca. The English had hammered them into the railroads. The Americans stored them in Coca-Cola vats. The city folk churned them into cement.

~ Maria Arana, Cellophane

Sunday, June 1, 2008

WWWtW-Watch #15: Mole

Dedicated to the proposition that it can happen here.

It can now be disclosed – since I have been banned for a second time – that, over the course of several days, I had again been posting comments on threads at What’s Wrong with the World. As I am no geek, I was without technical knowledge of how such a ban is effected. What I discovered, almost by accident, is that one can apparently only be banned on one computer network at a time. (Or something like that.) Anyway, I found that I could post to WWWtW from home, and so I did.

I was not without some moral misgivings about entering a “place of business” from which I had been 86’d. But, as the saying goes, I decided that I might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. Taking those misgivings into account, however, I entered without disguise, using my real name, and providing the address of an email account that I have been using for nearly a decade. I expected to be discovered and shown the door immediately. As it went down, I was able to comment there over the course of several days. If I was a mole, I was a mole who was hiding in plain sight.

I was spotted almost immediately by a guy named Brandon. Brandon had previously known me as “Rob,” primarily at Disputations. There is a Brandon in every grade-school classroom and on every cell block in the slammer. He’s the guy who runs up to tell Teacher (or the turn-key) about whatever it is that his classmates (or fellow inmates) are trying to get away with. The most polite word for Brandon’s type is probably “snitch.” Unless they are very large guys, the Brandons of this world usually pay for their compulsive police work on the playground (or on the exercise yard). I just ignored Brandon. For whatever reason, his of me was without result.

I next aroused the suspicions of the redoubtable Lydia McGrew (and isn’t that a perfect name for the female heavy in this drama?) who thought that she recognized the rhetorical stylings of “Rodak” in the commentary of “Rob.” It is nice to know that one has developed a distinctive voice. Again – since she did not directly ask if “Rob” was, in fact, “Rodak” – I simply ignored Ms. McGrew’s musings on the subject.

What I believe to have been the terminal Rodak-spotting was effected by an intellectual pug named William Luse. This is an individual who is in the habit of taking any counter-argument to one of his unimaginative pronouncements as a personal insult. If that ESPN announcer who delights in giving nicknames to sports figures turned his talents to the WWWtW regulars, he might dub this jamoke as William “Fast and” Luse – because that’s how Bill plays with the words of his interlocutors. Billy was the easiest to ignore sans twinges of guilt.

I have to believe that WWWtW staffer, Zippy Catholic, who had known me well as “Rob” – first at Disputations and then on his own site – was immediately aware of my reemergence at WWWtW and decided, for whatever reason, to let me slide for awhile. It was Zippy who originally aroused my ire by suggesting that I had been operating as a “troll” in my exchanges at WWWtW. (see comment section here).

As I said, I am no geek. I knew, obviously, that “troll” was a pejorative term. But I had only a vague idea as to the specific shortcomings included in its usage. Now that I had been commenting at WWWtW illicitly, it occurred to me that maybe Zippy had been correct. Nonetheless, I did not really worry myself too much concerning this transgression of cyber-etiquette, since, for all their intellectual pretensions, the WWWtW cabal are absolutely vulgar and déclassé in their response to any comments that are other than adulatory affirmations of their narrowly orthodox dicta. They disrespect honest dissent. So be it, then. To put it in the vernacular – what goes around comes around.

But the question remains: what is a troll? This will be considered in a subsequent post.