More electoral ruminations

Apparently, Zizek (sort of) supports Obama. This marks a change from four years ago, when Zizek welcomed Bush’s victory. Now, I am not usually concerned to follow all the microscopic twists and turns of Zizek’s party line; especially in matters like this, since I think that he is way too Eurocentric to understand what’s going on in America. But for once I think he might be on to something.

As Jodi summarizes Zizek’s argument (since she expresses it far more clearly than Zizek himself does):

Zizek’s position on Obama is rooted in the realization that appearances matter. It matters whether our society is one in which the officially acknowledged ideology claims that torture is sometimes useful, that some couples destroy the fabric of society, that its perfectly fine if the top 1% of the population are vastly wealthier than all the rest. With Obama, then, the domain of the officially acknowledged and acceptable changes. And this change brings with it a whole set of different potentials, different possibilities. The truth of the claim, then, rests not simply in whether Obama, Biden, and their handlers believe it. It’s more than that, the minimal or virtual difference that shifts the entire political frame, that creates opportunities that otherwise would have been foreclosed.

In other words, no matter how hypocritical the Democrats are (and they are, if you think — for instance — about how Biden pours forth all this rhetoric about helping the less well-to-do citizens of this country, while at the same time he has spent his entire political career working hand-in-glove with the credit card industry to screw over working- and middle-class Americans just so Visa and MasterCard can increase their already obscene profit margins even further) — nonetheless, the fact that they pay lip service to human rights, human dignity, and freedom from unnecessary suffering makes them morally superior to the Republicans, who are so crassly cynical that they overtly and positively revel in the prospects of torture, bigotry, destroying the environment for quick corporate profits, and enriching the already-rich at the expense of everyone else.

Thus, the Democrats’ hypocrisy is to be preferred to the Republicans’ cynicism, for good Kantian reasons (though Zizek would probably give Hegelian ones instead). As Kant famously said about the French Revolution, no matter how much this uprising might have “miscarried” or been “filled with misery and atrocities,” nonetheless any decent human being, observing the events of the Revolution from afar, would have to be caught up in “a wishful participation that borders closely on enthusiasm”; the sheer fact of this “sympathy,” despite everything that goes wrong in actuality, itself testifies to “a moral predisposition in the human race.” In other words, the sheer fact that something like the French Revolution could occur, no matter how badly it went wrong subsequently, gives us a legitimate ground for hoping that human beings are not forever subject to the Hobbesian alternative of either continual war of all against all, or severe and violent repression.

In the present circumstances, this means that Obama’s rhetoric of hope, no matter how vapid and empty it may actually be, still matters. Anyone who thinks that Obama will actually change things is in for severe disappointment if he wins. It’s pretty clear that Obama will do no more than restore Clintonian neoliberalism, in place of the revanchist militarism and rampant looting and pillaging that characterizes the current Bush-Cheney regime (and that McCain, for all his promises of “change”, will do nothing to alter). In other words, Obama may well rescue us somewhat from the nightmare of the last eight years, but only to the extent of restoring the status quo ante, with its foreign bombings and domestic “rationalizations” of the economy, that we rightly objected to in the 1990s. Nonetheless, the fact that Obama, Biden, and company pay lip service to humane values that they will not actually uphold is in itself a cause for hope, for maintaining a “hope we can believe in,” or (to quote a past Presidential candidate whom it is now taboo to mention) for “keep[ing] hope alive.”

This is why I think it is important to vote for Obama in spite of everything. There is an essential moral difference between Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin; just as (in a comparison that Zizek, to his credit, does not shy from), there was an essential moral difference between Stalin and Hitler. Zizek condemns the currently fashionable habit of lumping Stalin and Hitler together as totalitarian dictators. The difference, as in the Presidential race today, has to do with hypocrisy. Stalin professed support for human rights like free speech, for self-determination, for peace, and for harmony and equality among individuals and peoples regardless of race, ethnicity, etc.; all these principles are enshrined in the Soviet Constitution of the 1930s. Of course, in fact Stalin was a megalomaniacal tyrant who ruled arbitrarily, violated all of these ideals, and put millions of people to death; but Zizek is entirely right to suggest that such hypocrisy is morally superior, and far to be preferred, to Hitler’s overtly racist and anti-democratic ideology — which he unhypocritically put into practice. It’s for this reason that American Communists of the 1930s-1950s (observers of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath from afar, just as Kant was an observer of the French Revolution from afar) are far more honorable and decent (for all their ludicrous idolization of Stalin and sleazy maneuvers against other factions on the left) than the anti-Communists of the same period.

In recent years, and especially in the weeks following McCain’s selection of Palin, conservatives have excoriated liberals for, basically, thinking that conservatives are stupid, and that stupidity is the only explanation for why anybody would, say, be enthusiastic about Palin. And I think that the conservatives who argue in this manner are somewhat correct — at least to the extent that, as I’ve said before, many liberals’ scorn for Palin has prevented them from seeing the great appeal she has, affectively, to large segments of the electorate. We shouldn’t argue the election on the grounds that Palin is “unqualified” or that she is “trashy.” Rather, we should make it clear that even the most minimal sense of human dignity requires us to throw the Republicans out of power. It is not stupid to vote for McCain/Palin; rather, it is evil. Republicans are intrinsically, and necessarily, morally depraved. Anyone who votes for McCain/Palin, or supports them, by that very fact demonstrates that he or she is a person utterly devoid of basic morality, and lacking in any respect for others. To vote for McCain is to shit on human civilization, and show utter contempt for human values and human hopes. And not in spite of the Democrats’ hypocrisy, but rather precisely because of this — because their hypocrisy is, as it were, the compliment that vice pays to virtue — the moral thing to do in this election is to vote for Obama.

[ADDENDUM: I should clarify that the above is written in the knowledge that it is an entirely futile utterance. Even though there are nearly 6 weeks left until the actual election, it is pretty clear at this point that the race is already over. McCain is the indubitable winner, with the only question being whether his margin of victory will be as slender as Bush’s margin over Kerry, or as vast as Bush Sr.’s margin over Dukakis (of course, it will probably end up being somewhere in between). So you might say that this posting enacts a sort of proleptic mourning. The irony, though, is that I am mourning, not the failure of some grand hope, but rather merely the continued frustration of a hope that, even in “victory,” would not have been fulfilled. I am mourning, in advance, the failure of a failure. Such is the depressive postmodernist condition: in comparison, even something like Walter Benjamin’s melancholia seems like the most lurid optimism, a grand modernist gesture that we cannot believe in any longer. But it is precisely in such a situation that Kant’s injunction, that we must believe in, and have hope for, the prospect of an improvement of the human condition even in the face of all empirical evidence for the contrary. Our deepest moral obligation is to be faithful to this hope, even though its fulfillment cannot be foreseen, and even though it is something that can be promised “only indefinitely and as a contingent event.” ]

[2ND ADDENDUM: I fear that I am beginning to sound like late Derrida, with all his words about infinite deferral, democracy to come, etc. I can only repeat what I have said before; that essentially Derrida’s thought is a minor, but honorable, footnote to Kant.]

55 thoughts on “More electoral ruminations”

  1. I hope this is a false dichotomy between Hitler and Stalin as our choices and that there is a tertium quid: Lockean liberalism, in which case no one gets so demonized as to become a species of feces.

  2. Hi Steven.

    Points are well taken. There is another Very Big Reason to vote for Obama, and that is simple pragmatism.

    McCain and Palin are hopeless. Both are incompetent, and will surround themselves with the same bunch of greedy looters as the Bush Junta. A vote for McCain will be like a vote for Hoover. The problem is this:

    In 1929, the United States was the largest exporter of petroleum on the planet. The government had a minor debt – nothing of great significance. The USA was also one of the greatest producers of anthracite coal, coke, and steel. It’s military was tiny – the English Navy was vastly larger. The Dutch Air force was larger than the American Army Air Corp.

    Here, 80 years later, we’re looking at a completely different landscape. The USA is now the largest importer of oil. the USA gov’t is in debt $9.7 trillion. The servicing of the debt alone this year will be over 500 billion dollars. The dollar isn’t tied to anything (it’s fiat currency) so hyperinflation is the only way out of the debt burden. however, the chinese keep sucking up all the money, and are constantly increasing their banks dollar cash reserves. In short: there’s no money for the US gov to spend on the kinds of public projects that would employ people during hard times. Anthracite coal is practically gone, and what’s left is bituminous and lignite, both of which are much lower in BTU’s per ton. So while coal production might go up, energy production from coal is going down. On top of that the US Steel industry is a shadow of what it was then, and very little is actually built in the USA. And, on top of all that, the USA military soaks up as much as 1/2 the gov’t budget, when you include military related efforts and programs.

    In short: the cupboard is bare. The USA has no resources to deal with a massive economic downturn. A vote for McCain is evil, you are correct. But it is also suicide. For not only would McCain follow the same idiot policies that are driving the country into the ground, but his election would be a signal to the rest of the world that Americans basically don’t give a rat’s ass about the rest of the world.

    At that point, the knives will come out, and the USA will collapse, much like the Soviet Union. Unlike the CCCP, I don’t see it losing territory and breaking into pieces, but I do see it losing its possessions, foreign bases, and much of its infrastructure and remaining resources, as it is the logical progression of the neoliberal economic program and the logical self-destructive result of the neoconservative military agenda.

    I’ve said this before I will say it again. This election is as grave an import as 1860.

    If McCain wins, weep for the failure of the American Experiment. they tried, but they opened the treasury to venal nasty thieves.

  3. One of the neat spins in the Zizek piece is that he reverses the Feuerbach thesis that it’s not important to understand anything, it’s important to just make changes. Zizek argues that we shouldn’t just change things, we should try to think first, and enlarge our understanding of the issues at hand.

    Thinking is an amazing thing.

    Best done with liberalism as the tertium quid between the one-party systems who just act.

    Every once in a while Zizek, like Paglia, has an idea I like.

  4. Great post and thanks for the shout out. What’s weird for me: I am generally critical of evil as a political/moral category (eye of the beholder and all that). Yet, you’ve convinced me (where Zizek didn’t) to vote for Obama and that point was what pushed me over (or maybe the lost cause, I’m a sucker for lost causes, the worst sort of left masochism, or maybe, actually, because I don’t believe it’s already over).

  5. “A vote for McCain is evil, you are correct. But it is also suicide.”

    Well, now, Jodi, although I’d already decided, of course, Mr. Warwick makes the more powerful argument for me, if I needed any. Evil is bad most of the time, but I really think suicide is often even less appealing. On the other hand, the problem is that voters have been voting suicidally for some time (at least in terms of voting for their own personal ruin just for a quickie fix based on who they like on the television during the election period only), so I’m not at all convinced yet this won’t happen again.

    “This election is as grave an import as 1860.”

    I couldn’t agree more, and I have no idea why we survived the 2004 one. This one ought to put the final nail in the coffin if it goes as the Snopeses want it to.

  6. “Look. I am a pro-growth, free-market guy. I love the market.” — Barack Obama

    Hmm. I’m not, I don’t, and I see the free market as the final determining instance of the lethal, grinding, daily immiseration that is the only true candidate for “evil.”

    Sorry, can’t vote for evil.

  7. Oh, and by the way – the Russian stock exchange has closed itself today and yesterday due to insane drops in value (17% and 10%) thanks to the blundering idiocy on Wall Street. Yet more proof why it’s important to make sure the Republicans don’t stay in power: they were responsible for the deregulation that went into this mess, esp. bill s900.

    Basically allowing them to do as they please.

    Here’s the voting:

    U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 106th Congress – 1st Session

    as compiled through Senate LIS by the Senate Bill Clerk under the direction of the Secretary of the Senate

    Vote Summary

    Question: On Passage of the Bill (S.900 as amended )
    Vote Number: 105 Vote Date: May 6, 1999, 08:14 PM
    Required For Majority: 1/2 Vote Result: Bill Passed
    Measure Number: S. 900
    Measure Title: An Act to enhance competition in the financial services industry by providing a prudential framework for the affiliation of banks, securities firms, and other financial service providers, and for other purposes.

    Vote Counts: YEAs 54
    NAYs 44
    Present 1
    Not Voting 1

    By Vote Position
    YEAs —54

    Abraham (R-MI) Allard (R-CO) Ashcroft (R-MO) Bennett (R-UT) Bond (R-MO) Brownback (R-KS) Bunning (R-KY) Burns (R-MT) Campbell (R-CO) Chafee, J. (R-RI)
    Cochran (R-MS) Collins (R-ME) Coverdell (R-GA) Craig (R-ID) Crapo (R-ID)
    DeWine (R-OH) Domenici (R-NM) Enzi (R-WY) Frist (R-TN) Gorton (R-WA)
    Gramm (R-TX) Grams (R-MN) Grassley (R-IA) Gregg (R-NH) Hagel (R-NE)
    Hatch (R-UT) Helms (R-NC) Hollings (D-SC) Hutchinson (R-AR) Hutchison (R-TX)
    Jeffords (R-VT) Kyl (R-AZ) Lott (R-MS) Lugar (R-IN) Mack (R-FL) McCain (R-AZ)
    McConnell (R-KY) Murkowski (R-AK) Nickles (R-OK) Roberts (R-KS) Roth (R-DE)
    Santorum (R-PA) Sessions (R-AL) Shelby (R-AL) Smith (R-NH) Smith (R-OR)
    Snowe (R-ME) Specter (R-PA) Stevens (R-AK) Thomas (R-WY) Thompson (R-TN)
    Thurmond (R-SC) Voinovich (R-OH) Warner (R-VA)

    NAYs —44

    Akaka (D-HI) Baucus (D-MT) Bayh (D-IN) Biden (D-DE) Bingaman (D-NM)
    Boxer (D-CA) Breaux (D-LA) Bryan (D-NV) Byrd (D-WV) Cleland (D-GA)
    Conrad (D-ND) Daschle (D-SD) Dodd (D-CT) Dorgan (D-ND) Durbin (D-IL)
    Edwards (D-NC) Feingold (D-WI) Feinstein (D-CA) Graham (D-FL) Harkin (D-IA)
    Inouye (D-HI) Johnson (D-SD) Kennedy (D-MA) Kerrey (D-NE) Kerry (D-MA)
    Kohl (D-WI) Landrieu (D-LA) Lautenberg (D-NJ) Leahy (D-VT) Levin (D-MI)
    Lieberman (D-CT) Lincoln (D-AR) Mikulski (D-MD) Moynihan (D-NY)
    Murray (D-WA) Reed (D-RI) Reid (D-NV) Robb (D-VA) Rockefeller (D-WV)
    Sarbanes (D-MD) Schumer (D-NY) Torricelli (D-NJ) Wellstone (D-MN)
    Wyden (D-OR)

    Present – 1
    Fitzgerald (R-IL)

    Not Voting – 1
    Inhofe (R-OK)

    The only Democrat to vote this insane piece of nonsense was Hollings from South Carolina.

    So, yes, the Dems are hypocrites, but they DIDN’T vote for the legislation that permitted the meltdown we see going on around us.

    This is a Republican disaster. They invented it. McCain voted for it.

    People are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts.

  8. Steven, you’re being way too nice to Dr. Zizek; Dr. Zizek based his entire career on the Sacrifice Act, but the shtick won’t wash down, among other reasons, because of the size of his belly, and then more importantly because Dr. Zizek psychoanalyzed one of the founding sacrifical myths of the Christian Orthodox religion – the myth of self-sacrifice in Kosovo – as a source of the Serb nation’s masochism; in this way dr. Zizek fully supported NATO’s psyop for the humanitarian bombing campaign. This outing is also what once drove Emir Kusturica to the point of breaking the slovenly doctor’s nose.

  9. I think there is some historical support within presidential politics for what’s said in Shaviro’s post in the election to the presidency of JFK, the first Catholic American president. It’s almost hard to believe, and strangely difficult to recall, the vitriol hurled at American Catholics with political aspirations prior to this. Stuff about the Pope controlling the USA from Rome, etc.–nasty, terrible crap which more or less disappeared ever afterward. I am of the opinion that the election of JFK substantively improved the economic status of American Catholics, too. Once part of the American underclass, the poor, Catholics as a group entered the American middle class for the first time in the sixties. It seems almost silly to attribute this to something as symbolic as the election of a “Catholic”–I don’t think it necessarily is, though.

  10. “It is not stupid to vote for McCain/Palin; rather it is evil.”

    I was ok with this post up to that point, and then it seemed that the whole point of the rest was to foreclose rational discourse.

    Instead the point was to create the urgent hysteria of a lynch mob. This is too often what is happening in academia: it’s what happened at Duke.

    It’s deeply disturbing to me that this is where we’re at now in the liberal arts.

    It reminds me of two other situations: one, Orwell’s situation as a soldier in Burma in his essay Shooting an Elephant, in which the crowd hysteria makes him shoot the elephant. It also reminds me of the situation in Jerusalem where Pontius Pilate feels called upon by the crowd to execute Christ. He can’t stand up for principles. There aren’t any principles but what the crowd wants. This is dangerous, and this is why I keep saying that the left has become un-principled. It won’t deal in rational discourse, but continually tries to foreclose conversation by resort to calumniating the other side via ad hominem accusations rather than offering reasons, with evidence.

    This is part of what worries me about Obama. I feel that he can be pushed by the crowd. He is both a magnificent orator and can pull people into his magnetic field, but he himself is caught in that field. He seems to go along to get along. He put up with his demented pastor for two decades because he saw it would get him somewhere. I’m not sure that’s the case, but it might well be.

    The crowd can be persuasive, especially if you are not willing to buck the tide. This frightens me about Obama. This last post is meant to create a mob-think or group-think that dares anybody to go against it. As such it is unprincipled.

    Crowd hysteria can influence certain people. I am afraid that Obama drifts with the crowd’s feeling, like Pontius Pilate. He will do what’s popular for him to do, rather than what’s right. So far, that’s what I’ve seen in him. It worries me.

    When has he EVER stood against the crowd on anything?

    People like the poster and the commenter here may not themselves be leaders, and may not do anything in politics in terms of making major decisions. But simply using that kind of demented logic to foreclose rational discussion can create a groundswell of wacky opinion that may lead some leaders who can’t stand on their own to do what’s demanded of them.

    McCain won’t do what’s demanded of him. He will do what he thinks right. That’s why the episode in the Vietnamese prison is so instructive, and so important. It shows us that even under torture and after 5 years of isolation, this man basically believes in America, and will do what’s best for America, no matter what inducements he’s being given to do otherwise.

    I admire that kind of toughness. It’s called character.

    I’m not sure that Obama has it. I’m also not sure he doesn’t. But I’m sure that McCain has it in spades.

    I think Palin does, too.

    Again, I’m not sure about Biden.

    I want a person who will stand on their principles and I want to know what those principles are. I don’t want a Pontius Pilate who might be swayed by the crowd that’s screaming all kinds of irrational things in the ear of the leader. The left should not be doing this, and its intellectual leaders should certainly not be doing this.

    We have to continue to believe in rational discourse, and to leave it open, rather than foreclosing the discussion by preemptive assaults on anyone who might disagree.

  11. “I think Palin does, too.”

    That’s what interests me…You are so willing to grant Palin this quality. You can’t cite anything in her record to support this willingness,(I have a pretty good knowledge of her record,) and most likely don’t care so much that you can’t. And yet you wish to characterize your discourse as rational. It seems at some point you’d have to give up either the willingness to grant people like Palin the qualities you wish to grant them or else give up the pretense of rationality. As the coexistence of these untenables(desire to see what’s not there along with the desire to believe in rationality) within the political thinking of large numbers of people lengthens into the decades, I don’t see what choice is left for people trying to understand American political thinking but to try to read the affective stance which has led to the very maturity of untenable, contradictory positions. Or is this the simple mistaking of charisma for character, for toughness?

  12. “We have to continue to believe in rational discourse, and to leave it open, rather than foreclosing the discussion by preemptive assaults on anyone who might disagree.”
    This is very true, preemptive assaults on those who will not cooperate with your interests are bad. Hell, when they result in the death of nearly a million civilians, they might even be evil.

  13. Actually, yusef, none of what Olson is saying about McCain and character means much of anything to anybody by now. His lies have been revealed all over the place this week, which is why Olson’s last post is beneath contempt. He just attacks Obama and leftists in a purely partisan way that says it is not, and that McCain won’t do what’s demanded by the crowd, evne that, of course, is all he’s been doing. The POW business has nothing to do with his recent actions, and such things never made anyone qualified because they were brave in some other realm. The idea that Republicans don’t ‘foreclose rational discourse’ is plainly absurd, but I would agree that ‘voting for McCain is evil’ is not convincing at all. I’m just not going to do it. The Republicans have presided over a disastrous period, and it definitely was their intent to do so, and to continue along the same lines. It really isn’t even something to discuss. Shaviro thinks it is, with the ‘evil vote’ thing, and others have bought that, but I still think it’s more ‘suicidal’ than ‘evil’. People in the U.S. are well-known to vote for what hurts them, and they did that by re-electing Bush in 2004.

  14. Yeah. All I have to do is remember McCain was one of the Keating Five–how he thus contributed to the S&L crisis, which appears to me as the prologue to our current crisis which may yet prove to be devastating–to laugh at any idea his POW status means he’ll act with “character” in the capacity of chief executive.

  15. Love your blog, but it looks to me like you wrote your first addendum at the very moment it became apparent that Obama is definitely going to win.

  16. As long as we’re talking about the left drumming up hysteria, it’s probably worth considering that it was the Republicans who made sure that everyone thought a terrorist was lurking behind every bush (or convenience store counter). The current administration thrived for along time on the fear that it generated in the public. Democrats are certainly guilty of it too, but really? Since when is exaggerating threats an exclusively ‘leftist’ thing?

  17. I’m willing to grant rationality to Palin until proven otherwise. You said that you lived in Alaska, Yusef, and thus have an insight into her that I am lacking.

    I saw her at the GOP convention, and saw her a few times on the Fox interviews with Sean Hannity.

    She seems reasonable to me, and to have a sense of humor.

    She is just starting with different axioms than the left.

    The left thinks of America as an imperial nation that must be stopped at any cost. The right thinks of America as the light of the world.

    The foundations of thought have to be taken on faith because nothing can be proven. So the essential paradigm that frames someone’s thought is somewhat always already irrational, and to that extent all thought could be derided as irrational.

    This involves me in various paradoxes and conundrums, because I claim to be for rational discussion, when I’ve just claimed that all thought is irrational, at bottom.

    I don’t think Christianity is any more irrational than belief in some kind of human progress on materialist terms (i.e., Marxism).

    Moreover, what we might look at are the actual fruits of different paradigms. Lutheran societies (Scandinavian societies are 80% Lutheran) and are also DEMOCRATIC socialist countries, for the most part. I think they are the best countries in the world according to any kind of misery index you can name (measuring longevity, health, freedom of speech, and other Lockean criteria).

    Palin’s background is odd to me: Assembly of God. Is it any weirder than a belief in Marxism?

    Assembly of God has never started to murder its opponents from within.

    The belief that Stalinism is somehow superior to Christianity is part of what I’m challenging here. If you look at it objectively, I can’t understand this assertion, or the willingness to look aside from Obama vs. McCain (both ostensibly Christians) and to change the discourse to Stalin vs. Hitler (neither of whom were Christians) and to somehow argue that they are adequate analogues, and then to preemptively conclude that Stalin (Obama) is good, and Hitler (Bush-McCain) are evil — it just struck me as stupendously twisted, and hysterical, and yet clearly this is somehow passing for rational discourse?

    Jesus.

  18. I don’t think anyone argued Stalinism as superior to Christianity. Someone argued Stalinism as superior to National Socialism (Hitlerism, Naziism, or whatever you want to call it.) They gave their reasons for doing so. As you may know, there has been, for fifty or sixty years, a tendency to lump both Stalinism and Hitlerism together under the category of “totalitarian”– as if they were political equivalents, almost. I wish you would go back over their argument for why Stalinism and Hitlerism do not belong in the same political category, paraphrase it for me, and then give your refutation. Maybe then we could conduct a rational discourse and do it without pondering the very foundations of thought itself.

    I do appreciate your honesty, forthrightness, and sincerity. These are necessary, I believe, to rational discourse– but alas! They are not sufficient.

  19. One more thought, if I may since the readers of this blague are becoming more and more open to my thought, or so it seems!

    The great difference between the left and the right just now, as during the days of Lincoln, is that the left Democrats believe that it is imperialist to meddle in other countries. The Democrats didn’t want to meddle in the south in order to free the slaves. Lincoln said “A house divided cannot stand,” and argued that we must henceforth either be all slave or all free.

    Reagan did something similar in regard to the Soviet Union. They backed down, and released their Eastern European colonies from their bondage. Let freedom ring.

    The right sees what they are doing in this regard as Good Samaritanism.

    To free Afghanistan from the yoke of the Taliban. How is this not a good thing, now that the women there can vote and read again, and the girls can go to school, and the people have books and music?

    Ditto with Iraq. Hussein was a preposterous sociopath.

    America is a Good Samaritan. We help others when they are down. We picked up proud and honest people from the gutters into which they had fallen, and got them back up.

    We don’t want much in the way of thanks. We then ride off, like the Lone Ranger. It’s the American Way.

    Lincoln was unpopular too. He was hated, in fact. A Democrat’s bullet ended his life. Boothe apparently thought that Lincoln was a tyrant.

    The countries of the world can be judged on Lockean terms: do they support life, liberty, health, and property of their citizens? If not, they should be regarded as illegitimate, and as a potential war for Americans to undertake as Good Samaritans. This logic no doubt has some flaws, but the logic of the Democrats leads to indifference, and to thinking, well, it’s the culture of North Korea that no one can laugh or write a poem, and in which the dictator makes all the laws.

    “As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
    While God goes marching on.”

    Julia Ward Howe, “Battle-Hymn of the Republic”

  20. Ugh. Olson wrote:

    “The great difference between the left and the right just now, as during the days of Lincoln, is that the left Democrats believe that it is imperialist to meddle in other countries. The Democrats didn’t want to meddle in the south in order to free the slaves. Lincoln said “A house divided cannot stand,” and argued that we must henceforth either be all slave or all free.”

    That is utterly stupid, ignorant, and wrong.

    The Democrats in 1860 were deeply divided. Had you done the LEAST bit of research and fact finding, you would have seen that the Democratic party was divided into Southern and Northern factions, dividing their votes. On top of that there was a significant vote (to the tune of 39 electoral votes) for Bell, a Tennessean of the constitutional Union Party, which also drew votes away from the Democratic Party, allowing the brand new Republican Party (1854) which was founded on the ashes of the Whig Party. At the time, wage slavery was a great improvement over chattel slavery, and Capitalism a great improvement over Feudalism. As a consequence, the Republican Party, at the time, was a “progressive” choice. with a deeply divided Democratic party, Lincoln won the white house with all of 39% of the vote.

    So, Olson, you’re wrong. Simply, deeply, and completely wrong as to how Lincoln got elected.

    Next:

    Reagan did something similar in regard to the Soviet Union. They backed down, and released their Eastern European colonies from their bondage. Let freedom ring.

    Reagan did nothing of the sort. The Soviet Union collapsed from a downturn in energy prices combined with a wholey ineffectual management and distribution apparatus. I will go into this more, but I am being called away for the weekend. gotta go.

    Suffice to say, Olson, you are delusional. Of course, I don’t expect you to discuss the facts, you never do, as you only know how to argue dishonestly and without character.

  21. I’m not sure it’s really “evil” to vote for McCain/Palin, but I think it would be fair to characterize it as mean spirited. Personally, I have nothing to gain by endorsing ethnic minority representation, alternative sexuality, women’s rights or opportunities for the working class to obtain middle class footholds. Those are social trends that I see as fairly inevitable and I don’t see much to be gained by making those trends an excuse to promote or heighten racial, gender or class conflicts. If there were a law requiring one to vote for the party whose policies most benefit one’s personal economic interests, as a solidly middle class white male with a decided preference for passing my name and genes along to a next generation, I would have little choice except to vote Republican. But I don’t, never have and never will. People who really are middle class have more advantages than they can possibly use and those advantages can and will be used with or without their consent.

    Putting a successful POW on the top of the ticket gives me pause to wonder whatever became of James Clavell. Didn’t he write a book called King Rat? Has it been superceded by any other accounts of the POW experience? The novel gave Clavell a blank check to write whatever he wished to pursue. He took his time and wrote some very thick books, among them Shogun and Whirlwind. Shogun became the basis for a television mini-series that allowed Richard Chamberlain to escape the type casting that had made him a better looking Marcus Welby. Whirlwind drew rave reviews for it’s length, but I’m inclined to doubt that anyone has ever read it all the way through. We can talk about Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan or Israel, but let’s face it, the core of the neo-con agenda is retribution for the deposition of the Shah and the Iran hostage crisis.

    Tehran is where FDR, Churchhill and Stalin got together to dispose of Hitler, divvy up Europe and design the Iron Curtain. I don’t think they picked that locality out of a hat. If one says that the Cold War ended in 1987, or 1989 or 1991, depending on who you believe, one still has to recognize that the past two decades have largely been dominated by the Cold War’s residual inertia. Ending the Cold War means more than searching desperately for a means for an excuse to sustain its dynamic. It means identifying a new set of dynamics based on a new set of principles that don’t include abandoning the principles of constitutional representative democracy that pre-dated the Cold War. I think it’s fine if the Neo-Cons have an agenda, but it should be open to debate and not just among the privileged elite initiates of the Project for the New American Century. The end of the Cold War can only be comprehensible to those capable of recognizing that it also had a beginning.

    The Neo-Cons have had eight years to railroad their project. Frankly, it’s a mess. I would much rather be represented by someone whose presence alone is indicative of social progress over the past forty years that badly needs to be realized and consolidated. King Rat was a great novel, but I don’t think it provides a viable model for ethical post-modernism

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  23. From the Wikipedia page on The Republican Party:

    “The Republican Party was created in 1854 in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act that would have allowed the expansion of slavery into Kansas. Besides opposition to slavery, the new party put forward a progressive vision of modernizing the United States—emphasizing higher education, banking, railroads, industry and cities, while promising free homesteads to farmers.”

    Henry, you’ve been reading too much Howard Zinn.

  24. Kirby, it is not clear to me how your response dated September 20, 2008 at 10:54 p.m. to Henry Warwick’s response to an earlier post of yours is actually responsive, or responsible.

    You said this, “The great difference between the left and the right just now, as during the days of Lincoln, is that the left Democrats believe that it is imperialist to meddle in other countries. The Democrats didn’t want to meddle in the south in order to free the slaves. ”

    To which Henry said this, “The Democrats in 1860 were deeply divided. Had you done the LEAST bit of research and fact finding, you would have seen that the Democratic party was divided into Southern and Northern factions, dividing their votes. On top of that there was a significant vote (to the tune of 39 electoral votes) for Bell, a Tennessean of the constitutional Union Party, which also drew votes away from the Democratic Party, allowing the brand new Republican Party (1854) which was founded on the ashes of the Whig Party. At the time, wage slavery was a great improvement over chattel slavery, and Capitalism a great improvement over Feudalism. As a consequence, the Republican Party, at the time, was a “progressive” choice. with a deeply divided Democratic party, Lincoln won the white house with all of 39% of the vote.”

    In my opinion, Henry’s answer is enough to cast doubt on your idea that there are similarities in the attitude of the Democratic party of today and yester year regarding imperialism and meddling or the way the Republican party today or then interacts (or counteracts) those attitudes. I think at the very least there is a difference in the degree of division within the Democratic party, (definitely not a division of northern Democrats versus southern Democrats,) the degree of progressiveness of the Republican party under 21st century circumstances, the lack of existence now of any viable third party alternative, the emergence of a “new” Republican party taking the place of an “old” Republican party, (the Whigs,etc.)

    (I don’t really even understand how you can regard what developed back then into a civil war (not a problem of international but of intranational conflict,) with America’s preemptive policy of invasion and occupation in a country on another continent, but that’s my problem with your analogies, not a part of your interaction with Henry.)

    But it doesn’t look as if you considered any of Henry’s comment to have had a bearing on whether the attitude of “left” Democrats today can be compared to that of Democrats prior to the civil war.

    You simply cut and pasted a quote from Wiki about the origin of the Republican party,

    “The Republican Party was created in 1854 in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act that would have allowed the expansion of slavery into Kansas. Besides opposition to slavery, the new party put forward a progressive vision of modernizing the United States—emphasizing higher education, banking, railroads, industry and cities, while promising free homesteads to farmers.”

    I don’t even see how anything Henry wrote is necessarily contradicted or refuted or even necessarily in disagreement with this. Henry didn’t deny the opposition of the Kansas-Nebraska Act by the Republicans, and he even acknowledged a “progressive vision” in the Republicans when he said, “At the time, wage slavery was a great improvement over chattel slavery, and Capitalism a great improvement over Feudalism. As a consequence, the Republican Party, at the time, was a “progressive” choice.”

    I don’t really care so much about who is right between you and Henry about what the great difference is between the left and the right and whether it is comparable to the difference between them in the years before the American civil war. What I care about is the strange disconnect between you and most other posters here, and even between you and the Pinocchio Theory’s author. It’s not that you have a different opinion about the same thing, it is more as if you have a different opinion about things that aren’t even part of the discussion and can’t become part of the discussion even when you are engaged on these other matters which you wish to introduce to consideration here. If there is such a thing as “rational discourse” in reality as opposed to mere theory, there must exist something which could be called a common ground to which party’s could appeal. Where is this common ground between you and everyone else? Please tell me. Explain to me how you are in fact responding to Henry’s statements.

  25. As I understand it, the key coalition that allowed Lincoln to become the Republican Party’s founding father was that between the Turners and the Know-Nothings. The Turners were the largest, best organized and most influential German-American civic organization, providing coherence, security and a sense of continuity, for newly arrived German immigrants, who came to America in large numbers following the failed 1848 Revolution in Europe, an event which provided Marx with an auspicious occasion and an immediate audience for his Communist Manifesto. The organization grew rapidly in the United States between 1850 and 1860 in response to attacks upon immigrants by xenophobic nativist gangs who excused their actions through Know Nothing Party apologetics. Most of the equipment used in modern gymnastic competitions was devised for the Turners by a Prussian named Jahn, who created gymnastics as conditioning exercises to maintain fitness among former Prussian military conscripts, many of whom lent the skills they had acquired in the military to 48er causes like acquiring Schleswig-Holstein and the port of Hamburg from the Danish monarchy. The Turners and their Turnvereins flourished in America and were a major factor in Lincoln’s ability to mobilize a substantial and effective army on short notice following his election. Both Lincoln and his Confederate counterpart, Jefferson Davis, served in the military as junior officers during the Blackhawk War in 1832, but the military forces that were adequate for subduing a few renegade native Americans objecting to forced removal or for rescuing Texans from their self-reliance against Santa Anna on the Mexican border, wherever that was, in 1848 were negligible compared to what the quasi-aristocrats of the southern states could field on very short notice. The youngest veterans of the War of 1812 were seventy years old in 1861 and hardly represented a force upon which plans could be reckoned. Lincoln appealed successfully to both the Know Nothings and to the Turners, though the two groups were at least as likely to shoot at each other as they were to turn their animosity upon some dukes of hazard they’d never met.

  26. Olson wrote:

    (snip quote from wikipedia)

    Henry, you’ve been reading too much Howard Zinn.

    1. quoting the wikipedia article doesn’t contradict a single thing I said, much less form a coherent argument.
    2. I’ve read Zinn, (but hardly ‘too much”, unless you consider “any” as too much) but so what?

    Yusef made the obvious points (thanks Yusef!)

    It’s not that you have a different opinion about the same thing, it is more as if you have a different opinion about things that aren’t even part of the discussion and can’t become part of the discussion even when you are engaged on these other matters which you wish to introduce to consideration here.

    And to Yusef, I’d agree, and point out what Nate pointed out some time ago:

    He doesn’t argue honestly.

    As you have now noted – he doesn’t really “argue”. He engages in polemics – he makes statements, but they are not arguments. He’s had ample opportunity to do so, and since he refuses to honestly and rationally engage ANY discussion here, it’s clear that he is either unwilling or uninterested in doing so. Since he cannot / will not engage arguments rationally or clearly, it’s clear that he is either incapable of doing so or is simply disinterested from dong so.

    That is what led me to my suggestion he be ignored. when he posted what he did, I felt it necessary to correct his statements, as they are factually incorrect, theoretically naive, and generally stupid, and I refuse to let such lies stand uncontested. Also, as predicted, I wrote:

    Of course, I don’t expect you to discuss the facts, you never do, as you only know how to argue dishonestly and without character.

    And he was consistent to that prediction and true to form. Hence, I consider him a troll. He just trying to get a rise out of people. He has no coherent philosophical stance, he has no capacity or interest in discussing anything rationally and convincingly, and his writings can only be seen as a waste of time, to be ignored.

    Yusef seeks to engage Olson:

    Please tell me. Explain to me how you are in fact responding to Henry’s statements.

    but I can guarantee Yusef, that Mr Olson will do nothing of the sort. He will respond with the typical nonsequitors and side issues. It’s all he knows how to do. So don’t expect him to engage you in anything resembling a fair and considered argument.

  27. Kirby seems to combine two (now highly dangerous) arrogant assumptions: christianity and neoliberalism are the best of all possible worlds (and hey presto! Only the US can give us them!).

    I’m sick of the nausaeating bullshit about the invasion of Afghanistan being some form of ‘femenist’ liberation. I’m sure little girls there would rather not have cluster bombs constantly cutting them to pieces on their way to scholl (maybe they should take bibles to protect them?). Iraqis have forgotten the wonderful freedom of hanging their former dictator; now they’re stuck between terrorists and the equally psychotic (yet more incompetent) US military. I’m sure their hearts are warmed by your spirited defence of their ‘freedom’. Thanks for turning Eastern Europe into a corrupt giant brothel for your pals. Now go and nuke North Korea to help them ‘smile’ again. Is poetry illegal in Cuba too? Gays are (allegedly), so they better watch out… oh wait a minute the GOP wants them under lock and key too. Abortion’s legal in the UK – should we be expecting ‘liberation’ from this sacrelige after McCain’s victory? Let ’em all be born, just don’t ask me to feed ’em, eh Kirby?

    Hilariously, he also invokes slave-owner Locke, The Lone Ranger, the battle hymn of the Republic, and of course the good ol’ Bible (the greedy western imperialist version). Did you forget Randolph Scott?

    Precisely the kind of Know-nothing, ignore everything fool that the GOP is appealing to.

  28. Extremely witty and wise up there, Wedge. Unfortunately, what’s going to be noticed is this, “Precisely the kind of Know-nothing, ignore everything fool that the GOP is appealing to,” which will be taken as evidence of your hostility and elitism.

    But that’s what interests me–there’s always going to be something to take as evidence of hostility, elitism, and incompetence as long as opinions are not homogeneous.

    I don’t think the “left” should have anything to do with strange self-disciplining procedures for restraining thoughts and speech– I wish the “left” would unrestrain its thought and speech entirely. We may as well let go with “evidences” of hostility, elitism, and incompetence.

    Would that mean removing any hope of finding a common ground with people like this–lose any hope of mutual understanding? I want common ground and mutual understanding, but by now in the USA the problem may be clarifying: self-laceration does not create mutuality and maybe nothing else does, either. Maybe the desire for mutuality must be considered obstructive of creativity. If so, I’m still struggling emotionally to accept this.

  29. I think this is the problem with the commenters in general here: there’s way too much emotionality, and not much reason, so it’s impossible to find common ground. And that’s why elitism is the charge: you don’t want common ground. You want to be right, even though you are left. This is why I was right to leave the left.

    But because you don’t want common ground, you will lose every election, until you figure this out. But there can be the joy of masochism: we are noble, we are true, but no one listens to us. Alas!

    If I may be allowed one small quibble: Locke never owned slaves.

    No doubt this will be seen as more “evidence” that I am delusional, and should be put into a nuthouse next to Sakharov.

    As God goes marching on.

  30. “But because you don’t want common ground, you will lose every election, until you figure this out. But there can be the joy of masochism: we are noble, we are true, but no one listens to us. Alas!”

    If I may be allowed one small quibble: I just said I did want common ground.

    What I may be in the process of surmising, however, is I have no way of creating or providing for the common ground I want. That I would say I want common ground and then you would immediately reply by telling me I don’t want common ground exemplifies for me I have no power over whether there is or will be a common ground.

    I can’t make you accurately read what I’ve written. I can’t even make you see there is a problem with communicating with someone who reads what isn’t there and doesn’t read what is there…. and that the problem is worse when such a one believes they have a corner on common sense, the feel for common ground, righteousness, patriotism, etc.

    I don’t think we’re going to lose every election, either. Political tides turn and these tides will too, eventually. Eventually they may even turn against the one snake with two heads, Democratic and a Republican. I hope the turning comes sooner rather than later.

  31. Actually, didn’t you say that you would be willing to throw away common ground in favor of — overblown emotionalism?

    Maybe I misunderstood.

    It’s true that I rarely understand what anybody is saying here. That may be my fault. I just think most of the commenters here don’t write very well. Specifics are hard to come by.

    And the reasoning is weak.

    But Yusef, you’re actually one of the better ones.

    But if there’s anything communists should want, it’s common ground.

    Some political tides turn, but only when political leaders can articulate something that many people want. i think Obama’s “change” chant is something that people do want, but it’s rather vague. Maybe it’ll be enough.

    When Lincoln debated Steven Douglas and said that we should all stand with the negroes (sorry, but that was the term he used), he articulated something that caused a groundswell. Not everybody felt it, but it was enough to get him elected. When he spoke on that topic in New York City at least one man said He’s the greatest man since St. Paul!

    I don’t hear anything much coming from this comments box that I can either understand or would agree with and it largely makes me feel dismayed.

    I think I do understand the original posts — I studied with the poster for five years.

    I don’t always get all Steve’s nuances or his radicalism.

    To some extent I’ve been dropping depth charges to find out what kind of fish are swimming here, and to bring to the surface the answers to my questions about whether I could learn something new here — my ultimate intent.

    And I’ve pretty much decided to go back to lurking and to reading the original posts.

    Thank you for dealing with me, but I think that my participation here really is a waste of time for all concerned.

    My best wishes.

  32. Not that it matters, but I wasn’t advocating overblown emotionalism.

    I was thinking more of what it’s like to extend one’s hand in a friendly handshake, as friendly and earnest as one can do so, only to have the one the hand is extended toward refuse it on grounds it is suspected of being offered in hostility or elitism or some such.

    It’s really weird and maybe you can’t even relate to this, but I think the response by the offerer to this refusal has often been to take that reproach seriously followed by self-examination for traces of hostility and elitism, with an attempt to then cleanse and purify it away. But this can’t be accomplished entirely and anyway there is nothing really dangerous or threatening about a dirty hand, maybe a few germs but so what, so why don’t we get on with things?

    I don’t think the reasoning around here is weak (except for my own) but it is often subtle.

    I will also go back to lurking.

  33. Emotionalism?
    How about elections fought on Jesus, unborn babies, foriegners who may not love you enough, and those dirty perverts you want stopped from being married?

    Elitism?
    A whole political platform based on making sure rich people getting even richer, and then condemn the poor as ‘parasites’ as much as possible?

    Common Ground?
    Pick your enemy, stir up reasons to hate them, imprison and/or kill them, and then get your pals in the media to condemn anyone who questions this as a traitor. Oh, and if anyone in the media happens to point out you’re evil or crazy, you can endlessly bleat about ‘liberal conspiracies’.

    Reason?
    Close your eyes and ears to facts, research and the ‘reality-based community’. Waffle on about the wonders of the enlightenment (now a code for ‘white is right’), and then claim that religious maniacs are the best custodians of it.

    Locke did own slaves, and your repeated invocation of Lincoln shows you get way too misty-eyed at Henry Fonda movies. But it appears questioning your comforting third grade historical narrative may make your head hurt.

    But hey, I must always be wrong because I haven’t accepted Jesus as my personal lord and bigot-stick. Or maybe I’m just a commie/fag/muslim/liberal/French/welfare recipient/feminist etc. who resents your ‘freedoms’ (to vote for turning the world into shit).

  34. Give me a list of Locke’s slaves, and tell me how he paid for each slave, and exactly what jobs these slaves did for Locke, and where each one was housed, precisely, and tell me where you found this information, and I might believe you. I think you are making things up, Wedge.

  35. “The Royal Africa Company — the company which carried on the slave trade for England was chartered in 1665. Locke, along with Shaftsbury and many others bought shares in the Royal Africa Company. Locke later sold his shares at a profit. Locke also held a significant share in the Bahama Adventurers — another company which traded in slaves in the Bahama Islands.”

    See,

    http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/distance_arc/locke/locke-slavery-lec.html

  36. Ok, yes he owned shares in a company that traded in slaves. But he didn’t personally own slaves. Yusef is right. But Wedge argued that Locke owned slaves.

    Jefferson owned slaves, on a personal basis.

    But Locke didn’t.

    Locke argues against slavery in many places but I don’t know the chronology — whether he first sold his stock, or whether it was written concurrently.

    It’s somewhat like the Declaration itself — which raises a principle, and yet, many of the signers didn’t honor those self-evident principles.

    But Lincoln came back in the Gettysburg Address and made the principle clear and binding, and so in a sense, they lay down a precedent which in turn (albeit much later) does free the slaves.

    Many Marxists today contribute to the capitalist system because they are caught in it. They don’t have the ability not to be caught in it, if they want things like shaving cream, or want to eat at a restaurant. It doesn’t mean that they agree with the principle, right?

    Still, Wedge argues that Locke OWNED slaves, rather than that he owned SHARES in a company that traded in slaves.

    Wedge in general pushes his intepretations much further than his facts warrant, which in turn lowers his credibility.

    Henry’s almost as bad.

    You, Yusef, are almost pretty good on this score.

  37. Speaking of Zizek, he once highly recommended a book titled Between Jesus and the Market: The EMOTIONS That Matter in Right Wing America by Linda Kintz.

    This is one of the scariest books I have ever read. Why because the people thus described believe they are absolutely right and that EVERY one else, including liberal Christians are agents of the “anti-christ”.

    I think it gives us an exemplary explanation as to what and who Sarah Palin is appealing and energising. A raw primitive nativistic emotionalism which behind its smiling face is full of murderously reasonable demands and intentions.

    Plus check out Media Culture and the Religious Right too.

  38. Locke made a conscious, active profit from slavery. That he may never have met any belies Locke’s hypocrisy and moral cowardice. he didn’t argue against slavery, he argued against landowners having to submit the fruits of ‘their’ labours to any higher authority.

    As for lowered credibility – I’ve read your blog and it’s laughable. So full of self-justifying delusion, with similar evasions and credulous certainties as there are above.

    Yeah, yeah you’re a white middle class American christian – pat yourself on the back and back up your lame arguments with your (fragile?) identity politics. I suspect you had a youthful phase as a Trotsky parrot too, but it didn’t pay too well. But hey, even Locke backtracked. Some of us just need to belong, I guess – and Lincoln had better movies.

  39. For the record: I was never any kind of Marxist. Always disliked the philosophy: root, stem, and man-eating flower. If I could believe in it, I would do a LOT better in the prevalent academic industry. Marxism is a growth industry in American academia. Lutheranism is about as much of a career move in American academia as it would be if I were to try to relocate to Mecca itself.

    But it’s fun, and it’s impossible, and that’s part of the beauty of it.

  40. I haven’t read through all of the comments, but, assuming for the sake of argument that the evil crimes were equal, wouldn’t the hypocrite be worse for undermining the good? I’m afraid I haven’t remember the Zizek in question, but is this (I believe) widely shared moral intuition therefore to be suspected?

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