Anti-Social Non-Media

 

The idea holds promise. It might look like
sitting alone, phoneless and thinking,
which at least allows you
to imagine a country that has unfriended
racism, faved equity, pinned
knowledge, twanked twaddle
into truth, and stopped following.

As the media are mainly
a village of the damned celebrities,
it may be wise sometimes
to reduce the status of the spectacle
to that of an evening gnat that
passes by your eyes and ears–
a momentary minor whine.

hans ostrom 2017

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A Simpler Explanation for the Use of Jargon, Buzzwords, etc.

As we know, Orwell in ‘Politics and the English Language,” came down Puritanically hard on the use of jargon, “foreign phrases” (provincial much, George?), and academic-insider diction and vocabulary.  He virtually makes such usage a moral issue.

A simpler explanation, and one that fits our age of communication-deluge, is that how we learn language and, via language, how we learn to fit into families, schools, jobs, and so on, induce us to use “the latest words.”

I’ve seen this fitting-in phenomenon in academia frequently.  New terms will spread like a flu-bug during a large or small academic conference, and people reflexively start using them, not necessarily because of their efficacy but just because they are new and moving up the popular charts,  and people do not want to be perceived as being not fully current, not being part of the group that’s using this language.

It seems as if younger academics may be more susceptible to this anxious need to keep up on new lingo, but even if this is true, it doesn’t mean academics of every stage don’t do the same thing.  That said, there also seems to come a time in most academics’ careers when an opposing reflex kicks in: generally weary, and acutely weary of academia, many academics become hostile to new things and new words, and they become increasingly likely to dismiss the latter and align themselves epistemologically with the credo, “There’s nothing new under the sun!  Therefore, leave me alone!”

But it can happen anywhere–job sites of every kind, political groups, social groups.  The right-wing servicer, Frank Luntz, developed dozens of slippery phrases, to a) lie in a most “Orwellian”way, b) heap scorn on “liberals” (a term he never had to define), and c) further fortify White-Right political identity.  Members of the group, new and old, lap up the new cream like kittens, not least of all because they like that feeling of being righteous and accepted.  Of course the same thing goes on in virtually every kind of group.  I do think it’s pretty clear that, in the U.S., the Republicans have been much better at this language-game than the flat-footed, befuddled Democrats, who haven’t exactly put effective roadblocks in the way of right-wing flim-flammers from Reagan to the current bloated, narcissistic loon, Our President, who is too lazy, and too rewarded for his laziness, to use new language.  He sticks with words like terrible, sad, tremendous, bad, and good.  Before the end of his term(s), he may just start grunting at his rallies and in his press conferences, and a large percentage of White folks will cheer each nuanced sound effect. Animal Farm, indeed.

In any event, counteracting both the keeping-up-with-the jargon mania and the curmudgeonly hostility any new words and terms can be difficult because to do so with the former requires checking the impulse to fit in immediately, and to do so with the latter means checking your own desire to stop learning.  In other words, discernment and self-discipline are crucial.

After all, in whatever specialized group one may think of, new language will arise, and much of it will be appropriate and useful–a reasonable acknowledgement (if I do say so myself) that is tough to find in Orwell’s essay.

Simple forms of such discernment come in the shape of questions: “Why am I using this new word/term, exactly?”  “Am I sure I know what it means?”  “Why are ‘they’ using this new word/term, exactly?” “Are people using this term more or less unthinkingly, out of reflex, habit, or an anxious need to fit it?”

Discernment in vocabulary and diction, in writing, speaking, and reading/consuming: a good aptitude to develop, and one distinct from Orwell’s clumsy eradication-policy vis a vis (foreign phrase!) “jargon.”

“Conservative” and “Liberal”: Useless Labels?

Not entirely, useless, I grant, as they seem to mean something to a lot of people, so they have rhetorical uses of some kind. (I think this is the late-Wittgenstein defense.)

And of course they’re attached to the USA’s two main political parties, so they’re used as substitute words.  (I think this is the tautological defense.)

But, seriously: Conservatives are not, in fact, fiscally responsible.  They’re much worse than Liberals on that score.  For example,  compare “conservative” Governor Sam Brownback’s fiscally irresponsible economic leadership to “liberal” Governor Jerry Brown’s–in the same years.  One injected the hallucinogenic drug, “trickle-down economics” into the veins of Kansas, which now has to go to rehab.  The other dealt with deficit spending well and helped California find its way out of the post-2008 doldrums, chiefly by following mainstream economic “theory” and forcing the legislators to compromise.   In the U.S. Congress, “Conservatives” want to address deficit spending by cutting taxes to very wealthy people, gutting health-care, but raising the defense-budget.  As a famous economist once said, “What a mess.”  The labels don’t really tell us anything, and more than that, they confuse things; for one is more likely to get prudent (“conservative” in that sense) economics from Democrats these days–which isn’t saying much as their only competition is Brownback and other nuts.

Conservatives like playing nice with dictators.  That makes them authoritarians if not fascist-leaning.  Liberals do the same thing, with the exception of Assad and Putin.  The labels are useless.

“Defending” the Constitution?  It’s always a tie, as the defense depends on the issues.  Conservatives gutted the Voting Rights Acts and enabled lots of Jim Crow voter-suppression.  Does that sound like defending the Constitution to you?  They blindly support excessive police force: again, more fascist than Constitutionalist.  Liberals want to interpret the Second Amendment’s whole sentence, not just the second part, so as to allow gun control.  Is that defending the Constitution?  Hard to say.

Foreign policy?  Okay, Trump’s worse than a disaster, but that’s not owing chiefly to his being labeled a “Conservative” (for the moment).  Bush and Cheney were more war-mongerish than Obama, but Obama maintained the wars and, like them, used drones.  They supported Israel exactly the same, propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding.  With regard to the defense budget, Democrats give the Pentagon whatever it wants, Republicans do to, but the GOP goes further and gives them stuff they don’t want.  Both parities are fully pro-military.  It’s not a close call.

You say liberals are more sympathetic to Civil Rights than conservatives?  For the sake of argument, let’s say yes.  But why is that not a “conservative” thing–conserving civil rights?  That’s right: because the GOP decided @50 years ago to become Dixiecrats with regard to race.  “Conservative” doesn’t necessarily mean “White Supremacist,” however. Anyway, liberals talk a good game, howling at the misbehavior of stock brokers and bankers who leveled the economy.  But I didn’t see Obama and Holder sending any of them to jail.

All of which is to ask Political Scientists to come up with more accurate, less ritualistic labels for politicians that describe.  I’d also go for a one-month ban on broadcasters’ and journalists’ use of “Conservative” and “Liberal,” just to see what new words they might bring in.

“Populism”?

Here is a definition of populism:

  • S: (n) populism (the political doctrine that supports the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite). [From wordnet via Princeton U.]

Given this definition, I can see why more than a few people might find the word almost useless with regard to the victory of Trump’s campaign.

First, Trump is of the privileged elite, obviously, and second, he wallows in this status in front of his followers.  Why the working-class sector of his followers celebrate his elitism has answers in studies of psychology, racism, misogyny, White Supremacy, mass media, and American history.   Second, perhaps they also truly believe he will represent and support their “struggle with the privileged elite; if so, then Pseudocracy did indeed triumph in this election.  Online, I’ve seen the term “drain the swamp” used by his supporters.  It is of course mostly an empty signifier, ready to be deployed in the service of blind rage and cultivated ignorance.  But even if we agree that it can refer to replacing elite insiders in government with commoners, it remains preposterous.  Most of Trump’s announced appointees seem to have spent a lot of time in the swamp.

I wonder if it’s also likely that Trumpster populism is actually anti-populism, a reaction against the demographic shifts in “the populace” that are making it less White, less Christian.  Trump’s loss of the popular vote may support this conjecture, and at any rate, the loss is certainly ironically counter-populists.  Trump’s obvious taste for authoritarianism and bullying help the irony to spike.

At the moment, I don’t see any effective means for opposing Trump’s anti-populist scheme to pimp the rage that springs from angry ignorance and ignorant anger. For one thing, his anti-populism relies on a disdain for facts, hallucinations induced by slogans (“Lock her up!”), and a depraved indifference to sensible solutions.  A cult-leader, Trump will probably not have to face any serious consequences for failing miserably to address material conditions unfavorable to those not wealthy, those not elite, and he will continue to benefit from expressed, livid opposition to parts of the populace that struggle mightily: many immigrants, many African Americans, many LGBTQ persons, many Muslims, and many women.

Uncomfortable Questions About the Next U.S. President

As noted in a recent post, I frequently asked myself and others over the past year or so why Trump wouldn’t be elected, and although occasionally I allowed myself to think he would not, I never really believed that a significant percentage of White voters wouldn’t vote for him–or do something with their vote equally as stupid.  My realism or pessimism was based on two assumptions: the U.S. remains a deeply, perhaps fatally, White Supremacist nation (empire), and its misogyny is also difficult to over-estimate, even among women.

Now that Trump is President, I find myself asking questions that are, in their specifics, perhaps more alarming than “Why wouldn’t they -White Americans – elect a White Supremacist, sexually predatory, misogynistic, politically irrational man?”

Such as . . .

  1. Why wouldn’t Trump deploy nuclear weapons?  What is to stop him?  Not the military structure, and not the governmental structure, not the advisers he is appointing, and not his capacity to make sober judgments or think about consequences.  He embodies  nihilistic impulsiveness.
  2. Why wouldn’t Trump’s presidency approve of/instigate even more violence against Blacks, LGBQT persons, Latinos, the press, and anyone perceived to be Left of Himmler? We already know his administration will be White Supremacist and misogynist, and we already know the sadistic nature of his campaign and his rallies.  And we can see how racist police personnel and White nationalists are emboldened, further licensed to spread misery and lethal harm.  (The FBI warned in 2006 of significant infiltration by White Supremacists in American police departments.)  Trump’s apparent pick for Attorney General is the Segregationist  Jeff Sessions, who regards the NAACP and the ACLU as un-American and “Communist.”  For what this appointment might mean, see this article: Jeff Sessions
  3. Why wouldn’t Trump wreck the national and global economy?  His own business-management “style” seems to be reckless and sometimes hopelessly inept.  His main skills are bullying, cheating, and declaring bankruptcy. His personality is such that he focuses mainly on looting, and now he may loot the largest economy in the world. We also know how vacuous he is with regard to history, economics, law, and–well, anything involving complexity. You might even say his campaign was the anti-knowledge, anti-complexity campaign.  The debates made that plain.  One participant was informed and rational (Clinton); the other, not.

People recoil from such questions, and why wouldn’t/shouldn’t they?  They want everything to seem all right, and they just want to get through their day.   Plus a significant majority of White people expect great (positive) things from Trump, not great disasters, in spite of mountains of evidence pointing (along the Bayesian spectrum of probability) to the contrary.  They view is having been elected with relief and joy, ecstasy.

Few people find comfort in acknowledging the likelihood of enormous disasters because, well, such acknowledgement requires discomfort and discourages the normalization or minimization of evil.  I can’t seem to put away these and other questions only because they seem logical to me, but that’s probably not a good enough reason to keep bothering people with them (this blog post notwithstanding).

A final question, one that is, I hope, less dour, alarmist, and cautiously pessimistic–and more academic: Is there a future for rhetoric, for public discourse that is in some fashion tethered to reason, logic, and some evidence?  It now seems an eon ago that a lot of us were concerned about “truthiness,” that slurring/blurring  of accuracy, agreed upon facts, and well defined terms.  Now the greater problem seems to be a complete rejection even of discourse that pretends to be rational.  For one main rhetorical message of the Trump campaign was anti-rhetorical.  It was “Shut up if you don’t agree with me.” Secretary Clinton’s knowledge of and experience with policy and her debate-preparation meant almost nothing when pitted against the beastly irrationality of Trump’s movement. And  I lost count of the Trump supporters who proclaimed, “I don’t care what he says–I support him.”  That seems like a post-rhetoric, post-propaganda stance.  Cultish. Will rhetoric be relegated to a hobby played by people who seek escape from the futility of trying to stop what Trump and his gangs will do?

 

 

 

Is Donald Trump the Most Honest Candidate Ever to Run For President?

Ladies and Gentlemen, Everyone:  I too recoil at the very idea this question poses.

However, because Trump is so transparent about his racism, bigotry, misogyny, self-absorption, cynicism, disrespect for the press, disrespect for all citizens (perhaps most especially his followers), indifference to  knowledge about policy, absence of curiosity about issues, disdain for charity (as a concrete practice and a spiritual attitude), fondness for the grotesque, hatred of process, willingness to commit war crimes, desire to flout law and custom, and so on, his candidacy cumulatively amounts to an eff-you to everything and everyone.  So much so that only people like him and people suffering from some kind of mental disorder or other generator of extreme irrationality it seems, will vote for him.

Of course, it would be easier if he would simply state, “I don’t care about anything or anyone, including myself.”  True, he boasts about possibly being the only person to run for the presidency and make money off it.  I think he means make money immediately, as Bill Clinton (for instance) has certainly cashed in. But he seems so reckless that even cynical profiteering seems beyond his interest and capability.  In a way, he’s an imitation grifter; he can’t really even get that right anymore.

It’s also true that he could be elected president.  That tells us much about the United States, about White Americans especially, and about the derangement caused (through no fault of Mr. Obama’s) by the election, twice, of Barack Obama–combined, of course, with willful ignorance, White Supremacy, bizarre White fantasies, and Whites’ own self-loathing. Can a nation that elected Barack Obama president turn around and elect Trump? Probably not, and of course I hope not, but you just never know about White Americans, and let’s face it, that’s whom we’re talking about.  The number of Asian Americans, Latino/a Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, and citizens from other groups who will vote for Trump will hardly register in the data.  He is the candidate of disturbed and disturbing White America, or that section of White America that is so disturbed and disturbing.  That Fox News and other similar outlets assist Trump is all you need to know about them and their viewers, readers, listeners.  There’s simply no way to get around that.  By helping him, they, too, have dropped whatever scraps of pretense they held onto.

At any rate, Trump’s candidacy seems to say this: “I hate you all, I am the apotheosis of much that’s wrong with your country, and I dare you to vote for me anyway.  Did I mention I hate you?”

So, yes, even though Trump’s candidacy is all about dishonesty (he has probably set a record for lying–it’s not a close call), it is also about doing away with rhetoric that is in any way subtle, within bounds, and traditionally persuasive.  It’s as close to an “honest” punch in the face as it can get, and, not surprisingly, Trump  also “honestly” encourages violence at his rallies and in the streets. Can American handle this kind of “truth” about itself?  We’ll see.

“The Road Not Taken” Syndrome

You are probably familiar with Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.” If you are, and if you believe the poem implicitly encourages taking the figuratively less well-trod path in life, then you belong to a vast majority, and you are in error.

A main point of this post, however, is not to correct your error, per se, but to use the established meaning of the poem as a reference-point as we all continue to consider the pseudocracy–the reign of seeming, government by deception and willing self-deception, and media of misinformation.

Two excerpts will demonstrate what the poem actually “says”:

1:Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.

This describes the “other” road. Note that, in effect, the roads are similar in appearance and wear.

2: I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Note that the teller is speaking from the present and that he is predicting what he will say and that what he will say has no bearing on his having taken “the other” road. How could it? For in that present moment, NOTHING has resulted from his taken the road he took. In fact, the speaker is more or less admitting that whatever the consequences, if any, will be, he will say (with a sigh) what he will say. One might say, then, that the past and past choices will be what we say they will be.

However, it truly no longer matters what the words in the poem convey because the culture at large has decided what the poem means; indeed, the culture at large may not even know that the phrase “the road less traveled” alludes to the poem. The culture at large has absorbed the alleged lesson that one should take the road less traveled, even though if everyone took that advice, the less traveled road would be the most traveled one.

Similarly, in the pseudocracy, beliefs and psuedo-facts are impervious to observation and information. Thus, no matter what the Act says or what people are experiencing, “Obamacare,” to many, will be Obamacare, not the AHCA, and it will be “a government takeover,” and it will be “more expensive,” and it will be an example of socialism.

And: the Democratic Party will be the party of “the little guy.”

And: White conservative Christians will be under siege, the ultimate victims.

The Republican Party will be the party of judicious financing and small government.

The Democratic Party will be the party that protects the environment.

And: the proper foreign policy will be to make the world afraid of us, and making the world afraid of us will be a good thing.

President Obama will have been born in Kenya, and will not be a Christian.

It will be only a co-incidence that most of the U.S. Senators are White, wealthy men.

And so on.

As Yogi Berra might have said, Nobody takes the road less traveled anymore because it’s so crowded.

We shall be talking about the pseudocracy, with a sigh, ages and ages hence.

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