Not that you asked, but the book my co-blogger and I wrote, Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” in the Age of Pseudocracy is available on Kindle now.
Not that you asked, but the book my co-blogger and I wrote, Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” in the Age of Pseudocracy is available on Kindle now.
And so popular media are once again in a kerfuffle about Tucker Carlson’s exhumed comments, which assert the appropriateness of thoughtlessness, rape, pedophilia, racism, xenophobia, and so on. Add Jeannine Pirro’s McCarthy-like questions about a Congressperson’s hijab, and you have a pretty good Goebbels week for Fox.
Which, I assert, is one of the true sources of political correctness. I’ve long that that PC (not the computer kind) was a Goebblesque piece of propaganda injected into White men and the women who are enthralled with them so that neither would have to change their views of women, people of color, fake American history, language, and simple good manners. It came with an add-on: the ready charge of victim-hood leveled against anyone who disagreed with them. This is Old School propaganda, which accuses the “enemy” (after an enemy is invented) of doing what the propagandist is doing. In this case, policing any hint of change. The Jews are destroying Germany, said Hitler, as he was destroying Germany, of which there was almost nothing left in 1945. In Carlson, Pirro, and Trump, we have a kind of apotheosis of humorless, cultivated stupidity that makes enraged, uninformed citizens more enraged and uninformed. It’s Orwell’s politics-poisons-language-which-poisons-politics scheme exempt of boundaries. That is, if Trump could get away with killing journalists and putting immigrants in permanent concentration camps and killing them (well, that’s already started), he would. No boundaries.
One amusing response to Fox News’s latest poison is the cluck-clucking query, “Why won’t Fox apologize?” I don’t want Fox to apologize. I want it figuratively destroyed–by boycott and any other non-violent means necessary. I wanted Disney pressured to dismantle Fox. I want Mueller and company to eviscerate Trump (figuratively), by any legal means necessary.
That said, I do approve of Speaker Pelosi’s temporary disapproval of impeachment because a) the votes in the Senate aren’t there, b) it’s a nice bit of rope-a-dope against Trump, complete with “he’s not worth it.” Besides if voters and the Democrats can’t defeat Trump in Fall 2020, we’re definitely in a situation that his not unlike (pax Orwell) Nazi Germany. These people are that odious, for real. And it all goes back to the rotten core of America, rotten from the get-go: White Supremacy driven by a political majority of White men. I have heard some progressives opine that this era is one in which White Supremacy is in its death-throes. Wishful thinking. If Fox and Trump and Company continue to wield power, there may be nothing worthwhile left of the U.S. Alarmist? I wish.
My colleague and co-blogger, Professor William Haltom, and I have published Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” in the Age of Pseudocracy with Routledge/Taylor & Francis in Routledge’s Series on Rhetoric and Composition. Now you will be prepared should someone ask you, “Do you know any recent books concering George Orwell’s famous essay about language and politics?” If you know any librarians who might want to order the book, we would not strenuously object to your mentioning it. Here is a link to the book on Routledge’s site, followed by an image of the book’s cover, by which you may judge the book.
A new column by Paul Krugman in the New York Times crystallized for me a problem with the American media in these pseudocractic times.
Krugman argues that the intellectual integrity of American “conservatives” has been degraded so much and eschews evidence to such a degree that conservatives who have influence on the media and policy are “cranks and charlatans,” whereas the few conservatives who retain some principles and integrity (if such people exist) have no influence on media and politics.
The occasion for the column is the Atlantic‘s firing of the newly hired Kevin Williamson, whom the editors were “shocked, shocked” (Krugman) to find out was a crank who wanted to hang women who have abortions. (And note how pervasive the lynching mentality is among Right Wingers.)
A broader issue Krugman’s point raises is the bizarre addiction to “both siderism” to be found in media and academia. At colleges and universities, there is much angst about taking pains to represent “conservative” views on campus. Right wing faculty often play the victim, and centrist or left wing faculty get taken in by it. Faculty like me wonder why we need to take pains to represent homophobia, trickle-down economics, creationsim, climate-change denial, and White Supremacy. Just to show we are, like Fox News, “fair and balanced”? Why the compulsion to entertain abjectly stupid and, in the cases of White Supremacy and homophobia, verifiably lethal ideas? Why not stick with ideas that are at least contestable in the realm of evidence? Opposing views are the stuff of academia, for sure, but not all opposing views are legitimate–measured by the broadest of academic standards.
Krugman uses Larry Kudlow as a supreme example of “cranks and charlatans” who have influence but no integrity and no connection to evidence, and Kudlow is a perfect example. But for me, the greater problem is exemplified by MSNBC’s hiring on George Will and other right-wingers who are “shocked, shocked” to find out that a White Supremacist misogynistic loon is the leader of the GOP, not to mention the nation. Will and others like him paved the way for Trump by supporting the race-baiting Southern Strategy, the “war on drugs,” Reagan’s “trickle-down” scam, the belittling of President Obama’s interest in ideas (recall the “faculty lounge” meme, in which Will and others tried to reduce Obama to a mere “academic,” depending upon the anti-intellectual meanness of the right wing. To pander to “both siderism” (I guess), MSNBC, CNN, and all sorts of online periodicals indulge right-wingers who, because of Trump, pretend not to have been on the side Trump represents all along. For me, this practice is as potentially destructive as the presence of Fox News because it, too, legitimizes cranks and charlatans, even if they are less grotesque than Trump.
I just watched a two-plus minute video (excerpt) of Noam Chomsky regarding “stupid” people. Actually, the interviewer introduced the words “stupid people,” not Chomsky.
Chomsky had opined that two dire existential threats to humanity are the increasing (apparently) likelihood of nuclear war and the increasing damage inflicted by human-assisted climate change. The interviewer asked, “Why do you care about stupid people?” Chomsky answered by pointing to those newly elected to Congress [5-7 years ago] who were “climate deniers”: people who cheerfully dismiss the science behind climate-studies and consequently perceived no responsibility to take action, either to reduce carbon emissions or to anticipate/address effects of climate change. He also opined that these same representatives a) have a “fanatical” belief in the “efficient market” (unregulated capitalism and b) front enormous, powerful financial interests. Here is a link the video: Chomsky
I take “stupid” to mean not so much unlearned as incapable of learning certain things. For instance, I am not gifted in comprehending mathematics beyond basic algebra. My mind took to geometry quite well but recoiled from trigonometry. Probably if I had set my mind to the tasks with more determination, I could have had more success, but even then, I would not have excelled, I suspect.
I am not “ignorant” of mathematics, and I certainly understand their importance. I can grasp basic statistical evidence. I am not indifferent to their (mathematics) central role, nor am I so cynical that I would like to vote for people who oppose mathematics just to–what?–feel comfortable?
The problems Chomsky highlights seem to spring from gleeful ignorance, a view of the world that implies “I know all I ever need to know.” This ignorance and/or tolerance of ignorance seems to blossom into indifference or cynicism. For so-called Republicans and Conservatives, the known includes a deep disrespect for government, but not enough disrespect to decline to serve in government. It is a subversiveness far more effective than anarchy.
For example, the EPA has been told by its director to scrub websites of climate-change language and information. The known includes the assumption that white supremacy is tolerable if not preferable and that all personal weaponry ought to be legal. It includes toleration of misogyny, a wish to abolish legal abortion combined with an opposition to contraception and sex education (go figure). Now it also seems to include a surreal combination of bellicosity and isolationism and enthusiasm about mixing greed, Christianity, and government.
I assume Republicans and Conservatives like Jeff Flake and Mitch McConnell are mentally gifted enough to understand the science behind human-assisted climate change. I assume they pretend to oppose the science so as to pander to their supporters–who may or may not be capable of understanding the science. Flake and McConnell and their ilk represent legions and wield enormous power. They tolerate White Supremacy and, in the form of the Southern Strategy, maintain its potency. They sometimes say tepid things to critique Trump, but they do nothing to impede him or his harmful cabinet and cabinet-level appointees.
Why do so many people, white people especially, support such indifference, ignorance, and cynicism when it puts virtually everyone, including them and their families, at risk? There’s the rub. Political scientists and economists often speak/write of “rational actors”: people who at least can be counted on to make decisions based on self-interest. The American train is being driven by irrational actors, at ease with current and impending destruction. From an African American point of view (to select one of many possible examples), I suppose this has always been the case. At any rate, how does one, how do many, fight back against and render ineffective the cynical indifferent and gleeful ignorance? There’s the rub, part deux.
I recently ran across a fascinating piece by Andrew Lanham in the Boston Review. It concerns the U.S. government’s attempt in 1951 to convict Du Bois–when he was 83 years old, mind you–of sedition because he had helped create a petition opposing nuclear arms. He was forced to criss-cross the country giving speeches to raise money for his defense, which was ultimately successful. Nonetheless, Du Bois regarded the episode to be a final break with the U.S., so sought exile in Ghana, where he eventually became a citizen and where he died. The specifics of the case are interesting, but just the fact that the U.S. would treat such a person–accomplished scholar, important leader, writer, editor, and mentor–as it did remains mortifying–all the more so because Trumpism replicates the anti-democratic, white supremacist “spirit” of those times.
Link : Essay on Du Bois
Lanham wrote, “I thought of this history this week when Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, began his confirmation hearings. In 1986 Sessions was denied a federal judgeship partly because he allegedly called the NAACP, which was co-founded by Du Bois, “un-American.” (In his 1986 confirmation hearings, Sessions walked a fine line, saying that the NAACP “take positions that are considered un-American.”) Trump himself has suggested that the government should revoke the citizenship of flag burners, and Trump’s pick for national security advisor, Michael Flynn, has called for an indefinite world war on terrorism, which he says must begin at home by targeting Muslim Americans. This is the same ugly cluster of ideas that landed Du Bois in court on trumped-up charges sixty years ago: the idea that demanding basic civil rights is tantamount to treason; that protesting national policy means forfeiting one’s citizenship; that darker skin or leftist views make one less American; and that an open-ended global war justifies unconstitutional repression.” And later, he refers to Hannah Arendt in connection with the Du Bois case:
“In 1951, the same year Du Bois waged his battle in court, the philosopher Hannah Arendt published The Origins of Totalitarianism, in which she argued that we can ‘measure’ totalitarianism by whether governments strip their people of citizenship. Despite her own intense opposition to the Soviet Union, Arendt feared that “even free democracies” such as the United States were “seriously considering depriving native Americans who are Communists of their citizenship.” Du Bois did end up practically stateless when the State Department effectively cancelled his citizenship after he moved to Ghana in 1961. There is no description of this more accurate than what Arendt would call it: intellectual totalitarianism.”
Our current intellectual [if it rises to that level] totalitarianism affects civil rights, immigration, foreign policy, access to citizenship, gun-policy, voting rights, and so on. One might generously call our present political disaster atavistic, but that assumes the country advanced and hasn’t simply remained stuck in 1951.
Thanks to Lanham for a timely, illuminating essay.
What good are the political terms “liberal” and “conservative”? The patron saint of this blog, G. Orwell, championed clarity in prose and precision in terminology; from that point of view, the terms are as useless as money in the afterlife. Worse, they function as chutes through which to pass mind-numbing, rote discussions and debates, as well as profiles of mass mediated punditing. The theater of oscillation between the terms is as mechanical as a metronome. The Oscillator is THE mold into which most of our political discourse is poured.
Let us first stipulate that the two major political parties in the U.S. are corrupt and cult-like, ensconcing amphibians like McConnell and Schumer in atrophied institutions. That said, “conservatives” represent evil in a way “liberals” usually don’t, although “liberals” distinguish themselves chiefly by their ineptitude and taking on such evil.
“Conservative” has nothing to do with preserving “values,” limiting government, preserving “individual freedom, and so on. The Republican Party conserves White Supremacy through various means: the Southern Strategy, voter suppression, & de facto segregation of the economy, education, and neighborhoods. It is more likely to blow up the budget than the Democratic Party. It refuses to accepts the science behind global warming and thus conserves suicidal ignorance. It has been Red-baiting and race-bating since the 1950s. If you substituted “White Supremacist” for “Conservative” as you listen and read, you would achieve greater terminological clarity.
Thanks to the White Supremacist Party (GOP), “liberal” has come to connote intellectual interests (as a bad thing), support for government-located programs to help people (as a bad thing), environmentalism (as a bad thing), diversity (as a bad thing), and women in politics who aren’t Stepfordites (as a bad thing). Liberals are antagonists in a drama produced and directed by White Supremacists. Remember Gingrich’s “tax-and-spend liberals” was of language? Note that the Constitution constituted a government empowered to a) tax, and b) spend.
In reality, Democrats massage the interests of large corporations and the military-industrial complex as much as Republicans. Little difference there. True, they are more likely to support Voting Rights, more likely to include and support people from a wide range of backgrounds (in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class-status); that they do this, when they do this, in order to hold power, not out of altruism, is a given. Still, it’s better than a sharp White Supremacist stick in the eye. Still, part two, “The Feckless” describes “liberals” better than “liberal.”
At the moment, the White Supremacists control all three branches of the federal government. Among what they conserve is racism, environmental collapse, body- and sex-policing, poverty, addiction to war, torture, hatred of women, hatred of education, rampant death by guns, and hatred of empirical evidence. I’m missing a few embodiments of evil here–including Christian hypocrisy raised to a fugue-state, thanks to the support of Trump– but you get the drift. The Feckless enable this evil by various means. What amazes me (it shouldn’t) is the extent to which American political discourse, political self-identification, and policy rely on these this useless bifurcation of “conservative” v. “evil” and help make the country and the world more vulnerable to impulsive stupidity and a political culture dedicated to awful decisions, not to mention depravity. Dump these terms.