Archive for November 2004
Why exactly is it that one’s right leaning parents and relatives feel so free to send along emails laden with "convincing" arguments about the elitism of the left, Bush’s leadership qualities, and why gays are the root source of Our National Discomfortude?
I used to think I was alone in this, but Maureen Dowd’s column this weekend made me think otherwise.
I don’t send Dad clippings from the Nation or bon mots of Atrios. Why does he feel obligated to forward on to me Pete Du Pont’s latest from the Wall Street Journal?
(I’d link to it, but it’s the WSJ so I can’t. And why would I want to anyway?)
(BTW – always nice to see the likes of Pete Du Pont, who’s a virtuoso at the leap between the private sector and govt, rattling on about the "northeastern liberal elite"…
Heir to a chemical fortune, former governor of Vermont = just folks.
Just to let you know, if you’re not from around here, the bookstore scene in NYC nowadays is close to worthless. Labyrinths is great (if they also take the prize for horrendously pretentious staff), and St. Marks is OK (too hip for it’s own good…) Other than that, the Barnes and Noble and newer Borders are fine for broad market new books, staple works, and that’s about it…
Hope this one lives up to the big PR it’s gotten. The Times had a piece this morning, as did NPR…
I’ll check it out and let you know.
Terrific anti-communist comic series from the early 1960s that you can flip through… The best stuff is from the first issue, where the comic takes up that age old American propaganda tactic – one family’s story, their life in the U.S.S.A. (Highlights: the parish priest is sent to a reeducation labor camp, mom has to go to work, and dad has to cut down trees at gunpoint in northern wisconsin). After this, the issues head into the history of Communism from Marx on – great scene with old Karl arguing with his drunken college chums about the merits of Dr. Hegel’s lectures. La plus ca change…
Oh yeah, check out the letter from J.Edgar Hoover that kicks off the festivities.
Also, don’t miss the hot Commie teacher who takes over at Soviet School 32 (formerly, St. Joseph’s)… (All right, she’s not so hot in frame 3… I think they’ve deliberately uglied her up there… But in the first two frames! I’m gonna start working the red armband, that’s for sure…)
Reading a back issue of Le Monde Diplomatique (en anglais, s’il vous plait – look here) and came across a terrific article on ostalgie (nostalgia for the GDR). This one a hundred times more considerate and serious about the issue than the other articles I’ve seen on the topic – so check it out.
But what I liked best of all was the last paragraph, which cited a fantastic stanza of a Brecht poem of 1953, "Der Radwechsel."
I am sitting beside the road
The driver is changing a wheel
I don’t like where I am
I don’t like where I am going
Why do I watch the changing of the wheel
Finally got around to reading Zizek’s In These Times piece from the morning after… There are some gems in there:
First, his redefinition of "democracy" as not su much a formalization of the "power of, by, and for the people" but rather a system centered first and foremost on "formal legalism – the unconditional adherence to a set of formal rules that guarantee society’s antagonisms are fully absorbed into the political arena." Here is the passage in full:
My next reflection concerns the basic paradox of democracy as revealed in The History of the VKP(b)—the
Stalinist bible. Stalin (who ghost-wrote the book) describes the vote
at a party congress in the late ’20s: “With a large majority, the
delegates unanimously approved the resolution proposed by the Central
Committee.” If the vote was unanimous, where then did the minority
disappear? Far from betraying some perverse “totalitarian” twist, this
paradox is built into the very structure of democracy. Democracy is
based on a short-circuit between the majority and the “All.” In it, the
winner takes all and the majority counts as All, obtaining all the
power, even if this majority is merely a couple hundred votes among
“Democracy” is not merely the “power of, by and for the people.” It
is not enough to claim that in a democracy the majority’s will and
interests (the two do not automatically coincide) determine state
decisions. Today, democracy is above all about formal legalism—the
unconditional adherence to a set of formal rules that guarantee
society’s antagonisms are fully absorbed into the political arena.
“Democracy” means that whatever electoral manipulation takes place all
politicians will unconditionally respect the results. In this sense,
the 2000 U.S. presidential election was effectively “democratic”: In
spite of obvious electoral manipulations and the patent meaninglessness
of the fact that several hundred votes in Florida decided who would be
president of the entire nation, the Democratic candidate accepted his
defeat. In the weeks of uncertainty after the election, Bill Clinton
made an appropriate acerbic comment: “The American people have spoken;
we just don’t know what they said.” This comment should be taken more
seriously than it was meant. To this day, we still don’t know what they
said—perhaps because there was no “message” behind the result at all.
And then there is a brilliant application of Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s infamous distinction between "authoritarian" and "totalitarian" regimes in her Commentary essay of 1979 to the war in Iraq:
However, the main advantage involves international politics. If Kerry
had won, it would have forced liberals to face the consequences of the
Iraq war, allowing the Bush camp to blame Democrats for the results of
their own catastrophic decisions. In her famous 1979 Commentary
essay, “Dictators and Double Standards,” Jeanne Kirkpatrick elaborated
on the distinction between “authoritarian” and “totalitarian” regimes
in order to justify the U.S. policy of collaborating with Rightist
dictators, while actively subverting Communist regimes. Authoritarian
dictators are pragmatic rulers concerned with power and wealth and
indifferent towards ideological issues, even if they pay lip service to
some big cause. In contrast, totalitarian leaders are selfless,
ideology driven fanatics who put everything at stake for their ideals.
So while one can deal with authoritarian rulers who react rationally
and predictably to material and military threats, totalitarian leaders
are more dangerous and must be directly confronted. The irony is that
this distinction encapsulates perfectly what went wrong with the U.S.
occupation of Iraq. Saddam was a corrupt authoritarian dictator
striving for power and guided by brutal pragmatic considerations (which
led him to collaborate with the United States throughout the ’80s). But
in removing him, the U.S. intervention has led to the creation of a
“fundamentalist” opposition that precludes any pragmatic compromises.
Hard not to notice a strange ramping up in the terms of attack egalitarianism and education swirling around the Randian kids flick The Incredibles. See, for instance, John Tierney’s article in the Week in Review today.
It feels as if the release of this movie has opened the door for folks to tell us how they really feel, stop speaking in euphemisms and keywords and cut right to the point. Here’s the opening of the article…
The Incredibles is not just an animated adventure for children, at
least not to the parents and teachers who have been passionately
deconstructing the story of a family of superheroes trapped in
suburbia. The movie has reignited one of the oldest debates about
child-rearing and society: competition versus coddling, excellence
Is Dash, the supersonic third-grader
forbidden from racing on the track team, a gifted child held back by
the educational philosophy that "everybody is special"? Or is he an
overprivileged elitist being forced to take into account the feelings
Is his father, Mr. Incredible, who complains that the
schools "keep inventing new ways to celebrate mediocrity," a visionary
reformer committed to pushing children to excel? Or is he a reactionary
in red tights who’s been reading too much Nietzsche and Ayn Rand?
And take a look at the end as well, where we turn to the director Brian Bird:
The movie never quite resolves the issue. In the end, Dash is
allowed to race but is coached not to get too far ahead of the pack.
The writer and director, Brad Bird, offered a less ambiguous answer in
an interview. "Wrong-headed liberalism seeks to give trophies to
everyone just for existing," he said. "It seems to render achievement
meaningless. That’s a weird goal."
He sounded very much like
Professor Colangelo, who says that children want to compete and can
cope with defeat a lot better than adults imagine. "Life hurts your
feelings," Mr. Bird said. "I think people whine about stuff too much.
C’mon, man, just get up and do it."
At the risk of running afoul of Godwin’s Law, let’s just turn for comparison’s sake to a document that Atrios linked to yesterday (if a very different context) – a pamphlet that "seems to have been intended primarily for members of the SS, though the copy I am working from carries the stamp of a school library."
The most dangerous opponent of our worldview at present is Marxism, and its offspring Bolshevism. It is a product of the destructive Jewish spirit, and it is primarily Jews who have transformed this destructive idea into reality. Marxism teaches that there are only two classes: the owners and the property-less. Each must be destroyed and all differences between people must
be abolished; a single human soup must result. That which formerly
was holy is held in contempt. Every connection to family, clan
and people was dissolved. Marxism appeals to humanity’s basest
drives; it is an appeal to subhumans.
We can’t say we haven’t been warned. The interest of a movie like the Incredibles is that it seems to legitimize a certain line of discourse – a seemingly "innocuous" object (a cartoon for god’s sake) that tints the slippage into another level of critique of egalitarianism with the hue of banality, ordinariness…