Back in 2010, the subject matter of this recent American Conservative article, Our American Pravda, was a dominant theme of my blog. Just compare, for example, my deconstruction at the time of Christine O’Donnell,Andrew Codevilla & the Country Class with the last part of Unz’s article. Frankly, I had no idea who Boris Berezovsky was(apparently, Boris Yeltsin’s puppet master), but his idea of exporting the fake American two-party political model to Russia as means to sustain a bloodless Russian oligarchy was, unfortunately, spot on. Numerous times I laid out the working mechanics of the American culture war–precisely how it negates and thwarts any possible challenge to the status quo–but perhaps my aforementioned linked post was the best and most concise explanation of it. But I’m just making a straight-forward application of Orwell. Mr. Orwell’s work gave us the socialist version. You just have to tweak it a bit to apply it to our present-day capitalist version.
Often is said that we as Americans are the most heavily propagandized people in the history of civilization. But the distinguishing factor of our propaganda is that we actually believe it. The difference between Pravda and Pravda, Inc is that under the Soviet Pravda model, when the walls came down, the people cheered their destruction. But under Pravda, Inc, if our walls came tumbling down, we would dress in sackcloth and ashes and mourn our eternal intent to rebuild the damn things. Pravda, Inc. demonstrates the most virulent form of social control is that which is propagated by the illusion of choice.
The old adage is that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, in my case, it’s worth approximately 500,000 words. The intellectual entirety of this blog can be neatly summarized by the graphic above. I would laugh at the farcical irony of it all if not for the fact that those 500,000 words expatiate on an enduring topic: there is no irony in American politics. That’s the genius of the system.
Your guess is as good as mine whether Rich Lowry and the folks at National Review intentionally borrowed from Soviet propaganda or whether soviet propaganda is simply a natural unconscious habit of minds unburdened by irony. The propaganda is that the American presidential election is a contest between the competing world views of Karl Marx vs Ayn Rand. But Ayn is slumming in CCCP drag, and Karl is pimping for Bank of America.
Charles Baudelaire and Keyser Söze are both noted for having uttered the famous phrase: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” But I disagree. I think the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled is having a devil without the details.
(Hat Tip: LRC)
Some are referencing this Chris Matthews performance last week on Hardball regarding his defense of Michael Chertoff. Quite rigtly…It was a particularly putrid performance. But what Matthews said on his show yesterday, in his ending segment, “Let Me Finish,” is worse. It’s obscene.
The story that wasn’t a story at all: the fuss over the TSA pat downs.
Let’s compare a couple of things: How do you compare the GI who loses an arm overseas — or more — to the embarrassment someone might feel during an airport scan or even a pat down?
How do you compare those two? How do you say that one is worth the fight against terror and the other is not?
How do you compare the denial that waterboarding is torture, not that it may not be necessary (that’s another argument) but that it’s not torture? That’s what the people on the right have been swearing to on a stack of Bibles.
And then, hear from this same howling crowd that they just can’t stand the pain and human hurt of a pat down at the airport. One is not torture, the obvious torture, and one is.
I guess it depends on what your definition of “is” is.
I’ve been thinking of all this over Thanksgiving weekend, and thinking about what the Theodore Roosevelt historian Edmund Morris said on “Face the Nation” Sunday.
He was asked what Teddy Roosevelt would say about people today and instead he offered a view from an immigrant to this country: that Americans are “lazy, obese, and complacent.”
What he is actually saying? He’s saying that soldiers getting blown up in Iraq and Afghanistan obligates us to invasive security searches here at home. To deny this duty is to be “lazy, obese, and complacent.” This, quite accurately, could be labeled as Mussolini, fascist tripe. But he is not saying this directly. He is making the argument in the language of the left/right cultural war. So, in this language, he delineates the duties the political right have championed in the War on Terror and then caustically chides the right for shirking a “far less” intrusive duty of the simple pat-down in the execution of this war. In the left/right cultural war, it is only the right that now opposes the TSA.
Now Matthews is someone I used to watch pretty regularly back in the early part of the Bush Admin before the Iraq War. At that time, the running theme of Hardball was that the push for the Iraq war was underlain by a Neo-conservative ideological conspiracy. And he was right. Later, he would zealously cover the “Valerie Plame” story as it transpired on a daily basis. This was the smoking gun of the conspiracy–that the WMD rationale for the Iraq war was an outright fabrication. However, as the Democrats regained power, and particularly when Obama assumed power, this reporting slant all but faded from the show. The ideological basis for this War on Terror, or at least the execution of it, was no longer questioned. Now it was secure.
DoubleThink, of course, is where the political context determines what you think about something. In one context, you may be for A, and in another, against it. The restrictive dichotomous language/vocabulary of NewSpeak allows DoubleThink without cognitive dissonance. DoubleThink, however, is not hypocrisy. Indeed, in Orwell’s novel, the past is changed at will. There is no hypocrisy. DoubleThink is simply thought control.
Reality, however, is not quite the George Orwell novel. Politically there is a dichotomous left/right culture war that feeds a restricted vocabulary that allows DoubleThink to thrive with impunity; but, empirically, for those outside this left/right culture war, the cognitive dissonance is plain as day. Glenn Greenwald makes his living deconstructing this cognitive dissonance every day. To see how permanent war in this left/right cultural war leads to a toxic authoritarianism, simply reference Matthews’ commentary above. For those who claim left/right is a struggle between reality vs reality denial, that is fucking laughable…
Comrade Joe Biden: “Every Great Idea the Past 3 Centuries has Required Government Vision and Incentive”
The intrepid vice-president on the campaign trail:
“Every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century and the 19th century has required government vision and government incentive,” he said. “In the middle of the Civil War you had a guy named Lincoln paying people $16,000 for every 40 miles of track they laid across the continental United States. … No private enterprise would have done that for another 35 years.”
Oh, the irony. In one hypertrophied moment of campaign propaganda, Biden managed to undercut the entire historical progressive critique against laissez faire. After all, how could Progressivism, historically, be a movement to tame the “excesses of laissez faire” when every great idea the past three centuries has been the result of government intervention? In Biden’s own words, private enterprise could not have completed the transcontinental railroad until the 20th century. So, we apparently have Lincoln to thank for the post-civil war Robber Baron era that otherwise could not have happened if private enterprise would have been left to it’s own devices. No transcontinental railroad, no robber baron era.
This is classical politician doublethink. In one context, to justify political intervention, we are told of the utter inertness of the private market in comparison to the power of the State. In another context, we are warned of the need for intervention to restrain the powerful unbridled, unregulated market. In doublethink, there is never any need to reconcile these contradictory statements. Which one is true simply depends on the political objective to be had at the given moment.
Of course, we don’t quite live in an Orwell or Huxley novel where doublethink political reality is the only reality or where historical reality is subsumed by complete distraction. There have been several great technologies–steam engine, telegraph/telephone, AC(alternating current) Electricity, automobile, airplane and transistor–that I would classify as having the greatest impact on civilization over the last three centuries. Most, at the outset at least, had little or nothing to do with government intervention. The transistor is debatable, but like anything significant that has come off the drawing board since the early to middle part of the 20th century, it’s going to be ambivalent/murky because the government is so involved in the control of the economy and funding the nexus of corporate/university research.
What’s not debatable, however, is that, in the end, everything becomes incorporated into the political economy. For the politician, an idea is only great if it can be monetized by artificial rents. So, in empirical political reality, it is empirically true for the politician that every great idea the past three centuries indeed has required government intervention. No doubt….
Lewis Carroll is said to have exemplified the genre of literary nonsense. Perhaps a case can be made that Andrew Sullivan is exemplifying a genre that I would term journalistic nonsense. Journalistic nonsense is an effect of the search for meaning in politics that post rationalizes every new tumble down the rabbit hole. Whereas literary nonsense can be described as “the tension between reality and language,” the ambiguity between “meaning and it’s absence,” or a type of “logical insanity” if you will, journalistic nonsense employs the same techniques to fashion an “illogical sanity.” Literary nonsense is a genre usually associated with children’s’ literature, and one of it’s primary lessons is to teach children to “distinguish the essential from the superficial” in terms of reality. Journalistic nonsense, however, is for serious adults, and it’s primary objective is to elevate the superficial above the essential in political reality.
Sullivan’s journalistic blogging odyssey is a tale of an author committed to post rationalizing the invented realities of the political class. Reading his tale leads us to an author’s first person voice utterly subsumed by the illogical sanity of DoubleThink reality. Illogical sanity allows Sullivan one week to write about the tyranny of the untamed Prince and a couple of weeks later write how he loves Big Brother. Sullivan is usually good for around 4 major post rationalization shifts a month, but he has truly outdone himself this time.
Below are passages illustrative of the journalistic nonsense of illogical sanity of “Andrew in PoliticalLand.”
I tried valiantly not to believe this of Holder and Obama for months; I tried to see their legitimate concerns about exposing a war machine when it is still at war; I understand the need for some extraordinary renditions; and the necessity for executive power in emergencies to act swiftly, as the Founders intended. Yes war requires some secrecy. But Obama has gone much further than this now. The cloak of secrecy he is invoking is not protecting national security but protecting war crimes. And this is now inescapably his cloak. He is therefore a clear and knowing accessory to war crimes, and should at some point face prosecution as well, if the Geneva Conventions mean anything any more. This won’t happen in my lifetime, barring a miracle. Because Obama was a test case. If an outsider like him, if a constitutional scholar like him, at a pivotal moment for accountability like the last two years, cannot hold American torturers to account, there is simply no accountability for American torture. When the CIA actually rehires as a contractor someone who held a power-drill against the skull of a prisoner, you know that change from within this system is impossible. The system is too powerful. It protects itself. It makes a mockery of the rule of law. It doesn’t only allow torture; it rewards it.
This knowledge tells me one thing. If we are to recover as a nation under law rather under a prince, it will not be through the channels of the two major parties or through any president acceptable to the mainstream of either party. It will require a citizenry so enraged and protective of its core liberties against this security Leviathan that it compels dismantling this machinery and exposing it to the light of day – not recklessly, not abruptly, but by close examination, judicial review, press inquiry, protest. There are legitimate trade-offs between national security and liberty. But the protection of war criminals where no secrets are at stake except the scandal of torture itself is not one of them. Alas, there are few such citizens around. And, most tragic of all, those who say they care about liberty above all – the tea-partiers who invoke the founders – seem only too willing to surrender every liberty for the prize of a security against a threat we cannot even measure, and to bow down before a new king (and probably warrior-queen) rather than elect a new president.
Have I been radicalized by this? You betcha. Because this is so plainly not a nation under the rule of law anymore. And there are very few political issues more important than that.
Obama’s speech to Gen44 tonight knocked my socks off. It’s streaming on CSPAN here. If you’ve forgotten why many of you worked your ass off for this guy, and felt hope for the first time in many years, watch it. He deserves criticism when necessary as this blogazine has not shied from at times. But he remains in my judgment the best option this country still has left – and it’s far too easy for the left and far too dangerous for serious conservatives and independents to abandon him now.
What I particularly loved about the speech was his direct attack on the fiscal irresponsibility of the Pledge To America, the $700 billion it means we will have to borrow from China to sustain the unsustainable Bush tax cuts for those earning over $250,000 a year. And what I agreed with was his embrace of government that is lean and efficient, because these are times when the government is necessary to help reverse self-evident decline, mounting fiscal crisis, deeply dangerous enemies, and socially dangerous inequality, exploited at home by ugly demagogues and know-nothing nihilists. Here is his invocation of Lincoln’s core argument about the role of government:
“I believe the government should do for the people what they cannot do better for themselves.“
Then this passage where he soared like he hasn’t since the campaign:
“I believe in a country that rewards hard work and responsibility, a country where we look after one other, a country that says I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper, I’m going to give a hand up, join hands with folks and try to lift all of us up so we all have a better future, not just some – but all of us. That’s what I believe.“
I do too. I do not believe for a second that the GOP of Palin and Boehner and Beck and DeMint represents anything but more debt, more war, more social division and more denial about the deeply serious problems this country faces and the profound dangers that are metastasizing in the world. I have no love for the Democrats but I do fervently believe that this president’s record is far better than many now fashionably claim, that his inheritance was beyond awful, and I am not giving up on this president’s immense task now, and neither, in my judgment, should any of those who voted for him in 2008.
Know hope; and fight the cynicism and nihilism that is increasingly the alternative.
As a child, you might read the literary nonsense of such things as Alice in Wonderland or Dr. Seuss to recognize in adulthood that nihilism is not the alternative to the rejection of the superficial in an illogically sane world.
Glenn Greenwald called out Sullivan for his new rationalization of Obama’s Prince qua Prince. You can read the play-by-play here. Needless to say, Sullivan rationalized his new rationalization by an appeal to the War on Terror, complete with 9-11 imagery and all. The problem for Sullivan, however, which is typical of him, is that just a mere few weeks earlier, he had more or less managed to rationalize away the rationale for the War on Terror. Writes Sullivan:
Democrats are as silent about ongoing military operations in countries where we haven’t declared war, or even debated it. So perhaps it’s more helpful to see this through an institutional lens. As Gene Healy pointed out in a characteristically great column, our modern legislators are derelict in their duties. “The Constitution gives Congress vast powers over war and peace, and charges it with making the laws of the land,” he wrote. “Yet our feckless legislators prefer to punt the hard decisions to the president and the permanent bureaucracy, even if it leaves the rest of us mired in uncertainty and crushing debt.”
It’s especially interesting to discuss this policy at a time when so much of the right is insisting that we return to the vision of government laid out by the Founders. Needless to say, a president who wages clandestine wars on multiple continents is incompatible with the founding vision of the office, the ways it was designed to be checked, and its enumerated limits.
In the case of Sullivan, I wouldn’t say it’s ironical that his Masthead consists of an Orwell quote: “Too see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” Irony is not a concept that exists in an illogically sane world.
Back in July, in my post, No Political Gods, I noted the Dinesh D’Souza vs Doug Casey debate at FreedomFest regarding the positive role of religion. Of course, it should be evident which side the respective debaters were taking. Reports are that the attendees overwhelming sided with D’Souza. And I further noted that this indicated to me that FreedomFest was more or less a conservative event.
Some might have taken exception to that, but to me, events keep vindicating the little value of conservatism from a radical libertarian perspective. As Sheldon Richman writes: Dinesh D’Souza has gone over the edge by peddling this nonsense of Obama’s “Kenyan, anti-colonial worldview” that has since been picked up by Newt Gingrich.
I think Obama gets up every morning with a worldview that is fundamentally wrong about reality,” Gingrich says. “If you look at the continuous denial of reality, there has got to be a point where someone stands up and says that this is just factually insane.
One thing I’m noticing these days is that “reality denial” is starting to creep into the language of the political and media classes. I don’t think this by accident. So when Richman writes that D’Souza is in “denial,” I don’t really think so. I think he is quite cognizant of what he is doing. As I have written in a bunch of previous posts, the culture war drives a restricted political vocabulary dominated by Newspeak and DoubleThink that excludes empirical reality from acceptable political debate. Political Reality is a DoubleThink Reality. And DoubleThink Reality destroys ideology. If you thought the “Tea Party” was at one time libertarian, it’s certainly clear that it is not now. Whatever ideology it may have once had has now been destroyed.
This is how DoubleThink reality works. A President declares an end to a war that has not actually ended. His “political enemies” accuse him of having a “Kenyan, anti-colonial worldview” despite the fact that he perpetuates and increases the permanent wars. Each side accuses the other of insanity for refusing to accept the other’s DoubleThink reality. This is a political reality that quite effectively excludes any rational critique tied to empirical reality. As Orwell wrote in “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism,” doublethink is “reality control.”
For those libertarians who cheered D’Souza, understand what you are cheering. As of now, we don’t have to engage in the irrational world of Doublethink, where the political class gets to invent their own realities out of thin air(unfortunately, we do have to bear the burdens of these “realities”); but the same culture war that makes ending the permanent wars impossible also makes repealing the Stasi intelligence State impossible. What do you think these fuckers do in the end? In the end, what is the permanent war actually against? It is against any ideological challenge to the Status Quo.