"It seems to me that to organize on the basis of feeding people or righting social injustice and all that is very valuable. But to rally people around the idea of modernism, modernity, or something is simply silly. I mean, I don't know what kind of a cause that is, to be up to date. I think it ultimately leads to fashion and snobbery and I'm against it."
Jack Levine: January 3, 1915 – November 8, 2010
At least that's how it seems when the online wannabee geeks and the geeks who spend their time hanging out with the kewl kids start going on about something like "Pi Day."
One of my friends, who was a full professor of Mathematics at a pretty good University, once told me that she didn't think pi had any reality outside of human perception but was just something we used to deal with things. She wasn't a mathematical Platonist. She said that she thought a lot of the use of it in things like the social sciences was of entirely dubious reality and she suspected their acceptance depended on people pretending they understood math that they didn't. She went on for quite a while after I couldn't follow her anymore, I think some of the others present at that time got a lot more of it than I did. I asked if it was useful for measuring circles and objects based on circles. She said it was useful for coming up with estimates that sometimes worked.
She was a pure mathematician, after all. Her several forays into collaborating with scientists who wanted to find applications for math brought with it some skepticism, though she did think some of it was potentially useful. Other than that, I think the most practical thing she ever did with mathematics was for cooking. She was a great baker, making things no one else I know would ever try and coming up with incredibly good original recipes. Her raw blueberry pie was nothing short of miraculous and I wish I'd gotten her recipe.
Update: As I recall one of the things she said is that pi had no actual location on a number line but that a circle was still complete and had an actual diameter. I think it was right before I stopped being able to follow what she said. It was more than 20 years ago.
A couple of weeks back, I recommended some stories by Clifford Simak available online, especially a novella available in the pdf's of the old Galaxy science fiction magazines - considering the price of the magazines and what they contained, they have to have been one of the best deals in the better end of light literature in history. One edition would be likely to contain more worth while material than an entire year of premium cable TV.
That led me to re-read some of him in print, great stories like "The Thing in the Stone", "An Autumn Land", books like his most famous ones, "City" and "Way Station". His stories are pretty free of violence and macho posing One of the few that had that as a theme was when a newspaper reporter came into work early - his clock was wrong - and found out that the non-electric office equipment was acting up. He learned through his now self-typing typewriter that overnight machines had been made self-aware and the consequences for their fleshy creators was that they'd become their competition in a struggle for dominance. That story was originally called "Bathe Your Bearings in Blood", though I have it under the title of "Skirmish".
But even with all the trappings of science fiction, Simak's main theme was of loneliness as a consequence of non-conformity, often the result of heightened awareness, voluntary or involuntary. One of the best of those, "All the Traps of Earth," doesn't have a human being as a main character but a 600 year old robot, Richard Daniel, whose human owners, the Barrington family, had just died out, leaving him unprotected from the law that commands that no robot would be allowed to have a memory persist for more than a century. After consulting a lawyer and a clergyman, who can't do anything for him, he takes it on the lam, managing to both leave his identity behind on Earth and, through the experience of a long voyage unprotected from the raw non-environs of interplanetary space, gains psychic abilities and powers unavailable to human beings*. If I wasn't able to tell you that you can find a pirated version of the story online in a text file, I wouldn't be enticing you with a description of it. It's worth following Richard Daniel into crime to read it, if you don't have a legal copy available. Simak is long gone to his reward so I don't feel guilty about pointing this out.
So, in leaving behind his old identity - and his old body - Richard Daniel obtains his freedom, escaping "all the traps of Earth" that would have destroyed him.
More important to Richard Daniel, though, is that in the process he has also gained a heightened moral understanding, based in serving the needs of others, especially those who are most in need that also gives him a wider and greater identity than one that service to the aristocratic Barringtons had given him. It is the central irony of the story that his greatest freedom, his greatest achievement of obtaining an identity, comes with that freely taking on that burden of service. In short, he fulfills the teaching that the greatest one will become the servant of the least.
I don't know how seriously Clifford Simak might have taken the improbable dream of machines actually becoming conscious or intelligent in any human sense of the word but, even for a total unbeliever in that such as I am, he made brilliant use of it in this and a lot of other stories. Not all of them coming to the same conclusion.
* In some of his later stories, people have quite developed psychic abilities, so he wasn't a dogmatic denier of the possibility as so many of his contemporaries and later ones would become, especially under the coersive bullying of the CSICOP set.
I am going to be leaving the theme of the Marxists etc. for a while, though I expect it will come up again. It wasn't what I planned when I wrote that post about e.e. cummings rather crazy book, Eimi, which I have looked at more and don't think was either his strongest work or especially useful. Say what you will, it's a can of worms that once opened has to be dealt with. But I've given it enough attention and made enough enemies over it for now. I don't mind those, by the way, I figure it was just the inevitable happening for me as it will have to happen for any "left" that has any chance of doing anything. The play-left has wasted enough of our time and made us too many enemies among those who both need us and who we also need.
By chance, in thinking about a comment made by RMJ, the perfect example of what I was talking about came to mind in the extreme right-wing, Olin propaganda professor, racist advocate of apartheid and cheerleader for state inflicted death, Ernest van den Haag. His story, as commonly told, is a good example of one who took the great leap from Marxism to outright fascism, American style, in one baby step.
He was born in Holland, raised mostly in Italy, he became a Marxist, allegedly a prominent one, though I haven't been able to confirm the extent of his renown. He is said to have been shot and almost killed, imprisoned for several years under the fascist regime of Mussolini, endured long periods of solitary confinement* but who, somehow, got out and tramped it to Portugal and then the United States. Here, though he spoke no English, he somehow got into the University of Iowa where he took a degree in economics. He went back to New York City, met up with Sidney Hook who converted him to the far-right. He began a career which included him getting shrunk by a psychotherapist and as many who took that route, saw the opportunity of becoming something often mistaken as a medical professional and become one himself, went into far right journalism and used all of that to become an expert witness AGAINST school integration arguing that the notably not equal school system was BENEFICIAL for black children, especially those who were intellectually gifted. The quality of his concern for black children is probably best shown by his conclusion - based on natural selection, I guess, that different racial groups were of different intellectual capacity, you can accurately guess which ones went where and that he was also proponent of America support for the fascist apartheid regime in South Africa. And he was one of the most repulsive of the intellectual supporters of capital punishment here. It's in that last capacity that I first came across him one lazy, certainly rainy afternoon on William F. Buckley's program on the liberal PBS, Firing Line, where my mouth kept falling open that someone so clearly insane could be presented as a responsible intellectual who was praised for his reasoning ability.
Other than his documented associations with such right wing academic luminaries as Sidney Hook, his resulting advocacy for racism and apartheid here and in the notably violent and fascist regime in South Africa and his role in pushing state murder here, arguing that the innocent victims who have been and certainly would be put to death by it are a price worth paying so his sense of retribution could be fulfilled - really, listening to him enthuse over the state killing people was one of the creepier experiences I had that decade, his claims would seem to be the source of his early biography that I have access too. But I will take him and those who knew him at his word that he did cross over from Marxism to fascism rather easily based on meeting up with Sidney Hook. Reading several obituaries, all of them noted that van den Haag was, like Hook, an atheist who was derisive of religion - one of the right wing encomiums to him speculated that he had a death bed conversion but it wasn't based on much of anything I could see. Kind of late in the day for someone who had been such a sleaze and bigot for so many decades.
Obviously there was nothing in van den Haag's Marxism or atheism that kept him from rather easily going so whole hog to fascism. I will note that his fascism is a lot harder to square with the Gospel of Jesus and the other prophets than it is with materialism. While you can, of course, just lie about that as such folk as William F. Buckley had no problem doing, you do, at least, have to lie about it. Nothing in atheism presents even that barrier, so easily pushed over when it's profitable to those with no effective belief that will lead to them acting against their own self-interest. Something I will be addressing as I concentrate more on fascist materialism.
Sidney Hook, as well, could be another example of what I'm talking about as he, also, went from the atheist left to the atheist far right. He even fits in, somewhat, with the Trotsky to neo-con pattern I noted the other day. But I don't have that much time to go into his even more complex record.
In my researches into the atheist "left" I've noted the trust fund Stalinist Corliss Lamont several times, who shares with the right wing Sidney Hook the fact that his early intellectual claim to fame was that he'd studied with John Dewey, at Columbia, which makes me curious to look into Dewey's intellectual descendants. Dewey is sort of looked on as an atheist saint of some kind, a figure in the Humanists and one of the forces behind the old, first Humanist Manifesto - from before the time his rich student, Lamont, bought them out when they were on hard times and turned it into the soft side of his propaganda machine, which lives on in many of the prominent venues of organized atheism. But that's all for the future, as well. I do wonder at how many of those who claim Dewey's influence went on with it, some of them seem to have turned his famous advocacy of democracy, above all, into something far different. If there's something in his thinking that led to that or if it's just the result of him teaching the Ivy League class of folks who populate the over-class that gives itself that kind of attention, that's an unanswered question. So many questions, so little time to go into them.
* That alone, when taken into his consideration of his decades long enthusiasm for state oppression of other people, black people in Africa and the United States, even innocent people wrongly convicted and sentenced to death, is worth thinking about very hard. There is nothing in atheism that requires that rules be equally applied, there is nothing in atheism that mandates that we even try to do anything like justice. The ease with which materialists have not only advocated but set up things rigged unequally might have something to do with how they can make that step from Marxism to fascism, often based on nothing more apparent than who has the money and power or who pays the best.
I doubt van den Haag would have made out nearly as well if he'd joined up with the civil rights movement and the movement to abolish execution. He might have remained in the menial jobs he reportedly had to take as an immigrant who spoke no English but who had opportunities in the early 1940s he would have no problem denying to black people who spoke perfect English and had lived here as citizens their entire lives not two decades later. Van den Haag was also in favor of racial discrimination in immigration policy, calling for even more restrictions on those who weren't, like him, coming here from Europe. He was, truly, one of the most repulsive people I've ever encountered who has been represented as a public intellectual.
No. Those murdered by Mao and the Communists in China didn't die for the right reason. No more than those murdered by the Imperial Japanese invaders did in the decades before or those murdered by Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini in the same period. Or those murdered in the conquest, occupation and theft of the Americas or Australia or any others.
The mountains of corpses in that horrific mountain range identify those ideologies as being morally equivalent. The contention that "Mao made life in China better" for those he didn't kill is exactly the same argument that Hitler made, that murdering those the Nazis scientifically identified as inferior would make life better for the survivors of that mass murder. It's exactly the same argument the apologists for Stalin made or those, such as Winston Churchill who pooh-poohed the genocide of the inhabitants of North America and Australia as a beneficial ethnic cleansing, even as he was setting himself up as the heroic opponent of a man who held similar views.
You don't seem to imagine the possibility of a left that isn't based on that kind of mass murder. You wouldn't seem to be alone in that, whenever I bring these things up, no matter how much I point out my motives are the rock solid foundation of traditional liberalism, absolute equality and a decent life for everyone in a sustained environment, including the leveling of incomes to avoid the inevitable despotism and corruption that comes with inequality, someone inevitably accuses me of having gone over to the far right.
It would seem that you can't imagine a line drawn differently from the traditional one that puts the Communists on the opposite end from the Nazis. A different line which takes the creation of those mountains of murder victims as, clearly the most significant defining feature of an ideology that kills them. Certainly committing tens of millions of murders is more significant than how the murderers claim that they're going to make the economy run more efficiently. Though not in the currently accepted academic definition of things in which economic matters are considered more important than the lives and deaths of scores of millions of people. Ain't enlightenment just great.
As I began this blog with a post criticizing the construction of geometric figures as simple as a straight angle, in a pseudo-scientific reduction of extremely complex aspects of human life and experience, especially politics, it didn't occur to me that maybe the problem is that that line with a right and a left extending from a pretended center should be entirely junked. I wanted to define a new left, but the "left" I'm looking for isn't one that deals in that economic analysis, it's one that takes human beings and life entirely out of the realm of commerce, trade and estimates of value. At the very least the line should be replaced with a two dimensional figure, a y axis that goes straight up, judging the virtue of a political system with how seriously it takes life and how far it removes human beings and all of life from that homicidal, demented dialectic which is our present habit of thought. I can't expect that such a novel idea as politics in which life and death really matters and is the real defining consideration will be adopted, the present system with all its massive and putrid dishonesty serves lots of people with lots of power and money and academic prestige to protect, but their system is clearly one which can't escape the idea that "our" murders are good and "their" murders are bad.
My contention in this series looking at the disaster that the anarchists, Marxists, etc. have been for the left is that their descendants today are found in the neo-atheists who are as certainly a turn-off to people who could be the natural allies of a real left that wins elections and changes things as their great-great grandparents were. That is why I'm looking at this history, my goal is to convince people they have to kick out the tiny percentage of the population represented by those conceited jerks from any left that I'd consider being involved with. That is going to have to happen in any left that could win any election in the United States or in any country that is likely to reclaim or obtain egalitarian democracy. As I will never tire of pointing out, their fundamentalist materialism will always, in every case, not only not provide what you need to believe is real, it will always and in every case destroy an effective belief in those realities.
Any blogger of the would-be left who wants to waste our time recapitulating the past century of total disaster that they brought would be better off servicing those who would rather talk about 70s retro, PBS costume dramas, invading their cats' privacy or geriatric pop music than pretending they're serious about politics. Update: The Progressive Labor Party was a Maoist party. I don't know if you were alive at the time but the years mentioned in my morning post, beginning in 1966 to 1969 the foremost activity in China was Mao's Cultural Revolution. While I'm very doubtful that it's possible for someone to look at the various claims about how many people were murdered BY THE CHINESE COMMUNISTS as the SDS and PL were shadow boxing at each other with any great confidence, anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of Chinese people and members of minorities in China were being murdered just as surely as those under the Nazis and the Japanese invaders were in the 1940s. And that was just the people murdered under Mao in those years. Anyone who could be a Maoist then is as guilty of supporting mass murder as the Nazis here were in the 40s. No left that could possibly have done anything positive, including ending the American war in Vietnam would have had anything to do with them. Anyone who claims, as indeed, Katha Pollitt did in 2008 that the PL was a force for good is nuts. Update 2: I looked it up, the PL officially SUPPORTED THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION during those years. That would be equivalent to supporting the Nazis as the extermination camps and the Einsatzgruppen were killing people. twenty five or so years earlier. I won't pretend that's not the case merely because the victims weren't Europeans. Update 3: Yeah, yeah, "Weather underground wasn't the same thing as Weathermen" It's all the same to me. Considering they were all a disaster, how about Weather brats or Weather jerks.
Having been deeply critical of Katha Pollitt recently, I have to agree with just about everything she said about Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn and the totally self-indulgent, self-centered, violent thrill seeking and megalomania the Weather Underground was.
I was going to leave the impromptu series I've been engaged in looking at the disaster that the anarchist, Marxist, Trot, generally atheist "left" has been for the real left, but I wanted to bring it more up to date. Since "the left" such as I'm talking about has pretty much been on hiatus for the past forty-six or so years, that's what I'll end it with for now.
The destruction of the old Socialist Party, even as it was having some, though limited, success in politics in 1919 has figured heavily in this series. The temptation is to type out some long description of that disaster, massively complex and convoluted as things with the play-left always are. I think the frequently petty, personality based fracturing and forming of "parties" on that left is a sobering warning against the dangers of "third party" politics, if the Italian and Israeli governments aren't enough of a discouragement of those fantasies. If there were a successful third party on the left, it would probably contain the same idiots who could be counted on to ruin all the good work in a bid for power or just attention over some minor point of theory. Though I think these days it's unlikely to be be on the orders of someone like Lenin as it was back then.
But, as it happens, there is a model that repeated some of the worst features of that disaster of almost a century ago in the more recent past. The destruction of the Students for a Democratic Society, SDS, wasn't quite as much of a political disaster, the actual political success of SDS being very little, none, actually, as compared to what the Socialists accomplished in the early decades of the last century, but it was as much of a disaster for the anti-war and, certainly, the civil rights movements. The results coming from it were pretty much a total disaster for the real left. The same people who comprised the Weather Underground were some of the most repulsively self-indulgent, attention seeking tools of the military-industrial-banking complex who have ever pushed real leftists out of the camera shot. As Katha Pollitt pointed out in her column linked to above, they're still at it. I recall reading about Ayers and Dohrn holding court among college students, most of whom probably know absolutely nothing about their claim to infamy other than what they read in his book. I think a more objective and accurate reading of it is necessary as the real left has to understand that danger to avoid repeating such things over and over again.
Here, from The Long Detour by James Weinstein, in the aptly titled chapter called Fronts, Decay Amnesia and A New Left :
Events of the early 1960s ate away young people's innocence. One early SDS community organizer, for example, observing that blacks were segregated against in the North despite their attainment of formal rights, commented that "civil rights gets the Negro in the South no more than a Harlem". And in 1961, when the Kennedy administration denied its responsibility for the CIA planned and directed invasion of Cuba, people's faith in John F. Kennedy's professions of support for national independence and self-determination was undermined. In the mid-'60s the war against Vietnamese independence swept away their belief in American virtue and brought many in the New Left to imagine themselves as revolutionaries. Facing an array of opponents that included not only the corporate media and the Republican and Democratic parties, but even the leaders of the trade union movement, students fighting against the war came face-to-face with the entire American establishment. This created a unique consciousness, for not only did this make the New Left the first "revolutionary" movement in modern times to exclude the working class -- and even to be hostile to "hard hats" -- but it also made it appear (to the few that thought about such things) that their only allies were in the ghettos of the North and in the Third World. Fundamental social change, many began to think, would come about only as a result of action outside the United States, and in urban ghettos. Of course, having no theory of class (and being mostly middle class) they could think of themselves as revolutionaries only so long as they faced the entire establishment. So, in 1968, when popular pressure against the war grew strong enough to allow some Democrats openly to oppose the war, it created a crisis for the New Left. Jerry Rubin's nightmare now became real. even if the war would not end, liberals would now become the popular leaders of the anti-war movement. Democratic Senator Eugene McCarthy was the first to challenge President Lyndon Johnson. He almost won the New Hampshire primary, which led Senator Robert F. Kennedy to enter the anti-war ranks. These events resulted in a rush of anti-war forces back into the Democratic Party and foretold the end of New Left illusions of popular revolution. It also led to chaos in the remnants. Since 1966, the Progressive Labor Party - a Maoist offshoot of the American Communist Party 0 had been trying to gain a foothold in SDS. In 1966 and 1967, when the new working class theorists were in the leadership of SDS, PL had tried to gain recruits based on its theory that the "old" working class (industrial workers) was the "key" revolutionary agent. That had little appeal. Indeed, it simply led to a debate with the new working-class theorists about which working class was the key to left success - as if there were two working classes. In any case, neither working-class theory had much of a following among the more active students. But when McCarthy and Kennedy entered the anti-war fray, they undermined SDS's revolutionary bona fides. PL and its Maoism (and identification with China and the Third World) suddenly posed a real threat to the leadership in the SDS national office. Now PLers' open espousal of communism and its waving of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book suddenly began to attract radical students who sought more than an end to the war. This, in turn, led the remaining SDS leaders to revolutionary one-up-manship in the hope of heading off PL.
One attempt to outmaneuver PL was put forward by Mike Klonsky, SDS national secretary in 1968-1969, Klonsky merged PL's working-class theory and an identification with "revolutionary youth." This had the virtue of moving to coopt Progressive labor while retaining youth as a key revolutionary force. It meant, Klonsky argued, that SDS "struggles must be integrated into the struggles of working people." This formulation was similar enough to PL's own Worker-Student Alliance to appeal to many of the same students, but different enough to appeal also to many youth-culture adherents. In itself, Klonsky's approach probably would not have sufficed to head off PL. But just in time PL lent a helping hand in its own demise by condemning black nationalists as reactionary and by specifically condemning black student groups and the Black Panther Party.
[ I will interject that in the years involved, I am confident that 99.999% of working class people had never heard of any of these groups, would certainly never have agreed to them representing their interests, and would have thought their theories and plans for them in their dialectical board game were incredibly stupid, condescending, arrogant, patronizing and irrelevant to their lives and their own ideas and choices. Something that can safely be said about just about everything elite "leftists" have ever said about the "working class". None of their activities did anything to end the United States war in Vietnam, they almost certainly prolonged it by discrediting the anti-war movement and helping to elect Richard Nixon, whose cynical appeal to working class people's resentment of the condescension and insults of the elite "left" was one of his major means of gaining power.]
Meanwhile, the National Office Collective was developing an alternative proposal that stressed anti-imperialism and identification with the Black Panthers. This group, which came to be known as the Weathermen, was led by the SDS internationalization secretary, Bernardine Dohrn. She had developed close relations with the Black Panthers in Chicago where Panther leader Fred Hampton (later murdered in cold blood by the Chicago police) worked closely with SDS. In March 1969, at the SDS national council meeting, the Black Panthers were officially recognized as "the vanguard force" in the black liberation movement. The identification of revolutionary white youth - seen as the key force among white Americans - with the Panthers and revolutionary nationalists in Cuba, Vietnam, and other Third World countries temporarily sufficed to distinguish the national office collective from PL. It gained membership support as the best means of ridding SDS of the threat of a PL takeover.
[ You have to appreciate that at the time we're talking about Progressive Labor was not even one of the "big" tiny communist parties around then. If SDS was in serious danger of a takeover from a tiny, splinter "party" such as PL, its talk about leading the "working class" or anything else was childish fantasy. As you can see from this account, ALL of its focus was on its own internal fights over the tiny little pieces of turf and "power" resources that were all important for them. Like all of the post 1919 radical groups led by relatively affluent white people, it was never about actual political change. ]
Still, at SDS's last convention, in June 1969, PL came with the largest bloc of delegates. As I described the situation in "Ambiguous Legacy, the Left in American Politics," the national office collective delegation, desperate at the prospect of losing control, called on the Panthers for help and they responded by appearing at the convention to denounce PL. For a few moments, it appeared that PL was finished. But then the Panther spokesman started talking about "pussy power." He explained that the women's role was to deny sex to men who were not sufficiently revolutionary and then defended the notion in the face of an overwhelmingly shocked response - and PL- led the cheers to "fight male chauvinism." In the face of this uproar, the Panthers found it necessary to retreat, but they soon returned with a pronouncement from Bobby Seale stating badly that any movement that included the Panthers had no room for PL. This gave Klonsky and the Weathermen a pretext for walking out of the convention and reassembling in an adjoining hall. There they proceeded as if they had expelled PL from SDS.
All of this tactical maneuvering was justified by "theoretical" arguments [which, being college students they'd learned to value over reality and real things in real life. Saying "theory" means never having to do anything real.] though the last thing that any of the factions wanted was a serious open discussion of any question. Mystification and the ritual language were the order of the day, as the split between Weatherman "theory" and its actions soon demonstrated. Bernardine Dohrn and Mark Rudd, a Columbia University student militant, proclaimed that the blacks were the vanguard of the revolution, as they allegedly had been of radical social forces throughout American history, and that white workers and the white middle class were racist and corrupted by "white skin privilege." This excused the Weathermen from organizing among whites, not only because it was a waste of time (which it certainly would have been.) but also because doing so would have been "objectively" racist. In the light of this contempt for the great mass of working Americans, the order of the day, Rudd concluded in a pathetically revealing slogan, was the martyrdom of "two, three, many John Browns."
(I [James Weinstein] attended this convention, as I had a few others, as a friend of SDS and a partisan of the anti-PL groups. As I sat at the Weathermen meeting a story about Louis Boudin -exactly fifty years earlier - kept going through my mind. As David Shannon recounted it in The Socialist Party of America, Boudin, a left-winger and an eminent legal scholar, had attended the Socialist Party's 1919 emergency convention at the Machinists' Hall in Chicago. When the majority refused to seat the left-wing delegates, Boudin walked out with them and reassembled downstairs to form the Communist Labor Party. A few hours later, after an argument with John Reed, he walked out again, explaining, when asked by reporters why he had done so, that he had "not quit a band or crooks to join a band of lunatics." That was irony enough, but more came later. Boudin was the great-uncle of Kathy Boudin, one of the two women who ran naked from the Greenwich Village townhouse bombing, and who was later a member of an underground revolutionary group that robbed a Brinks truck in Nanuet, New York, and murdered three guards. As of this writing, she is still serving a twenty-year sentence for participating in that action.) Only four weeks after the June convention, the Weathermen's theory was tested in action when the Black panther Party held a meeting of its own in Oakland, California, and called for a "United Front Against Fascism." Reminiscent of the Communists' shift to the politics of the popular Front against fascism in 1935, the Panther's effort was called to mobilize support for the party in the face of FBI and local police efforts to disrupt and destroy it. The Panthers called for a traditional civil libertarian effort. They asked for legal aid and financial support and for community control of the police. And they suggested other measures designed to stop of slow down the lethally illegal attacks coming from the FBI and other government agencies. [ What did I say the other day about the difference actually having a real stake in something makes. ]
Not surprisingly - given the help that the Panthers had given SDS in ridding it of PL, and in light of statements by Weathermen leaders that the Panthers were the revolutionary vanguard - the Panthers expected SDS to support its initiative. But since the Panthers had failed to live up to the revolutionary image assigned to them by Dohrn, the Weathermen refused to support their erstwhile partners in such a liberal endeavor. It was not the first time in relation to the left that blacks had been put forward as the leading force until they took some initiative of their own (something like this had also happened in 1942 when A. Philip Randolph led a march for civil rights that was attacked by the Communists as weakening the war effort). In any case the Weathermen were now on their own and they proceeded to act out Mark Rudd's cry for martyrdom.
The failure of the New Left to study history or reflect on the failures of its predecessors, doomed the student radicals to a farcical recapitulation of earlier tragedies. Less than a year later, a bomb factory in the basement of a townhouse on fashionable West Eleventh Street in Manhattan blew up and the building collapsed. At least three Weathermen were killed, and, as noted above, two women escaped and ran naked into a nearby building, from which they then disappeared. The weathermen then continued in their adolescent fantasy for a few more years. As former Weatherleader Bill Ayers boasted in his recent memoir, Fugitive Days, they even exploded a pipe bomb at the Pentagon. But the only thing they succeeded in destroying was the hope of a democratic left in the United States. In its place, in the absence of a left based on universal principles, many little lefts for which the New Left had acted as a catalyst survived and went their own ways. Of these, the women's movement and the gay and lesbian movements were the most significant. Many of these single-issue groups won important victories in the following years. Still, the hope of a left based on universal principles that had raised its head in the early sixties was dead and buried.
I disagree with Weinstein's attribution of the women's and LGBT movements as coming out of the new left. The women's movement predates it and so did parts of the early LGBT struggle. I think the Civil Rights Movement, extending far earlier than the 1960s, is the real inspiration for those movements. For my part, I was never that impressed with the "new left" thinking large parts of the "old left" were more likely to do something and I wasn't nearly as impressed with it as I was the civil rights movement of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other such groups which pushed through the most significant legislation of the left in the 1960s as even the old left of the type Weinstein wrote about so authoritatively were entirely impotent and their presence frequently counter-productive and the new left, ultimately destructive of the left.
The new left was, if anything, as useful to the Republicans and other corporate oligarchs in destroying the Democratic coalition that passed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, passed Johnson's Great Society and other legislation. The Nixon administration expanded the war in Vietnam into Cambodia, multiplying the huge number of dead, maimed, damaged people in those countries and began to install a Supreme Court which is, even today, continuing a wrecking campaign against The Great Society, The New Deal and even Progressive era and 19th century reforms. The most significant legacy of the "new left" the Marxist left, and the atheist left, in general, has been the part it played in splitting the left, alienating the natural allies who could win elections and change laws and overturn the Republican radicals on federal and state courts who are as cynical and materialistic as the atheist left, but who have power.
It should be the least part of our ambition to stop repeating the mistakes made in the past century. Part of that is admitting that the tiny fraction for whom hatred of religion is and will always be their primary focus, whose materialism will inevitably undermine, hollow out and defeat the goals of liberalism in the traditional, American meaning of that word. Materialism is inevitably destructive of the very foundation of those. As their first-cousins, the Republican materialists are proving, egalitarian democracy and self-government itself are endangered by materialism.
If you ever had the feeling that the feeling that the arguments you get from online atheists are reiterative, that would be because you're right. And if you ever got the feeling that they are generally based on never having looked into what they're asserting to be the truth, that would be because a quick look at what they're talking about often proves that. Sometimes the way they lie about easily seen documents is rather amazing. But, then, quite often the documents the the blog and twitter based sci-rangers are depending on are three or four generations away from them, published and republished without any fact checking or review for accuracy. Quite a few of those have come from some Prometheus published book or soemthing said by Sagan or Jillette on TV or typed by some Scienceblog or "Freethought" blog savant, quite often dependent on the same tripe factory. When an intellectual culture abandons a belief that it is simply wrong to lie, the culture lies. I think that some of the general loss of faith in our intellectual culture is based on that abandonment of punishment of lying. Someone can be held to be an intellectual while being caught lying about even rather serious stuff, many of the figures in the Bush II regime who lied us into a horrible war, the consequences of which include the rise of ISIS and many other disasters hasn't kept some of our most elite universities from hiring them. One, who stands out in my mind this morning is Douglas J. Feith, who has been in and out of government and academia, a Harvard product whose dishonesty and incompetence led to General Tommy Frank giving him the title of the "dumbest fucking guy on the planet" and whose Pentagon Office of Special Plans in regard to the invasion and occupation of Iraq was so bad that it was eventually dismantled. Last I heard he was hired by schools as reputable as Georgetown and Stanford. Though I understand the faculty in neither place were happy to have him there. Anyway, someone made one of those dishonest citations of The Code of Hamurabi as being a safely atheist origin of "The Golden Rule". Since I've got some typing yet to do on my post today, I'll repost my answer to that particular neo-atheist factoid until then.
Possibly The Most Incompetent Atheist Argument In History If you've encountered many atheists online, you're likely to have read a claim that morality preceded religion and that it is independent of it. Jerry Coyne is the first person I saw say that online but I've seen it asserted more and more since then. When that happens on the atheist blogosphere you can be pretty sure that some line of tripe is being pushed by someone. Probably from CFI or the "Science" or "Freethought" blogs. I'd guess someone at least of the alleged authority of Coyne or Orac or PZ is the prime mover of it.
In a recent online argument, I finally got around to demanding that the atheist making the claim back it up by naming the earliest documents containing a moral code and verifying their non-religious character. Here's what he came up with:
Codes of conduct and morality without any reference to religion: Code of Hamurabi, Ancient Roman civil law, Aristotle's works on ethics and politics, English Common Law, Confucianism of Imperial China You probably noticed a few problems with this list as proof that morality came about before religion and independently of it. Other than the Code of Hammurabi, none of those extend back nearly to the dawn of recorded civilization. Every one of them are products of religious cultures and governments with either official or de facto state religions, at least three of them have monarchs either anointed by God or claim gods in their actual ancestry. English common law recognizes "acts of God", after all. Every one of them incorporate religion, quite arguably, even that recent atheist hobby horse, Aristotle*.
Even Confucianism, often listed as a "secular religion" fails in this argument. The Analects of Confucius, VII Chapter 22 says:
The Master said, `Heaven produced the virtue that is in me. Hwan T'ui what can he do to me?'
XX Chapter 3 says:
The Master said, `Without recognising the ordinances of Heaven, it is impossible to be a superior man.
So, the atheist's citation says that heaven not only produces virtue but it is impossible to be a superior man without recognizing the ordinances of heaven. Clearly the atheist use of Confucius in this argument is based on suppression and distortion or, more likely total ignorance. Its success could only depend on ignorance and being too lazy to look up what the document says.
The one alleged support of the atheist position that is not disqualified on the basis of chronology, Hammurabi's code, also flops rather badly in the atheist argument, something which would be apparent if one of the atheists making that use of it had performed the most basic of scholarly tests, READING IT. Here is how the documentbegins:
When Anu the Sublime, King of the Anunaki, and Bel, the lord of Heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great among the Igigi, they called Babylon by his illustrious name, made it great on earth, and founded an everlasting kingdom in it, whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth; then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind. Even taking into account the nearly universal insistence by atheists that everything be a set up job in their favor, there is no way that texts that prove the opposite of their argument actually proves their argument. Clearly Hammurabi says that his authority to set up his law code comes from a divine command.
Really, even given the appallingly low standards of atheist arguments, this has to count as one of the most incompetent of those I've ever seen. Though, as I interact more with atheists online, it's clear you can be taken as an authority among them while demonstrating complete disdain for and ignorance of the most basic standards of scholarship.
* Contemporary atheists are generally ignorant of history and the necessity of having to read something before you really know what it says. As a substitute for reading primary documents they depend, not on scholarly secondary documentation, but tertiary ideological junk and the even less reliable stuff that comes from TV. I'm not interested in getting into a long argument over the man who introduced the concept of the "unmoved mover" so useful to medieval theology. For my argument it's only necessary to note that Aristotle hardly represents the oldest documentary evidence of morality and, since it's doubtful he had access to those oldest sources, his ideas on the origin of morality are entirely speculative. I'm not a scholar of the history of Aristotelian philosophy but I'd be surprised if he wasn't made most use of by Jewish, Christian and Islamic moral theologians, who found support for their religious ideas in his writing.
Talking with my brother about when the incident with the album, Amarcord Nino Rota happened, we figured it must have been about thirty three years ago. It seems like it was yesterday. Which, considering the name of the album, is appropriate. On the other hand, I doubt I could move that much rock phosphate today. Five bags and I'd need to see an osteopath or something.
It was a great record, brought back all of the movies, we were big Fellini fans. I wonder if I'd be able to sit through Juliet Of The Spirits today. I wonder where I could borrow it but doubt watching it on my computer screen would be at all the same. I still say the scene of the fascist rally in Amarcord where all the adults are having orgasms over Mussolini is a good summary of the Washington Press Corps during the Reagan and Bush regimes.
There is a remarkable consistency in the neoconservatives from its founders such as Irving Kristol, his wife Gertrude Himmelfarb, Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, Irving Howe, and others, that they all were originally Trotskyites and, so, atheists right up to the last celebrity convert to it, Christopher Hitches who was, as well, a Trotsyite in his youth and, I guess, something of one when he was famous mostly as a columnist for The Nation, up through his star moment when he broke into a wider fame by kicking an elderly nun and servant of the poor around. Whether it was the fame he got from that which led him on to more plentiful pastures of following the money into neoconservatism in the Bush II regime or if he'd have done it anyway, I'm not going to look through his columnage to try to discern. He was a notable liar and a rather slippery sleaze who had duped some not unintelligent people on the actual left with his silver tongue - the way they openly pined for him at The Nation after he crapped on them as a means of leaving them behind was embarrassing. Even the champion cynic and savage critic of the neo-cons, Gore Vidal, had bought his act up till that point.
Once they decided to dump Trotsky, then dead and unable to represent any venue of dreams of power, such as their despised and hated rivals, the Stalinists had, the founding generation went over to the cynical right-wing conservatism of Leo Strauss, who presented religion as a necessary lie for the stupid and ignorant masses but one which the elite had no need for. Other than Hitch, whose fame and fortune depended on God hating, I'm unaware of the others talking much about their atheism.
It would be nice to have the time and resources to be able to contrast the atheist left with the religious left to compare the phenomenon of apostasy to the far right between the two but, alas, I don't. Perhaps someone else could and we might be able to conclude something important about it. My takeaway based on what a religious Christian would have to deny to make that trip - pretty much the entire Gospel and the earliest tradition of radical economic and social justice and even equal distribution of goods, in order to make that conversion. I think a really religious Jew who took the prophets and The Law seriously (Leviticus 19:18, Hillel's most famous aphorism containing the entire Law) couldn't be a neocon either. I think that what the phenomenon shows is that the materialist "left" never had what it took to be a real leftist to start with, the Trotskyites, the Stalinists, various other Marxists, .... their "leftism" was always unfounded in their ideology, I think it was more strategic and a matter of using moral stands in the same way Strauss presented the utility of religion as a useful lie. Useful for swaying the masses, who had a real stake in the things that religion leads to more naturally than materialism does.
In my criticism of Emma Goldman I noted she had done some useful things in documenting the crimes of the earliest rulers of the Soviet Union as an eye-witness to much of the bloodshed and the early imposition of oppression. Late in her life, when she saw how Trotsky was parading around North America and, especially, in response to the Trotskyist response to her closest colleague, Alexander Berkman's account of Trotsky's role in the bloody suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion (sort of like the Solidarity movement in Poland, on the other end of Soviet history) she wrote a pamphlet documenting the lies of the Trots. While I wouldn't say anyone named was beyond reproach in telling the whole truth and nothing but, it makes interesting reading. In it she notes that Trotsky wasn't above using the same violence and oppression that Stalin became notorious for, only that, since he'd lost the power struggle with Stalin, he didn't get the chance. Something that his later day descendants still try to do through the Republican Party.
I will note that, as I mentioned the other day, typical of the atheist "left" she didn't let a chance to slam religion go unused.
The average Communist, whether of the Trotsky or Stalin brand, knows about as much of Anarchist literature and its authors as, let us say, the average Catholic knows about Voltaire or Thomas Paine.
Which is remarkably what I've come to conclude about your average and even most elite atheists, such as Goldman who, none the less, feels themselves entirely competent to comment on and judge the entire history and range of Catholic, Christian and religious thought and practice. Such as this line from the same essay.
Trotskyists no doubt consider it bourgeois sentimentality to permit the maligned sailors the right to speak for themselves. I insist that this approach to one's opponent is damnable Jesuitism and has done more to disintegrate the whole labour movement than anything else of the "sacred" tactics of Bolshevism.
I will bet you anything that I could search the entire corpus of Goldman's scribblings and not find any evidence she knew anything more than a few bromides, probably gleaned from WASP putdowns of Catholics she'd heard in New York, concerning the history of the Jesuits and social justice. I doubt she ever heard of the Paraguayan Reductions, free soil they set up in the 17th century, one of the more enduring experiments in social justice and probably unique in the period it lasted, until the expulsion of the Jesuits on the order of Charles III in Spain.
Dorothy Day fled the atheist left for Catholicism, started Catholic Worker, joined and struggled with and for the least among us, held solid to pacifism and her own brand of Christian anarchism (though she was The Anarch, a joke her friends are said to have told in her presence) was entirely better humored and more loved than Emma was and died, many of those who knew her are convinced, a saint. Her life, over many decades, testifies to her actual belief in what she was doing, it was no convenient lie for her and unlike the famous, absurdly mythologized, do-nothing "left", she did something.
It must have been in March or April, driving up to the train depot in South Portland, Maine to pick up rock phosphate or limestone or something that my brother had this on his truck stereo and all of a sudden we were aware he was driving faster and faster as the music picked up. Luckily we didn't meet up with any troopers before he realized what was going on. Must have been right after the album came out. I think he put it on cassette. I know he had it on vinyl. Too early for CDs.
Following on with my morning post, as I was looking for something to listen to while doing some housework, I came across a short speech by Diane Nash about the force of nonviolence to make political change. It was tempting to just add it on as an update but, thinking about it in relation to the history of those who rejected that nonviolence and the fact that progress stalled out and stopped and the fact that a number of those whose faces pushed the Diane Nashes out of the camera frame in the 1960s went on to become tools for the enemies of equality and, in some cases, joined the enemies of the movement needs to be looked at. While I don't feel qualified to do that, it's something I will be thinking about. I think it, as well, carries a lot of how the left failed as the 1960s continued into the Nixon era and in the constant retreat we still suffer from today.
But, with that said, what she said about the force of nonviolence, her analysis of how discrimination was a two-sided practice and how they used that analysis to change things is too important to leave for later.
As someone who, from time to time, comes across derisive comments about "church ladies" made by those on the atheist pseudo-left, note what she says about the role that just those "church ladies" played in the success of the lunch counter desegregation effort. I'd rather have a hundred "church ladies" in the struggle than every Communist who ever burdened the left with their parasitic presence.
Clearly, I have a lot to learn from Diane Nash and the others who brought about real change, myself. Her "agapic energy" has a lot more evidence of being able to power that change than the imaginary power behind the progress of history, the Hegelian dialectic, which went from the Czars to Vladimir Putin with other Czars by other titles in between. I think the immoral, futile enthusiasm for violence and causing havoc on the pretend left is due to a belief in that nonsense.
It is wonderful to read about and hear one of the great heroines of the Civil Rights struggle, Diane Nash, continuing to witness for the truth and against those who are trying to co-opt the history of civil rights in the form of George W. Bush. She refused to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge due to his clearly political participation in it. I don't think she said it but I told a lot of people that this is consistent with what the Bush family does when another of its members is about to run for President. I am expecting some other PR moves like this in the coming weeks and months, all for nothing more elevated than the thief of the 2000 election, Jeb Bush to make his try for the same office he stole for his brother.
Here is what she said, in her own voice.
Here is something she said fifty-four years ago, as she was in the thick of that struggle, one of its most courageous and bold strategists and fighters.
I see no alternative but that this text must be a personal interpretation of my own experience within the region known as "Dixie" My participation in the movement began in February 1960, with the lunch counter "sit-ins." I was a student at Fisk University, but several months ago I interrupted my schoolwork for a year in order to work full time with the movement. My occupation at present is coordinating secretary for the Nashville Nonviolent Movement. I should not wish to infer that I speak for the southern movement, for I think that there is no single person who can do that. Although many of the following statements can be generalized for the entire movement in the South, I shall refer largely to Nashville, Tennessee, for that is where I have worked. I submit, the, that the nonviolent movement in that city: 1. is based upon and motivated by love; 2. attempts to serve God and mankind; 3. strives toward what we call the beloved community. This is religion. This is applied religion. I think it has worked for me and I think it has worked for you and I think it has worked for our Church... ... The problems in Berlin, Cuba, or South Africa are, I think, identical with the problem in Jackson, Mississippi, or Nashville, Tennessee. I believe that when men come to believe in their own dignity and in the worth of their own freedom, and when they can acknowledge the God and the dignity that is within every man, then Berlin and Jackson will not be problems. After I had been arrested from a picket line about three weeks ago, I jotted down the following note, with this meeting in mind: If the policeman had acknowledged the God within each of the students with whom I was arrested last night, would he have put us in jail? Or would he have gone to the store we were picketing and tried to persuade the manger to hire Negroes and to treat all people fairly? If one acknowledges the God within men, would anyone be asking for a "cooling off period," or plead for gradualism, or would they realize that white and Negro Americas are committing a sin every day that they hate each other and every day that they allow an evil system to exist without doing all they can to rectify it as soon as they can?
Diane Nash, August 1961 address to the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice from: Women and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965
edited by Davis W. Houck, David E. Dixon
I was going to spend an hour this morning typing out a long passage about the history I've been talking about for the past few days but when I read about what Diane Nash said and did this weekend, I knew there was someone who not only studied what I'm addressing but lived it and lives it.
Someone is really annoyed at my little bit of truth telling about the catastrophic role the Communists have played in the politics of the left over the past 96 years. Earning my name and demonstrating what I said in those posts in one fell swoop, pointing out that irrefutable record of total failure and self-inflicted damage on the left has aroused a reaction like some ham Brit actor impersonating their idea of a Catholic cardinal denouncing blasphemy. To give you a clue as to how totally stupid they are, one of them called what I've said "punching hippies". Apparently he knows as little about the history of the late 1960s and the difference between hippies and Communists as he does everything else.
Who is it supposed to harm for me to point out that the Communists have done and been everything I've mentioned from the far, far longer indictment that could be made against them? The relative handful of Communists who are still deluding themselves over the farce? Certainly not their fevered opponents in the even tinier "parties" of the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist(yes, they still exist)-Trotskyist-Maoist sects who hate their fellow communists in the CPUSA and among themselves with a venomous fury that would make the text writer of a super hero comic roll his eyes due to how over the top it is.
If the folks who are upset with me for pointing out that going on a century of being a self-created weapon against the left, a total and complete political failure, a fan of one of the worst political experiments in the history of despotism are, as I suspect, NOT EVEN MEMBERS OF THE RUMP COMMUNIST PARTY my question is that if they're such great-big supporters of the Communists why they, as well as most of the people who lived in those atheist paradises, have not elected to become party members? Apparently their support for the Communists doesn't extend so far as that.
The left doesn't exist to carry some eternal torch for the failures who were mistakenly allowed to become a face of the left in the lost past. It doesn't exist to make the few thousand psychotic cultists who belong to those cults today able to pretend that their totally failed cults represent anything about any kind of politics that work. It doesn't exist as some role playing house museum so people can reenact scenes from some PBS history show or, heaven help us, some phonied up Hollywood movie.
The only purpose for the left to exist is to WIN THE FIGHT for equal justice for all, a decent life for all under economic as well as political democracy - not mere state ownership*, democratic government by an accurately informed People, each allowed to cast their one vote and to have that one vote count, and with the freedom to try to convince people of their ideas, the results made consistent with all of the above for us and our posterity. In short, the only reason for the left to exist is to provide things that have never been allowed in any of the countries or by any of the figures who have controlled and been extolled by the Communist Party since before its inception on the ruins of the old Socialist Party. In not one of those countries with the chance did anything like the hoped for results of Marx and Engel's pipe dream happen, in none of them was it ever attempted.
Anyone who is carrying that extinguished though still smoking torch for the communists should be relieved of membership in the real left. They are part of the failed past, as much as the other things we have to struggle against on the all too real right. They are in that group because their ideas never were compatible with the goals of the real left.
And, considering some of what they're complaining about, the left doesn't exist to help pseudo-leftists of the greater New York City area work out their daddy and mommy issues.
* One of the few things that the Communists proved just about wherever they ruled is that state owned industry can be as bad as anything capitalism has produced. Clearly, state ownership isn't the same thing as social democracy.
Update: Oh, I'm ever so worried that you're going to do more of what you do, ineffectualize at me from a platform the world ignores.