Secular Right | Reality & Reason

CAT | politics

Feb/19

11

A “new post-ideological strategic world order”?

Pepe Escobar sees Eurasian integration and associated trade developments as possibly marking the emergence of a new, post-ideological strategic world order. China, with its infrastructure-focused Belt and Road Initiative, is driving this process. By contrast, the US appears to be locked into a Cold War-like mentality.

There is some truth in this view. Certainly the latest annual Worldwide Threat Assessment released by the US Director of National Intelligence has explicitly categorized US–China relations in ideological terms. China is interpreted as seeking to propagate “authoritarian capitalism” and this is perceived as a direct challenge to Western liberal democracy.

And so it may be. But only if it delivers the promised benefits at a time when Western democracy seems to be losing its way. Our problems are of our own making and can’t plausibly be blamed on Russia or China.

Escobar rightly criticizes the tendency to conflate very different kinds of system; to equate, as he puts it, “Russian democracy with China’s one party rule, Iran’s demo-theocracy and Turkey’s neo-Ottoman revival.” Moreover, American criticisms of the illiberalism and authoritarianism of states which are perceived to be strategic rivals ring rather hollow while other equally illiberal regimes are given a pass.

It must be admitted that a pro-Russia bias is evident in Escobar’s article. The reference (quoted above) to “Russian democracy” is a case in point. And then there is this:

Last month in Moscow, I discussed Greater Eurasia – by now established as the overarching concept of Russian foreign policy – with top Russian analysts. They told me Putin is on board. He referred to Eurasia recently as “not a chessboard or a geopolitical playground, but our peaceful and prosperous home.”

All sweetness and light…

Some of Escobar’s substantive claims have merit, however. Claims about Russia’s strategic significance, for example, despite its relatively small economy (one tenth the size of China’s).

From boosting trade that bypasses the U.S. dollar, to increasing joint military exercises, the Russia-China symbiosis is poised to advance beyond political and ideological affinities.

China badly needs Russian know-how in its military industry. Beijing will turn this knowledge into plenty of dual use, civilian-military innovations.

Technology and trade are driving an historically and strategically significant process of economic and social change, no doubt about it. Escobar points out that Henry Kissinger saw this coming.

The Kissinger doctrine rules that, geopolitically, the U.S. is just “an island off the shores of the large landmass of Eurasia.” Domination “by a single power of either of Eurasia’s two principal spheres – Europe or Asia – remains a good definition of strategic danger for America, Cold War or no Cold War,” as Kissinger said. “For such a grouping would have the capacity to outstrip America economically and, in the end, militarily.”

Are we headed for a post-ideological world? It is a question of scope and degree. The fact that the West’s major antagonists have abandoned the ideology of Marxism-Leninism and adopted more pragmatic approaches makes it difficult if not impossible for the US and its allies to sustain with any degree of plausibility the simple dichotomies of a Cold War-style approach.

Our perceived strategic rivals have (as Escobar pointed out) adopted various ideologies and forms of government while, in the West, tottering liberal democracies are facing challenges from within. We see a swirling mix of views and outlooks. Various forms of nationalism, regionalism, separatism and internationalism compete with one another. Some groups focus on identity politics, others on radical environmentalism. Attempts are being made to revive various forms of socialism. Crackpot ideas like Modern Monetary Theory are being seriously entertained in some quarters.

In such a fluid situation it is hardly surprising that American attempts to utilize ideology as a means of cementing Western solidarity are failing. In recent years we have seen major US allies resisting America’s hardline approach to China and Russia. The current battles over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline are just the latest example. Generally, pragmatic considerations seem to be winning out as US allies are increasingly seeing the need to take a more independent line on foreign policy and trade.

This, I think, is a good thing. Social and political myths and the ideologies with which they are associated will always be with us. But, given the role that ideology has often played in exacerbating international tensions and fanning the flames of war, it is well to be wary of any attempt to deploy ideological considerations in the context of foreign policy and international relations.

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Nov/18

23

Radicalism, religion and climate change

Although Christianity is now in rapid decline, secularized versions of Biblical ethics and eschatology still flourish and continue to exert a profound influence on moral and political thinking, especially in left-wing and radical circles. But a case can be made that adopting, in the absence of religious belief, the absolute judgments and sharp moral imperatives which are characteristic of the prophetic and apocalyptic literature and the New Testament doesn’t really make sense; that it is a recipe for cognitive dissonance and worse.

Self-protective moral contortions and distortions, compartmentalized thinking, cynicism and hypocrisy are not restricted to the atheistic left but such cognitive and moral aberrations are certainly in evidence in contemporary progressive circles. Making matters worse, in the absence of actual religion, social and political causes have a tendency to become cults, or at least vehicles for cultish behavior.

In this connection, the behavior of climate change activists and their followers has often been remarked upon. Committed environmentalists often seem curiously uninterested in understanding the actual impact of various kinds of activities and processes. If it’s “renewable”, or involves recycling, it’s good. The virtue signalling side of this is all too obvious.

Amongst activists the focus is very much on polemics and political action rather than open discussion and persuasion. The problem is that this sort of approach is not conducive to forming the sort of broad coalition which is usually necessary to achieve effective and lasting policy change.

Due to a family connection, I ventured out of my comfort zone recently to attend a climate change meeting. I was expecting a discussion or debate, but there was little discussion of the facts, no science, just consciousness-raising and a bit about strategies for influencing legislation.

Most of the participants (who were obviously very sincere and intelligent people) had a moral focus and talked about modifying their own lifestyles, but the main speaker was too partisan-political for my taste. She had recently become an advisor to a former trade union leader who had moved into politics.

It was noted at one point that only two or three percent of scientists questioned certain apocalyptic predictions. “Let’s hope they’re right,” I commented. Dead silence. Disapproval. This was not what one was supposed to say (though I assume the thought, the hope, was kosher). I had revealed myself not to be one of them.

“So, Mark, you are a climate change skeptic!” interjected my cousin (who was hosting the event). In a very weak sense, perhaps I am. As I explained to the group, it’s not something I know a lot about. I think the climate is changing, and it seems very likely that human activity is playing a significant role, but beyond that there’s nothing useful I can say.

What struck me above all was the initial response to my off-the-cuff comment, that awkward silence. There was something amiss here. It was as if even the possibility of a relatively optimistic climatic future was not to be countenanced or publicly acknowledged.

Certainly, the reaction was political and revealed a strong in-group/out-group dynamic. It was also consistent with something which many have suggested before me, namely that the main driving force behind (at least some of) the activism in this area may not be the well-being of the biosphere at all, but broader political goals which a climate crisis makes more attainable.

As I see it, the excessive politicization of environmental concerns is counterproductive to the activists’ own stated goals. It leads to suspicion and resistance on the part of conservatives, for example, who might under different circumstances be sympathetic to cooperative action on the environment. If climate change does require urgent action, openly talking about the science and the inevitable uncertainties involved will not block the way.

And the more serious the projected problems are seen to be, the more imperative it is to move questions of climate change and potential preventative or mitigatory action as far as humanly possible away from the realm of partisan politics; to unbundle the issue, in other words, from the set of irredeemably contentious social and political causes with which it is all too often perceived to be associated.

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Oct/18

18

Fantasies, facts and values

The Western cultural tradition, which combined various elements (religious, intellectual, scientific) into a rich and resilient and trans-national framework of thought and practice, is all but dead.

Witness, for example, the increasingly propaganda-ridden media environment, the absurdities of identity politics where whims and fantasies routinely trump objective reality and, more generally, the self-righteous and narrow dogmatism of the progressive left.

The deep causes are not just ideological, but ideas and ideology play a role.

The notion that the world of which we are a part is a certain way and that we can have objective knowledge of that world is a crucial tenet of Western thought. Closely associated with this idea is the distinction between factually-based and values-based claims.

For all sorts of reasons the fact/value distinction needs to be maintained. It is basic to a sensible, modern view of the world. Unfortunately many philosophers and other intellectuals have in recent decades sought assiduously to undermine it. In so doing they have (wittingly or unwittingly) given cover and support to those who reject the idea that the sciences and rigorous forms of scholarship (coupled with common sense and ordinary observation) reveal an objective reality which is not at the mercy of our whims and preferences and prejudices.

Philosophies like Pragmatism are very popular these days, largely because they blur the fact/value distinction. William James had a religious view of the world, and his form of Pragmatism supported it. John Dewey had strong social and political commitments to which his form of Pragmatism lent a spurious intellectual authority.

Richard Rorty was another influential (and politically motivated) Pragmatist. He incorporated elements of Romanticism into his thinking and, unlike Dewey, disparaged and tried to undermine the status of the sciences.

Rorty wrote clearly and well, by and large avoiding the jargon-dense obscurity of the Continentals. He should also be given credit for seeing as totally futile much of the self-perpetuating philosophical and metaphysical discourse which was produced by analytic philosophers in the late 20th century. But his anti-science attitude, driven by the same general forces which drove many literary men and women before him — a kind of donnish snobbery bolstered by Romantic notions — was unfortunate.

Sure, it is sometimes difficult to disentangle the potentially factual from the value-related aspects of a statement or claim. But an ability to do such disentangling is one of the most important things that a basic education should develop. Not much chance of this when educators’ heads are stuffed full of postmodern fantasies. What they seek to encourage in their students is not independent thinking or real creativity (which is always based on actual competence) but rather a witless conformity masquerading as creative self-expression and a blind adherence to a mishmash of liberal or progressive dogmas, clichés and slogans.

The silliness and emptiness of all this is evident to many, of course, and not just to old fogeys and traditionalists. ZeroHedge reports:

The “weaponized autists” at 4Chan have done it again, because they can; a new meme suggesting that liberals are soulless idiots who can’t think for themselves has gone viral. The concept compares Democrats to “nonplayable characters,” or NPCs – the recurring characters in video games with repetitive lines and limited knowledge. Lack of an “inner voice” is a dead giveaway that someone may be an NPC… The NPC meme [is] meant to ridicule the post-election perpetual outrage culture in which liberals simply parrot the latest talking points from their favorite pundits, who do their thinking for them… The 4chan version is a simple greyed out, expressionless face known as “NPC Wojak” – which has triggered the left so hard that Twitter conducted a mass-banning campaign for accounts promoting the meme, and the New York Times wrote an entire article trying to figure it out.

I acknowledge that education, especially in the early years, is largely about imparting values, practices and myths. Values are an important part of education. The question is, which values?

A rudimentary education in science and/or some form of rigorous scholarship (disciplines which are dependent on virtues such as attention and patience) is crucial, in my opinion, for giving students a sense of objective knowledge. Such disciplines are always in a healthy tension with mythmaking on the one hand and ideological conformity on the other.

We can’t escape myths and ideologies. But if a good part of our thinking is grounded in objective reality we are at least less likely to be consumed by them.

 

 

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Recently my Twitter and Facebook timelines have been littered with references to this story: Man, 92, Allegedly Beaten With a Brick & Told ‘Go Back to Mexico’ by a Mom in Front of Her Child. Terrible. It was posted on Twitter, and Facebook, as evidence that Donald Trump’s America was horrible. Some of the Twitter reactions also talked about white privilege and that sort of thing.

When I saw that this occurred in the Los Angeles area though I grew skeptical. There are conservative parts of California. Much of the Central Valley, the far North, some of the trans-Sierra counties and even much of San Diego. But Los Angeles? Here’s Willowbrook, California‘s demographics (took me 30 seconds to find):

The 2010 United States Census reported that Willowbrook had a population of 35,983. The population density was 9,544.1 people per square mile (3,685.0/km²). The racial makeup of Willowbrook was 8,245 (22.9%) White (0.9% Non-Hispanic White), 12,387 (34.4%) African American, 273 (0.8%) Native American, 119 (0.3%) Asian, 49 (0.1%) Pacific Islander, 13,858 (38.5%) from other races, and 1,052 (2.9%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 22,979 persons (63.9%).

1% of Willowbrooks’ residents were non-Hispanic whites. 64% were Hispanic. Just based on nativity my assumption then was that the attacker was going to be a black American since Hispanic Americans are less likely to engage in nativist tinged attacks as so many are either immigrants, the children of immigrants, or are in communities where immigrants are common.

And yes, the attacker was a black woman.

Additionally, you can get precinct-level election results. 5% of the people in Willowbrook who voted in 2016 voted for Donald Trump for President of the United States of America.

So what you have here is that a black woman who lives in one of the most cosmopolitan metropolitan areas of the United States, in a community that has almost no non-Hispanic whites, and where only 5% of people voted for Donald J. Trump, has engaged in nativist violence. This is evidence for what is happening in “Donald Trump’s America.” As someone who is a nonwhite immigrant I do have to say that I experienced plenty of racism and prejudice, and sometimes bullying, from native-born Americans over my whole life. From white people, and black people. Under Republican and Democratic administrations. In Red America and Blue America. I’m not saying it’s all the same. But it’s not new. And it’s not limited to one race or political faction.

There are some arguments for Marxist social and economic systems where everything seems to support the theory. The theory is unfalsifiable. Similarly, the same occurs with Freudian psychoanalysis. These are theories just too good to give way in the face of facts. Facts are secondary.

Often I feel the same way about the current partisan debates in the United States. If a single immigrant kills someone, it’s an immigrant crime wave. Similarly, if there is violence against a nonwhite person somewhere, it’s because of the climate that Donald Trump is creating. There have been instances where racial events have occurred and Trump’s name has come up as a justification. But if America is becoming polarized it seems very likely that this crime has little to do with Trump, seeing as how this is an area with almost no white people and very few Trump supporters.

You might say I’m kind of being a nerd about this. That’s fine. But not being nerdy about details is how we get in a post-fact world.

Apr/18

12

Like An Oscar, But Not

Blocked! I don’t know what brought on my inclusion on this sort of reverse Index librorum prohibitorum (I don’t think I’ve ever engaged with this particular site) but recognition is recognition…

 

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Feb/18

10

Ideologies of Undivided Devotion

From Yuri Slezkine’s magnificent The House  of Government’, a Saga of the Russian Revolution, a book centered around the idea that Bolshevism was, at its heart, just another millenarian sect, if a peculiarly malevolent one:

“Of the seventeen prisoners, thirteen, amongst whom were close friends of Radek, had been condemned to death, while he himself and three others had been sentenced only to imprisonment. The judge had read the verdict, and all of us had listened to it standing up..

Radek offered himself—along with Bukharin, among other friends—as a scapegoat, a metaphor of unopposed temptation, the embodiment of forbidden thought. He may not have murdered anybody, or even conspired with any murderers, but in Bolshevism, as in Christianity or any other ideology of undivided devotion, it was the thought that counted. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

His offer was accepted.  Radek, an enabler of mass murder, was sentenced to ten years in a Soviet concentration camp, where he was killed. He need not be mourned.

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Jan/18

20

Oprah: The Queen of Unreason

The Oprah moment may have faded for now, but I have little doubt that it will return, in which case this Slate piece by Kurt Andersen (and, no, I don’t agree with his jibe about Reagan) will be one that it is well worth retrieving when Oprah 2020 picks up again.

An extract:

Despite the “magical thinking” reference, neither Williams nor other skeptics have seriously addressed the big qualm I have about the prospect of a President Winfrey: Perhaps more than any other single American, she is responsible for giving national platforms and legitimacy to all sorts of magical thinking, from pseudoscientific to purely mystical, fantasies about extraterrestrials, paranormal experience, satanic cults, and more. The various fantasies she has promoted on all her media platforms—her daily TV show with its 12 million devoted viewers, her magazine, her website, her cable channel—aren’t as dangerous as Donald Trump’s mainstreaming of false conspiracy theories, but for three decades she has had a major role in encouraging Americans to abandon reason and science in favor of the wishful and imaginary.

I’m no fan of Trump’s conspiracy-mongering, to put it mildly, but we’ll have to see which, over the longer term, proves more dangerous. There’s also, incidentally, an argument to be made that Winfrey’s own, uh, flexible approach to objectivity reality may have done its bit to contribute to the rise of Trump.

Andersen:

Oprah went on the air nationally in the 1980s, just as non-Christian faith healing and channeling the spirits of the dead and “harmonic convergence” and alternative medicine and all the rest of the New Age movement had scaled up. By the 1990s, there was a big, respectable, glamorous New Age counterestablishment. Marianne Williamson, one of the new superstar New Age preachers, popularized a “channeled” book of spiritual revelation, A Course in Miracles: The author, a Columbia University psychology professor who was anonymous until after her death in the 1980s, had claimed that its 1,333 pages were dictated to her by Jesus. Her basic idea was that physical existence is a collective illusion—”the dream.” Endorsed by Williamson, the book became a gigantic best-seller. Deepak Chopra had been a distinguished endocrinologist before he quit regular medicine in his 30s to become the “physician to the gods” in the Transcendental Meditation organization and in 1989 hung out his own shingle as wise man, author, lecturer, and marketer of dietary supplements.

Out of its various threads, the philosophy now had its basic doctrines in place: Rationalism is mostly wrongheaded, mystical feelings should override scientific understandings, reality is an illusion one can remake to suit oneself. The 1960s countercultural relativism out of which all that flowed originated mainly as a means of fighting the Man, unmasking the oppressive charlatans-in-charge. But now they had become mind-blowing ways to make yourself happy and successful by becoming the charlatan-in-charge of your own little piece of the universe. “It’s not just the interpretation of objective reality that is subjective,” according to Chopra. “Objective reality per se is a concept of reality we have created subjectively.”

Exactly how had Chopra and Williamson become so conspicuous and influential? They were anointed in 1992 and 1993 by Oprah Winfrey….

Most of the best-known prophets and denominational leaders in the New Age realm owe their careers to Winfrey…

It’s one thing to try to experience more peace of mind or feel in sync with a divine order. Mixing magical thinking with medical science and physiology, however, can get problematic. A generation after its emergence as a thing hippies did, alternative medicine became ubiquitous and mainstream. As with so many of the phenomena I discuss in my book Fantasyland, it’s driven by nostalgia and anti-establishment mistrust of experts, has quasi-religious underpinnings, and comes in both happy and unhappy versions.

And has been brought to you by Oprah Winfrey.

In 2004, a very handsome heart surgeon, prominent but not famous, appeared on Oprah to promote a book about alternative medicine. His very name—Dr. Oz!—would be way too over-the-top for a character in a comic novel. After Harvard, Mehmet Oz earned both an M.D. and an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania, then became a top practitioner and professor of heart surgery at Columbia University and director of its Cardiovascular Institute. Timing is everything—young Dr. Oz arrived at Columbia right after it set up its Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the 1990s.

Soon he was bringing an “energy healer” into his operating room, who placed her hands on patients as he performed surgery, and inviting a reporter to watch. According to Dr. Oz, who is married to a reiki master, such healers have the power to tune in to their scientifically undetectable “energies” and redirect them as necessary while he’s cutting open their hearts. When the New Yorker’s science reporter Michael Specter told Oz he knew of no evidence that reiki works, the doctor agreed—“if you are talking purely about data.” For people in his magical-thinking sphere, purely about data is a phrase like mainstream and establishment and rational and fact, meaning elitist, narrow, and blind to the disruptive truths. “Medicine is a very religious experience,” Oz told Specter, then added a kicker directly from the relativist 1960s: “I have my religion and you have yours.”

After that first appearance on Oprah, he proceeded to come on her show 61 more times, usually wearing surgical scrubs. In 2009, Winfrey’s company launched the daily Dr. Oz show, on which he pushes miracle elixirs, homeopathy, imaginary energies, and psychics who communicate with the dead. He regularly uses the words miracle and magic. A supplement extracted from tamarind “could be the magic ingredient that lets you lose weight without diet and exercise.” Green coffee beans—even though “you may think that magic is make-believe”—are actually a “magic weight-loss cure,” a “miracle pill [that] can burn fat fast. This is very exciting. And it’s breaking news.” For a study in the British medical journal BMJ, a team of experienced evidence reviewers analyzed Dr. Oz’s on-air advice—80 randomly chosen recommendations from 2013. The investigators found legitimate supporting evidence for fewer than half. The most famous physician in the United States, the man Oprah Winfrey branded as “America’s doctor,” is a dispenser of make-believe.

Oz has encouraged viewers to believe that vaccines cause autism and other illnesses—as did Winfrey on her show before him. In 2007, long after the fraudulent 1998 paper that launched the anti-vaccine movement had been discredited, she gave an Oprah episode over to the actress Jenny McCarthy, a public face of the movement. That was where McCarthy gave the perfect defense of her credentials: “The University of Google is where I got my degree from!”

… Discussing my book a couple of months ago on Sam Harris’ podcast Waking Up, I was arguing that the realm of Fantasyland is, when it comes to politics, highly asymmetrical—the American right much more than the left has given itself over to belief in the untrue and disbelief in the true, a fact of which President Donald Trump is a stark embodiment.

Say what you will about Trump—go for it—count me unconvinced that the “American right much more than the left has given itself over to belief in the untrue and disbelief in the true…”

In fact to believe quite that so firmly is to suggest that Andersen may be just a little guilty of what he so eloquently (and rightly) condemns.

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Sep/17

30

Why Trump could murder someone and people would still support him

In 1683 the Ottoman Turks marched toward Vienna. John Sobieski, the king of Poland, became a hero to all Europe because of his defense of the Habsburgs in their time of need. In contrast, France had traditionally been a rival of the Habsburg monarchy. In honor of their tacit alliance with the Ottomans they rejected aiding the Austrians. But by 1683 pan-Christian feeling was strong enough that the Bourbons received some blowback for their implied approval of the Ottoman thrust into the heart of Europe.

Yet But not all Christians fought with the Habsburgs. The Protestant Hungarian noble Imre Thokoly led a contingent of his followers against Vienna in alliance with the Ottomans. Hungarian Protestants were suffering persecution and marginalization at the hands of the Catholic Habsburg monarchy. In the years before the Ottoman invasion rebellions based on demands for religious liberty were occurring due to the vigor of the re-Catholicization efforts of the Habsburgs.

Red = Catholic and Blue = Protestant

The Hungarian Protestants allied with the Ottomans against all of Christendom because only through that alliance was their existence safeguarded.* To this day the demographic stronghold of Hungarian Protestantism is to the east, where Ottomans held sway the longest, and so shielded Protestants from Royal persecution and conversion.

The general principle here is obvious. If the cost of acceptance and approval is a negation of who you are, then you will make whatever compromises and sacrifices necessary to continue to be who you are. The Greek Orthodox church arguably made this choice when most of them rejected union with Rome as the cost for Western aid against the Turks.

The relevance for modern American politics should be clear. But if it isn’t, I’ll make it clear: many pro-Trump Americans perceive that Trump may protect them and their values, and see that anti-Trump politicians and leaders will never do so. Obviously there are a range of attitudes of people who support Trump, from genuine fondness and loyalty, to resigned acceptance that he is there only choice in a binary world.

Why is he their only choice? Perhaps “it’s time for some game theory.”

Consider a book like Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority. Many center-to-Left Americans look to the year 2050 (or 2042) as a terminal date when a social-political milestone will be achieved: white people will be made dispensable. Not in a literal sense, but the centrality of white Americans will be no more. The coalition of the ascendant will have come into its own.

At least that’s the theory. Even one of the major early theorists of the new Democratic majority is not sure it will ever come to be (count me as a guarded skeptic as well).

But that’s neither here nor there. Many people on the Left and the Right in American culture see that white Christian America will be marginalized. Demoted. They seem that people are picking sides, and you have to stick to your tribe. It’s a matter of existential concern.

Many pro-Trump Americans perceive that the Left and the cultural elite hate them deeply in their bones. Wish they would disappear. Dislike their aesthetic preferences, think their religion is contemptible, and are simply waiting for their expiration date to come due so that history will march onward, and leave them an unpleasant memory.

Some of them see their livelihoods in danger, as they perceive that their political choices and identities will make them targets for being unpersoned, without a way to keep a roof over their heads or food on their family’s table. They accept the narrative of their marginalization, and are terrified of the consequences that will be meted out to them by their triumphalist adversaries in the culture wars.

When elite Americans argue that these voters are supporting a conman, they shrug. First, they don’t trust the elites to have their interests at heart in the first place, so why trust their sincerity? These are the same elites joyfully writing think-pieces about how these middle class white Americans are no longer necessary in electoral coalitions, nor do they set the terms in American culture. The alternative offered is dispossession and marginalization with a smile, and that is not an offer they are willing to take. Better someone incompetently on your side than someone effectively against you.

American society today is in a “you are with us or against” modality. Even if you are on the losing side, there is no incentive to change sides, because no one perceives that there will be charity from one’s erstwhile enemies (notice how many liberals accepted John McCain’s rejection of Republican Obamacare replacements begrudgingly; he may have sided with them in some cases, but he wasn’t on the team). These sorts of tribal dynamics are not surprising in the age of identity politics. In India caste politics is such that plainly corrupt politicians who regularly disappoint their constituents continue to be reelected over and over. Why? Because ultimately their people have nowhere else to go.

We live in a zero-sum world now. Identity is dominant. To some extent it always was, but very few now make the counter-argument that principles matter. Better get used to it.

* A curious fact is that the ancestors of the Polish Lipka Tatars marched with Sobieski.

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Sep/17

27

The cretin shall rise again

Roy Moore is almost certain to be the Junior Senator from Alabama soon enough. That much we know.

Part of me takes pleasure in the victory, as it is true that the Republican establishment of states like Alabama is sclerotic and corrupt (just like the Democratic establishment of Illinois or California). Roy Moore is certainly not a politic individual. And that makes for great entertainment. Cable news programmers just got a gift!

But Moore is also bizarre in his views in 2017. An atavism. His stance on Church-State separation was tenable a generation ago but in a rapidly secularizing America, they are not election winners outside of Alabama that they are inside the state.  In a rapidly de-Christianizing country, the tight identification of the Republican party with Evangelical Christianity is not the broad-based winner it used to be, and Roy Moore manifests all the most uncouth and blunt tendencies which are going to remake the party in his brand….

Dec/16

11

Pope Francis and “Fake News”

It was perhaps not that surprising that Pope Francis would look to involve himself in the controversy over ‘fake news’. The terms in which he did so were, however, unexpected….

The Guardian reports:

Pope Francis has lambasted media organisations that focus on scandals and smears and promote fake news as a means of discrediting people in public life. Spreading disinformation was “probably the greatest damage that the media can do”, the pontiff told the Belgian Catholic weekly Tertio. It is a sin to defame people, he added.

Using striking terminology, Francis said journalists and the media must avoid falling into “coprophilia” – an abnormal interest in excrement. Those reading or watching such stories risked behaving like coprophagics, people who eat faeces, he added.

The pope excused himself for using terminology that some might find repellent. “I think the media have to be very clear, very transparent, and not fall into – no offence intended – the sickness of coprophilia, that is, always wanting to cover scandals, covering nasty things, even if they are true,” he said. “And since people have a tendency towards the sickness of coprophagia, a lot of damage can be done.”

He also spoke of the danger of using the media to slander political rivals. “The means of communication have their own temptations, they can be tempted by slander, and therefore used to slander people, to smear them, this above all in the world of politics,” he said.

Now let’s scroll back to a passage in a speech that the pontiff gave in Bolivia last year:

“The new colonialism takes on different faces. At times it appears as the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor…”

As I observed in the course of a post on the Corner:

 Not for the first time with Pope Francis, we see traces of conspiracism (a demagogic standard, I’m afraid to say) in his use of the phrase ‘anonymous influence’ and the suggestion of dark works by ‘corporations’ and ‘loan agencies’.

Not for the first time….

During the course of his notorious Lampedusa speech on immigration in 2013, Francis conjured up images of dark forces at play.

Writing in Law and Liberty not so long after, Anthony Daniels had this to say:

The Pope’s use of a term such as ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity’ was strong on connotation but weak on denotation, itself a sign of intellectual evasion. Who, exactly, were ‘those’ people? Wall Street hedge fund managers, the International Monetary Fund, opponents of free trade, African dictators? Was he saying that the whole world economic system was to blame for the migration across the Mediterranean, that the existence of borders was illegitimate, that Denmark (for example) was rich because Swaziland was poor, that if only Losotho were brought up to the level of Liechtenstein (or, of course, if Liechtenstein were brought down to the level of Lesotho) no one would drown in the Mediterranean? There was something for everyone’s conspiracy theory in his words…

And then there were Francis’ comments (reported by ABC) in the wake of the murder of an elderly French priest by Islamic terrorists earlier this year:

Pope Francis says the world is at war, but is stressing that it’s not a war of religions.  Francis spoke to reporters on the papal plane en route from Rome to Poland, where he began a five-day visit Wednesday. Asked about the slaying of an 85-year-old priest in a Normandy church on Tuesday, Francis replied: “the real word is war…yes, it’s war. This holy priest died at the very moment he was offering a prayer for all the church.”

He went on: “I only want to clarify, when I speak of war, I am really speaking of war … a war of interests, for money, resources. … I am not speaking of a war of religions, religions don’t want war. The others want war.”

As I noted at the time on this site:

[A]s for the Pope’s claim that “religions don’t want war”, I can only suggest that he spend more time with the history books and, for that matter, some of the less benign passages in various sacred texts.

The final insult both to the truth and thereby to the victim is Francis’ resort (yet again) to conspiracy theory, with his references to some shadowy conflict over “interests, for money, for resources”.

Demagogues typically resort to conspiracism out of delusion or malice, as a device to mislead and, often, to draw the audience’s attention away from what is really going on.

Pope Francis is not in a position to lecture anyone on fake news.

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