The degrading dialectic of liberal toleration and conservative barbarity

“(Competitive) Games hold a special valence for Scalia; they are the space where inequality rules…(After modernism) the watermarks of privilege and privation are no longer visible to the naked eye; they must be identified, again and again, through struggle and contest. Hence the appeal of the game (which) offers the perfect marriage of the feudal and the fallible, the unequal and the unsettled” (Robin 2011: 140-141).

“‘To say that something is ‘essential,’ he writes, ‘is ordinarily to say that it is necessary to the achievement of a certain object.’ But games ‘have no object except amusement.’ Lacking an object, they have no essence. It’s thus impossible to say whether a rule is essential ‘All are arbitrary,’ he writes of the rules, ‘none is essential.’ What makes a rule a rule is either tradition or ‘in more modern times,’ the edict of an authoritative body like the PGA …”the twin poles of Scalia’s faith: a belief in rules as arbitrary impositions of power–reflecting nothing (not even the will or standing of their makers) but the flat surface of their locutionary meaning–to which we must nevertheless submit; and a belief in rules, zealously enforced, as the divining rod of our ineradicable inequality. Those who make it past these blank and barren gods are winners; everyone else is a loser” (Robin 2011: 142-143).

This is not just Scalia’s theory of rules, but the general conservative idealist theory of truth.

The sources of Scalia’s outsized influence:

1) Scalia’s self-confidence when professionally tolerated by liberal peers.

2) “he tells the power elite exactly what they want to hear: that they are superior and that they have a seat at the table because they are superior.”

3) Scalia reflects the spirit of the age.

4) “Scalia’s outsized presence in our Constitutional firmament” is enabled by “the patience and forbearance, the general decency and good manners, his liberal colleagues show him. While he rants and raves, smashing guitars and dive-bombing his enemies, they tend to respond with an indulgent shrug, a ‘that’s just Nino,’ as O’Connor was wont to say…Scalia preys on and profits from the very culture of liberalism he claims to abhor: the toleration of opposing views, the generous allowances for other people’s failings, the ‘benevolent compassion’ he derides in his golf course dissent…The conservatism of duresse oblige  depends upon the liberalism of noblesse oblige” (Robin 2011: 146-147).

From “Affirmative Action Baby,” in Robin, Corey. The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin.

Another very recent example of conservative manipulation of liberal toleration for conservatism:

The British right cops to the conservative marketing ploy: “I’ve argued at the top levels of government, ‘Scrap the minimum wage.’ But then there’s a sharp intake of breath. Anything that looks like a return to the Dickensian workhouse raises hackles. But I don’t want people working in sweatshops at 5p an hour. You should sell abolishing the minimum wage in positive terms, as providing young people with a first step on the jobs ladder, as a ‘jobs for all’ scheme.”

The uneven, degrading dialectic of liberal nicety and conservative barbarity both supports and over time erodes liberalism, which cannot say no to conservatism and its authoritarianism.

For contrast, see discriminating and refusing egalitarianism, illustrated in Jantelagen and Bartleby the Scrivener.

It is also not to be overlooked that the liberal consensus has rarely bestowed socialism with the same indulgent tolerance it shines on conservatism. 2 cases in point: 1) In the Nordic social democracies, liberalism and socialism were in coalition, from the end of the 19th century to the early 1970s. Even there, the social democrats persecuted communists. 2) As well, the post-1956 Latin American socialist Left struggled to build a liberal-socialist alliance (see Greg Grandin’s history of Guatemala and Latin America).

Both cases are rare examples of lib-left coalition, largely shepherded by a conciliatory and pragmatic Left, and both coalitions were assailed by liberals (internationally, or in the case of Sweden, eventually domestically) who preferred to retreat into conservative barbarity–eg. the US consensus, which was wholly vicious against the 20th-21st century Latin American Enlightenment, pressing the coach drivers’ whip into conservative hands. Where Sweden, in the early 1970s, reached the endpoint of the liberal-socialist partnership–what to do with the excess profits: let capitalists keep them or socialize them?–again liberals forsook socialism and, in embracing capitalist rule, beat back a less-than-measured retreat into the arms of conservatism, recently resulting in the contradictory reification–via vilification/victimology– of immigrants, and the ensuing state-sponsored gagging and shackling of labour.

Maybe liberals are not so much the avatars of toleration, as people who are, except in the rarest cases, capable of recognizing shared genealogy with the Right only. Considering that, perhaps Leftists ought to contain our celebrations of abstract toleration, and more closely attend to the contours and trajectories, the specification of our tolerations. Since liberalism, both liberals and parts of the Left have been so proud to claim that fresh tolerations can change the course of human interests and history, if not transcend discrimination outright. Yet even “fresh” forms of toleration must always be (certainly) partial, rather rigid if shared, and so subject to instrumental, (collective) political manipulation.

The (Leftist) point would then be to choose and to fight for a specified range of toleration that facilitates widespread freedoms, rather than confers freedom upon a ‘chosen’ elite. We would foremost recognize the necessity of Left collectives within which we may sense and think together to choose key battles and strategies. All props to Gramsci and to radical unions.

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Law’n’Order Corrupts Absolutely

Authoritarian Law’n’Order is by its very nature corrupt and corrupting. Here, law enforcement officers relate how they fabricated drug charges against innocent people, in order to meet Law’n’Order quotas.

…Once again proving that you are a bona fide idiot, if you think militarized policing and prison slavery build-up is a concession to the working class and an imposition of firm, fatherly (or feminist. whatever.) order. The working class will pay for each and every police and prison job through the nose and then through every other orifice they’ve got.

war trauma and authoritarianism

Last night PBS, which I normally detest as it is for the most part publically-funded elite propaganda, aired a well-done, provacative show which featured interviews with people in various positions vis-a-vis the Vietnam War. It was an “American Experience” special called “Vietnam: A television history” (see http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/vietnam/).

I was shocked that that kind of quality work could come out of mainstream media. I thought the Republicans had wholly ruined PBS along with NPR. But apparently recent events have forced some upper working class people (professionals, like communication professionals) to differentiate working class interests from the hegemonic neoconservative articulation of elite interests. The lesson is that upper working class people will not be such good sell-outs and yes-men when the elites pull neoconservatism on them.

Here are the seven groups that featured in interviews:

(1) The capitalist (financial, political, and military) elites who designed and implemented the US invasion of Vietnam in order to promote their control of the Asian economic-political system via opium, heroin, and oil traffic (see the excellent history by Scott, Peter Dale. 2005. “Drugs and oil: The deep politics of U.S. Asian wars.” Pp. 171-198 in War and State Terrorism, edited by M. Selden and A.Y. So. Boulder: Rowman & Littlefield).
(2) Working class American men who worked and died as soldiers in Vietnam; and one American sister of a soldier.
(3) Vietnamese men who worked as soldiers in Vietnam.
(4) Upper working class students and academic workers who struggled collectively in the U.S. to end the war in Vietnam.
(5) Liberal elite university administrators who disagreed with pro-war elites, but invited the police to repress the students.
(6) Working class police who fought to silence the students.
(7) The communication professionals (media), who presented to the public pro-war elite propaganda, including lies about the outcome of military clashes and lies about protest in the U.S.

There are some startling dynamics among these groups that I think must be discussed. I address here the dynamics between soldiers and other working class people.

While the working class American men who worked as soldiers in Vietnam were surprised to find that the elites running the war were willing to send soldiers off to be killed for unclear reasons, the soldiers had limited exposure to those elites, and reserved their most virulent hatred for the working class people around them who did not get sent to war and instead struggled to end the war from within the U.S. In fact, decades later, both police and soldiers expressed the desire to be able to kill the non-militarized Americans who did not support war.

This is surprising because elites’ wars, prosecuted without concern for working class lives, often need to be preempted or stopped by the struggle of working class people. If they don’t struggle with authorities and elites to protect the worth and quality of their lives, working class people will be used as a huge supply of not just labor power, but cannon fodder. When I say this, I mean this is true for all working class people, including “middle” class workers. When all is said and done, under capitalism, elites can’t see working class people as anything other than commodities, tools, resources; and working class lives and quality of life are not going to be taken into decision-making consideration without working class people struggling to put their own interests on the table.

The reason for the direction of the soldiers’ hatred, one of the ex-soldiers explained, is that he cannot agree that Vietnam was was not a war for American “freedom” (in other words, an ill-defined, sublime good); he would not be able, psychologically, to accept the idea that his soldier friends died horribly for no sublime cause. He clung to the idea that war is fought for “freedom” and he hated anyone who would say that the war was prosecuted for the machiavellian advantages of elites.

I suspect a bolstering reason why soldiers direct their hatred at their non-soldier fellow workingclass men and women:

Soldiers and police are heavily trained to regard non-militarized non-elites as subhuman. This is pure authoritarian training. Not only designated “enemies” are dehumanized, but working class people who are not militarized are dehumanized through military training, and daily military discourse and socialization. The authoritarian military training is: The proof of humanity is to act as an efficient tool for authority, and, later, to experience trauma doing so.

There is a consensus that non-military working class people did not psychologically support returning militarized working class people after the Vietnam War, but I can see there being difficulty there, because militarized people are so thoroughly trained to regard and treat their non-militarized peers as subhuman. They can’t engage with them substantively. It would be very hard indeed for these groups of people to connect, as war trauma would further cement the ex-soldiers’ authoritarian training and alienate working class men and women from each other.

In a way, it is maybe useful to think of many of the men who return from war as angry ghosts, carrying on their backs the angry ghosts of their friends who died before the war could be ended. They can only demand the silent attention of those who did not endure their trauma, the “living” who must, in the soldiers’ view, only listen passively to the soldiers’ experiential trauma, the story of cruel death. Ghosts are blind and deaf to the experience and struggles of “the living,” and cannot see that the living do care and try to stop more working class people from being sent to cruel deaths. Soldiers see that anti-war struggle as self-interested, since it stems the tide of war and does not benefit their already-fallen comrades. By contrast, true altruism, in their haunted minds, is single-minded loyalty to dead soldiers. Justice, for the ex-soldier/ghost, inheres in the continual, horrific sacrifice of working class lives. I think that this is akin to the psychology of the genocide survivor who feels it unjust that she lives while her family and friends were killed. Justice becomes obliteration.

As a working class person who tries to end the elites’ war, it is maybe wisest to resign yourself to the fact that if you succeed, after war, you will have a population of angry ghosts living amongst you. It is the working class that is haunted by war. Elites live blithely.

J Edgar Hoover Syndrome II

Paul Schafer, former Nazi Luftwaffe medic turned “Guru of Sadism,” was finally arrested in March (2005) in the cult town he founded with German emigres, Villa Baviera in Chile. Called Colonia Dignidad until Pinochet’s dictatorship fell in 1990, Villa Baviera was the home for Schafer’s secret, paramilitary religious group.

Pinochet’s regime turned over some of its leftist victims to Schafer and his cultists. The prisoners were tortured and murdered in the catacombs built under Villa Baviera, as the colony’s choir sang for the entertainment of Pinochet’s wife Lucia in an auditorium in the town above. The town maintained a “hospital” where anyone who displeased Schafer was drugged and tortured. In totalitarian nazi fashion, Schafer, called “The Permanent Uncle” by followers, controlled every aspect of the cultists’ personal lives, including whom should marry and when. And for much of the twentieth century, Schafer chose boys between the ages of 8 and 12 to sexually abuse.

After decades of protection by Chilean military elites, in 1998 Schafer was finally charged with sodomy and pedophilia against 26 neighboring peasant boys, whose families complained. Schafer dropped out of sight, and Villa Baviera was controlled by his proteges, who threatened cultists with his return to keep order.

Now that Schafer is 85 and in prison, residents of Villa Baviera take refuge in silence and denial, refusing to discuss the human rights atrocities carried out by their community, and only blaming Schafer for the molestation of their own boys. They are comforted by the wealth the colony has accumulated.

Explaining the effects of the right-wing, Christian, authoritarian terror that reigned over and through the community, psychiatrist Luis Peebles (a former political prisoner and victim of Villa Baviera) said, “These people are accomplices to horrendous crimes, yes, but they have been programmed like robots and were treated as slaves, robbed of their own human rights.” The new leaders of the colony, men in their 40s and 30s, were almost without exception sexually molested by the Permanent Uncle.

From the New York Times, May 16, 2005, page A4.

The J Edgar Hoover syndrome continues

The Spokane Washington mayor James West is a Republican, former Washington State Senate leader, and staunch opponent of gay rights. And he is a closeted homosexual and pedophile.

It has been found that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, while he was a Sherriff’s Deputy and a Boy Scout Leader, West was accused of molesting boys. The Spokane newspaper recently conducted a sting operation, which resulted in West trying to seduce what he thought was an 18-year-old man in a chat room with autographed sports memorabilia and a City Hall internship. West has since allowed that he regularly visits gay chat rooms. Apparently hurt by the public revelations and eager to strategize a way to rescue his reputation, West has taken a leave of absence from his mayoral position (New York Times 5/10/05: A16).

What we can learn from West’s example appears to be that authoritarian, right-wing politics are fundamentally about preserving a world of deceit in which privileged, belligerent men can enjoy clandestine sexual arousal. Perversity is about getting off on exercising domination over other people so that so-designated social inferiors are compelled to accept whatever stories you make up about the world–your exalted, pure-hearted self, their inferiority, etc.–including your fairytales about sexual propriety. Perversity is about setting up arbitrary social rules (gay people bad) and then violating the rules clandestinely. The rush of power of violating a rule you domineeringly enforce on others turns authoritarian people on. You knew it in elementary school; it’s time to remember–the bullies are the perverts.

Madison on aristocratic-military rule

While Madison, Hamilton, and Jackson collectively laid a deplorably anti-democratic foundation for the US, you can’t argue with this quote:

“A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”

James Madison,
Constitutional Convention [June 29, 1787]