Sunday, May 29, 2016

Crying Wolf

Ad Hominem Codespeak As Substitute For Meaningful Dialogue

Michel Foucault, who published his magnum opus Madness and Civilization in 1960, is one of the unheralded architects of the restrictions on free speech which have come to be known in popular lexicon as "politically correct".  Foucault argued the language is a tool of oppression and violence because it is a way of imposing our own point of view upon others.  Another French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, wrote in his 1976 book Of Grammatology, that the author's intent in writing something was ultimately unknowable, then the reader is free to give whatever meaning he wishes to the text.  This concept, known as literary deconstruction, also has a profound impact on modern thinking (and got me my easiest "A" ever at Ohio State when I took a literature class - I could make up whatever I liked and not be wrong).

One consequence, particularly of literary deconstruction, is intellectual laziness.  There is now a tendency among the "chattering classes" to find one or two tortured comparisons to figures of deservedly universal contempt, like Hitler, and then apply them to whoever we disagree with.  This is what passes for deep analysis nowadays, but is nothing of the sort.  In my adult life, I have heard the term "Hitler" applied to just about every prominent Republican coming down the pike.  The word has been watered down to the point where it has lost all meaning.  Like the boy in the classic children's morality tale, crying wolf falsely too much has caused the villagers to stop running with pitchforks and axes at the cry.

Case in point is Donald Trump.  Love him or loathe him, he needs to be taken on his own terms and not dismissed with a simple perjorative.  Robert Kagan, a scholar at the Brookings Institute, recently wrote a paper whose thesis was based upon Donald Trump being a gateway drug into full blown fascism in the United States.  It is not surprising, given the stated philosophy of Brookings, that Donald Trump would be anathema.  While it is true the Institute was supportive of some of George W. Bush's foreign policies (some say overly so), it generally takes positions on public policy to the center left.  One of its goals is to foster more open and cooperative foreign policy, and Trump would seem to run afoul of that.

Mark tweeted an article the other day from the New York Times which illustrates how simplistic this approach has become.  The article points out some things that need to be said.  First, it points out that often facile allusions and provocative code words are used as a substitute for real analysis.  It then gives examples of how these metaphors break down.  For example, the article points out "... fascists believe in strong state control not get-government-off-your-back individualism and deregulation".  This is a critical point, because without the power of an oppressive state, you can't have fascism.  Trump's stated policy of shrinking the power and reach of government of government into people's lives actually acts to diffuse fascism.  So when Kagan makes the case that Trump has sold a message that he exists to solve all of people's problems, he is dead wrong.  Trump instead has vowed to put America first in his decision making processes.  This is offensive to some, but seems to be the proper of a government designed to preserve and protect the United States.

In terms of government being the answer to all needs, this is properly the province of the progressive left.  Listen to Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton and what you get is John Kennedy's "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" turned on its head.  Everything is promised: "free" healthcare, education, childcare, housing, and food paid for by the pitiless bourgeosie 1%, who "need to pay their fair share".  This is the real danger to democracy, in my opinion.  Once people recognize they can vote into power a genie in a bottle who will tend to their material needs at someone else's expense, then kiss freedom goodbye.

In closing here is a quote to ponder:

We don’t have to stop any of the processes of our lives because we are rearranging the structures in which we conduct those processes. What we have to undertake is to systematize the foundations of the house, then to thread all the old parts of the structure with the steel which will be laced together in modern fashion, accommodated to all the modern knowledge of structural strength and elasticity, and then slowly change the partitions, relay the walls, let in the light through new apertures, improve the ventilation; until finally, a generation or two from now, the scaffolding will be taken away, and there will be the family in a great building whose noble architecture will at last be disclosed, where men can live as a single community, co-operative as in a perfected, co-ordinated beehive, not afraid of any storm of nature, not afraid of any artificial storm, any imitation of thunder and lightning, knowing that the foundations go down to the bedrock of principle, and knowing that whenever they please they can change that plan again and accommodate it as they please to the altering necessities of their lives.

If you guessed Mussolini you are wrong.  The quote is actually from Woodrow Wilson's famous 1912 campaign speech "What Is Progress", which contains the seminal ideas of the modern progressive movement.  If I was to envision natural models of fascism, then the bee colony and anthill would certainly come to mind.  So I shudder when I think how many people nowadays think a beehive is a great place to live.

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