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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘liberals’

Ed Koch, FDR, and the Holocaust

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

“Mayor Koch last night took on the ghost of President Franklin D. Roosevelt,” an item in the New York Daily News in 1988 began, which probably surprised no one, since Ed Koch had spent a lifetime taking on everybody who deserved to be taken on, whether they were alive or dead. Indeed, his willingness to vigorously battle for what he believed and let the chips fall where they may was precisely what endeared Koch to so many people across the political spectrum.

As a historian who has written about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s response to the Holocaust, what intrigued me about that 1988 speech was the unique way in which the New York City mayor framed his criticism of FDR: “I will never forgive him for closing the doors to Jews who could have left Germany. Never will I forgive him. If you believe in purgatory – and I don’t even know what it is – that’s where he is, for that sin.”

In the years to follow, as Mayor Koch and I became friends and then coauthors, I had the opportunity to speak with him about that “purgatory” remark. And when a reporter from Italian National Television who was scheduled to interview Koch on the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz asked me what topics I thought he should raise, I suggested bringing up the purgatory issue.

“I think it’s a Catholic expression,” Koch told him. “I’m not Catholic, I’m Jewish. I don’t think Jews have purgatory. I’m not really sure, I’m not religious myself, although I believe in God. But ‘purgatory’ [means] that you have an opportunity to deal with your sinful life and ultimately get to Heaven…you have to spend a time in purgatory, winning the right to enter Heaven.”

President Roosevelt “did many, many good things,” Koch emphasized, recalling FDR’s role in “saving the United States from the Depression” and leading America against Hitler in World War II. But FDR “also had an opportunity to save Jews before World War II,” and his failure to do is what landed him in purgatory, Koch explained. He cited Roosevelt’s decision to turn away the refugee ship St. Louis; his refusal to instruct the State Department to permit Jewish immigration up to the maximum allowed by law (the quotas were woefully under-filled); and the sham Evian Conference of 1938, which the Roosevelt administration convened to give the impression of concern for the Jewish refugees, without actually doing anything to aid them.

For me, however, perhaps the most significant part of the interview was Koch’s analysis of anti-Semitism in the U.S. in the 1930s and 1940s. Given the public mood in those days, was it politically possible for FDR to have done much for the Jews? Scholars looking at this issue tend to rely on newspaper reports, public opinion polls about prejudice, and statistics about the size of anti-Semitic organizations. But an eyewitness account can be very revealing. And Koch, having grown up in hardscrabble neighborhoods in Newark and Brooklyn in the 1930s and 1940s, had much to say about the subject.

“Yes, there was a lot of anti-Semitism in America in those years, but that is no excuse for Roosevelt’s inaction, which was vile,” Koch asserted. “A leader has to lead. He has to try to change minds.”

What about claims that helping the Jews would have undermined Roosevelt’s ability to convince the public to fight Hitler? “I don’t accept that,” Koch said. “I believe that the American public could have accepted saving Jews.” He wasn’t a sociologist. He just knew what he had experienced among the people he met in the neighborhoods where he lived and worked. Some were bigots. But most weren’t.

Koch wasn’t just speculating when he expressed his faith in the basic decency of most Americans. In April 1944 – while the Holocaust still raged, and before the deportations of Hungarian Jews began – the White House quietly commissioned a Gallup Poll on the subject. It asked the public about offering “temporary protection” to Jews fleeing Hitler. The supposedly anti-Semitic American public supported the idea by a margin of seventy percent to twenty-three percent. Despite that overwhelming public sentiment, President Roosevelt agreed to create just one refugee camp – in upstate New York, where some nine hundred eighty-two refugees were brought in the summer of 1944.

From the US to Israel, Conservatives Stumble

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

The disastrous results in Israel’s election are yet another example of the Right cannibalizing itself. It’s not the first time this happened in Israeli political history or American political history or European political history. It’s an ongoing theme whose motto is still, “No enemies to the left.”

What the “mainstream” conservatives fear most of all is a drift to the right. Some of this is the whimper of whipped dogs. Every party to the right of Stalin has had to spend decades fending off accusations that it was the second coming of the Third Reich, the KKK and Genghis Khan. The Pavlovian training has taken hold and every conservative echelon is expert at going into damage control mode when it senses that its own right might do something that would give the left fuel for their accusations.

But there’s another factor at work here. It’s cultural. Mainstream conservatives have become another arm of the urban technocracy. They want many of the same things that liberals do, but with less regulations and more tax shelters. They aren’t interested in major changes, only the minor ones that will keep the system going. Even when they are dedicated reformers, their vision extends no further than a bunch of high tech cities full of immigrants going to universities and then inventing things.

They are competent, rather than imaginative. The Left repeatedly outmaneuvers them because the Left is always pushing to the Left, while they are content to put a chair against the door and wait for those crazy hippies to get off the LSD, cut their hair and give up. But to their surprise the Left never does.

The leaders of mainstream conservatism aren’t angry, and they dismiss the people who are as loons. When the left does something oppressive or defeats them, they don’t get mad, they get ironically amused. They make detached observations citing Trollope. They are as much a part of the jet setting elite, as their liberal colleagues, and they have an exit strategy, whether it’s Singapore or Thailand.

They aren’t liberals themselves, but their conservatism is an outmoded thing that was only fit for a conservative society. In a conservative society, they are the old guard. In a liberal society, they are still the old guard, standing for the values of moderation, civility and not getting too worked up about things that can’t be changed. In a liberal society, what they conserve is not conservatism, but the liberalism of their youth.

The one thing that worries them is the ascendance of the right. They don’t much like their own base. It’s angry, noisy and ignorant. It doesn’t understand the rules of the game. And it represents a threat to their careers.

They may draw cartoons and sing a few songs, but they aren’t revolutionaries. They don’t want a culture war. And they don’t really want to change the way things are. They may not approve of the politics of their children, and they gasp in horror at debt ratios and proposals to privatize things, but overall they like the way things are. And they imagine that it can remain that way, hanging forever in mid-air, never going further left or further right, a perfect balance that will endure for all time.

They have a simple arrangement with the Right. They pledge allegiance, faintly, to its beliefs, mouth the right words during elections, promise to ban abortion, build settlements, and then they shake their heads ruefully and go back to the club regretting the necessity for participating in this clown show. Between elections they sometimes put their intellectual firepower at the disposal of these ideas, though never when these ideas appear to be polling badly, especially with the young.

In exchange the Right, the real Right, those angry people with quaint ideas about personal freedom, moral revival and national greatness, are expected to know their place. And their place is behind the sawhorses at the rally and in line at the voting booth. When that changes, then they attack their own right with far more vehemence and violence than they ever employ against the Left.

The Left does not worry them all that much. In a way the left has become their career. The opposition defines their work. Its radicalism ensures that they will always have a base, no matter where that base comes from.

You Can’t Out-Liberal the Liberals

Monday, January 21st, 2013

So after a long bout of mocking Mitt Romney for saying that he sought out binders full of qualified female appointees, complete with protesters outside one of his campaign offices dressed in binders, the appointed hour came and the new cabinet of the man who was too good for binders of women was white and male.

There was some awkward fidgeting in the media. A few suggestions that maybe there should be a little more diversity. And that was followed by the new official talking point that diversity doesn’t matter, it’s all about the impact of the policies. Suddenly the Party of Affirmative Action began making conservative arguments for merit and representation, over racial preferences.

To some this was proof that liberals don’t really believe in anything. And that’s true and it isn’t.

Modern American Liberalism is the movement of a wealthy white upper class meant to suppress the working class and the mercantile class. Think of it as the revenge of the barons against the merchants and the wrath of the old New England elites against the Nouveau Riche. It adopted the Jewish and Catholic immigrants who accepted its values and codes. It even occasionally brings in more exotic figures, like Barack Obama, so long as they have gone to the right schools and share their values.

Liberals champion multiculturalism, they enact diversity requirements and push through immigration, and then they send their children to private schools and buy houses in white neighborhoods. They are mostly unaware that they are doing this. They’re just doing what comes naturally. Like most people, liberals are most comfortable among their own kind.

Their kind is not so much a racial group, as it is a cultural one. If you’ve ever set foot in a liberal stronghold, then you can already recognize the very expensive casual wear, the cars with progressive bumper stickers, the beaming helicoptered children, the reusable bags and the other markings of the American upper class. The one that may spend 5 years slumming it in a big city, gathering tattoos and experiences, before retreating to the traditional comforts of a posh suburb and a high end do-nothing non-profit job.

They emphasize minorities, but most minorities, especially after the passing of the melting pot that another generation of liberals implemented, don’t fit all that well into the cultural liberal landscape. It’s why Obama plays golf, even though he’s bad at it. It’s why his campaign staff and his cabinet leans toward the same white males who still run most things, including liberalism.

Liberals have varying degrees of awareness of this, ranging from aggressive denial to passive denial, much as conservatives have some degree of awareness that FOX News personalities are likely more liberal than they pretend to be. And like most such conflicts, the information gets filed away in favor of focusing on a more immediate problem.

The diversity that could be seen in a photo of Cheney on September 11 or Romney’s appointments are completely meaningless because you cannot win an argument with a liberal by being more liberal than him. It’s fun to try, but it doesn’t actually work for the same reason that you can’t be more Catholic than the Pope.

The liberal program is not just diversity. It’s a grander and vaster program. And those who promote the program can violate any single aspect of it, without facing any consequences or contradictions, so long as they remain valuable players.

Bill Clinton could act out the bad part in every sensitivity training video. Obama can pay women less. Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton can make racist jokes. Obama can govern through Executive Orders and start illegal wars. So can any Democrat. None of that matters because they’re all plays in the big program. And the “Big Program” means a new world with good stuff for all. Accomplishing it means ignoring the little sins that would lead to any little person being lynched, jailed or denounced.

Liberals are busy lining up to defend Chuck Hagel, a former Republican who hated homosexuals, opposed abortion and on most issues, aside from foreign policy, was fairly conservative. But that doesn’t matter because Hagel is now on Team Prog. Local interest groups may object, but the liberal purpose in having Jewish or Gay or Female auxiliaries is so that they can support the larger program. When they don’t support it, they’re told to shut the hell up.

Why Liberals Blame Israel for their Rejection

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

There’s been a strange phenomenon building in the last few weeks that’s been puzzling me. But I’ve just figured it out. Various people—there are many examples so you can insert your own–have been writing that Israel is making some big mistake. It is losing support, especially liberal and American Jewish support, they explain, because of the way it’s been behaving.

What’s puzzling about this is that nothing has actually happened to imply that any great opportunity is being missed that might justify this attitude. There has been no recent turn toward peace by the Palestinian Authority; no great new idea promising a breakthrough; no change in personalities that offers some shocking new opportunity. The regional picture has been getting worse for reasons having nothing to do with Israel; Hamas stronger; and the Palestinian Authority equally intransigent.

Equally, Israel hasn’t done anything new or startling. The most important thing that can be said about Jewish settlements is that Israel hasn’t created any new ones in almost 20 years. True, there has been construction on existing settlements but that’s been going on since 1993 on a fairly regular basis. If anything, I think it has declined in pace and mostly in Jerusalem rather than farther out in Judea and Samaria. And, of course, all the settlements in the Gaza Strip have been dismantled.

One factor that might be mentioned is that the critics are far out of date. They describe the situation as it existed, say, in the 1980s when many Israelis believed that a negotiated deal with the PLO was possible and claimed that rightists were blocking this great opportunity because they were so suspicious of the Palestinians and so fond of settlements. Since then, that proposition was tested and found wanting in the 1993-2000 peace process era. Yet many American Jews and others simply haven’t noticed that things didn’t turn out the way the doves had hoped. To their credit, many of them (and I might as well say “us” rethought our assumptions).

Yet that was a dozen years ago. The behavior of the Palestinian Authority since then and the rise of revolutionary Islamism, among other factors, have underlined the skepticism engendered by the terrible peace process experience. If you claim the right to determine Israel’s fate and put its people’s lives at risks you might be expected to go to the trouble of doing a little research and serious thought on these matters.

So what is the great urgency here, the dramatic change, the Palestinian moderation that offers a real chance for peace, or the Israeli misbehavior that throws away a great opportunity to achieve it? Other than pure perversity, ideological nastiness, or a panic derived from mass media antagonism toward Israel or due to the sharp Obama era turn to the Left, the claim that Israel was doing something reckless which was antagonizing would-be supporters doesn’t make sense.

And then it hit me.

There has just been still another in a long series of polls about what Americans think of Israel and the Palestinians. These polls have been broadly consistent. In 2012, about 71 percent of Americans say they side with Israel, as high as that number has ever been in all of history! And that’s compared to only twenty percent who say they side with the Palestinians, a figure that has been stable now for three years. Here are the numbers from Gallup.

But here’s the point: apparently, Democratic and liberal support for Israel has gone down. The idea of supporting Israel’s control over Jerusalem was at first left out of the Democratic platform, then booed and opposed by a majority of the delegates voting (though undemocratically added anyway by the leadership). Of course, they did the same to mentioning God so Israel is, as so often historically, in good company.

The point, however, is that this isn’t really about Israel itself; it’s about the liberal Democratic intellectual (or pseudo-intellectual) upper middle class milieu of people claiming that Israel is wantonly throwing away support by acting irrationally. After all, these people have a choice in how to respond to the situation:

Option 1: Israel is at fault for losing the Obama cult crowd and a small but vocal increasingly left-wing sector of Americans (many of whom aren’t that thrilled with the United States either) because of something that it has done. If only Israel would show itself ready to take risks for peace, elect a prime minister who was ready to recognize a Palestinian state and give up almost all of the territory captured in 1967, show the Palestinians that Israelis aren’t horrible monsters, let Palestinians rule Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip, help them get billions of dollars in aid, and let them create their own armed force to stop the real extremists then peace is possible!

Oh, wait a minute, that already happened. And there were three such prime ministers: Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak.

Option 2: Given an increasingly left-wing ideology that’s based on faulty assumptions and neglects the dangerous radicalism of Islamist forces and other enemies of America, it is the dominant worldview in the mass media, academia, and ruling circles in America that is to blame for turning away from Israel.

Understand this well: Option 1 requires Israel to change; Option 2 requires the people voicing such complaints about Israel to change.

Well, these people don’t want to examine their assumptions and change their views. They’d end up suffering for their support of Israel, they’d be out of step with the mob; they might have to—shudder!—step away from what’s popular and “in.” My goodness, they might even have to question Obama’s brilliance and policies!

No contest.

So it’s not surprising that Option 1 wins out. And the exact same point would apply if you substitute the word America for Israel and revised as required the details.

Hey, do what you have to do to avoid admitting you’re wrong and paying some price for telling the truth. But don’t blame us.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Why Current US Foreign Policy Debate Doesn’t Make Sense and How to Fix It

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Something very bad is happening with the U.S. foreign policy debate. Aside from all of the specific problems and bad appointments, the whole discussion is being conducted on the wrong assumptions and context.

There is nothing easier than to argue about obsolete issues simply because we’ve become so used to the reality of those that have been around for decades. The first step is comprehending that we are dealing with entirely new categories.

In the old days, at least supposedly, the battle was between those who wanted a high level of U.S. intervention and activism–including a relative willingness to use military force–and those who wanted to do less and were horrified either by the use of force or by recent experiences where that strategy had failed. For the last decade, this argument is most symbolized by President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. In theory, conservatives were and are gung-ho for American unilateralism and intervention; liberals were and are more circumspect.

First, that wasn’t entirely true. It was John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson who took the United States into Vietnam. Kennedy also ordered the covert invasion of Cuba. Moreover, liberals often favored a different kind of intervention into the affairs of foreign states, pressing for more democracy (Jimmy Carter in the shah’s Iran) and opposing coups (notably in Latin America), for instance.

On the other side, it was the Nixon Doctrine which first made official policy the idea that the United States should not try to be the world’s policeman but instead back friendly regional powers so war-fighting and intervention by America could be reduced.

Second, most of these kinds of debates were in the context of the Cold War. Liberals and conservatives both wanted to counter Soviet expansionism or influence but proposed different ways of doing so at times. To show how varied were these tactics, to more effectively fight that Cold War, Richard Nixon normalized relations with the Peoples’ Republic of China.

Liberals often supported a “third way” approach. They’d say: We don’t want Communist regimes and we don’t want right-wing dictatorships either. The best thing is to have moderates, liberals, pragmatic reformers in power. But if that option didn’t exist, liberals generally opted for a realpolitik status quo that combatted the Communists and pro-Soviet regimes even at the price of supporting old-fashioned dictatorships. Those liberals, however, would not have regarded revolutionary Islamists as being in the desirable category.

In effect, the Obama argument is this: In the past, the United States has been a bully. It has supported bad governments for the people living in those countries. Now, however everything is going to be different. We are going to support bad governments that not only hurt the people in those countries but also hurt U.S. interests! And we are going to give such radical, dictatorial-oriented forces preference over helping moderates, liberals, and pragmatic reformers!

Today, in a post-Cold War world, the ill-conceived “neo-conservative” strategy has now become a left-wing doctrine of spreading democracy ironically, more often than not, by backing anti-democratic forces. The process has become more important than the result.

Nor is intervention as such avoided. Bush’s basic concept has been adopted by the Obama Administration and its supporters. Obama’s intervention in Libya was more popular than Bush’s in Iraq simply because American soldiers weren’t killed, far less money was spent, and forces were not tied down in fighting for years. Yet in substance the two interventions were based on the same concept.

The debate now is not whether the United States should go around the world spending billions of dollars and fighting wars, at least outside of a debate over whether the United States should attack Iran if that country gets nuclear weapons. The fact that there is no chance of this happening (it’s true, there isn’t) underlines my point. Everybody serious recognizes the limits on American resources, the priority on domestic issues, and past failures with such over-extension.

Nor is the debate between isolationism and international engagement.

Nor is the issue to pretend that America has little influence in the world. Obviously, there is a limit, but the United States could definitely have had a major effect, for example, on the direction of Egypt’s political change in January-February 2011 and the same holds for the post-Assad regime in Syria today.

The Schoolmarms Tell the Terrorists to Play Nice

Friday, December 28th, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

“You’ve been with the professors
And they’ve all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks….
You’re very well read
It’s well known
Yet something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?
–Bob Dylan, “Ballad of a Thin Man”

The entertainment director on the ship of fools that constitutes so much mainstream analysis of the Middle East—I refer, of course, to Thomas Friedman—has produced a wonderful paragraph that beautifully characterizes the problem, exquisitely expressing a Western mentality that not only makes it impossible to understand the Middle East but even to set up the question in a way people that could help people even begin to confront the truth. So perhaps it is worth disassembling. Sound like fun? Let’s go!

The paragraph is from an article entitled, “Egypt – The next India or the next Pakistan?” And that’s the first problem. Analogies are no substitute to understanding the specific reality of a country and culture, its history and balance of forces that shape the local political culture. You don’t understand Egypt by comparing it to India or Pakistan—very different places indeed—but by examining Egypt itself.

Let me first quote the entire paragraph and then deal with it a bit at a time. Here’s the whole thing:

“Yes, democracy matters. But the ruling Muslim Brotherhood needs to understand that democracy is so much more than just winning an election. It is nurturing a culture of inclusion, and of peaceful dialogue, where respect for leaders is earned by surprising opponents with compromises rather than dictates….More than anything, Egypt now needs to develop that kind of culture of dialogue, of peaceful and respectful arguing — it was totally suppressed under Mubarak — rather than rock-throwing, boycotting, conspiracy-mongering and waiting for America to denounce one side or the other, which has characterized too much of the postrevolutionary political scene. Elections without that culture are like a computer without software. It just doesn’t work.”

I will now go a sentence at a time.

“Yes, democracy matters.” It is strangely ironic that suddenly democracy has become the main issue shaping the American debate over the Middle East. When President Jimmy Carter in 1978 called for democracy in the Shah’s Iran that call might have played some role in setting off a revolution that didn’t turn out too well. After a hiatus—due in part to that debacle—the democracy issue returned under President George W. Bush. The people who pushed that idea became known as “neoconservatives” and were absolutely loathed, even demonized, by liberals and the Left.

Now this idea that democracy would solve the region’s problems was indeed a bad one, having failed in Iran, been (perhaps unfairly) ridiculed in Iraq, and become a deadly joke in Afghanistan. Yet suddenly the Left adapted the conception of the man they most hated in the world! And nobody in the mainstream debate even remarked on that rather obvious point! Thus, we get the Obama policy based on a Bush idea. Except while Bush’s approach worked acceptably in Iraq because the extremists were defeated militarily, Obama’s approach helped put the radicals into power in Egypt and will soon do so in Syria.

One would think Friedman would continue by explaining that strategic interests are more important for U.S. policy than formal democracy. Nope. Instead, he assumes that democracy is or should be everyone’s goal:

“But the ruling Muslim Brotherhood needs to understand that democracy is so much more than just winning an election.”

Whenever an article or editorial contains the words “needs to understand” you know that’s trouble. For one thing this phrase often means that some Western pipsqueak whose most strenuous activity is hailing a taxi is lecturing men ready to commit mass murder and crush their opponents under a hobnailed boot. By the way, the Muslim Brotherhood is unlikely to heed the advice and will be no worse off for doing so.

Yet this also raises another intriguing issue: Why “must” they do so? Suppose staying in power, establishing a dictatorship, and chopping off various body parts of those who don’t live the way they decree is their goal? Suppose they already know that “democracy is so much more than just wining an election” but couldn’t care less? And what will the columnist, op-ed writer, or editorial scribe do to them if the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t heed his advice? Experience shows these people won’t even use mean words in response. What a joke.

Doesn’t Friedman know that Obama’s hero and guru, Turkish Prime Minister Mehdi Erdogan, has said that democracy is like a streetcar and you just have to decide where you want to get off? Hint: You get off as soon as possible after you’ve won the election.

“It [democracy] is nurturing a culture of inclusion, and of peaceful dialogue, where respect for leaders is earned by surprising opponents with compromises rather than dictates.”

At this point I must tell a story I once heard from a former member of a motorcycle gang, though I cannot attest to whether or not it actually happened. There was a really dangerous criminal motorcycle gang (it made Hell’s Angels look like Obama’s Ostriches) and the local police decided something must be done. They picked a young policeman to infiltrate the gang and dressed him accordingly.

The undercover cop met the gang and tried to join. Suspicious, they asked him a question: What is the meaning of these ribbons we wear? The symbolism involved various kinds of murder, rape, and various acts I won’t describe for a family audience but each one had a very specific significance. Unfortunately, the policeman hadn’t been briefed on this and after a long pause he answered, “I thought they were just decorations.” I won’t describe his fate.

That is sort of like Friedman and various others thinking they can teach revolutionaries willing to commit genocide how to play nice. They don’t understand the significance of what these radicals say and do. Indeed, they don’t understand that what they say–especially in Arabic–is significant at all.

These tough guys aren’t interested in inclusion, political dialogue, or “surprising” opponents by giving them presents under their tree. No. They are interested in seizing state power and exercising total power. They are ready to order others to martyrdom and in some cases to be martyrs themselves. They are ready to deliberately and coolly order what happened in that Connecticut elementary school many times over. The only limitation on that behavior is a consideration of whether or not it will help their cause.

They don’t care whether the New York Times or some other American newspaper they don’t read is going to scold them. In fact, if they do know what’s in this mass media they understand that no matter what they do they are more likely to have it explained away more than criticized.

Shouldn’t we recognize that reality rather than lecture them on playground comportment?

“More than anything, Egypt now needs to develop that kind of culture of dialogue, of peaceful and respectful arguing — it was totally suppressed under Mubarak — rather than rock-throwing, boycotting, conspiracy-mongering and waiting for America to denounce one side or the other, which has characterized too much of the post-revolutionary political scene.”

Why does Egypt “need” that? One might argue that it needs such a system to be most effective at being a truly democratic society whose supposed top priority at home is increasing living standards and abroad is living in peace with its neighbors. The full answer to that question lies beyond my space limits but briefly: that might not work in Egypt; the people who think it would work lose all of the elections; if you try to implement such a system you are far more likely to be overthrown or face chaos.

Suppose you have no way to solve your country’s social and economic problems. It then makes more sense to stir up passionate hatred of “the other”; distract attention from your own failings by blaming foreigners for the problems; and engage in aggression abroad so the masses can blow off steam and get some loot. Ironically, this is the kind of thing that Western radicals claim leaders of their own countries have done. It is amazing that they never seem to notice this is how Arab dictators have repeatedly felt a “need” to do in the past.

Also, whatever Mubarak’s shortcomings, there was a lot more dialogue and peaceful arguing under his reign then in any Islamist state or in Syria and Iraq under radical nationalist regimes. This line of argument that is all too familiar from the left in assuming that pro-American dictators are more brutally repressive than anti-American dictators. Usually, the truth is the opposite.

And then at the end, Friedman admits that the post-revolutionary political scene has not been so great. Should this have been a surprise or wasn’t it painfully obvious back in January 2011 what was going to happen? It was obvious to me and a few others but scarcely anyone in the mainstream media pointed out the consequences. And those who dared to be right are practically blacklisted from those places despite having been correct.

The main Western accomplishment of the last two years has been to move from step one to step two in the mainstream interpretation of what’s going on in the Middle East:

Step one: The Islamists will be moderated by gaining power through elections.

Step two: The Islamists should make themselves become moderate after gaining power through elections because they need to do so.

What is needed is an altogether different approach:

Extremist revolutionaries whose goal is to set up regimes that are supposedly implementing the will of Allah—a will no human can question or alter—and who loathe the West, despise Christians, and want to commit genocide on Jews are not going to be moderated. Nor are they going to follow Western instructions on how they should behave. Nor is democracy their ideal, since they don’t believe at all in governance on the basis of the majority unless the majority agrees with them.

These points are all rather obvious, aren’t they? Yet what we have seen for the last two years is not an attempt to understand these realities but rather a series of obfuscations and rationalizations designed to shore up a mythical world that is increasingly diverging from the situation on the ground.

Lewis Carroll wrote the following dialogue for “Alice in Wonderland”:

Alice: “Do you think I’ve gone round the bend?”
Charles: “I’m afraid so. You’re mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”

The problem nowadays is that an insane interpretation of international affairs seems to be a quality defining who “the best people are.” A man has just been appointed secretary of state for exhibiting a particularly virulent case of this malady.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Someone Else Will Pay

Friday, December 28th, 2012

From 1977 to 1980, BBC One ran “Citizen Smith,” a TV comedy about an aspiring young revolutionary who wore a beret and a Che T-Shirt and did his best to create a Communist Britain while heading up the Tooting Popular Front, consisting of six members, by virtue of shouting “Power to the People” and making up lists of the people he would put up against the wall on the day of the glorious revolution.

This is finally Citizen Smith’s time where the lazy and cowardly aspiring revolutionary can create his own Tooting Popular Front, camp out in a public park for a few months, and earn generous media coverage. And for those too lazy to camp out in the spring and summer, there’s always hacktivism, the truly lazy man’s revolution, download a denial of service program, aim it at a site and watch it go down for a minute, an hour, or perhaps even a day or two.

Social media is full of Citizen Smiths, dressing up in Che avatars and shouting their “Power to the People” slogans in 140 characters or less. And these Citizen Smiths are taken seriously by their older peers in the media who have had their own days of pretending to be Che and now just pretend to be journalists. While the Citizen Smiths create their fake revolution, the grown-up Citizen Smiths show up to cover it, in the great battle for a Communist Britain, America, Australia and also all the rest.

There is a great deal of hard work ahead, such as deciding who to put up against the wall first. Everyone has agreed on the rich, the dreaded 1 percent, except presumably for those 1 percenters funding the revolution and paying the Citizen Smiths who work for NGOs and come up with new social media engagement strategies to tackle economic disparities and that sort of thing.

The Citizen Smiths who speak on behalf of the 99 percent of Tooting have won their great victory in the last election through the wallets of such champions of the working class as Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, George Soros and several thousand other billionaires and millionaires, quite a few of whom also fancy being Wolfie Smith more than they want to play the top hat guy from Monopoly. They have struck a blow against the influence of money on politics from some billionaires on behalf of the influence of money on politics from other billionaires.

And with the 1 percent safely disposed of, at least aside from the 1 percent that is running the show and turning the Citizen Smiths from clowns smoking on their girlfriend’s couch while drawing up plans for revolution, into men and women sitting in posh offices in corporate towers delegating the drawing up of those plans to subordinates who can actually draw, the revolution marches on.

In Austria, an Australian Professor teaching Musicology, put up his own list of who to bop bop bop when the day of the glorious revolution comes.

“Right now, in the year 2012, these ideas will seem quite crazy to most people. People will be saying that Parncutt has finally lost it,” Professor Parncutt wrote, “If someone found this document in the year 2050 and published it, it would find general support and admiration. People would say I was courageous to write the truth, for a change. Who knows, perhaps the Pope would even turn me into a saint.”

Parncutt’s sainthood may prove somewhat difficult to achieve considering that the people he proposed to put up against the wall on the glorious day include the Pope and his closest advisors, along with prominent critics of Global Warming, who will be put on trial before an international tribunal of qualified scientists, and then be given an opportunity to recant and have their sentence reduced to life in prison. Some modern heretics however would, in Parncutt’s words, “would never admit their mistake and as a result they would be executed.”

It’s easy to laugh at Citizen Parncutt’s proposal to bring back heresy trials staffed with modern scientists, but who knows by 2050, when scavengers digging through the rubble around what used to be London, come across a copy of Parncutt’s brilliant manifesto, they will hop on their donkeys and deliver it immediately to the Eco-Pope who will proclaim Parncutt a saint right before the Saracens storm through the barricades.

Even now the difference between Parncutt and a lunatic is that much of the infrastructure to make Citizen Parncutt’s dreams a reality already exists. There are international tribunals and an entire political and media frenzy declaring that global warming is the greatest threat of our age. We snicker at fools who took the Mayan apocalypse seriously, but people who would never hide out in a basement because of some ancient prophecy listen to media buffoons drawing up lists of what parts of the world will be underwater in ten years or twenty and take the whole ridiculous thing seriously.

Parncutt wants you to know that he is not by any means a monster. He opposes the death penalty for murderers, even those like Breivik. It does no good to kill the people who have already killed, our Citizen Parncutt explains, what he would like to do is kill the people who have yet to kill but whose ideas the moral musicologist has decided are deadly.

Such is the humanitarianism of the true progressive who will not kill a serial killer, but will kill those who are truly dangerous. “The death penalty is barbaric, racist, expensive,” Parncutt explains, and he will have no truck with barbarically expensive racist death penalties, the only people who truly deserve to be killed according to him are those who, like the Pope and Global Warming skeptics, whose views differ from his own so dramatically that they must be killed to save lives.

“The death penalty is an appropriate punishment for Global Warming deniers who are so influential that one million future deaths can with high probability be traced to their personal actions,” Parncutt writes. “Please note also that I am only talking about prevention of future deaths – not punishment or revenge after the event.” Naturally. Citizen Parncutt is not motivated by such petty emotions. His revolutionary will-to-kill is as pure as the driven snow.

The good thing about a number as high as one million is that you can kill any number of people if you set the number of people you want to save high enough. If Parncutt were to kill 999,999 people to save 1,000,000, he would still have saved net one person and be ahead of the saint game. And then in 2050 when historians wondered why the Parncutt Popular Front was allowed to pile up all those corpses, the response will be that it was a matter of numbers. They started small and then kept going because they had so much room to spare with all those zeroes and before they knew it  they were only a few corpses shot of the big one million. But luckily they stopped with one man to spare and are considered heroes.

“The fact is that Socialism, in the form in which it is now presented, appeals chiefly to unsatisfactory or even inhuman types,” George Orwell wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier, essays meant to be a defense of Socialism, but showing the strains that would eventually lead him to transform Ingsoc, or English Socialism, into the greatest fictional tyranny in modern literature, “all that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking towards the smell of ‘progress’ like bluebottles to a dead cat.”

There are more cats and bluebottles than ever. Orwell’s description of the Socialist crank now describes the mainstream leadership and a sizable portion of the base of every ruling lefty party you can think of, including the one ensconced in the White House, while shouting about class warfare and power to the people, while pocketing the allowance money from billionaires that allows them to win elections.

Economic crises and crises of all sorts bring their sort out to play more than ever. The children of the 1 percent wear buttons boasting that they are the 99 percent. Every global problem from terrorism to ethnic cleansing is explained purely in economic or environmental terms. And the people playing Citizen Smith and drawing up their lists of who to plant up against the wall are, as Orwell wrote, are not out to join “a movement of the masses”, but to enact “a set of reforms which ‘we’, the clever ones, are going to impose upon ‘them’.”

The “hypertrophied sense of order” from Orwell’s Socialist “with his pullover, his fuzzy hair, and his Marxian quotation” can be found just as easily in Citizen Parncutt as in Citizen Smith or Citizen Obama. It should not be confused with competence or practical skill, the only area the Smiths ever achieve any skill in is yelling from stepladders about a revolution until they find enough sheep to drive ahead of them to the polls or the battlefields, but with the sort of half-grown men who draw up lists of all the people they’ll kill to make the world a better place.

Their sense of order does not extend to actually making the world a better place, but of matching up their inflated sense of self-importance with the power to impose their own whims on the world for their own emotional satisfaction.

“I would just like my grandchildren and great grandchildren, and the human race in general, to enjoy the world that I have enjoyed, as much as I have enjoyed it,” Professor Parncutt writes. “And to achieve that goal I think it is justified for a few heads to roll. Does that make me crazy?” And just to make certain that you give the right answer, he adds, “I don’t think so.”

Crazy is a judgement call. In 1956 drawing up plans to have some international body execute scientists for questioning the interpretation of global temperature readings would have been crazy, but in the age of Citizen Smith it may no longer be. Hitler and Goebbels were both completely insane, and yet they were perfectly adapted to their time and place. They were lunatics, but it was a time when sane men wanted lunatics to tell them what to do and who to kill.

At the tail end of the ’70s, Citizen Smith was a joke, but at the dawn of the 2010s, he is an institution, the head of an NGO, a member of the board of a dozen foundations for social and environmental justice, and perhaps even a cabinet minister. Joschka Fischer went from Citizen Smith in the 70s, clubbing police officers and consorting with terrorists, to the Vice-Chancellor of Germany in the oughts. Obama went from Community Organizer Smith in the 90s to the White House in even less time.

This is the age of Citizen Smith. The age of the lazy, egotistical, cowardly, spiteful and petty man of the people, who prefers to avoid the people. This is the age of the 1 percent revolutionary playing the 99 percenter. This is the age of the enemies list, when their work within the system has paid off and it’s time to make someone else pay.

“On these streets of no solution/Where the gutters run with tears/I will lead my revolution/I’ve been revolting here for years/‘Cos I’m a people’s man,” went the words to the closing song of Citizen Smith, “On the glorious day/Someone else will pay/On the glorious day.”

The glorious day of the inglorious man is here. And someone else is paying. Any someone else who isn’t him.

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

Madmen and Crowds

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

There was a temporary interval in American life when a shooting spree by a madman would have been viewed as the crime of one man. The dead would have been mourned. The killer, if he had been taken alive, would have been punished, and while the memorial might have been accompanied by some leading sermons, the country would have been spared the media exploitation and blame-a-thon that invariably follows such events.

The trouble is that there are no more individuals. Or rather the individual is no longer recognized as having any standing. “All private plans, all private lives, have been in a sense repealed by an overriding public danger,” Roosevelt declared in 1940 to the Democratic National Convention.  And the repeal never seems to have been repealed. Instead all private plans and private lives are being constantly repealed by a turmoil of overriding public dangers, most of them sociological in nature.

A shooting takes place and the media urges that millions of firearms be confiscated. Every crisis requires that more freedoms be sacrificed for that overriding public danger that the talking heads are screaming about this week over news feeds from every corner of the globe. There are no more private lives. Only public ones. Everyone will sooner or later pass before the camera and be judged by millions of strangers in a narrative that will transform him or her into a hero or villain in the great social struggle against the public danger of the day.

Calling Adam Lanza a madman has little meaning now. The madman retreats to a private world of his own making. But the collective culture does not recognize madness as a detachment from the crowd. Instead it views it as yet another social malady to be solved. Re-open the asylums. Provide more mental health funding. Open hotlines for anyone with suicidal thoughts. Social solutions for a social society coping with the anti-social.

But even our madmen are public figures now. Cut off from the collective culture by their minds, they still strive to connect to its most fundamental value. Fame.

America’s spree killers don’t drive pickup trucks with gun racks. They aren’t NRA members and have never opened a bible. They are young, mentally ill and famous. They are exactly like the real and fake celebrities who crowd magazine covers, television screens and paparazzi-choked premieres. But they can’t sing or dance, and have no unique way to embarrass themselves into staged fame. Instead they kill their way to being famous.

As schizophrenic as our shooters were, as unable to connect to the groupthink of the larger culture, they understood the one thing that we valued. And they got it in a brute force way. They became what every girl with dyed blonde hair waiting on line to impress the judges of television’s dueling singing competitions, every waiter with sunglasses waiting to become a movie star on Rodeo Drive, every “internet personality” leaning precariously over a webcam on YouTube, every kid trying out rhymes on his friends and building a fake biography of all the people he shot in drug deals gone bad, want to be. Famous.

In mass culture, fame is the only oxygen of the individual. It is the only thing that distinguishes the vanishing individual from the herd. The celebrity is to 21st Century America as the general, the writer, the poet, the politician and the genius were to former eras. All these things and many more have been distilled down to the simple status of celebrity. You are either famous or you aren’t. You either have a private life that everyone knows about or your private life has already been repealed by the overriding public dangers of cow farts, racism and large sodas. You are either a slave to the public or just a public slave.

A culture of crowds makes crazy people even crazier. There’s nothing for paranoia like a major city and these days we all live in the major city of a culture that is crowded in even its most rural areas. Crowd culture expects everyone to follow the leader, to join the meme, to move with the flow, but that is something that crazy people cannot do. The madman is always out of step and out of sync, the paranoid schizophrenic occasionally makes a compelling leader, but he is unable to be a follower.

Madness can at its simplest be viewed as the gap between his thinking and our own. Like cultural differences, it often explodes into violence, but unlike cultural differences it cannot be bridged because there is no common language. The madman is a member of a unique culture of one. He is a citizen of himself. He has his own laws, his own values and even his own mental language. And it is one that no sane person will ever understand.

The madman is the ultimate individual dying in his own private rebellions that mean nothing to anyone else. A sane society may lock him up, it may crudely tinker with his brain chemistry or even carve up his gray matter, but it will never truly make him one with the group. And our society, addled by nearly as many drugs as your average madman, is a long way from sane. It flirts with madness in its aimless attempts at reestablishing the place of the individual in a collectivist culture, and it veers recklessly from sympathizing with violence to pretending not to understand where violence comes from. It’s the feigned innocence of those who are just jaded enough not to want to know how jaded they have truly become.

If the madman has lost the ability to speak to the crowd, the crowd has equally lost the ability to speak to the individual. The madman suffers from a defective mental vocabulary and the mad society has lost the ability to formulate concepts relating to individual behavior.

In our society the individual is always seen as putting on a public performance of accepting or rejecting group values. All private lives become a public competition to see who recycles the most, is the least racist, the most giving and the best example of what a cog in the great social machine should be. Every individual act is a commentary, not ultimately on the individual, but on the social machine. Crime is no longer a private act, but a public one, that emerges out of social factors such as the poverty rate, race relations, the availability of firearms, cold medication in pharmacies and the amount of funding for midnight basketball, outpatient mental health therapy and a thousand others.

All private plans are a public danger. All individual acts are really collective acts. There is no “I” in individual. There is only the crowd, its avatars who live out their fantasies and entertain them, and the masses shuffling off toward their daily labors until they are released from the grind and allowed a few hours to entertain themselves watching their avatars live a public show of private life.

How does one speak of individual responsibility to such people and how can they be expected to distinguish individualism from madness? The ant hive cannot be expected to think of the ant. It cannot understand anthood apart from the hive.

The Blame-a-Thon continues. Blaming Adam Lanza for his own actions is insufficient. Even blaming his dead mother is insufficient. Individuals do not matter. Only groups do. Corporations. The NRA. The Tea Party. Private tragedy becomes a political event complete with campaign speeches and fundraising letters. Organizations converge. New offices are opened and phone lines are installed. Press conferences are given. “This is a wake up call. A call for action. It’s time we did something.”

Within an hour, the responsibility is transferred from a killer to the society at large and then to the groups that do not share the values of the new collectivist society. War is declared. Press releases are faxed. Letters are sent out. “We need your help, Michael.” “Stand with us, Susan.” The dead are buried and their bodies are used to make the mulch of a new wave of political repression and profiteering. The dead, like singing competition contestants, are ultimately disposable, as are their killers. It is the producers and the judges who endure.

Each call to action is signed with the promise, “So that this will never have happen again.” That is the sociological siren song of the crowd. The promise of a powerful government safety net that will keep every terrible thing from ever happening a second time. But there is no net that madmen cannot slip through when they choose to. It is possible to repeal the private lives and private plans of all gun owners, but not the private lives and plans of madmen who are not peninsulas, but islands in the stream, who do not care about laws, regulations and expectations. Broken men looking to break.

There is more danger than safety in the crowd. Not only can the crowd not deter a madman, for the same reason that Kitty Genovese bled to death lay dying for an hour, but the crowd is also mad. It is a madness that is harder to detect because it is the madness of a crowd. The individual irrationality of a madman is detectable by outsiders, because of its conflict with the group reality, and even to the person of the madman by that same conflict, which fuels his paranoia toward the outside world, but the group cannot detect its own irrationality and is too large and pervasive for its irrationality to be recognized on the outside.

Our crowd is not yet as collectively insane as Adam Lanza, but it’s getting there. And it will not be pretty when it does. The madness of crowds is not a pretty thing. It can be seen in the hysterical crowds that greeted Hitler or the equally hysterical crowds swooning at the sight of a celebrity. Individual madness is flawed chemistry, but crowd madness is a will to madness, a raving desire to be one with the collective view, to be famous or almost famous, to exchange reason for sensation and individuality for the group immortality of the group.

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/sultan-knish/madmen-and-crowds/2012/12/25/

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