Saturday, December 16, 2017

"Liberalism" versus Liberalism: The Right Wing Perversion of the History of Liberalism

In a recent post, "That Good Old New Time Right Wing Religion", I tentaviely explored the demographic, economic, and cultural aspects of that good old time right wing religion of Prager University and others of its ilk. In this post I want to explore another cultural aspect of PU and similar right wing religions, specifically its manichean (mis)perception of liberalism.

For many, particularly in the post-World War II era, liberalism has become a dirty word, a caricature and a stereotype, in other words. Those who caricature and stereotype liberalism, however, really do not have, unsurprisingly I might add given their manicheanism, a sound grasp of the history of real empirical liberalism. Liberalism, of course, is the product of several intellectual streams. Historically speaking liberalism is the product of Florentine and Italian city-state ideas about representative government and practise of representative government. Liberalism is the product of the Scientific Revolution beginning of the sixteenth century. Liberalism is the product of the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century with its emphasis on anti-monarchicalism and anti-theocratism. Liberalism is the product of mass capitalism, which, while it has antecedents in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, became prevalent in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the modern world, and dominant in the twentieth century. Liberalism is the product of the American and French Revolutions both of which helped increase the power of the bourgeoisie or middle class. Liberalism is the product of political debates surrounding concepts like liberty, freedom, property, justice, equality, and fraternity since the sixteenth century.

Liberalism has been and continues to be, as a result of this history, multiple. Lockean political liberalism, which challenged absolutism, for instance, emphasised the inalienability of the "natural rights" of life, liberty, health, and estate or property, which Locke, like Marx after him, argued originated in the mixing of one’s labour with the land. The laissez-faire form of economic liberalism, which, ironically, most of those who detest liberalism these days actually believe in, that emerged from the Scottish Enlightenment emphasised the need for a free marketplace in the face of monarchical monopolies. That brand of liberalism relied on a deus ex machina in the form of the invisible hand to make it work making it, in the process, akin to a religion. The American propertied elite liberalism of America’s founding fathers borrowed heavily from Locke with its inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Constitutional liberalism, as opposed to nationalist liberalism, began with the American Revolution, was stimulated by the French Revolution, and was further stimulated by the triumph of mass capitalism and corporate capitalism in some places in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Social liberalism, which emphasised the need for a stronger government to deal with what was seen as the ravages of mass capitalism including poverty and inequality, emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Leftism or radicalism, by the way, emerged as a challenge to liberalism during the French Revolution and became a prominent modern subculture or counterculture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many on the radical left saw the central symbols of liberalism, life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness, as inherently contradictory. Conservatism arose as a nostalgic, theocratic, and romantic or utopian reaction to liberalism.

Throughout constitutional liberalism’s history the concepts of life, liberty, health, estate, the pursuit of happiness, and others that followed, such as equality and fraternity, have had and continue to have, as symbols often do, multiple meanings. Many American liberals, for instance, found slavery inconsistent with their understanding of “liberty”. Many American liberals debated how big constitutional liberal states, which vouchsafed liberalism’s sacred symbols, should be. Some, anti-federalists, wanted a very weak central state and strong regional states. Some federalists, like Jefferson and Madison, wanted a stronger federal state than that allowed by America’s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, but disagreed with others, like Hamilton and Washington, who wanted a stronger federal state than the weak federalists.

So given this historical context what is the best way to understand liberalism? First, liberalism is best seen as a continuum with a number of levels to it. Liberalism, for example, is a continuum with free market liberalism at one end of the continuum, and, a mythical total state control of the economy on the other end of the continuum. I say mythical because no liberals I know of advocate total state control of the economy. Social liberalism or progressivism, with its advocacy of things like food and drug regulations, lies somewhere in the middle of this continuum. The social liberals Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Lyndon Baines Johnson, for instance, enacted social liberal legislation that saved capitalism rather than destroyed it. Liberalism is a continuum with right libertarians and left libertarians, differentiated largely by their attitude to big economic institutions, on one end and a mythical group of no liberty or freedom types on the other end. No political liberals I know of want total abolition of free speech, for instance, though some do want limits, hence they lie somewhere along the continuum. Liberalism is a continuum in which some advocate for limits on civil rights--I know of no liberals who advocate for zero civil rights--while others advocate for the expansion of civil rights, American liberals pursing civil rights for Blacks, homosexuals, and trans people, for instance. Liberalism is a continuum in which some liberals, including liberals of left and right, are authoritarian while others are less authoritarian. I know of no liberals, by the way, who advocate for total anarchy and anarchism.

Why do those of the right wing religious persuasion like PU and others of their ilk ignore this real history of liberalism? The reason is simple. They ignore it because they have to. They need to believe in an enemy and proclaim liberalism as an enemy because fear is a polemicists and a demagogues best friend. Fear allows them to raise money and pied piper the opiated masses. Fear, with its stereotyping, caricaturing, and mythhistory, allows them to try to achieve power and influence with the help of the pied pipered opiated masses. Fear with its manichean "logic" allows them to be. Marking off your group from an "inferior" and "polluted" "enemy" "other" is a tried and true way of creating an identity and a community. Given this, manufacturing "enemy" "others" is not likely to end anytime soon.

That Good Old New Time Right Wing Religion

I have had a long intellectual interest in religion. The reason for why is simple, I have long been interested in why humans think and act the way that they do. Like other social and cultural constructionists I argue that the reasons humans think and act as they do is because of the meanings humans give to the world around them and their place or places in it.

One can see the process by which cultural meanings or cultural ideologies become "realities" most clearly in the rise of new religions like Mormonism, which I have extensively studied, Quakerism, which I have also studied, Anabaptists, which I have studied, the Oneida Community, which I have studied somewhat, Burned Over District evangelicalism, which I have studied somewhat, Shakerism, which I have studied somewhat, and the post WWII radical right, which one can't, thanks to it going mainstream since the 1980s, help but explore given its omnipresence on social media.

One of the new religious groups I have been studying recently is a right wing group that calls itself Praeger University. Because PU evidences that hybrid of Christianity, social Darwinism, the gospel of wealth, bah humbugism, and neoliberalism I am going to categorise PU a cult. PU is a cult because, just as Christianity was a cult to Judaism because it added new wine to old, PUism is different from the Christianities of the past despite containing older Christian elements within it. My observations are based on ethnographic analysis and, since I haven't done statistical analysis, random or otherwise, of PU my conclusions must remain tentative. I hope that despite this my observations are not only accurate and interesting but that they contribute to the study of right wing cults like PU.

Demographically, the PUers, as I call them, whether they are committed devotees of PU and their high priest, radio host Dennis Praeger, or whether they are fellow travellers of PU, are mostly male. This seems to be the case with a lot of the religiopolitical groups that were once marginal in American society and which have become more mainstream in American society since the 1980s, religiopolitical groups like the John Birch Society and the many neo-Nazi groups one finds across the US these days. Many of the "members", who are somewhat fluid, not surprising given the nature of postmodernity, and fellow travellers, are, I suspect, GenXers and millennials, whose lives have been distrupted by the economic changes driven by postmodernity including the decline of well paying and good benefit manufacturing jobs in the US and the rise of jobs in the low paying and low benefit retail or sevice sector of the American economy since the 1960s.

Economically, as I hinted, the devotees and ideological fellow travellers of right wing religious cults like PU have been displaced and dislocated by a postmodern economy that has seen the expansion of the service sector of US economy and the contraction of the traditional manufacturing sector of the economy which has fled overseas to take advantage of low labour costs in places like China and other semi peripheral nations. PU, like many religious groups, is registered as a charity and funded by the passing of the social media plate, and, particularly, by the Christian fundamentalist and anti-fracking Wilks brothers.

Culturally, PUers and others of the right wing ilk appear to have what one might call a socially and culturally constructed bicameral manichean mind. Those with this social and cultural "(dis)order" think that what they believe is "good" whlle what the other knows is "bad". This is the I am OK, you are not OK, if you want to be OK you must be just like me syndrome. Others might call it, on the basis of the William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal controversial tĂȘte a tĂȘte on national TV in 1968, the scratch a right winger and you will find an ethocentrist or, in Buckley's case a fascist, beneath the surface complex.

So how does the manichean religious mind work? Well it works just like the religious manichean mind has always worked. Let me give you an example. Many PUers and other right wingers, in their blanket condemnations of left wing colleges and universities, ignore or elide the fact that Calvin College, a Christian reformed evangelical college, is similiar to yet different from Amherst College, a secular college, in important ways. They ignore that Jesus College, Cantab is similar to but different from Ball State University in important ways. They ignore, in other words, the complexity of colleges and universities in the postmodern core nation world. Second, they ignore the fact that universties are home to a variety of different departments with a diversity of faculty in those dpartments. Engineers, mathematicians, physicists, biologists, and astronomers, for instance, are found in most broad curriculum based colleges and universities. If you believe PUers and right wingers, however, you would think that all of these folks are not only manning the red barricades but are actually in control of universities. The fact is, however, that college and university administrators with degrees in things like student personnel really run universities particularly in the US and UK outside of Oxbridge. They, by the way, run universities like managers run a department store. They run universities like retail establishments. The notion that universities and colleges are run by revolutionaries common among PU cultists and other right wing cultists is so delusional that some might argue that, as with those who believed themselves messiahs or prophets in the past and in the present, right wing cultists who today belive that colleges and universities are bastions of Marxism and socialism, the evil others par excellence in their theodicies, should perhaps be placed in mental health institutions. Perhaps they should thank their lucky stars that those "bleeding heart liberals", who right wing cultists in their theodicies wrongly conflate with Marxists, socialists, and nazis, dowsized them in the late 20th century.

Another cultural aspect of PU and other right wing religiopolitical cults is their eschatology. Many Christians have claimed over the years and continue to claim, that the Crusades and Christian anti-Semitism, for instance, both of which were hazardous to human health, were and are not characteristic of "real" Christianity. Only when "real" Christianity comes will, they claim, time be no more, lions will lie down with lambs, and swords will be beaten into plougshares in a post- or pre- apocalyptic Garden of Eden. Free marketeers, like their religious forebears, claim that contemporary versions of capitalism, specifically corporate capitalism, in core nations with their monopolies and cartels, their elite control of politics and politicians, and their ability to obtain subsidies, grants, and bailouts from American taxpayers, is not "real" capitalism. "Real" capitalism, free market capitalism, they fantasise, has never really existed and only when it does will, say true believers, the radiant paradisical capitalist future arrive making everybody in their free market capitalist version of the Garden of Eden rich in the process. The rub is, is that just as with the Christian apocalypse, which many have predicted on many occasions, the right wing free market cult apocalypse, though predicted almost as often as the Christian apocalypse, never comes. Such realities, however, rarely ever troubles true believers whose relationship with reality is tenuous at best. As a result the ideology constructs reality circle remains unbroken.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Post Disappears: Musings on Facebook Censorship

I have recently noticed something very interesting going on on my Facebook news feed. Specifically, I have noticed that the right wing dogmatic site, Praeger University, a misnomer if there ever was one, and the left wing Monthly Review, which I "friended", have been disappearing from my news feed like Stalinist era commissars disappeared from photos during that era in the USSR. I see both briefly and then both disappear into the aether that is Facebook.

I can only assume that this is happening because Facebook and its algorithms think that if you subtract the "extreme" right and the "extreme" left you end up with Arthur Sclessinger's vital centre and that is where, or so they believe, empirical truth lies. The problem with this assumption is that it is pure rubbish.

It is true that much of what comes out of the mouths of right wing babes is poppycock. The Prager University case is exemplary. Like so many on the right Prager U offers dogmatic truths without excavating and debating those truths as happens in academia when academia is at its best. In academia, for example, if I want to argue that Mormons were primarilly the product of cultural factors rather than economic, political, geographic, or demographic, I first have to explore and then critique these other approaches to Mormonism. At Prager U, on the other hand, one only finds ahistorical statements that are akin to statements of faith. There is no exploration of other valid points of view there. There is just dogma, subpar dogma at that.

The moderate centre that Facebook seems to cherish is no more empirically accurate than the right. Like the right the vital centre tends to fetishise and, in turn, use these fetishisations to rationalise and make moral might makes right things like the Americna business takeover of Hawaii, the American bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, American support for South Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s, and US support for the overthrow of Salvador Allende.

Where truth generally can be found is in the analyses of the left. Truth can be found in Marxist theory, in Conflict theory, and in social constructionist theory. This is something those "moderate" "centrists" at Facebook simply don't understand. But then they, like those on the right, have drank the ideological kool aid, the opiate of the we are so right because I believe classes.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Funny Farm Where Life is Beautiful All of the Time: Sillyness, Faux Democracy, and Absurdity at the Honest Weight Food "Coop"

It really is hard to put into words just what it is really like at the Honest Weight Food Corporation. Since I am a social scientist, however, I am going to try to capture the essence of this bureaucracy in imperfect words.

First word, silly. As the tale of the incredibly incredible shrinking Honest Weight Board, the tale of the incredible shrinking governing body of the Honest Weight Corporation, shows the world of Honest Weight Food Corporation is silly. The Honest Weight Corporation Board, for those of you who don’t know, consists of nine people all ostensibly elected by working members of the Corporation. Over the last year, however, five of the nine members of the Board resigned. One Board member resigned right after the last Board election a year or so ago, another was purged for his supposed troublemaking, three more resigned more recently. Did the Board fill the two positions that have been open for months as they can and have done in the past via appointment? No. Why not? Who knows. Welcome to the kingdom of silly.

The fact that the Board has appointed rather than elected members of the Board brings us to our second word, undemocratic. Since 2014 three individuals have been appointed by the Board to serve on the Board. One of the appointees, one Leif Hartmark, was within a point of being elected to the Board. Fair cop. Two others, however, including current Board member Saul Rigberg, didn’t have the number of votes equal to another who ran for the Board on these two occasions. This other Board contender ended up being shunned by the Board during the appointment process for reasons that can be readily deduced. Undemocratic. Recent events at the Corporation have pointed up once again just how undemocratic Honest Weight’s political culture is. The current Board, despite not having the mandated five people to constitute a quorum mandated by the Corporation’s by-laws, recently appointed several new members to the Board. They did so in order to bring the Board into line with five-person quorum the Corporation’s by-laws mandate. This, by the way, for those paying attention and who don’t have ideologically clouded minds, shows that even this Board recognises the need to follow the by-laws even if they are doing it in an undemocratic way. That these recent appointees to the Board are going along with this charade is simply another nail in the Corporation is democratic coffin.

The illegal appointment of several new members to the Corporation Board brings us to our third word, absurd. Devotees of the current Board defend, in their apologetics and polemics, the democratic nature of Board actions by trying to explain away what they can’t explain away, namely, the violation of the Corporation’s by-laws. In one of these apologetics in the service of power the Board’s devotees claim that the Corporation’s by-laws are trumped by corporate law. Corporate law, they claim, doesn’t mandate a five-person quorum, and so, as a result, the actions of the Board are perfectly legal and perfectly democratic. In a topsy turvy world of the absurd perhaps. In another apologetic the Board’s devotees claim that the Board needed to do what it did in order to avoid problems with the Corporation’s moneylenders. These devotees apparently do not realise that this argument, since it implicity calls for extra legal action to save the corpop, undermines the previous apologetic. Bring out your absurd.

It is not hard for the dispassionate observer to be amused and bemused by the silly, undemocratic, and absurd world of the Honest Weight Food Corporation. It is not hard for the dispassionate observer to appreciate the hypocrisies galore at the Honest Weight Food Corporation. It is not hard for the disapssionate observer to recognise the absurdity of all of this in relationship to what is happening in the broader world. After all, to paraphrase that most paraphrasable of films Casablanca, the troubles of a silly and absurd little bureaucracy masquerading as a cooperative don’t really amount to a hill of beans in a world that is as silly, absurd, and undemocratic as the world we all are forced to live in.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Honest Weight's Best and Brightest Just Keep on Giving...

There is so much to marvel about when it comes to the governing Board at Honest Weight. First, there is the fact of the Board's purging of staff members from its ranks by proclaiming the need for it because of supposed conflicts of interest. They did this despite the fact that there is no evidence that this has ever been a problem with staff serving on the Board of the Corpop over its forty year history. There is nothing like replacing empircal reality with a fabricated one.

Second, there is the fact that Boards for years have ignored and continue to ignore real conflicts of interest. For example, Honest Weight Boards have ignored Board members wives serving as managers of departments at the Corpop. Honest Weight Boards have ignored the fact that a child of one of the members of the LT, the Corpops leadership team, was given a job in one of the departments at the Corpop. Honest Weight Boards have ignored the fact that there has long been a situation at the Corpop where members of the Board and the members of management at the Corpop developed and continue to develop close relationship with one another undermining the objectivity of at least some Board members in the process. Let's call this the theory of Board aristocracy. These real conflicts of interest are such a problem that any objective observer would recommend getting rid of the membership programme entirely given that real conflicts of interest are woven into the very fabric of the Corpop.

Third, while the Board was fixated on imaginery or hallucinated staff enemies within, they apparently forgot to appoint or call an election when Simon Moon offered his resignation from the Board in what seems like a year ago. If the current Board had simply done this there might be no problem with governance at the Corpop today. If the current Board had done this they might have the five member quorum they need as mandated by the corporations by-laws.

Frankly, all of these examples raise valid questions about the competence of the Board...It also raises questions about opiates...

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Under the Big Top: Life at Honest Weight

In the last few days I have been reminded how happy I am not to be a member of the Honest Weight Food "Coop", aka, the Honest Weight Food Corporation. Recently, two members of the Board resigned. The two who resigned, Kate Doyle and Rebekah Rice, wrote letters to the letters to the editor section of one of the Coop 'newspapers", the Coop Voice, stating their reasons why the resigned. Long story short: Finances. A day or so later these letters disappeared rather like commisars in the USSR and Board members in the HWFC to be replaced by a statement about the need to avoid conflict at the "Coop". Now, however, the letters are back again, by popular demand the Voice says, showing, I suppose, that repressed history inevitably reemerges at some point.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Genre and Academia: The Case of Deborah Jermyn's Prime Suspect

Genre, a repetitive style, is at the heart of popular literature, film, and television. It turns out it is also at the heart of much of modern academic life. This was made very clear to me recently as I was reading Deborah Jermyn’s BFI TV classic monograph on the ITV detective show Prime Suspect. All the usual genre suspects from film and television studies are present in Jermyn’s monograph (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) including a discussion of realism in Prime Suspect, a discussion of the representation of gender in Prime Suspect, and an exploration of the detective and crime genre as it relates to Prime Suspect. Given that such repetition can prove tedious and tiresome to some of us after awhile it was a welcome relief when Jermyn turned to discussions of things that are often far to peripheral in contemporary academic film and television studies including the role creator Lynda LaPlante played in creating Prime Suspect, the difficulties LaPlante met while working on and writing the show, the role real life DCI Jackie Malton played in bringing greater realism to Prime Suspect, and the increasingly important role actor Helen Mirren, who played DCI Jane Tennison, the central character in Prime Suspect, played in the production of the show as it went on. Jermyn’s Prime Suspect is a good if repetative paint by the theories of the moment in academia book. Prime Suspect itself, which I have been re-watching on blu ray is, in its first, third, fourth series first episode, and fifth series extraordinary.