Saturday, May 31, 2008
Friday, May 30, 2008
Yesterday I went to the Albany Institute of Art and History. I had never been in because I didn't think my kids would be interested but yesterday I was in Albany after a difficult couple of days when the meeting I was attending let out early.
I did a tour of the Capital Building for an hour with a guide named Paul and two tourists from Anaheim, California. It was a free tour, and we got to see the legislative chambers, the offices of the seven newspapers who keep correspondents inside the building, many sculptures of faces carved into red sandstone (some of the faces were comic grotesques), and finally, a staircase composed of the animal kingdom from smaller to larger, and the staircase itself like DNA, beginning with protozoa and ending with mammalian life.
The couple from Anaheim had a hobby of touring state capital buildings and I asked them to rate Albany's state building on a scale of 1 to 50. They said it ranked as the best building they had toured so far of the thirty-plus they had toured. Only Richmond came close, the woman said. It is really a marvelous building, that is probably impossible to replicate for less than ten billion dollars.
After this, I went into the Albany Institute of Art and History and they had a collection of stoves. 19th century stoves. It was possibly the grimmest thing I've ever seen. Two women were in there, and one of them shrugged and said to the other, "Stoves!"
I intervened and I walked by and said, "Yes, LOTS of stoves!"
There must have been some fifty in all. Stoves.
Perhaps I was exhausted from the meeting. I don't know. Suffice it to say, I left the museum in a state of wonderment over what museum directors choose to display these days. This morning I looked up the exhibit and it said that the stoves had all been made in the Albany area. I feel like a Philistine. I just still don't get it. Stoves? But it's the Albany Institute of Art and History, and I think that they wanted to show locally made things. They WERE a little odd and overly ornate, and probably difficult to make or something.
I also walked along the newly remade waterfront walk past a train bridge over the Hudson and something that must have been an Amtrak flew over it.
Someone was fishing in the river, but I was later told that you're a fool if you eat the fish. Three feet down in the mud are several feet of PCBs left over from the General Electric Factory in Rotterdam, as well as other industrial giants, including perhaps whoever it was that was making the stoves. The city of Albany is thinking of dredging the river to get the PCBs out, but this will mean the river is lethal for another 50 years.
I recommend the Albany Capital building tour. It's immense, it's amazing, and it's free. Go see the stoves if you want, too, but it's 8 dollars.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
I bought a few books from her yesterday. Paris de ma fenetre, by Colette, and a few other books in French, plus a slim volume called Twilight of the Idols: Recollections of a Lost Yugoslavia. Published in 1994 by White Pine Press, the book opens with one of my hobbyhorses, the spreading weed of diversity:
"All the signs of the times suggest that 'celebration of diversity' has become the official by-word of the end of the millenium. One doesn't have to look far for evidence that this off-shoot of traditional liberal thought is blossoming in the heart of contemporary world culture. Even a casual observer could notice the variety of forms assumed by this enchanting but never fully realized formula for social and political co-existence" (13).
Stunned by the notion that someone was actually going to think about "diversity" from a somewhat jaundiced viewpoint, I hastily seized the volume (I had only ten minutes since my wife and kids were waiting in the car outside).
I didn't know who the writer Ales Debeljak is, and still don't know much in terms of detail. I looked him up in Wikipedia this morning and he's a leading Slovenian poet who teaches at Ljubljana University. He was born in 1961, and is married to an American. "Debeljak's poetry is noted for its melancholy and a new reaffirmation of traditional values such as family and God... right and wrong, good and bad." He teaches in the Social Theory department at LU.
The brief essay in the book Twilight of the Idols is focussed on the Serbian atrocities committed in the name of Serbian homogeneity in the early 90s. But it partially blames the leaders of the west for "political vivisections which turned neighbors' yards into front lines of homicidal frenzy" (14).
I'm not always following his references. Like a poet, he leaps between assertions and raw fact, vast mythologies, and private reveries. History and poetry and their violent collisions are delicately traced throughout the 70 page book.
Against multiculturalism the poets of Serbia fomented a myth of national union.
"A collective retreat into the past that is used to justify a bloody present makes others liable for the cost of its chauvinism, placing the debt on the shoulders of those who do not share in the collective memory of the 'ethnically pure' nation and are doomed to be its victims" (19).
This is a powerful and complex argument written by a brilliant poet. It's hard to follow because I don't really know much about the problems of the break-up of the Yugoslavian nation after Tito.
Here's my thumbnail sketch of the problem: Many complex societies living under the same roof: Bosnian Muslims left over from a Turkish conquest in the 1300s living side by side with Eastern Orthodox Christians. Croatia's genocide during WWII of some half a million Serbs had caused a rankling resentment which festered and blew into a counter-genocide of Croatians in the 1980s or early 90s. The few Serbs or Croats that I knew in graduate school weren't speaking to one another, holding the other side entirely responsible. Entire cities such as Vukovar were wiped off the map. 100,000 people gone, and no two stones left standing. The only part of Yugoslavia to escape the melee was Slovenia, because they had a fierce counterattack and destroyed the invading forces (led by Milosevic, or?) within ten days.
I followed it in the newspapers in Seattle, where I lived at the time, still very much a postmodernist, and wondering why on earth people held on to their primitive notions of God and tribe, and why they couldn't just relax, and let go of old hatreds. I was more concerned with finishing my own Ph.D. and since I didn't know any of the participants it remained a rather peripheral interest.
I still don't know what took place amidst all that rubble and rebellion, and what ideas animated the actors. I spoke with a Serbian who ran a hotel near my home in the Poconos. I expected a civil response since he was a professional individual, and well-educated. He said only, "The Bosnian Muslims are newcomers who have been in Yugoslavia only 800 years. Fuck them, and I hope they get what they deserve." When I worked on my book on Andrei Codrescu & The Myth of America, I wondered why it was that Eastern Europe was such a vicious place. In Timisoara on Christmas Eve of 1989, Ceausescu's soldiers shot hundreds of children in cold blood. Their only crime was to hold candles in front of a small Lutheran church where Bishop Tokes had recently been put to pasture for preaching faithfully. The children's crime was to huddle together, singing, "God Exists!" in support of Bishop Tokes.
Soon a national revolt took place throughout Romania in which everyone seemed to sing equally along with the children, "God Exists!" and the great ogre Ceausescu fell, to have the myth of Marxism replaced by old tribal hatreds, and factionalism, and growing corruption, while tennis star Ilie Nastasi briefly tried to lead Romania out of the dark into the modern world of the European Union.
In spite of having written my book on Codrescu, that area of inquiry remains somewhat a dark corner where vampires and weirwolves and a kind of melancholic surrealism remains the mental state of many inhabitants. Debeljak's lovely essay-memoir nevertheless also references a certain over-riding hope that the perpetual avant-garde of youth and negativity can contest the great myths of Marxism and multiculturalism (which are intermarried in most minds of the American "intelligentsia").
For at least a decade I've looked to Eastern Europe for some evidence of a new consensus to arise from the rubble of post-communist misery. Zizek and NSK have been the major voices out of Slovenia. Zizek's hysterical battiness is good for almost nothing except laughs. He's wrong about everything, and dangerous, coming as he does out of the hysterical zaniness of Jacques Lacan (a completely worthless thinker, who doesn't even provide one with much in the way of laughter). Lacan doesn't even appear to believe in reality, arguing that everything takes place in the imaginary. NSK and its rock band Laibach (allied with Zizek) were probably most useful during the communist period as a critique of communism. The American academy often sees Zizek as a herald of top-of-the-line thinking, and his essays appear in The New York Times and even in the Wall Street Journal. I read them and find nothing of value in them. If he's the best the world's got, then the world is a goner. Simple beyond belief, he had the temerity in Seattle to back the female junior high teacher (I forget her name) who had raped her 13 year old student (statutory rape). Zizek heralded desire as the only principle. I read the article twice, and tried to keep my head from spinning like the little girl's in the Exorcist.
Perhaps in Ales Debeljak there is something worthy of consideration, something grounded and mature. I'd like to think so. There is so little that's worthy of consideration in today's intellectual world. The rock music of our time is hopelessly corrupted by commercialism, and by drug addiction and sexual addiction. In spite of its vast appeal to the young, it is rotten through and through, with its few mild prophets such as Bob Dylan offering nothing whatsoever to the mature intellect. The Beatles were intellectual simpletons (All You Need is Love, doop de doop de doo). Mick Jagger was never much in the art of thinking (Sympathy for the Devil). But by today's standards where Hannah Montana and others are meteoric streaks in which a certain technique can offset otherwise inane lyrics, Jagger and Dylan come off as intellectual supernovas.
Most of our poetry is mindless progressivism, without any mature thought, or ability to think against the tide. Its major feature is silliness ala Kenneth Koch, underneath of which you sense a terrible urge to get a good job teaching creative writing by any means necessary, by publishing as much as possible in journals that are almost entirely pathological vehicles for their editors' advancement, with very few editors anywhere willing to buck the tide and stand in the way of the Cultural Revolution which has made its way to America in the form of a violent critique of race and gender oppression. Political correctness is rampant in the left, and its only alternative is a kind of mindless celebration of sexual desire as if that's a good thing left to express itself in any and every form.
Debeljak himself writes, "The progressive displacement of radical and innovative impulses by the mechanisms of professionalism, commercialism and art bureaucracy has brought about modernist art's loss of its negative impulse" (cited in Artistic Citizenship: A Public Voice for the Arts, edited by --, Routledge, p. 13).
Against the uniformity of nationhood (Nazism, Debeljak implies, is synonymous with Milosevic's Serbian nationalism) there remain a handful of witty commentators such as Zizek (and Andrei Codrescu). But where is the deeper sense of unity, of solidarity, of the notion of right and wrong in a universal sense, of the need for families to stay together, and what is the role of God? We need some kind of conformity, or unity, as a culture. We also need the ability to find some kind of individualism. Laws that protect us, and upon which we can agree, seem terribly necessary to civil society. The postmodernists seemed to want to waive uniformity in the name of endless diversity, a mindless idea that seems to come out of Nietzsche's celebration of the individual, and of the id. I'm against that as much as I am against the notion that a superego speaking in the name of a fundamentalist creed (arising from Calvinism) can offer us an adequate polity that allows for difference of opinion to remain a necessary possibility.
This is where Lutheran Surrealism sees something like a Phoenix rising in the ashes of postmodernism in the work of Ales Debeljak. It's somewhat astonishing. He has a book called The Hidden Handshake available at 73 dollars. I'll keep my eye out for a discounted copy.
As a Lockean liberal and centrist, it's hard to find other liberals that aren't secretly Marxists. In the rubbles of Central and Eastern Europe, I would have expected more and more thinkers like Debeljak to arise like the yeast in the bread of a reemergent Christianity that combines the utopian criticism of surrealism with the critique of Marxism as well as capitalism. So far, Debeljak is the only writer I've seen to have this tendency from that part of the world. Tip me off if there are others.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
(For those of you without small children this is a phrase from the children's film Toy Story.)
Friday, May 23, 2008
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
(I've met Hillary and she's BEAUTIFUL)
Queen Elizabeth I
Sir Thomas Mallory
Richard Brautigan (I LOVE his short stories!)
Anyone from the island of Guam
Vlad the Impaler
Osama Bin Laden
The Marquis de Sade
Billy Jean King
Big Bill Haywood
Chester A. Arthur
John K. Polk
Anyone who's ever visited Antarctica
Anyone from Turkmenistan
The Three Stooges
John Ford, Jr.
Any actual pygmies without an actual blowdart in hand
The Easter Bunny
Gladys Night or any of the Pips
The Four Temptations
The Beach Boys
St. Thomas Aquinas
Billy Crystal's Mother
Billy Crystal's best friend from 9th grade
(But I'd like to meet his best friend's uncles)
Charles de Gaulle
George Armstrong Custer
Robert E. Lee
Ivan the Terrible
Andre the Giant
Who in New York in 1965 would have
such incredible taste as to do a little girl's hair
in long skinny skeins of curl a la
Shirley Temple, Little Miss Marker stage?
The wonderful Puerto Ricans. The
taste so bad, the effect is wondrous
beautiful, and so she is
a brown little waif-wife, 5-yr-old opposite me on a
Lexington Avenue train
in a peppermint red-&-white stripe dress with
some legend needlepointed neatly in across
the bottom of the skirt I can't read
BELO -- TO --
She pulls it down looking at me
reproaching? Can it be?
She thinks I'm looking up her dress?
So I do.
Not very interesting.
It's her eyes that get me: the
severe quality in the reproach
has already faded, re-
ceded in favor of
-- migod -- friendliness
A friendly reproach, then, from Shirley Temple,
that's fading away, and there's a
look of satisfaction (5 yrs old?)
that makes me wonder what my face looks like
The part of the skirt she'd tucked between her knees
pops up again -- starch, crinoline maybe?
well, it's still not very interesting.
Her father finds something, tho, there's a spot
just above her right knee, bruise, dirt, what's
that? he asks, she shrugs, he takes his hand away
The letters visible on the skirt read now:
-- LONGS --TO--
I guess the legend now, it's incredible, he
can't keep his hands off her legs, lays
his slender hand over her knee just as
they rise to exit at Grand Central
Sation . Well, I'm right, the skirt
does have a crinoline and the message reads finally:
MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY.
I ' l l j u s t b e t . The curls down
the back of her neck are perfect. In
her care not to scuff the patent leather shoes
with their sad shine,
she stumbles a bit at the doors
Goodbye, Shirle Temple, goodbye!
all at once .
There's the poem in its entirety. For purposes of review, it's generally legal to cite an entire poem. If I hear from the publisher, however, I'll take it down. The poem appears in The Selected Poems of Paul Blackburn, Persea books, 1989, pp. 170-171.
Notice how he implicates the father in his own strange desires towards the kid. It looked to me as if the father was trying to protect his daughter from Blackburn's stare. But in Blackburn he's not ever exactly degree zero in his writing. He attributes odd desires to the people he describes. He PROJECTS weird motives on to the people he describes. And there's no sense of moral order whatsoever. Everything is in disarray. There are no guiding principles, just a general unleashed ID, amidst an otherwise dead universe of decaying matter. What Williams says of Ginsberg "Hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies, we are going through hell," equally applies to Blackburn (Blackburn calls New York City Moloch, just as Ginsberg does -- but I don't know who first got this from whom).
Like Ginsberg and many of the other New American Poets (NAM, for short) Blackburn's "I" in his poems (I or me is in almost every poem) is quite thoroughly autobiographical, so we can take the poems' content as more or less a snapshot of Blackburn's mind at any given moment.
Here we see him accusing another culture of poor taste in terms of dolling up its daughters. Isn't it at least in equally poor taste to diss that other culture, while lusting after their preschooler? To the NAM poets, there were no limits, and no norms. This is why their world was "hell," even to WCW, who was not a faithful church-goer himself.
To their credit few if any of the NAM poets actually broke any laws. Although they didn't follow the moral laws of Christianity, to my knowledge few if any of them ever ended up in jail for serious crimes. They were mostly peaceful, and law-abiding, although they used illegal drugs, the crimes were mostly what could be described as "victim-less" (I'm trying to think if there were any exceptions to this...). However, they had a sluggish moral pulse, and contributed to a general cultural decay by allowing all moral standards to disappear in a haze of relativism.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
She thinks I'm looking up her dress?
So I do.
The part of the skirt she'd tucked between her knees
pops up again -- starch, crinoline maybe?
Her father finds something, tho, there's a spot
just above her right knee, bruise, dirt, what's
that? he asks, she shrugs, he takes his hand away.
can't keep his hands off her legs, lays
his slender hand over her knee just as
they rise to exit at Grand Central
At any rate, that poem is from the mid to late 60s. I quoted only a few lines from a much longer poem, in which Blackburn is totally focused on this little girl. He assumes that the dad shares his predatory prurience (very unlikely that the dad is such a creep as Blackburn). Like other predators he makes up a story to himself in which the girl likes him, misinterpreting everything the little girl does (she smiles, and he thinks she now accepts his prurience!). An earlier poem, very famous, also set on a public conveyance (subway car), is called the Once-Over, and begins,
The tanned blond
in the green print sack
in the center of the subway car
tho there are seats
has had it from
1 teenage hood
1 envious housewife
4 men over fifty
(& myself), in short
the contents of half the car
Blackburn in this poem again generalizes his lust, but this time the woman (she has "high breasts" so at least she's not a pre-teen) and assumes that the young woman is returning it to the entire car in an orgiastic assault:
Only a stolid young man
with a blue business suit and the New York Times
does not know he is being assaulted
So she has us and we her
all the way to downtown Brooklyn....
(79-80 Selected Poems, Persea).
The front cover of the volume has a photo of Blackburn, apparently an extremely short man, sitting on a stool, smoking INDOORS (no one does that anymore thank GOD!).
He's looking out at the reader ... with a kind of intensity. I'd hate to be a dad with a girl sitting across from him on a train. Or a woman standing. (She's probably on her way to meet her boyfriend, and is only interested in the boyfriend, not in the creeps and sad sacks in the subway car. Most people haven't cathected an entire subway car, or strangers in general, and I doubt if the woman is thinking like this at all.
The poem doesn't check its own assumptions. The images, the sounds, they are subordinate to the overall idea, which in either poem is utterly indecent and without a moral trace, but what's obvious is that he celebrates this as part of the "sexual revolution" of the 60s in which anything goes. Even children. This is part of what Foucault was so dizzy about in his History of Sexuality: the possibility that now adults could go after children, too, and without limits.
The moral choices of the actors in the poems -- the poet undressing children, and women to whom he hasn't even been formally introduced, reveal a mind off its leash.
The poem is nevertheless honest. This is one of the crucial things about Blackburn. He has a dark side and he doesn't stop himself from going there. It's as if he's a rangy dog that's off his leash, going through cities. As I go through the poems I see a guy who's always utterly alone and unable to make the slightest connection with others. A distant fellow, peering out from his pinhole. What's extremely odd to me is that he seems almost prim in the company of the most famous of the other NAM poets -- Ginsberg celebrating the rape of children in Tangiers in Howl, or in later poems, esp. the horrible ones in Fame & Death.
If a poem ought to articulate moral notions (I think a poem should) this poet is something beyond EE Cummings. He's pure ID, but not perhaps as far gone as Ginsberg. The formless chaotic thrills of the ID are what the 60s were about -- straight up through Charles Manson. Blackburn is a metro stop along the way to the far horizon of the Spahn Ranch. What was it that WCW said of Ginsberg? We ain't in ...? anymore? Kansas? My copy of the WCW intro to Ginsberg's first book is over at the office.
Paul Blackburn was an American poet who died in about 1971 from esophageal cancer. (The esophagous is the pipeline that goes from the throat to the stomach -- cancer in it is often caused by heavy smoking and heavy alcohol abuse. Blackburn was both a heavy smoker and a heavy drinker throughout his short life. He died at 44.)
Blackburn's poetics comes out of WCW and Charles Olson and others who tried to write a poetry stripped of metaphysical conceits. Although raised as a Catholic, he had turned his back on Christianity. His poems show us a jaundiced viewpoint, a rather bleak viewpoint, but one not entirely unlit with beauty. Beauty was a genuine concern for him, and it comes through in his cadences (subtle, but entrancing). Below is one of his less well-known efforts. His poetry has a journalistic "just the facts m'am" content. Often the viewpoint is male, and the subject is the solitary landscape. He objectifies a landscape. Many of his poems reference the loneliness of public transportation and the oddness of being in a public place all alone.
I like his poems, but ultimately don't get much out of them. To me, a poem has to have an action, and has to show us an actor choosing or not choosing a way of life, or an action (as in Corso asking himself, "Should I get married? Should I be good?"). In Blackburn's poems, the only choice is sex, or alcohol, and the answer is yes. Either one is a way to turn toward oblivion. I find his poems melancholy, and to be in some strange way related to Charles Bukowski's, at least in terms of their content: men on the prowl. Bukowski had a lot more zest, and hence he was popular. Blackburn however is a poet's poet and is scrupulously honest -- he doesn't play to the crowd, and he doesn't overtly entertain. His work has a fine lyrical manner, and is graceful. Is it a "form of thinking"? Yes, I think it is, in the way any sequence of mental actions reveals thought. His question is always similar to Zen. He looks at the miracle of the real world, and just lets it be, but follows it unraveling from his mind and his poems are jots, like the jottings of a seismometer. His world is as seen through a pinhole. Looking back into the pinhole, we can see that it is always sex and alcohol that are on his mind, but not always in that order. This is an early poem, when his mind is still relatively healthy. Tomorrow I'll put in a poem from the late 60s that I think shows how decadent he became.
Monday morning early
A tram goes by, outbound
The conductor on the final run
The ladies sit at cafe tables in twos
the new day's news
Friday, May 16, 2008
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Progressives, for example, like to conserve nature, and historical buildings.
Conservatives like to put up new and more modern buildings after demolishing the old.
Conservatives mostly want to retain historical morals and ways of being: against stem-cell research, and abortion, and gay marriage, and want to retain the Judeo-Christian heritage based on the Ten Commandments.
Progressives want to retain historical cultures, and want the Native Americans to remain Native Americans, and want African tribes to remain tribal, and want each culture to retain its originality, even to the point of not being quite able to stand for women's rights in places like Afghanistan.
Conservatives (like Reagan) wanted to mainstream American Indians, bringing them up to date with the latest developments. Bush wants to mainstream Muslim countries, pushing them into the Democratic 21st century, where dictators disappear, and voting appears, and women have universal rights.
I'm sure there are many other ways in which the two terms aren't exactly adequate to what the supposedly rival groups claim to actually want.
And of course the two great streams have lots of crosscurrents within them.
But every time I hear the terms I giggle to myself at how inadequate they are.
Conservatives actually want progress on certain fronts: they want universal human rights based on Lockean Christianity, and they want to build an aggressive economic sphere that looks to the future.
Progressives actually are quite conservative on certain fronts: they want to retain each culture's wisdom, based on a Unitarian belief that Diversity of ideas is a good thing, and must be retained, and they want to retain the look of the 19th century even in the midst of our business spheres so that some kind of link to our history remains.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Here's something I noticed about myself that I wanted to share, both because maybe someone
else could use this, and also because I feel like trying to understand why this happens.
I published a novel a couple of years ago called Temping. It is likely to be the only novel that I will ever publish, because it is based on an adventure that I had in Finland which ended up with my marriage, and four kids. The adventure was harrowing, since it went on for five years, and
for two of those years I was basically stranded in Finland. I had an income, and nothing to
return to, and had a child and a wife, so I was stuck. It took me two years to find a new
academic job here. I don't really want any more adventures, so maybe I just won't write any more novels. I just want to molder away for the most part.
(Where I now have tenure.)
But here's the thing I wanted to report. In order to sell a novel, you have to make people aware
that the novel exists. This is very difficult, since I am a five. I hate author appearances, and it's
difficult to get anyone to review your book even in a tiny rag, and if you do, no one reads the review, and if they do, they ignore it, even if it's a good review. So that leaves author appearances, which I hate. And yet sometimes I kill the audience. It's very interesting. They just die.
Yesterday was another day in which I killed. It was at this new international bookstore in the
NW Catskills, called the International Bookport. The owner is a retired ambassador from Italy to the EU. A classy, intellectual woman named Elda Stifani. I was mortified to read there, because I was afraid no one would come, or the people who came would have no real interest. Those conditions are pretty much insurmountable, and I've faced them before in sleepy little libraries where two old ladies come, and one can't see, and the other can't hear, and they are sisters.
I feel like a stripper and no one can even be bothered to look at me in such conditions!
But yesterday a Japanese man read before me, and I had a chance to see that the audience had
a nervous brilliance to them! In fact, they were all diplomats from around Europe who work at the UN! There was an audience of about 40 people! A Slovenian ambassador knew Zizek. An Italian Ambassador had known Oriani Fallacci. A great audience!
The Japanese guy was getting laughs at very difficult jokes.
So when I got on, I knew this audience. And therefore I was able to slay them, and then I sold 12 books, and got 8 new addresses in my address book.
In Seattle at the Finnish Festival last year, another woman read before me, and I slayed that audience, too. Absolutely dropped them to their knees, killed them. And sold 12 copies. I think it was because I was able to check them out before I went on.
But about six months ago I was in New York City at the Estonian House and read to fifteen people, and I was the only reader. I couldn't read them at all. I didn't know who they were, and couldn't locate them!!!!!!!!!! I was sending out echoes, and nothing at all was coming back except a kind of snore, together with a little irritation. And I sold only 4 books. One of them took a book and promised to send payment, and didn't! So I actually lost money at the event, and
felt so bad I didn't want to show up at another event for six months!
At any rate, looking back over the history of my public presentations, and thinking about bombs versus good nights, I would say that getting to read second is what I like. I can then READ the audience as they respond to the warm-up act, and then I can go on and slay them.
Think of St. George with his pike in the throat of the dragon.
Friday, May 09, 2008
As tools of Marxist psychological warfare, race and gender have been standard weapons in academia for at least thirty years, and now they threaten to become standard operating tools in every Democratic nomination process.
They don't lead to anything but scapegoating and implosion, and that's why I have left the Democratic party. I refuse to vote for anyone who uses them.
At a breakfast in Portsmouth New Hampshire with women, Hillary said, "I just don't want to see ... us ... fall backwards."
Us was a reference to women. Had she put "me" into that sentence, I would have believed her. Her stutter step just before and after "us," indicated that this is what she was thinking, but she quickly reframed it as a gender issue.
I just wonder how McCain will counterattack it once it's used on him. I think he will laugh a lot and hit all this Marxist rhetoric on the chin, and it will go down in 15, and America will rejoice.
But you never know. RGC could still take over the whole country, and even worm its way into red state discourse, dislodging the last vestiges of Lockean liberalism and the standard principles of classical liberal discourse. Some of those vestiges include that WE SHOULDN'T consider the race and gender of a speaker, but only their ideas. To do otherwise is considered the ad hominem fallacy.
I don't know why this fallacy has become so predominant in the Democratic party. Obama's pastor, and his wife, clearly think along the lines of race, and race alone. Obama has said at many junctures that he has clearly sought out Marxist professors while in college, and he continues to befriend the likes of Bill Ayers, who was an actual terrorist for the weather underground. I find it disturbing, and I think it is wrong to think like a terrorist. I want instead to think in terms of classical liberal laws, and to resuscitate their Protestant Christian heritage.
But I'm still sad to leave the Democratic party. It's just that it's no longer a classical liberal party. Instead, it is a variant of the communist party. And that leads to implosion, to scapegoating, and to a kind of ridiculous doublethink that I can not countenance.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Communists want everyone to share and share alike. Not that they really do this. The communist party with its "secretary" decides who gets what, and acts as a de facto king of a de facto aristocracy, although they call their countries "Republics" and "Democracies" they are in actual fact dictatorships.
Lutherans see the family as the originary institution, superlapsarian as it is, with the parents as bread earners sharing the resources with the children within each family, or offering hospitality to other children who are invited to sleepovers, etc.
It has a grotesque aspect -- imagine sharing a spoon with an entire town.
This will only spread diseases.
Imagine sharing a towel with 200 people who have taken a tower. After 5 or 6 wet bodies have been rubbed off, you now have a soaked towel, of no use to the 195 who wish to use it.
Once toilet paper has been used, to share it seems absurd, and yet, total sharing would demand this!
(John Lennon's song "Imagine" asks us to imagine no private possessions. What a completely heinous song that is, coming from one of the richest men of his generation, married to one of the richest women in Japan.)
Private property means property that doesn't have to be shared. The laws of hospitality argue that "my house is your house," but this only extends to invited guests, and doesn't include sexuality (unless you're an Eskimo, in which sexuality is apparently included).
Sharing is where I think the communists have to think through their issues. Communists are delighted to share the wealth taken from the rich (Clinton and Edwards and Obama are all too happy to take from the "top 5%"). But will they themselves sunder any of their own property into the commonwealth? Was John Kerry willing to surrender any one of his 27 mansions to the polity?
I think not.
I realize that within early Christian circles there was a "share and share alike" mentality at least in regards to food. They were expecting the second coming any minute.
Now that it appears that time may drag on for many more millenia, two kingdoms argues that utopian sharing WILL take place, but only AFTER the RAPTURE.
At communion there remains an inkling of the originary Christian sharing of food, when we share the wine and wafers. The pastor and deacon will distribute the wafers and wine equally to all congregants. I find it gross. I always sit in the very front on the left hand side so that I am first in line, and even then I tinct, which means that I dip the wafer in the wine, so as not to spoil the cup with my germs. But many congregants believe in this sharing. I think it is unhealthy. I am equally grossed out in the film The Name of the Rose when abbots greet one another with a kiss. Within about thirty years of the film's date (1327), the Black Plague spread throughout Christendom, destroying one half of the population, spread (in part) by abbots and their unctuousness.
I do believe that,
The good will share and share alike in the delights of heaven.
I also believe that,
The wicked will share and share alike in the torments of hell.
Meanwhile, there is a meanwhile, and I'm not sharing my toothbrush with anybody.
Although I don't have much of it, I believe in private property. I don't even lend books. Too often they come back in a crumpled state, or with a corner bent.
And I point out that private property is a universal, or a seemingly universal fixation. My children at about two said their first words. One of the first ten words out of any one of their mouths is MINE. This is a healthy notion, and I encourage it, even if it means that a lot of my job as a dad is spent on property disputes, and on who had what first. Proudhon declared private property to be the very motor of the economy (after an initial phase in which he regarded property as theft, he later on realized that if it was declared null and void, then the state would own everything, and that a given party would decide how it was to be distributed, and how used -- and he had a prophetic inkling of the likes of Stalin, Mugabe, Kim Jung-Il, or the Chinese communists who can even steal your inner organs and use them as they will, since property in such countries has no official existence, because everything belongs to the state, and its anointed fiends, who rule in perpetuity, and that in such instances the very motor of the society would cease, and we would have imploding economies like that today in Zimbabwe or that in North Korea, or that during the reign of Pol Pot, from which the only surcease is to get out your luggage and chance a border crossing.)
Democracy at its heart means that I don't have to share, it means that private property exists, and that I have the right to say, MINE. It gives each person a holding in the society. It means I can sell my holdings (including my labor) at a profit. It is a very good thing, too, or else my organs would belong to the Party, and I would really rather they remain relatively unruffled, and in the place where God put them. They belong to ME. They are MINE. Thanks to GOD.
I love private property, and I believe it is the most important of Locke's four freedoms. Without it, the other three (life, liberty, health) are totally without value since under Communism even my body belongs to the State to do with what it will.
Saturday, May 03, 2008
Americans tend to lump people into one of two Manichean categories: conservative or progressive. Progressives are a little meaner about it, it seems. They feel you deserve to be ostracized if you are on the other side. (Progressives won't go on Fox News, whereas Conservatives will go on any station that will have them, and talk to absolutely anyone, because for conservatives, it is the issues that matter, rather than which side you are on.) However, I don't know that many conservatives. I know mostly progressives, or so-called progressives. In academia you almost have to be a so-called progressive in order to survive. I was a progressive until the race and gender people at the University of Washington threw me under the bus for being a white, male Lutheran. Since then, I've realized that the Democratic party is no longer Lockean. They are a full-blown communist party that has substituted race and gender for class. They no longer have any class. I often still vote for them, mostly because the alternative is equally scary.
The Republicans are jerks, too, but they are quite Lockean. They judge countries, at least in principle, according to the level of respect allotted to the life, health, liberty and property of its citizens. In Locke's initial theories, however, there was a limit to the amount of property someone should have. Nevertheless, Republicans are perfectly happy to have the CEO of a company make 500 times what an underling makes. I find this grotesque, but I am unwilling to turn over all property to the Marxist state, and to a party of self-righteous pricks who will pretend to do the right thing while actually larding their own pantries.
So, basically, I hate all parties, and think they're just a lot of double-talk, using principles as a cover story for personal gain. The idea that there are only two parties, and thus only two personalities, is simplistic beyond belief. I saw an article in Psychology Today that actually argued that there is such a thing as the "conservative personality," and that people who vote Republican were beaten as children, and the implication was that they needed long-term therapy from progressives.
But underneath the cover story of a political party and what it supposedly says about people, I often like people, I find, based not on their politics, but on their personality types. That is, I like intellectuals who keep to themselves, and I like artists, and I often like anyone with a genuinely great sense of humor.
Two personality systems have come to my emotional rescue in terms of helping me to understand other people beyond the fatuous political divide that seems to many simple-minded people to tell us everything we need to know about others. The first one is called the Enneagram. No one really knows where it came from, but it is argued that it is an old Sufi system that came to the west via Gurdjieff, and Gurdjieffian groups, and insinuated itself into Christian and New Age conduits. It is now popular in Buddhist groups, too. A Finnish pastor was the first to tell me about this, and to tell me I should take the test. There is a simple test right here. There are two of them, and I prefer the classical one. I test as a five:
The five is a rather solitary individual interested in intellectual pursuits. There are a lot of college professors who are fives. In fact, on my floor, I believe that out of some 25 faculty members, some seven of us are fives. I get along with most fives and most fours (artist types) with scarcely any problem whatsoever. I get along with most people without any problem whatsoever, but I find fives particularly easy to grok.
The other system is called the Myers Briggs typing system. One of the better tests is here:
This system breaks down into extrovert/introvert, intuitive/sensory, thinker/feeler, and perceiver/judger.
In this particular test I come out as an INTJ. (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinker, Judger: this type is said to be interested in the application of conceptual theory to real life, among other stuff. Also, we are willing to believe in nonsense like personality theories so long as they actually work. One story given is about navigators in Portugal during the age of exploration who complained to the Vatican that the maps that described a flat earth didn't work as well as their own maps which described the world as round. The Vatican shot back a response that said, well, use the maps that seem to work, as long as you don't believe in them.)
Many people think that personality typology is insane and/or ridiculous, and I do, too. I find on the other hand that it really does have some ability to explain individual differences, and why some people don't get along with other people and so even though it seems that a system with nine points that interconnect in odd ways seems unbelievably odd, it nevertheless works, and so I think it is a better map of reality than the dumber political map. Of the two systems, or maps, of personality, the enneagram seems to be the more accurate. It is almost inexplicable, but it actually works. The MBTI on the other hand is a rather simple mapping system concocted from Jungian elements, but I find that it, too, has some predictive value. However, I am confused. On some tests for the MBTI I come out as an INFP. INFPs are interested in poetry and art. INTJs are more interested in science. I am more interested in poetry and art, and find science a bit dull. 5s are loners who (like John Nash, the game theorist and subject of the film A Beautiful mind) spend a lot of time in theoretical pursuits. I am not such a loner as Nash, and always have friends. But then, when you read Nash's biography, so did he have a lot of friends. I feel very close to the arts, and to artists. But, I don't wear my heart on my sleeve. My heart is rather UP my sleeve somewhere with my sense of humor.
Rather than simply "conservative," or "progressive," having to do with one's politics, the two personality mapping systems also have the virtue of being somewhat more subtle and complex, and at least there are a few more slots even if it is hard to pin oneself down and say, aha, that's me. The map is not the person. And there doesn't seem to be any map at present that can draw a perfect individual. What we have are types. Feeling types versus thinking types. I think I can do either of these fairly well. In some contexts I seem to have a little more feeling than thinking. Thinking and feeling is the big problem for me. I prefer poetry to mathematics, but I am actually quite good at math. It's just that I consider math to be total nonsense (the set of all even numbers which is infinite is nevertheless larger than the infinite set of all natural numbers [1,2,3, etc.]! -- if that isn't nonsense, then what is it, and yet I am told by mathematicians with actual Ph.D.s in that area that this is true).
Rather than putting complex people into one of two political slots and declaring an all-out war on the other, I prefer to put politicians into the slightly larger system of the enneagram. Among other things, it has the benefit of slowing down judgment. It's ridiculous to think of a person as either conservative or progressive. Most people are conservative in some areas and progressive in others, but to get ahead in any given arena, you have to hide the qualities that don't fit. I know police officers who have to pretend to be Republicans, and I know English professors who have to pretend to be Marxists. People can't be easily described, and they do change. I was an anarchist at twenty. At fifty, with four kids, I have no use at all for anarchy.
But the enneagram can get to an underlying sense of who someone is, and the claim is that one remains one number throughout one's life. This is probably nonsense, but again, it seems to be true when I think of people I have known since I was little, like my parents.
In enneagram terms, John McCain is clearly an 8. 8s can be bullies, but they are always tough, and have their feet on the ground, use earthy language, and at their healthiest, can lift a whole nation on their shoulders (I think not only MLK but also LBJ were 8s). McCain's ability to withstand the torture on tap at the Hanoi Hilton can seemingly be explained by his 8ness.
Obama is I think a three. Threes are very good at becoming what everybody wants. Thus, they wear nicely groomed suits, and often succeed, but they don't have a lot of substance. They are instead whatever everybody else would like to see. Obama is pretending to be very idealistic, but I don't think he cares a whit about ideals. He's just pretending, but he's pretending brilliantly. He'll pretend to be one thing at Trinity Church in Chicago, another thing behind closed doors in San Francisco, and still another in rural Pennsylvania (where he actually went bowling). (Edwards was also a three, and was also very well-groomed and good at pretending to care about the poor, when he was in fact getting incredibly expensive haircuts, and looking good, as this was his real concern.) I can't stand threes' values, since they are a slippery bunch, but I have to admit that they often get very far in any given hierarchy, and right now they are doing incredibly well within the Democratic party, which only asks for outward belief, and just about anybody who can fake it can get somewhere in the Democratic party. In literature departments anyone who pretends to be politically correct and Democratic on absolutely every issue and every topic is almost certainly a three. In graduate school there were even some slippery threes who would pretend to be gay until they got tenure, at which point they would pull a heterosexual partner out of a hat, and claim to have changed orientation overnight.
Clinton is a one. Ones insist on principles and they get extremely grumpy about them. They are ceaselessly critical. They like a tough fight. They actually care that real principles are followed. They get angry when things don't seem to be going the right way. They will stand up for what they believe in. They may try to play the three game of pretending to be under sniper fire, or they may even lie, but they aren't very good at this game, and immediately get caught.
At any rate, all the types have a healthy upside and an unhealthy downside. There are about 50 books on the Enneagram alone, and they sell in the hundreds of thousands. So what I've given is at most a thumbnail sketch of the system. Beware of going too far into it. You may start to see everything in enneagrammatic terms, driving your families nuts.
So, test yourselves, readers, and then post your findings, if you feel like it. If nothing else, it's a pretty harmless game, unless it turns out that it becomes an obsessive interest, in which case, managing to Houdini yourself back out of it again is quite a puzzle. After a while, even simple things like basketball games and birthday parties can be placed on the enneagram...