Putting the Ec(h)t In Sects

Isn’t it odd how many high level Republicans are or were members, latent or otherwise, of obscure or at least relatively unusual Protestant denominations? So many that it’s nearly typical – and quite apart from the two cliche wingnut Protestant types: the country club Episcopalian businessman and the working or middle class (often Southern) Baptist.

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Hoover was Quaker. Bob Haldeman and John Erlichman, Nixon’s “Prussians,” were Christian Science. Reagan was Disciple of Christ. Orrin Hatch and the Romneys are Mormon, as was, briefly, Marco Rubio. Nixon, of course, was Quaker – perhaps the worst Quaker ever (William Appleman Williams wrote a great rant on the difference between Hoover’s faith and the 37th president’s). Ike was raised by a Jehovah’s Witness. TR was Dutch Reformed. Michelle Bachman’s church was of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. If this is really a thing then look out for Ben Carson, who is a Seventh-Day Adventist.

Via Negativa

It’s not exactly that I don’t care what you admire or whom, what you believe, your ideals. It’s just that positivity isn’t nearly as interesting, and just as importantly isn’t as informative, as negativity. Please do not praise unless you’re using sarcasm. Rather, do me the favor of sharing your most rancorous beliefs; rant for me. Tell me what and who you hate, what you think sucks, and why. Mock, sneer, snarl – but be intelligent about it. Condemn and justify! And don’t give me that fake-hippie garbage that hating is wrong, that you don’t hate; it’s bullshit, and you’re lying.

Warren Harding, a boringly sunshiney proto-Reagan said, “There’s good in everybody. Boost. Don’t knock.” Well, fuck a bunch of him. Better is Alice Roosevelt Longworth, his contemporary, whose famous line “if you haven’t got anything good to say about anybody, come sit next to me” isn’t as much about petty gossiping as it’s a grand critical and artistic statement.

Socialism Vs. Neoliberal Identity Politics

Zizek in the video above beginning at about 9m30s, is righteous:

Post-political society, where social-political life or state rule, is more and more reduced to rational administration. Like, we don’t debate about economy. As Peter Mendelson put it nicely two, three years ago (of course I disagree with him…) but he said, “let’s admit it: we are all Thatcherites in economy.” So the only thing we can do is – you know, when I was young we were still dreaming about ‘socialism with a human face’ — his point was, all we can do is ‘global capitalism with a human face.’ You know, we change a little bit – more tolerant laws, more rights to this/that, more social security – but you accept the rules of the game.

In this state of things, all conflicts are politically neutralized, they are no longer perceived as political economic conflicts; they are restated as cultural conflicts – in this sense, they are naturalized. And of course with cultures – different ways of life – all you can do is tolerate. The solution of the conflict is not ‘I will make you disappear or you will kill me’ but ‘let’s tolerate.’ A nice example is here in Mexico I read how Mexican poor farmers, they try to formulate their fight as exploitation of poor farmers. Nobody was interested. You know, the moment you complain in this way, there is always some neoliberal guy who says ‘yes, but sorry [this is a nice word] structural readjustments are necessary.’ So there is some intelligent manipulation; they reformulated their struggle as the struggle of indigenous people against the Spanish cultural imperialism. All of a sudden, they became much more popular. A nice example but for me a rather sad example of how to be heard at all you have to culturalize your predicament.

When exploitation is normalized by definition no one gives a shit. Only when the exploited can tie their predicament to some kind of social bigotry can they have any hope of remedy – and even then the compensation is less about return of resources and more about an empty recognition of the struggle by the creative upper middle class (“dignity”). Of course the problem is that exploitation and bigotry need not – and increasingly often do not – coincide. In fact the world is run by a veritable Benetton advertisement of a transnational, multiracial, religiously ecumenical neoliberal elite that is quite happy to exploit anyone it can, regardless of color or creed. Exploited groups incentivized to frame their plight as a result of historical bigotry rather than of contemporary economy in turn incentivize other exploited groups to do same in reaction and competition all of which further atomizes and particularizes working and middle class society into tribalist conflict – meanwhile, exploitation intensifies. This is our world, and it sucks.


You are a farmer. You live in a hot, arid place, so you grow a crop suited to your environment: a tree crop, probably olives, or possibly citrus like lemons or blood oranges, or perhaps something else like maybe figs or almonds. Like all farmers you feel a connection to the particular plot of soil from which you wring a living, but because you farm a tree crop this feeling is enhanced: you, literally, attend to and profit from the plants your grandfather or great-grandfather or an even more distant ancestor planted.

You own your land; you have the deed and your claim is recognized as legal and binding throughout the world; moreover, you can prove just title to your land without consulting a religious book. Your country was invaded in your grandfather’s day. Many of your kind were killed or kicked out of the country, but you remained; you are by legal definition considered a citizen of your country. And yet, your religion is different from the new majority’s who consider you a second-class citizen even though they promised the world they wouldn’t. This new majority is made of people who have been bullied and abused; they claim your land in the name of a deed their God allegedly signed over to them 3,000 years ago. Like many people who’ve been bullied, they have a huge chip on their shoulder: an abused child suddenly with all the power it ever wanted, looking for a smaller kid to kick around and vent frustration upon. You may or may not be personally very religious yourself but the degree of your belief is irrelevant; that you’re not of the same religious and ethnic background as the majority, is what matters.

Because of this very basic fact of difference, at any given moment the government of your country can and eventually will send a bulldozer, purchased with money donated by the United States taxpayer, to your farm. The bastard who drives it and his armed escort may or may not give you a warning before he levels your farm, your house, your patrimony, all that you own, because of the majority’s desire for lebensraum. Your consent or lack thereof is irrelevant; you are not paid for your loss nor will you be. You simply are a native who owns something the new majority desires, like an American Indian in the 1800s, or a Pole or Jew (irony of ironies) in 1939, except this might be 1985 or 1995 or 2015 and all years between and your country claims to be a representative democracy that respects the rule of law.

The majority has a world class army with the best equipment the world’s only superpower can donate; you, if you’re lucky, have an AK-47 and the ability to MacGyver bigger things. What do you do? Do you fight dirty, as the American Indians did? Probably so. And if you do, in my opinion you’re no more of a terrorist than Geronimo or Crazy Horse, and sadly just as doomed.

Having Enemies Is The Best

I just watched The Best of Enemies, the documentary of the Vidal vs Buckley feud, now on Netflix. It’s better than I thought it’d be. I’d assumed the worst when it came out and I read the talking head list; only Dick Cavett, Fred Kaplan, James Wolcott, and Sam Tyrnauer (unknown to me previously) would be expected to have any loyalty to GV, though there were a few others like Todd Gitlin who are safely anti-WFB at least ideologically speaking. Mostly I feared slant because WFB is fortunate in his rhetorically slippery and well connected biographer, Sam Tanenhaus, who is heavily featured. Most importantly, WFB has family to defend him; GV, nephew Burr “A Flock of Seagulls” Steers aside (and who isn’t involved in the doc), does not. But on the whole it’s fair.

I like how the filmmakers showed respect for both men’s intelligence and the pop culture value of their debates, while also correctly coming to the conclusion that the debates spawned the whole pundit-crossfire model that now poisons all news programming.

That said, the filmmakers on the other hand seem baffled by extended feuding and genuine hatred between two intelligent men. Like most people in upper middle class, educated society, they can understand ideological clashes and personality conflicts, but genuine visceral extended mutual loathing is considered weirdly alien. But the rationale, of course, is in the biographies: both men were insiders by birth but outsiders by personality. In a certain important way, both men had declassed themselves: WFB because he was a religious fanatic and worse, “Texas;” GV because of his sexuality and socialism. More to the point: as WFB’s brother says in the documentary, their family identified as frontiersmen; while GV’s roots are Southern and Scots-Irish. Both men were of, and believed in, an honor culture. Feuding for them was perfectly natural.

Personally, I think there should be more of it. Rather than rando, shout-at-each-other encounters between pundits on TV, after which they shake hands and have a drink like Wile E. Coyote and Sam Sheepdog, I’d rather see an extended, genuine feud of ideological and personality opposites, provided that the battle was organic and between intelligent, eloquent people.

Quibbles: It does not mention that GV later wrote that he meant to say “crypto-fascist,” not “crypto-Nazi,” but he admitted that the less extreme compound word probably wouldn’t have set off WFB the same way – which would have been, plainly, a loss for everyone. Also, Hitchens is in the flick (apparently taped before he’d lost his hair from his terminal illness), but doesn’t make the point he made in his essays on the debates, which is that it’s important for people to remember mindset, that the first thing to come to WFB’s enraged mind was GV’s queerness; of all the things WFB could have called GV, “queer” was the choice.

I didn’t know, or had forgotten, that WFB tried to sandbag GV with a letter from RFK. It didn’t work, but it was a good try – bonus points for deviousness. Also, Kelsey Grammer does a wonderful vocal WFB (because, after all, no one can be too hammy playing WFB); John Lithgow does a better vocal GV than I expected.

GV is one of my favorites, and of course I’m on his side ideologically, but it’s harder as the years go by for me to hate WFB like I used to. Somewhere, a while back, I saw a picture of a young, smiling, blond WFB that I wish I could un-see because he looks like he could have been my grandmother’s brother. Politically they have a lot in common and even the voice, cadence, and accent are eerily similar adjusting for gender, though my grandmother’s accent is rather less affected. The association with personal kindness has sort of ruined him for me, hatred-wise. Yes, I’m a bit sad about it.

American Freikorps

A Pre-Sith Christopher Hitchens in good form at 1hr 6min 30 sec:

….these rebels as they call themselves, these anti-establishment figures — they are nothing of the kind, they say they are against the government, they are lone pioneers and frontiersmen — who are they? Where’s Gordon Liddy come from if he isn’t a pimp of the state, an incubus of the National Security System? Where does Oliver North come from? Who dares say this man is a rebel or dissident? He’s an outgrowth of the government…..What’s anti-government about these extruded forces of the state? They will when the time comes — if it does come…..if the time should come when push came to shove — these are the people who would be the freikorps, these are the people who would take orders, these are the people who would be the disciplined and docile forces of the government who would of course always regard them as deniable — and we have been warned. When Picasso was visited in his studio in occupied Paris by a Gestapo officer who was told to make nice with him, there was a sketch of Guernica on the wall and the Gestapo critic rocked on his heels in front of it and said, “that’s very good, did you do that?” And Picasso said, “no, you did.”……. We ought to earn the title of anti-fascist for ourselves… ought not to be scared of the alleged fighting words of others, of the scum of the earth, of the fat fucks like Rush Limbaugh, and the pimps and pensioners of the state like Oliver North and Gordon Liddy.”

The Original Cruise Missile Liberals

According to the Marxists online dictionary, the Girondins

were the representatives of the big bourgeoisie in the Convention of 1792-94, the Parliament set up to replace the monarchy. The Girondists were “the party of order,” vascillating between democratic measures and compromise with the Royalists….The Girondists were the party of orderly progress, sweetness and light the men who dreaded all violent, i.e., energetic measures[.] Such men, however well-intentioned they may be, must always in the long run become the tools of reaction from their timidity and hesitancy. The Girondists desired a doctrinaire republic, led by the professional middle-classes, the lawyers and literateurs….[they] favoured strictly middle-class republicanism, a timid and vacillating policy[.]

But the only admirable part in the description above, the non-violence, happens to be false. Even the article says some of them were active in the fighting of the revolution. But more to the point, their truly violent tendencies were directed outward. The following lecture is great in its entirety, but specifically beginning at about 23m, there’s a great description of the Girondins, who were

merchants, who were “in love with war,” believers in free trade and in “export[ing] revolution.” Then the lecturer quotes a fantastic passage against them by Robespiere:

The most extravagant idea that can arise in a politician’s head is to believe that it’s enough for a people to invade a foreign country, to make it adopt their laws and their constitution. No one loves armed missionaries. The Declaration of the Rights of Man is not a beam of sunlight that shines on all men, and it is not a lightning bolt which strikes every throne at the same time. I am far from claiming that our revolution will not influence the fate of the world, but I say that it will not be today.”

Familiar, n’est-ce pas?

Identity Overclass

Michael Lind, 2003, Texas Monthly:

at the end of the day, if you have an exploitative economic system where the exploiters are pro-gay, pro-choice, and PC, you still haven’t solved some fundamental problems in the economy like the class structure and the distribution of wealth.

The dilemma in this dynamic is institutionalized not just in political circles and the Democratic party but also in the neoliberal university system that, culturally, wrings-out any young person’s concern with class and replaces it with identity politics — a note that sustains through life. Then, economically, the moment this young person has enough money (or even social capital) to “be somebody” they forget how to think and advocate like a poor person, but of course retain their identity grievances. At last, finally, this person is set to believe and advocate that the world will finally be set right when a vegan transsexual POC, too, can be a sociopathic 1%er CEO of a major corporation and hire for pennies an illegal immigrant nanny (forced by economic necessity to leave her own children) to sit the adopted kids and teach them the correct use of pronouns.

Causality Poop

Political chicken-or-egg questions, one for each side:

Do neocons want war all the time in order to militarize American society, or do they want to militarize American society in order to ensure perpetual war?

Do comfy class/professional activist/media liberals care about identity politics more than class and foreign policy because they can actually see progress being made with identity issues, or does progress only happen with identity issues because such people care about them more?

For what it’s worth I think the former is true in the first question, but I’m less sure than I used to be. I’m absolutely certain that for the second question, the latter is correct.