Canceling the Left with Right-Wing Projections

Accusing your enemy of doing what you’re doing—in this case, right-wing organizations canceling left-wing academics, and then claiming liberals are perpetrating cancel culture—is a form of deflection that riles the right-wing base against intellectuals, but also sends the coded message that the Republican Party will do what it can to silence left-wing critics.

Ari Paul, Panic Over ‘Cancel Culture’ Is Another Example of Right-Wing Projection

We Americans can’t have a meaningul public debate about “cancel culture” until we can publicly acknowledge (i.e., stop canceling) the long history of those who have been cancelled in American society by various means: colonialism, slavery, genocide, patriarchy, religious bigotry, Jim Crow, sundown towns, race wars, lynching, Ku Klux Klan, right-wing terrorism, English only laws, internment camps, eugenics, McCarthyism, corporate blacklisting, Comics Code, COINTELPRO, class war, union busting, book burnings, propaganda programs, voter suppression, militarized policing, mass incarceration, and on and on.

Also, there is never acknowledged the mass cancelling of the political left. Most Americans are to the left not only of the Republican Party but also of the DNC elite and corporate media. On top of that, there is actually more recent attacks on leftist academics that never gets acknowledged because it doesn’t fit mainstream frames of the ruling paradigm. And consder the left-anarchist David Graeber having been blackballed from US universities. Large swaths of the left are so canceled as to be treated as not existing — a wholesale blackballing by way of pre-emptive canceling where the silenced were never heard in the first place.

As more of a leftist, I’m not much of a fan of either (pseudo-)liberal identity politics or right-wing identity politics. Nor do I support much of what gets called “political correctness” and “cancel culture.” But let’s be realistic and let’s be informed. If we go back to the Cold War, we should remember that often the supposed liberal class in the corporate media and corrporatist politics were among the most strident Cold Warriors in siding with the right and silencing the left. That pattern has continued since as seen with the Democrats punching left. It’s never been easy to be a leftist in Amerian society, not then and not now.

To speak of it meaningfully, cancel culture requires an effective wielding of power to punish opponents and transgressors or otherwise to enforce social control. It does not merely mean powerless individuals making complaints on social media and refusing to support those they disagree with and find offensive. The defining feature of cancel culture is the ability to actually cancel people, to get them fired or destroy their careers, to discredit and silence them, to harass and threaten them into public banisment. Such canceling always requires at least a certain amount of position within or influence over the systems of concentrated wealth, power, and/or privilege.

Cancel culture is when the Dixie Chicks were banned from country music venues for speaking a simple, if inconvenient, truth to authoritarian power that hurt the feelings of reactionary snowflakes. Cancel culture is James O’Keefe making false accusations based on doctored videos to get people fired. Cancel culture is Donald Trump, Fox News hacks, etc constantly going on about how anyone who disagrees with them should be fired. Cancel culture is Jordan Peterson’s habit of suing people who are critical of him.

Cancel Culture is Gamergate in targeting women for harrassment, threats, and doxxing. Cancel culture is Bill O’Reilly repeatedly calling Dr. George Tiller a “baby killer” until one of O’Reilly’s viewers acted by killing Dr. Tiller. Cancel culture is Alex Jones rantng about (and Fox News spreading) the Pizzagate conspiracy of a supposed global cabal of pedophiles until one of his listeners shows up at the Pizza restaurant wth a gun. Or when Jones used harassment in trying to silence the parents of the students killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Cancel cultures is elderly Asian-Americans getting attacked because some bigots perceive them as ‘Chinese’, in responding to the xenophobic paranoia of right-wng media. Cancel culture is right-wingers driving vehicles into crowds of left-wingers. Cancel culture is the constant shootings, hate crimes, and terrorism mostly committed by the political right; and where the main targets are leftists and minorites. Cancel culture is the police profiling and targeting of minorities. Cancel culture is, as one study showed, the police being 3.5 times more likely to use violence against peaceful leftist protesters than against peaceful right-wing protesters, and 81% of the arrests were leftists. Cancel culture is where thepolice also more often used the illegal practice of entrapment against the political left.

Now that is some serious official canceling. Yet think of how peaceful leftist protesters are not only effectively canceled by being attacked by violent police, along with right-wing counter-protesters and provocateurs, but also effectively canceled by the corporate media that selectively and repeatedly shows cropped footage of violence and riots, without identifying who caused or incited it, which gets used to discredit and dismiss the already canceled political left. The whole point of such protests is to publicly speak out against canceling and the typical response is more canceling.

Did you know there is still a US law on the books, Communist Control Act of 1954, that makes it illegal to be a member of or support the communist party and communst-action organizations? It hasn’t been enforced in a long time, but Trump when president suggested it should be used against the left. Also, think of COINTELPRO that destroyed leftist groups in the past. Technically, COINTELPRO is illegal; and yet that hasn’t stopped the government from using COINTELPRO tactics since 9/11. That is some of the darkest cancel culture that goes straight to the top of right-wing authoritarianism.

Some suggest that corporate media has a left-wing bias that cancels all voices on the political right. Really!?! Give me a break. Is that why all newspapers have both a business section and labor section, as was true earlier last century? Is that why all of the network and cable news have hosts, guests, panelists, and debate moderators who are democratic socialists, municipal socialists, communists, Marxists, anarchosyndicaliststs, left-libertarians, labor organizers, envronmentalist leaders, indigenous rights advocates, reparationists, black feminists, Black Panthers, etc? Is that why, every time politicians war-monger and demand more military funding, all of big biz media rallies behind pacifism in opposing authoritarianism, imperialism, and militarism? Is this why the owners of corporate media have disinvested from the military-industrial complex?

Oh, wait… The answer to those questions is that, obviously, none of that is true. Something doesn’t quite add up with the right-wing narrative about left-wing “cancel culture” we so often hear in the corporate media. That this corporate media, as with the corporatiist DNC elite and the corporate-funded universities, is dishonestly portrayed as a leftist hegemony is part of the problem. The actual left-wing is largely powerless and disenfrancised in American society, despite most Americans being on the political left. False narratives, deceptive rhetoric, and controlled framing are among the main tools used to cancel the voice and power of the moral majority.

* * *

About meaningful public debate, below is a good example. Takng down, moving, or simply relabeling statues of violent authoritarians, genocidal imperialists, slaveholding aristocrats, and white supremacists doesn’t inevitably mean a canceling. Instead, it could be the beginning of a conversation and a broadening of civics education. That is the problem with these monuments as they stand in obliteratng the memory of other more worthy and inspiring historical figures. We shouldn’t necessarily remove these historical figures from the history books and history classes, but rather take it as an opportunity to teach the full history, both good and bad. Such a possibility of public honesty and fairness is what has been canceled.

There is far more to American history than white males who were right-wing authoritarians. Why aren’t there statues and monuments all over the country in honor of Thomas Morton and Roger Williams, Margaret Brent and Phillis Wheatley, Thomas Paine and Danel Shays, Tecumseh and Geronimo, Henry David Thoreau and Henry George, Harriet Tubman and John Brown, Sojourner Truth and Mother Jones, Eugene Debs and Henry A. Wallace, Fred Hampton and Malcolm X (to name just a few)? Why isn’t every school child taught about these centrally important revolutionaries, radicals, and rabblerousers, these great thinkers, leaders, and actvists who influenced American society, advocated justice, and fought for the public good?

After we finally achieve some balanced representation and an honest teaching of history, then we might treat the empty complaints on the poltical right as if they had the slightest relevance to a just and free society. Until then, for some thoughtful consideration on the matter, read the following:

If Americans Grappled Honestly With Their History, Would Any Monuments Be Left Standing?
by Michael Hirsh

Issac J. Bailey, a journalist and scholar and the author of the forthcoming Why Didn’t We Riot? A Black Man in Trumpland, said he believes “we have to do a lot more grappling with the legacies of men like Washington and Jefferson,” but he doesn’t advocate the removal of their statues. “They are different from the Confederate statues, because Confederate monuments and memorials went up largely in the early 20th century and later as a clear pushback to civil rights gains by Black people. They are specifically about explicit white supremacy and the honoring of men who were literal traitors to the U.S.”

“That’s the easy part, though,” Bailey wrote in an email. The issue is more complex when it comes to Washington and Jefferson. “I’ve heard the argument that they are being honored for the great things they’ve done, not for the evil they perpetuated. I get that. But why do they get that kind of treatment when we’d never do the same for architects and participants of the Holocaust who went on to do great things, including helping the U.S. put a man on the moon and unleashing the kinds of technologies that we take for granted today, technologies that have made it possible for things like the smart phone, GPS and the like? We would never say let’s honor them despite the evils they wrought during the Holocaust. Why do we so easily do the same for wealthy white men who profited and participated directly in this country’s original sin?” […]

The recent police killings of African Americans in cities from Atlanta to Minneapolis also bitterly tainted the celebration of Juneteenth, which marks the day a Union major general, Gordon Granger, formally announced the end of slavery in the state of Texas, over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and the beginning of “an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.” That promise, along with President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation of a “new birth of freedom” out of the Civil War, didn’t quite pan out either. […]

Even so, Wiencek and other historians suggest the recent tumult in the streets could help promote a healthy debate that should cast a new light on who the founders were and what they really believed—and, by extension, what America really stands for. You don’t have to tear all the statues down, they say—but you should at least change the inscriptions on them to better reflect who these people really were. And Americans should consider erecting new statues to long-forgotten heroes like Lt. Col. John Laurens, a young white South Carolinian aristocrat who repeatedly and passionately urged Washington to move toward emancipation before being killed in the Revolutionary War. […]

“At the very least, we have to be willing to tell the full story of what those men did—making it clear on those massive monuments and memorials we’ve dedicated to them,” said Bailey, himself a South Carolinian. “It should no longer simply be a treat to visit such sites. More Americans need to understand [these men’s] role in the systemic rape and murder and enslavement of Black people even as they got rich off slavery.” […]

And there is still, Ellis said, a kind of tragic if tacit conversation occurring every day on the Mall in Washington—among the monuments themselves. “If you go to the Mall and stand in a place where you can see the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Martin Luther King Memorial, imagine an ongoing dialogue among those three giants,” he said. “Jefferson believed slavery was wrong, but he didn’t have the courage to do anything about it. Lincoln did, but he never could imagine that the races could live together in the same society on an equal basis. Then there’s King standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial giving his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, saying, ‘I have come to collect on a promissory note written by Thomas Jefferson.’”

The full debt has not yet been paid, and the dialogue goes on.

* * *

Talk about cancel culture. Bill would censor slavery text in Missouri classrooms
Tom Cotton’s war on the 1619 Project is the real ‘cancel culture’
Hollywood Blacklist? Cancel Culture? Accountability!
The Real Cancel Culture: Pro-Israel Blacklists
Panic Over ‘Cancel Culture’ Is Another Example of Right-Wing Projection

Using Free Speech Rhetoric to Silence Opponents
Right-Wing Political Correctness, Censorship, and Silencing
Framing Free Speech
Anarchists Not In Universities
Corporate-Ruled MSM & DNC Is Left-Wing, Says Corporatist Right-Wingers

The Insanity of Gaslighting Ourselves

“Two plus two will never make five. That’s not the problem. And George Orwell at the end, Winston’s being tortured, and he’s made to say two plus two equals five, and this totalitarianism makes us all lie. [Hannah Arendt] said that’s not the power. It’s the fact that in a world where people are going to say it is even when they know it isn’t. That is deeply estranging. That’s what creates those conditions of loneliness and despair. That, for her, is the wickedness of the political lie. People don’t believe that two plus two makes five. They don’t believe half of what’s said.”
~Lyndsey Stonebridge, The Moral World in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt for Now

All the time, people say what they don’t mean. Or else it’s not clear what they mean, the actual significance behind their words, what is most fundamentally motivating them. This duplicity has become the normal way of relating. And this is the basis of the identities that possess us. A simple example of this is the often heard statement that American voters get what they want. That is like saying enslaved Africans were happy with their violent oppression. There are endless other examples, and the most powerful are those we don’t notice in ourselves.

Such statements are patently absurd when taken at face value. And one suspects that, at some level, most people know that they are not true, even as they say them. It’s not what they really believe, but it obviously satisfies some need or purpose. Our modern society is filled with such bald-faced contradictions to what we know and feel. This is part of social control. It’s one thing to gaslight others but it’s even more powerful to get them to gaslight themselves. It’s the ultimate betrayal.

Once someone is psychotically disconnected from a direct and personal sense of reality, they become schizoid and compliant. Without grounding in the world beyond rhetoric, people become vulnerable to those who control and manage public perception. Backfire effect plays its role in ideological defense, but that isn’t the underlying force at play. Once identity is solidified, people will defend it on their own by various means. That leaves the issue of how did that ideological identity take shape in the first place.

This is true of all of us. There is something profoundly disorienting and alienating about modern society. We lose the ability to discern what is of genuine value. So, we turn to narratives to offer us an illusion of certainty. Then the reality in front of us is no longer compelling. We believe what we are told. Then we repeat it so often that we forgot it was told to us. Because it confirms and is confirmed by ‘mainstream’ mediated reality, we sound perfectly reasonable and are taken seriously by others.

This isn’t a mere individual condition. It’s collective insanity. Yet the spell it has over us dissipates with awareness. But few will accept this awareness, quickly retreating to the safety of the group mind, of ideological realism. People briefly awaken all the time, only to fall back to sleep, drawing the covers back over their head. Being reoriented to a deeper truth can feel disorienting, in awakening from a deep slumber. It’s hard to grapple with what to do with this knowing. Yet it’s near impossible to unsee after being jolted fully awake. It’s not a state one would choose, to be on the outside of the social world into which one was born.

It forces one to relearn what it means to be human. Rather than being enlightnened with clarity, it’s to become aware that one is in a state of epistemological infancy. Everything one thought one knew is now under question and doubt. A different way of listening is required, to sense what is real and true, what is valid and meaningful. Relating well to others becomes even more challenging. Just because one has glimpsed some flickering light through the rhetoric doesn’t instantly dispel the shadows. The tape loops go on playing in one’s mind, in response to the tape loops in the minds of others. In not knowing how to respond, one increasingly finds oneself falling into silence.

Sometimes a non-response is the only response that remains. In a world full of words, one ever more notices the silence in between, what is not said. All that can be done is to witness it, to hear what others have refused to hear, particulary what they have denied in themselves. One holds a space open. One waits. One listens. In doing so, another voice is heard, only a whisper at first. It’s a different kind of voice, a different kind of self. There is an intimacy in how it speaks. We are not alone and isolated. We are not alienated.  The truth was never destroyed. Reality remains.

Totalizing Corporate Media Bubble

How do media bubbles work? We often think of this phenomenon in simplistc ways. A media bubble is perceived as a person hearing certain sources of info while not hearing others. It’s an echo chamber where a particular slant and bias gets repeated, a self-imposed state of indoctrination. The clueless victim is so trapped that they never see anything else, don’t realize there is anything else to see.

But I’ve had the thought that this rarely operates through the overt censorship and silencing of total blackouts. It’s not only whether or not something gets reported but also how it is reported, how it is framed and narratized, how it is made to stand out or be obscured, how it is repeated ad nauseum or quickly disappears. Furthermore, it involves which details get included and ignored, who gets interviewed and not.

So often news reporting happens without any context, neither present context of larger events and societal shifts nor the extended context over years and decades of prior news reporting. Typically, so much gets reported in isolation and is only reported briefly, so as to be quickly forgotten again as intended, whereas other issues are blown out of proportion in being repeated constantly over time as an ongoing rhetorical narrative (e.g., culture wars).

An example of this was the federal agents used in the protests in Oregon and elsewhere. It was one of the biggest news stories of the year. The local government opposed their presence and many questioned the legality and constitutionality of the federal government cracking down on civil liberties so wantonly, from kidnapping protesters to harassing journalists. It isn’t the type of story that isn’t going to get reported and it drew plenty of attention in social media.

It was a major point of conflict at the time with Donald Trump defending his use of the imperial presidency. There wasn’t silence about these federal agents and their actions, not even in ‘conservative’ media. The Wall Street Journal and Fox News each had dozens of articles and videos about it. But one suspects they did not receive a prominent position in the reporting of such news outlets.

This reporting, instead, was probably placed in the back pages of the newspaper or website, assuming an article was printed in the physical newspaper at all. And the video pieces on it probably weren’t played on primetime and maybe only ever were made available online. This reporting was most likely used as filler and, even then, most of it would have downplayed its relevance while ignoring and dismissing critical views. After a brief moment, the news reporting disappeared entirely from casual view.

This occurred to me because of conversations with my father, a highly intelligent and informed citizen, someone whose opinion is respected by others and so carries great influence in positions of leadership he often holds. When asked about it, he said he had never heard about these federal agents dispatched to suppress legal protest. So, it wasn’t that he had a biased and misinformed view of the issue but simply did not know about it. He spends hours every day reading The Wall Street Journal, along with a local newspaper, and often will watch Fox News in the evening. He is in a media bubble like most others, and yet theoretically the media buble he is in has included a decent amount of reporting on this news story, however unfairly slanted it might’ve been.

So, how could he not know about it at all? Well, dozens of articles and videos may sound like a lot. But compare it to the total production of material that comes out. These major corporate news outlets pump out hundreds of articles and videos on a daily basis. The smaller stories get buried before they even get seen. It’s highly probable that my father never saw any of this reporting. Even reading and watching the news all day long will leave the individual at the mercy of the news sources being followed. Mostly, they repeat the same news stories, whereas other equally or more important news stories barely get any attention at all.

We are surrounded by more news reporting than ever before and have access to such a seeming diversity of news sources. Yet the average American still only hears those same few news stories repeated over and over again, spun to fit the dominant view or rationalized away with the same set of rhetorical frames and narratives. On the other hand, all of the alternative media combined that would better inform Americans barely has much of an audience at all. It’s not only what Amercan viewers have access to but who controls the main platforms of media that have access to the Amercan mind.

Even constantly channel surfing between every corproate news channel available will mostly give you variations on the same set of themes. Old school censorship is not required, as long as there is the illusion of free choice, like standing before a grocery store shelf full of hundreds of cereal brands that all are owned by a few corporations. That said, there are better sources of info and one can find truly great news reporting. Consider the investigative journalism that Buzzfeed puts out. The problem is one has to actively seek out these obscure alternative news sites. One won’t likely come across it by picking up the newspaper or clickng on the tv news.

There isn’t something so simple as a right-wing media bubble versus a left-wing media bubble. It’s much worse than that. The entire corporate news is part of the same media bubble. There is some variation within the options of this corporate news source or another, but the similarities are greater than the differences. No matter which side of a rhetorical frame is taken, the point is that the frame is basically the same across all corporate media. The failure of a free press is not in quantity of reporting but quality.

For most Americans, far from being limited to conservatives, the reporting on those federal agents will be lost to memory before long. As such, the slow erosion of what little democracy is left will continue apace with little notice. The next incident of civil rights abuse by authoritarian power or other govermental overreach will be reported without reference to the ongoing pattern of thousands of prior incidents across the decades of administrations, no matter which party was in control.

Now we are entering a new four-year news cyclce. Democratic Joe Biden is the next incoming president. The political theater surrounding the Trump administration has already erased what Biden did as vice president not that long ago (e.g., further militarizing the police), much less his decades-long political record. Now that the campaign season is over, the corporate media won’t be reminding you. Enforced amnesia will quickly set in. Whatever incidents of concern in the coming years will likely be reported in the corporate media as if having little or no relationship to anything that has happened before.

What goes without saying is that I’m part of this same system of mass ignorance enforced by a self-serving ruling elite. I have no special insight that extends beyond the muddied water of perception management as social control. I realize that I will remain ignorant as long as I don’t carefully and deeply research these issues for myself. But to be honest, I don’t feel motivated to do so, as I find the entire situation too depressing. The truth, even if discovered, seems impotent under these conditions.

So, who am I to judge anyone else? All I feel that is worth my time and effort is to make note of this collective failure that implicates me as with everyone else. As for a solution, I’m not sure there is a good answer. Maybe, instead of drowning oneself in endless sources, learn to be discerning with a focus on what is most important and trustworthy. Sometimes less is more — so, ignore the quantity and look for the quality. It can be found. Remember that most news is not of any genuine value. There are better and happier ways to spend your time.

Recursive Knots of the Mind

In listening to the news media, there is often very little news being reported. It’s not for a lack of interesting stories and important issues to be reported upon. There is more than enough material to fill up the 24/7 news cycle without any repetition. On a particular news outlet, there was a panel discussing one of the many topics used to induce viewer outrage and hence advertizing engagement (i.e., profit), but it’s not relevant exactly what they were saying. Over the entire segment, there was mostly opinionating and speculating, as expected. There wasn’t much susbstance. What was interesting is how the media personalities wielded rhetoric.

The closest the viewer got to actual information was a quote that was given no context or additional support. The quoted material, taken in isolation, was immediately submitted to an interpretation that was an accusation of ill-intent and taken as having proven guilt. Then that was repeated, such that the interpretation came to be treated as an established fact that stood in place of the quote. The quote itself, that could’ve been interpreted variously, had been reduced and then expanded upon. The result was a declarative set of claims and conclusions, without any need for further evidence. The quote was discarded for it was never relevant in the first place. With belief-claim established as pseudo-fact, an entire narrative was spun as melodramatic infotainment.

What stood out was how most statements made were broad, sweeping generalizations and absolute assertions without any sourcing, argument, or qualification. Is that news? Not really. Rather, these agents of corporate media were, step by step, walking the viewers through the social construction of an ideological reality tunnel. The indoctrinated viewer could now re-create the ideological worldview as needed and teach others to do the same. It was fascinating to watch, as it was impressive in its own way. Yet it’s not as if there was anything brilliant or unusual about that ‘news’ segment or the hacks doing their job. It was all workmanlike but, nonetheless, highly effective in manipulating and moulding the audience. It served its purpose.

I’m not sure why that particular segment caught my attention. It was some random thing playing on the television in the background as I was passing by. But something about it caused me to stop and perk up my ears. It got me thinking about the power of language. The thing is this act of rhetorical manipulation wouldn’t be possible in all languages, although it’s a common feat in the global written languages that have had centuries to be adapted to literacy and the modern media environment. One common feature of the major languages is recursion. It’s so common that some took it as a universal trait of language, based on the assumption that it was built into a language module, a physical structure located somewhere in the human brain. Basically, the theory has been that we humans have a genetically-determined instinct for linguistic recursion, one of the building blocks of rhetoric that allows for these sometimes complex language games of persuasion.

That is the theory based on the linguistic cultures, primarily the United States, in which linguistic studies developed. “We tend to speak in sentences of multiple clauses,” writes Samantha Harvey, “not in clauses that have been separated out. Noam Chomsky has called these multiple clauses instances of recursion, and he thinks they’re what define human language. They reflect our unique ability to position a thought inside a thought, to move from the immediate to the abstract, to infinite other places and times. A circle in a spiral, a wheel within a wheel; a tunnel that you follow to a tunnel of its own. In theory, an infinitely long, recursive sentence is possible, says Chomsky; there is no limit to the mind’s capacity to embed one thought inside another. Our language is recursive because our minds are recursive. Infinitely windmilling” (The Shapeless Unease, A Year of Not Sleeping).

This is, it turns out, not true for all cultures; or so one side has agued in an ongoing debate. With that possibility in mind, Julie Sedivy suggests that, “the languages that many of us have grown up with are very different from the languages that have been spoken throughout the vast majority of human existence” (The Rise and Fall of the English Sentence). Take the example of the Piraha. Their language lacks any evidence of recursion. That isn’t to say the Piraha are incapable of recursive thought, but that is not the same thing as recursive language and what it makes possible. Before exploring linguistic recursion, let’s establish what is the non-linguistic recursion. “If you go back to the Pirahã language,” writes Daniel Everett, “and you look at the stories that they tell, you do find recursion. You find that ideas are built inside of other ideas, and one part of the story is subordinate to another part of the story” (Recursion and Human Thought). Such basic recursive thought is true of all human societies and might be the case with some non-human species (Manuel Arturo Abreu, Organisms that do not exhibit recursion in communication still have the capacity for recursion).

There is much debate about who has recursion and who lacks it. Leading experts across numerous fields (linguistics, biology, mathematics, etc) have yet to come to a consensus on defining recursion, much less agreeing about its universality. Yet others point to the diverse ways recursion might show up: “[W]hen deer look for food in the forest,” Everett mentions “they often use recursive strategies to map their way across the forest and back, and take little side paths that can be analyzed as recursive paths.” But speaking of early hominids, Everett suggests that, “it would not have been necessary for them to have recursion to have language, at least according to the simple idea of language evolution as a sign progression and supported by some modern languages.” (How Language Began: The Story of Humanity’s Greatest Invention). That is to say, language was an early evolutionary development as was non-lingistic recursion, whereas the combination of the two was a much later cultual development. Linguistic recurson takes a cross-species neurocognitive ability and hijacks it toward advanced cultural ends.

This simple observation that syntactical recursion is culturally-structured, not genetically-determined, has been treated as if radical and heretical. “The dispute over Pirahã is curious in many respects, not least with regard to the fact that Everett is not the first linguist to claim that a language lacks embedded clauses and therewith recursion,” writes Robert D. Van Valin (Recursion and Human Thought). “In a series of important papers published in the late 70’s, the late MIT linguist Kenneth Hale argued that certain Australian Aboriginal languages lack embedding of the type found in Indo-European languages in their complex sentences and furthermore that one of them, Warlpiri, has a completely ‘flat’ syntactic structure. The latter claim was amended somewhat in the published version of the paper, but the point about the complex sentences remained valid. In the mid-1980’s, William Foley, a linguist at the University of Sydney, described Iatmul, a language of Papua New Guinea, as having non-hierarchical clause combining, i.e. no embedded of clauses in complex sentences, hence no recursion in the syntax.”

Beyond a total lack of recursion, there are plenty of other cultures where it’s severely restricted, of which Julie Sedivy gave some examples, from linguist Marianne Mithun, by way of contrast with English: “In English, 34 percent of clauses in conversational American English are embedded clauses. In Mohawk (spoken in Quebec), only 7 percent are. Gunwinggu (an Australian language) has 6 percent and Kathlamet (formerly spoken in Washington state) has only 2 percent. An English speaker might say: Would you teach me to make bread? But a Mohawk speaker would break this down into several short sentences, saying something like this: It will be possible? You will teach me. I will make bread. In English, you might say: He came near boys who were throwing spears at something. A Kathlamet approximation would go like this: He came near those boys. They were throwing spears at something then.”

So the question arises,” asks Van Valin, “given that such claims go back a good thirty years, and the most important of them was from a former colleague of Chomsky’s, why has Everett’s claim engendered such controversy?” We don’t need to answer that question here, but it’s good to be reminded that this kind of thought about the power of culture, similar to lingistic relativity, is not a new insight. Everett was far from alone in noting the lack of recursion in some culture. Yet he was viciously attacked by Chomsky and his acolytes. They tried to destroy his reputation. The sense of animosity remains in the field, as it was a fight for control and dominance. It wasn’t only about an obscure theoretical issue but an entire paradigm in framing human nature and the social condition.

What, you might wonder, is this recursion that has become the subject of an academic turf war? Why is it so important and what does it do? Through subordinate clauses with embedded phrases and qualifications, syntactic recursion makes possible the hierarchcial ordering of value and meaning. Without it, all that is available for human communication are simple declarative statements, what is called parataxis as opposed to hypotaxis. Hypotactic communication, particularly as develped in written language, allows an immense complexity of linguistic structure and thought-forms, an extension of hypothesis and speculation. Recursion spirals out into entire fanasy worlds of ideological realism that are reified into a perception of supposed objective reality (what Everett calls dark matter of the mind, what Robert Anton Wilson calls a reality tunnel, and what anthropologists call a cosmology), in which we lose the ability to distinguish between the communication and what is communicated. There is the idea that the medium is the message — well, this puts a hurricane-level wind into that sail. This is language as advanced social construction, the foundation upon which are built vast civilizations and empires.

Paratactic speech, on the other hand, hews more closely to direct experience and so keeps the individual grounded in immediate and present reality. This is why Buddhists use paratactic language, in eschewing recursion, as a mindfulness practice to dismantle the imagined boundaries of the ego-mind. They do this by describing experience in the simplest of terms, such as “anger is arising here and now” and not “I’m angry, as happens every Friday, because the boss always finds a way to give me work for the weekend, even though I told him I had family visiting, and any of my coworkers could do this work but the boss always expects me to do it.” The Buddhist rhetorical practice eliminates the interpretation, such as in English, of subject-action-result. Anger is not a thing or an event. It is simply an experience that passes.

This might relate to why, in lacking linguistic recursion, the Piraha appear less likely to get stuck in states of stress and worry, while less likely to suffer from mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, not to mention suicide being entirely unknown. There aren’t even what we might consider fundamental stages of development, in our speaking about the terrible twos and teenage angst. Piraha go from toddlerhood to being weened and then basically they’re a part of the adult world at that point with little fuss or frustration. And as adults, they get along well, such as apparently not holding onto anger with resentment and grudges.

This was exemplified by an incident that Daniel Everett recorded: ““I mean, what are you going to do to him for shooting your dog?” “I will do nothing. I won’t hurt my brother. He acted like a child. He did a bad thing. But he is drunk and his head is not working well. He should not have hurt my dog. It is like my child.” Even when provoked, as Kaaboogí was now, the Pirahãs were able to respond with patience, love, and understanding, in ways rarely matched in any other culture I have encountered” (Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes).

The same easygoing attitude was demonstrated in how they deal with a diversity of difficulties and conflicts, such as their informal process of ‘divorce’ where the abandoned partner grieves loudly and publicly for a few days but is perfectly fine when their former spouse returns to the village with a new spouse. Their serial monogomy, by the way, in such small tribes means that the majority of Piraha have had sex with the majority of other Piraha at some point — they are a close community. Maybe their language has much to do with their being able to simply experience emotions and then let them go. The lack of recursion might disallow them from easily getting stuck in constructed narratives and it could be noted that, although familiar with stories told by outsiders that they occasionally repeat, they do lack a native storytelling tradition. This might indicate a close connection between recursion and narrative.

But recursion, for all the attention it gets, is only one aspect of this far different cultural mindset. In making this point, Arika Okrent writes: “Ironically, in the 2005 article that began the whole Chomsky/Everett debate, Everett barely touched on the notion that the Pirahã’s lack of recursion might challenge the theory of universal grammar. Instead, his aim was to show that the Pirahã cultural commitment to immediate, concrete experience permeated the very structure of their language: not embedding one phrase inside another was just one of the many ways that the Pirahã prioritised the here and now. Other evidence he adduced for this priority included the simplicity of the kinship system, the lack of numbers, and the absence of fiction or creation myths” (Is linguistics a science?). It’s an entire cultural worldview.

Another linguistic factor is that it’s required one speaks very specifically in describing truth claims and attributing their source. The Piraha don’t and, according to the limits built into their language, can’t speak in broad generalizations and abstractions. Their knowledge, although encyclopedic in relation to the world around them, is limited to what they have directly experienced, what they can deduce from what they have drectly experienced, or what someone they personally know has directly experienced. They don’t even have any equivalent to ancestral or mythological knowledge about a perceived distant past. Everything is referred to in relation to its proximity to the broad here and now of living memory. This greater concrete specificity is observed among some other hunter-gatherer languages, such as the Peruvian Matses studied by David William Fleck (A grammar of Matses).

Such highly qualified but non-recursive language can also affect how one orients within time and space. We Westerners are used to the egoic perspective because it is built into our language, including referencing direction according to our individual view of the world. In giving directions, we’ll speak of turning left or right and going straight. But some tribal cultures like the Australian Guugu Ymithirr, as described by Guy Deustcher, express their sense of place according to the cardinal points in relation to the sun’s path in the sky. For another Australian Aboriginal group, the Pormpuraaw, cardinal directions also determined the perception of how time flowed or else how events are spatially related (see Lera Boroditsky and Alice Gaby’s work, Remembrances of Times East: Absolute Spatial Representations of Time in an Australian Aboriginal Community). Yet time and space to the Piraha can seem even more radically alien to Western understanding, as space-time collapses into an all-purpose sense of transience with phenomenal experience flickering in and out of perceived reality — as explained by Samantha Harvey:

“There is a Pirahã word that Everett heard often and couldn’t deduce the meaning of: xibipiio. Sometimes it would be a noun, sometimes a verb, sometimes an adjective or adverb. So and so would xibipiio go upriver, and xibipiio come back. The fire flame would be xibipiio-ing. Over time Everett realised that it designated a concept, something like going in and out of experience – ‘crossing the border between experience and non-experience’. Anything not in the here and now disappears from experience, it xibipiios, and arrives back in experience as once again the here and now. There isn’t a ‘there’ or a ‘then’, there are just the things xibipiio-ing in and out of the here and now.

“There is no past or future tense as such in Pirahã; the language has two tense-like morphemes – remote things (not here and now) are appended by -a and proximate things (here and now) by – i . These morphemes don’t so much describe time as whether the thing spoken about is in the speaker’s direct experience or not. The Pirahã language doesn’t lay experiences out on a past–present–future continuum as almost every other language does. In English we can place events quite precisely on this continuum: it had rained, it rained, it has rained, it rains, it is raining, it will rain, it will have rained. The Pirahã can only say whether the rain is proximate (here) or not” (The Shapeless Unease, A Year of Not Sleeping).

Anything more convoluted than that is, to the Piraha mind, unnecessary or maybe just unimaginable — not even requiring color terms, numbers, and quantifying words like ‘many’, ‘most’, ‘every’ or ‘each’. Their kinship terminology is limited as well, such as a single word for mother and father. And they have the simplest pronoun inventory ever recorded. Unsurprisingly, their lexicon for describing time is sparse.

“Time leaks everywhere into English,” Harvey writes, “some ten per cent of the most commonly used words are expressions of time. The Pirahã language has almost no words that depict time. This is all of them: another day; now; already; day; night; low water; high water; full moon; during the day; noon; sunset/sunrise; early morning, before sunrise. Their words for these are literally descriptive – the expression for day is ‘in sun’, for noon ‘in sun big be’ and for night ‘be at fire’.” Time, like color and much else, is described by the Piraha in practical terms by association or comparison to something in their everyday lives. There is no abstract notion of 3:30 pm or blue — such concrete thought creates a different mentality (see the work of Luria and Lev Vygotsky, as related to the Flynn effect).

The only temporal sense that can be expressed by the Piraha is in speaking of the immediately observable natural environment and it can’t be extended very far. Maybe this is because nothing they do requires much time and so time is as bountiful as the jungle around them. They don’t travel much and rarely over long distances. The food and materials they need are easily obtained near where they live. The practical application of time is barely relevant and they probably don’t perceive time in the way we do, as a finite resource and linear construct. Even the cyclical time of the mytholgical worldview would likely be unfamiliar to them.

Time is more similar to the flickering candle, such that it nether goes anywhere else as a trajectory nor repeats, simply shifts in the expansive and inclusive present moment. Experience comes and goes without any need to speculate and posit lines of causation or greater patterns and cycles. Time doesn’t need to be controlled or measured. The Piraha even lack the obsession some premodern people have had with astrology and calendars, as they would serve little purpose for them. Even seasonal changes are limited and don’t have much practical implication. There is no time of the year that changes from cold to hot or from wet to dry. So, the main foods they eat are available year round.

Their lifestyle remains constant, as does the surrounding nature within their traditional territory. These optimal conditions might approximate the stable environment for much of hominid and human evolution in Africa. Look at another unique example, the Pygmy tribes, some of which are the only surviving human populations with 100% homo sapiens genetics. The Pygmy live where human evolution began and one can see similarities to the Piraha. Both tribes, living in equatoral rainforests, have a simple culture that has been resistant to outside influence, even though each tribe has been in contact with foreigners for centuries.

This social solidarity and cultural resilience is impressive. Writing about the Piraha, Danel Everett said that, “My evangelism professor at Biola University, Dr. Curtis Mitchell, used to say, “You’ve gotta get ’em lost before you can get ’em saved”” (Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes). The problem for a missionary is that tribes like the Piraha and Pygmies aren’t prone to feeling lost and maybe, at least in the case of the former, it’s partly their language that offers protection against evangelical rhetoric. Prosyletyzing becomes impossible when there is no recursive and abstract language in which to communicate theology, mythology, and history — all that is required to translate a written holy text like the Bible.

Unfortunately, the study of traditional Pygmy languages appears to be limited, but there is plenty of interesting anthropological evidence. C. M. Tumbull, in 1961, observed a BaMbuti Pygmy who became disoriented in seeing open grasslands for the first time and thought distant buffalo were insects (Some observations regarding the experiences and behavior of the BaMbuti Pygmies). Distance perception and size constancy aren’t major factors if one has never stepped outside of the visual enclosure of thick jungle.

So, environment would likely be an influence on the immediacy principle since, in a dense forest, one cannot see very far. And that would surely become built into the native language. Another telling detail, similar to the Piraha, is that these BaMbuti lacked their own concepts about witchcraft and what Tumbull described as the ‘supernormal’, something they associated with outsiders such as the neighboring Bantu. As there is no distant visual space to a forest dweller, neither are there distant spiritual realities. With trees mostly blocking out the sky, maybe people have less tendency to ponder heavenly bodies and speculate about heavenly worlds.

There is some information about particular Pygmy tribes that maintained their traditional languages. If not entirely innumerate as the Piraha, the BaMbuti can only count up to four. As for what both BaMbuti and Piraha entirely lack, they have no terms for colors and so are forced to describe them by comparison. Also, beyond the simplest of decorations, these tribes don’t make visual art nor make much use of color as dyes. Rather than a focus on the visual, Tumbull states that, “the Pygmy has the most complex music in the whole of Africa.” In an environment that constrains vision, the auditory is so important that these Pygmy will even aim their hunting arrows by sound. This auditory orientation would strengthen the affect of oral culture and it’s accompanying mindset. Being so reliant on info from sound would emphasize the animistic sense of a world alive with voices. Indeed, rainforests are dense with noisy life.

This is hard for the modern Westerner to grasp, as we are immersed in a hyper-visual culture where non-human sounds of nature have been almost entirely eradicated. Also, as an agricultural civilizaton, the experience of open spaces and distant vision is common, even for urbanites. We value our large grassy lawns and parks, and we enjoy vacations to vast landscapes of oceans and lakes, mountains and canyons. This is particularly true of the United States where most of the population lived in farm communities until a few generations ago. Open fields and open sky have been common. Even with the increase of audio in new media, the visual still dominates. And the sounds that new media brings are detached from the sensory percepton of the environment we inhabit.

For the Piraha, it’s not that the visual is unimportant. Rather, it’s significance is transformed. They are obsessed with certain kinds of visual experiences but of a far different quality. The visual environment of agriculture and urbanization is largely static and inanimate, surrounded as we are with manmade objects and architecture with only an occasional intrusion by wildlife or stray animal. The Piraha, on the other hand, have to be constantly hyper-aware of other living beings as food sources but mostly as potential threats. Predators and poisonous creatures abound in the jungle.

Vision is central, even as it is constrained by the density of foliage. This surely shapes their amorphous sense of time, as shown in their language. They have a fascination and obsession with a certain kind of visuo-temporal phenomenon described by the aforementioned term ‘xibipiio’ that has no equivalent in English. The concept behind it is demonstrated by their habit of staring at flickerng flames, as they also enjoy watching people appear and disappear wiithn their visual field, such as around the bend of a river. This liminal quality is key to understanding their worldview and mindset. There is no time continuity of perception, no objective constancy of beingness.

This is felt in quite personal ways, as Piraha identity can flicker like a flame. There is something akin to spiritual possession in Piraha culture, although to their perspectve it isn’t possession. When the spirit is present, the former person is simply absent. When asked where the person is, the simple answer will be given that they are not there. This identity shift sometmes can be permanent. In the forest, a visitation by a spirit might lead to a complete change of identity along with a new name. The previous identity is no longer existing and will not return. This is an attribute of the bundled mind, a fundamental tenet of Buddhist thought as well. Buddhists seek to regain some essence of what for the Piraha is the social norm of lived reality.

This goes back to the non-recursve and paratactic quality of Piraha language. The shifting fluidity of perception and identity can’t be generalized nor extended beyond the known and experienced specifics. And this has social consequences. Maybe we have much to learn from them. Their apparent invulnerability to the highly developed rhetoric of prosyletyzing missionaries is admirable. That is a nifty linguistic trick that we could adopt as a tool in the development of our intellectual and psychological defenses. We don’t have to become like the Piraha, but it could be useful to develop this skill as a discipline of the mind.

When finding ourselves pulled into some linguistic manipulation or trapped in a rhetorical framing, we can stop and turn our attention to language itself. How are we speaking and how are others speaking to us? Then we can bring our language back down to grounded reality by speaking simple statements, as the Buddhists do with their mindfulness practice. Slowly, we can learn how to untangle the recursive knots of the mind. It might have the added benefit, as seen with the Piraha, of developing some immunity toward the alluring mind virus of authoritarian thought control. The social hierarchy of power is dependent on the conceptual hierarchy of recursive rhetoric. This might explain the memetic pull of the reactionary mind and might demonstrate how we can use linguistic jujitsu to rediirect these psychic energies.

What if authoritarianism doesn’t begin in the external world through distant institutions of power but instead begins in our minds, in the way we relate and communicate, as it shapes how we think and forms our identities at an unconscious level? Recursion is not only about the structure of language and the structure of thought. As a tool of rhetorc, recursion is how hierarchies are built. From kulturCrtic, here is a great explanation of the relevance by way of the distinction between hypotaxis and parataxis:

“In short, recursion enables the construction of complex hypotactic language units rather than just simple paratactic ones. Parataxis, as I am sure you are all aware, is when each of your sentences in a larger grammatical unit carries equal weighting. Paratactic units usually have few, if any clauses, and more importantly, none of the clauses are subordinated one to another in a hierarchical scheme. Hypotaxis, on the other hand, occurs when clauses in sentences, or in larger grammatical wholes, are subordinated to one another, focusing attention on what is considered of greater importance or value within the semantic, syntactic, or larger logistic unit. In other words, recursion, by means of subordination, allows for the rudimentary and foundational element of hierarchization. Hierarchy, socio-economic and political, we might here add, is also one of the hallmarks of post-traditional societies […]

“As cultural historian Marvin Bram contends in The Recovery Of The West, “Parataxis suggests coordination more than subordination, and any number of sequences rather than a single correct sequence. Parataxis de-hierarchizes the world,” where the flat, coordinate, and non-orderliness of a paratactic world seems rather primitive or prosaic to the ever more civilized and tightly structured hypotactic logistic” (The Politics of Recursion: Hypotaxis, Hierarchy, and Healing).

Parataxis versus hypotaxis is egalitarianism versus hierarchy, coordination versus subordination, participatory versus disconnecting. In our modern sophistication, we take the latter way of being as normal, even inevitable. How could humans be otherwise? Our assumption is supported by our WEIRD bias, as nearly all alternative possibilities in the Western world have been eliminated, as have most other cultures that could challenge this false and illusory belief. The Piraha are one of the few remnants of a different way of being. They are part of an animistic world that is alive with psychic presence that is intimately a part of their shifting and extended identities.

There is an odd element about this other way of being that could be easy to overlook as incidental. The paratactic is repetitive, rhythmic, and resonant. Without recursion to create hierarchical orders of value, of meaning and significance, there are other ways to emphasize what is being said and so direct focus. There can be a musical or poetic quality to languages that make use of this style of speaking, such as meter being much more important to ancient storytelling. To return to the Piraha, they don’t only speak their language as they also can whistle and hum it, depending on context, but it cannot be written. A sing-song quality to spoken language might have been much more common prior to widespread literacy, particularly as it is a useful tool for oral traditions of mnemonics.

The closest the modern mind gets to this is through psychedelic use. “Hashish, then, is an assassin of referentiality, inducing a butterfly effect in thought. In [Walter] Benjamin, cannabis induces a parataxis wherein sentences less connect to each other through an explicit semantics than resonate together and summon coherence in the bardos between one statement and another. It is the silent murmur between sentences that is consistent while the sentences continually differentiate until, through repetition, an order appears” (Richard M. Doyle, Darwin’s Pharmacy, p. 107; see full passage as quoted in Psychedelics and Language).

This might not be a coincidence. The past three millennia of post-bicamreal civilization has been a gradual replacement of non-addictive psychedelics by addictive substances, in particular stimulants (Agricultural Mind & Diets and Systems). These various plant-based drugs may have fundamentally altered the human mind at multiple points in human evolution. There are those like Terence McKenna that go so far as to suggest that psychedelics were at the origin of consciousness and language, but we don’t need to speculate about that here. Indeed, diverse research has shown a number of psychedelics increase the personality and cognitive traits of openness, fantasy-proneness, and creativity (Scott Alexander, Why Were Early Psychedelicists So Weird?).

It should be noted that, though there isn’t a lot of focus on it, the Piraha are known to use a particular psychedelic, from the Parica tree (maybe containing N,N·dimethyltryptamine or DMT), that induces auditory hallucinations and verbosity (Siri von Reis Altschul, The Genus Anadenanthera In Amerindian Cultures). The human brain seems to have co-evolved with plant substances like the widespread psychedelic DMT. There is evidence that our bodies produce DMT, maybe in the pineal gland, and so even the Piraha have DMT coarsing through their brains (Eric W. Dolan, Study provides evidence that DMT is produced naturally from neurons in the mammalian brain). Importantly, there might be various ways other substances, diet, cultural practices, etc affect DMT levels. The Piraha do have experiences such as contact with intelligent beings (i.e., spirits) that is common for those who imbibe DMT.

DMT is structurally similar to serotonin and melatonin, all of which is derived from tryptamine. Like serotonin and dopamine, DMT is a monoamine compound and DMT shares receptors with both. DMT causes the body to produce more serotonin and increases the release of dopamine. We all carry DMT in our brains. It may play important roles, such as how DMT allows the body to operate at lower oxygen levels. Other psychedelics that we imbibe also use the serotonin receptor.

* * *

Below is part of the post that is a work in progress:

hierarchicy, egaltarianism, partcipatory reality and social order, organic, anarchy, democracy,

rhetorical strategies, social construction, ideological realism, symblic ideology, symbolic conflation, metaphor, metonymy, locking mechanism, visceral/embodied,

narrative loops, counter-narratives, polarization, outrage

Joe, obsessing over the perfect pick-up line, had not asked out the cute girl at work.
Joe, having not asked out the cute girl at work, obsessed over the perfect pick-up line.
Joe, having been disfigured in accident, had not asked out the cute girl work.
Joe, having not asked out the cute girl at work because of his fear of rejection like happened last time he had a crush, became nervously obsessed with the perfect pick-up line as a distraction, the kind of obsession he had since he was disfigured in the accident, but he didn’t want anyone’s pity, especially not her pity, the one thing he dreaded more than rejection.

Take the example used by Everett: John’s brother’s house. This is a simple form of recursion and can be extended infinitely: John’s brother’s sister’s mother’s friend’s house. But the Piraha must state each noun phrase separately: ‘John has a brother. This brother has a house.’ Each additional noun phrase would be another sentence and so complicated thoughts could quickly become linguistically unwieldy. So, thinking complicated thoughts is, if not entirely precluded, strongly disincentivized by the structure of the language. The Piraha languge is a finite language, in the way chess is a finite game, but that still leaves much capacity for communication. In fact, the strict limitations allows for kinds of thoughts that aren’t possible in highly recursive languages, and this could shape kinds of behaviors, perceptions, and identities that would be alien to the literary mind.

Cultural tools such as linguistic recursion are like scaffolding that can be used to build structures according to various designs and for various purposes: cathedrals, apartment buildings, monuments, etc. But once construction is finished, the scaffolding can be removed and the structure will hold itself in place without further use of scaffolding, other than occasional need for maintenance, repairs, and renovations. With a lifetime of mental habits developed from reading and writing, speaking and hearing recursive language, it is built into our neurocognitive-cultural substructure and built into the institutions and systems we are enmeshed in — as part of what Everett calls “dark matter of the mind”. Recursive language, for the average person, is only used selectively and subtly such that it is rarely noticed, if noticed at all. But we are all intimately familiar with it in our experience. It slips past our guard.

One might qualify the role of syntactic recursion by acknowledging that other cultural tools might be able to achieve the same or similar ends. “Some oral languages do regularly embed clauses,” points out Julie Sedivy, “suggesting that writing is not necessary for complex syntax. But, as can be seen in a number of indigenous languages, longer and more complicated sentences often emerge as a result of contact with a written language.” The point remains that the most convoluted sentence structures all come out of literate and literary societies. Recursion remains the ultimate cultural tool for this purpose, but obviously no cultural tool is used in isolation. These highly developed cultural tools are primarily used in writing, not speech: “In current English, writing uses more varied vocabulary than conversational speech, and it uses rarer and longer words much more often. Certain structures (such as passive sentences, prepositional phrases, and relative clauses) appear more often in written than spoken language. Writers generally elaborate their ideas more explicitly through syntax whereas speakers leave more material implicit.”

Language is never static, though. These cultural tools are adapted to changes in media. “In fact, heavily recursive sentences like those found in the Declaration of Independence have already been dwindling in written English (as well as in German) for some time. According to texts analyzed by Brock Haussamen, the average sentence length in written English has shrunk since the 17th century from between 40-70 words to a more modest 20, with a significant paring down of the number of subordinate and relative clauses, passive sentences, explicit connectors between clauses, and off-the-beaten-path sentence structures.”

third man, ghost voice/note, repetition-compulsion, addiction, egoic consciousness, rigid boundaries

paratactic animal speech

writing as transformational: Julian Jaynes, Marshall McLuhan, WEIRD

* * *

The Politics of Recursion: Hypotaxis, Hierarchy, and Healing
by kulturCritic

In short, recursion enables the construction of complex hypotactic language units rather than just simple paratactic ones. Parataxis, as I am sure you are all aware, is when each of your sentences in a larger grammatical unit carries equal weighting. Paratactic units usually have few, if any clauses, and more importantly, none of the clauses are subordinated one to another in a hierarchical scheme. Hypotaxis, on the other hand, occurs when clauses in sentences, or in larger grammatical wholes, are subordinated to one another, focusing attention on what is considered of greater importance or value within the semantic, syntactic, or larger logistic unit. In other words, recursion, by means of subordination, allows for the rudimentary and foundational element of hierarchization. Hierarchy, socio-economic and political, we might here add, is also one of the hallmarks of post-traditional societies […]

As cultural historian Marvin Bram contends in The Recovery Of The West, “Parataxis suggests coordination more than subordination, and any number of sequences rather than a single correct sequence. Parataxis de-hierarchizes the world,” where the flat, coordinate, and non-orderliness of a paratactic world seems rather primitive or prosaic to the ever more civilized and tightly structured hypotactic logistic.  Bram continues:

Parataxis is concerned with the concrete thing itself, the local and contained, and the moment, rather than with relationships among abstract things and over-arching spatial and temporal schemes… Paratactic space and time make dramatic antitheses to their hypotactic counterparts.10

For example, a person walking down a forest path seeing paratactically will see much more than a person looking hypotactically along the same path but only seeing what is of interest to him.  The paratactic visual space will be fuller. As Bram concludes,

This phenomenon of paratactic persons taking in more of the world, living in a fuller world than hypotactic persons, has been reported time and time again by (hypotactic) travelers among (paratactic) traditional peoples. 11 […]

Yet, there was also born regret for the past poorly lived and anxiety over a future still uncertain, in short, the terror of an historical consciousness, and the realization that ‘one-day I too will die.’ As Bram reminds us,

In paratactic time there is little past because there are no complete logistic structures to be sought there, and there is little future because there is no need for a place in which to complete incomplete logistic structures.  There is certainly a present, gathering to itself much of the energy that hypotactic persons give to the past and future, and inhabited by full persons and full objects: a full present.  The present of hypotactic time often enough takes third place behind the past and the future, depleted of energy: an empty present. 12

But, what was lost in this transformation to the hypotactic word, in the subordination of thought and speech within the apparently universal grammar of literacy, univocity, and its newly appropriated voice – the sterile logic of syllogism and, finally, of mathematics?

The Shapeless Unease, A Year of Not Sleeping
by Samantha Harvey
pp. 42-51

Think of a sentence:

One day I’d like to write a story about a man who, while robbing a cash machine, loses his wedding ring and has to go back for it because his wife, a terrifying individual whose material needs have driven him to crime, will no doubt kill him if the ring is lost.

A sentence with multiple clauses, one clause buried within another like Russian dolls. If we take each doll out and line them up we get:

One day I’d like to write a story.
The story is about a man.
A man robs a cash machine.
A man loses his wedding ring.
A man goes back to the cash machine for his wedding ring.
A man has a wife.
The wife is terrifying.
The wife has many material needs.
The man is driven to crime by his wife.
The ring must not get lost.
The wife could kill the man.

We tend to speak in sentences of multiple clauses, not in clauses that have been separated out. Noam Chomsky has called these multiple clauses instances of recursion, and he thinks they’re what define human language. They reflect our unique ability to position a thought inside a thought, to move from the immediate to the abstract, to infinite other places and times. A circle in a spiral, a wheel within a wheel; a tunnel that you follow to a tunnel of its own. In theory, an infinitely long, recursive sentence is possible, says Chomsky; there is no limit to the mind’s capacity to embed one thought inside another. Our language is recursive because our minds are recursive. Infinitely windmilling.

But then came studies on the Pirahã people of the Brazilian Amazon, who do not make recursive sentences. Their language doesn’t permit them to make the sentence I made above, or even something like When it rains I’ll take shelter. For the Pirahã it would have to be It rains. I take shelter. They don’t embed a thought inside a thought, nor travel from one time or place to another within a single sentence.

When it rains, unless I take shelter, I get wet.
Unless I want to get wet, I take shelter when it rains.
So that I stay dry when it rains, I take shelter.

For the Pirahã tribe there are no sentences like these – there is none of this restless ranging from one hypothesis to another. Instead, It rains. I take shelter. Or, I take shelter. I don’t get wet. Or, I take shelter. I stay dry.

The Pirahã seem incapable of abstraction. They seem literal in the extreme – their ability to learn new grammar rules through a computerised game, by predicting which way an icon of a monkey would go when a type of sentence was generated, was thwarted in almost every case by their inability to see the monkey as real, and therefore to care what it would do next. They became fascinated and distracted by the icon, or by the colours on the screen. One of them fell asleep in the middle of the test. ‘They don’t do new things’ was the repeated assertion of Daniel Everett, the only westerner who has ever got anywhere near knowing and understanding the Pirahã language and culture. They don’t tell stories. They don’t make art. They have no supernatural or transcendental beliefs. They don’t have individual or collective memories that go back more than one or two generations. They don’t have fixed words for colours. They don’t have numbers.

Yet they are a bright, alert, capable, witty people who are one of the only tribes in the world to have survived – largely in the jungle – without any concession to the modern world. A meal might involve sucking the brains from a just-killed rat. A house is fronds of palm or a piece of leather strung over four sticks in the ground. They have no possessions. Their language might involve speaking, but it might also occur through whistling, singing or humming. And their experience of the present moment is seemingly absolute. ‘The Pirahã’s excitement at seeing a canoe go around a river bend is hard to describe,’ Everett writes. ‘They see this almost as travelling into another dimension.’ 6

[6 This and every of Everett’s quotations here is from his paper ‘Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã’.]

There is a Pirahã word that Everett heard often and couldn’t deduce the meaning of: xibipiio. Sometimes it would be a noun, sometimes a verb, sometimes an adjective or adverb. So and so would xibipiio go upriver, and xibipiio come back. The fire flame would be xibipiio-ing. Over time Everett realised that it designated a concept, something like going in and out of experience – ‘crossing the border between experience and non-experience’. Anything not in the here and now disappears from experience, it xibipiios, and arrives back in experience as once again the here and now. There isn’t a ‘there’ or a ‘then’, there are just the things xibipiio-ing in and out of the here and now.

There is no past or future tense as such in Pirahã; the language has two tense-like morphemes – remote things (not here and now) are appended by -a and proximate things (here and now) by – i . These morphemes don’t so much describe time as whether the thing spoken about is in the speaker’s direct experience or not. The Pirahã language doesn’t lay experiences out on a past–present–future continuum as almost every other language does. In English we can place events quite precisely on this continuum: it had rained, it rained, it has rained, it rains, it is raining, it will rain, it will have rained. The Pirahã can only say whether the rain is proximate (here) or not.

They can then modify a verb to qualify the claims they make about it. If they say ‘It rained in the night’, the verb ‘rain’ will be modified by one of three morphemes to convey how they know it rained, i.e. whether they heard about it (someone told them), deduced it (saw the ground was wet in the morning), or saw/heard it for themselves. The Pirahã language and culture is not only literal but evidence-based. How do you know something happened? If the line of hearsay becomes too long, involving too many steps away from experience, the thing is no longer deemed to be of any importance to speak or think about. This is why they don’t have transcendental beliefs or collective memories and stories and myths that go back generations.

What a thing this is, to be so firmly entrenched in the here and now. What a thing. We are, I am, spread chaotically in time. Flung about. I can leap thirty-seven years in a moment; I can be six again, listening to my mum singing while she cleans the silver candelabra she treasures, that reminds her of a life she doesn’t have. I can sidestep into another possible version of myself now, one who made different, better decisions. I can rest my entire life on the cranky hinge of the word ‘if’. My life is when and until and yesterday and tomorrow and a minute ago and next year and then and again and forever and never.

Time leaks everywhere into English, some ten per cent of the most commonly used words are expressions of time. The Pirahã language has almost no words that depict time. This is all of them: another day; now; already; day; night; low water; high water; full moon; during the day; noon; sunset/sunrise; early morning, before sunrise. Their words for these are literally descriptive – the expression for day is ‘in sun’, for noon ‘in sun big be’ and for night ‘be at fire’.

Are there whole slices and movements of time that the Pirahã people don’t experience, then? If they can only speak in terms of ‘another day’, do they not experience ‘yesterday’ and ‘a year ago’ as different things? If something doesn’t exist in a language, does it also not exist in the minds of those who speak the language?

I wondered that when I tried to teach the perfect tense to Japanese students; there isn’t a perfect tense in Japanese. When I taught the sentence I have eaten I got blank looks, incomprehension. Why not just say I ate? Why say I have been to Europe when you could just say I went to Europe? I tried to illustrate: I ate (before, at some time you need to specify – this morning, all day yesterday); I have eaten (just now, I’m still full). Blank looks, incomprehension. In the perfect tense a period of time opens out, the past, not as separate from the present, but running up to and meeting the present. I have eaten; we’ve danced all night; it’s been a year. Do the Japanese not experience that segment of time? Or is it that they deal with it in other linguistic ways, or by inference and context?

Everett described the Pirahã’s mode of being as ‘live here and now’. If you live here and now, you don’t need recursion in language because there’s no conceptual need to join together ideas or states according to their order in time, or in terms of which causes which, or in terms of hypothetical outcomes. You don’t need a past or future tense if you’re living only now. You don’t need a large stock of words that try to nail down instances of time along a horizontal continuum from the distant past to the distant future, a continuum that also has an enormous elastic stretch into the vertical planes of virtual time, time as it intersects with space, time as happening elsewhere, real or imagined.

What would it be like to be a person of the Pirahã tribe? How would it be to not experience that continuum? For one’s mind to not be an infinitely recursive wheel within a wheel? It feels in some ways a relief, even to imagine such a mode of living, but it feels almost non-human too. And yet there the Pirahã are, as human as human can be. I can’t imagine it. I can’t imagine being anything but submersed in time, it ticking in every cell. […]

As for the continual vanishing of the now, well, here is also the continual birth of the now. A live birth, from a living now; there are no deaths, there’s no hiatus. It seems to me that now is the largest, most predictable and most durable of all things, and that the question isn’t so much: what is time but a set of nothings? But more: what is time but an indomitable something? An unscalable wall of now. When I think of the Pirahã I don’t imagine them cresting the brink of a collapsing moment, each step bringing an existential vertigo. I imagine them fishing, skinning animals, drinking, painting their faces, building shelter. It rains. We stay dry. Their here and now seems as solid to me as one brick – it rains – laid on another – we stay dry.

What would it be like to live and think like the Pirahã? For the world to be continually xibipiio-ing? No mad spooling out of events through time, all chain-linked and dragged each by the next, one event causing another, one event blamed for another, one past pain locked into a present pain to cause future pain; no. No things crossing the boundary from experience to non-experience. Just things disappearing and reappearing around the bend of the river. […]

[The author watched a digital clock while in an altered state from sickness. The numbers…] bore no relationship to me. They weren’t tugging in a forwards direction, they were just things gently changing, rearranging, in the same way that the clouds rearrange, and they were rearranging in a vast stillness. They were xibipiio-ing. Only: here I am. Then: here I am. Then: here I am. Is that akin to the Pirahã’s experience of time?

Is that where the dance is, the dance T. S. Eliot told us about when we read Four Quartets as uncomprehending teenagers? At the still point, there the dance is.

Right-Wing Political Correctness, Censorship, and Silencing

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about this topic. But it seems maybe we need to be reminded of it, beyond an occasional opinion piece in the back pages of your local newspaper. I’m not going to offer a complex analysis, as I could. I simply want to throw out some quick thoughts and then gather together some previous thoughts, along with links to the writings of others. The purpose is to give a sense of the many the ways right-wing rhetoric is used as social control. I’ll share a few examples that are representative, if not exhaustive. I wanted to do so because I realized that my previous posts tended to be narrow in focus by looking at specific areas (e.g., climate change denialism). Not that I’m going to presently attempt a survey.

Right-wing rhetoric is an amazing thing to observe, most of all right-wing political correctness. And I’m amazed how rarely others are amazed by it or even notice it, as if we’ve become numb to the constant noise of it. The one thing I’ll give them credit for is that they are highly effective propagandists in controlling narratives and policing allowable language. Sometimes it comes in blunt forms of authoritarian social control, but typically it is much more insidious. Part of why they are so talented is that they know how to manipulate what already so dominates in a society, to such a degree that it is hard for anyone to speak about it openly, what Noam Chomsky refers to as the propaganda model.

For example, identity politics is only directly called out when the powerless and underprivileged challenge those the identities that are well established and given favor within the ‘mainstream’ structures and institutions. And it is often a minority that polices what is allowable, a tiny percentage of whites, Christians, etc who control the platforms of speech in getting heard while the majority of whites, Christians, etc are treated as if they don’t exist (it ends up being social control all around for even most people within the majority aren’t free to define their own identity). Within the systems of control, including the so-called liberal media, certain identities simply are accepted with little question (sometimes in the universities as well, such as when professors are fired or otherwise forced out for supporting the equality of Palestinian rights). It is built into the framework of every public debate and political narrative exactly who are considered real Americans, what they look like, and what the positions they hold.

For centuries, garden variety race realists, fundamentalists, and other varieties of right-wing authoritarians have been so common in the American elite of politics, media, business, etc that they have mostly been taken as the social norm or at least well within it, even when the positions they hold are extremist in only being held by a small minority (e.g., the official NRA position of anti-regulation radicalism that isn’t even supported by the majority of NRA members). Their identity is a given and when it motivates their politics it isn’t called identity politics, much less political correctness when they seek to silence those other voices that have been historically excluded and victimized. And such silencing can be dangerous when it is used in defense of violence, such as denying the long history of right-wing terrorism and oppression… or, worse yet, in using a politically correct false equivalency to pretend its equal on all sides.

Now finally, albeit slowly, society is shifting away from some of the worst forms of bigotry, hatred, xenophobia, and all manners of prejudice. So, yeah, Jim Crow style racism is no longer acceptable. Neither is pinching your female secretary on the butt and then firing her when she refuses to have sex with you. Likewise, giving expression to hateful ignorance through rants in public forums is generally frowned upon and might not be a great career move. There are many things that have become considered morally wrong in respectable society, the kinds of language and behavior that were normalized by abusive systems of power not that long ago, well within living memory.

The loss of power and privilege among certain demographics has been hard for some to adapt to. What they could get away with when younger might entail less than happy responses in their older age. It’s hard to learning new ways of relating to others, especially when it requires admitting that one’s past behavior looks shameful in hindsight. It is hard to save face and, instead of letting the past go, some turn reactionary in wanting to double down in their embrace of crudity and cruelty, as if it demonstrates their strength, but in reality it shows their weakness, their desperation. So, they lash out. And one of the ways they do so is by attempting to enforce old systems of political correctness by projecting their desire for oppression onto those they hope to put back in their places. And so they play games of rhetoric to muddy the waters, such as claiming that the Civil War was about freedom rather than slavery.

It can be a powerful move, especially when the corporate media joins in the attack, scapegoating college students or even the entire young generation for finding it offensive that there has been a consistent pattern of right-wing authoritarians promoting harm to our society and I’m talking about literal harm where people sometimes get killed. To fight against the powerful seeking to do you harm is portrayed as being overly sensitive. And when those on the political left call it for what it is (e.g., those who make racist comments are racist), the political right basically argues that it’s politically incorrect to call them mean names, albeit they never call it political correctness

Even the ‘liberal’ media rarely challenges them on this bullshit. This right-wing strategy, sadly, gets many ‘moderates’ on board in their desire to be fair and balanced. So, liberalism gets once again hijacked to punch left, and it’s not hard to accomplish since liberals have always feared the left-wing more than the right-wing, which is why for generations now liberals have pushed hard right. This is why the liberal class is always prepared to silence left-wingers so as to defend the next right-wing project, such as beating the war drum for Bush’s War on Terror — remember how Bill Maher was attacked all across the corporate media for stating the obvious on a show called “Politically Incorrect”? Yet we never see the equivalent of conservatives attacking the right by policing the politically correct boundaries, this far right and no further. No. Instead, both conservatives join liberals in keeping the left-wing silenced. This has created an open field for right-wing rhetoric to dominate, a pattern that has been seen since before the Cold War. Liberals have always been an untrustworthy lot, capable of turning reactionary in an instant… or were they always reactionary?

This is how we got to the point where the president can attack the press and his supporters can talk about killing journalists, including a t-shirt worn at rallies that said “Tree. Rope. Journalist. Some assembly required.” and for a time was sold at Walmart. The message is that there are some things that the media or anyone else shouldn’t be allowed to talk about and, if they dare talk about them, the offending person should be made to never speak again (Robert A. Vella, Trump allies fear their white supremacist image, and that’s why they’re threatening journalists). This is the extremes to where right-wing political correctness takes us. And then when this is correctly labeled as right-wing authoritarianism, the right-wing authoritarians have a hissy-fit in claiming that accurately describing their words and behavior is unfair, that is to say politically incorrect. No one should state the obvious or else they will suffer the consequences.

Sadly, there are always liberals ready to quickly jump in to say that all sides are equally guilty or, if anything, that the political left is worst in their politically correctness. Well, fuck that bullshit! It is not the political left repeating hate-filled speech advocating violence, as seen with the right-wing media. When Bill O’Reilly repeatedly called Dr. George Tiller a “baby killer” until one of his viewers killed the good doctor, whose speech was silenced? When right-wingers have killed people in hate crimes and terrorism, in a way not seen among left-wingers, why is it the political left that gets verbally attacked for being politically correct in defending against these dangerous people? This is not a time for liberals to pander to the right because of lacking a moral spine. One of these days liberals will be reminded once again, as happened in Germany after liberals backed the Nazis, that maybe, just maybe the right-wing authoritarians are to be feared far beyond the left-wing bogeyman. Free speech is more than a nice-sounding idea. And for God’s sake! Beware of rhetoric of free speech used to undermine free speech. One thing that reactionaries, be it right-wing reactionaries or liberal reactionaries, are talented at is using democratic norms against democracy.

* * *

The Many Stolen Labels of the Reactionary Mind (comment)

Reactionaries are a dangerous enemy. This is because, as Faceless Men, they can be anywhere in any form and speaking in any voice. You can see this in how the political right has co-opted political correctness and wielded it against the political left, such as denying being racists even as they promote racism and then acting offended by the allegation. The smartest among them know how to say all the right things. They are chameleons. They know how to fit in, when it serves their purpose.

Right-Wing Political Correctness on Right-Wing Terrorism

Yet this largely went unnoticed. The media, especially the right-wing media, had little interest in focusing on domestic threats while the foreign “War on Terror” was going on. And it would have been hard for right-wing groups to argue for bias when right-wingers were in control of the federal government. This attitude changed, of course, when Barack Obama was elected. There was right-wing outrage when a DHS report came out in 2009 that highlighted right-wing terrorism, despite the fact that the research for the report began under the Bush administration. This forced a retraction, not because it wasn’t true but because it was politically incorrect.

Berkeley Scholar Doesn’t Admit He Is A Corporate Shill

Explain to me how scientific experts who support scientific consensus are ‘cultists’ because “I’m rubber and you’re glue, what bounces off of me sticks to you”. Besides being inanely stupid, that is false equivalency between the two sides. Why shouldn’t we label as science denialists those who deny science? And how does that justify declaring that respectable climatologists are cultists for simply stating scientific facts? Calling a spade a spade in calling a denialist a denialist isn’t unfair name-calling, since it is a objective description. It reminds me of racists who complain about being called racists and demand they be treated as respectable equals. Why should we play their game?

Conservatives seeing everything in terms of religion is nothing new. To their mind, everything on the political left is a cult, as every other religion is a cult. Their complaint isn’t about religion but that there can only be one true religion to rule them all (religiosity as authoritarian dogmatism by way of Social Darwinism) and all else is cultism. It’s similar to how conservatives deny having an ideology for only people they disagree with have ideologies. The labels of ‘cult’ and ‘ideology’ mean the same thing in the conservative mind. It seems like a whole lot of projection considering how hard conservatives push their political and religious ideologies onto others, including their own preferred versions of political correctness. That is what this comes down to, political correctness in defense of right-wing ideology. The right-wing snowflakes have their feelings hurt by words. And since they can’t win on the facts, they will try to make it a fight over language policing.

Racecraft: Political Correctness & Free Marketplace of IdeasRacecraft: Political Correctness & Free Marketplace of Ideas

Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life
by Barbara J. Fields and Karen Fields

In the controversy over Dr. James D. Watson’s remarks in London, some of his defenders charged his critics with a “politically correct” retreat from science, insisting that good science requires a free marketplace of ideas . Researchers must be free, they implied, to salvage the old bio-racist ranking of superior and inferior races, regardless of the collapse as science of its core concept, race. But it is doubtful that those foes of political correctness would wish to rehabilitate that part of bio-racism that once identified inferior white races.

If they took their own position seriously, they would applaud the writings of such eminent American scientists of the late nineteenth century as Edward Drinker Cope and Nathaniel Southgate Shaler (dean of Harvard’s Lawrence Scientific School during the 1890s) on the inequality of races, not simply their work on dinosaurs and the earth’s history. Cope advocated both “the return of the African to Africa” and restrictions on immigration by “the half-civilized hordes of Europe.” Shaler agreed, characterizing those hordes as inferior “by birthright ,” “essentially in the same state as the Southern Negro,” and distinct from “the Aryan variety of mankind.” […]

One of the present authors some years ago tested the limits of the free market in racist ideas. A crotchety yet likable right-wing colleague approached, looking disquieted and in need of moral support. He was “having trouble” with a certain black student in his bio-psychology class. What was wrong, he wondered, with saying that “black people may, or (mind you) may not, prove to be intellectually inferior to white people? In science, you frame a hypothesis, devise an experiment, find out.” The student raised her hand and, when recognized, blasted him. “Do you know So-and -So (the student in question)?” asked the bio-psychologist. (The author did happen to know the student in question, an eighteen-year-old single mother of twins who was as bright as they come and not one to brook insult.) “Why can’t she grasp that there’s a scientific approach to things , blah , blah?” Finally, the author put a question. “If, as you say, there is no hypothesis that science excludes, why not try this assignment ? Let your students pick any white ethnic group and any stereotype commonly applied to it, greedy, mendacious, dumb, drunken, gangsterish, and so on, then formulate a hypothesis, design the experiment, find out.” The colleague’s face froze.

Using Free Speech Rhetoric to Silence OpponentsUsing Free Speech Rhetoric to Silence Opponents

There is still a law on the book that makes belonging to the communist party illegal. In the right-wing media, there is talk about enforcing this law to silence opponents. Some petitions have been started for this purpose, specifically in the hope that Trump will back this attack on the political left. It’s nonsense, of course, and wouldn’t hold up in court. But I have yet to hear of any conservative, right-wing, or alt-right free speech advocate complain about, much less protest against, these authoritarian right-wingers. It’s the same reason why conservative colleges can get away with far more egregious silencing of free speech than can mainstream colleges, even though those conservative colleges also receive public funding.

Censorship of speech was far more dangerous and damaging in the past when it mostly targeted the political left. And censorship continues to target the political left, targeting workers, students and professors. If you don’t hear about censorship against left-wingers in corporate media, that is because corporate media is the mouthpiece of capitalism and doesn’t tend to bend over backwards to create a platform for Marxists, communists, and their fellow travelers (e.g., Palestinian rights advocates).

Those on the political right act as if there is a conspiracy against them, as if they are the only Americans who know oppression. They pretend that white conservatives are the ultimate oppressed minority in a country that is and always has been majority white and majority Christian. They apparently have no clue about the harsh realities that others face on a daily basis or else they are pretending to be ignorant. It’s mind-boggling. How could they be so obliviously ignornant to not know about the prejudices and hate crimes directed at minorities, the difficulty of being a Muslim or Middle Easterner (or mistaken for one), the professors who lose their jobs when they defend the rights of Palestinians and such, the historical and ongoing attack on left-wingers?

Sure, free speech is under attack, as it always has been. But it is a psychotic disconnection from reality to genuinely believe that this is all about the political right. Why the constant playing of the victim card when the tactics the political right has used against others are turned back the other way?

They should learn some history. Even in the past, some right-wing groups found themselves on the wrong side of political and corporate power. The government didn’t only systematically attack communist partisans, anti-war protesters, black radicals, and hippy drug users? The Second Klan was destroyed by the FBI, although the KKK had become quite corrupt at that point and was flaunting its own power through such things as political bribery and tax evasion.

The point is that those in the centers of power will always seek to silence and eliminate any individual or group that too effectively challenges the status quo or otherwise becomes problematic to establishment agendas and interests. That is true of those in power within the private sector. A company like Google would have been misogynistic in the past as most companies were in the past because misogyny was the norm, but times have changed and so all companies increasingly support gender equality because it is all about what is good for business (studies show that diverse companies have higher levels of innovation, profit, etc). Even the University of Iowa has as its president a guy from the business world, not some left-wing political activist. Colleges these days are run like businesses and having an anti-gay group causing trouble on campus isn’t good for business.

We live in a capitalist society, after all. Everything is about the flow of money. That pretty much sums up the entirety of American history.

As for all the protesters and counter-protesters, that also is nothing new. America has a long history of public outrage going back to not just protests but riots and revolts even before the American Revolution. We Americans are a vocal people about our opinions on public matters. And it occasionally turning to violence is even less of a shock. Actions committed by individuals and groups in the past, more often directed at left-wingers and minorities, were far more violent than what tends to be seen these days. If anything, it is amazing how non-violent of a time we live in, at least in the Western world (ignoring the violence we export to the rest of the world).

Besides, the most violent actions in recent history have not come from the political left. There is no American left-wing equivalent to generations of right-wing violence — the bombings, arson, assassinations, driving cars into crowds, etc (if you are unaware of this recent history, just ask some blacks, gays, Muslims, clinic doctors, etc about it and they can enlighten you). Not even the Weather Underground, terrorist bombers as they were, ever targeted people as there bombings were carefully planned to avoid human casualties. The government has officially labeled certain environmentalist groups such as Earth First! as terrorists, despite there never having killed a single person nor ever attempted to do so.

For decades, health clinics and doctors were targeted by anti-abortion militants. Even right-wingers in the mainstream media promoted this violent movement such as Bill O’Reilly’s helping to incite the murder of Dr. George Tiller, and O’Reilly never apologized or expressed remorse, much less got fired from his job. Sure, since Fox News backs this hateful bigotry, then those who spew it have their free speech protected. But what about the free speech of the victim who was silenced with a bullet? And what about all the thousands of other victims of prejudice, oppression, hate crimes, and right-wing terrorism?

Here is another point that gets lost in all of this. No matter how often the political right repeats its ignorance and lies, the conflation of liberals and left-wingers remains false and misleading. Going back to the early 20th century, there has rarely been love lost between these two ideological groups. Some of the gravest attacks on left-wingers have come from liberals or those pretending to be liberals. That is what Phil Ochs was going on about in his satirical song, “Love Me, I’m a Liberal”. Some of the most vocal and strident Cold War warriors were liberals, having done everything in their power to destroy the political left.

Even though the Cold War has ended, liberals continue to attack everyone to the left of them which is why the right-wing ‘liberals’ such as the Clinton Democrats are always seeking to eliminate and discredit all left-wing challengers, from Ralph Nader to Bernie Sanders. Where was most of the political right in defending Sanders’ free speech when Hillary Clinton and big biz media sought to silence him and keep him out of public awareness until late in the campaign season? And that isn’t even to get into how the alliance between big gov and big biz silences all of us Americans, not just outsider candidates… while the corporatists arguing for corporate ‘free speech’. As for campuses, left-wingers are no more safe there than anywhere else.

The only reason that Americans don’t hear more about oppression and censorship of left-wingers is because corporate media in a corporatist society, whether supposedly liberal MSNBC or conservative Fox News, rarely reports on it. But it not being regularly discussed in the mainstream is not the same thing as it not happening. Capitalist realism is the dominant ideology of our entire society and as such is taken as a given with protest against it being almost impossible — in the words of H. Bruce Franklin: “It is now easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.” We can’t have the freedom that we can’t imagine and we can’t fight against the oppression what we can’t see, which is why oppression of the mind is the worst possible oppression. That is what this is all about, the right-wing attempt to suppress all alternatives by censoring public debate, which first requires controlling the frame of allowable debate.

This touches upon the difference between negative liberty and positive freedom, the former allows for censorship of the powerless while the latter promotes free speech for all. The political right in the past advocated the one and dismissed the other, but now they are coming to realize or pretending to care that maybe positive freedom matters after all, at least when they portray themselves as oppressed and victimized minorities (that is why the anti-gay student group at the UI didn’t merely argue for negative liberty to be able to speak freely on campus but a positive freedom in demanding the university and taxpayer support and promote their free speech by giving them an official platform). A genuine public debate about free speech and freedom in general is needed. Unfortunately, that isn’t what the political right wants. It is simply a political game about power and influence, amplifying one’s own voice at the cost of others.

Even more problematic is that the same political and economic elites who own our government are seeking to own every aspect of our society, including colleges that because of loss of public funding have increasingly turned to corporate funding. The right-wingers funding the campus ‘free speech’ movement are also those who operate think tanks, lobbyist groups, front organizations, etc that promote the corporate ‘free speech’ of Citizens United, the neoliberal ‘free trade’ agreements of big biz corporatism, the protection of ‘freedom’ through voter ID laws that suppress voting rights, and the ‘freedom’ of the right-to-work which means the right for workers to have no protections. The whole point is to make ‘freedom’ a meaningless word.

The Myth of Political Correctness: The Conservative Attack on Higher Education
by John K. Wilson

Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies
by Karri A. Holley

Conservative correctness
from Rational Wiki

From Political Correctness to Conservative Correctness
by Michael K. Fauntroy

Republican Political Correctness
by Woody

What are some examples of conservative forms of political correctness?
from Quora

Data shows a surprising campus free speech problem: left-wingers being fired for their opinions
by Zack Beauchamp

Political Correctness Has Run Amok — on the Right
by Aaron R. Hanlon

Donald Trump and the Sad Triumph of Right-Wing Political Correctness
by Nick Gillespie

The New Political Correctness
by Paul Krugman

‘Political Incorrectness’ Is Just ‘Political Correctness’ for Conservatives
by Ed Kilgore

Political correctness is rampant on the right wing — but no one ever admits it
by Cody Fenwick

Your Political Correctness Is Showing, Conservatives
by Maximillian Alvarez

The big problem with those conservative calls for ‘civility’
by Rachael Kraus

Always Projection: The Invention of Political Correctness
by Paul Campos

Time for equal media treatment of ‘political correctness’
by Joshua Adams

Conservatives have a version of political correctness, too
by Noah Berlatsky

Political Correctness Is A Right-Wing Myth
by Ward Anderson

Opinion: Conservatives politically correct too
by Jared Bailey

Choose Wisely: Political Correctness Or A Retreat To Conservative Censorship?
from The Pavlovic Today

The Phony Debate About Political Correctness
by Erica Hellerstein and Judd Legum

‘Political Incorrectness’ Is Just ‘Political Correctness’ for Conservatives
by Ed Kilgore

“Political Correctness” Is Social Conservative Code For Civil Rights
by Mark Baer

COLUMN: Political correctness is a conservative invention
by Zoe Cheng

Conservative Political Correctness and the Colin Kaepernick-Nike July 4th Controversy
by Jared Keller

Dixie Chicks Were Right
by Don Williams

 

 

Victor Davis Hanson: Right-Wing Propagandist

We are surrounded by propaganda, but rarely notice it. This is one the most propagandized populations in history and yet we talk of ourselves as a free society. Some have argued that it is specifically in a democratic society (or what goes for one) that propaganda is all the more necessary for the elite to maintain social control. This is even more true for a banana republic where appearances of democracy have to be carefully maintained. Also, propaganda operates differently in inverted totalitarianism where locus of control is not within the state proper. There is no need for an official propaganda department of the state. That is because the same plutocrats and oligarchs manipulating the political party apparatus, bribing the politicians, and pulling the strings of the deep state also own most of the media and fund the think tanks.

Hacks like Victor Davis Hanson are the pseudo-intellectuals that give the whole propaganda scheme an appearance of respectability and credibility. They are the handmaidens of authoritarianism, the calm faces of evil, and the mundane voices of insanity; the gatekeepers of perceived reality, the orchestrators of spectacle, and the shapers of public opinion. They are the spokesmen of the puppetmasters behind the scenes. They maintain the master narrative and keep the megamachine lubed up and running smoothly. Their role is central. The ruling elite couldn’t rule without these mercenaries.

That is to say Hanson and his ilk are paid well. Yet in the corporate media, someone like Hanson is merely referred to as a historian and often described as a respectable expert. His writing gets published and he gets invited to speak as if he were an independent thinker and scholar — ignore the fact that he parrots the party line and plutocratic rhetoric in scripted fashion. Even the supposed ‘liberal’ media (NYT, WaPo, etc), regularly quote Hanson and review each new book he gets published. It is a show being put on, as if there were many voices in a genuine public debate, and so supposedly demonstrating a well-functioning democracy. But in reality, most of the voices heard are on the payroll of the same powerful interests with deep pockets. Both sides of the ‘debate’ are controlled opposition.

To find the actual opposition, listen for those who are typically silenced or muted in the ‘mainstream’ media, those drowned out by the talking points and excluded by the predetermined framing, those who struggle in between soundbites to articulate what is not to be spoken in challenging the entire system of social control. Listen to what is not said and who is not speaking or else who is never really heard, always dismissed and quoted out of context, misreported and spun back into the official narrative. Look outside the screen of allowable opinion. That is to say don’t be distracted by the chattering class of pundits-for-hire.

On the payroll of big money, typically dark money laundered through multiple organizations, there are thousands upon thousands of journalists, columnists, op-ed piece writers, authors, talk radio hosts, bloggers, social media personalities, academics, researchers, college campus speakers, talking heads, experts, etc. They don’t wear jackets that show all of their sponsors. They appear like normal people and within the system that is how they are presented, how they are sold to the public. Even when the curtain is momentarily pulled back, most Americans are too cynical to care, if they bother to pay attention. We need to remind ourselves why it matters, that politics as comforting entertainment and distraction is not good enough, is not acceptable. We should not allow ourselves to be so easily deceived. As Marianne Williamson said, “Let’s not be naive.”

* * *

Victor David Hanson doublespeaks his way down the Conservative rabbit hole
from The Long Goodbye

Victor Davis Hanson punditry credentials rest squarely on supposed expertise as an historian. Since he has decided to put aside any attempt at scholarly objectivity, instead throwing his hat in the ring of shallow propaganda otherwise known as right-wing talking points he has pretty much shattered his credibility as a scholar. In ordinary circumstances, the forces of meritocracy at work, Hanson would be serving up some hot and crispy fries with that happy meal, paying the price for his Pravda-like spin of history for the sake of the Conservative movement. Instead he lives in ConservaWorld where merit means little if anything. As long as he continues to rewrite history to his liking, ignore context and pull absurd analogies out of an unmentionable part of his anatomy, organizations like the National Review will make sure that he is overfed and overpaid,

Sophistry in the Service of Evil
A review of ‘The Case for Trump’ by Victor Davis Hanson

by Gabriel Schoenfeld

This is not to say that Hanson’s book lacks value. As a part of a larger phenomenon, it is instructive in its way. Anyone with an iota of historical awareness is familiar with the fact that intellectuals in Europe and the United States lauded Joseph Stalin even as he sent millions to the Gulag and their death. By the same token, Adolf Hitler, one of the 20th century’s other mega-mass murderers, also found his share of admirers in the academy, among them such brilliant minds as Carl Schmitt and Martin Heidegger. An entire branch of Western scholarship was devoted to the adulation of the genocidal Mao Tse-tung. Whatever Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, it is a grotesque absurdity to compare him to history’s most terrible tyrants. My point is something else: If such monsters could find admirers among the highly educated, it is unsurprising that our infantile, ignorant leader has found an assortment of professors to sing his praises. Julian Benda wrote The Treason of the Intellectuals in 1927. With legitimate historians like Hanson abasing themselves to write what can only be called propaganda, Benda’s title, if not his entire argument, is perennially pertinent.

The Case Against ‘The Case For Trump’
by Rich Barlow

But I was eager to see if the book could square two intellectual and moral circles. First, how does the agenda of a man who policy-wise can barely zip his fly provide for the common defense and general welfare? And even if you believe in Trump’s policies, didn’t he long ago reach his Nixon moment, when morally decent believers must withdraw support in the face of the man’s undeniable character cancers?

Hanson’s 372-page brief flunks those challenges by disregarding Atlee’s Axiom.

Mr. Atlee taught us in high school English that any essay hoping to persuade must tackle head-on the other side’s strongest arguments. As in, granted, Trump’s a thug, but [insert superseding point]. Even absolving Hanson for writing before Michael Cohen’s testimony last week, which offered little we didn’t already know, and before Robert Mueller’s forthcoming report, he belly-flops first by ignoring Atlee’s Axiom vis-à-vis Trump’s policymaking.

Donald Trump, Tragic Hero
by John B. Judis

Except for detailing Trump’s success in boosting the economy, Hanson does not argue these points against obvious objections. Pulling out of Paris? Hanson at one point describes global warming as an “apparition,” but he cites no scientific evidence for this or any justification for abandoning international agreements to limit carbon emissions. Improved relations with allies? What about our European allies? Or Canada? As for the Iran deal, he claims that “most experts had known that the Obama-led Iran deal was unworkable and thus unsustainable,” but by my count the most prominent thought otherwise. I am not saying that Trump did nothing that was impressive — he has definitely gone beyond his predecessors in contesting China’s trade practices — but that many of the things Hanson cites as “undeniably impressive” need justification, at least if Hanson intended his book to be read by people who don’t already agree with its bald assertions.

Thinking for Trump
Other presidents had a brain trust. But the intellectuals backing this White House are a bust.

by Carlos Lozada

Hanson, a senior fellow with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, assails the “deep state,” even while acknowledging that Trump’s use of the term is so vague as to be meaningless. He praises the “inspired” and “impressive” Cabinet members Trump has assembled, largely forgetting their high-profile scandals, conflicts of interest, obeisance and resignations. “The Case for Trump” is notable for such omissions. Hanson does not grapple with Trump’s effort to delegitimize the Obama presidency through the birtherism lie, his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States or his difficulty condemning white nationalism. In Hanson’s telling, the true force behind America’s racial fissures is Trump’s predecessor. “Much of the current division in the country was deliberately whipped up by Obama,” he contends.

Contrary to those who suggest that Trump sought the presidency for personal gain, Hanson explains that Trump is sacrificing himself for the larger good, like tragic heroes of ancient literature. A scholar of classics and military history, Hanson gazes upon Trump and sees Homer’s Achilles and Sophocles’s Ajax. He also glimpses Thucydides, the Roman emperor Augustus, Alexander the Great, Martin Luther, George Patton and even Dirty Harry. Trump contains multitudes.

Victor Davis Hanson’s defence of President Donald Trump is entirely unconvincing
by Steve Donoghue

Hanson’s programme on every page is to downplay and trivialise as many of Trump’s countless aberrant behaviours as possible, characterising them as the kind of trivia only effete snobs could possibly find objectionable.

At virtually every turn, ­Hanson uses euphemisms and little-kid vocabulary: gross ­violations of personal and ­social norms become “ethical dilemmas”; six decades of lying, cheating, fornicating, stealing, defrauding, blackmailing and bullying become “personal foibles”; endless, ­almost uncountable lies, become “fibs”. […]

Hanson invokes “gentrification and the gospel of good taste” as the foremost engines of Trump criticism and claims they blind such criticism to Trump’s alleged accomplishments: “success in reworking Nafta, in prodding Nato members to keep their budgetary commitments, and in recalibrating long overdue asymmetrical relationships with Turkey, Iran and the Palestinians,” and so on.

It’s a key sign of Hanson’s rhetorical fancy-dancing that Trump himself would hardly understand these descriptions. His “reworking” of Nafta was a carefully presented repackaging of minor details in a working arrangement; his “prodding” of Nato members (over nonexistent slacking on “budgetary commitments”) took the form of embarrassing public gaffes and name-calling; and the “recalibrating” of relationships with nations such as Palestine was also regarded as the haphazard discarding of decades of careful diplomacy without much thought being put into it. […]

Hanson’s The Case for Trump is built entirely on a combination of willful blindness, canny stage-dressing and a weird kind of aggrieved cultural defensiveness.

Not Tragic, Just Sad
‘The Case for Trump’

by Charles McNamara

By portraying hamartia as some kind of practically expedient lack of integrity, moreover, Hanson presents his own master class in Trumpist paradiastolē, a “redescription” of vices as virtues and a rhetorical distillation of our “post-truth” era of neck-snapping political spin. Through this tactic—one that deeply troubled early modern thinkers like Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes—playboy notoriety can be recast as renown, crass incivility as forthrightness, felony tax fraud as financial savvy. This repackaging of Trump’s moral failings as his most laudable qualities permeates The Case for Trump. Through Hanson’s redescription, Trump’s “anti-civilizational” hamartia is rendered as romanticized gunslinger vigilantism. At another point, Hanson says Trump might “be compared by his enemies to the thuggish Roman populist Catiline,” but without even denying the charge he immediately reframes this proto-Trump epitome of sedition as an exemplar of “rhetorical power and directness.” More broadly, Hanson explains the “chaos” of White House staff turnover as a matter of finding “personalities [who] jibed with Trump’s own mercurial moods.” For Hanson, Trump’s dishonest, foul-mouthed Mammonism is a heroic feature, not a bug.

The Agony of the Erudite Trumpite
by Erik D’Amato

In the end, it is Hanson’s clear aversion to reckoning with Trump’s most prosaic character flaw that is most telling. Since history was first written historians have been rationalizing or lionizing the bad behavior or character of powerful men. And even as American conservatives lament an increasingly coarse and nihilistic culture, one can see them excusing Trump’s licentiousness and impiety as a price of partisan advantage, or comparing, like Hanson, Trump’s elemental “toxicity” to chemotherapy, “which after all is used to combat something far worse than itself.” I can also appreciate that Trump’s intuitive “lizard smarts” is undervalued by the professional classes, or that the shock of political upheaval can be constructively tempered with a bit of Al Czervik–style presidential buffoonery. Even Trump’s shambolic, vote-them-off-the-island approach to administration and personnel might have some logic: revolutions are always messy.

But how does a historian excuse wanton ahistoricism? What would Victor Davis Hanson the professor say of a student who loudly claimed that the Germans had bombed Pearl Harbor?

He would, of course, be horrified. Indeed, in some of his other recent writings Hanson has made it clear that the decline in history as an academic discipline in the United States — according to the National Center for Education Statistics it is now the fastest shrinking undergraduate major — is a tragedy. “Today’s students, like their professors, not only do not possess, but feel no need to possess, familiarity with Thucydides, or Dante’s Inferno, or some idea of the Napoleonic Wars, or the work of T. S. Eliot,” he wrote in National Review six days after Trump’s stunning claim about Afghanistan.

The Case for Trump is ultimately unconvincing because, try as he might, Hanson knows that making a case for Donald Trump is inescapably an act of self-negation, the history professor’s version of a pediatric dentist writing a book called The Case for Cocoa Puffs.

Bard of the Booboisie
by WERTHER

Let us stipulate straightaway: Victor Davis Hanson is the worst historian since Parson Weems. To picture anything remotely as bad as his pseudo-historical novels and propaganda tracts, one would have to imagine an account of the fiscal policies of the Bush administration authored by Paris Hilton.

Mr. Hanson, Cal State Fresno’s contribution to human letters, is the favorite historian of the administration, the Naval War College, and other groves of disinterested research. His academic niche is to drag the Peloponnesian War into every contemporary foreign policy controversy and thereby justify whatever course of action our magistrates have taken. One suspects that if the neo-cons at the American Enterprise Institute were suddenly seized by the notion to invade Patagonia, Mr. Hanson would be quoting Pericles in support.

Once we strip away all the classical Greek fustian, it becomes clear that the name of his game is to take every erroneous conventional wisdom, cliche, faulty generalization, and common-man imbecility, and elevate them to a catechism. In this process, he showcases a technique beloved of pseudo-conservatives stuck at the Sean Hannity level of debate: he swallows whatever quasi-historical balderdash serves the interest of those in power, announces it with an air of surprised discovery, and then congratulates himself on his boldness in telling truth to power.

This is a surprising and rather hypocritical pose by someone who reportedly sups at the table of Vice President Cheney. For Mr. Hanson is one of a long and undistinguished line of personalities stretching back into the abysm of time: the tribal bard, the court historian, the academic recipient of the Lenin Prize. Compared to him, politically connected scribes such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., resemble Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Victor Davis Hanson goes berserk
by Eirik Raude

Along with his towering contempt for anyone not rabidly reactionary, pertaining to, marked by, or favoring reaction, esp. extreme conservatism or rightism in politics; opposing political or social change. Hanson trots out the entire panoply of conservative catch-phrases, which although wildly inaccurate and for the most part hyperbolic jingoism, are fanatically accepted dogma for the angry right-wing bah-humbug mob who embrace only one single nuanced phrase aside from up and down, right and left, black and white: “Money talks, bullshit walks,” i.e. anything that makes money is inherently good, everything else is just chatter. Anyone who deviates from that one elemental truth is either naive of a Marxist.

Victor Davis Hanson, The Nurse Ratched of Conservatism, Meet Karl Rove
from The Long Goodbye

Everyone knows the first rule in the Conservative rule book: Deny all reality and create your own. Hanson always works this rule into every column he writes. That is not exaggeration. Every column he writes has it’s own fantasy based motif, declarative statements and world view. In the “Pampered” column he also goes by another rule in the playbook. When Conservatives have money it is because America is the land of opportunity and these industrious individuals have clawed their way to the top through hard work. On the other hand, according to Nurse Ratched Hanson, when Democrats have money it is because they are elitists whose money has magically appeared out of the liberal ether. The subset of this Conservative rule is that all working class Democrats – like actual nurses, police and fire fighters, carpenters, middle-managers, store clerks and scientists are terrorist loving Maoists.

Please, give us the real history of Ronald Reagan
by Bruce Henderson

Hanson’s entire opinion piece is an example of the very ‘propaganda’ he accuses the “progressive media” of using. It serves as nothing but a whitewash not only of Reagan’s true record, but of both Bushes as well. And of course he strategically forgets Nixon, who not even the conservative media can rehabilitate.

Victor David Hanson has a neocon meltdown
from The Long Goodbye

While Hanson is the grand master of deep intellectual thought for the far right who keeps trying to juggle half truths, flawed analysis, grade school analogies, mangled interpretations of some history all for what? To stay on course, the course that has been proven to be the wrong course by all except the delusional like Hanson who’s loyalties extend to Bush and America be damned. Blinded by partisan politics Hanson refuses to acknowledge the most basic facts. Hanson has sold any academic credibility down the river. In short he is being incredibly dishonest when he claims that the Bush administration has a positive direction and a clear plan that is not being implemented because a few people are saying things that might hurt poor little George’s feelings. I’m not sure what is more absurd, Hanson for saying it, or the National Review for publishing this drivel.

Republican Propagandist: Is Victor Davis Hanson a Hack or Merely an Incompetent Pundit
from The Long Goodbye

The National Review continues its attempt to qualify for some kind of world record in mindless pabulum. Victor Davis Hanson is billed as an “intellectual” and “historian” by the Right. He writes in a post titled A Curious Insularity

In the world of Barack Obama, inflating tires and “tuning up” modern car engines precludes off-shore drilling. Four-dollar-a-gallon gas prices can be ameliorated by having the average consumer trade in his 8-mpg clunker.

While punditry sometimes involves painting in broad strokes those two sentences are the kind of Stalinist propaganda that has comes to dominate right-wing punditry. Whether it is good policy or not may be debatable, but President Obama has called for more offshore drilling and increasing the number of nuclear power plants. Studies have shown that increasing oil drilling will not decrese gas prices more than a cuople pennies and that would be a few years down the road. That may seem couner intuitive, but such is the nature of the world petroleum market. Hanson could not be bothered with the facts. It would ruin his hack job.

Victor Davis Hanson’s Magical Mystery Tour
by Chris Rossini

Victor Davis Hanson, the neocons’ favorite historian, goes off on a wild ridethat would surely make for good copy in government schoolbooks:

The United States has ridden — and tamed — the wild global tiger since the end of World War II. The frantic ride has been dangerous, to us, but a boon to humanity.

In other words, peace and trade were not chosen after World War II, but instead the U.S. decided to jump on a fictional “global tiger”. With a Federal Reserve ready to print up as much money as necessary, and a homeland unscathed from the ravages of the war, there was no way the power hungry in the U.S. could resist trying to conquer the world.

Hanson says that the U.S. “tamed” the tiger and that it’s been a blessing for humanity. I’m not sure of the exact figure, but the U.S. empire has killed millions of people throughout the many years. So, evidently Hanson means “a boon to humanity” minus those millions of individuals. Let’s not forget Madeleine Albright’s statement that 500,000 dead Iraqi children were “worth it”.

What You’re Not Supposed to Know about War
by Thomas J. DiLorenzo

Thus, you have the celebrated neoconservative writer Victor Davis Hanson writing in the December 2, 2009, issue of Imprimis that antiwar activism and other “factors” that make people “reluctant” to resort to war are “lethal combinations” that supposedly threaten the existence of society. Hanson was merely repeating the conservative party line first enunciated by the self-proclaimed founder of the modern conservative (really neoconservative) movement, William F. Buckley Jr. Murray Rothbard quoted Buckley as saying in the January 25, 1952 issue of Commonweal magazine that the Cold War required that

we have got to accept Big Government for the duration — for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged … except through the instrumentality of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores. … [We must support] large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards and the attendant centralization of power in Washington.

“We” must advocate the destruction of the free society in the name of defending the free society, said “Mr. Conservative,” a former CIA employee.

In reality, antiwar “factors” are a threat only to the military/industrial/congressional complex, which profits from war; they are not a threat to society as a whole. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

The Plutocrats’ Toxic Narrative: Lies, Half Truths and Bigotry in Service to Big Money
by Mark Dempsey

My neighbor Jeff sent me a “sobering” editorial entitled Goodbye California from Hoover Institute  fellow and military historian, Victor Davis Hanson. Hoover is a conservative think tank, funded by plutocrats like the Scaifes and Waltons among others.

Hanson repeatedly assures us he’s not editorializing…and then proceeds to slant his presentation so dramatically that it amounts to distortion in the service of his point of view.

What’s his point of view? Why the smart, handsome, productive rich are victims of poor people who are parasites, and California is going to hell in a handcart, propelled by it’s regulations, liberal bias, Mexicans (Eeek!) and profligate welfare spending. They’re victims! Honest! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

But I know some actual poor people, even some poor Mexicans. I didn’t just bicycle past them, as Hanson says he did in his account.

To the Editors: Victor Davis Hanson doesn’t understand income taxes
by Brian Schmidt

Hanson’s Op-Ed read “Beneath veneers of high-end living, there are lives of quiet 1-percent desperation. With new federal and California tax hikes, aggregate income-tax rates on dot.commers can easily exceed 50 percent of their gross income.” And it went south from there.

I expect a couple would have to make over $4 million annually to have a chance at 50% aggregate income tax rates, but that’s making the ludicrous assumption that $4m includes no capital gains and ignores deductions. If you define income the way people usually do, as salary plus commission plus all investment income, I think few people below $10m annually pay over 50% in aggregate income tax. And while Romney’s 14% rate was probably an outlier, the vast majority of people making over $10m have lots of investment income and pay very little. This doesn’t include payroll taxes but those become a rounding error when your annual income exceeds $4m, and other taxes are also unimportant unless you’ve chosen a bonfire of vanities lifestyle.

Buffett said he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary, and he seems more accurate about the wealthiest than Hanson.

Is the right-wing media bubble impenetrable?
Nearly a month after their blow-out defeat, Republicans still refuse to confront their demographic challenges

by Joshua Holland

Victor Davis Hanson’s analysis of the election was representative and equally informative. He wrote that Mitt Romney was an amazing candidate – “a glittering Sir Galahad who, given his impressive horse, armor, and lance, along with his decency and piety, assumed that he could win a joust in a fair charge against the other team’s knight.” Hanson claimed that 47 percent of the population are in fact dependent on government and mocked the idea that the Republican Party might try to reach out to non-white voters. “The only way Republicans can appeal to Latinos,” he wrote, is to “close the border, stop illegal immigration, and allow the melting pot and upward mobility to fracture ‘Hispanics’ along class lines.”

For Hanson and most of his readers, neither the message nor the messenger were problematic; only the pernicious bias of the traditional media prevented voters from embracing the plans Mitt Romney was going to detail right after his victory. Hanson then, without irony, warned his fellow Republicans of the dangers of falling into the comforting “cocoon” provided by the conservative media.

For God’s Sake, Somebody Please Give Victor Davis Hanson His Meds
by VACUUMSLAYER

Next up, we have a real tour de force from Victor Davis Hanson. It’s all about the sense of freedom one feels when one is doing back-breaking and sometimes dangerous work while not making as much money as Victor Davis Hanson. I give him credit for keeping it slightly less rambling and nonsensical than usual, while still managing to sneak in some vintage VDH-flavored surrealism. Go ahead, click. You will not be disappointed.

Historian Victor Davis Hanson wrote an opinion piece lately that described recent events as ‘The first coup in US history in which government bureaucrats sought to overturn an election and to remove a sitting president’. Is he right?
by Bruce Carriker

Despite his credentials, Hanson, like so many conservatives in the age of trump, has slipped off the deep end. His racism became obvious during the Obama administration and he now seems to have lost all touch with reality.

How National Review Helped Build the Alt-Right
The magazine laid the foundations for the movement it now opposes.

by Osita Nwanevu

If Gottfried is right, the purges seem to have been incomplete. Victor Davis Hanson, a current writer for National Review and a frequent critic of multiculturalism, for instance, published a National Review piece about race and crime a year after Derbyshire’s firing that loudly echoed his offending column without similar repercussions, right down to the paternal recommendation to avoid black people.

 

Making Existential Threat Real

I watched the docudrama VICE about Dick Cheney’s life and rise to power. It presents him as being behind promoting ‘climate change’ rhetoric over ‘global warming’ because, in research using a focus group, people perceived it as less threatening. This is probably because it feels more abstract and neutral, not quite real. Everything changes, as the climate deniers spin it, warming and cooling over the millennia. Putting the state of emergency in those terms elicits no profound human response and opens up the field to manipulation by reactionaries, authoritarians, and social dominators.

To fight this, we need to be very concrete and viscerally emotional in our language. Maybe even ‘climate crisis’ doesn’t quite capture it. Better yet ‘climate emergency’, ‘climate catastrophe’, and ‘climate disaster’. We need to speak directly of increasing ‘death rates’, ‘property destruction’, and ‘national threats’ from ‘violent weather extremes’, ‘heat attacks’, etc. And we need to make sure the imagery of the damage and deaths gets regularly shown in the media like war footage during the Vietnam War every single time a major weather event happens and simultaneously repeat ad nauseum that extreme weather events are increasing and worsening with ‘global heating’. Burn those images and words in the public mind.

The right-wing partly won the battle of ideology by framing the rhetoric of public debate. Even though people do think that climate change is happening, it isn’t quite real to most of them and they can’t fully connect it to human causes, at least in the US. Most Americans still don’t see ‘climate change’ as man-made, even as they think the government should do something about it — still, the urgency is not there. Maybe we need to go so far as to talk about ‘humanity-wide self-destruction’ and ‘human species suicide’. And we need to be specific about who is our enemy. Corporations with records of environmental harm and externalized costs should be labeled ‘ecological terrorists’ and ‘enemies of the state’. Whatever specific language, we need to develop the structure of ideological rhetoric where a few key phrases are repeatedly drilled into the public psyche. We can’t be subtle and timid in our language.

The right-wing will always go to extremes to win. But the political left, especially the liberal class, has gotten into the bad habit of pulling their punches. This is partly because much of the liberal class (e.g., the Clinton Democrats) are essentially right-wingers themselves in terms of being neoliberal corporatists and neocon war hawks. They have been pushing the Overton window right for decades. Those of us genuinely on the left with a beating heart for justice and compassion need to fight this battle as if it mattered, as if our lives and the lives of our loved ones depended on it because they do depend on it. We have to be blunt and combative in speaking truth to power. We need to inspire respect by demonstrating strength of character and courage.

Our words need to match the horrific dangers we are facing but also give expression to the sense of what can be done about it. We should speak of those powerful interests and ruthless psychopaths who are attacking us, destroying our homes, threatening our children, holding hostage future generations. It should be portrayed as a war because it is a war, a struggle for our lives and survival. Our language needs to be radical and revolutionary, a fight for freedom and democracy and liberty, for a better society and a hopeful future. We can’t be afraid to use the language of religion, patriotism, community, family, or anything else. No tool should be left unused. We must hit them with everything we got and do so with utter passion.

Imagine how Martin Luther King Jr. would speak about worldwide environmental destruction and life-threatening corporate power if he were still alive now. Use the exact same kind of language. He would not back down from a fight, would not hold back from using the harshest and most damning words to evoke an emotional response from the public, to hold the ruling elite accountable. And he would make sure to stage confrontations that could be seen on the news to make it viscerally real. He had a flair for the dramatic.

We need to relearn that skill. We need to remember how to dream big, big enough to meet the challenges before us. But if we are to get others to feel the urgency, we first have to feel the urgency ourselves. We will be able to fight with all our strength when we finally feel in our own hearts what is at risk, that the threat is real and immediate, that this is literally a life and death struggle, that there is no later on — this is it, now or never. When there are leaders who talk the talk and walk the walk, then and only then will the public follow, then and only then will there be political will to take needed action.

* * *

Climate Catastrophe In Slow Motion

Why the Guardian is changing the language it uses about the environment
by Damian Carrington

The Guardian Paves The Way For Canadian Media To Be More Blunt About The Climate Crisis
by Audrey Carleton

Political Right Rhetoric

The following is an accurate description of the political rhetoric, the labels and language in its use on the political right (from a Twitter thread). It is by Matthew A. Sears, an Associate Professor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of New Brunswick.

1. “I’m neither a liberal nor a conservative.” = “I’m totally a conservative.”

2. “I’m a radical centrist.” = “I’m totally a conservative.”

3. “I’m a classical liberal.” = “I’m a neoliberal who’s never read any classical liberals.”

4. “I’m not usually a fan of X.” *Retweets and agrees with everything X says.*

5. “I’m a free speech absolutist.” = “I’m glad racists are now free to speak publicly.”

6. “I believe in confronting views one finds offensive.” *Whines about being bullied by lefties.*

7. “My views are in the minority and aren’t given a fair hearing.”*Buys the best-selling book in the world.*

8. “Where else would you rather live?” = “Canada is perfect for me, and it better not frigging change to be better for anyone else.”

9. “Nazis should be able to speak and given platforms so we can debate them.” *Loses mind if someone says ‘fuck’ to a Nazi.*

10. “The left has taken over everything.” *Trump is president and the Republicans control Congress.*

And, finally, the apex of Twitterspeak:

11. “The left are tyrants and have taken over everything and refuse to hear other perspectives and pose a dire threat to the republic and Western Civilization.” *Ben Shapiro has over a million followers.*

I’d say treat this thread as an Enigma Machine for Quillette-speak/viewpoint-diversity-speak/reverse-racism-speak/MRA-speak, but none of these chaps are enigmas.

I can’t believe I have to add this, but some are *outraged* by this thread: I don’t mind if you’re *actually* centrist or conservative. I just mind if you *pretend to be* left/centrist for rhetorical/media cred/flamewar purposes, while *only* taking conservative stances. Sheesh

Like, I’m pretty left-wing on many issues these days. It would be sneaky of me to identity as “conservative” or “classical liberal” or whatever only to dump on all their ideas and always support opposing ideas. A left-winger or centrist is what a left-winger or centrist tweets.

James Taoist added:

12. “I’m a strict Constitutionalist” = “I’m as racist as fuck.”

Poll Answers, Stated Beliefs, Ideological Labels

Possibly, upwards of a third of Americans are a wild card on polling and voting. These people are some combination of politically misinformed, ideologically inconsistent, anti-intellectually reactionary, mentally unstable, disconnected from reality, lacking self-awareness, socially unconcerned, apathetically indifferent, distractedly careless, cynically trollish, frustratedly outraged, generally irritated, etc. They are unable or unwilling to fully participate in the demands of democracy. Or else they don’t believe we have a functioning democracy to participate in.

Any crazy belief or crazy politician that only gets consistent support from a third or less of the public can be set aside, albeit not dismissed, at least in terms of understanding what is the actual motivation and intention. Even most Trump voters admitted that they didn’t like him nor trusted him to do what they wanted him to do. They voted out of protest, or else for shits and giggles; either way, it’s a clear ‘fuck you’ (maybe ‘fuck you, fuck me, fuck us all’, ‘just fuck it’, ‘who gives a fuck’, or something along those lines). Such people don’t form a monolithic demographic of opinion and values. And for damn sure they aren’t representative of any larger pattern in society, any larger trend among the public… beyond how screwed up it has all become.

Across the entire population, there is more than enough ideological confusion and inconsistency to go around. This largely has to do with how labels are used, or rather misused and abused. Liberals label their positions moderate, the very positions that the political and media elite think of as liberal. Either liberals really are more moderate or the elite aren’t as liberal as they think, although I suspect both are true. That leaves conservatives holding positions that these same elites consider liberal, while conservatives don’t see them as liberal, which questions the very concept of conservatism. There are more conflicted conservatives than consistent conservatives, something not found among liberals. To the degree that liberals are conflicted, it is because they mis-label their views right-ward.

Anyway, the average person probably doesn’t give much thought to how they answer polls and vote in elections. Most people have busy lives. Besides, it’s not as if the education system and news media does a great job of informing the public and explaining the issues. And that is on top of the low quality of options typically given. We also can’t forget the constant bullshit, spin, propaganda, psyops, etc. Framing alone sometimes will completely reverse what people state as supporting. When a combative frame is used, most Americans support harsh punishment of criminals. But when a public health frame is used, most Americans support rehabilitation. So, which is the real majority? Well, both are or neither is.

Here is a major point to be understood and emphasized. As data shows, most people who hold liberal positions don’t identify as liberal. And most people who identify as liberal don’t identify many of their own positions as liberal, instead identifying them as moderate. Also interesting is the fact that self-identified conservatives, many being conflicted conservatives holding liberal positions, tend to identify their liberal and moderate positions as conservative. So, every demographic labels their views to the right of where their views actually are on the spectrum, at least for most major issues. This is partly because of the political and media elite who claim to be moderate and centrist while in many ways being to the right of the general public. The narrative of public opinion and the political spectrum is being defined by a disconnected elite that is heavily biased to the right.

Considering this, maybe it’s unsurprising that the crazification factor is so large. This explains all the noise in public polling. And this probably explains why so many Americans don’t even bother voting. Their views aren’t being represented. In fact, the views of most Americans simply make no sense within the dominant paradigm that controls the political system.

* * *

Crazification factor
Rational Wiki

Crazification factor (alternatively known as the “Keyes constant”[1]) is a neologism coined by blogger John Rogers to refer to the portion of the electorate comprising the nuttiest of the wingnuts and the batshit crazy.

In popular usage, it is an application of the Texas sharpshooter fallacy, in which you only call attention to data supporting your proposition: you will find endless examples of people online crying “Crazification factor!” when 20-30% of people do something — anything — the speaker doesn’t like, or are even polled as holding an opinion they don’t like.[1][2]

Rogers later stressed that the phrase was a joke, not some serious statistical proposition.[3]

The margin of stupid
by Noah Smith

These errors were things that we lumped into something we called “response style” (psychologists call it response bias). It’s very very hard to observe response style. But I’d say we can make a pretty good guess that Americans – and possibly everyone – do a lot of random responding when it comes to these sorts of surveys.

[M]aybe people just don’t think very hard about how they answer these questions. Maybe some people are confused by the questions. Maybe some are trolling.

Whatever the cause, it seems like you can get 20 to 25 percent of Americans to say any ridiculous thing imaginable. “Do you think eating raccoon poop reduces the risk of brain cancer?” “23 percent of Americans say yes!” “Would you be willing to cut your toes off with a rotary saw if it meant your neighbor had to do the same?” “17 percent of Americans say they would!” Etc.

It makes no sense at all…unless you can get ~20 percent of Americans to say pretty much any ridiculous thing on a survey.

I call this the margin of stupid. Unlike the margin of error, it’s not even a roughly symmetric error — because you can’t have less than 0% of people give a certain answer on a survey, the margin of stupid always biases surveys toward showing some non-negligible amount of support for any crazy or stupid or horrible position.

Whenever you read a survey like this, you must take the margin of stupid into account. Yes, there are Americans who believe crazy, stupid, and horrible things. But dammit, there aren’t that many. Next time you see some poll breathlessly claiming that 21 percent of Americans support executing anyone whose name starts with “G”, or that 18 percent of Millennials believe themselves to be the reincarnation of Kublai Khan, take it with a grain of salt. It’s a lot easier to give a stupid answer on a survey than to actually truly hold a nuts belief.

Sadly, the margin of stupid also probably applies to voting.

The Alan Keyes Constant
by Whet Moser

This led screenwriter John Rodgers and a friend to coin the term Crazification Factor–an unpredictable and shifting yet relatively consistent bottom, like the silt at the bottom of a pond: “Half just have worldviews which lead them to disagree with what you consider rationality even though they arrive at their positions through rational means, and the other half are the core of the Crazification – either genuinely crazy; or so woefully misinformed about how the world works, the bases for their decision making is so flawed they may as well be crazy.”

“Crazification” seems not just unkind but simplistic, though I don’t deny a certain baseline: I’d add ironic voting, protest votes–a vote for Alan Keyes is a resonant protest vote–and even people who want to make a spectacle worse. But it still seems to be a useful theory, in the sense that when I see Donald Trump polling really well (26 percent!), or birthers continuing to emit a low hum (27 percent!), I’m no longer shocked: oh, that’s just the Keyes Constant.

Noisy Poll Results and Reptilian Muslim Climatologists from Mars
by Scott Alexander

Public Policy Polling’s recent poll on conspiracy theories mostly showed up on my Facebook feed as “Four percent of Americans believe lizardmen are running the Earth”.

(of note, an additional 7% of Americans are “not sure” whether lizardmen are running the Earth or not.)

Imagine the situation. You’re at home, eating dinner. You get a call from someone who says “Hello, this is Public Policy Polling. Would you mind answering some questions for us?” You say “Sure”. An extremely dignified sounding voice says – and this is the exact wording of the question – “Do you believe that shape-shifting reptilian people control our world by taking on human form and gaining political power to manipulate our society, or not?” Then it urges you to press 1 if yes, press 2 if no, press 3 if not sure.

So first we get the people who think “Wait, was 1 the one for if I did believe in lizardmen, or if I didn’t? I’ll just press 1 and move on to the next question.”

Then we get the people who are like “I never heard it before, but if this nice pollster thinks it’s true, I might as well go along with them.”

Then we get the people who are all “F#&k you, polling company, I don’t want people calling me when I’m at dinner. You screw with me, I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to tell you I believe lizard people are running the planet.”

And then we get the people who put “Martian” as their nationality in psychology experiments. Because some men just want to watch the world burn.

Do these three groups total 4% of the US population? Seems plausible.

I really wish polls like these would include a control question, something utterly implausible even by lizard-people standards, something like “Do you believe Barack Obama is a hippopotamus?” Whatever percent of people answer yes to the hippo question get subtracted out from the other questions.

Poll Answers As Attire

Alas, not all weird poll answers can be explained that easily. On the same poll, 13% of Americans claimed to believe Barack Obama was the Anti-Christ. Subtracting our Lizardman’s Constant of 4%, that leaves 9% of Americans who apparently gave this answer with something approaching sincerity.

(a friend on Facebook pointed out that 5% of Obama voters claimed to believe that Obama was the Anti-Christ, which seems to be another piece of evidence in favor of a Lizardman’s Constant of 4-5%. On the other hand, I do enjoy picturing someone standing in a voting booth, thinking to themselves “Well, on the one hand, Obama is the Anti-Christ. On the other, do I really want four years of Romney?”)

Some pollsters are starting to consider these sorts of things symptomatic of what they term symbolic belief, which seems to be kind of what the Less Wrong sequences call Professing and Cheering or Belief As Attire. Basically, people are being emotivists rather than realists about belief. “Obama is the Anti-Christ” is another way of just saying “Boo Obama!”, rather than expressing some sort of proposition about the world.

And the same is true of “Obama is a Muslim” or “Obama was not born in America”.

Symbolic Belief
by Julian Sanchez

The classic case of a “symbolic belief” is what Orwell dubbed “doublethink”: propositions you profess publicly, maybe even sincerely believe you believe, even while, on another level, there’s some part of you that knows better, so that the false belief doesn’t actually get you into practical trouble. Pseudobeliefs may serve any number of functions; I’m using the phrase “symbolic belief” for the ones that either work as a public expression of some associated attitude, or play some role in defining the holder’s self-conception. In a post from last week, a commenter pointed out that there really are vegetarians and vegans, especially in certain punk scenes, who purport to believe that animals are not only morally equal to, but perhaps even morally superior to human beings. As he also pointed out, though, none of them really act as though they believe anything of the sort. Now, you might say that we already have a word for this: Hypocrisy. But I think it’s worth preserving a separate term here, because we usually use that term for people who specifically promote standards of behavior that they either consciously don’t really hold or do hold but are just incapable of adhering to (from weakness of will or whatever), and conceal this inability out of shame or fear. Symbolic beliefs, as I’m conceiving of them, are “sincere”—in that the person holding them probably isn’t consciously or reflexively aware that they’re false, but also shallow, insofar as a subconscious lack of commitment to the truth of the belief renders it behaviorally inert. For those who aren’t hardcore birthers, I’d hazard that the real meaning of professing either uncertainty or positive disbelief in the claim that he was born in the U.S. is something like: “I consider Obama phony, dishonest, and un-American.” It’s not, I hasten to say, that they really believe, deep-down, that Obama was born in Hawaii. It’s more that—as with H.G. Frankfurt’s definition of “bullshit”—the literal truth or falsity of the proposition is a matter of indifference; it’s not really the point.

Ideological Realignment and the Primacy of Symbolic Ideology
by John Camobreco

Over the last several decades, scholars have noted a strengthening link between ideology and party identification among the public, but the causal direction of this phenomenon remains contested. The ideological realignment thesis holds that ideology now strongly influences party identification, but this position conflicts with literature suggesting that party identification remains the primary causal force behind most important political attitudes. This study examines the causal forces at work between ideology and party identification by focusing on the distinction between symbolic and operational ideology. The methodology involves the use of panel data that span several decades, and structural equation modeling. The findings indicate that between 1982 and 1997, symbolic ideology had a strong influence party identification, but operational ideology had little effect on party identification. The results suggest an important revision to the ideological realignment thesis, as the evidence indicates that symbolic ideology has been the primary force driving realignment.

Why most conservatives are secretly liberals
by John Sides

Looked at this way, almost 30 percent of Americans are “consistent liberals” — people who call themselves liberals and have liberal politics. Only 15 percent are “consistent conservatives” — people who call themselves conservative and have conservative politics. Nearly 30 percent are people who identify as conservative but actually express liberal views. The United States appears to be a center-right nation in name only.

This raises the question: why are so many people identifying as conservative while simultaneously preferring more government? For some conservatives, it is because they associate the label with religion, culture or lifestyle. In essence, when they identify as “conservative,” they are thinking about conservatism in terms of family structure, raising children, or interpreting the Bible. Conservatism is about their personal lives, not their politics.

But other self-identified conservatives, though, are conservative in terms of neither religion and culture nor the size of government. These are the truly “conflicted conservatives,” say Ellis and Stimson, who locate their origins in a different factor: how conservatives and liberals have traditionally talked about politics. Conservatives, they argue, talk about politics in terms of symbols and the general value of “conservatism” — and news coverage, they find, usually frames the label “conservative” in positive terms. Liberals talk about policy in terms of the goals it will serve — a cleaner environment, a stronger safety net, and so on — which are also good things for many people. As a result, some people internalize both messages and end up calling themselves conservative but having liberal views on policy.

Ideology has two faces: the labels people choose and the actual content of their beliefs. For liberals, these are mostly aligned. For conservatives, they are not.

Are Many Conservatives Really Liberals?
by Ron Chusid

Polls have generally showed self-identified conservatives outnumbering liberals, with a recent slight increase in the number of liberals. I have often speculated that this is largely due to the success the right wing noise machine has had in demonizing the word liberal. Americans come out more liberal than would be expected by these poll findings when we look at individual issues.

While the pendulum swings both ways, the trend has been toward more liberal policies over the years. Most people wouldn’t think of returning to the days of child labor. Medicare and Social Security are deeply entrenched, to the point that even when Republicans vote for ending Medicare as we know it they realize they have to hide what they are doing. Recent polls show increases in the number of people who support legalization of same-sex marriage and legalization of marijuana. A majority even supports the individual components of Obamacare when asked without identifying the policy as Obamacare. […]

This idea that nearly 30 percent of self-identified conservative are really liberals would explain the increased support for liberal positions despite a majority identifying themselves as conservatives.

Ideological Labels in America
Claassen, Tucker, & Smith

Labeling Issue Positions

[…] The general pattern is not surprising. Symbolic ideology is correlated with the most commonly chosen label for issue positions.

A closer look shows important asymmetries. Across all issues, symbolic conservatives are always more likely to label their positions as conservative than anything else, even when an analyst would label many of those issue positions liberal or moderate. Moreover, symbolic conservatives use the conservative label for their issue positions far more frequently than symbolic liberals use the liberal label for theirs. For symbolic liberals, the moderate label is chosen by a plurality on 10 of the 13 issues. On only one issue, support for gay marriage, does a clear majority of liberals label their position as liberal.

The pattern of labeled issue positions among symbolic liberals is not consistent
with the Ellis-Stimson narrative. In that account, liberals’ unconflicted liberals’
ideological commitments and ideological sophistication allow them to apply the liberal label with ease. In fact, while liberals apply the general label to themselves, they do not embrace the term for many of their issue positions and instead more often choose the moderate label.

As one would expect, a plurality of symbolic moderates used the moderate label to describe their policy preferences—with the exception of social security, where slightly more described their position as “none of these.” For eight of the 13 issues, more moderates described their positions as conservative than liberal. The “none of these” option was chosen by 20-30 percent of moderates across the 13 issues. These results are consistent with research that describes moderates, on average, as less political than liberals or conservatives.

Plainly, the mismatch between symbolic ideology and issue position labels is common and is not limited to conservatives. In fact, the avoidance of the liberal label extends to symbolic liberals, which is consistent with the long-standing argument that the label has negative connotations. It may illustrate that the importance of the framing pathway described by Ellis and Stimson and, in doing so, raises a question of about how much framing accounts for conflicted conservatives for whom Ellis and Stimson emphasize the extra-political sources of ideological identity.

Mismatches between Issue Positions and Their Labels

For some of the most popular causes—such as spending on education—positions (and symbolic ideology) show a weak relationship to issue position labels. In the case of education spending, nearly half of symbolic conservatives considered opposing a cut in education spending to be a conservative position. More than ninety percent of liberals opposed this same cut in education spending, but only about one-third call this view liberal, with most liberals calling it a moderate position.

Mismatches are most common for issues on which there is a consensus view. In fact, across the 13 issues, there is an important correlation between the size of the issue position plurality and the frequency of mismatches between issue positions and issue position labels. For symbolic conservatives, the correlation is -0.81—more popular causes create more mismatches (liberal positions labeled conservative) for conservatives. For symbolic liberals, the size of the plurality and labeling liberal positions as conservative has a correlation of -0.71.

Consistent with findings about mismatches between symbolic ideology and issue positions, we find that mismatches for issue positions and their labels occur more often in the form of labeling liberal positions conservative than in labeling conservative positions liberal. More than 30 percent of labeling responses associated the conservative label with liberal positions, while only about 20 percent associated the liberal label with conservative positions.

* * *

Warmongering Politicians & Progressive Public
Public Opinion On Government & Tea Party
Public Opinion on Tax Cuts for the Rich
Most Oppose Cutting Social Security (data)
Claims of US Becoming Pro-Life
The Court of Public Opinion: Part 1 & Part 2

Sea Change of Public Opinion: Libertarianism, Progressivism & Socialism

Pew had a poll from a couple years ago that I missed. If you look at the broad public opinion, it looks like the same old same old. Most Americans have a more favorable opinion of capitalism than socialism. They also have a more favorable opinion of conservatism than liberalism. But it’s always in the details where it gets interesting. The cracks are beginning to show in the Cold War edifice.

More Americans have a positive opinion of progressivism, significantly more than their opinion of conservatism. As many have noted, progressivism has basically become the label for those who like liberalism but are afraid of the negative connotations of the word itself. There isn’t a vast difference between what liberals support and what progressives support.

Even most Republicans give a positive response toward progressivism. This probably relates as well to why many people who self-identify as conservatives will support many traditionally liberal positions. These positions back in the Progressive Era used to be called progressive. Americans strongly support them. That is the true Silent Majority or rather Silenced Majority.

US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism

So, if most Americans are actually conservative and the Democratic Party is actually liberal, then why does the Democratic Party have higher positive ratings than the Republican Party for more than a decade? Either Americans aren’t so conservative or the Democratic Party isn’t so liberal. I’d argue it’s both.

If Americans are so conservative, then why do they have a decently positive feeling rating toward what they perceive as ‘liberals’? The positive feelings for liberals hasn’t dropped below 50 in several decades. That ain’t too shabby for a supposedly conservative population. […]

The key values of the ideological divide are the basis of the key issues of society and politics. As such, determining the key issues is important in distinguishing liberalism vs conservatism in the American population. Key issues are important because they are the wedge issues that decide elections. What is telling to my mind is that it’s specifically the key issues of American politics that have been strongly moving leftward. I would conclude two things. First, the majority of Americans are definitely not right-leaning in any clear sense and there isn’t any evidence that the center of public opinion is shifting rightward. Second, however one might add up all the various issues, the majority of Americans are progressively liberal or becoming more progressively liberal on many if not most of the key issues.

Non-Identifying Environmentalists And Liberals

According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans identifying as environmentalists is about half of what it was a quarter century ago, when I was a young teenager. Yet the other polls show that Americans are more concerned with environmental issues than ever before.

This is similar to how fewer Americans identify as liberal precisely during this time when polls showing majority of Americans hold liberal positions on diverse issues. Older labels have lost their former meaning. They no longer resonate.

It isn’t as if Americans are becoming anti-environmentalist conservatives. Quite the opposite. It’s just that an increasing number of Americans, when given a choice, would rather identify as progressive, moderate, independent, or even socialist. In fact, the socialist label gets more favorable opinion than the Tea Party label, although libertarianism is gaining favor.

Young Americans are the most liberal of any age demographic, in terms of their politics. They are more liberal than even the supposed liberal class, despite the young not self-identifying as liberal. They are so liberal as to be leaning leftist.

Conservatives are mistaken when they put too much stock in ideological labels and too little stock in substance of views. Their confusion is understandable. Many pollsters have had a hard time keeping up with changing labels, not initially realizing they needed to offer choices beyond the standard binary of liberal or conservative.

Environmentalist Majority

I keep coming back to corporatist politics, centered in Washington and Wall Street, and the corporate media that reports on it. This is what gets called ‘mainstream’. But the reality is that the ideological worldview of concentrated wealth and power is skewed far right compared to the general public, AKA the citizenry… ya know, We the People.

Most Americans are surprisingly far to the left of the plutocratic and kleptocratic establishment. Most Americans support left-wing healthcare reform (single payer or public option), maintaining the Roe vs Wade decision, stronger gun regulations (including among most NRA members), more emphasis on rehabilitation than punishment of criminals, drug legalization or decriminalization, etc. They are definitely to the left of Clinton New Democrats with their corporatist alliance between neoliberalism and neoconservatism. Hillary Clinton, for example, has long had ties to heavily polluting big energy corporations.

Maybe it’s unsurprising to learn that the American public, both left and right, is also to the left on the issue of climate change and global warming. This isn’t the first time I’ve brought up issue of environmentalism and public opinion. Labels don’t mean what they used to, which adds to the confusion. But when you dig down into the actual issues themselves, public opinion becomes irrefutably clear. Even though few look closely at polls and surveys, the awareness of this is slowly trickling out. We might be finally reaching a breaking point in this emerging awareness. The most politicized issues of our time show that the American public supports leftist policies. This includes maybe the most politicized of all issues, climate change and global warming.

Yet as the American public steadily marches to the left, the Republican establishment uses big money to push the ‘mainstream’ toward right-wing extremism and the Democrats pretend that their conservatism represents moderate centrism. The tension can’t be maintained without ripping the country apart. We can only hope that recent events will prove to have been a wake up call, that maybe the majority of Americans are finally realizing they are the majority, not just silent but silenced.

Wirthlin Effect & Symbolic Conservatism

[…] from the book Whose Freedom? by George Lakoff (pp. 252-253): […]

It is not that positions on issues don’t matter. They do. But they tend to be symbolic of values, identity, and character, rather than being of primary import in themselves. For example, if you identify yourself essentially as the mother or father in a strict father family, you may well be threatened by gay marriage, which is inconsistent with a strict father morality . For this reason, someone in the Midwest who has never even met anyone gay could have his or her deepest identity threatened by gay marriage. The issue is symbolic, not literal, and symbolism is powerful in politics.

[…T]he general idea presented by Lakoff wasn’t new to me. I’d come across this in a different context (from a paper, Political Ideology: Its Structure, Functions, and Elective Affinity, by Jost, Federico, and Napier) and have mentioned it many times (e.g., What Does Liberal Bias Mean?):

Since the time of the pioneering work of Free & Cantril (1967), scholars of public opinion have distinguished between symbolic and operational aspects of political ideology (Page & Shapiro 1992, Stimson 2004). According to this terminology, “symbolic” refers to general, abstract ideological labels, images, and categories, including acts of self-identification with the left or right. “Operational” ideology, by contrast, refers to more specific, concrete, issue-based opinions that may also be classified by observers as either left or right. Although this distinction may seem purely academic, evidence suggests that symbolic and operational forms of ideology do not coincide for many citizens of mass democracies. For example, Free & Cantril (1967) observed that many Americans were simultaneously “philosophical conservatives” and “operational liberals,” opposing “big government” in the abstract but supporting the individual programs comprising the New Deal welfare and regulatory state. More recent studies have obtained impressively similar results; Stimson (2004) found that more than two-thirds of American respondents who identify as symbolic conservatives are operational liberals with respect to the issues (see also Page & Shapiro 1992, Zaller 1992). However, rather than demonstrating that ideological belief systems are multidimensional in the sense of being irreducible to a single left-right continuum, these results indicate that, in the United States at least, leftist/liberal ideas are more popular when they are manifested in specific, concrete policy solutions than when they are offered as ideological abstractions. The notion that most people like to think of themselves as conservative despite the fact that they hold a number of liberal opinions on specific issues is broadly consistent with system-justification theory, which suggests that most people are motivated to look favorably upon the status quo in general and to reject major challenges to it (Jost et al. 2004a).

[…] The conservative elites, or at least their advisors, fully understood decades ago that most Americans didn’t agree with them on the issues. Nonetheless, most Americans continue to identify as conservative when given a forced choice (i.e., when ‘moderate’ or ‘independent’ aren’t given as an option).

It makes one wonder what exactly “symbolic conservatism” represents or what people think it represents. Reagan often stood in front of patriotic symbols during speeches and photo-ops. Look back at images of Reagan and you’ll find in the background such things as flags and the Statue of Liberty. Ignoring the issue of “true conservatism”, this symbolic conservatism seems to have little in the way of tangible substance, heavy on the signifier while being light on the signified.

[…] To look at the issues is to consider how values are expressed in the real world. What does it mean that many Americans agree with the symbolic values of conservatism while disagreeing with the actual enactment of those values in policies? What are Americans perceiving in the patriotic and pseudo-libertarian jingoism of the GOP or whatever it is? And why is that this perception appears to be so disconnected from reality on the ground, disconnected the reality of Americans’ daily lives and their communities?

[…] Most importantly, take note that the American public isn’t actually polarized, not even between the North and South — as Bob Moser explained in Blue Dixie (Kindle Locations 126-136):

[…] But the widespread notion that the South is one-party territory ignores some powerful evidence to the contrary. For one thing, more Southerners identify as Democrats than Republicans. For another: more Democrats win state and local elections in the South than Republicans. The parity between the parties was neatly symbolized by the total numbers of state legislators in the former Confederate states after the 2004 elections: 891 Republicans, 891 Democrats. The South is many things, not all of them flattering. But it is not politically “solid.”

[…] So, yes, there is something weird going on here with the American public. Is this confusion artificially created? Is the public being manipulated by politicians who know the American public better than the American public knows themselves? Apparently not, as Alex Preen explained on Salon.com:

According to a working paper from two political scientists who interviewed 2,000 state legislative candidates last year, politicians all think Americans are more conservative than they actually are.

The research found that this was as true for Democratic politicians. All politicians across the board were equally clueless about and disconnected from those they claim to represent. This is why it isn’t a partisan issue. It is a bipartisan ignorance.

Polarizing Effect of Perceived Polarization

In reality, most Americans agree more about most issues than they disagree. But it depends on how you frame it.

If you make Americans choose between the labels of liberal and conservative, most people of course will pick one of them and the public will be divided. You can use that to frame questions and so prime people to give polarized answers. But the fact of the matter is that if you give people another option such as independent, most won’t choose either liberal or conservative.

If you only give Americans two viable political party choices, many will consistently choose candidates of the same party from election to election. But most Americans identify as independents and would prefer having other choices. Consider the fact that some of the voters that helped Republican Trump win were supporters of Democratic Sanders. Few people are ideological partisans. That is because few people think in ideological terms.

Consider specific issues.

If you give people a forced choice question about whether they are for or against tough-on-crime policies, polarization in public opinion is the inevitable result. But if you ask people about crime prevention and rehabilitation, most would prefer that. The thing is few polls ever give people the full, accurate info about the available choices. The framing of the questions leads people to answer in a particular way.

That is because those asking the questions are typically more polarized and so they have an self-interest in finding polarized answers (in order to confirm their own biases and worldview), even if their motivations are unconscious. The corporate media also likes to frame everything in polarized terms, even when it isn’t the best framing, because it offers a simplistic narrative (i.e., entertainment news) that sells advertising.

If you give people a forced choice question about whether they support pro-choice or pro-life, you will get a polarized response from the public. But if you ask people if they are for both women’s rights and abortion limits, you’ll find most Americans support both simultaneously. And if you ask people if they want to decrease abortions, you’ll find almost everyone wants to decrease abortions. It’s just people see different ways of decreasing abortions.

Most pro-choicers aren’t for increasing abortions (i.e., killing babies). And most pro-lifers aren’t for taking women’s rights away (i.e., theocratic authoritarianism). It’s just they see different policies as being more effective in achieving what pro-lifers claim to support. The two sides at worst disagree about methods, not goals or necessarily even fundamental values. Isn’t it interesting that so many pro-lifers support a women’s right to choose, depending on how the question is framed?

If you give people a forced choice question about whether or not they support same sex marriage, you get an almost evenly divided polarization of public opinion, with an ever so sleight majority toward support. But if polling is done differently, it is shown that the vast majority is tolerant of or indifferent toward this issue. People simply don’t care who marries whom, unless you intentionally frame it as a liberal agenda to use the government to promote gay marriage and force it onto the public. Framed as an issue of personal right of choice, most Americans are perfectly fine with individuals being allowed to make their own decisions. Even the average conservative doesn’t want to force their political views onto others, no matter what is asserted by the polarized GOP establishment and partisans who are reactionaries, authoritarians and social dominance orientation types.

If you give people a forced choice question about whether they support gun rights or gun regulations, you will get what appears to be polarization. But if you give them a third choice of supporting both stronger gun rights and more effective gun regulations, most will take that third option. That is even true with NRA members who disagree with ideologically polarized NRA leadership. And it is also true of liberals, a demographic shown to have surprisingly high rates of guns in the household.

Liberalism: Label vs Reality (analysis of data)

Click to access Political-Typology-Detailed-Tables.pdf

In the 2005 Pew poll, the demographic was just called ‘Liberals’. In this 2011 Pew poll, the demographic is called ‘Solid Liberals’. So, I don’t know if it is speaking about the exact same demographic segment of the population. Pew changes the demographic groupings as the data changes. In the new ‘Solid Liberals’ demographic there is only 23% Independents whereas in the previous ‘Liberals’ demographic there was almost 1/2 Independents. Of those Indpendents, they didn’t ask how many self-identified as liberal or something else. Among ‘Solid Liberals’ in general, only 60% self-identified as ‘liberal’ while 31% self-identified as ‘moderate’ and 9% self-identified as ‘conservative’.

What does ‘liberal’ even mean when slightly less than 1/2 of supposed ‘liberals’ don’t self-identify as ‘liberal’? This goes to the heart of the American public’s confusion about ideologies and labels. Given a choice between the two, most Americans self-identify as ‘conservative’. However, when asked about specific issues, most Americans support many liberal positions on key issues. […]

http://www.opednews.com/Diary/More-Americans-Self-Identi-by-Thomas-Farrell-110301-401.html

“But the Gallup survey of self-identification of ideology shows that more Americans self-identify as moderates and liberals than as conservatives. Most Americans do not self-identify as conservatives.”

Given a choice between the three, the data I’ve seen shows most Americans self-identify as moderates. So, what is a moderate? They are essentially those who tend toward centrism or at least away from the extreme wings. Considering that, where is the center in American politics? […]

I was looking further at the Pew data. There is another interesting group: Post-Moderns. They are considered Independents and they are the only group to have the majority self-identify as moderates. One would assume, therefore, that they wouldn’t have any bias toward either party. But one would be wrong in that assumption.

Post-Moderns are 62% Independents, 26% Democrats and 2% Republicans. Of the Independents, 19% has no lean, 58% lean to the Democratic Party and 23% lean to the Republican Party. They favor Democrats over Republicans on almost every question, including reelecting Obama. Also, they listen to Fox News less than the average Democrat and listen to NPR at almost the same rate as the average Democrat. They are second only to Solid Liberals in their reading of The New York Times and their watching the Daily Show. They generally seem closest to Solid Liberals on most issues. They are strongly socially liberal. They have the strongest, although qualified, support of the government. They’d prefer it to be smaller, but they see a role for government in many social issues.

Post-Moderns are the only demographic with a majority of moderates which means they are the clearest indicator we have about where the center is right now in US politics. These moderates are more liberal than not. So, the majority of Post-Moderns identifies as moderate even as the majority also supports many liberal positions and policies.

– – –

Here is the reason why the Democratic Party has never been controlled by liberals and especially not by left-wingers.

http://smirkingchimp.com/thread/bob-burnett/37872/one-two-three-what-are-liberals-fighting-for

“The Pew Research poll notes a fundamental difference between “solid Liberals” and the other two groups that lean Democratic — “Hard-pressed Democrats” and “New coalition Democrats”: “both of these last two groups are highly religious and socially conservative.” To the extent that cultural issues — such as abortion and homosexuality — dominate political discourse, these groups can be peeled away from the Democratic bloc to vote Republican. In his classic, What’s the Matter With Kansas? journalist Tom Frank detailed how Republicans redirect economic discontent to explosive cultural issues. In 2012, “moral purity” will be a major Republican theme — particularly if messianic Texas Governor Rick Perry becomes the GOP candidate. The Liberal challenge is to ensure that jobs and economic fairness become the dominant political themes, not “How can we make the US a Christian nation?””

– – –

Here is some data from 2004 which I suspect might be even more true in 2011. The article notes that in 2000 the Independents were evenly split between the two parties but by 2004 they were leaning Democratic and liberal. If this is a trend that fits the other leftward trends, this will continue into the near future as OWS seems to demonstrate.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m4021/is_3_26/ai_114558708/

“The bad news for conservatives is that a majority of independents line up on the liberal-to-moderate side of the ideological spectrum. Twenty-one percent of independents in the Zogby poll described themselves as liberal or progressive, while 37 percent called themselves moderates. In contrast, 30 percent of independents describe their politics as conservative, with only 4 percent calling themselves “very conservative” or libertarian.

“Zogby asserts that the polls indicate independents are trending more liberal in this election year as opposed to 2000. For example, fully 70 percent of independents believe the federal government should play a major role in protecting the environment, a traditionally Democratic concern. “The environment is a Democratic ace in the hole this year,” Zogby says.

“Meanwhile, 82 percent of independents want the federal government to play a major role in protecting individual freedom, suggesting a backlash against the Patriot Act and other attempts by the Bush administration to change the traditional balance between national security and individual liberty. Sixty-two percent feel the government should help ensure that all citizens have economic opportunities, while 60 percent want a dominant role by the federal government in providing social programs to help the needy.

“The liberal bias of independents contrasts sharply with the other elections in which their vote has proved critical. In the 1980 election, blue-collar workers deserted Jimmy Carter and the Democrats to vote Ronald Reagan into office. And in the 1990s, Bill Clinton infuriated traditional liberals but won the presidency twice by appealing to the socially moderate, fiscally conservative instincts of suburban soccer moms. Third party candidates – John Anderson in 1980, Ross Perot in 1992 and Ralph Nader in 2000 – attracted disaffected voters who saw no real difference between Republicans and Democrats.” […]

Considering all of this, it blows my mind that 9% of so-called ‘Solid Liberals’ self-identify as ‘conservative’. Pew defines ‘Solid Liberals’ as being liberal across the board, fiscally and socially liberal on most if not all issues. Essentially, ‘Solid Liberals’ are as liberal as you can be without becoming an outright communist.

How on God’s green earth could such a person ever be so confused as to think they are a conservative? What do these 9% of conservative ‘Solid Liberals’ think that ‘conservative’ means? What kind of conservatism can include liberalism to such an extent? What could possibly be subjectively experienced as conservative despite appearing liberal by all objective measures?

Consider the seemingly opposite Pew demographic which is labeled ‘Staunch Conservatives’ (basically, conservative across the board). Are there 9% of ‘Staunch Conservatives’ who self-identify as ‘liberal’? Of course not, although interestingly 3% do.

Compare also how many self-identify as ‘moderate’: 31% of ‘Solid Liberals’ identify as moderate and only 8% of ‘Staunch Conservatives’ identify as moderate. ‘Staunch Conservatives’ are as partisan as they come with %100 that lean Republican (0% that lean Democratic, 0% with no lean). On the other hand, ‘Solid Liberals’ have 1% who lean Republican and 3% with no lean; that might seem like minor percentages but that means 1 in 100 ‘Solid Liberals’ are drawn toward the Republican Party and 3 in 100 are genuinely independent.

Framing Free Speech

The news reporting, along with public debate, on free speech has been typical. It’s not just dissatisfying but frustrating. It pushes a narrative that infects many a mind, including more than a few outside of the ‘mainstream’.

I found an example of this, although I’m not in the mood to directly link to the piece. On the individual’s About page, he obviously prides himself on being an independent thinker who looks down upon ‘Puny mortals’ who “come by their worldviews by accepting in good faith what they have been told by people they perceive to be smarter or better informed than they.” He is so anarchist that he doesn’t think other anarchists are anarchist enough. Yet he is basing his own view on controlled rhetoric designed to manipulate public perception and opinion.

I guess he is so anarchist that he has looped back around to the other side of the spectrum, maybe with his anti-intellectualism trumping his anti-authoritarianism. After all, he describes himself as a white working class anarchist, which apparently means anyone with a college degree is his enemy, including working class traitors who decide to better themselves by seeking higher education. Or maybe he is simply yet another example of an ideologically confused American.

In the piece he wrote, he goes off on some weird sociopolitical rant. It has little connection to the larger world outside of an internet echo chamber. He is shadow boxing the phantasmagoric demons lurking inside his skull and apparently finds it to be a gleeful sport where, as he is the referee of this self-inflicted mental pugilism, he always wins. But what interests me is that his demons just so happen to take the shape of the caricatures portrayed in much of corporate media, with a clear right-wing slant of the populist variety. He writes that,

Well, unfortunately, because of recent riots at Berkeley, we can’t really say that anymore. Now, a lot of those involved or allied will say that, because this action was undertaken by a ‘rebel faction’, and not an established power, it’s actually a righteous insurrection, rather than authoritarian oppression. But given the fact that these are the children of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Microsoft, many of whom are ‘Trustifarians’, their proletarian cred is highly suspect. If you can afford to live and go to school in that area of the country, you probably do not come from a poor background.

It’s muddled thinking. This misses so much of the reality of the situation.

The protesters are a small group or, to be more accurate, a mix of small groups. Most of them may or may not be students at Berkeley. Many of them probably are locals or outside agitators taking advantage of the situation, an opportunity for two sides to fight and maybe having little to do with the student body itself. There could even be some agent provocateurs among them. There is absolutely no evidence that they represent most people who are either college students or on the political left. I doubt these people represent a ‘rebel faction’ either, whatever that is supposed to mean. For damn sure, I doubt that many of “the children of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Microsoft, many of whom are ‘Trustifarians’” are involved in political activism of the direct action variety, the kind that can lead to becoming a target of violent troublemakers or else violent police.

I share the words of this particular anarchist only because it captures the dark fantasy created by corporate media, especially right-wing media, although sadly much of the supposed ‘liberal’ media as well. It’s bizarre. And it is highly infectious.

Even if these protesters were all Berkeley students, one should note that a fair number of middle class and even working class people get into college. The majority of Berkeley students aren’t the inbred spawn of the plutocratic elite.

According to recent data: 99% of Berkeley students come from the bottom 99.9% in terms of family income, 96.2% from the bottom 99%, 77% from the bottom 97%, 62% from the bottom 90%, 46% from the bottom 80%, and 7.3% from the bottom 20%. Considering that Berkeley has about 40,000 enrolled, those poorest of Berkeley students number several thousand and there are 4.9% that “came from a poor family but became a rich adult.” Other data shows that, depending on class year and such, 21-32% of students have parents with income below $40,000, which would be around 8-12 thousand students. About a quarter of freshman and about half of transfers are the first generation in their families to attend college. I might add that the vast majority of Berkeley students are minorities, with less than a third of freshmen being caucasian.

It’s possible that the protest disproportionately attracted students from the lower classes and from among minority groups who have had a lifetime of dealing with prejudice, the kind of people more likely to be offended by rich white assholes like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos. From the same piece I initially quoted, the self-styled anarchist stated that, “You’re wrong about the working class, I hope they kick your Berkeley ass.” It’s not so clear to me who will be kicking whose ass, considering the demographics of Berkeley students and considering the real conflicts in our society. It is ludicrous to think it is the privileged rich white students who are protesting against these privilege rich white supremacists. As Alex Schmaus explains about an earlier protest, targeted minorities were fighting back against attempted oppression (The far right goes on a rampage in Berkeley):

It was rumored that Yiannopoulos would be launching a campaign to target undocumented students and their supporters on sanctuary campuses like Berkeley. But he and the College Republicans were unable to carry out this plan after they were confronted by some 2,000 or more students and community members chanting, “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here!”

The February 1 protest was inaccurately portrayed in the media as violent because a contingent of 100 or so masked Black Bloc activists carried out their own unannounced action–starting more than an hour after the much larger picket had begun–setting off fireworks and smoke bombs, pulling down police barricades, breaking windows and starting fires.

Reports of small numbers of far-right Yiannopoulos supporters trying attempting to intimidate protesters were ignored in almost every mainstream media account. Eventually, university administrators canceled the event, citing safety concerns.

I have no idea who are all of the groups of people at the various protests. I’m sure they represent a diversity of people on all sides with various ideologies and agendas, along with many innocent bystanders who simply got caught up in altercations that escalated quickly. My point is that most people with opinions about such issues are speaking from ignorance and that includes most corporate media reporters. No one seems to bother to find out. That said, I bet the FBI knows the exact identity and maybe even ideology of nearly every person that showed up, not that the FBI is going to share that info with the rest of us.

Here is what bothers me most of all. The political right is so much more effective in silencing opposition and frustrating free speech. But they do so in a highly controlled and devious way. A conservative college would stifle the free speech of both speakers and protesters. So, there would be no protest because there would be no opportunity. Free speech would be snuffed out in the crib. There would be nothing to report because nothing would happen. The corporate media tends to ignore what doesn’t happen (i.e., the muzzled dog that doesn’t bark) and why it doesn’t happen. The lack of free speech on conservative campuses is accepted as normal, not worthy of investigating or reporting.

Why doesn’t anyone complain that conservative Christian colleges don’t regularly have as guest speakers such people as anti-authoritarian pacifists, welfare statists, proud communists, radical anarchists, secular atheists, intersectional feminists, LGBT activists, moral relativists, sexual libertines, Pagan practitioners, Islamic fundamentalists, and Palestinian freedom fighters? These colleges also receive government funding but, unlike the larger universities, simply ensure nothing that isn’t conservative ever makes it within their walls. There are few non-conservatives and non-Christians in a conservative Christian college, along with few such people ever invited to speak. As such, there is rarely anyone to protest or any event to be canceled. An event that is never allowed to be planned can’t be cancelled, much less protested. It’s exclusion by design and we the taxpayers fund it, as Katha Pollitt put it (The Schools Where Free Speech Goes to Die):

If students are being denied a broad, mind-stretching education at universities often considered among the best in the world, what about the biased, blinkered, partial education that students are receiving at religious colleges? What about the assumption that no changing of the mind shall be permitted? Isn’t education supposed to challenge one’s settled beliefs?

And with Title IX exemptions in hand, colleges are free to ban and expel LGBT students, discriminate against women, use the Bible as a science text, and fire professors who disagree—without putting their federal funding at risk. The truth-in-advertising principle may protect the right of private colleges to do this. But the last time I looked, separation of church and state was still in the Bill of Rights.

Conservatives create an entire echo chamber of institutions and media. They shut out all alternative voices. There isn’t allowed any perception of other views. Their idea of free speech is to allow everyone they agree with to speak freely. Then they complain that conservatives aren’t allowed to dominate all forums and platforms of speech throughout the rest of society.

Yet, conveniently, conservatives don’t seem bothered when leftists are oppressed by suppression of free speech, such as those fighting Zionist apartheid. Howard Schwartz, as one random example among many, lost his position at a university for his lack of groupthink support for Israeli apartheid. Also, consider all of the careers and lives destroyed during the Cold War because of accusations of communism or communist sympathy. If conservatives had the opportunity, most of them would enthusiastically have a new era of McCarthyism.

It’s understandable that conservatives deceptively push the narrative that more than a tiny percentage of people on the political left care about shutting down free speech. The fact of the matter is there are far more people on the right who fear free speech. But we’ve grown so cynical about right-wingers that we assume they always have bad intentions toward a functioning democracy and, as such, we’ve stopped holding them accountable. Instead, even the supposed ‘liberal’ media seeks to silence protesters by promoting this conservative narrative, without much concern about petty factual details.

Why doesn’t the ‘liberal’ corporate media regularly do some genuine investigative reporting? They could research the larger context of what is going on. They could interview people to find out who are those involved and not involved. They could look at all sides such as seeing the role of right-wing instigators and outside agitators in fomenting conflict and violence. They could do surveys to find out what are the actual views and values of various groups, instead of making false accusations and unsubstantiated generalizations.

But if the corporate media allowed that kind of journalism to become the norm, they would no longer be serving corporate interests in a corporatist system that pushes rhetoric to further divide the public, ensuring that actual democracy remains hobbled. And you can see how highly effective is this tactic. Consider again the example of the avowed anarchist who has been pulled into this divisive narrative framing, without even the slightest clue that he is being manipulated. As I often repeat, never doubt the power of propaganda, especially not in the US where the propaganda model of media is more pervasive and subtle than maybe any ever devised in all of world history.

This is similar to how the corporatist Democrats used their narratives of identity politics. Sanders’ supporters were called Bernie Bros, as young women were attacked as gender traitors and young minorities were ignored, as both had been won over by Sanders’ genuine progressivism. Similar to how college students are caricatured, Sanders’ supporters were portrayed as violent radicals who are a threat to the supposed moderate and mainstream ‘liberalism’ of the corporatist ruling elite, despite the fact that the majority of Americans agree with Sanders on major issues.

We Americans are so propagandized that most of us can’t see straight. We are drowning in a flood of bullshit. Fortunately, there are a few voices that manage to get heard, even occasionally in the broader public debate. Yet the dominant narratives never change, as they continue to frame nearly all discussion and reporting.

* * * *

Ann Coulter’s Berkeley controversy isn’t really about free speech.
by Juliet Kleber

As Aaron Hanlon argued in the New Republic earlier this week, choosing not to host Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos on campus is not a suppression of their free speech. Academia certainly has an important place in selecting and elevating certain voices to relevance in a broader culture, but let’s not forget that a college isn’t a town hall: it’s a particular community of people engaged in intersecting missions of education. Coulter is not a member of that community and she has no claims upon it. Campus life is curated, and none of us outside of it are guaranteed access to that platform. Aside from safety concerns, that doesn’t mean trying to cancel her appearance was necessarily the right decision—it very well may be true that students should challenge her views face-to-face—but doing so is still not a violation of her rights.

That cannot be said, however, of the Fordham case. As Singal notes, Fordham is a private university, and as such the question of free speech in this case relates not to the Constitution but the university’s own policies. But unlike Coulter, who has a regular platform on television and in publishing, the students of Fordham are truly limited by what their university will and will not allow as protected speech. Those students have been denied the opportunity to engage in the political action they find meaningful. They have been punished for peacefully protesting that decision. At Berkeley, the College Republicans who invited Ann Coulter to speak presumably retain their official club status and likely their budget.

Berkeley Has NOT Violated Ann Coulter’s Free Speech Rights
by Robert Cohen

It was only after an ugly riot and arson by non-student anarchists on the night of the Yiannopoulos talk (leaving more than $100,000 in property damage on the Berkeley campus) that the chancellor reluctantly canceled the talk in the interests of public safety.

Fearing a recurrence of the Yiannopoulos violence, the Berkeley administration sought to postpone Coulter’s speech, and in the end asked that in the interest of security it be delayed a week. The administration cited threats it had received against Coulter, which is not surprising given that she is an intemperate nativist. Coulter and her College Republican and Young American Foundation sponsors responded with claims that the administration was trying to stifle conservative speech and that it had caved in to Berkeley’s “rabid off-campus mob” in doing so.

There are very few students on the Berkeley campus who see this week’s delay of the Coulter speech on public safety grounds as a free speech violation. That’s why the lawsuit the College Republicans filed this week against the UC administration had no Berkeley student sponsors other than the College Republicans. Think of the contrast with 1964, when there was a genuine free speech violation and a mass free speech movement; it mobilized virtually every Berkeley student group from left to right and even created a new organization of students, the independents, so that those who had been unaffiliated with any political group could be a part of the Free Speech Movement. In 1964 thousands of Berkeley students marched and hundreds engaged in civil disobedience when free speech was genuinely under threat. Not so today.

No, this is not a real free speech movement at Berkeley today, and that is because there has been no free speech violation by the UC administration. What the Coulter affair really amounts to is a “time, place, and manner” quibble.

Who’s behind the free speech crisis on campus?
by Dorian Bon

These rants in the mainstream press botch the facts of the stories they present, smearing thousands of mostly peaceful protesters as violent thugs, while disregarding the sincere debate on the left about how to confront the right on college campuses.

But that’s not even the worst of their mistakes. Their more spectacular failure is in attributing the crisis of free speech in American universities to the behavior of students.

There is, indeed, a crisis of free speech today, one that is steadily eroding the rights of students, faculty and staff in thousands of institutions of higher learning all across the country. But the blame lies with university administrators and bosses, not the student activists they loathe.

On campus after campus, university administrations are systematically rolling back decades of hard-fought gains for free speech, threatening students with suspension and expulsion for speaking out and clamping down on their right to assemble and organize. […]

THESE CHANGES occurred in tandem with a broader transformation of higher education, orchestrated to better serve the interests of business and the U.S. state, while placing the cost of education increasingly on the backs of students and faculty. […]

THE TRANSFORMATION of the university into a neoliberal regime has intensified the crisis of free speech on campus.

Contingent professors are justifiably afraid to express themselves openly with very little job security and power to defend themselves from their employers. Students, saddled with debt, cannot afford to risk discipline or suspension when their hopes of financial security depend on getting their diplomas and finding employment. To top it off, campuses are now dominated by an army of administrators policing student and faculty activity.

Conservatives Have Only Themselves to Blame for Today’s Campus Wars
by Jim Sleeper

This time, it was conservatives assailing colleges as too “liberal”—never mind that many campuses have already been transformed by the very corporate, capitalist incentives and pressures that most conservatives champion, with disturbing consequences that they’re trying to blame on liberal political correctness.

Some censorious “liberals” have indeed only helped to turn undergraduate liberal education into a dance of careerism, power-networking, and self-marketing. Many rail at glass ceilings that must be broken by women and people of color, forgetting that breaking the ceiling doesn’t improve the foundations and walls unless wholly different challenges are posed to the structure itself. Federal bureaucratic overreach has compounded the problem by enabling campus sexual-assault regimens to endanger the due process that is essential to liberalism.

Still, the accommodations of some left-liberals to the increasingly business-oriented and bureaucratic drift of higher education and of civil society are mainly symptoms, not causes, of our civic decay. Now that the Republican presidential campaign has elevated a financer of casinos and a vulgar, predatory self-marketer whom most of the Party denounces, even as its members asphyxiate free speech and open inquiry in Congress, the rest of us—some honorable conservatives included—are wondering just what kinds of “free” and “robust” speech right-wingers are willing to accept and what kinds of “political correctness” they themselves have imposed.

The students whom Deresiewicz called “entitled little shits” and whom conservatives characterize as coddled and frightened don’t exist in a vacuum. They are products of an increasingly frightening, atomizing society that turns college students from co-participants in universities’ historic scientific and social missions into isolated, heavily indebted consumers of career training. This model of education serves the casino-like financing and omnivorous, predatory, intrusive marketing that conservatives themselves have championed, even as it incubates a racially “diverse” global managerial elite that doesn’t consider itself accountable to any democratic polity or moral code. Absent massive public funding like that of the 1950s and ‘60s for higher education as a crucible of citizenship, students must mortgage themselves to future employers by taking courses and programs that private donors and trustees choose to fund.

It makes little sense to preach civic-republican virtues such as the fearless pursuit of truth through reasoned dialogue when conservative trustees and administrators are busy harnessing liberal education only to facilitate market priorities, not interrogate them.

It’s precisely because conservatives consider themselves so decent and principled that they’re in denial about their responsibility for the transformation of elite universities into training centers for wealth-making, power-wielding, and public relations, and that they’re campaigning so energetically to discredit those who want to keep liberal education somewhat independent of both markets and the national-security state.

Hoping for Another Battle, Nativist Trump Supporters and Antigovernment Extremists Again Descend on Berkeley
by Ryan Lenz

As the birthplace of the free speech movement decades ago, the debate surrounding Coulter’s speech put Berkeley in the precarious position of protecting its staff and students while ensuring freedom of speech, especially in a political climate where the possibility of violence between alt-right extremists and antifascist protesters becomes more frequent. Two previous appearances by far-right and conservative speakers have turned violent at Berkeley, including a protest on April 15 that left 11 people injured and six hospitalized. Police arrested 21 people on a variety of charges then.

Lawrence Rosenthal, chair and lead researcher of the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies, issued a written statement on the day’s events. Rosenthal warned people not to be cowed by the alt-right’s claims of censorship and noted that the university had two concerns to consider in cancelling Coulter’s appearance — the unequivocal support of free speech and security.

“The situation at the University of California does not conform to the claims of suppression of free speech that conservative politicians and commentators have been trying to tie it to. Neither student groups nor the University administration are responsible for the threats of violence that surround Ann Coulter’s proposed appearance on this campus,” Rosenthal wrote.

Rosenthal also criticized Spencer for “exalt[ing] in the violence,” as he did in a YouTube video recounting the event.

“The deepest significance of the ongoing ‘Battles of Berkeley’ is the attempt by the alt-right to move the country toward fascist-anti-fascist violence,” Rosenthal said. “Conservative politicians and commentators wishing to use the Berkeley situation as a cudgel in the name of the free speech run the risk of enabling the dark goals of the alt-right.”

A white supremacist is accused of punching a protester. Classmates say he makes them feel ‘unsafe.’
by Lindsey Bever

In a video posted April 15, Damigo was seen talking about Identity Evropa, which he said is “interested in promoting and preserving European culture and values.”

He said his group was at the protest “because we believe that free speech is a European value and there are many people here who are wishing to use violence to silence other people. And so we feel that’s important to be here today to ensure that people are able to speak without having violence used against them and that they’re able to get their narrative out there and just start a conversation, start a dialogue and let people know that there are certain things they disagree with and some things they do agree with and they’re not going to be intimidated when these people come out here to promote violence.”

That was the same day Damigo was apparently seen in a video punching a female protester in the face and then running into a chaotic crowd.

The Schools Where Free Speech Goes to Die
Some of the worst offenders against the First Amendment are religious colleges.

by Katha Pollitt