Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dirt-Cheap Ideas

In his seminal text Fear and Trembling, Soren Kierkegaard's pseudonymous narrator, Johannes de Silentio, remarks:

Not just in commerce but in the world of ideas too our age is putting on a veritable clearance sale. Everything can be had so dirt cheap that one begins to wonder whether in the end anyone will want to make a bid.

As my good friend, Dr. Trott, pointed out to me, it's hard to believe that was written almost 150 years ago. Anyone watching the current debacle of a debate (and I use "debate" here in the loosest possible sense) over health care can surely see the dirt-cheapening of ideas and discourse that is underway. Of course, Kierkegaard was no fan of democracy. Like Nietzsche, like Plato-- actually, like most of the history of Western philosophy which, as Derrida noted in Rogues, has "rarely sided without reserve with democracy"-- Kierkegaard despised the very idea of rule by the hoi polloi, itself ruled by the lowest common demoninator. The fundamental principle of democracy-- that each and every one has a voice and a vote-- is meant to cultivate both equity and excellence, and its proponents (pace Kierkegaard et al) believe that the best always triumphs in the marketplace of ideas. But, as we've seen recently, sometimes unrestricted access to the marketplace of ideas gives platform to people like this, whose sheer volume and viciousness (sans ideas) regrettably triumphs too often.

Most of the time, I think there aren't enough truly "radical" voices in American democratic discourse. The "Left" in this country is woefully moderate, which is why we haven't gotten anywhere close to approaching truly costly (read: "valuable") ideas about reform in health care, banking, housing, employment, et al, ad nauseum. Liberals/Democrats shake in their boots when they find themselves accused of "socialist" ideations-- which, more often than not, are merely appeals for the most rudimentary mechanisms of social justice-- and the so-called "radical" Left is repeatedly and publicly disavowed by the Democratic Party for fear that indulging that radical element might exempt liberally-minded folk from inclusion in serious public discourse. So, it is curious to me to see the G.O.P.'s unrepentant indulgence of their own radical element, the Tea Party, which appears more and more to possess no internal censoring mechanism at all.

The Tea Party is politically "backwards" in almost every post-Enlightenment sense of the word. They relish in, even celebrate, their bigotry. They trade in a rhetoric of non-conversation, non-cooperation, non-participation. They pose as a revolutionary movement that is afraid of revolution, a populist movement utterly disdainful of the people. They are patriots who hate their government, who hate any government, who do not want to be "governed"... which makes them "patriots" in the old patria (Vaterland) sense, in the "nationalist" sense, which is always and ever a racist sense. Why does the G.O.P not turn its back on them?

Derrida once said that the inherent risk facing every modern democracy is that "the alternative to democracy can always be represented as a democratic alternative." That is to say, it is squarely within the both the spirit and the law of democracy to democratically opt for those who would bring about the end of democracy. For all of our differences, I still believe that Republicans really do believe in democracy... but they have a wolf at the gates, and they will surely be devoured by it if they continue their sheepish acquiescence. They are letting their own ideas be co-opted and ultimately cheapened by the Tea Party. And eventually, as Kierkegaard predicted, those ideas will get so cheap that no one will care to make a bid.

12 comments:

Adam DC said...

Thank you, Doc. Here's to the valuable radicals yet to come.

YankeeDoodle said...

I am involved in the Tea Party. I began last year at the first major tax day event in Austin, TX. From there I got involved in organizing future events in San Antonio, and then in DC. So after reading this inflammatory and hateful post, I decided I had to step back and take a few breaths before I responded.

But let's begin with where we both stand in relation to each other. You hate me. I don't know anything about you, except to conclude that you in fact hate me and everything I stand for, and seemingly know everything there is to know about me. How do I know this? Because you uncritically cite "news" sources like the Huffington post that, for their own agenda-driven reasons, also hate me and everything I stand for. You cite an article that claims that protesters spit and shouted racist profanities. Yet you have not cited any articles that cast doubt on those claims. You have not mentioned the fact that there is no video evidence showing that anyone shouted the words, despite and the video of the "spitting" incident was simply a protester shouting enthusiatically. Even Cleaver admitted that it was in fact just someone who "allowed" saliva to fly from his mouth as he was yelling, a "say it, don't spray it" incident. And in spite of one of the congressional aides videorecording the whole thing, no one has come forward with any video of anyone shouting racist epithets, depite a $10,000 reward offered to anyone who can show that evidence.

You said on another post on here that you had no interest in learning anything about us as people, anything about what motivates us, or anything about our movement. Yet you eagerly lap up any report from any biased news source that casts us in the worst light. Why? I can think of no other reason but that you are already predisposed toward hate, disdain, and contempt, and these news articles you cite reflect nothing more than your own confirmation bias.

Let me tell you about some of my experiences. Last year in San Antonio, there was a guy walking around with a sign that read "Save the white race!" There is actually a video on YouTube where one of our volunteers confronts the guy. Turns out this "racist teabagger" was a masters student at UTSA and an ardent Obama supporter. This is not an outlier. This has been my experience as well as the experience of many other organizers and volunteers I've spoken to. Many of these people show up wearing outrageous outfits that reflect their stereotypes of us, making them generally easy to pick out, and they have signs that reflect only the stereotypes these bigots hold in their narrow minds. When they are confronted - and yes we do confront them - and asked why they are there, they usually come up with some cartoonish responses typical of the left's stereotypes of our views. Even the ones that look normal are exposed and end up fleeing.

I know about Cointelpro. Infiltrate a movement, do bad things, and bring discredit. Your side is using these agents provocateurs because you desperately need a racist moment. That's the reason for the "civil rights" march through the crowd that the Black Caucus pull off last week. There was no reason that they, and no one else, needed to march through the protest crowd with video cameras. Shut us up, marginalize us, even engage in violence and pin it on us, that's the strategy. Or in the case of Coffingate, completely misrepresent it, claim it was in your yard, and call it a death threat while sending out a fundraising email.

YankeeDoodle said...

Are there genuine, pure-bred racists in some of these crowds? It's not impossible, especially when we have crowds in the tens of thousands. It is impossible for us to police them all, and even when we do confront them we have no authority to send them packing. Unlike the left, we don't bring them in on buses with preprinted signs and $5 checks. The provocateurs usually do run off when they are confronted, especially if they are on video, and most of the racist signs you see are those very people who run away back to the campus when confronted. But when you have a crowd of thousands you're always likely to get some loons, just as surely as I can find at least one LaRouchie or a 9/11 troofer at any given Democrat gathering. As my friend at distributedrepublic.com said, "Get 10 people in a room, you'll have at least one idiot. Get a 100 people in a room, you'll have a few that believe the moon landing was faked. Get 20,000 people together, and you will have some who believe Elvis is alive, Xenu brought his minions to Earth millions of years ago, and yes, some racists. It does not mean they represent any meaningful part of the whole."

By the way, I seem to remember plenty of death threats, simulated beheadings, and pictures of bullet holes in Bush's picture during those antiwar rallies. Oh yes, here's a nice gallery of them:

http://www.zombietime.com/zomblog/?p=621


There were also plenty of highly offensive anti-Israel signs. Does it make sense to smear the whole anti-war crowd with that cheap brush? No, even though those sorts of people represented a much more sizable portion of the whole than the random few who show up with offensive signs at Tea Party events. And I'm not even counting the people who engaged in violence and property destruction, like those darlings at the G-20 protests.

So even if I were to concede that there are some people who use a Tea Party rally to opportunistically air their insanity in public, does it represent the movement as a whole? No. And your attempt to smear the vast majority of us who do not harbor such sentiments is the cheapest idea I've seen yet. Problem is there are plenty of bottomfeeders who are making bids on that kind of tawdry cheapness which has been flooding the marketplace for months, especially various Congressmen who have not hesitated to exploit the opportunity for fundraising appeals. But go ahead, by all means cheapen yourself. The growing numbers of us are seeing on a daily basis how the media and our soi disant enlightened betters misrepresent and lie about us.

YankeeDoodle said...

Now I will address some of the points you make in this screed.


"The Tea Party is politically "backwards" in almost every post-Enlightenment sense of the word. They relish in, even celebrate, their bigotry."

I had something prepared in response to this, but I believe I addressed it adequately above. We don't relish in, or celebate that. The narrative of the powers that be NEEDS for that to be true, but it ends there. Why YOU need it to be true, I don't know. Perhaps so it doesn't upset your order, your understanding of the world.

"They trade in a rhetoric of non-conversation, non-cooperation, non-participation. They pose as a revolutionary movement that is afraid of revolution..."

Ok, so perhaps you can tell me what is so "forward" and revolutionary about concentration of power, for whatever reason? People have been doing that since man first learned he could get what he wanted by clubbing another to death. That's revolutionary? No, that's just sick, and as old-hat as Sargon of Akkad. The leftist radicals you want to see more of, the ones that you think are marginalized by the democrats, are motivated by some of the oldest and ugliest of human impulses: greed, rage, envy, hatred. That's better than a few offensive signs?

A rhetoric of non-conversation? What conversation should we have? For a conversation, there needs to be some agreement at least on the premises. There is none. You want a
conversation in which you get what you want in the end no matter what. Why do you want the conversation? For the sake of saying you had a conversation? I believe in liberty. You want to negotiate mine away to satisfy your own emotional needs. To me, that's a dead-end conversation.

And non-cooperation, I believe, has a long and resepcted history. But now that it's not the left doing it, what was once called civil disobedience is called by the more frightening and aggressive term, "non-cooperation."

"a populist movement utterly disdainful of the people."

Oh, that worn-out abstraction, "the people." If "the people" wanted to cook and eat me for dinner, would you allow me just a little bit of disdain? Or must I never question the power and the embodiment of the will? But, ok, I'll play along for now. How many actual people does it take to make "the people?" By last count, 55-58% of actual people opposed this health care reform. Is that enough people to qualify as that worthless abstraction and leftist hobby horse known as "the people?" Or have they exiled themselves from that happy commune by rejecting the principles of the commune?

Disdainful is passing legislation that makes us slaves to insurance companies and big pharma against the will of a clear majority. THAT, not us.

YankeeDoodle said...

"They are patriots who hate their government, who hate any government, who do not want to be "governed"... which makes them "patriots" in the old patria (Vaterland) sense, in the "nationalist" sense, which is always and ever a racist sense."

Again, here is the strained desperation to find a racist core in this, even to the point of engaging in historical revisionism. How many nationalist movements opposed government? Seems if I remember correctly, they were pretty good at setting up and empowering governments.

http://biggovernment.com/abreitbart/2010/03/25/2010-a-race-odyssey-disproving-a-negative-for-cash-prizes-or-how-the-civil-rights-movement-jumped-the-shark/

We do not "hate government." We just don't hold any romantic illusions about what it is. Government is raw, violent force, nothing more. I don't care if you can find the most attractive, charismatic, appealing, smiling face to put at the head of it. This government is still the greatest concentration of firepower in the history of humanity.

Have someone mail you some marijuana, and you can maybe see, like that mayor from Pennsylvania, the uglier side of the thug state instead of just its fine words and lofty rhetoric. You think government can be good. We do not. The more powerful the government, the greater incentive for those sociopaths - I mean radicals - who lust for power, to control it. And the greater the prize, the greater lengths the sociopathic and power-lusting will go to get it. This is the reason that as government has grown more powerful, campaigns have grown more expensive.

"Why does the G.O.P not turn its back on them?"

Believe me, they tried.

"Derrida once said that the inherent risk facing every modern democracy is that "the alternative to democracy can always be represented as a democratic alternative." That is to say, it is squarely within the both the spirit and the law of democracy to democratically opt for those who would bring about the end of democracy. For all of our differences, I still believe that Republicans really do believe in democracy... but they have a wolf at the gates, and they will surely be devoured by it if they continue their sheepish acquiescence. They are letting their own ideas be co-opted and ultimately cheapened by the Tea Party. And eventually, as Kierkegaard predicted, those ideas will get so cheap that no one will care to make a bid."

It isn't the Tea Party people who are calling for an end to democracy under the guise of democracy. Tell me, what is democratic about passing a bill that a majority of people oppose? I wonder though, if by "democracy" we even mean the same thing. Do you really think a democracy without limits or principles is worth having? A democracy that decides the size of stone the mob can throw an offender sentenced to death for some trivial offense is still a democracy. Is that all you are concerned about, that any crime or outrage of human rights be signed off with the imprimatur of majority approval? Is the rule of law simply about going through the motions, the right paper-shuffling procedures and getting the right rubber stamps of due process? I believe in democracy, but I do not believe that it is not an end in itself, merely a means to the end of the protection of liberty. A democracy that does not preserve liberty is self-negating and illegitimate.

I doubt this will do anything to change your mind about us. Perhaps you will even harbor worse sentiments than before. But at least they will be for substantive reasons of philosophical difference rather than slanderous garbage printed in a propaganda outlet like Huffington Post.

One thing I do fear is that by hyping up non-events, creating false outrages, and saying things like we are trying to overthrow democracy, is going to actually cause some people, like those "valuable radicals yet to come," to commit acts of violence against us.

Chet said...

It strikes me the best response to sophists like yankeedoodle is "Quod erat demonstrandum".

I always liked that quote in Kierkegaard too.

The real difficulty of democracy for the present, as well as the years of the Bush administration, is to affirm its consequences. And then they were very ugly. Now, democracy finally seems to be pursuing democratic ends again, but this quasi-fascist-cum-populist Tea Party movement cannot stand the consequences of that. I suppose this is another way of putting Derrida's point.

I guess I'm not ready to affirm the work of democracy and am more sympathetic to the general trend of the history of philosophy, that democracy is a project destined for failure. Yet, as much as I hate to say it, as of yet, the alternatives are worse. Or maybe we simply haven't seen the ugliest that democracy can produce (here YD is clearly trying to help).

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

I would laugh about Yankee Doodle if I didn't think he were serious.

I agree with Chet's quod erat demonstrandum. However, since I'm not sure Yankee Doodle knows Latin, I'll expound a bit.

I wonder if Yizzle to the Dizzle as I'll call -- I'm assuming --- him sees the irony in the fact that Y to the D used way more words to say nothing than Dr. J. used to make a thoughtful point about the status of political discourse in the modern world, drawing on one of the great thinkers of the 19th century.

Inflammatory and hateful? Here's another term Yizzle to the Dizzle: tu quoque.

A different comment: in my Mormon murder mystery novel, the events that get a lot of shit started are the main character's decision to flip Soren Kierkegaard's logic and drive down the price of faith.

Yizzle to the Dizzay, do you think your boy Glenn Beck could follow that?

Full disclosure: I stopped reading Yizzle Dizzie diatribe somewhere around the claim that we were infiltrating a fascist movement with faux-racists.

One last Latin term: reductio ad absurdum.

anotherpanacea said...

If you haven't already read it, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" is a nice introduction to this YD's claims about infiltration. I think of Arendt's definition of ideology as unfalsifiable in these circumstances: even exceptions (some racists) prove the rule (group purity) because of the "infiltration." No true Scotsman would do such a thing!

YankeeDoodle said...

anotherpanacea,

Perhaps you missed the part where I stated that there probably are racists in any crowd of 10,000. But it seems it's damned if you do, damned if you don't. We're either all racists or we're committing No True Scotsman fallacies. My point was that it doesn't define the tea party movement. If it did, it sure found a strange and circuitous way of expressing itself. "Audit the fed" and anger at Wall Street bailouts as hidden racism is a hairy beard screaming for Occam's razor.

Additionally, my anecdote about the guy we confronted, Ron from UTSA, is not paranoia, but a confirmed fact. One of our volunteers is a student there and knows the guy.

Here's a video of two of our volunteers confronting the shifty character:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8500HxYv-FE&feature=player_embedded

Of course, this is one instance I know of personally because I was there. Others I know of only through people I've spoken to. I am inclined to believe them because of my experience.

And as a Jewish woman, if these events were rife with racism, I am quite certain I would have picked up on it.

YankeeDoodle said...

As for the classist sentiments expressed by the two esteemed professors of philosophy above, I will let their statements stand as the perfect QED to mine. Especially the guy who doesn't know tu qouque is a rhetorical fallacy, and reductio ad absurdum doesn't mean quite what he thinks it does.

I'd suggest brushing up a bit, Wheelock's is an excellent resource.

anotherpanacea said...

Perhaps you missed the part where I stated that there probably are racists in any crowd of 10,000. But it seems it's damned if you do, damned if you don't. We're either all racists or we're committing No True Scotsman fallacies.

Look, you can't have it both ways: either every documented instance of racism is an infiltrator, or there are racists in the crowds who act out, and need to be named, shamed, and disavowed.

More to the point, the TP's racism isn't reducible to shouting racial slurs and spitting. Many of the largest signs depict President Obama using racist stereotypes like witch doctor, and I've been to these rallies (in DC) and these folks aren't getting called out: they're congratulated on their cleverness. Plus, much of the rhetoric around the "Birther" movement is explicitly racist, and many TPers are Birthers or use Birther rhetoric.

Then, of course, there is the fact that African Americans and Latino immigrants are disproportionately deprived of health insurance. So in addition to the fringe racism within the TP movement, the central policy opposition to the health care bills that they're protesting still leads to supporting a racist status quo.

In my opinion, that's not intentional racism, but not all racism is intentional or even aware of itself. Strategic ignorance is a very powerful kind of racism, too, and choosing to remain ignorant of the way in which the US perpetuates disparate outcomes for African Americans and privilege for whites is certainly worth calling racism.

It's a lazy racism, however, so I guess they've got that going for them... though because of that intellectual laziness, they're working particularly hard to preserve disproportionately bad health outcomes for the least advantaged.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

Hey Yizzay,

Thanks for taking the time to correct my Latin. I actually learned Latin from Wheelock, probably when you were the glint in someone's paranoid eye!

Of course, Wheelock won't help me with fallacies.

You're right that I was playing fast and loose with the terms tu quoque and reductio ad absurdum so let me help you out:

In the case of tu quoque --- it was really just you... I was making an argumentum ad hominem, but those are not always fallacies.

With reductio ad absurdum. Perhaps the problem is that you can't see the absurdity of your own position. The Teabag movement is rife with paranoia and founded on paranoid rhetoric. Your continued paranoia need not be reduced any further to be absurdum.

QED

P.S. If you want to know why I'm not taking your ideas seriously, it's because they're not worth taking seriously.

If I took your ideas seriously, I'd have to assume America was on the brink of a fascist collapse. And you right-wing paranoids share a wrong belief with some of my fellow lefties who happen to be a little paranoid (not Dr. J., Chet or AnPan of course who are all eminently sensible, like me): they fail to understand the strength of even weak American political discourse and resort instead to cheap tricks, showmanship and real or mimed violence instead. Fortunately the "silent majority" continues to find that a little absurd...