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Nederlog

June 7, 2015
On The Crisis: A. The interviews of Sheldon Wolin by Chris Hedges 1-8
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
 
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
"
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton














Prev- crisis -Next

Sections
Introduction

1.
The Imperative of Revolt
2. Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin on Inverted
     Totalitarianism as a Threat to Democracy

3. ‘We Never Managed to Relax’ After World War II (Parts 4
     and 5)

4. Hedges and Wolin on How New-Style Propagandizing
     Promotes Inverted Totalitarianism

5.
We Need a New Word for Revolution (Parts 6, 7 and 8)

This is a Nederlog of Sunday June 7, 2015.

This is a crisis log, but it is not a normal one: It consists of collated copies of my reviews of the interviews of Sheldon Wolin (<- Wikipedia) by Chris Hedges (<- Wikipedia) that I wrote between October 21 and November 8, 2014.

I reproduce these reviews because I liked the interviews (without quite agreeing, but that doesn't matter, and I read a great lot); I like the interviewer and interviewee; both interviewer and interviewee are important persons in their fields (political philosophy and joournalism); and I also liked writing the reviews - which are based on selected pieces from the interviews: If you want to read all, I supply the links and you can read all of them.

I have made no changes, except that I corrected two slight typos and inserted numbers of the form "[1.2]" (section, number) in the text for my comments. Also, what follows in this file is just the text: The comments are in the next file. And you can click on a comment number to be moved to that comment.

And clearly, given the qualities of the text, I think comments are quite justified,
and indeed the present texts and the comments on it will have a slightly different prefix than merely "Crisis": These are indeed texts "On The Crisis:", and are so  because they comprise many takes on many aspects of the crisis.

Finally, since I have simply copied the texts that follow from the originals, and have not changed them (except for a correction of typos), this means that there is a little duplication in the beginning of the sections.
1.  The Imperative of Revolt

The first item is an article by Chris Hedges on Truthdig!:

This starts as follows - and the questions are good ones:
I met with Sheldon S. Wolin in Salem, Ore., and John Ralston Saul in Toronto and asked the two political philosophers the same question. If, as Saul has written, we have undergone a corporate coup d’état and now live under a species of corporate dictatorship that Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism,” if the internal mechanisms that once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible remain ineffective, if corporate power retains its chokehold on our economy and governance, including our legislative bodies, judiciary and systems of information, and if these corporate forces are able to use the security and surveillance apparatus and militarized police forces to criminalize dissent, how will change occur and what will it look like?
I have to admit that, although I am a philosopher, I did not know about Wolin until March 2013, and I did not know about Saul until today.

And I suppose this shows something is missing in me, but I admit I have not been that interested in politics (of which I had a huge dose the first twenty years of my life, much larger than most), since I decided age 20 that it was science much more than politics that I was really interested in and expected most of the human emancipation to come from. Also, I am ill since I was 28, of course, which also changed my life and its possibilities very much - 36 years of illness and lack of energy.

But OK: I should also say that since I missed them, most must have missed them, which is a great pity, because I mostly agree with the questions in the previous paragraph and with the diagnosis in the following one:
Wolin, who wrote the books “Politics and Vision” and “Democracy Incorporated,” and Saul, who wrote “Voltaire’s Bastards” and “The Unconscious Civilization,” see democratic rituals and institutions, especially in the United States, as largely a facade for unchecked global corporate power. Wolin and Saul excoriate academics, intellectuals and journalists, charging they have abrogated their calling to expose abuses of power and give voice to social criticism; they instead function as echo chambers for elites, courtiers and corporate systems managers. Neither believes the current economic system is sustainable. And each calls for mass movements willing to carry out repeated acts of civil disobedience to disrupt and delegitimize corporate power.
This I mostly agree with, though I should say I am quite skeptical about mass movements that are not propelled by some good understanding of a topic and by feasible plans - which means that I cannot support most mass movements I have known about the last 45 years, and indeed nearly all of them also have failed (except as mechanisms to launch a few - mostly very undeserving - persons to what later became obvious were mostly corrupt careers). [1.1]

Next, there is this (skipping some):
This devolution of the economic system has been accompanied by corporations’ seizure of nearly all forms of political and social power. The corporate elite, through a puppet political class and compliant intellectuals, pundits and press, still employs the language of a capitalist democracy. But what has arisen is a new kind of control, inverted totalitarianism, which Wolin brilliantly dissects in his book “Democracy Incorporated.”
(...)
The old systems of governance—electoral politics, an independent judiciary, a free press and the Constitution—appear to be venerated. But, similar to what happened during the late Roman Empire, all the institutions that make democracy possible have been hollowed out and rendered impotent and ineffectual.
I will below make a list of points, but now continue with more quotations that make more points.

First, there is this on the presence of a democratic husk that is combined with the lack of any coherent continuous opposition - and this is Wolin talking:
"We still have elections. They are relatively free. We have a relatively free media. But what is missing is a crucial, continuous opposition that has a coherent position, that is not just saying no, no, no, that has an alternative and ongoing critique of what is wrong and what needs to be remedied.” [1.2]
Second, here is Wolin's - completely non-marxist - view of what is fundamentally wrong with capitalism:
“Capitalism is destructive because it has to eliminate customs, mores, political values, even institutions that present any kind of credible threat to the autonomy of the economy,” Wolin said. “That is where the battle lies. Capitalism wants an autonomous economy. It wants a political order subservient to the needs of the economy."
Actually, I think this is less about capitalism as it is about the current neoliberal (aka and better: neoconservative) proponents of a special form of it, that reduces everything to the question "which recipe makes the most (economical) profit?" - which is just stupid ideologizing, but for that very reason also is quite popular. [1.3]

Third, there is not only no coherent intellectual opposition to capitalism, there also is no coherent factual oppositon left:
There is no effective organized opposition to the rise of a neofeudalism dominated a tiny corporate oligarchy that exploits workers and the poor.
Fourth, the class of academics has, once again (see Benda), betrayed both the people's rights and the nurturing of rational critical ideas, and instead sold out to the money of the corporations: [1.4]
“The reform class, those who believe that reform is possible, those who believe in humanism, justice and inclusion, has become incredibly lazy over the last 30 or 40 years,” Saul said. “The last hurrah was really in the 1970s. Since then they think that getting a tenured position at Harvard and waiting to get a job in Washington is actually an action, as opposed to passivity.”
I have seen that whole process in Holland, from the 1970s onwards: Nearly everybody was lying; nearly everybody was only interested in a career; and the filtiest careerists got the best of jobs, and also destroyed the real universities, reducing them to colleges - and indeed their whole real idea of "a revolution" was any movement that gets me (the "revolutionary" "academic") a tenured position.

So let me makea list of points. Here are eight of them: [1.5]
  • Democratic rituals and institutions are these days largely a facade for unchecked global corporate power.
  • Academics, intellectuals and journalists these days function as echo chambers for elites, courtiers and corporate systems managers.
  • The corporations have succeeded in seizing nearly all forms of political and social power.
  • All the institutions that make democracy possible have been hollowed out and rendered impotent and ineffectual.
  • What is especially missing as regards ideas is a crucial, continuous opposition that has coherent ideas.
  • What is especially missing as regards facts is any effective organized opposition: The "left" has become "Third Way", i.e. right wing lite, and helped destroy the trade unions and helped installing austerity for the poor.
  • Capitalism, or at least its ideologists, wants an autonomous economy. It wants a political order subservient to the needs of the economy, and has reduced economy to the question "what is most profitable for the rich".
  • The vast majority of the academics have sold out, already in the 80-ies,
    and have destroyed the universities and remade them into colleges were almost anyone with an IQ higher than 100 can get some sort of diploma, if only in "multimedia studies", provided he or she has the money to pay for it.
I think that is mostly correct - and it means that I see little grounds for hope, apart from another major economic collapse. In fact, that is almost the only hope I have, for I think a major economic collapse is likely, though this also will lead to
much harm, much repression and much poverty for very many. [1.6]

But we are not yet done with Chris Hedges' article, for Hedges asked Wolin and Saul for their ideas on revolution:

Wolin and Saul, while deeply critical of Lenin’s ideology of state capitalism and state terror, agreed that creating a class devoted full time to radical change was essential to fomenting change. (...) The alliance between mass movements and a professional revolutionary class, they said, offers the best chance for an overthrow of corporate power.
I do not think so: Firstly, you do not "create classes", and secondly the whole idea of "a professional revolutionary class" seems to me outdated (and bound to be scoped up by the NSA). Also, it did not work out well for either the Soviet Union or China: Being revolutionized by a very small "professional revolutionary class" meant the members of that - extremely small - class kept power for at least 60 years, while all the time maintaining dictatorships. [1.7]

And there is this on the policies of the neoconservatives (which incidentally I find a better name than "neoliberals"). This is Saul talking:

"The neoconservatives (..) have always been Bolsheviks. They are the Bolsheviks of the right. Their methodology is the methodology of the Bolsheviks. They took over political parties by internal coups d’état. They worked out, scientifically, what things they needed to do and in what order to change the structures of power. They have done it stage by stage. And we are living the result of that. The liberals sat around writing incomprehensible laws and boring policy papers. They were unwilling to engage in the real fight that was won by a minute group of extremists.”
Yes, and the right has been quite successful, and have built up their positions and their policies from the early seventies onwards. The reasons they have been quite successful are mainly that they had a lot of money; they worked (and work) in secret; and they were not opposed by neither the political parties nor the academics (who indeed for forty years mostly "sat around writing incomprehensible laws and boring policy papers") nor the trade unions. [1.8]

Finally, there is the proposal of the title: "The imperative of revolt". What to think about this given the list of points I made?

As I said, I see little grounds for hope on a realistic revolt, apart from the next economic collapse - and then the outcome will depend on a combination of chance and feasible ideas.


2. Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin on Inverted Totalitarianism as a Threat to Democracy

The next item is an article by Yves Smith who reports on part 4 of the 6 part interview that Chris Hedges had with Sheldon Wolin:
To start with, my own take on parts 1 - 3 is here: it helps if you read this, if you didn't already. I will quote one bit of it, which is a dotted summary I made of the points made by Hedges and Wolin (mostly in their words):
  • Democratic rituals and institutions are these days largely a facade for unchecked global corporate power.
  • Academics, intellectuals and journalists these days function as echo chambers for elites, courtiers and corporate systems managers.
  • The corporations have succeeded in seizing nearly all forms of political and social power.
  • All the institutions that make democracy possible have been hollowed out and rendered impotent and ineffectual.
  • What is especially missing as regards ideas is a crucial, continuous opposition that has coherent ideas.
  • What is especially missing as regards facts is any effective organized opposition: The "left" has become "Third Way", i.e. right wing lite, and helped destroy the trade unions and helped installing austerity for the poor.
  • Capitalism, or at least its ideologists, wants an autonomous economy. It wants a political order subservient to the needs of the economy, and has reduced economy to the question "what is most profitable for the rich".
  • The vast majority of the academics have sold out, already in the 80-ies,
    and have destroyed the universities and remade them into colleges were almost anyone with an IQ higher than 100 can get some sort of diploma, if only in "multimedia studies", provided he or she has the money to pay for it.
As I said then:
I think that is mostly correct - and it means that I see little grounds for hope, apart from another major economic collapse. In fact, that is almost the only hope I have, for I think a major economic collapse is likely, though this also will lead to
much harm, much repression and much poverty for very many.
Now to part 4, about which Yves Smith says as introduction:
Yves here. We’ve been featuring what we consider to be standout segments in an important Real News Network series, an extended discussion between Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin on capitalism and democracy. This offering focuses on what Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism,” or how corporations and government are working together to keep the general public in thrall. Wolin discusses how propaganda and the suppression of critical thinking serve to a promote pro-growth, pro-business ideology which sees democracy as dispensable, and potentially an obstacle to what they consider to be progress. They also discuss how America is governed by two pro-corproate parties and how nay “popular” as in populist, candidate gets stomped on.
Also, you can see the video on the last dotted link, though I didn't, simply because I read a lot faster than people talk.

This is from the beginning of part 4, and addresses the meaning of "inverted totalitarianism", which is a concept originated by Wolin:

HEDGES: (...) I wanted just to go through and I’ve taken notes from both of your books, Politics and Vision and Democracy Incorporated, of the characteristics of what you call inverted totalitarianism, which you use to describe the political system that we currently live under. You said it’s only in part a state-centered phenomenon. What do you mean by that?

SHELDON WOLIN, PROF. EMERITUS POLITICS, PRINCETON: Well, I mean by that that one of the striking characteristics of our age is the extent to which so-called private institutions, like the media, for example, are able to work towards the same end of control, pacification, that the government is interested in, that the idea of genuine opposition is usually viewed as subversion, and so that criticism now is a category that we should really look at and examine, and to see whether it really amounts to anything more than a kind of mild rebuke at best, and at worst a way of sort of confirming the present system by showing its open-mindedness about self-criticism.

HEDGES: And you said that there’s a kind of fusion now of–and you talk a lot about the internal dynamics of corporations themselves, the way they’re completely hierarchical, even the extent to which people within corporate structures are made to identify with a corporation on a kind of personal level. Even–I mean, I speak as a former reporter for The New York Times–even we would get memos about the New York Times family, which is, of course, absurd. And you talk about how that value system or that structure of power, coupled with that type of propaganda, has just been transferred to the state, that the state now functions in exactly the same way, the same hierarchical way, that it uses the same forms of propaganda to get people at once to surrender their political rights and yet to identify themselves through nationalism, patriotism, and the lust for superpower itself, which we see now across the political landscape.

As I see it (which may not be as Wolin or Hedges sees it) the main reasons for this development is the realization that (1) propaganda - lying - works, for the vast majory can be deceived (2) this propaganda is mostly quite irrational and simpleminded, and (3) most propaganda works by treating people and politics as if they are family, as if they are one's own kind - which is a lie in several respects: It is not only simply false, it also very much simplifies things. And in fact, this development mostly goes back to Edward Bernays (<-Wikipedia) whose "Propaganda" is on my site.

Also, Hedges is quite right that the corporations use the same system of lies to try to make the people who work for them feel as if they are family through working for the same corporations. And note this really is an enormous, completely false propagandistic simplification of politics, economics, and religion to a personalized family-scheme of values that even the most stupid TV-viewer can understand.
[2.1]

Then there is this:

HEDGES: You also talk about inverted totalitarianism as not only signaling the political demobilization of the citizenry, but how it’s never expressed conceptually as an ideology or objectified in public policy. What do you mean by that?

WOLIN: Well, I mean by that that it hasn’t been crystallized in just those terms, that it’s operational. Its operation is really a combination of elements whose interlocking and coherence together have never been either properly appreciated or publicly debated in any sustained way.
I am not certain I understand this, but I would say, given what I wrote above on the propagandistic treatment of everyone as family (or else as terrorist: you are loyal or disloyal, and the loyal have nothing to fear), one reason this never chrystallized as a public policy is simply that it is far too irrational: it needs to be able to support the boss and the party in many inconsistent ways, and it does this in the end by false loyalties, that are rarely explicated but all the time used in advertisements and propaganda. [2.2]

Then there is this on the power holders:

HEDGES: You said that in inverted totalitarianism, it is furthered by power holders and citizens who often seem unaware of the deeper consequences of their actions or inactions. What I find interesting about that statement is you say even the power holders don’t understand their actions.

WOLIN: Yeah, I don’t think they do. I think that’s most–I think that’s apparent not only in so-called conservative political officeholders, but liberal ones as well. And I think the reason for it isn’t far to see. The demands of contemporary political decision-making, that is, actually having to decide things in legislation or executive action in a complex political society and economic society such as ours, in a complex political, economic society such as the world is, make reflection very difficult. They make it extremely difficult. And everybody’s caught up in the demands of the moment, and understandably so.
Well...yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I agree with Wolin that most politicians and CEOs I have heard talking indeed cannot be suspected of understanding much or anything of politics or economics in any high rational way. But no, in the sense that they all do know who to serve: the interests of their own rich kind. Thus,
politicians and CEOs are against higher taxes for the rich, simply because this would loose them some money, and they do not want to pay for civilizing anyone else than their own - rich - family. (
"Taxes are what we pay for civilized society", Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.) [2.3]

Next, there is this - which is rather important for me because I have for 12 years tried to stop and undo the politication of the Dutch universities (in which I totally failed, simply because most students and most staff found it much easier, and much more pleasant to teach or learn left-wing politics rather than real science, until 1995 in Holland, since when
most students and most staff found it much easier, and much more pleasant, to teach right-wing politics rather than real science):
HEDGES: We’d spoken earlier about how because corporate forces have essentially taken over not only systems of media but systems of education, they’ve effectively destroyed the capacity within these institutions for critical thinking. And what they’ve done is educate generation–now probably a couple of generations of systems managers, people whose expertise, technical expertise, revolves around keeping the system, as it’s constructed, viable and afloat, so that when there’s a–in 2008, the global financial crisis, they immediately loot the U.S. Treasury to infuse a staggering $17 trillion worth of money back into the system.
Yes - and I objected against this from 1977 onwards, but I was one of the very few, in fact because I was one of the very few who was really interested in real science. But Hedges is quite right that (1) the decline of the universities and schools also started in the late Sixties and Seventies and (2) it consisted in considerable part in replacing science by propaganda, while pretending the propaganda - like Diederik Stapel's utter and complete bullshit - was "real science". [2.4]

Then there is this on the Republican Party:

WOLIN: (..) I think the beautiful example we have today, I just think, fraught with implications, is the Koch brothers’ purchase of the Republican Party. They literally bought it. Literally. And they had a specific amount they paid, and now they’ve got it. There hasn’t been anything like that in American history. To be sure, powerful economic interests have influenced political parties, especially the Republicans, but this kind of gross takeover, in which the party is put in the pocket of two individuals, is without precedent. And that means something serious. It means that, among other things, you no longer have a viable opposition party.  (..)
This is a direct consequence of the Supreme Court's decisions that corporations are people, and that money is free speech, both of which are completely false,
conservative articles of faith, that only help the very rich. [2.5]

Finally, there is this on the Democratic Party:

HEDGES: Well, didn’t Clinton just turn the Democratic Party into the Republican Party and force the Republican Party to come become insane?

WOLIN: Yeah, it’s true. Yeah, I mean, it’s true that beginning with the Clinton administration, the Democratic Party has kind of lost its way too.

Precisely - and Clinton did so by insisting that his propaganda was the Third Way, which was and is an utterly false amount of pure bullshit (also quite unreadable for anyone with a decent logical mind) that only served to obscure that what he really did was destroying the left, as did Tony Blair in England. [2.6]

There is a considerable lot more under the last dotted link.

3. ‘We Never Managed to Relax’ After World War II (Parts 4 and 5)

The next item is about a six part interview that Chris Hedges did with Sheldon Wolin. This part was written by Alexander Reed Kelly on Truthdig (but contains a link to the interview I use):

In fact, this is from the long video interview that Chris Hedges had with Sheldon Wolin, that is also on the Real News. I have dealt with parts 1-3 here, and with part 4 here, so I will only deal with part 5 in the present item.

Part 5 has the title
and in fact I have already stated my answer: Yes - but there are two fundamental forms of capitalism: regulated capitalism and unregulated capitalism, and the former is quite compatible with democracy, while the latter is not. (The last two links are quite fundamental.) [3.1]

Now to the text of part 5:

This begins with Chris Hedges asking Sheldon Wolin, who is 92, about his experiences in WW II, in which Wolin was a a bombardier and navigator in the U.S. Air Force, who also flew 51 missions. I will leave most of that to your interests, but I do pick out this, because it seems quite true to me:
WOLIN: Well, you must remember the cardinal fact, which is we were all so young. I was 19. And the other members of our crew, there was only one who was about 23 or 24. So we were all extremely inexperienced and impressionable, and we were flying these giant bombers and going into combat not knowing anything about what it meant except, you know, in sort of formal lectures, which we might have had. So the experience was always quite traumatic in a lot of ways.
I think that is quite correct and indeed also holds for me, though I very probably would have disagreed when I was between 19 and 27 or so: While I got to be an legal adult at age 21, I hadn't even stopped growing then and, speaking for myself, I'd say now - at 64, though still looking 44 or so, after 30 years of megavitamins [2] - I was a child till 16 and an adolescent the next 10 years or so, and only started to be a real adult from my early thirties onwards (which also meant I changed less, from then onwards).

And while it is true that I am a slow developer, I also think this is biologically correct, and indeed was also admitted by the Ancient Greeks, who used various age limits for various functions.
[3.2]

Also, this is important for wars: Most who do the fighting are between 18 and 24 or so, and I'd say they are usually not full adults even if they are legally declared adults.

There is also this exchange, about academic writing, that is quite correct:

HEDGES: Well, see, the difference is you are a writer. I mean, you're quite a good writer, which is not common among academics.

WOLIN: Yeah, I had always enjoyed writing, from the time I was grammar school to the time I went to college. I enjoyed it very much.

Yes, indeed: The vast majority of academics just cannot write, period. There are quite a few other reasons why so much of academic prose is rather awful, but one very important one is that very few can really write - and I know, because I have read very many academics, of all kinds, and it was only rarely that I had to say "he" - Jacob Burckhardt, C. Wright Mills, William James - "can really write", compared with their academic peers, and real writers of novels. [3.3]

Then there is this (and I am skipping quite a bit):

HEDGES: How much damage do you think those purges, triggered by the McCarthy era in the early '50s, did to the academy?

WOLIN: I think it did a lot to people, but often in ways they weren't quite aware of. It had a definite chastening and deadening effect on academic inquiry and political expression. And what happened was, I think, the worst part of it, was that once that got into the air, it became normal. You accepted those things really unconsciously.

HEDGES: When you say "those things", what are you talking about?

WOLIN: You're talking about how far you question government policies, how far you question dominant values, what you said about the economy, and things of that sort.

This I also like, because I did find the academic stuff, especially in American sociology, that I read in the late Sixties and early Seventies indeed quite boring and quite cramped and articial, indeed also with the exception of C. Wright Mills (who never was fully accepted) and Vance Packard (who had to work as a journalist) and a few others. [3.4]

Finally, this is from near the end, and is quoted because I was removed - as the only student to whom this happened since WW II - from the faculty of philosophy in 1988, briefly before getting my M.A. there, because of my publicly stated ideas:

WOLIN: Well, yes, it certainly cast a kind of set of constraints, many of which you didn't really recognize till later, about what you could teach and how you would teach and what you wouldn't teach. And its influence was really simply very great, because people--it's not so much what they said as what they didn't inquire into.

HEDGES: Well, and also it's who's let into the club.

WOLIN: Yeah. Oh, yes. Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed.

Note that the constraints are rarely stated, and mostly "understood" (and accepted by all careerists and all conformists), and that they also serve mostly
to exclude topics of research. [3.5]

Anyway - I found this again quite interesting, although this part is a bit more
personal than other parts.

4.  Hedges and Wolin on How New-Style Propagandizing Promotes Inverted Totalitarianism

The next and final item for today is an article introduced by Yves Smith, which is in fact the 6th of 8 items that form the video + text of the interview Chris Hedges made with Sheldon Wolin. Also, I should remark that I have followed this from the start, and that the earlier reviews I made are here, here and here:

This starts with an introduction by Yves Smith, of which I quote the beginning:

Yves here. The Real News Network continues with its discussion between Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin of what Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism.” One of the focuses here is how skillful fragmentation of the public, and keeping various groups separate from, and better yet, suspicious of each other, has helped greatly reduced the cost of keeping this system in place.

Younger readers may not recognize how radical the transformation of public discourse has been over the last 40 years. While there were always intellectuals who were largely above consuming much mass media, as well as political groups on the far right and left that also largely rejected it, in the 1960s and well into the 1980s, mass media shaped political discourse. There were only three major broadcast networks: ABC, NBC, CBS. They hewed to generally the same outlook. Similarly, there were only two major news magazines: Time and Newsweek, again with not much distance between in their political outlook.
There is more there. I am not one of the "younger readers", but I would say that the main points that did happen were, in my estimation: (1) the arisal of the personal computer that from the beginnings of the 1990ies made it possible to go on line (2) the partial collapse of the printed press because of a major dip in their advertisements, and (3) the arrival of professional propagandists (aka "public relations") and their techniques of advertising and manipulation to deceive the electorate.

All three are quite relevant, and it seems Yves Smith may have missed the entrance of the professional liars from the public relations offices, for she says at
the end:
The sort of fragmentation that this interview mentions is in part a result of the Karl Rove strategy of focusing on hot-button interests of narrowly-sliced interest groups, along with media fragmentation which has made it easier to target, as in isolate, them.
For no: That was not so much Karl Rove's idea, as it was the result of applying
"public relations" techniques to voting, and that happened from the 1970ies onwards, and indeed was done by all major parties:
[4.1]

You win an election by concentrating on the few states or districts (or whatever) in which the total election will be won or lost; you isolate a group of voters there  and ask them everything about their voting and preferences; and based on that you derive suggestions of what the party leaders have to say and promise to win
(which is totally forgotten - Obama! - as soon as the leader is elected).

This is quite how commodities are sold as well, and it works because most of
the electorate do not have strong political opinions, do not have much political kinowledge, and are easily misled and deceived - indeed again as they are about
nearly all of the commodities they buy or want. [4.2]

But on to the interview.

This starts with a question by Chris Hedges, that I partially repeat (repairing a probable typo):
Chris Hedges: We were talking about superpower, the way it had corrupted academia, especially in the wake of World War II, the increasing integration of academics into the power system itself. And I wanted to talk a little bit about the nature of superpower, which you describe as essentially the face of inverted totalitarianism. You say that with superpower, power is always projected outwards, which is a fundamental characteristic that Hannah Arendt ascribes to totalitarianism fascism (...)
Note that "superpower" and "inverted totalitarianism" are two aspects of the same process, which is that both governments and big corporations got much more power, which was taken away from the electorate, largely by misleading them and by classifying a lot. [4.3]

This is Sheldon Wolin's answer:
Sheldon Wolin: Well, I think in some respects it’s pretty apparent what it does in terms of governing institutions. That is, it obviously enhances their power and it increases their scope, and at the same time renders them less and less responsible, even though we’ve kept the outward framework of elections and criticism and all the free press, etc. But the power is there, and it is–thanks particularly to contemporary technology, it is power that’s kind of endlessly expandable. And it’s very different from the sort of imperialism of the 18th or 19th centuries, where resources always had a limit and that territorial and other expansion was severely restricted by it. But now expansionism is accompanied by an ability to impose cultural norms, as well as political norms, on populations that did not have them. And that has made a tremendous difference in the effect of the imperial reach, because it means that it’s becoming easier to have it rationalized not only at home, but also abroad. And the differences, I think, are just very, very profound between the kind of expansionism of the contemporary state, like America, and those in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Yes, although I do not think that cultural and political norms are imposed on "populations that did not have them": Every population has cultural and political norms, but it is true these may be quite different and also do not need to be good in any sense for other populations.

And it is also true that a good part of the increase in power of the governments and big corporations is due to technology - that was also intentionally classified,
kept secret, and abused. (This might have been quite different in a more open and more democratic society.) [4.4]

Next, here is part of Sheldon Wolin's reply to Chris Hedges' question about what the consequences of superpower are for the population:
Sheldon Wolin: I think what it does is create an enormous chasm between the sort of pictures we have of or are given of what our system is in high school, grammar school, even college, and the reality of where we are. I think it’s that disjunction that seems to me so kind of perilous, because it means that much of our education is not about the world, our world that we actually live in, but about a world that we idealize and idealize our place in it. That makes it very difficult, I think, for Americans to take a true measure of what their leaders are doing, because it’s always cast in a kind of mode that seems so reassuring and seems so self-confirming of the value of American values for the whole world.

And I think that that problem is such that you don’t really have a critical attitude in the best sense of the word. I don’t mean that the public is never disgruntled or the public is never out of sorts; I’m talking about a critical attitude which really is dealing with things as they are and not with a simple negativism, but is trying to make sense out of where we are and how we’ve gotten to be where we are. But it requires, I think, a level of political education that we simply haven’t begun to explore.

And I think it’s become more difficult to kind of get it across to the public, because there’s no longer what Dewey and others called the public.
Yes - though what Sheldon Wolin says amounts to saying that the ordinary people do not understand politics anymore, in considerable part because they still believe the idealized and simplified pictures they were offered in high schools and colleges. [4.5]

I agree, but this does not simplify things. As to the public: I mostly agree, but "public" is a difficult concept, and I would say that it mostly disappeared because
most private - real, non-corporate - persons do not get any room to have their
voices heard, since all must do so by means of some corporation, that does not
want
to have their voices heard, and especially not if it is radical, clear and intelligent. [4.6]

Here is more Sheldon Wolin on the public:
Sheldon Wolin: (...) the public has, I think, ceased to be a kind of entity that’s self-conscious about itself–I mean when everybody may vote and we say the public has expressed itself. And that in one sense, in a quantitative sense, is true. But the real question is: did they, when they asserted themselves or voted in a certain way, were they thinking of themselves as a public, as performing a public act, a political act of a citizen? Or were they expressing resentments or hopes or frustrations more or less of a private character? And I think that it’s that kind of a quandary we’re in today. And, again, it makes it very difficult to see where the democracy is heading with that kind of level of public knowledge and public political sophistication.
I must say that from my point of view the majority of the people have always been "expressing resentments or hopes or frustrations more or less of a private character", and the main reason is that they lacked the knowledge to do more,
and often lacked the intelligence or the time to acquire the knowledge.

That is, I agree that the government and the big corporations got much more powerful, but I do not have rosy ideals about the gifts of the average - and indeed it would seem to me that
the gifts of the average are a very important part of a true explanation of what happened. [4.7]

Next, here is Sheldon Wolin on fragmentation:

Sheldon Wolin: The ability of the fragmentation strategy is really quite astounding, and it’s that we’ve got such sophisticated means now of targeting and of fashioning messages for specific audiences and insulating those messages from other audiences that it’s a new chapter. It’s clearly a new chapter. And I think that it’s fraught with all kinds of dangerous possibilities for any kind of theory of democracy which requires, I think, some kind of notion of a public sufficiently united to express a will and a preference of what it needs and what it wants.
As I pointed out above, I think the fragmentation is a consequence of, firstly,
the application of public relations techniques, which is a fancy way of saying: professional techniques designed to deceive, to politics and to voting, and, secondly, of the ease with which the majority of the population can be deceived due to lack of knowledge or lack of intelligence. [4.8]

Finally, here is an opinion on whether this was all done consciously, I mean defrauding, deceiving and misleading "the public":

HEDGES: And this was quite conscious, the destruction of the public.

WOLIN: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, again it’s that theme we’ve talked about. They’re capable of doing it now, that is, of dealing with fragmented publics who aren’t aware of their ties to those fragments but are–everybody feels sort of part of a group that has no particular alliance with another group.

Actually, while I agree with Hedges and Wolin, at least on the level of Obama and other leaders of government, I would also say that a good part of this was a more or less automatic consequence of applying the techniques of deception to "the people", who in majority also have agreed to the propaganda that they are all individuals without moral responsibilities for almost anyone who does not belong to their own groups of family and friends. [4.9]

But this was another interesting interview, thanks to Chris Hedges, Sheldon Wolin and the Real News.


5. We Need a New Word for Revolution (Parts 6, 7 and 8)  

The next item is an article by Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin, that in fact is
the written (and videoed) report of an eight part conversation they had on The Real News.

I have considered the parts 1-3,
part 4, part 5 and part 6 (these are all under the links), and continue today with parts 7 and 8, which also is the end of the series:
This is from the beginning of part 7. Chris Hedges starts by saying that Sheldon Wolin also wrote a book about De Tocqueville (<- Wikipedia) - and De Tocqueville was an amazingly sharp and clearminded man. Indeed, if you have not read "Democracy in America" you should, and especially volume 2.

To start with, here is a quote on De Tocqueville from the Wikipedia:
Tocqueville was an ardent supporter of liberty. He wrote "I have a passionate love for liberty, law, and respect for rights”, he wrote. “I am neither of the revolutionary party nor of the conservative...Liberty is my foremost passion.” He wrote of "Political Consequences of the Social State of the Anglo-Americans" by saying "But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom".
I quite agree, but I do know many have "a depraved taste for equality", which indeed worked out as De Tocqueville said it would. [5.1]

This is from the beginning of part 7 [2]:
Chris Hedges: And it's Tocqueville who I think expresses this notion of participatory democracy that you embrace. And I wondered if you could explain what that means and set it against what you call, I think, manufactured democracy.

Sheldon Wolin: Well, Tocqueville discovered--I mean, he didn't invent the notion, but he discovered this significance of viable local self-government. And he insisted that a democracy, if it were to avoid the pitfall of becoming a mass democracy, would have to zealously protect and nurture these smaller groupings, whether they be municipalities, religious groupings, or economic groupings of one kind or another, but that these were the major forces for offsetting the drive of modern power towards concentration and control, so that that was the basic struggle for him was between these two forces.
Yes, quite so: That is - or would be - what I call a pluriform democracy, precisely because it protects and safeguards the rights of any group (supposing
it is legal) to play some real role in determining what is and is not to happen in society. Also, it seems to me that the conditions for its existence have been mostly destroyed, for a good part intentionally. [5.2]
HEDGES: But I think that his definition of what participatory democracy is is one that you embrace.

WOLIN: Yes, it is. And I think that the common thread I think we both share (if I can put it that way pretentiously): that we share the notion that the problem is centralized power. And that centralized power has assumed, because of scientific and technological developments, has assumed a quality of menace that it simply didn't have before. Before, it was simply the power of a central government in its army and in its bureaucracy to sort of enforce its will. But now it's much more than that. It's the ability to shape and direct society in a fashion that's much more of a lockstep thing than was ever conceived by Tocqueville.

Yes, indeed. And the main tool for the governments and the corporations "to shape and direct society" these days is the internet, and indeed especially all the data-mining that is happening these days as a matter of course. (See item 1.) [5.3]

Next, here is an exchange on participatory democracy:
HEDGES: When you talk about participatory democracy in an age of superpower, in an age of inverted totalitarianism, how is that going to now express itself within that superstructure?

WOLIN: Well, I think it will express itself--I guess the answer I would give is that precisely it doesn't express itself. I think it's shaped and it's allowed only the outlets that are conceived to be consonant with the purposes of those in power, so that it's not autonomous anymore in any significant sense. I mean, we have to keep realizing how difficult it is to get ideas into the public arena now for any significant audience. It's becoming more and more a matter of a few outlets. And if you should for one reason or another become persona non grata with any of those outlets, then your goose is cooked, there's no other way to go, so that there's a kind of, I think, hidden sort of force. I don't want to call it censorship. That's too strong. But there's a kind of hidden force that kind of makes you think twice about how far you want to go in pushing a particular point that is at odds with either the existing notions of the powers that be or the existing notions of the opposition.

HEDGES: Which is called careerism.

WOLIN: It is.

HEDGES: And it's a powerful force.

WOLIN: It is indeed.

HEDGES: Both within the media, within academia. And coming from the New York Times culture, you learn not so much how to lie; you learn what not to say, what not to address, what questions not to ask.
Yes, quite so - and I know this very well from my own experiences, where my goose was cooked and I became a persona non grata in Holland in 1988 simply by asking only questions in a public talk to the faculty of philosophy: I was thrown out from the faculty of philosophy; my chances for getting an M.A. in philosophy (to which I was very close) were deliberately and illegaly destroyed, quite on purpose also.

Indeed, I had not at all counted with the possibility that simply speaking up would lead to my removal (followed by a complete refusal to answer any of my mails and letters, while no one ever mentioned it in the press), I suppose because I was educated by real communist parents, and did have a - quite naive - ideal about
speaking the truth as I saw it. (And I only asked questions!)

Finally, in my case it was censorship - not of my text (that was duly published in a students' journal) but of my physical presence in the faculty of philosophy of the University of Amsterdam, where I also had been one of the best students, in spite of my illness and general loathing of the university climate. [5.4]

Enough about me. Back to the text:
Here is a last bit from part 7, again on participatory democracy:
HEDGES: Has true participatory democracy become, in the age of inverted totalitarianism, subversion in the eyes of the state?

WOLIN: I'm not sure it's quite reached that point, because I think the powers that be view it as harmless, and they're smart enough to know that if something's harmless, there's no point in sort of making a pariah out of it, so that I think they're capitalizing on the sort of short attention span that people, especially people working, have for politics, and that it would soon go away and run its course, and that if they could contain it, they wouldn't have to really repress it, that it would gradually sort of shrivel up and disappear, so that I think it's been a deliberate tactic not to continuously engage the democracy movement intellectually, because that's a way of perpetuating its importance. Instead, you surround it with silence, and hoping (and, in the modern age, with good reason) that memories will be short.

HEDGES: And you use cliches in the mass media to demonize it and belittle it.

Yes, though the "cliches" also tend to be false cliches. But otherwise this seems quite true.

We have arrived at part 8, that starts as follows:
CHRIS HEDGES: Welcome to our interview with Professor Sheldon Wolin, our final segment, where we are going to talk about revolution. When you have a system of totalitarianism, in this case inverted totalitarianism, when you have effectively fragmented and destroyed the notion of the public, when you have institutions that define themselves as democratic and yet have abandoned civic virtue and the common good and in fact harnessed their authority and their power to the interests of corporations, which is about creating a neo-feudalism, a security and surveillance state, enriching a small, global oligarchic elite, perpetuating demilitarization of the society and superpower itself, which defines itself through military prowess, is that a point at which we should begin to discuss revolution? [5.5]
I quote this as an adequate sum-up of the present situation. Here is Wolin's
answer:
SHELDON WOLIN: I think it is, but I think the proper emphasis should be on discussing it carefully, that is to say, I mean by carefully not timidly, but carefully in the sense that we would really have to be breaking new ground. And I think it's because of the nature of the forces we've been talking about that constitute a challenge, I think, the like of which hasn't happened before, and that we've got to be very sure, because of the interlocked character of modern society, that we don't act prematurely and don't do more damage than are really justifiable, so that I think revolution is one of those words that I'm not so sure we shouldn't find a synonym that would capture its idea of significant, even radical change, but which somehow manages, I think, to discard the physical notions of overthrow and violence that inevitably it evokes in the modern consciousness. And I don't have a solution to that, but I think that that's required. I think the idea of revolution simply carries too much baggage, and the result of that is you're forced to fight all sorts of rearguard actions to say what you didn't mean because of the overtones and implications that revolution seems to have to the modern ear. So I think we do have to start striving for a new kind of vocabulary that would help us express what we mean by radical change without simply seeming to tie ourselves to the kind of previous notions of revolution.
Yes and no, though mostly yes: I'd much like to see radical change (which may be the term sought for) without violence, and I also think that if you want to
have any hope of being heard or read in the main media, it is wise to avoid the
term "revolution". But no, in the sense that, apart from taking care of your
terminology, I don't think "
a new kind of vocabulary" is a good idea: it will mainly confuse people (and will be only "transparent" to some of the educated few, if it is to be a major change). [5.6]

Here is more Wolin:
WOLIN: Well, I guess I'm not quite certain. I'm not quite certain in the sense that I think your formulation would rely more than I would on trying to persuade the powers that be and the structure to change course or modify their behavior and modify their beliefs, and I don't think that's possible. Or if it's possible, it's not possible on a large scale. There might be deviants and rebels who would. But I really think it's--I mean, to have the form that I think would really justify calling it revolution, I think it has to be generated and shaped outside the power structure, and I think because what you're trying to do is to enlist and educate groups and individuals who have not had a political education or experience of much of any kind, and so that your task is compounded.
I agree that it is very probably quite impossible "to persuade the powers that be and the structure to change course or modify their behavior and modify their beliefs" and I also agree that anything that may be called "a revolutionary force" would have to be created "outside the power structure", while that is quite difficult, especially with all the internet spying (which is not done for your safety,
but for the safety of the powers that be). [5.7]


Here is more on the revolution:

HEDGES: Would you--if you look at those revolutionary philosophers--and we could perhaps even include Plato--they always talk about the creation of an elite, what Lenin would call a revolutionary vanguard, Machiavelli would call his republican conspirators, Calvin would call his saints. Do you see that as a fundamental component of revolution?

WOLIN: To some extent I do. I would want to, of course, naturally, avoid words like elite, but I do think, given the way that ordinary people become exhausted by the simple task of living, working, and trying to sustain families and neighborhoods in a way that just takes all of their energy, I do think it calls for some kind of group, or class, you could even call them, who would undertake the kind of continuous political work of educating, criticizing, trying to bring pressure to bear, and working towards a revamping of political institutions. And I don't mean to imply that there should be a disconnect between that group and ordinary people.
My parents were - true, intelligent, though not highly educated - communist
revolutionaries for forty years, so I do know this idea quite well from Lenin, whom I've also read, as I did read Plato and Machiavelli. Well... it didn't work
for my parents, nor for the Dutch Communist Party, though my parents worked hard for it. (And these days there are hardly any "revolutionary communists"
left in the West.) [5.8]

As to elites: I don't know. I suppose it is wise to avoid the word - but that is
mostly  because ordinary people do not like the word in some contexts, whereas
everyone knows that people are not equals, and almost everyone acknowledges
that people with high intelligence and a university degree, or people with a talent
for sports or theater, are somewhat different in make-up and chances, while
ordinary people see no objections to wildly admiring someone who can kick a
ball well or is a popular singer. [5.9]

Here is the last exchange between Hedges and Wolin (apart from the ending):
HEDGES: And yet climate change has created a narrowing window of opportunity if we are going to survive as a species. An unfettered, unregulated corporate capitalism, which commodifies everything, from human beings to the natural world--and this comes out of Marx--without any kind of constraints--and it has no self-imposed limits--it will exploit those forces until exhaustion or collapse. And we are now seeing the ecosystem itself teetering on collapse.

WOLIN: Yeah. No, it's true. But I don't really see any other solution than to really put your chips where an enlightened public would take a stand. And I think the problem, to some extent, is that there are enlightened publics in this country, but there's no concerted general movement which can profess to represent a large body of opinion that's opposed to these kind of developments you've just described.

Yes, indeed: If one wants radical change, one must put one's ideas "where an enlightened public would take a stand".  And it is - alas - also quite true that
"
there's no concerted general movement which can profess to represent a large body of opinion that's opposed to these kind of developments". [5.10]

Here is the final bit:
HEDGES: It's been a tremendous honor. You're--have had a tremendous influence on myself and many other--Cornel West and many, many others, and not only because of the power of your intellect, but the power of your integrity.

WOLIN: Well, thank you. I've enjoyed it very much.

HEDGES: Thank you very much.

WOLIN: I thank you for the opportunity to talk.
Yes, indeed - and I should also thank The Real News, that made the videos and the text, and did so quite well. It was a really interesting series of interviews.
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