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June 7, 2015
On The Crisis: B. The interviews of Sheldon Wolin by Chris Hedges 1-8: Comments
  "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














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This is a Nederlog of June 7, 2015. This is the - extended - comments file on the series of interviews that Chris Hedges (<- Wikipedia) made in 2014 with Sheldon Wolin (<- Wikipedia). The series of interviews is in the previous file, where the links if pressed move you to one of the following sections in this file:

[1.1] On having feasible plans
[1.2] On the lack of alternative methods
[1.3] On "neoliberals" versus "neoconservatives"
[1.4] On corrupt academics

[1.5] On eight general points
[1.6] On economic collapse
[1.7] On a professional revolutionary class
[1.8] On the many successes of the rich right

[2.1] On propaganda
[2.2] On the unexplicated
[2.3] On what holders of power do and do not understand
[2.4] On real science and its relative rarity

[2.5] On SCOTUS's "Citizen United" decision
[2.6] On Bill Clinton and the Third Way

[3.1] On regulated and unregulated capitalism
[3.2] The age(s) of adulthood

[3.3]
Good writing is quite rare among academics
[3.4] On some of the effects of McCarthyism

[3.5] Constrains are rarely explicitly stated by careerists and conformists

[4.1] Inverted totalitarianism and "public relations"
[4.2] On how modern elections are won

[4.3] Superpower and inverted totalitarianism

[4.4] Power and technology

[4.5] On the chasm between ideology and reality

[4.6] On the public

[4.7] On the gifts of the average as very important

[4.8] On fragmentation

[4.9] Consequences of deception and propaganda


[5.1] On liberty and equality

[5.2] A pluriform democracy of small groups

[5.3] On power and the internet
[5.4] On careerism and censorship

[5.5] On revolution

[5.6] On "revolution" and "radical change" (no new vocabularies)

[5.7] Revolutions and spying

[5.8] Revolutionary elites

[5.9] Elites
[5.10] The enlightened public

In fact, these are all expanded forms of my remarks. Also, this file can be read by itself.

------------------------------------
[1.1] On having feasible plans

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).

The same holds for small movements: I want both feasible plans and rational ideas about what is and should be the case. Without these I will not take part (whether or not I am ill).

This means that I am in general quite skeptical - which is justified because most of politics is irrational, secretive and dishonest.

[1.2] On the lack of alternative methods


This is by Sheldon Wolin:
"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.”
I agree, but the main reason that there are hardly any rational alternatives is that the great majority does not have the intelligence that is required to reason out such alternatives.

[1.3] On "neoliberals" versus "neoconservatives"

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.

And see [3.1] below (for in fact there is a fairly deep theme here).

[1.4] On corrupt academics

T
he 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 and bullshit:

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 and reduced them to colleges, while in fact their whole real idea of "a revolution" was any movement that gets me (the "revolutionary" "academic") a tenured position.

For all of this happened in Dutch universities that were given to the students in 1971 by an act of parliament, and most of these students pretended to be some kind of "marxists", while in fact nearly all were careerists. (In 1995 everything
was turned back.)

[1.5] On eight general points

So let me make a list of points. Here are eight of them:
  • 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 these points are mostly true.

[1.6] On economic collapse

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, and most revolutions fail, at least in the sense that the eventual outcome tends to be quite different fom what the revolutionaries wanted.

[1.7] On a professional revolutionary class

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, and all the time maintained their own dictatorships.

[1.8] On the many successes of the rich right

The right has been quite successful, and its members 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. (And the formerly leftist political parties were corrupted by the bullshit of the "Third Way" by Clinton, Blair and others, like the Dutchman Kok).

-----

[2.1] On propaganda

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.


Finally, it is important to see that by now most men, women and children see and read more advertisements - propaganda from the big corporations, for the most part - than they get any other type of written information, while they also tend to be surrounded by ads wherever they assemble.

[2.2] On the unexplicated

This continues the previous remark.
One reason the ruling ideology 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.

The other reason that the ruling ideology is rarely explicated is that a considerable part is based on hypocrisies, looking away, not acknowledging criticisms, pretending everything is OK etc. etc. and these things are by far the best done if the ideology that is defended mostly tacitly is itself never clearly explicated (or only very partially and in propaganda terms).
2.3] On what holders of power do and do not understand

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.

Indeed, "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society", Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.: If you don't want to pay taxes it is because you are against a civilized society, and against something like fair sharing - but that is what many of the rich want: Not fair sharing, but getting as much as they can for themselves.

[2.4] On real science and its relative rarity

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. (I must have been effective in some sense because I was, although I was ill, the only person to be removed from a Dutch univertsity because I said what I thought in an invited talk. This removal was grossly illegal, but no one else protested.)

In any case, 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".

[2.5] On SCOTUS's "Citizen United" decision

The Supreme Court's decisions that corporations are people, and that money is free speech, are both completely false conservative articles of faith, that only help the very rich.

Also, since one must be very stupid not to see this, and since most members of the Supreme Court are far from stupid, I assume this was done quite intentionally
by the majority that decided this - and this also means that majority was quite clear about the fact that they were no longer legalizing but being political.

[2.6] On Bill Clinton and the Third Way

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.

-----

[3.1] On regulated and unregulated capitalism

This is from Part 5 that 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.)

Also, there are quite a few quite deep questions hidden here. I will name one, and before that I observe that Chris Hedges does not clarify his position about the forty years - 1939-1979 - of regulated capitalism, in which the incomes of everyone who lived in the West went up, while there also were many fundamental liberties.

The basic question exists in particular for those who do not believe socialism will solve much, because it concentrates far too much power in the government (see the Soviet Union and Communist China):

It would seem as if capitalism does exist also "with a human face", at least in Western Europe, the U.S.A., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, in the period 1939-1979 (and minus the years of war) especially when contrasted with the state socialism of the Soviet Union.

Then again, this may have been a fluke, e.g. if one compares those 40 years with the 40 years from 1874-1914, which were much harder on the working population.

[3.2] The age(s) of adulthood

There is a somewhat interesting theme here, although I think this will not be popular with the majority: The age(s) of adulthood.

Speaking for myself, and judging much later than my twenties and thirties:

While I got to be an legal adult at age 21, I hadn't even stopped growing then and I'd say now - at 64, though still looking 44 or so, after 30 years of megavitamins - 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 considerably less from then onwards than I did until 30).

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, which seems to me quite sensible.

[3.3] Good writing is quite rare among academics

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, Bertrand Russell - "can really write", compared with their academic peers, and real writers of novels.

[3.4] On some of the effects of McCarthyism

McCarthyism had quite a few major consequences. For one example, I did find the academic stuff, especially in American sociology, that I read in the late Sixties and early Seventies, much of which went back to the 1950ies, quite boring and quite cramped and artificial, indeed also with the exceptions of C. Wright Mills (who never was fully accepted) and Vance Packard (who had to work as a journalist) and a few others.

[3.5] Constrains are rarely explicitly stated by careerists and conformists

The following 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 and indeed also topics of (rational) talk.

-----

[4.1] Inverted totalitarianism and "public relations"

Yves Smith (who introduced this part of the interview) 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.

Before that, it was used and perfected from the late 40ies onwards to sell commodities to consumers.

[4.2] On how modern elections are won

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 knowledge, and are easily misled and deceived - indeed again as they are about
nearly all of the commodities they buy or want.

[4.3] Superpower and inverted totalitarianism

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, by classifying a lot, and by decades of deregulation.

[4.4] Power and technology

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.)

[4.5] On the chasm between ideology and reality

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.

I think that is quite correct: Most ordinary people "understand" things in terms of ideologies, and not on the basis of real science or real knowledge. (Indeed, this is true of nearly everybody about nearly everything: Only a few know one science decently, and most know no science well, and thereby have to judge most things
from the point of view of some ideology).

[4.6] On the public

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 in public, 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.

[4.7] On the gifts of the average as very important

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 - which involves that the average were mostly misled and deceived, and believed the lies they were told as if it was the truth.

[4.8] On fragmentation

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.

[4.9]  Consequences of deception and propaganda

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.

-----

[5.1] On liberty and equality

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 also do know many have "a depraved taste for equality", which indeed worked out as De Tocqueville said it would.

[5.2] A pluriform democracy of small groups

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.

[5.3] On power and the internet

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

[5.4] On careerism and censorship

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 - removed, excluded - 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: I was too intelligent and too honest to tolerate.

In fact, 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 - but yes: in a faculty and a university where the vast majority believed or at least pretended to believe that "everybody knows that truth does not exist".)

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, and all in spite of my illness and my general loathing of the university climate.

[5.5] On revolution

(Hedges:) 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?

As I indicated, the last paragraph is a quotation from Chris Hedges. My own comment is this (and my family was Marxist, for 40 years also): You can talk about a revolution any time, as far as I am concerned, but real revolutions do not occur very often and generally do not produce the results that inspired the original revolutionaries.

[5.6] On "revolution" and "radical change" (no new vocabularies)

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 do not 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).

[5.7] Revolutions and spying

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).

[5.8] Revolutionary elites

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.)

[5.9] Elites

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.

[5.10] The enlightened public

If one wants radical change, one must put one's ideas "where an enlightened public would take a stand". 

And it is - alas, and for a good part due to quasi-leftists like Clinton, Blair and Kok - 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".
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