January 28, 2016

Crisis: Bernie, Human Rights, China & Ji Xianling, US politics, Scruton
Sections                                                                     crisis index    

The Populist Revolution: Bernie and Beyond
2. Politics of Fear Devouring Human Rights Worldwide
China: Surviving the Camps
4. Circus Politics: Will Our Freedoms Survive Another
     Presidential Election?

Fools, Frauds and Firebrands : Thinkers of the New Left

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, January 28, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about a revolution or revival that Ellen Brown sees: I like her and provide a link to her article (the original link is faulty, right now); item 2 is about "the politics of fear", with which I disagree, though I respect the writer; item 3 is about China and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and is recommended; item 4 is about an article about American politics that I thought too negative and mistaken about several things; and item 5 is about a recently reissued and rewritten book by Roger Scruton on "The Left" (and specifically: its thinkers), from Scruton's informed conservative point of view.

I will probably later today upload Part 1 of my autobiography (till I am 28), that was first published bit by bit in Nederlog, but that since has been revised and is now in its own directory.

1. The Populist Revolution: Bernie and Beyond

The first article is by Ellen Brown (<-Wikipedia). I found it originally on Truthdig but there seems to be a misprint on page 2, and so I link to the original on her website:

This starts as follows:

The world is undergoing a populist revival. From the revolt against austerity led by the Syriza Party in Greece and the Podemos Party in Spain, to Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise victory as Labour leader in the UK, to Donald Trump’s ascendancy in the Republican polls, to Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly strong challenge to Hillary Clinton – contenders with their fingers on the popular pulse are surging ahead of their establishment rivals.

Today’s populist revolt mimics an earlier one that reached its peak in the US in the 1890s. Then it was all about challenging Wall Street, reclaiming the government’s power to create money, curing rampant deflation with US Notes (Greenbacks) or silver coins (then considered the money of the people), nationalizing the banks, and establishing a central bank that actually responded to the will of the people.
I have to admit that I am less certain of a "populist revival" than Ellen Brown, while I am also not an admirer of "populism", especially not in its rightist form.

But she may be correct, and she is usually quite rational. This is about Hillary Clinton's policies as regards banking - from which she seems to have received most of her campaign money:

Sanders’ focus on Wall Street has forced his opponent Hillary Clinton to respond to the challenge. Clinton maintains that Sanders’ proposals sound good but “will never make it in real life.” Her solution is largely to preserve the status quo while imposing more bank regulation.

That approach, however, was already tried with the Dodd-Frank Act, which has not solved the problem although it is currently the longest and most complicated bill ever passed by the US legislature. Dodd-Frank purported to eliminate bailouts, but it did this by replacing them with “bail-ins” – confiscating the funds of bank creditors, including depositors, to keep too-big-to-fail banks afloat. The costs were merely shifted from the people-as-taxpayers to the people-as-creditors.

And this is on Sanders plans for the banks:

What Sanders is proposing, by contrast, is a real financial revolution, a fundamental change in the system itself. His proposals include eliminating Too Big to Fail by breaking up the biggest banks; protecting consumer deposits by reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act (separating investment from depository banking); reviving postal banks as safe depository alternatives; and reforming the Federal Reserve, enlisting it in the service of the people.

This is the ending (which is currently missing on Truthdig):

For decades, private sector banking has been left to its own devices. The private-only banking model has been thoroughly tested, and it has proven to be a disastrous failure. We need a banking system that truly serves the needs of the people, and that objective can best be achieved with banks that are owned and operated by and for the people.

Yes, indeed. This is a recommended article: Click the last dotted link for more (it does link to the correct version).

2. Politics of Fear Devouring Human Rights Worldwide

The second item is by Nadia Prupis on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

The politics of fear has consumed the world.

Fear of terrorism and fear of refugees, which have grown alongside ongoing global conflicts, fueled many of the biggest human rights developments—and failings—worldwide in 2015, including in the U.S. and Europe, according to a new report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The influx of refugees fleeing violence, war, and poverty at home prompted numerous Western governments to restrict borders and roll back human rights within their own countries in "misguided efforts to protect their security," the report (pdf) states. Meanwhile, authoritarian governments in conflict zones embarked on "the most intense crackdown on independent groups in recent times."

Together, these policies have created a climate in which all citizens are at risk.

I agree with the last paragraph, but not with the first two.

More precisely, while I think there is something like a "politics of fear", that seems to me not to be one of the root causes of what is currently happening.

For there is no single root cause, and in any case it is not fear - and note that what I deny is not the presence of fear of foreigners and terrorists, but the insisting that fear is the cause of what is happening in the world.

I think the root causes of what is happening psychologically (and fear also is psychological) are these:

- lack of intelligence and lack of knowledge
- belief in propaganda
- deception by the main media

And apart from these psychological causes there are also the social, economic and (un)democratic causes:

- the predominance of propaganda in the main media
- the rulings of the very rich through lobbying and through government
- the very great advances of the very few very rich over the very many poor

I am merely sketching - and all I am saying is that fear itself is not a root cause
of the very many problems the West and the world face: it is a product of several deeper causes, six of which are listed above.

3. China: Surviving the Camps

The third item is by Zha Jianying on The New York Review of Books:

This starts as follows:

By now, it has been nearly forty years since the Cultural Revolution officially ended, yet in China, considering the magnitude and significance of the event, it has remained a poorly examined, under-documented subject. Official archives are off-limits. Serious books on the period, whether comprehensive histories, in-depth analyses, or detailed personal memoirs, are remarkably few. Ji Xianlin’s The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, which has just been released in English for the first time, is something of an anomaly.

Yes, indeed.

That is, I agree that I have seen few good documentations and explanations of Mao's Cultural Revolution, though I have seen a few, in fact mostly in the 1980ies and 1990s. They exist, but they are in minority, and most are by Chinese who live in the West, and by some scholars on China who kept their moral integrity (and who were, therefore, usually denied the right to enter China).
One example was Pierre Ryckmans (aka Simon Leyes), who died in 2014, and who wrote several very fine books about China.

And I have looked into this, though considerably less deeply than real scholars,
for I am interested in China since the early 1970ies (indeed after I had ceased to be a Marxist).

Here is a description of Ji Xianlin's book:

At the center of the book is the cowshed, the popular term for makeshift detention centers that had sprung up in many Chinese cities at the time. This one was set up at the heart of the Peking University campus, where the author was locked up for nine months with throngs of other fallen professors and school officials, doing manual labor and reciting tracts of Mao’s writing. The inferno atmosphere of the place, the chilling variety of physical and psychological violence the guards daily inflicted on the convicts with sadistic pleasure, the starvation and human degeneration—all are vividly described. Indeed, of all the memoirs of the Cultural Revolution, I cannot think of another one that offers such a devastatingly direct and detailed testimony on the physical and mental abuse an entire imprisoned intellectual community suffered.

In fact, I did find something like a Chinese translation: It is here (in pdf form, from Cardiff University, but I only found this today on Wikipedia and have only briefly inspected it).

Ji was over eighty at the time of writing. In the opening chapter, he confessed to having waited for many years, in vain, for others to come forward with a testimony. Disturbed by the collective silence of the older generation and the growing ignorance of the young people about the Cultural Revolution, he finally decided to take up the pen himself.

I note that Ji Xianlin (<- Wikipedia) also was one of China's top intellectuals.

Here is a last quotation from
Zha Jianying:

Reading Ji’s account again, however, has also renewed some of my old questions and frustrations. How much can we really make sense of a bizarre, unwieldy phenomenon like the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution? Can we truly overcome barriers of limited information, fading historical memory, and persistent ideological biases to have a genuinely meaningful and illuminating conversation about it today? I wonder.

As far as I am concerned - and I lack Chinese - I am pretty pessimistic. There are a few good sites by Chinese who live in the West, but that is about it. And I do not think that the Chinese are currently free enough to openly discuss the Cultural Revolution.

In any case, this is a recommended article.

4. Circus Politics: Will Our Freedoms Survive Another Presidential Election?

The fourth item is by John Whitehead on Washington's Blog:

This starts as follows:

“Never has our future been more unpredictable, never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest—forces that look like sheer insanity, if judged by the standards of other centuries.” ― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Adding yet another layer of farce to an already comical spectacle, the 2016 presidential election has been given its own reality show. Presented by Showtime, The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth will follow the various presidential candidates from now until Election Day.

As if we need any more proof that politics in America has been reduced to a three-ring circus complete with carnival barkers, acrobats, contortionists, jugglers, lion tamers, animal trainers, tight rope walkers, freaks, strong men, magicians, snake charmers, fire eaters, sword swallowers, knife throwers, ringmasters and clowns.

Truly, who needs bread and circuses when you have the assortment of clowns and contortionists that are running for the White House?

No matter who wins the presidential election come November, it’s a sure bet that the losers will be the American people.

I think the title is good but this introduction is too negative, though indeed I concede there is ample reason to be negative - but why throw Bernie Sanders
on the big heap of frauds and cheats aka "
clowns and contortionists"? (He may not be ideal, and I don't agree with everything he says, but I do agree with a lot and he certainly is honest.)

There is also this:

As author Noam Chomsky rightly observed, “It is important to bear in mind that political campaigns are designed by the same people who sell toothpaste and cars.”

In other words, we’re being sold a carefully crafted product by a monied elite who are masters in the art of making the public believe that they need exactly what is being sold to them, whether it’s the latest high-tech gadget, the hottest toy, or the most charismatic politician.

Well... who are "we"? I agree that everybody in the USA gets to see a whole lot of propaganda and advertisements, and I also agree that these mislead many, but surely not all.

I do not know about proportions, but I'd say at least 15% of Americans are - still - more or less rational, and these also cover a good part of the most intelligent Americans.

Then there is this:

Of course, we’ve done it to ourselves.

The American people have a history of choosing bread-and-circus distractions over the tedious work involved in self-government.

As a result, we have created an environment in which the economic elite (lobbyists, corporations, monied special interest groups) could dominate, rather than insisting that the views and opinions of the masses—“we the people”—dictate national policy. As the Princeton University oligarchy study indicates, our elected officials, especially those in the nation’s capital, represent the interests of the rich and powerful rather than the average citizen. As such, the citizenry has little if any impact on the policies of government.

No, "we" have not done this, simply because there is no such "we". If you want to blame parts of the US adults for being unintelligent, deceived, or prejudiced, you may, but not by equating everyone to what "we" did: There is no such "we".

Besides, when I read this:

Former concentration camp inmate Hannah Arendt...
I blinked and stopped reading: I know about Hannah Arendt since 1962; I've read at least 4 of her books; but I never knew she was a "former concentration camp inmate" and indeed she wasn't, as the writer of this article could have also known if he only had checked out her Wikipedia page: Hannah Arendt

Ah well...

5. Fools, Frauds and Firebrands : Thinkers of the New Left

The fifth and last item is by Clement Knox on the Los Angeles Review of Books:

This is from near the beginning, and introduces the subject of the article:

It was in Paris, in 1968, that Roger Scruton, a British writer and philosopher, had his Damascene conversion to small-c conservatism that set him on a trajectory for, in his words, a “life beyond the pale” of institutionalized academia. The setting for his epiphany sounds improbably picturesque. He told The Guardian in 2000 that it was while watching, from the safety of his garret window of course, students in the Latin Quarter tear up cobblestones to use as ammunition against the police that he realized,

I was on the other side. What I saw was an unruly mob of self-indulgent middle-class hooligans. When I asked my friends what they wanted, what were they trying to achieve, all I got back was this ludicrous Marxist gobbledegook. I was disgusted by it […] That’s when I became a conservative.

Reading Scruton, one realizes that it was that last part, the Marxist gobbledegook, that really exorcised him. His prodigious output since then — 40 or so works of nonfiction, seven novels, two librettos, and a BBC documentary — have been volleys in his lonely intellectual war against what he sees as the academic and philosophical shortcomings of left-wing thinking in the 20th century.
Actually, I had a somewhat similar experience in the Paris of 1968, where I went to twice to see the revolution (or revolt or whatever) namely in the beginning of May and the beginning of June of 1968.

But I was some years younger than Roger Scruton (not yet 18, or barely 18); I had a completely different background than Scruton had (both of my parents and 1 grandparent were communists; two other grandparents were anarchists); and I also had different conclusions than he did.

Indeed, one of my own conclusions based on the events in France of 1968 was
one very few persons could have drawn:

I realized that my own communist father, who had been a communist since 1935, and who had survived over 3 years and 9 months of German concentration camps as a communist, was a far more credible revolutionary than each and all of the leftist students I read and heard in the later 1960ies.

And another of my conclusions was that I could not find anyone whom I agreed with about the events of 1968, not on the right and not on the left - though I have to admit that I found some twenty or more years later that Stephen Spender had written a book about 1968 that I thought decent: well-written and mostly sound - but I did not get to read it before 1988, and probably considerably later. (The book is "The Year of the Young Rebels", that was published in 1969, but was missed by me until I found a secondhand copy of it 20 or more years later.)

Anyway... the following is about Scruton's book, which turns out to be a rewritten version of a book he first published over 30 years ago (and that I did not read, although I did read several of Scruton's books):
Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, originally published in 1985 as Thinkers of the New Left, is a reprise of his central intellectual effort to prove canonical left-wing academics either wrong or unscholarly, or both, on their own terms. This new edition is updated to reflect changed times and modified to both include new figures on the left-wing intellectual scene (Žižek, Badiou) and remove others (Laing, Wallerstein) whose threat, one assumes, has now passed. To hear him tell it, the book’s publication in the 1980s turned him into a pariah and signaled “the beginning of the end of [his] academic career.”
Roger Scruton certainly had a better academic career than I had, though indeed his and my history are very difficult to compare, and all my academic possibilities were destroyed by a combination of illness (that I have since I am 28) and active discrimination by both the City and the University of Amsterdam
over the facts that I disagreed with Marxism (while most in the University of Amsterdam pretended to be marxists - see note [1] in case you disbelieve this) and that I disagreed with the free but illegal trading of illegal soft drugs by friends of Amsterdam's mayor from the bottom floor of the house where I lived. (They still do, and still do so illegaly, more han 25 years later...)

But that was an aside. Here is a bit more on Scruton's book:

Far from being a Vernichtungskrieg waged without mercy upon the hallowed figures of the left-wing intellectual canon, this is a remarkably evenhanded hatchet job, with Scruton staying true to the promise made in the foreword “to explain what is good in the authors I review as well as what is bad.” This commendable sense of fairness might leave some readers who came expecting blood somewhat peeved. Those who turned to chapter four, on Sartre and Foucault, expecting to attend a public execution will be severely disappointed, for Scruton lavishes praise on both.
I disagree with Scruton's praise, except (perhaps) for the literary side of Sartre.
Then again, I also disagree with Scruton over much of his - conservative - philosophy.

But if you are philosophically naive and wish to learn more about the leftist thinkers, from a fairly informed conservative point of view, you may be interested in this book (that I very probably will not read, because I am not
philosophically naive, and probably disagree more with several of the thinkers
treated there than Scruton does).


[1] Here is some background information, that is very probably quite difficult to understand (there is considerably more here):

From 1971 until 1995 (24 years) all Dutch universities were formally in the hands of the students. They had been given that power by the minister and the parliament, who had ruled that from 1971 onwards all Dutch universities were to
be lorded over by a parliament, called the "Universiteitsraad" in Dutch, with sub-
parliaments in each faculty ("Faculteitsraad"), and with all parliaments (quite a lot, in view of the many different faculties) having to be elected each year, on the following principle:

Every student, every professor, and everybody else who worked for the university in any capacity (secretaries, doormen, cleaners etc.) was counted by the principle "1 man = 1 vote" (so a full professor of 58, a cleaner of 25, and a first year student of 18 each had 1 vote), and the diverse parliaments were elected by the ordinary majority of votes.

This meant that the students always had the absolute majority, and indeed from 1971-1985 (appproximately) most students who got elected were members of the Dutch Communist Party.

This was especially (but certainly not only) the case in Amsterdam, where especially philosophy students (and sociology students, and politicology students) had become members of the Dutch CP, and remained so till into the 1980ies.

I know that if one is not Dutch almost all of this will seem quite crazy (and indeed it was completely undone, again by a minister and a parliamentary decision, in 1995) but this is really how it was done in Holland in the time that
I studied there.

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