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Nederlog

Jun 20, 2016

Crisis: Hedges on two cons, Chomsky on various themes
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Introduction

1. 
Con vs. Con
2. Constructing Visions of "Perpetual Peace": An
     Interview With Noam Chomsky

Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Monday, June 20, 2016.

This is a crisis log, but it is a bit different from others, for it only treats two articles by or about two persons: item 1 is about Chris Hedges' article on the presidential choice the Americans will (probably) have: con vs. con (I partially agree, partially disagree, and have troubles with the term "liberals"), and item 2 is about an interview with Noam Chomsky from which I picked some general themes. (There also is a third link to an item by Bill Maher that is well worth seeing.)

That there are only two items in this crisis log is in part due to there not being many crisis materials today, in part due to my having somewhat different attitudes about the crisis series, that may be outlined (in part again) as: I have done the details, and should concentrate on larger issues), and is in part due to my essay about fascism and neofascism that will be published later today or else tomorrow.

1. Con vs. Con

The first item today is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:
This starts as follows:

During the presidential election cycle, liberals display their gutlessness. Liberal organizations, such as MoveOn.org, become cloyingly subservient to the Democratic Party. Liberal media, epitomized by MSNBC, ruthlessly purge those who challenge the Democratic Party establishment. Liberal pundits, such as Paul Krugman, lambaste critics of the political theater, charging them with enabling the Republican nominee. Liberals chant, in a disregard for the facts, not to be like Ralph Nader, the “spoiler” who gave us George W. Bush.

The liberal class refuses to fight for the values it purports to care about. It is paralyzed and trapped by the induced panic manufactured by the systems of corporate propaganda. The only pressure within the political system comes from corporate power. With no counterweight, with no will on the part of the liberal class to defy the status quo, we slide deeper and deeper into corporate despotism. The repeated argument of the necessity of supporting the “least worse” makes things worse.

To start with, I mostly agree with the title: The choice of the Americans for their next president is between two persons who are both fairly described as cons - deceivers, liars, dishonest people trying to convince others of their excellencies and plans by what is fundamentally propaganda and deception.

Then again, I don't agree with the title if the suggestion is that one con is as good or bad as the other con. I think it is true both are fundamentally cons, but I also think that one of them is not only a con but also is mad, and I refer
to Donald Trump. More of that below.

And I have three points about the quoted two paragraphs:

First, I really don't understand what Chris Hedges means by "liberals". In part, the difficulty is that I am European, and the term "liberal" - which in any case is quite ambiguous - is used rather differently in Europe than in the USA, but I think it is in part also due to vagueness by Chris Hedges.

In any case, I will suppose he understands by "liberals" (in this article) "educated persons" - with a B.A. or higher - "who favor the Democratic Party". This is also not very precise, but it is a bit less vague than "liberals" while it does seem to correspond fairly well to Hedges' use of "liberal". (I am not saying it is quite accurate, but then I am a European.)

Second, on the basis of that understanding, I more or less agree with Chris Hedges, while I quite agree with his saying that "[t]he only pressure within the political system comes from corporate power": This is organized; it has been organized better and better since the 1970ies; it has lots of money; it has very specific interests (those of the rich); and in fact it pays both candidates. (Trump says he doesn't need payment, but he is a part of the corporate powers.)

But third, I don't agree with "the repeated argument of the necessity of supporting the “least worse” makes things worse". Here are my reasons:

As stated - "
the necessity of supporting the “least worse”" - this is simply a very widely accepted principle of rational choice: A rational choice (from a subject's point of view) is the choice of either the best possibility there is (in the eyes of the subject) or failing that (there are no good choices) is the choice of the least bad possibility there is (in the eyes of the subject). [1]

But Chris Hedges doesn't mean that principle, in general terms: He means something far more specific, namely that the choice of Clinton and the choice
of Trump is not between two bad candidates, of which the one (Trump) is a lot worse than the other (Clinton, although Clinton is also bad): it is between two
candidates which are both equally rotten.

I have several times insisted that in my valuation of the candidates for the presidency, Sanders is a lot better than Clinton, and Clinton is a lot better than Trump, and I will not argue that again, but merely observe that most to the left of the GOP seem to agree with me, especially as Sanders fell out of the race, and as Trump seems a lunatic.

So I simply conclude that most who think there is something to choose, and who stand to the left of Trump and the GOP, will agree with me that the choice
should be for Clinton, simply because a choice for Trump is for an ignorant braggart, who is a xenophobe, a racist, and who is far too temperamental and  far too much of a grandiose narcissist to be given the presidency.

Next, there is this:

The rise of a demagogue like Donald Trump is a direct result of the Democratic Party’s decision to embrace neoliberalism, become a handmaiden of American imperialism and sell us out for corporate money. There would be no Trump if Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party had not betrayed working men and women with the North American Free Trade Agreement, destroyed the welfare system, nearly doubled the prison population, slashed social service programs, turned the airwaves over to a handful of corporations by deregulating the Federal Communications Commission, ripped down the firewalls between commercial and investment banks that led to a global financial crash and prolonged recession, and begun a war on our civil liberties that has left us the most monitored, eavesdropped, photographed and profiled population in human history. There would be no Trump if the Clintons and the Democratic Party, including Barack Obama, had not decided to prostitute themselves for corporate pimps.

First of all, I agree with Chris Hedges on his list of sins of Bill Clinton (that runs from "had not betrayed" to "in human history").

But I think that the argument that leads from Bill Clinton's sins to Donald Trump is far more complicated than the one sketched by Hedges (which also is counterfactual: "if X would not have done p, then Y could not have done q", which are both imaginary - in fact, something else happened - and are hard to evaluate).

And I will not sketch a counter argument, but merely observe that Trump has been publicly known since the 1980ies, and might have arisen in quite different circumstances than he did rise in. (Also a counterfactual, but easier
to justify.)


Then there is this:

The character traits of the Clintons are as despicable as those that define Trump. The Clintons have amply illustrated that they are as misogynistic and as financially corrupt as Trump. Trump is a less polished version of the Clintons.

No. I dislike the Clintons, but there are (at least) two or three major differences between them and Trump: (1) there are considerable differences between the plans and policies of the Clintons and of Trump: The Clintons are rightist or centrist Democrats; Trump is a rightist rightist. (2) The Clintons are far better political planners than Trump is and know a lot more of politics in the U.S. And (3) neither of the Clintons is mad, whereas Trump
is. [2]

There is this on "liberals" which I translate as
"educated persons" - with a B.A. or higher - "who favor the Democratic Party":

Liberals are employed by corporate elites in universities, the media, systems of entertainment and advertising agencies to perpetuate corporate power. Many are highly paid. They have a financial stake in corporate dominance. The educated elites in the liberal class are capitalism’s useful idiots.

I mostly agree. My experiences are quite different from those of Chris Hedges,
but I think I have more experiences with Dutch academics than he has with American academics, simply because I functioned for about twenty years in
and around the University of Amsterdam, where I tried to make academics see
reason, and found that at least 95% decide in the end by their own - very good - incomes, while most of them pretend to do so for moral reasons. [3]

They are the academic intellectuals of the system we live in; they are paid very well; and they will choose 19 out of 20 times to serve those who pay and protect them.

Finally, this is the last bit I comment on:
Clinton and Trump, in this world of political make-believe, will say whatever their listeners want to hear. They will furiously compete for “undecided” voters, essentially the apolitical segment of the population. And once the election is over, one of them will go to Washington, where corporations, rich donors and lobbyists—who they represent—will continue with the business of governing.
Yes and no.

I agree Hillary Clinton "
will say whatever [her] listeners want to hear", if only it is somehow compatible with her general pretensions. This also means that you can not count on any promises she makes before she is elected.

And I partially agree with thesis that "
corporations, rich donors and lobbyists" are in fact determining most a government's choices these days, although I
think the governors and the government also are important.

But I disagree with the (repeated) suggestion that Clinton and Trump are convertible or equally bad: The plans and policies of Clinton are more detailed, more informed and more sensible than those of Trump, and besides Hillary
Clinton may be bad but she is not mad, while Trump is. [4]

And this is a recommended article: I don't agree with the thesis that both cons are equally bad (which I also think few agree with) but there also are a number of good points.

2. Constructing Visions of "Perpetual Peace": An Interview With Noam Chomsky

The second item is by C.J. Polychroniou on Truth-out:

This has the following in the beginning and is by C.J. Polychroniou:

However, states are not abstract entities or neutral institutions of human creation. On the contrary, while they may have a logic of their own due to their huge built-in bureaucracies, the policies they pursue reflect above all the interests of the dominant social classes and seek to reproduce the existing social and economic relations. In other words, states work on behalf of what Adam Smith called "the masters of mankind" whose "vile maxim" is "all for ourselves, and nothing for the other People."

Indeed, in the case of the United States, one of the most disturbing and dangerous developments is the growing insulation of the elite from any system of democratic accountability, and the implementation of policies with total disregard for the needs of the people. This is a development observed today in most of the western, capitalist societies around the world, proving that financial elites are in control of so-called "democratic" regimes.

I agree, and like to restate this as points (with some personal changes and additions):

  • states have a logic of their own due to their bureaucracies
  • states mostly act to maintain and continue the interests and privileges of the dominant groups in the society they lead, which are nearly always the rich (power serves money, money uses power)
  • many of the rich are in fact mostly committed to "all for ourselves, and nothing for the other People", and also
  • there have been 36 years of build-up of a rich elite that is no longer controlled democratically, and that fundamentally either disregards or works against "the needs of the people".
Then there is this, on the presumed "apathy of the voters" (and in the following texts, the bold questions are by C.J. Polychroniou, and the non-bold replies by Noam Chomsky):

Noam Chomsky: "Resignation" may be a better term than "apathy," and even that goes too far, I think.

Since the early 1980s, polls in the US have shown that most people believe that the government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves... I do not know of earlier polls, or polls in other countries, but it would not be surprising if the results are similar. The important question is: are people motivated to do something about it? That depends on many factors, crucially including the means that they perceive to be available.
Perhaps. If the polls are correct, most Americans have fundamentally adequate ideas about politics, in the sense that they "believe that the government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves", but then there are two questions:

(1) If so, why were most Americans too "apathetic" or too "resigned" to do much to support their own interests, while (2) there also is the fact (I pre- sume) that about 60% of all Americans believe in the literal truth of Noah's Ark story (which means they are mentally more fit for the Middle Ages than for a modern democracy).

In brief, my own response is that trying to gauge "what the people want" and "what the people think" is very difficult to do adequately in a population of over 300 million persons.

I do agree, though, with Chomsky's point that the "
important question is: are people motivated to do something about it?" - and my inference is that it is (overall, and with some exceptions) quite disappointing (and see the above  four points), but I agree this is my personal appreciation.

Then there is this (skipping a lot):

Does the US remain the world's leading supporter of terrorism?

A review of several recent books on Obama's global assassination (drone) campaign in the American Journal of International Law concludes that there is a "persuasive case" that the campaign is "unlawful": "U.S. drone attacks generally violate international law, worsen the problem of terrorism, and transgress fundamental moral principles" -- a judicious assessment, I believe. The details of the cold and calculated presidential killing machine are harrowing, as is the attempt at legal justification, such as the stand of Obama's Justice Department on "presumption of innocence," a foundation stone of modern law tracing back to the Magna Carta 800 years ago. As the stand was explained in the New York Times, "Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It, in effect, counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent" -- post-assassination.
I agree. I also know - I think - what Obama's reply probably is: He droned because he did not want American troups on the ground, and by droning he
killed less than would have been killed if he had sent in troups, both of which
may be factually correct, but it remains the case that droning is immoral and
also unlawful (on the basis of internationally acknowledged principles of law),
and besides worsens the problems of terrorism.

Also Chomsky is quite right that the decision to count "
all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants" is sick, precisely because it means you can
only prove them innocent after they have been murdered (also because before they were murdered they were either anonymous or nothing was known about them that marked them as terrorists - "but" (hey presto!) "they are of military age, therefore combatants, therefore justifiably killed").

Then there is this, which starts with a good and honest question by C.J. Polychroniou:

With human nature being what it is, and individuals clearly having different skills, abilities, drives and aspirations, is a truly egalitarian society feasible and/or desirable?

Human nature encompasses saints and sinners, and each of us has all of these capacities. I see no conflict at all between an egalitarian vision and human variety. One could, perhaps, argue that those with greater skills and talents are already rewarded by the ability to exercise them, so they merit less external reward -- though I don't argue this.
Well... I agree that "I see no conflict at all between an egalitarian vision and human variety", but then that is about an unknown future. In the present, I
would say there is far too much stupidity and ignorance, but I agree that, while it is true that the stupidity and the ignorance of the many may do in the human species, it is a fact of life that the intelligent and knowledgeable few have to learn to live with, somehow.

The article ends as follows:

We can construct visions of "perpetual peace," carrying forward the Kantian project, and of a society of free and creative individuals not subjected to hierarchy, domination, arbitrary rule and decision. In my own view -- respected friends and comrades in struggle disagree -- we do not know enough to spell out details with much confidence, and can anticipate that considerable experimentation will be necessary along the way. There are very urgent immediate tasks, not least dealing with literal questions of survival of organized human societies, questions that have never risen before in human history but are inescapable right now.
I mostly agree.

I think "perpetual peace" is a dream given the qualities of most persons, but it is a worthy aim and it is also a worthy aim to make armed conflicts as rare and as small as is possible.

And I am strongly for "
a society of free and creative individuals not subjected to hierarchy, domination, arbitrary rule and decision", although again this seems both an end that is far ahead in the future and one that is well to keep in mind as a measuring stick.

I also agree with Chomsky that "
we do not know enough to spell out details" (bolding added) of any future society, and that there "are very urgent immediate tasks, not least dealing with literal questions of survival of organized human societies, questions that have never risen before in human history but are inescapable right now".

And while I think the present human situation is quite dire, I agree with Edmund Burke that "If you despair, work on".

This is also a recommended article, that has a lot more than is dealt with here.

---------------------

Notes

[1] Note that this principle is stated for subjects: What the one thinks best may be quite different (indeed sometimes the opposite) of what another thinks best, but even so, a rational choice of each of them is one that prefers their best or least bad choice from the alternatives they see and they evaluate.

[2] I have explained several times that in my psychologist's opinions Trump is mad. In case you don't agree, watch this:

This compares Trump with other candidates, and gives some choice moments from his speeches.

[3] This refers to the times between 1977 and 1997, roughly, but I should also point out that I stopped studying at least 4 times in those years, and probably more, in each case motivated by my illness, except when I was denied the right of taking my M.A. in philosophy (which more or less forced me - I wanted at least an M.A. - to take one in psychology). Incidentally, I
think I am the only person in Holland who was denied the right to take an M.A. (that I perfectly well could do, and also very well) since World War II.
Why? Because I had spoken and written the truth about Dutch academics.

[4] See note 2.


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