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Lessee: selfish social darwinist nihilism–wrapped in self-aggrandizing ‘personal responsibility-with-exceptions pieties, or, help your neighbor, Christian ethics?
H.R. 3962 squeaks by in the House, with one brave Republican vote. The loner was Joseph Cao, R-La. He told a reporter, “But I felt it was important of me to support the president in this matter because, like I said before, based on my own conscience, it was the right decision for my district.”
Conscience. Compare the existence of Joseph Cao’s conscience with that of Steve King, D-IA. His understanding is that everybody has health coverage because of the existence of emergency rooms! Then all you do is add his prescriptions:
Better ideas for health care reform include full deductibility of medical expenses for all Americans, medical malpractice reform, an increase in Health Savings Account contribution amounts, giving consumers the ability to purchase health insurance across state lines, allowing small businesses to band together to negotiate lower costs for themselves and their employees through Association Health Plans and fixing Medicare reimbursements to raise reimbursement rates for states like Iowa that have high quality care at a low cost. These are real solutions that will protect the relationship between patients and doctors and improve the quality of health care in America without raising taxes.
Oh, and protect insurance company profits. After all, isn’t that written somewhere in the bible…? How many Republicans congresspersons have opted out of their own health insurance benefit?
‘Tis the song, the sigh of the weary.
Hard times, hard times, come again no more.
Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door.
Oh, hard times, come again no more.
The God In the Machine, Lewis H. Lapham, Lapham’s Quarterly, V.II,No.3
President Barack Obama during his first months in office seldom has missed a chance to liken the country’s healthcare system to an unburied corpse, which, if left lying around in the sun by the 111th Congress, threatens to foul the sweet summer air of the American dream. The prognosis doesn’t admit of a second or third opinion. Whether on call to the Democratic left or the Republican right, the attending politicians and consulting economists concur in their assessment of the risk posed by the morbid emissions. The country now pays an annual fee of $2.4 trillion for its medical treatments (16 percent of GDP); the costs continue to lead nowhere but up. Fail to embalm or entomb the putrefying debt, and it’s only a matter of time—ten years, maybe twenty—before the pulse disappears from the monitors tracking the heartbeat on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
So say the clinicians in Washington, and I don’t quarrel with the consensus. If I can’t make sense of some of the diagnoses or most of the prescriptions, at least I can understand that what is being discussed is the health of America’s money, not the well-being of its people. The symptoms present as vividly as the manifestations of plague listed in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, but they show up as an infection of the body politic caused by the referral of the country’s medical care to the empathy of accountants and the wisdom of drug dealers.
If I can’t make sense of some of the diagnoses or most of the prescriptions, at least I can understand that what is being discussed is the health of America’s money, not the well-being of its people.
This is the most cogent comment about the current debate over reform of the health care system I’ve encountered.
Thank goodness for Lewis Lapham. More:
The medieval church marketed its healthcare product as the forgiveness of sin, in the form of Papal indulgences intended to preserve the vitality of the immortal soul. In an age that places a higher value on the flesh than it does on the spirit, the guarantees on the label promise to restore the blooms of eternal youth. To the extent that we construe physical well-being as the most cherished commodity sold in the supermarkets of human happiness, we stand willing to spend more money on the warrants of longevity than we spend on lottery tickets and cocaine. Our consumption of medical goods and services constitutes the performance of what Thorstein Veblen in The Theory of the Leisure Class characterized as a devout observance—the futility and superfluous expense of the exercise testifying to its value as an act of worship. The more health product that we conspicuously consume, the more of us feel conspicuously ill. To express our devotion we magnify every “riddling distemper” the flesh is heir to, deprive ourselves of food and blood, discover diseases where none exist, incise ourselves with liposuction and the angiogram. The pharmaceutical companies step up the dosages of terror in their print and television advertising; volunteer committees of vigilance gather in city parks to keep a sharp watch for obese wastrels who neglect their aerobic exercises, smoke cigarettes, fail to ingest their antioxidants, refuse to drink their pomegranate juice. We learn to think, as do the characters in a Woody Allen movie, that we become commendable, or at least interesting, by virtue of the stigmata verifying our status as victims and attesting to our worth as patients.
My only gripe with the Medicine issue is that for whatever reason, Ivan Illich, (author of the classic Medical Nemesis,) wasn’t included.
The Lapham Quarterly is the single most edifying and provocative publication now being produced in the sphere of the ‘public intellect.’ Of course, Lapham himself is a terrific essayist. As it turns out he’s also a visionary assembler of ideas, given the brilliant collections organized around themes he’s issued in the form of his journal. Above all, The Lapham Quarterly honors the intellect of the reader by juxtaposing classical and modern thinking around the themes, and then allowing the reader to reason through a robust clash of historical and contemporary perspectives. It’s not all words. Each edition includes graphic evidence and images aimed to do what 1,000 words cannot.
The web site for The Lapham Quarterly has evolved to offer content not in the journal. Highly recommended. At the web site are Lapham’s introductions for each issue and its centering theme. Right now, Lapham is second-to-none as a commentator on current events.
Although it’s fairly obvious that the varieties of right-wing punditry and congresspeeps likely couldn’t tell a questioner what socialism was, is, I would also suggest that it might be hard for the same to tell what conservatism itself was, is.
Of all the photos I’ve seen of members of the not-at-all silent minority, each one expressing on t-shirt and sign sentiments ranging from forthright trepidation to depraved paranoia, this photo is the one that, for me, says it all. Harkening back to previous discussion about how sentiments, (and world views and framings and the sort,) may be an aspect of allowing sensibility to be programmed–thus etched, thus unmovable–the dichotomy in the idea of hard workers/everybody else, puts the object relations in relief.
This goes back a very long way, to the 19th century in America. The following cartoons are from the collection at The Southern Labor Archives, Georgia State University.
Both cartoons are from the 1880’s.
Then there’s the resurgent idea about the salutary effects of resistance.
Plucked from Jefferson’s letter to William Smith in 1787:
“Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts? And can history produce an instance of a rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it’s motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. And what country can preserve its liberties, if it’s rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
I suspect advocates of this salutary resistance wouldn’t be able to tell you much about the so-called second American Revolution–Jefferson’s presidency–or the sweep of events leading to Jackson, then to Lincoln and the Civil War, and, soon enough to the first iteration of contemporary themes in the last four decades of the 19th century.
In our national discussion, the terminology from the right has obtained a marvelous level of conflation. What can a student of political philosophy and political economy and history say in response to Republicans musing over calling their opponents ‘socialist democrats,’ this coming on the heels of their stringing together, liberals-socialists-marxists-fascists?
However, given the demographic Waterloo the Republicans now face, rallying a few more badly educated yahoos to the rump party’s cause won’t do the trick. The Daily Show and Jon Stewart nail the actual state of the bruised Republican psyche: they’re struggling with having to cope after having lost the presidency after controlling the executive branch for 28 out of 40 years. Like it was in the era of McKinley, the country was not guided by populists, let alone Jeffersonians.
Not for nothing do some protest in knowing ways: “But, we’re not a democracy–we’re a Republic!”
The several core contradictions are delicious. I’ll gloss the context and explain why I suspect the Republican idealogues have lost their purchase on the vaunted principles of conservatism. Three features jump out above all. One, is their appeal to righteousness based in a Manichean struggle for the soul of an idealized America. Two, and related to this, is their retreaded appeal to a silent majority. And, third, is how all of this is inflected by a kind of post-modern Calvinism, and, a version of Christian ethics, removed almost completely from the communitarian Christologcal ethic, from the ethic, (so-to-speak,) of the beatitudes.
So: there is the formation of identity based in appropriation of a backward cast idealization of a monolithic golden primal age, itself–this glorious and singular past–produced by the severe Christianity of the sainted Founders. Then, it is incumbent upon the knowing patriots to–always–resist the forces of “liberal-fascist” traitors.
It goes something like this, I feel.
It is true, on the other hand, that the golden age of founding patriotism was not funded by a severe Christianity, was not in any way monolithic, (witness the gulf between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson; between Alexander Hamilton and james Madison, etc.,) and would not come to a bloody clash of divergent patriotism and between patriots, until the Civil War.
(That the extremist tea party brethren reject Christian brotherhood in favor of personal responsibility-fueled social darwinism is remarkable too.)
What ideas brought this about?
Back in the eighties, I was working the front, retail, lines of the record business, managing a record department in the back of a book store in Middlebury, Vermont, home to Middlebury College. I was a long haired jazzer, whose musical boat had departed the mainstream currents in the early seventies. Even then, I marveled at how easily mobs of college kids marched to the beat of the mass culture drums.
I more than witnessed the Michael Jackson phenomena as it first broke in 1979, and crested with Thriller in 1982. What I know of his music came from incidental exposure. At the peak of his musical popularity, his music was not considered hip. However, even then, his artistry was praiseworthy even in my aficionado’s biased terms simply because it was Jacko who seemingly single-handedly turned back soul music’s disco infection.
In many respects, Jackson’s musical revolution was exhausted by 1987, the year of his LP/CD Bad. By then he was the most successful entertainer in the world. He wasn’t finished entertaining, but his second career of serial re-creation and lurid lifestylin’ eventually overwhelmed his musical bona fides as the centering force of his persona. He became cultural cannon fodder; his genius reduced to ferocious chapters of topping the previous chapter of strange.
It is the distressing norm should any celebrated figure morph into iconic stature, that its basis is the hook for massive magical participation of both fan and anti-fan, of sympathy and antipathy. There is no right mind able to support willfully doing this consciously. So, when it is said that the icon reflects something of this participation, it would be most accurate to say that the icon reflects cultural unconsciousness without any mercy whatsoever. Alas, in such a phenomenology of ‘cultural activity’ the evident whipsaw cuts both way, and never to a satisfying, terminal, abreaction for the iconic subject or his or her minions.
And minions is the right term: the king of pop mightily favored his loyal subjects. To unglue the cultural mass from Jackson simply brings into relief shared symptoms. It seems no episodic detail of his life was not a comment on symptoms writ large: in the bubble, neverlands, shapeshifting, carving away bodily features, dangling infants, comforting sleep partners, unlimited discretionary income, and, forcing a family out of surrogates and sexual compulsion. It matters not that Jackson’s own compulsions were chaste, its the compulsion. Above all there was our golden wish: to turn back the clock and never grow old.
When asked what I thought, last week I said, “Michael Jackson was one of the strangest people ever peopled,” (to use Alan Watt’s trope.) I have credible people I can ask, but no one has nailed where Jackson’s psychological makeup vectors in any armchair diagnostic take.
Given my archetypal prejudices, it is certainly obvious that no conventional or generic character-logical version of the psychology of the Puer Aeturnus fits Jackson very well. Except, it must fit someway!
Nevertheless, the Puer facets offer clues. It’s easy enough to place provisionality in the terrain of his complex. This feature is always a hallmark of persons who strive, and sometimes realize, their own world. It’s never a perfect world, yet its a better world. But, this world can scarcely be inhabited. It, then, also may be the case that the ‘other’ world fortune and magnification buys is a solitary, barren, and finally, tiny world.
We don’t really wish to be left alone on throne or cross or couch. I read today that Michael deeply wished to be royalty. How revealing. For what is the King but the loneliest creature in the kingdom? Our culture, with its harsh and fickle and always unconscious loyalties, only appoints figure heads–only crowns with a thorny embrace the gilded imago personified by charismatic celebrity. Short of royalty, those so elevated are our figure heads, literally left alone but to our own cruel devices. In the austere mythologem, the consequence of christological aspiration in this context of our collective complex is necessarily tragic.
Then it struck me: the last narrative chapter of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.
Beside the well there was the ruin of an old stone wall. When I came back
from my work, the next evening, I saw from some distance away my little price
sitting on top of a wall, with his feet dangling. And I heard him say:
“Then you don’t remember. This is not the exact spot.”
Another voice must have answered him, for he replied to it:
“Yes, yes! It is the right day, but this is not the place.”
I continued my walk toward the wall. At no time did I see or hear anyone. The
little prince, however, replied once again:
“–Exactly. You will see where my track begins, in the sand. You have nothing
to do but wait for me there. I shall be there tonight.”
I was only twenty metres from the wall, and I still saw nothing.
After a silence the little prince spoke again:
“You have good poison? You are sure that it will not make me suffer too
I stopped in my tracks, my heart torn asunder; but still I did not understand.
“Now go away,” said the little prince. “I want to get down from the wall.”
Wouldn’t you like to ride in my beautiful balloon
Wouldn’t you like to ride in my beautiful balloon
We could float among the stars together, you and I
For we can fly we can fly
Up, up and away
My beautiful, my beautiful balloon
The world’s a nicer place in my beautiful balloon
It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon
We can sing a song and sail along the silver sky
For we can fly we can fly
Up, up and away
My beautiful, my beautiful balloon
Suspended under a twilight canopy
We’ll search the clouds for a star to guide us
If by some chance you find yourself loving me
We’ll find a cloud to hide us
We’ll keep the moon beside us
Love is waiting there in my beautiful balloon
Way up in the air in my beautiful balloon
If you’ll hold my hand we’ll chase your dream across the sky
For we can fly we can fly
Up, up and away
My beautiful, my beautiful balloon
Up, up, and away…..
I find fundamentalisms to be amusing. They are so whether they are religious, Bright-minded and hyper rationalistic, or psychologically systematic. I have been fortunate (or cursed,) to have a lot of exposure to the weird and the wonderful and the unexplicable, yet, about absolute matters and both first and final things, I am agnostic. Any opinions I have are tentative, but my prejudice does favor a minimal capability enabled to understand what is demonstrably and reasonably widely applicable and what is, surely, not known to be certainly universal.
When I was 21 I had dinner with a friend and his wife and another couple. This second couple was literally led by the husband, a twenty-something Navy officer several years out of Annapolis. He worked as a weapons coordinator at Portsmouth naval shipyard. He also was a dominionist. He laid it all out how a Christian God stood, for him, firstly over everything including history itself, so-to-speak. I thought nothing of it except that the only proof he spoke of us was the truth of the bible. And, he told us it would end badly for the infidel and, just maybe, the US Navy might have to weigh in on the side of the about-to-return, sword bearing, Jesus. He sure hoped he might get a chance to rain some hellfire on the unsaved.
Scroll forward through many other encounters, each one characterized by the same â€œproofâ€. Such intellectual silliness is hardly worth challenging. For example, intelligent design proffers not even a single coherent contest of evolution. And it’s whole primary frame is supernaturalistic expicalicreationist. Heck, the other morning on the local NPR station a minister stated that evolution could not be true because nobody was around to observe it. I thought it was a delicious moment of solipsism, but the caller on the line fumbled the golden opportunity to shoot fish in the barrel.
I have friends and colleagues who are much more anxious about Jesusmanic religious fundamentalism, 21st century revival-style. Not me. The problem with the prospect for a theocracy is demographic and generational. A friend of mine is the son of pentacostals and he chose sex over snakes at 15. Doh.
This week I watched Jesus Camp, (official site,) a movie mostly about a crazed youth minister, Becky Fischer. Her game is to indoctrinate 5-15 year old kids and make them into Christian warriors in the Manichean war of saved Jesus peeps against unbelievers. Among many chilling sequences are two that leap out. The first is when she expresses envy of Islam because the Muslims, according to Fischer, have the kiddie indoctrination process down cold. The second is when she forthrightly admits that the end game of Godâ€™s design isnâ€™t compatible with democracy.
But what the theocrats are up against is the increasing plural and cosmopolitan character of the U.S. As well, the generation galvanized to fearfulness by free love and freely chosen spirituality and freaks and, heck, the enlightenment, are aging. Ask any twenty-year-old about the counterculture of the sixties and how it has impacted them.
Sure, there is a wedge strategy to take over South Carolina, and, evidently, some of the suburbs of Colorado Springs have already â€˜fallen,â€™ yet, over the next decade or so, the aging evangelical babyboomer, (see the red and blue political maps for 1972 and 2004,) and the generation X evangelical will go into fast decline. Fischer will not be able to create her warriors fast enough to war against culturally tolerant, hedonistic generations Y & Z.
Rapture gallery time.
Ask the aces question of any fundamentalist of any heuristic stripe: “Is your God, model, system, view, knowledge, required to also be my God (etc.)?” See if you’re forced to point out that something held to be truly universally applicable can only be true if it is truly universally applicable.
If my intuition is wrong and I end up in hell for eternity, so be it. If hell is good enough for Ronald Reagan and JFK –if there be a hellish there, there–it’s good enough for me.
If the election tomorrow is about Iraq, it’s also about a nation of citizen armchair geopolitical strategists making up their minds. Yup, each of us indulges our hunch about the war and for some of us this sense will be decisive. Presumably a vote to sustain Republican majorities in the Congress endorses the continued effort to pacify and re-organize Iraq. I don’t know exactly what a vote for Democrats means with respect to Iraq. They haven’t really weighed in on whether Iraq can be fixed or not, but, nevertheless, it would appear the Democrats are mostly against the neocon fantasy of ruling Iraq for whatever reasons, and, I’m hoping they are against destroying Iraq to save it.
I’m a political junky. Over the years I’ve tried to keep politics out of the explorations here, but the personal is the political. I’ve thought about a political blog too, although the world probably doesn’t need another lefty blog. Far lefty in my case for I am a fabian, a digger, a radical humanist, and, perhaps worst of all, I can count. Think of me as a pointed headed auto-didact 52yo slacker. If I did have a blog I would orient it around the common cognitive dissonances which riddle political discourse.
it is quite possible for commonsense to join with an iconoclastic mission. My friend Alan Kuper, the father of a junior high classmate of forty years ago, and a retired professor of electrical engineering, is on such a mission. At the same time, his approach is commonsensical: he has devised a system of scoring U.S. Congress persons based in evaluating their voting records on environmental matters.
This would be the broad brush. What Dr. Kuper notes is that the United States is home to the biggest population problem on earth. Why? Because our resource hungry, wasteful, and polluting consumption grows as our population grows. As is well known, the U.S. is the world’s leading resource mongerer, consumer and polluter. And, as Illich pointed out, the earth itself cannot support a global consumer society on the U.S. model. There aren’t enough raw materials in the earth, nor reserve of fresh atmosphere, (etc.,) to fund a global consumer utopia.
Somebody has to take a stand; a lot of somebodies; and from a small home office in his home, Dr. Kuper has taken a stand. It provides for a good human interest story too. Alan Kuper is wholly devoted to the cause of connecting the dots between the big picture of consumption la-la lunacy and democratic policy making. In his eighties, he hasn’t shuffled off to the wings of oblivious retirement. Since I’ve known him for so long, but no better than I have only recently, I am pleased to state he is a delightful curmudgeon of the old school, speaking truth to power and to the people for that matter.
The point is to leverage the data he’s put together. …because we might all better evaluate the voting implication of those congress people who purport to be acting in the citizenry’s self-interest. Dr. Kuper’s mission is completely grassroots, hardscrabble, and, at the same time, relentless in its evaluation of congressional commitments.
He generates a scorecard of each congress and this scorecard is packed full of valuable, surprising, and, often, shocking data. Consider a donation too–you’ll receive CUSP’s booklet and a hardcopy scorecard.
Underneath the complex clashes of the cultural war are very interesting conundrums which do not yield to superficial criticism. For example, any cost/benefit analysis used to rationalize real harm supports a dry ‘scientism’ unhooked from morality. From the other side, this same problem arises in most presumptions of primary substantive principles. With this, the cost/benefit analysis isn’t often done. Yet, in the clash between liberal social analysis and absolutist ‘guiding, a priori ordination’ both share a terrific insensitivity to real harm. The idea of Justice was once time-honored; it tends to disappear at both extremes.
I take problems like this to be problems of human sentience. The Sentient Times March issue contains an interview with Paul Krugman, yet another presentation from George Lakoff, and, pertinent to this item, an interview with John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.
We’re a long way off from a Buddhist politics.
Elsewhere I am likely to make personal comments about world events. I make an exception this evening here. The Schiavo case is for me, a phenomonologist with archetypal leanings, the bookend to Gibson’s The Passion of Christ. In The Passion, relentless suffering of the sancrosanct object The Christ; in the flesh and blood of T.S. the relentless and solipsistic suffering of those for whom she is their object. The ‘sensitive’ in the afermath of their encounter with the simulcra Christ, (crudely outfitted with the special ‘effects,’ while in real time actual unspeakable suffering was visited on peoples in the crucible of civilization – not effects, but effective,) would easily cathect the simulated cinematic crucifixion into, for them, personal catharsis. Sure, one is moved, yet to what?
The unsaid word is, of course, Mercy. And, over many daily ‘news cycles’ it is Mercy itself that is so sunk into the shadow of humanity. For it is Mercy that is unspoken, unheard, and it is Mercy that cannot be roused. The hideous consequences of scapegoating Mercy are incalculable. As for Terri, why wouldn’t we prefer her to be released to the peace of the afterlife if we’re inclined to hope Paradise exists?
Until we allow Mercy to happen, unfold, for God knows Best, we will have war and wars like this. Cinematic portrayals will enthrall us. We will do everything to avoid any understanding at all while calling out a “culture of life” with the stench of death all around us; cluster bombs not flowers.
It has all been merciless.
Well, how about this: the idea that within the US administration there are rogue tentacles that go around the world doing exactly the same but almost entirely out of any centralized control system? To me, that is even scarier.
To me too. Well put, Helena.
Helena Cobban Just World News Blog