Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pity the 1%

What is truly pathetic is the sad state of the 1%. Imagine, for a moment, that you are the billionaire, B. G. Your multiple dwellings are vast and carefully tended. You can go to many cities and be home. Your yacht has not one but two helicopter pads. It burns one hundred gallons of fuel per mile. Important people meet you in the middle of the ocean, then fly away. Back on land you almost never touch ground, always arriving via the roof, except when you step upon manicured lawns in gated communities within gated communities. Carefully arranged flowers decorate every room you enter. Bodyguards accompany your every step. When you walk from one crowded room to another you are on high alert, for you fear kidnappers. Every move must be planned, every venue thoroughly vetted, and all this done with the utmost secrecy. Much of your time is taken up with the precautions the security guys assure you it is absolutely essential that you take. You enter rooms from side entrances; often make your double take your car; and find it necessary to pop up unexpectedly at gatherings of the movers and shakers.

You have long ago passed on operational control of the source of your wealth. You were tired of keeping up with the waves of innovation, and anyway you simply didn't have the time. When you make a surprise appearance at company headquarters everybody ohs and ahs. Then they go on with what they were doing. Nothing you say is ever contradicted. Nor does any of it any longer affect company policy, though everyone makes an enormous effort to make it seem as if it did. Nobody dares to note how thoroughly out of date you are.

You like to pop up in the news cycle in occasional interviews. You like the way interviewers defer to your wisdom. Aside from business they talk to you only of the subjects everyone knows interest you: your horses, golf, the good things you do for children, and pictures by Van Gogh, whom you adore. You lead a vibrant life, full of energy, everybody avers. Your passion for golf, especially, is truly astonishing for a man of your age. Of course when you do drop pearls you are careful to always remain banal or off the record for fear of stirring up a hornets nest. When you depart you invariably get an obsequious grin.

You have a mistress, but fearing the tedium of scandal, must transport her through roundabout routes to secret rendezvous. Never can you appear together in public or you would spook a stampede of image thieves. Although those photogs are great for making moments of fame, and at the same time make fame seem not to be worth it, they really are a pain. Your girl is, of course beautiful with the current standard of beauty, but when you kiss her, you read, on her lips, her knowledge that she will not even be known as having been your mistress. In the end, she knows, you will just drop her with a gold tiara, and that is why she soaks you for everything she can get now. She pretends to adore you and that's fine, indeed necessary given how hurried are the meetings you must share. Admittedly, she executes a wordless blackmail. But you know it is not her. Any other mistress would do the same, and this one is quite a gymnast. You do fear that she might write a memoir. You chose a girl who would be too stupid to do so, but if an agent and a ghostwriter ever got a hold of her...

Sometimes they put you on TV to make wise pronouncements to the investment scavengers who dog your heels. Then you merely paraphrase the words of Michael X, a whizz with numbers and a trusted retainer. Your billionairiness has deprived you not just of the ability to keep up with developments, but of the leisure to ever use your mind beyond what is necessary to form completely unfounded opinions. Cleverly, you have hired other very wise men, like Michael, to form wise opinions for you. For you simply haven't got the time to think, what with all the thising and thating you do and the security guys always around warning of whatever.

About the big things, like global warming, you'd rather not say. It is beyond your area of expertise. Among serious people such a thing is never mentioned, for what does it have to do with business? That it portends human destruction is dubious. In all honesty you can say you really don't know anything about it and you're not worried. It would be better not to say you really haven't had the interest to find out. That might antagonize people. And anyway, among the people who matter that is understood. The mere fact that the little people care about this problem proves that concern is overblown. Though, you remind yourself to add, if the occasion ever comes up, that you too are concerned about the possibility of human extinction. Anyway, the interviewers, who are good at their job, have long ago learned what to ask you and what not.

Of course you are aware that a growing number of people are blaming you and people like you for things that are going wrong. Well, what can you expect. The lower orders are always scapegoating for their own failures. Do they expect me to propose something as absurd as ending all hydrocarbon use? Why I would be laughed out of my own boardroom. They would think I had gone completely bonkers. People don't realize how really powerless I am when it comes to these extra-business concerns. And they just don't understand how the system works. The really important people, like me, and the really top people in government, can actually do far less then anyone outside the beltway can realize. In fact, we powerful ones are really quite powerless to do anything that matters about global warming even if we wanted to. I mean be realistic, preventing human extinction is just not on the agenda. It's not even on the radar.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Marx's gift to the 1% or What is to be Done?

The February days originally intended an electoral reform by which the circle of the politically privileged among the possessing class itself was to be widened and the exclusive domination of the aristocracy of finance overthrown. When it came to the actual conflict, however – when the people mounted the barricades, the National Guard maintained a passive attitude, the army offered no serious resistance, and the monarchy ran away – the republic appeared to be a matter of course... While the Paris proletariat still reveled in the vision of the wide prospects that had opened before it and indulged in seriously meant discussions of social problems, the old powers of society had grouped themselves, assembled, reflected, and found unexpected support in the mass of the nation, the peasants and petty bourgeois, who all at once stormed onto the political stage after the barriers of the July Monarchy had fallen.
Karl Marx “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon”
In this apparently unremarkable passage, Karl Marx, with his descriptions, illustrates a conceptual step that, in my opinion, freed the Bourgeoisie from restraints and thus permitted the barbarism of the ruling classes that was the twentieth century. What Marx does is convince us that there was a bourgeois revolution and that there will be a proletarian one. The difference between the two types of revolution is decisive, for the first Revolution, that of 1789, is a revolution for universal human equality. The desire to transform the hierarchical world into one consisting of equals inspired the revolutionaries. Marx made it into the bourgeois revolution. The Bourgeoisie, a surprising number of aristocrats, the peasantry, and virtually all of the intellectuals, with the very notable exception of Edmund Burke, supported a revolution for equality, a word whose meaning in this context is completely vague but worth exploring. Be that as it may the word “equality,” bearing no clear meaning, inflamed the common mind with a hope of dignity and opportunity, and gained a strong measure of support from all classes. Marx insists that this was nothing but window dressing, and the revolution but preliminary. The real revolution would be a class war. 
Marx describes, in class terms,  how the revolution of 1848 started out to simply expand and perfect the achievement of universal human equality. Until February, 1848, the bourgeoisie was on the side of the revolution. Marx dramatizes  how everything changed in February, 1848, the fateful moment. The government fell into the hands of the Paris proletariat. They declared the “social republic.” What Marx is saying, in so many words, is that the bourgeoisie, those who owned the means of production, became the enemy of the revolution at that moment. Prior to that event they had been part of it.
A class war replaced the revolution for universal human equality. The comrades of the revolution broke into factions and the nature of the revolution altered decisively. The proletarian revolution involves a betrayal of the revolution for universal human equality, for in class warfare we are not fighting for all humans, but just one class who is seeking victory over another.
Marx's skillful prose leaves us with no doubt who the hero is in this class war-- the working class. It's really quite wonderful how Marx, after declaring dramatic language in politics as nothing but spectacle to cover a boring reality, manages to make the Paris proletariat the hero of a melodramatic story of a prize grasped and lost, but destined in some future to be won again. For Marx holds out hope that next time the revolution will succeed. Here is how he ends the story:
The cult of the Holy Tunic of Trier he [Louis Bonaparte] duplicates in Paris in the cult of the Napoleonic imperial mantle. But when the imperial mantle finally falls on the shoulders of Louis Bonaparte, the bronze statue of Napoleon will come crashing down from the top of the Vendôme Column.
In rather colorful language Marx describes here what Louis Napoleon's ascension means in class terms. Louis Napoleon is a member of the lumpen-proletariat, the “flotsam and jetsam of all classes.” As such, when in power, he tries to please everyone. He wants to make France into a gift he gave to the French people. When Napoleon's mantle settles on his shoulders (being that it is the second time, as farce), the first Napoleon's statue will fall from the Vendôme Column, or, in plain language, the proletarian revolution will defeat the bourgeois revolution, that for universal human equality, and the class war shall be won.
It seems unavoidable to conclude that Marx believed Louis Napoleon, without any loyalty to the proletarian revolution, was, nevertheless, its key revolutionary instrument. For it is precisely his achievement of imperium that will cause, or at least herald, the victory of the proletarian revolution. Louis Napoleon's rule is incoherent and farcical because he has no class affiliation. Marx must have thought that this incoherence and farce would doom his rule. Buffoonery in high places would reveal the true contradictions of capitalism. No doubt Marx would be surprised at the American parade of buffoon presidents following one another into the abyss without anyone even able to see their clownishness. But even if one of these clowns were to usher in the new world, that would only get the revolution back where it started in 1848. For the revolution of 1848 failed because the proletariat, after it won power, could not think of what to do.
The revolution of 1848 did not start as a class war, and only became one after February, or perhaps only after Marx described it as such. Class war is, of course, ancient. The Peloponnesian War was, in large part, a class war. The revolution of 1789 can, of course, be seen as a class war, but it was the idea of classlessness, however chimerical, that inflamed the minds of those who manned the barricades and later followed Napoleon. Edmund Burke wrote for the English aristocracy, fearing, with cause, that many of them might be swept away in the giddy flood towards the sea of equality. His arguments, so influential, were against the rights of man, that is, universal human equality, for which he wanted to substitute the “Rights of Englishmen.” He would substitute a passion for patriotism for that for equality. Not a few Aristocrats were sympathetic to the cause of equality, apparently in conflict with their own interests. Burke wrote because he feared this infection within the aristocracy itself. The Bourgeoisie, as Marx himself attests, saw themselves as on the side of the revolution for classless universal equality until 1848.
Marx describes a period of shock the February revolution caused. Everybody just stood as if frozen. Then he describes how various class-based parties gathered themselves together and, farcically falling backwards over one another, all landed in Louis Napoleon's lap to escape the “social republic.” Marx describes all this in terms of classes, but it seems more than likely that these classes, though they had always existed, first understood themselves as having politically different interests at that moment. Since then we take it as a matter of course that, at bottom, all is class war. Marx has convinced us that “equality” was just window dressing, stage play, or simply propaganda to cover class war. Whether tragedy or farce it was window dressing. Equality is an ultimately meaningless word used to fool children. Class war, the underlying truth, is real.
In abandoning the revolution for universal human equality, Marx abandons entirely the justice of his cause. Universal human equality is a noble goal, victory in class warfare is not. Marx attempted to repair this problem with his idea of “the labor theory of value.” The task of “Das Kapital” is to persuade us of the labor theory of value. He argued that the Bourgeoisie only possessed their wealth because they stole it. Thus class war was nothing more than the proletariat revenging an ancient wrong, also noble. This no doubt assuaged consciences among the revolutionaries, but it was self delusion. In a branded world where the Adidas swath added value, the labor theory of value is tendentious. Bottom line: class war meant that the working class wanted to despoil the bourgeoisie.
There can be no doubt that owners, the Bourgeoisie, exploited the working class horribly. The monstrous conditions in the “dark Satanic mills,” and the tales of literal starvation of the English working class were real. There is also no doubt that the working class, with many notable exceptions, allowed this to be done to them. As long as they retained their allegiance to “equality” the bourgeoisie had to be suffering from a bad conscience. Dickens, Blake, and many others raked them over the coals. Byron supported the Luddites in the House of Lords. The remaining aristocracy humiliated them socially to the point that the American founding fathers felt like country bumpkins when they came to Europe. There was not just a little of Madame Bovary, which also comes from this mid-century, in all of them. The grim and boring reality that Marx describes as being hidden by the Roman trappings of the French Revolution is Bourgeois life. What was the point of getting all that money? No matter how much you had, the society of “real” people, the aristocrats, will humiliate you, your employees will hate you, your enterprise will be objectively hellish, and you will be bored out of your gourd.
Marx relieved them of all that. All that was but stage play. What was real, at bottom, was commodities, the means of production, in Marx's terms material, in ours, money. Now of course Marx was by no means the first to think that money was everything. The Greek poet Theognis left a fragment that says just that, but he did not have an audience like the embarrassed Bourgeoisie.
The class war supplied the bourgeoisie with arms against their sea of troubles. All the refinement of the Aristocracy, their “talent for living” and ability to humiliate the poor bourgeois, was but stage play, pomposity, farce. Bottom line: who controlled what was all that mattered. Of course your workers hated you. They were soldiers of an enemy army. It was a dog eat dog world. You killed, confused, terrified, and tortured if you had to. You had a perfect right to squeeze every drop of blood from them and then move to China. War was hell; no wonder your factory was. That was the nature of war. Boredom? Are you kidding? You are at war. You and your kind must always be alert. No telling what that inhuman scum, the 99% might do. War required all your cunning and an exciting cold ruthlessness that sent shivers down your spine. War is war. It's exciting.
Marx also had gifts for the proletariat. They were, after all, the hero of his fable. In the end they were to triumph. But what then? In February, when they did triumph, they had no clue. So they did nothing while forces, not only the bourgeoisie but also the peasantry, gathered against them. This period of cluelessness is at the heart of the book. The tragedy-farce narrative that strips the Revolution of 1789 of its theme of “equality” and transforms it into the bourgeois revolution, leaves the proletarian revolution without a template to follow. Marx insists that the revolutionaries will have to make it up as they go along, taking nothing from the past or, more to the point though he does not say so, from dramatic form. No wonder leftist art is chaotic and abstract, and no wonder the elite calls it decadent. From their perspective it is. The proletariat was clueless in 1848 because they thought to seek a pattern from the past. Now they knew they would have to unleash their own creativity. The proletariat will create entirely new forms of life. The proletariat, as a whole, is an artist.
Thus Marx conceals, with a pat on the back and a glorifying name , the proletariat's big problem—that it doesn't know what it is doing. No need to worry. We'll figure it out later. It is not hard to see how the left has fallen from this “later” to “never.” The absence of a program is not really open for discussion. Proletarian political cluelessness is not that surprising, since it takes some skill and practice to rule. The idea that cluelessness is “theoretically” correct is, it seems to me, odd. But judging from the present parade of buffoons, the Bourgeoisie has simply accepted their rule as that of farce. The world will die neither with a bang nor a whimper, but with a fart.
Marx also gave a gift to the new class of intellectuals the Enlightenment turned out. These intellectuals, most with petits-bourgeois backgrounds, were a class that mushroomed in the nineteenth century. They were poor potential Raskolnikovs and Marx's class war allowed them to employ their new intellectual gifts for political action. Marx gave them a technique for analysis. You brush away everything except class interests. “Erst kommt das Fressen, dann die Moral.” History reveals itself in a lowest common denominator, money. Intellectuals plunged into analysis and journalism that exposed the class-war nature of everything under the sun. In other words Marx gave the left Marxists.
Equality” is a word to conjure with. Marx freed the bourgeoisie from its spell. Bourgeois education, with its emphasis on certain classical models, such as fifth century Athens, repeatedly makes the distinction between “the few” and “the many.” Only the “few” actually matter. It is a valid distinction except that having more money makes a person one of the few only in the Marxist climate where money is all. The Bourgeoisie, now Marxists in all but class loyalty, as Marx predicted they would be, could turn their attention to the class war with vigor and a clear conscience. The many don't matter.
Human beings have been horrible to one another from time immemorial, but the idea of “equality” seemed to have put something of a damper on it. For example, the “wrongness” of slavery came from this source. Humanism mitigated man's inhumanity to man. Burke's counter attack made this partial at best, for nationalism conferred humanity only upon the Volk, and specifically excluded others. The class war freed the Bourgeoisie from whatever “humanist” restraint remained, and the horrendous wars of the twentieth century were the result. Europe unleashed its barbarism not only on Africa, but on itself.
The embrace of Enlightenment science combined with the rejection of Enlightenment equality allowed for the twentieth century wars. Class war deflated the bubble of Enlightenment “equality” that had extinguished slavery through moral force, and justified a stream of barbarism-with-a-clear-conscience that knew no boundaries. These are the wars the Bourgeoisie, having control of the unharmed USA, won.
The Proletariat was less fortunate. Although they did have Marxism to rally around they could not entirely free themselves from an enthusiasm for universal human equality. Marx's justification for the class war, the labor theory of value, is unconvincing and relies upon two wrongs making a right. The class war retains pizazz, but it is not an exalted pizazz, and is touched with the criminal. Universal human equality remained the emotional center for the left. For example, it retains the salutation, “comrade,” it lifted from the first French Revolution, an expression, clearly, of equality, not class loyalty.
So the left wavers between announcing a class war and berating the 1% for their inhumanity, a natural result of any war. The idea of inhumanity flows from the idea of a common humanity and that what we thus share should give us all dignity possible only with some vaguely defined equality. In a war, of course, the enemy is frequently dehumanized. Websites such as Counterpunch consist primarily of exposes of elite barbarism and illegality and occasional forays into class analysis. The left's inclination to think about class war but feel the solidarity of universal human equality has paralyzed all action and undercut any attempt to solve the left's real problem, it's lack of a post-revolutionary plan.
The 1% has no doubt that it is working for its own power in a class war, though they always fear that their children might succumb to the siren song of universal human equality. In spite of having been bashed for two centuries now, that passion for universal equality seems again to flame up even as patriotism to the obviously class-based nation state wanes. After a century of capitalist use of nation state resources in imperial bloodbaths that nation states, whose raison d'etre is to be a refuge for a natal people, had no business launching against other peoples, the calls for patriotism, though still heard, are more and more often met with scorn. If governments are supposed to reflect the will of the people it is hard to find a legitimate government in the northern hemisphere. Everyone despises his own leader.
But the passion for universal equality still stirs hearts. Because of this passion for equality the 1% must hypocritically profess their allegiance to “democracy,” a word that suggests equality without actually naming it. They are forced to live as hypocrites. The young rich might not notice that their elders profess human feelings for those outside the isle of the “people of the clouds” with a wink and a nod. The left's successes-- female suffrage, civil rights advances, social security-- are all bows the 1% had to make because they could not openly deny their allegiance to universal human equality. When the passion dies down they try to recoup their losses, for they are fighting a class war. Romney's declaration that he was not interested in the poor produced outrage, though everybody knew it was true beforehand. Gaffs on the campaign trail are often such accidental revelations of true class allegiance. Bush admitted his base was “the haves and have mores.” That Romney got into hot water and Bush didn't, shows how the Bourgeoisie, so confident under Bush, are now shaky, and have to again go on an hypocrisy offensive.
This confuses the elite young. With minds not yet stripped of logic, they are in danger of putting two and two together. But children learn fast and soon distinguish public from private speech. Their parents all lie, except...but just where is the exception? The children first think they learn what to say in public and what in private, but quickly learn that nothing is really private. Since money is everything it is hard to be sure just who might reveal your secrets for money. So they learn to use a code in private that seems to say what they say in public, but actually says the reverse. New-speak fills the elite organs of opinion and leaders must learn an ever denser code. They carry on the class war with a wink and a nod. This effort has so paralyzed thought that the Bourgeois elite are all stupid. Their actions lead towards human extinction to quickly follow on the heals of their victory in the class war, but they cannot see it. Mesmerized by Marx, they are all dialectical materialists, seeing only money.
What might have happened had the revolution remained one for universal human equality? At the very least some clarification of just what such an expression means should have been expected. In my opinion, as I have mentioned, it should have produced an equality of opportunity, an educational program that fostered the development of talent from whatever source. The Bourgeoisie might have been able to live with that, for they needed talent and intelligence to carry forth the industrial revolution. The need for talent forced the liberation of the Jews in the nineteenth century. It would have given their rule a noble purpose.
It is far too late now. The idea of universal human equality has been under attack for too long. The rich will not seriously embrace the sentiment of universal human equality again, though they will continue to claim hypocritically that they do. With their blinkered view they believe the class war has been good to them. The recent extraordinary expropriation of the poor and middle class all but brushed the humanist mask away, and yet they still wear it and gain a surprising amount of credit for doing so. Forced mendacity of the rulers is the system we live within, to paraphrase Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
The only remaining hope is to persuade the rich that they can only harm themselves in their pursuit of the class war. This is certainly true. Their obsession with the class war and the hypocrisy they use to cover their intentions have rendered them incapable of seeing that they will not survive the coming catastrophe no matter how much money they have. They cannot see it because they can no longer think straight. Years of hypocracy carried on even in private has left the American political elites stupid beyond belief. That they could actually contemplate a war with Iran is sufficient proof. A glance at a map should render that idea void.
Were Fukushima #4 to collapse or begin to leak, the radiation released would poison the air of the entire northern hemisphere. Where are the rich without air? Will they live in domes? Where will the food come from. What will the money saved by pretending there is no problem be worth when the very air is deadly? Or again, do they think their bank accounts will save them when the planet is mostly desert? Who will deliver food to those walled enclaves? What will they give of value in return?

How about war with Iran? A war with Iran will become a nuclear war. It takes no student of war to see that the Fifth fleet in Bahrain is trapped. Roughly 150 miles from Iran, it will be subject to intense missile and torpedo attack. Ships have no real defenses against such an attack, and most of them will be sunk. Also, Iran can easily close the Straits of Hormuz. With a mere five mile channel in either direction, the 400-foot-long, unarmed and unarmored tankers that pass through it are easy pickings for a couple of kids in a canoe with a rocket propelled grenade. A couple of tankers sunk in the Strait will render it impassible. It will also cut all supplies to whatever remains of the Fifth fleet and even more importantly cut the food source for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. In the food riots sure to follow these governments will be sure to fall and turmoil will reign. Will the United States, devoid of any conventional response, faced with such extraordinary chaos that will leave Iran as the sole power in the area, refrain from using atomic weapons? No, it is already preparing to use them.
The United States is encircling Russia and China with what look to them and to me like preparations for war. The Russians have sent a fleet ofwarships to Syria. They know that if Syria falls Iran might be vulnerable, and if Iran falls the United States and its allies, already preparing for war with them, will be much strengthened, unless, as I think certain, World War III intervenes. Having fumbled in Libya, Russia and China will hold the line in Syria with their ships and troops. A superpower confrontation looms. The class war, the 1%'s raison d'etre, is beginning to look ever more like a death wish.
On top of that, this. Global warming is really beginning to barbecue the planet. Both arctic ice and virtually all the coral reefs are toast. Drought destroys the harvest. Deserts spread. Beatles chew up vast forests. A food crisis looms and can only get worse as the earth heats, drought spreads, and the oceans die. We can address none of this as long as the rich pursue the class war. Class war means imperialism, means struggle for resources, means war with Iran, means war with Syria, means war with Russia, means world wide atomic war, means species extinction.
Only an honorable peace in the class war can save both sides. To continue to pursue this war is certain death for civilization, and in all probability, for the human species itself.
The left must renounce class war themselves. The edge of the cliff is far too close for there to be any hope in building movements, so much more difficult now. The left must address the universal peril that seems to come from all sides, and decide what to do about it, thus also forcing a solution of the left's eternal problem, their lack of a program. What must b done is so extraordinary that only a truly new idea, as Marx predicted, will do. Thus all movements such as “Occupy,” are futile if not counterproductive. Only peace in the class war offers any hope for humankind, and that peace is only be possible if we realize the universal peril.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Cabbages, Kings, and Leo Strauss

 Sometime during the dark abyss of the Bush Administration, Leo Stratus's name became attached to the doctrines of the Neocons. Whether Strauss actually advocated the regime these doctrines describe no one will ever know, for Strauss was careful not to let the wrong people know what he was thinking. In any case the doctrines were not his brainchild. The regime it outlines is the philosophical solution Plato offers in the Republic to the problem of protecting philosophers from Socrates's fate. The doctrine is this: the best government is one run by philosophers and fronted by aristocrats. It's purpose is to allow real human life, the life of the philosopher, to flourish. It flourishes in a soil of slaves, sometimes called “the people.” The aristocrats have a talent for commanding authority and, if the philosophers so direct, are warriors who control the slaves through force. But otherwise they exert control through culture, the shadows on the cave wall, which is one thing for the people and quite another for the aristocrats in their business-class cave. "The people" are children mesmerized by flashing lights. The philosophers carefully control the flow of culture so that it serves to make “the people” docile and the warriors ferocious and hypocritical. Low culture and high each does its job. Niceties require that the philosophers pretend the aristocrats are in charge.

Kings have always had advisors chosen for their cleverness. From the time of Plato, philosophers have advised rulers, as Plato did, with nearly disastrous results, in Syracuse. Though the king seems to rule, he does, if he knows what's good for him, what he is advised to do. For life at court does not really prepare him to think about international affairs. Courts are stages upon which dramas of personal ambition play out, and personal ambition distorts all information through the prism of self interest. Someone smart, without the possibility of such ambition, is needed. Enter the philosopher. Besides, the job of king leaves no time to think. It's a busy life. Though the king might develop a good ear for intrigue, he has no time to calculate and judge the mood of either the mass of people whom he rarely sees or that of his neighbor king and potential enemy. He needs advisors who have spies. So the Platonic politics Strauss was blamed for was commonplace. That others can use adherence to this doctrine as an accusation shows that a newer alternative challenges it.

The political content of the Enlightenment, the doctrine of universal human equality, exploded the European mind and with it the Platonic political structure. The doctrine of universal human equality contains no idea of enemies. It breaks up traditional hierarchies and brings rulers down to a level. At least in theory, the former rulers are not the foe, for we are now all equal. Of course as soon as the rulers move to retain their position, they become the foe, first of all in their own eyes. It is interesting to speculate what might have happened had the defenders of the enlightenment refused to recognize the foe and continued simply to insist on equality in day to day commerce. What would the Duke have done when a peasant came by and said, “ Hi, Joe?” The storming of the Bastille was, in fact, superfluous. The entire revolution had already been completed when people decided they were “equal human beings.” People suddenly discovered that they had been in chains, and that those chains were chains of the mind. They stood up, and the ancien regime was over. The “people” were in the strange position of having suddenly discovered, with human equality, that throughout their entire lives until that point they had been in chains without knowing it. That this strange idea did not trouble them (or many of us) shows that equality is intoxicating. Citoyen! Universal human equality gave birth to a new man, the freed prisoner, and soon, a new woman. But, by condemning all previous experience as “mentally chained,” it also left judgment up the creek without a paddle.

Plato thought his Republic fair to everyone, for the craftsmen, the people, are craftsmen by nature, not mentally chained to it as the Enlightenment doctrine insisted. Except for the actual slaves, he did not think anyone was exploiting anyone else, and he specifically allowed for the talented offspring of the demos to rise. The Enlightenment negated all prior experience and caused people to see everything through the tinted glasses of “equality.” But what were they equal to? Of what had the chains deprived them? Apparently, of being treated as an equal, that is, like one of the aristocrats, whatever that meant.

The philosophers of the Enlightenment had trouble with the exploded hierarchy. Where does the political structure come from? Rousseau's General Will and Locke's Social Contract didn't work, for they require a community before there is one. With the old hierarchy gone where was the new one to come from? Nobody thought of the possibility that there wouldn't be one, that day to day life might provide structure quickly at times of need through all manner of human interaction including the use of force. Of course no single person could possibly muster the force to overcome even three other people, even people considerably weaker than he. So only speech could really dominate, as it should. The only way to use force to dominate, say, a government, is to have others willing to obey, that is, people who are not equal. Were people simply to refuse to give up their equality, hierarchies would come into being only through a willing choice to embrace them. And this would happen only in the face of an emergency. But, Enlightenment Revolutions always foundered when they tried to create new institutions, for universal human equality supplied none and undermined leaders who did.

The Straussian philosophers, those who wanted to retain the Platonic political structure, devised ideas to combat universal human equality and re-enslave the demos. We need not assume they were in bad faith. They believed their system was best. Burke countered with the “rights of Englishmen.” The Rights of Man, equating everybody, Burke said, were an airy nothing. What was solid was the rights of Englishmen, their habits, customs, and in particular, their having a king. This idea seemed to restore equilibrium to the English aristocracy, some of whom had obviously listened to the wrong philosophers, even though this idea was roughly equivalent to saying, “ the shacks and sheds on this land are real. Your plan for a new building is merely a plan.” Herder invented nationalism, a state that was home for a Volk, an appeal to us against the awful them, and not much different from Burke's idea. The main point was to restore obedience and by so doing end equality. The trick was to make the slaves willingly slip back into chains.

Nationalism insists upon something, almost anything, that distinguishes us from them. Since the idea of universal human equality, life without hierarchy, requires universal trust that there is no us and them, it was only natural that many would fail to retain this trust. Fear creeps in from we know not where. We mistrust. The fearful first fear they are alone and powerless against the unknown. “Us against them” allows them to retain the fear they could in any case not escape, and at the same time feel that they are not alone, that they have allies. So who the “us” is matters little as long as I am one of them. For then I am not alone.

And the one who describes the nature of the “us,” a philosopher, will rule. But anyone who first embraced universal human equality and then nationalism out of fear, embarked upon a trackless journey into criminality where we, because we are we, are good and they, because they are they, are not. Since the distinguishing characteristic of the “we,” that you are American, German, Basque, or what not, does not confer goodness, especially to one who had once embraced universal equality, the justification is practical, and honesty remains the best policy only until it isn't, when it becomes more practical to become a crook. But since the “we” fluctuates, at times being a country, at others no more than ones own family, one's loyalty is eventually only to oneself, which is the recipe for petty crime. Since falling away from universal human equality is cowardly, done out of fear, honor, and therefore all principle, is sacrificed. Nationalism scooped up many of the fallen who, as a result had become stupid as Socrates predicted they would.

Fear, of course, rules slaves and so anyone who has succumbed to it is slavish. The slave chooses life over honor. Since honor depends upon acting correctly without being influenced by “necessity” (hunger, tiredness, fear, pleasure), to act from fear is to act slavishly. Honor, freeing oneself from necessity, is a prerequisite for human life, since to act from necessity is to act like a stone. And once someone has cut himself free of honor, and plunged into life for “survival,” committing atrocities is like aggravating a toothache with one's tongue. Of course to act for survival is to choose life over everything else, like a slave. If survival of the fittest is the law of life then life is the life of slaves. Not surprising that Europe embraced Darwin, proving Nietzsche right. Nation states with their hierarchies scooped up the loyalties of the Enlightenment's freed slaves because these people retained their slavishness. Though they had stood up and demanded to be treated equally, this was more or less a hollow posture as long as they retained their fears and joined “us” against “them,” and acted from necessity. They needed only to be told they were free and they would remain slaves in a new upright posture.

The Founding Fathers, that is to say, Alexander Hamilton, the philosopher behind the Constitution, employed a different idea. Hamilton wanted a central government that could supply an army that could conquer an empire. He dreamed of being a new Caesar, and said as much to Jefferson in a famous exchange. The culture that would control the slaves was not nationalism, but “the system.” an idea that was in the air during those heady Enlightenment days. Made plausible by the Enlightenment's fascination with rules, which no doubt come from the Enlightenment fascination with and belief in science, the Constitution's checks and balances would protect freedom. Although Hamilton, who had declared to Jefferson that only force and interest could control men, had no belief in "the system," he used Madison to argue for it in the Federalist Papers to push through the Constitution. Those checks and balances would protect against the constitutional tyranny that Patrick Henry and the other antifederlsits feared. Madison went along  for he  wanted that army to repress uprisings like Shay's Rebellion. He tried to calm his friend Patrick Henry's fears with assurances that the spider web of checks and balances would control the army and protect the freedoms they had fought for. Almost immediately, seeing Hamilton's machinations in creating the Federalist party, and fearing he had been wrong, Madison broke with Hamilton and pushed through the “Bill of Rights,” designed to offer protections against the tyrannizing structure of the Constitution bare of them. But this came to nothing when the Supreme Court arrogated to itself the right to interpret the Constitution ( Bill of Rights). For then they were were put under the structure of the original constitution which they were meant to amend and protect against. The checks and balances, ostensibly to protect freedom, offer an incredible maze to anyone who might want to change anything. Since the regime the Constitution sets up is oligarchic, in practice the Constitution served primarily to thwart those seeking more equality. It is a bulwark against freedom. as Patrick Henry saw, rather than a protection of it.

“The system” stood in the way of those who actually wanted universal equality. For the system only allowed one to object to this or that manifestation of inequality and then made the path of cure arduous. Two party system, congressional committees, a Senate of gentry, presidential vetoes, and the Supreme Court made victory difficult and Pyrrhic. Later, the Supreme Court could reverse themselves and chip away at any gains, as they have with civil rights. The new notions of “jurisdiction” and “standing” made it possible for the courts to turn their backs on injustice with equanimity. One needed constant vigilance to prevent Supreme Court reinterpretation. New legislation could circumvent, for example, labor laws, with new concepts, for example, “independent contractor.” But universal human equality, which had already won socially, was so powerful, that these countermeasures had to be taken in its name.

The two devices, nationalism and "the system" mixed on both sides of the Atlantic, and Western post Enlightenment regimes used elements of both to thwart the desire for universal human equality, which, in any case, was more a feeling than anything that might consist of a policy, but no less powerful for that. The terror associated with the French Revolution was a Godsend to the Platonic rulers. This terror, and the Napoleonic Wars, they blame upon the idea of universal human equality. There was some justice in these accusations, for surely a huge country couldn't run without hierarchy and the revolutions could not supply it. People would fight and squabble. Perhaps true, perhaps not, but so what? What's wrong with fighting and squabbling other than it doesn't support legalistic hierarchies?

Because the Enlightenment idea was so powerful, these countermeasures, nationalism and “the system,” both had to be justified as protecting enlightenment freedoms rather than limiting and even extinguishing them. The philosophers went to work and wove from words not the robes of truth, that these were measures opposed to equality, but a cloak of propaganda extolling nationalism and “the system” as supporters of enlightenment freedom. However, reality kept showing through this threadbare garment. Revolutions popped up throughout the nineteenth century. When nation states launched imperialist ventures they contradicted their own justification as protection for an “English” or “French” way of life. How justify the nation of England ruling India? Minds not yet fully clouded wondered. The Dreyfus case exposed the legal system as Kafkesque wheels turning within a penal colony of torture without rhyme or reason. Behind it other forces determined the outcome in the courts. The case revealed that rules on rails were no protection against anything. The American claim that the Constitution protected freedoms came crashing down in the civil war that exposed the United States for what it was, a growing and unlimited repressive army hiding behind a charade of procedure, just as Patrick Henry, in his anti-federalist speeches in the Virginia legislature, foretold that it would become. The sovereign states were sovereign no more.

Since the real revolution was in what a human being was, how he carried himself, how he addressed others, and how he expected to be treated, imperial ventures with their enlightened soldiers themselves infected with the idea of universal equality and now serving in far off lands, spread the virus of the idea of universal human equality far and wide. Thus each imperial venture carried within it the seeds of third world revolution in the name of freedom and its own defeat. Ghandi's nonviolence could not have worked without the idea of universal human equality. The ancients thought nothing of slaughtering everybody. The Melian dialogue, an essential piece of elitist education, ends with the Athenians declaring that the powerful will do what they will and the weak suffer what they must. Then the Athenians killed all the Melian men and sold the women and children into slavery. Though the English were ready to slaughter many, they needed a moral vacuum to do so. When slaves refuse to be slaves it is game over. Since “we,“ the “us,” expands and contracts as needed, from oneself to one's family, tribe, race, nation or what have you, rule based upon it is a shape shifter, a “drunken boat” in Rimbaud's poem.

The history of Europe (and the United States) since at least the beginning of the nineteenth century, has been the history of this war between the Enlightenment and the counter-Enlightenment masquerading as the Enlightenment. Today the justice of the claim of universal human equality is deep in our blood, and most of us take its truth as a matter of course whenever we look into one another's eyes. Most of us do, but certainly not all. The philosophers and aristocrats retain the idea of their superiority, even if they hide it in public. Their actual masked loyalties allowed them to be ruthless. No one aided them more than Karl Marx, whose persuasive argument in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon convinced everybody that the original French Revolution, that for human equality, was but a preliminary revolution to be followed by the real revolution that was a class war. This gave the bourgeoisie free rein without moral compunction. For all is fair in love and war. Prior to that the doctrine of universal human equality, in which there is no foe, weighed upon them, and their obvious inability to become aristocrats however rich they were, embarrassed them. Marx, the loudest, though not the only, voice of class war, allowed them to turn with clear consciences to this struggle. When at war nothing else matters.

The tools of the counterrevolution were themselves ideas, “nationalism” and “checks and balances” which were, somehow, supposed to protect freedom. Through bogus identification with the idea of universal human equality, these ideas hitched a ride on that idea and drew on its energy to support nationalist and systematic regimes. The mentally unchained demos, the freed mental slave, whose prior experience was now all false, were no match for the philosophers, so democracy, to the extent that the philosophers could pour propaganda into the public ear, supported the anti-Enlightenment regimes. Behind the professed embrace of equality is the real embrace of class warfare, Marx's gift to the bourgeoisie. Only when some harsh reality breaks through the ideology does anyone see the class war clearly. But that the world seen in terms of class war favors the bourgeoisie revolutionaries cannot see.

So the philosophers, betraying their own God of truth, wove a web of ideology attributing freedom to nationalism and “the rule of law.” Since this cotton candy of ideas had to conceal what nationalism and law really were, the philosophers had to constantly spin more of it whenever some sharp fact tore through the threadbare fabric.

Prior to the Enlightenment, political regimes did not need to go anywhere. They could be stable ways of life. But nationalist and systematic regimes had to profess adherence to freedom, which was not yet realized, and so had pretend to “progress” towards the goal of true freedom while working in reality to thwart this goal. Political regimes donned the motley of movements. To justify themselves these regimes had to be forging ahead, not merely wandering along like hobos. They had to be advancing the cause of freedom. Markers along the way— women's suffrage, civil rights acts promoting racial equality, social security, and the like, lent plausibility to claims for these advances. Equally important were material improvements that Enlightenment science could provide like nothing else. For wasn't freedom simply having money and things? And weren't we all having more and more? That was progress. A running battle to protect the freedoms in the Bill or Rights was a good distraction. Any grinding away of the system was a plus. We all know the fight for freedom is long and arduous and for every two steps forward there is one step back. Since freedom, for most people, meant freedom to be like the aristocrats, and in general people saw that as freedom to make money, freedom meaning freedom to get rich had a lot of plausibility. Behind it all, the Platonic political structure remained intact if held together with a tissue of ideology.

But, while all this was going on, the Enlightenment, over and above the political revolutions it sparked, changed the world picture itself. The world became scientific. Nihilism, here in the form of the scientific world picture, is, if not an Enlightenment baby, one the Enlightenment adopted. Science is an engine to power the ride on the highway of progress to nowhere. Industrial production, using scientific methods, creates a cornucopia that will make every proletarian into a patrician. It's geared to turn out the newest thing. While the philosophers were trying to drape dame equality with lies to protect the rule of the aristocrats, the industrial revolution was undermining them far more decisively than universal equality managed to do. Science, that cookbook of repeatable procedures, created industry that generated wealth and broke down aristocratic authority within the new bourgeois industrial state.

Within the new world picture mankind traveled along, acquiring more and more labor saving devices, but traveled towards what? Science and the scientific world picture has, as an axiom, purposelessness. We never ask why the planets do what they do, just what they do. Science throws out the question of why from the start. Science supplies procedures for generating predictable results, that is all. It's theories are, in the end, proposals for new procedures. Nietzsche saw nihilism as growing from something far deeper than the Enlightenment, but the Enlightenment was a perfect expression of it. Science's content, a catalog of repeatable simple procedures, fit perfectly with the abilities of the confused, mentally-liberated, slave. They could be made to repeat mindless actions again and again. The union of the politics of the enlightenment with its scientific world picture sold production line work life as a step on the road to freedom. Resistance to industrial production, strong at the beginning, faded into a steady incoherent rumbling discontent. Progress towards real human life, conceived as having a lot of stuff or the power money could impart, justified this mindless work. The children will have it better. Freedom meant freedom to be an Horatio Alger character, or the mythic Abe Lincoln in his log cabin. Everyone was free to choose— between production-line misery with a distant, next-generation, cotton-candy, hope of escape, and starvation. The Enlightenment revolution, in part because of the counterrevolutions, but only in part because of them, had enslaved rather than ennobled human beings. In addition it had unleashed the philosopher's engine of deception to hide the pointlessness of the activity. Instead of truth he worked away at propaganda, justifying himself by his need to support the rich to protect himself against “the many” who killed Socrates.

Since the scientific world picture claimed to be a description of what was real, not just a catalog of repeatable procedures, its purposeless was a purposelessness of the whole. It was an explanation of the whole as a mechanism without purpose. Thus nihilism. Whereas the philosophers might be able to recognize their own political deceptions, as Alexander Hamilton surely did, they were less able to resist the scientific world picture. Its power was undeniable, and it soon became apparent that science determined the outcome of war. No one could afford propaganda in science. It had to really work.
Purposelessness was not a philosophical pose. Overcome by the scientific world picture, philosophers embraced it. The imperialism of the nation states punctured the balloon of nationalism; the Dreyfus case punctured the notion of the rule of law; the US civil war shattered the notion of a social contract; and the devastating depressions deflated Horatio-Algerism. When industrial production burst into the conflagration of imperialist war, a world without purpose marched people without purpose into wars without purpose in the name of a progress towards nowhere.

The philosophers, now intellectually bankrupt, could do nothing but continue to chatter. Only the very stupid believed them. Huge chunks of reality falling on people's heads had woken many of them up. The ritual of elections, the speeches of politicians, the rigmarole of law are all, as Kafka saw so well in his story In the Penal Colony, the workings of machines without purpose, wheels turning aimlessly and grinding up people. In the story, the machine's now obscure workings, contrived by a previous generation to give justice, only torture with a thousand needles and then kill. Like Kafka's foreign visitor, more and more people could see this empty murderous ritual for what it was. But what of it? The empty machine of civilization grinds on and the aristocrats or gentry, or those who made a lot of money, continue in control. The Enlightenment has been turned into porridge, but, for the philosophers, that is all to the good. So what if the machine of government grinds away chewing up people to no purpose? Those who should rule do.

The Platonic philosopher's loyalty was first to the aristocrats. Burke and Friedrich von Gentz, both of this social philosopher class, blunted the first revolutionary impulses to protect the rule of the English and Germanic princes they admired and lived with. But the industrial revolution, rather than the political one, toppled them. When the bourgeoisie gained control they had philosophers advising them. The philosophers just needed someone to extract wealth from the slaves and give some of it to them. The cared not who ruled, as long as they could rule. When Marx justified the class war he lent purpose to the bourgeois progress to nowhere. The regime's purpose was to fight the class war.

The fight to determine which system was better, or really just which would win, was on. A class war of “us against them” supplies more than enough purpose for a lifetime. This was, of course, a civil war between the rulers and the ruled, and could go on forever thus lending purpose to purposelessness. And since all is fair in love and war, unspeakable practices were justified. But these practices were justified only for the rulers. For the slaves fought in the name of universal human equality even as they fought the class war. Their justification for fighting the class war, and demanding what, according to the rules of property belonged to others, was unfairness. But to the extent that the freed slaves fought a class war, they too could engage in ruthless butchery to eliminate “class enemies.” Such butchery was not a new thing, except for scale.

The philosophers rode the rich, the rich the system, and the system the slaves. The bourgeoisie were able to create, manage, and guide giant industrial and legal systems that harnessed the procedures of science and law. Rulers held offices law created that gave them specific powers they relinquished when they left office. Wealth also bestowed power that disappeared when wealth did. None of it was personal; all was system. Industrialists mechanized and routinized as much of their operation as they could, including their own parts in it. Even at the highest levels of industry the officers did procedures that others might just as easily do. CEO's came and went. They were as replaceable as the workers. The rulers were not so much people as offices in both politics and the economy. Inevitably, philosophers found new loyalties to the system itself, to the offices rather than the people. Max Weber argues that this is the essence of the modern state. The system, rather than any particular person, supplied philosophers with the protected leisure they so craved. Their loyalty was to the offices and their advice was about how to win them. Plato had metamorphosized into Karl Rove. People were, indeed, the infamous cogs in the machine.

Universal human equality had lost, but the scientific world picture had won. Humankind busied itself in building a structure out of repeatable procedures in which human beings, since many could do the procedures, were replaceable parts. Procedures went round and round. There was the political cycle and the business cycle.

The rich seem to rule, but actually, the system does. The rich merely voice system's command for more system, for a world of system as the scientific world picture demands. The money they extract builds system, and destroys all outside system in “environmental” degradation, whose very name denotes something outside. For if system is what is real, the environment is outside what is real. The rich no longer work in their own interest. How does making the planet unlivable benefit them? Do they think the radioactivity spewing from Fukushima won't get into their air? Where will the food they will need in their protected enclaves come from? Everyone clings to the hollow jabber and empty offices of the system, for it promises life and strange pleasures as it's endless procedures gut and poison everything. Having chosen life in system over honor, all can pretend they are fighting the good fight-- within the system.

The final irony for the philosophers is that Socrates did not think his trial was a disaster. On the contrary, he welcomed it. If one reads Plato's Crito carefully, one reads this:

...that the really important thing is not to live but to live well.

Crito: Why, yes.

Socrates: And that to live well means the same thing as to live honorably and rightly...If it becomes clear that such conduct is wrong, I cannot help thinking that the question whether we are sure to die, or to suffer any other ill effect for that matter...ought not to weigh with us at all in comparison with the risk of doing what is wrong. [48 b-d]

And in the Apology:

No one knows with regard to death whether it is not really the greatest blessing that can happen to man. [29a]

I am quite clear that the time had come when it was better for me to die and be released from my distractions. [41d]

So if western political practice was a philosophical enterprise to protect Socrates from his fate, it was misguided. For Socrates wanted no such protection, and would not have accepted it.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Jousting at Windmills:Intelligent Design

Liberals and scientists who object to intelligent design in the school curriculum are jousting at windmills. The incorporation of a theory of intelligent design into a science curriculum will not influence or harm the education of any budding scientist. This is because the theory of intelligent design cannot be a scientific theory.

Scientific theories are mnemonic devices for both remembering procedures for experiments and for suggesting new experimental procedures and predicting the results. Experiments are repeatable procedures that produce predictable results, though they lose the name of experiment (except in classrooms) once we know what the result will be. When a theory suggests an experiment, predicting a result that turns out to be true, we call the theory true. Later, when its predictions fail, we supersede it with a new theory but retain it for use in recalling the procedures it earlier revealed. We discard it as theory without a qualm and yet continue to use it to produce the old results though it may contradict the new theory. It lasts as long as it is useful as a mnemonic device.

The solidity, and only real content, of science, is these repeatable predictable procedures found through experiment. These endure the demise of the theories that spawned them. The rest is, at best, reminders and suggestions for more experiments, and at worst, dangerous overreaching hubris like the scientific assurances of nuclear reactor safety where no science could guarantee any such thing. The whole of real science is identical in form to a cookbook. Theories are ways for remembering and generating recipes. They are equivalent to a line at the end of a cookbook that reads : Now use your imagination and the recipes you have learned to make up new recipes of your own! The cookbook can tell us how to do many things, but has no predictive power with regard to unforeseen events, like tsunamis, that violate the experimental procedures. Science is a compendium of ways of doing things, not a collection of knowledge about nature, except to the extent that nature mimics repetition.

The theory of intelligent design does not suggest an experiment whose result we can predict. It offers us no recipes. It's complete lack of connection to any procedure rules it out as a “scientific” theory. Scientifically, it is empty. Whether some intelligent designer did or did not make the world is scientifically irrelevant. What experimental procedure does it suggest, what result predict? If someone wanted to introduce it into a, say, biology course, he could only mention it and thereafter ignore it. For science is not in the business of producing airy unfounded explanations, it is in the business of cataloging experiments whose results we can predict ahead of time. Such experiments can be of use. Not so airy explanations. Newton offers no explanation of why gravity works as it does. His theory predicts the location of bodies at given times. That's it. Why they are there is not a scientific question. To understand the nature of an experiment is to dismiss the theory of intelligent design as beside the point. The budding scientist, once he grasps the nature of experiment, will find no use for intelligent design regardless of how often his unscientific teachers have drummed it into his head.

The theory of intelligent design does not fail because it is nonsense. After all, it's not nonsense, it is just not scientifically relevant. Logically, many scientific theories are nonsense. Scientists are poor at logic. For example, let us consider theories about light. Light is thought to behave sometimes like a wave and sometimes like a particle. These are incompatible theories. That light sometimes behaves like a wave rules out the theoretical particle, and vice versa. Logically, the experimental evidence rules out both theories. Instead a physicist accepts both, using each where it is convenient. And he is quite right to do so, once we realize that the purpose of theory is only to indicate the procedures for experiments, theories need not be logically coherent. Kuhn's work on scientific revolutions shows just how reluctant scientists are to yield to logic and give up fruitful theories. The physicist solves his logical problem with a smug smile that he substitutes for logical thought. For such thought is really not part of his business.

I mention one more silliness, though there are many – space-time. Both “space” and “time” are, scientifically, measurements. Measurements too suggest procedures, but do not predict results except in one important way: With the exception of measurements of time, a measurement predicts the result of a remeasurement. We all know procedures for measuring distance— laying out yardsticks and such. Measurement of time is quite different. It is simply a rhythmic counting, best done mechanically, or, even better, electronically. A period of time, once counted can never be recounted. Remeasurements of time are impossible. We can remeasure the same space because we ignore the ways in which it is different, just as we cannot remeasure a period of time because we ignore the way periods of time are the same.

The procedures for measuring time are quite different from those with which we measure space. Taken together these procedures do not form some kind of invisible four dimensional cube that fills up the nothing of space for all time. They are what they are, human activities, counting on the one hand and laying out rulers on the other. Space and time do have a link because we can do both procedures at the same time. We we can find out just how long it takes us to go from here to there, or how far we can go in an hour, both by counting while we walk. But there is no “something” called space-time, no matter how intricately they can be tied together mathematically.

Through theory, science has puffed itself up far beyond its true size. It's pretensions to tell us of the past all rest on assumptions we may or may not think plausible, but which have no ground. All scientific theories, without exception are, and can only be, interpretations of experiments we do in the here and now. For everything we do, we do here and now. Scientific theories about the past gain scientific validity, like any other scientific theory, if they successfully predict the result of some experiment we can do. Such a theory is like a connect the dots picture. We know some dots, our theory accords with them and predicts the location of other dots. If we find dots where we expect to, we believe the theory until some dots turn up missing. So the form of a scientific theory about the past is this: Procedures this picture “implies” produce accurately the results of certain experiments and this picture also suggests another experiment predicting a result that was correct, therefore the implications this picture makes about the past are true. The problem with this is that the last part of this argument is an unscientific statement unless it means that we might find some experiment that would disprove it. If so, the real meaning falls back again into the here and now.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Shi'ites and Jews

Iran is not making an atomic weapon and if it had one would not use it against Israel. Anyone with any doubt on this score should read Gordon Prather's articles. Iran is a threat to Israel, but not a military threat. The real danger to Israel is quite elsewhere.

Within the states of the Middle East are people with other, far-older loyalties, religious and ethnic, that reassert themselves when states collapse. Iraq, as we have seen, was a marriage of three entirely different communities held together with a tyrannical state structure. Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, though that did not make him Hitler. All history acknowledges that Peisistratus, tyrant of Athens, benefited the city. Saddam, though he repressed dissent harshly, did much to improve life in Iraq, which was, until the United States destroyed it, the most advanced and secular state in the region. But, abetted by the US, he launched the Iran/Iraq war that, when he lost, sealed his fate.

In any case Saddam, if he was to hold Iraq together, had no choice but to be a tyrant. Democracy is not automatically a good thing, in spite of American opinion to the contrary. His party, the Ba'ath, was a secular, socialist party. Iraq could not afford sectarian political religious affiliation, and Saddam repressed it. Under him Sunnis and Shi'ites, both then more secular than religious, mixed freely. Saddam did favor Sunnis over Shi'ites, and homeboys from Tikrit over other Sunnis. All politicians favor their loyal retainers. Only in that way can they maintain power. He repressed opposition, especially religious and ethnic based opposition, brutally. Michael Aflaq, the Ba'ath founder, was western educated and formed a party whose purpose was secular Arab unity. Given underlying religious hostility this was only possible under a tyranny. With its persuasive secular success, the Ba'ath sapped religious affiliation of Sunnis and Shi'ites alike. They intermarried and thought little of their religious differences, just as ethnic non-religious Jews think little of marrying outside Judaism in the United States. The war and the demonization of the Ba'ath Party, discredited secularism and sectarian religious affiliation returned with a vengeance. The Ba'ath Party, or something very like it, was necessary to hold Iraq together in a secular unity bridging and weakening religious affiliation. Iraqi unity depended upon Ba'ath success. The American destruction of the Ba'ath party made the disintegration of Iraq into constituent communities almost inevitable. For the baby of secularism was thrown out with the Ba'ath. The brutality of the secular Shah had similarly discredited secularism in Iran.

Iran, of course, is the modern heir to the ancient Persian Empire, but Shi'ism, in particular “Twelver” Shi'ism, of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the other Arab kingdoms of the Gulf, rules Iran after the revolution. Shi'ism is a branch of Islam seen as a spiritual journey guided by an Imam (now in seclusion), who, as a spiritual leader, is on a par with Mohammad himself. In his place is a council of Ayatollahs who dwell throughout the Persian Gulf. The supreme leader of Iran is chosen by these Ayatollahs, that is not only the Iranian, but the entire Shia faithful. As we have seen in Iraq, al-Sistani, one of these Ayatollahs, had authority over Al-Sadr is spite of al-Sadr's military force. The US cannot end the Ayatollahs' authority through military means, and still less through sanctions. Since Shi'ism does not promise secular success, deprivation of it does not discredit it. The only power that might be ranged against it is increased secular success, and the US bungle in Iraq ended any belief that the US could provide that.

With the destruction of the Ba'ath party and the end of secular pan-Arabism, the Arab Shi'ites in Iraq are more Shi'ites than secular Iraqis. A similar transformation would probably happen in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia if secularism failed for them. Their ultimate loyalty will be to the da'wa, not the nation states whose boundaries they would scarcely recognize. Kuwaiti Shi'ites have in the past proven themselves loyal to the regime, revealing that they too are secularized. But, this is now strained. With the Arab spring the same pressures that inspired religious revival in Iraq are working in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. For when people are deprived of the material benefits of secularism they abandon it.

Prior to the Iraq War, its Shi'ite communities were never able to organize politically, and they all remained either secularized Arabs, Shi'ite in name only, or suppressed religious Shi'ite minorities in taqiyya, a Shi'ite term that means “concealing their true allegiance from the worldly authorities lest persecution wipe out the faith.”i But with Iran's independence and now Iraq's disintegration, these Shi'ite communities have become religious. The hostility between Sunni and Shi'ite, dating back many hundreds of years, is flowering again. Given the hierarchical nature of Shi'ism, religious Shi'ites must be loyal to that hierarchy. Practicing Shi'ism is an education the hierarchy leads. It, like Orthodox Judaism, involves all of life. The expanding Shi'ite religious/political structure will probably look to us like an expanding Iran, but will really be an Shi'ism, retaking its ancient form. Since all the Ayatollahs chose the Iranian Supreme leader it is clear tht Iran is a province of a larger entity, the da'wa. And it will control most of the oil producing regions.

The US can do very little about this. Given its loss in Iraq it is obviously not able to war conventionally against Iran. Changes in US war fighting doctrine acknowledge this. Iran's grip on the Straits of Hormuz traps the whole fifth fleet in case of war. If the strait were closed it would be locked into the Persian Gulf, making its resupply onerous. To extricate itself from this vise, the US would have to use atomic weapons, ending oil shipments from the gulf and throwing every advanced country into political chaos. Political chaos throws fanatics and crackpots into power. We see what kind of crackpots even the present depression throws up. And once the taboo against atomic weapons was gone, none of these crackpots would hesitate to use them in any war. Candidates for president have even said so. By far the most rational policy for the US is recognition of the impossibility of maintaining hegemony over the Persian Gulf and rapprochement with Iran.

Israel's survival depends upon, above all else, its relationship to the United States. It is under no serious military threat. A tiny country like Israel would never have been able to develop to its present level, however ingenious its people, without this close economic interaction with the US. Direct US aid is only a small part of the story. Israel's high tech firms do a lot of business with US security departments. American Jewish political strength, and the close connection between American and Israeli Jews is essential for Israeli existence. Israelis can move easily into positions of power in American High Tech and Financial Corporations, and even into government which includes many Israelis with duel citizenship.

The economic and political connection is important, but the connection between American and Israeli Jews is more important than mere economic or even political advantage. For the economic and political connection between Israel and the US depends upon the close connection between the American Jewish community and Israel. Most American Jews pay little attention to Israel, as opposed to the organized Jewish community that gives Israel enormous support. They give this support because they believe Israel is important to them.

Israel, for all its Judaism, is part of western civilization. Were there to be a break between America and Israel, ending the ease of Israeli penetration of American life, it would be a break between Israel and western civilization itself. Orthodox Jews, who do nothing but study the Talmud, are not that different from religious Shi'ites who do nothing but study the Koran. Judaism and western civilization intersect in the United States now that European Judaism no longer really exists culturally. A breach in this connection, inspiring the flight of westernized Jews, would turn Israel, in all likelihood, into a Middle Eastern state. Were Israel really to sink into rigid medieval Jewish Orthodoxy, westernized Jews would abandon it, and it would be overcome by the medieval logic its laws, rabbinical commentaries on laws, and Rabbinical commentaries on commentaries on laws so completely illustrate.

American Jews tend to assimilate unless tightly held within this Jewish community. They then do not pay attention to Israel and do not really believe they themselves are in immanent danger from antisemitism. An American Jew, with the almost complete end of American antisemitism in the fifties, is an American, like any other. Essential to continued American Jewish community support is the belief in Israel's importance to Jewish life, something these assimilated Jews obviously do not feel. Indeed it is this belief that holds these communities together. Since the belief in Israel's importance to American Jews is identical with the belief in eternal implacable antisemitism, and since most American Jews have never experienced serious antisemitism, their belief reflects Jewish historical fears now focused entirely on the image of the holocaust. That Jews are always embattled, always threatened with extinction, must be beyond question or its absence in experience would undermine belief. Israel is the Jewish refuge, and its existence, as a doomsday machine, protects Jews everywhere from this ever present menace. The holocaust justifies the fears and, with them, Israel's existence. Israelis often assert that assimilation endangers them more than warfare, and it is true.

Such assimilation is a real danger. For Israel is having a hard time persuading western Jews of Israel's high purpose. Aliyah (immigration) from North America is up from 3720 to 4070 last year, but this is piddling given the American Jewish population of over 6,000,000. Until 2008 Aliyah had shown yearly declines so Jews make aliyah more for economic reasons than for loyalty to Israel. Many of those who make Aliyah from other countries, especially Russia (the source of a large number of immigrants), soon seek to leave Israel for the West and better opportunities. Israelis of European, especially German, descent often seek duel citizenship, revealing that Jews do not really fear returning to Germany and do not feel safe in Israel. They do not fear another holocaust. Almost all American Jews in Israel retain their American citizenship and often do not make Aliyah when moving to Israel in spite of the tax advantages, fearing to risk loss of American citizenship. More Israelis emigrate than immigrate. The point is not so much demographic as it is an indication that Israel, for most Western Jews, is not a holy place, but simply an opportunity to be taken when it seems advantageous and abandoned when it doesn't.

Iran's conference in 2006 examined the holocaust. Not denial of the holocaust, but simply exposing it to scholarly study, challenges Israeli existence. Horror vanishes under scientific scrutiny. It begins to take its place alongside other comparable horrors, of which there are many. Such study must be “beyond the pale,” and any regime that would allow it, illegitimate.

Hostility between Israel and Iran is not new. Israel has had hostile relations with Iran since the revolution. Prior to the revolution, Israel, Peacock-throned Iran, and the US formed a close alliance to control the Middle East and undermine efforts at Arab unity. Naturally, when the Islamic Revolution came in 1979, Israel supported the Shah against the revolutionaries, and, with the United States, supported counterrevolution thereafter. So there is no surprise at the Iranian regime's hostility to Israel from the start. Iran called Israel the “little Satan” and later supported the Lebanese Shi'ite resistance organization, Hezbollah, and the Palestinian Hamas. Khomeini also challenged the holocaust, but since he was a “nut case” anyway, his criticism did not invite scholarly examination. A scholarly conference is quite another matter. It has to be put “beyond the pale.”

Israel supported Iran during the Iran/Iraq war, and took part in Iran/ Contra scheme where the US funneled arms to the Nicaraguan Contras through Israel and then Iran. Israeli hostility to Iran, though there, was certainly not implacable, as it is now. It is not because Iran supports Hezbollah and Hamas that Israel now threatens it. If Hezbollah and Hamas did not exist Israel would have had to invent them (and in a very real way, did). They are props justifyingand illustrating Israel's embattled state. Israel began warning of the Iranian bomb, without any evidence, back in the nineties, but made no threats of war. The holocaust conference is what Israel can't bear.

What would be a crisis for Israel is rapprochement between the US and Iran. Were US-Iranian relations to be normalized the Iranian regime would be legitimized along with holocaust scrutiny. The demystification of the holocaust would follow. Hostility towards Jews would fall into context. It would cease to be universal, implacable, and eternal. Together the US and Iran might impose an Israeli settlement with Hamas and Hezbollah. Ubiquitous antisemitism would lose its objective correlative. Nothing could end American Jewish support for Israel faster than a peaceful Middle East. For where then would be the threat? Such rapprochement is, I believe, somewhat more likely than it seems, though it would require a sane, courageous, and intelligent American leader, certainly a long shot.

Again, The US has lost its hold on the Middle East Gulf Principalities. It has also lost in Afghanistan. It's current foreign policy is a refusal to admit it, that is, active self-deception. The US controlled the Persian Gulf states with threats and unholy alliances with parasitic regimes. But after the Iraq and Afghanistan fiascoes the United States will not send another army into the Persian Gulf. The American fifth fleet, trapped, presents sitting ducks to an Iranian missile and torpedo attack. Gunboat diplomacy is over. And Iran can close the Straits of Hormuz, if necessary by sinking tankers within its only five-mile-wide channel. These tankers are over 300 meters long and are unarmed. Two children in a canoe could sink one. That would strand any American ground forces in the area, cutting off their supply lines. The US could send drones, but could gain nothing thereby. With all this Shi'ites would only become more religious and less secular. Were the United States to overthrow one of the Gulf princes the outcome would almost certainly be, as it was in Iraq, a reorganization around religious affiliation. And the Shi'ites in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain, certain, because of the nature of Shi'ism, to join with Iran and the da'wa, are in the oil producing regions. So American influence on the Gulf Princedoms through threats is waning fast. For these threats are no longer credible. That influence rests now only on habit.

American financial influence in the Middle East is also rapidly disappearing as the Gulf states realize they have nothing to gain and little to fear from the United States. But their own people now threaten to end these regimes. The west would like to string pipelines to avoid the Strait of Hormus and Iran's stranglehold on it. But pipelines that skirt the strait will not be able to transport food to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait without large quantities of which they can expect starvation and massive popular uprisings. To calm popular anger, they need to reduce food prices and build infrastructure, not buy American arms. The US has nothing more to offer. China is the country that can build. The bungling of reconstruction in Iraq discredited any US claim to be able to build infrastructure. In short the United States has no real hold over the Gulf Arab states and they are turning to Russia and China, abandoning the dollar, and doing business in yuan and gold.

European countries will come to their senses and realize their interest lies with the oil producing Middle East and not with bankrupt and impotent US. Rapprochement between them and the Shi'ite da'wa will soon follow. They too now follow US lead only out of habit. If the US does not launch nuclear war, it will have to eventually make peace too, but it will gain little influence thereby, for the brutality, corruption, and incompetence of the American war in Iraq would taint anyone with American connections. That, in the long run will be good for the US, which will soon have to rely upon its own resources in any case, and the sooner the better.

So if things just bump along the rutted road our leaders are now dragging us down, rapprochement, first with breakaway portions of the Gulf States, then with Europe, and finally with the US itself, is inevitable. The only alternative is nuclear war or some other means of human extinction. Rapprochement with Iran, inevitable if the world continues, would be a rational American policy even though it would be painful to the US. It would require the US to relinquish dollar hegemony and give up its arms sales to the Middle East, which would in turn impoverish most Americans. But since a conventional war with Iran is not possible and growing Shia political strength will eventually dominate the oil producing regions, the only alternative to rapprochement is nuclear war.

World nuclear war or rapprochement — which is the rational policy? Only a realistic and brave leader, knowing that the United States cannot maintain control, would dare to relinquish this control rather than try futilely to maintain it with first, impoverishing self-delusion and, finally, nuclear war, extinguishing human civilization. But, since tearing away illusion would reveal bad news, no American run-of-the-mill, shit-faced, political hack will do it. It would risk his career. He would extinguish civilization instead.

Were the US to normalize its relations with Iran, Israel, or at least its present elite, would be in crisis. Peace would probably break out. Implacable antisemitism would have no objective correlative. American Jews would lose interest in Israel. Israel would lose its connection to the west.

However, not all Jews, and not even all religious Jews, thrive on a spiritual diet of eternal, implacable, ubiquitous antisemitism. Neturei Karta is an organization of Orthodox Jews actively against Zionism or any Jewish state. They do not fear living among the goyim, and indeed they see this as true Judaism. They insist that the Torah forbids a Jewish state. Jews are a race of prophets, meant to go into foreign lands, not warriors to protect one. Members of Neturei Karta insist that real Judaism is diaspora Judaism. All westernized Jews believe this true, whether they know it or not. It is only because Israel is westernized, really an outpost of Europe, that they can think it an extension of who they are. American Jews, in the community and outside, would not want to return to shtetls cut off from the Western world. They want to live here, as Americans. The educated Israeli population feels the same connection to the West, to the US or Europe. Were American Jews to lose interest in Israel, and Israel thereby lose its intimate connection to the United States and its image as the protector of the Jews, Israeli educated Jews would likely emigrate in large numbers. But what would happen in Israel after rapprochement only history would tell. Naturally, the best hope would be that it would become a state of all its people.

iMarshall G. S. Hodgson “The Secret Order of Assassins” University of Pennsylvania Press 2005 p 12