Monday, 24 April 2017
The word 'FrontPage' is used in the title because praise for Donald Trump's recent military attack on Syria is the editorial position and the consensus view of that website magazine. It also seems to be the case that FrontPage generally has a neoconservative view on military intervention.
For example, FrontPage's editor, David Horowitz, makes something (as Bruce Thorton does later) of Democrat support for Trump's action against Syria. He writes (in his 'A Game Changer for Syria – but also for Trump'):
“Trump’s surgical strike against Syria’s chemical weapons base has also had the effect of moving Trump towards the center of American politics. It has received praise from such unlikely Democrats as Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, vitriolic leaders of the anti-Trump demolition squad.... Even leftwing Congressional Progressive Caucus member Louise Slaughter agreed that Trump’s strike was 'a proportionate response to Assad’s barbaric use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians'.”
Most recently we've also had 'Obama claimed that 'all' Syria's chemical weapons had been eliminated', by Larry Elder (13th of April, 2017). Here one argument seems to be that because Obama lied about Assad's chemical weapons, then Trump's air attack was justified.
Yet despite what FrontPage says about Barack Obama's cowardice, the then president - and various members of the U.S federal government (including John Kerry) - did consider intervening in the Syrian Civil War. All the same, the majority of the U.S. public was against such a thing. One poll (dated April 2013), for example, claimed that that 62% of Americans thought that the "United States has no responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria between government forces and antigovernment groups.”
It's here that it's to cite a helpful distinction between non-interventionism and isolationism. According to Stephen Walt (though I fault some of the reasons he gives for reaching his conclusion), the following distinctions need to be made:
"[T]he overwhelming majority of people who have doubts about the wisdom of deeper involvement in Syria—including yours truly—are not 'isolationist.' They are merely sensible people who recognize that we may not have vital interests there, that deeper involvement may not lead to a better outcome and could make things worse, and who believe that the last thing the United States needs to do is to get dragged into yet another nasty sectarian fight in the Arab/Islamic world."
In conclusion, in this piece, and regardless of the references to FrontPage as a whole, I'll be concentrating on Bruce Thorton's FrontPage article, 'Trump Bombs Syria. Now What?'.
Facts About Assad's Attack
Let's then think about the town which Syria's Bashar Assad attacked. It was the town of Khan Shaykhun in the Idlib Governorate of Syria. The town was under the control of Tahrir al-Sham. Which groups is that? It's an Islamist group which used to be called the al-Nusra Front; which is itself an off-shoot of al-Qaeda. Indeed Tahrir al-Sham is still called Al-Qaeda in Syria by many. That means that Assad attacked an al-Qaeda stronghold. Nonetheless, there were at least 74 people killed and more than 557 injured; at least according to the Idlib health authority. (Is that authority also under al-Nusra/Tahrir al-Sham control?)
Russia has suggested that the warehouse "may have contained a rebel chemical arms stockpile". Assad's regime denied that it carried out a chemical attack.
To slightly change tack for a moment, Obama was indeed a weak and highly suspect President; especially regarding Syria. One way he was suspect was in his support for the so-called Opposition in Syria. That Opposition is primarily Muslim Brotherhood. It also includes the al-Nusra Front (under its new name: Tahrir al-Sham), whose stronghold Assad admitted to bombing on the 3rd of April. Tahrir al-Sham is currently the single-largest anti-Assad group in Syria after ISIL . It has 31,000 fighters. Thus it's no surprise that Democrats (according to David Horowitz and Bruce Thorton) have “praised” Trump's retaliation.
FrontPage's Neocon Interventionism
Throughout his article ('Trump Bombs Syria. Now What?'), Bruce Thorton sounds like he's attacking a regime which has only just attacked the United States itself; or, at the least, attacked a close ally.
Thorton castigates Obama's lack of action on Syria and says that such a position “damages a state’s credibility and prestige, emboldening other aggressors”. One result of this, he thinks, is that it's “been a huge success for Russia, Iran, Hezbollah”. But what about Sunni militants? What about Tahrir al-Sham/al-Nusra Front? In the past FrontPage has frequently told us - and it's been correct to do so - that Obama supports the Sunni militants; especially the many members of the Muslim Brotherhood. So is it that FrontPage deems the Shia Islamic front (Hezbollah, Iran and Syria) more of a threat to the United States and Israel than the Sunni Islamic front (ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Nusra, al-Qaeda, etc.)? I personally think that a victory for Sunni Islam in Syria will be more of a danger than Assad's Syria. Assad has been virtually no threat to the United States - and only a minor threat to Israel - in recent years. Many in the Sunni front, on the other hand, would see the destruction of the United States and Israel as their first priority.
And if the Shia front is more of a threat than the Sunni front, then why not attack Iran rather than Syria? It can of course now be said that Iran hasn't just gassed its own population. True. Though was that the real or absolute reason for Trump's attack on Syria? After all, Thorton seems to think that it's just as much about “credibility and prestige” as it is about punishing the sins of Assad.
In any case, in terms of Realpolitik, it may not be deemed advisable to attack Iran (which is strong), rather than Syria (which is relatively weak at this moment in time).
Of course, if Assad's regime were to be destroyed, and then the Sunni Front took over, FrontPage will attack that regime too. And it will no doubt similarly call for an attack on a new Sunni regime in Syria.
This isn't only about conservatives versus progressives. (Though that's how FrontPage seems to see it.) It's also about conservatives/the Right versus conservatives/the Right.
Bruce Thorton puts the two-part position of “modern progressives” on this. He says that
i) “modern progressive thinking holds that the use of force represents a foreign policy failure...”
ii) And such uses of force “usually makes things worse by entangling the U.S. in escalation and quagmires”.
We can say that i) is indeed an example of “progressive thinking”. Though what about ii)? Patriotic isolationists and non-interventionists aren't against the “use of force” in principle – it depends on why, and where, force is being used.
One can believe that it's okay to go to war and even to intervene in foreign countries and yet, at the same time, believe that Syria is not a good place to do these things. Yes, “American prestige is undoubtedly important”; though that doesn't automatically come by virtue of any intervention in any country. It all depends.
Why Did Trump Attack Syria?
Bruce Thorton admits that Trump's attack had little or nothing to do with the immorality of chemical attacks. Thorton gives us his reasons why. He writes:
“... in the 60’s Nasser attacked Yemenis with chemical weapons, in the 70s Cuban mercenaries used them against Angolans, and in the 80s Iraq inflicted 50,000 casualties on Iran with chemical weapons during the Iraq-Iran war. No one seemed to think a military response was necessary to deter further such heinous act and to uphold 'international norms'.”
Thus the attack was also about “prestige”.
Indeed Thorton himself puts this position when he asks the following questions:
“We all deplore the killing of “beautiful babies,” as Trump said, but children across the globe are being killed every day. Half a million people, thousands of them children, have died in the Syrian conflict so far. Why is it that 23 children being killed by sarin gas is beyond the pale and requires us to act, but thousands more being obliterated by bombs or riddled by AK-47s or tortured to death by Assad’s goons aren’t? Heart-rending optics shouldn’t be the arbiter of our interventions.”
The problem is that Thorton chose the “thousands of children” who've been killed in Syria. He wasn't referring to the many other wars which plague the world at this moment in time. Thus what about the thousands of civilians who've died in the Sudan, Congo, Yemen, Libya, Nigeria, etc.?
In any case, in Thorton's eyes, the “best way to deter such behavior is to completely destroy the capacity to indulge it”. In other words, interventionism must achieve something big. And in order to do that, there'll inevitably be many civilian causalities. However, in the long term (so the argument must go) it'll save lives and protect the West. Yet it's precisely because such actions cause so many civilian causalities that no regime has done such a thing in recent years. And it seems possible (or even likely) that Trump won't do so either.
Let Tony Blair Define 'Neocon'
In all the above it doesn't actually say what the word 'neocon' means. Indeed
some people will take issue with my use of the term. Perhaps it won't help matters using Tony Blair (the former British Prime Minister) as a very good example of a neocon interventionist. Nonetheless, in terms of interventionism (if not everything else), Blair was, and still is, the perfect neocon. And that alone should tell us why neoconservatism ain't really conservatism.
FrontPage can hardly have too many problems with what Blair says. After all, much of what Blair argues (in his autobiography A Journey) has been replicated in FrontPage.
In any case, Blair first questions the word “neoconservatism”. He then fully endorses the concept (or doctrine) neoconservatism.
Blair has a problem with the word 'neoconservatism' because he can't see how neoconservatism is deemed to be conservative in any respect. Nonetheless, Blair does tell us what others mean by the term. This: “It means the imposition of democracy and freedom...” To many, I suspect, the idea of the imposition of democracy and freedom almost amounts to a contradiction in terms. Indeed it's similar to Rousseau's notorious mantra: “You shall be forced to be free.” Apart from that, in order for democracy and freedom to germinate, they have to be placed in the right political, social and moral environment. If that's not the case, democracy and freedom will simply wilt and die.
Blair goes into greater detail about the seemingly nonsensical nature of the word 'neoconservatism'. He writes:
“It [his position on foreign policy] also utterly confused left and right until we ended up in the bizarre position where being in favour of the enforcement of liberal democracy was 'neoconservative' view, and non-interference in another nation's affairs was 'progressive'.”
In other words, the interference in other nations' affairs is progressive; whereas non-interventionism is, in fact, a conservative position (at least according to Blair himself). What's more,
“what [neoconservatism] actually was, on analysis, was a view that evolution was impossible, that the region [the Middle East and elsewhere] needed a fundamental reordering.”
Neoconservatism is actually revolutionary in nature; at least when applied to foreign countries. In terms of recent history, we can see that Blair completely endorsed the position articulated above.
Tony Blair also argues for a “new geopolitical framework”. And that means “nation-building”. Moreover, it
“requires a myriad of interventions deep into the affairs of other nations. It requires above all a willingness to see the battle as existential and to see it through, to take the time, to spend the treasure, to shed the blood....”
Yes, Blair is in favour of “myriad [ ] interventions deep into the affairs of other nations”. That would require a Western state to be permanently on a war footing. It would also require the lives of very many Western soldiers. We must, in other words, be prepared to “shed the blood”.
Historically, Blair dates the rebirth of neoconservatism to “George Bush's State of the Union address in January 2002”. It was then that George W. Bush made his “famous... 'axis of evil' remark, linking Iran, Iraq, Syria and North Korea”. Interestingly enough, that axis remains the same today (minus Iraq); with an added emphasis on Syria.
In a speech given in 1999 to Congress, Blair also said the following:
“I had enunciated the new doctrine of a 'responsibility to protect', i.e. that a government could not be free to grossly to oppress and brutalise its citizens.”
Clearly this applies to the purported chemical attack on the Syrian people by Assad's regime. Though, it must be stated, it could in principle be applied to literally dozens of other regimes throughout the world.
No government or military can live up to this doctrine. There are far too many “oppressed and brutalised” groups. Thus, as with Trump's attack on Syria, neocons (as well as others) simply end up arbitrarily choosing the peoples they want to protect and then forget about the rest.
This is at the heart of the neocon problem: too many interventions and too little moral and political consistency.
Thursday, 13 April 2017
Many call the idea that there's a Deep State a “conspiracy theory”. It may well be so. Though is it automatically a conspiracy theory? Don't we need good reasons as to why it's so? Is the idea impossible in principle? And doesn't it all depend on precisely what's said about the Deep State?
For example, the notion of a Deep State can include a vast conspiracy behind closed doors. Alternatively (or perhaps in conjunction), it can simply be about (amongst other things) what I call Gramscian/Alinskyite institutions and the consequent conspiring which undoubtedly occurs when institutions (or their members) share a political ideology and/or political causes and goals.
It seems bizarre, anyway, that the idea of a “deep state” (or “shadow government”) is automatically deemed a conspiracy theory when (on one definition at least) all it means is that there are individuals and institutions, which are separate from - and independent of - the government; but which, nonetheless, have political power. However, the additional belief that such a state “is the real government” (or “really holds all the power”) is, I think, a little too extreme. Moreover, it's also over-the-top to believe that the actual government is a “puppet” (an Internet cliché) of the Deep State. Perhaps it's simply the case that the Deep State and the actual government share power in some - or in many - ways. Alternatively, in Trump's case the Deep State works against the government.
In the end it depends entirely on what's said about the/a Deep State and who and what is supposed to constitute it. For example, the claim that the Jews or Freemasons run the Deep State may be true. The claim that the Jesuits or Vatican do, may be false. Alternatively, the idea that globalists and transnational corporations run the Deep State may make much more sense that claiming that alien lizards do. (Other contenders for the Deep State - and the list is long - include the World Bank, the Bilderberg Group, the Council of Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the CIA and MI6, the Council of Foreign Relations, the Illuminati, the writers of the X-Files and so on.)
Trump and the Deep State
There's no denying the fact that the term Deep State has been used many times. For example, Stephen Bannon, according to the Washington Post, "has spoken with Trump at length about his view that the 'deep state' is a direct threat to his presidency”. The specifics of this claim refer to Obama organising a resistance against Trump. (This is includes the claim that Obama wiretapped Trump's telephone.) If these claims are taken to be true; would they constitute the workings of a Deep State?
Many media people say that the idea of a Deep State is “popular with Trump and his supporters”. The implication (though it's sometimes stated) here is that other groups and individuals haven't and don't believe in a Deep State. Perhaps, in the end, all that's meant is that Trump and his supporters use the words “Deep State”, which has only recently come on the scene. Here, then, we need to make a distinction between the concept [deep state] and the words “deep state”.
So let's go all the way back to 1922 and read the words of Democrat John Hylan, the former Mayor of New York:
"The real menace of our Republic is the invisible government, which like a giant octopus sprawls its slimy legs over our cities, states and nation."
The Term 'Deep State'
Let Mike Lofgren (a former U.S. Congressional aide) define the term 'Deep State' (as he did in 2014). He said:
"[A Deep State is a] hybrid association of elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the United States without reference to the consent of the governed as expressed through the formal political process."
This is problematic. Does a Deep State actually need to “govern” a country in order to be a Deep State? I suppose that if the Deep State truly is a state, then perhaps it must do. Then again, this definition ignores the classic distinction between state and government; which has been emphasised by many political theorists. Certainly courts, lawyers, police chiefs, civil servants of other description, etc. have much political power without actually governing. Indeed the civil service keeps its position when the government changes.
The state is said to include (over and above my own examples) the armed forces, intelligence agencies, administrative agencies and other branches of governmental machine. These are free of the public vote.
All the above can resist the government. They can obstruct the government. And they can even subvert the government.
In the case of Mike Lofgren's example above, “top-level finance and industry” are cited. Why only finance and industry? Why not the courts, judges, lawyers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), etc.? It's interesting that Leftists also concentrate on big business and finance when it comes to the Deep State; though they largely ignore the courts, lawyers, professors, NGOs*, etc. (That's because the former are seen to be politically incorrect and the latter are often seen to be politically correct.) In addition, Mike Lofgren can't be denying that industry and finance have a profound influence on government. Though do they govern?
The examples of a Deep State (especially the ones given by Trump and his supporters) are said not to justify that term because they're not deep enough (i.e., not organised and centralised enough) to warrant that term. In addition, Deep States are primarily concerned (it's said) with quelling dissent. Trump's critics will claim that this ain't happening in the cases cited by Trump and his supporters.
What About Gramscian/Alinskyite Institutions?
One will note that left-wing institutions and individuals are rarely deemed to be part of a Deep State - at least in the Trump era. Why is that? It may depend on what a Deep State is taken to be. It may even be the case that a Deep State is defined explicit and intentionally to exclude all left-wing institutions.
This is where Antonio Gramsci and, three/four decades later, Saul Alinsky enter the picture.
The Gramscian idea is fairly simple. No government can rely entirely on what Gramsci himself called “coercion” to uphold its position and power.
It was the state which was responsible for the ‘coercive’ part (i.e., the army, police, secret service, etc.) of the Gramscian equation. However, the state could never rely entirely on force (or coercion) alone.
Gramsci argued, instead, that a “network of institutions” (this phrase implies either tacit or explicit cooperation between institutions) enjoys a certain degree of independence from the government. From that position such institutions can propagate the ideas and values of the ruling state.
So what “institutions” was Gramsci talking about? Primarily Gramsci had in mind the media, the education system, the universities, the legal profession/s, the courts, voluntary organisations and even the Church (or churches).
Now for Saul Alinsky.
This man never only had eyes for inner-city blacks and the working class. He believed that radicalising the middle-class was just as necessary as radicalising blacks. Without the help of the later, the radicalisation programme would never have worked. Alinsky wanted the bourgeoisie to become politically-active. He - like Gramsci (some four decades earlier) - feared that the middle class would otherwise adopt fascism at the drop of a hat; which is a very common Marxist refrain. (As stated in a Playboy interview, March 1972.) Consequently, it was then time for Alinsky to become a Gramscian.
Sure, these Gramscian/Alinskyite institutions may not have as much direct power and money as Mike Lofgren's “top-level finance and industry”. Nonetheless, they have immense intellectual/propagandistic power (e.g., many university departments) and also political power; if, as it were, further down the line.
The other point is that notions of the Deep State (as well as Marxist notion of “hidden state power”) have focused on the military, police, finance and big business. Gramsci himself believed that there are many other players in the game.
For example, it was the courts and lawyers of the European Union and the United Kingdom which/who declared war on Brexit. The courts and lawyers have also declared war on Trump in the United States. You can also add to universities/university departments, those who run “sanctuary cities”, the Soros-Black Lives Matter alliance, NGOs, etc. to that list. Whether all these examples can be deemed to be part of a Deep State is debatable. Nonetheless, they all hold huge political power. In addition, they all completely ignore the will of the majority of the people as it's expressed through the voting system.
*) Take these powerful left-wing and Islamic NGOs:
The Clinton Foundation (US), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (funded by Soros), Refugees International, American Muslims for Palestine, CAIR, Electronic Intifada, International Solidarity Movement, the Runnymede Trust (UK), Southern Poverty Law Center (US), Hope Not Hate (UK), Tell Mama (UK), Black Lives Matter (US), American Civil Liberties Union, Liberty (UK), the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Democracy International (US), Black Radical Congress (US), the Occupy Movement....
Some people may quibble and say that not all the above are NGOs. However, they all have varying degrees of political power.
Tuesday, 11 April 2017
“Shame and ridicule are most effective tools to detooth opposition to a theory or belief. You assume, in your opening sentence, the veracity of the Sandy Hook incident by clearly stating it was a massacre and in your next sentence you label all opposition to that theory as, get ready, here comes the coup de gras, 'conspiracy theory' - those dreaded words that immediately inform your fearful readers that they'd better be on board with your point of view or run the risk of being social outcasts...
You, sir, are intellectually dishonest and you, Mr. Murphy, are a COWARD of the first degree.... You are a disgrace to investigative journalism, you coward.”
- FranklyBen (In the comments section of my American Thinker article.)
Before writing this piece I had no particular interest in the Sandy Hook massacre. Indeed I could hardly recall it. However, I am interested in conspiracy theories from both a political and psychological point of view.
On the one hand, I'm convinced that most conspiracy theories are created to advance political goals and/or to sustain/backup pre-existing ideologies or political positions. On the other hand, inconvenient (or politically incorrect) theories are often conveniently classed as “conspiracies theories” simply because they advance something that's against the political status quo (or the government's “official narrative”).
The other thing about the Sandy Hook case, and the corresponding conspiracy theories, is how they've been represented by the media - in this case, by the BBC. To clarify, the BBC's piece (Sandy Hook to Trump: 'Help us stop conspiracy theorists') is actually more about the attempts - of various persons - to counteract the conspiracy theorists than it is about the Sandy Hook massacre itself.
To cite a quick example to begin with. The BBC tells us that X is connected to Y “who has been linked with President Donald Trump”. These tangential and often feeble connections are stated four times in this piece on the Sandy Hook massacre. Thus, just as we had Obama using the massacre to advance an anti-gun position; so we have the BBC today using the conspiracy theories about the massacre to advance an anti-Trump position.
Nonetheless, there's one line in this BBC piece piece which I agree with. The BBC says that conspiracy theorists “seize on small inconsistencies between initial news reports from the chaotic scene and the facts”. Perhaps that's why none other than Press TV (the media arm of the Iranian Islamist state) advanced its very own “anti-Zionist” conspiracy theory; which blamed "Israeli death squads" for the Sandy Hook shooting. (You can guarantee that the Jews - in some form or other - will be a major part of the majority of conspiracy theories.) Thus, just as Iran's conspiracy theory helped it advance its anti-Israeli cause; so minor and irrelevant anomalies are often used to advance conspiracy theory themselves (or most of them).
One Theory About the Massacre
The BBC concentrates on one of the leading conspiracy theorists (I'm of course begging the question here with those two words) about the Sandy Hook massacre. His name is Wolfgang Halbig. Mr Halbig says:
"I think it probably took them two, two-and-a-half years to write the scripts for all the participants that were invited to participate in that exercise - or drill as I will call it.”
What he doesn't say is how many people would have been involved in the hoax or conspiracy (excluding the “actors” he refers to). In this case one can only guess. I would suggest 5, 000 people or more. (How can one quantify this?) This is akin to those who would have needed to be in-the-know about a particular 9/11 conspiracy. According to David Aaronovitch (in his book Voodoo Histories), “a hoax [though he's referring to the 1969 moon landing] on such a grand scale would necessarily involve hundreds if not thousands of participants”. He goes on to write:
“There would be those who planned it in some Washington office; those in NASA who had agreed; the astronauts themselves, who would be required to continue with the hoax for the whole of their lives, afraid even of disclosing something to their most intimate friends at the most intimate moments; the set designers, the photographers, the props department, the security men, the navy people who pretended to be fish the returning spacemen...”
All this would, of course, depend on which hoax we're talking about.
Donald Trump and Sandy Hook
It's ironic that the BBC itself should use this story - which is about the political use of theories about events - to paint an anti-Trump picture (if quietly and tangentially). For example, the BBC tells us that that the theories of the conspiracists
“have been picked up by one of America's most popular conspiracy theorists, a man who has been linked with President Donald Trump”.
It then says that “their false theories have been repeated by a media mogul conspiracy theorist who has been linked to Donald Trump”. Not only that: the BBC also claims that “Sandy Hook residents are pleading with President Trump, asking him to speak out and help stop the madness”.
The BBC delivers an even more tangential snipe at Trump when it says that conspiracy theories “have been fuelled by America's deeply partisan political environment”. It's clear, from the rest of the text and the fact that so many other commentators have stressed this “partisan political environment”, that the BBC is talking about Trump's Presidency here. This is strange when we consider the numerous conspiracy theories about 9/11 alone; as well as the many conspiracy theories advanced by progressives/Leftists well before Trump assumed power (e.g., conspiracy theories about 9/11, Zionism/Mossad/Israel, “far-right terrorism”, capitalists conspiring behind the scenes, racism, the platonic Media, and Trump himself).
The BBC spends quite some time on Alex Jones, the host and founder of Infowars. Alex Jones, of course, is also linked to Trump. Jones, as quoted by the BBC, said:
"'Sandy Hook is a synthetic, completely fake with actors, in my view, manufactured. I couldn't believe it at first. I knew they had actors there clearly but I thought they killed some real kids, and it just shows how bold they are, that they clearly used actors.'"
Then comes a neat bit of BBC footwork. It tells us that “Jones, who did not respond to repeated requests for an interview, has also been linked to President Trump”. Yes, “in late 2015, Trump appeared on Jones's radio programme” - as he also appeared on countless other radio and TV shows! What's more, “[f]ormer Trump campaign advisor Roger Stone regularly appears on [Alex] Jones's show, and reportedly was the person who introduced the presidential candidate and the talk show host”.
Despite all that, the BBC does have the decency to say that “Trump has not endorsed the Sandy Hook conspiracy theory, nor has he spoken about Jones's claims that the massacre was a hoax”. Yet if the BBC admits that's the case, then why has it made Trump the major subplot in its Sandy Hook piece?
Political Conspiracy Theories
In the introduction I claimed that conspiracy theories are invariably concocted to advance a political cause and/or sustain a political ideology (or set of political positions). In this case, many of the conspiracists think that the Sandy Hook massacre was a vast plot carried out by the government (of the United States) to legitimise or justify gun control. Now I feel uncomfortable about that because, if I were an American, I wouldn't be in favour of gun control. Nonetheless, I have a strong distaste for most conspiracy theories. And the fact that this particular one seems to rub dirt into the faces of both the dead and their living relations makes it even more objectionable. Then again, that dirt-rubbing can also be said about 9/11, the London bombings, Charlie Hebdo, etc. - all of which generated a large number of conspiracy theories. Not only that: virtually every conspiracy theory (as far as I see it) involves advancing political causes and sustaining ideologies.
Then again, theories aren't in themselves bad things. Indeed I would agree that some conspiracy theories are true or have been shown to be true. My own theory about this BBC article, for example, is that its primary purpose is to have yet another go at Trump. (The BBC has turned Trump-bashing into a sport.) I can't prove this because it's not really the kind of thing that can be proved; even if my theory is correct/true. As with the larger and more important conspiracies (such as those about 9/11), it's effectively impossible to either prove or disprove such theories; primarily because they're so open-ended and so many “auxiliary hypotheses” (Karl Popper's term for Marxism's endless qualifications) are brought in to counter conclusive counter-arguments and inconvenient facts. (More basically, proof only really belongs to the domains of mathematics and logic - and even here there are controversies!)
One final thing needs to be stressed.
There's a big difference between the following:
i) Rejecting the conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook massacre.
ii) Rejecting the claim that the government (of the time) used the incident to promote its own anti-gun laws.
In this case, Obama's government most certainly did use this terrible incident to advance its own anti-gun legislation.
This means that (particular) conspiracy theories helped promote and advance the pro-gun-owning position. And the massacre itself helped promote and advance (at least for Obama) the anti-gun-owning position.
Either way, we still have to contend with the many political interpretations and uses of the Sandy Hook massacre.
Saturday, 8 April 2017
Professor Stephen Hicks' book, ExplainingPostmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (2011), is used as a springboard in this piece. In other words, this ain't a book review.
Hicks uses the term “postmodernism” throughout his publication; though he's well aware that many of the philosophers and movements he refers to aren't ordinarily classed as postmodernist. That means that 'postmodernism' is indeed a catch-all term which is used primarily for convenience's sake. Despite that, all the movements and philosophers referred to are post modernist in a literal sense; even though they aren't seen as being postmodernist in the strictly philosophical sense. More importantly, what united all these seemingly disparate philosophers and movements is that they were all, according to Hicks, left-wing (usually Trotskyist/communist/Maoist/etc.).
In terms of autobiography, Stephen Hicks is a very rare animal indeed: he's a right-wing professor at an American university. He teaches at Rockford University; where he also directs the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship.
When Socialism was Discovered to be Dead or Dying
Professor Stephen Hicks's central thesis on postmodernist intellectuals is that they recognised that socialism was dead or dying (in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s) and thus decided to do something about it. What did they do? They developed their own distinctive “sceptical” (yet still left-wing!) philosophies. In 1974, for example, Marcuse was asked whether he thought the New Left was dead. Hicks quotes Marcuse as replying: “'I don't think it's dead, and it will resurrect in the universities.'”
He was dead right about that!
Of course we can ask Hicks if it really were that simple. Was it really all about revivifying socialism/communism or were there (at least some) other factors involved? Nonetheless, that project might have been in the unconscious minds of these thinkers. Perhaps their upbringings in the theology of socialism left an indelible mark on their psyches; as religious upbringings tend to do.
Philosophy Serves Politics
It can be said that sceptical epistemology, deconstruction, etc. are all means to achieve the political ends which can't be sustained by truth, evidence and argumentation. Thus, if all this is taken as given (as true!), then one's “readings” and epistemologies give one free reign to believe what's required in order to further a political agenda/goal.
If we can be more specific about what postmodernists believe (even if in very broad terms), we can cite the following. Take logic. It's artificial, serves power and is anti-human (Heidegger, Levinas, etc.). Science is theory-laden and “underdetermined by the evidence” (as often said in the philosophy of science). Truth is a “tool of power” (Foucault) and is specific to different “language games” (Wittgenstein, etc.) or “phrase regimes” (Lyotard).
Thus, if, as Fredric Jameson put it (as quoted by Hicks), “all life is political” (therefore all philosophy is also political), then one political tool (if in the guise of philosophy) will be rhetoric (“literature”, in Derrida's case). That means that if no “discourse” reveals the truth (or even attempts to do so, in postmodernism's case), then why not bite the bullet and indulge in an even purer more extreme (philosophical) rhetoric – even if in a poetic and/or pretentious guise?
Thus, as Hicks puts it, “regular deployments of ad hominem, the setting up of straw men, and the regular attempts to silence opposing voices” aren't only legitimate, they're to be encouraged (at least if you're on the same side). Hicks cites the example of Stanley Fish who “calls all opponents of racial preferences bigots and lumps them in with the Ku Klux Klan”. He also cites the radical feminist Andrea Dworkin. She “calls all heterosexual males rapists and repeatedly labels 'Amerika‛ a fascist state”. (So too does Chomsky!) All this, therefore, is simply a variant on the many Leftists who suffer from Tourette's syndrome when they repeatedly and uncontrollably shout “racist”, “bigot”, “xenophobe”, “Nazi”, etc. at literally anyone who dares to oppose them.
But Why Leftism?
Despite all the above, you wouldn't think (on the surface) that most/all of these different philosophers (who rejected truth and reason) would have also flocked to the very same political position – but they did! Or as Hicks puts it:
“Postmodernists are not individuals who have reached relativistic conclusions about epistemology and then found comfort in a wide variety of political persuasions.”
Thus “Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, and Richard Rorty are all far Left”. And “so are Jacques Lacan, Stanley Fish, Catherine MacKinnon, Andreas Huyssen, and Frank Lentricchia”. Of course postmods may well laugh at what they perceive to be Hicks' lack of discrimination here. So, yes, it's true that all these thinkers were individuals with their own ways of thinking. However, although the parameters they existed within were (relatively!) broad, they were, nonetheless, still circumscribed. That is, “[o]f the major names in the postmodernist movement, there is not a single figure who is not Left-wing in a serious way”. And Hicks concludes that this must mean that “there is something else going on besides epistemology”!
In addition to that, nearly all these intellectuals did indeed begin their lives as outright communists/socialists. Michel Foucault, for example, was a member of the French Communist Party from 1950 to 1953. Jean-François Lyotard was an active member of the Marxist group Socialisme ou Barbarie (Socialism or Barbarism) for twelve years. As for Jacques Derrida, he was a writer for the well-known Maoist Tel Quel journal. (Hicks quotes Derrida as saying: “Deconstruction never had meaning or interest, at least in my eyes, than as a radicalization, that is to say, also within the tradition of a certain Marxism, in a certain spirit of Marxism.”) Richard Rorty's case is less clear cut, both in terms of political activity and ideological allegiance. Nonetheless, he once strongly supported the American Socialist Party, specifically the union leader A. Philip Randolph.
A Deep Faith in Socialism
What was the root of this deep faith in socialism/communism generally? Why didn't postmods, poststructuralists, structuralists, etc. reject it out-of-hand? Hicks believes that there was a religious (or at least a quasi-religious) reason for this.
Leftists have religious sensibilities. They see socialism/communism as the religion that it is. Hicks, specifically, picks up on the psychological root of their religious infatuation with socialism. He writes:
“You feel that socialism is true; you want it to be true; upon socialism you have pinned all your dreams of a peaceful and prosperous future society and all your hopes for solving the ills of our current society.”
Strangely enough, Richard Rorty confessed his deep faith in Leftism in that he advised Leftists to ignore socialism/communism's bloodthirsty history. Thus Rorty, as quoted by Hicks, said:
“I think that a good Left is a party that always thinks about the future and doesn’t care much about our past sins.”
Now isn't that exceedingly convenient?
That means that the Left can conveniently erase Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. from the socialist picture. (As Stalin himself erased various political enemies from official Soviet photographs.) The socialist future of Leftists is a perfect and Utopian future. The socialist past, as we know, is blood-soaked. Thus the socialist past never guides the future: it is erased or denied. To the Leftist, no “actually existing” regime was ever theologically/truly socialist.
So what happens when socialism fails, both practically and theoretically? Then there's “a moment of truth for anyone who has experienced the agony of a deeply cherished hypothesis run aground on the rocks of reality”. So what did Leftists do then?
According to Hicks, these despondent Leftists chose postmodernism because
“[p]ostmodernism is the academic far Left’s epistemological strategy for responding to the crisis caused by the failures of socialism in theory and in practice”.
In other words, because, at that time (the early 1970s to the 1980s), hardly anyone (save students and academics) bought socialism/communism any more, such a thing had to be sold in another form. It had to be defended with different theoretical and philosophical weapons. Of course many people did stick with various old-style socialisms/communisms. However, this wouldn't have been an option for the aforesaid intellectuals. Such people simply wouldn't have allowed themselves to sing exactly the same tune. Thus they offered variations on it, in many different keys.
Once again, it may seem like a stretch of the imagination to say that Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, Rorty, etc. were all outright socialists or communists. That's because - depending on how we take the word “outright” - they weren't outright communists/socialists. How could they have been when communism/socialism had proved - countless times and in countless ways - to be such an abject failure? Instead, they took Leftism in different directions, This, for them at least, was a very wise thing to do.
So despite the irony, the “play of the sign” (Derrida), the scepticism, relativism, etc., postmodernists are still committed to a determinate politics with determinate causes and goals. Not only that: their politics and those causes and goals are invariably left-wing in nature.