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March 01, 2005


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I think Max Sawicky said it best: Mongo pawn in Game of Life.

The truth is rare and hard to find; but illusions are easily manufactured and managed. Behind that screen the sovereign powers of Wealth Bondage operate with impunity. Truth is a ripple thrown up in front of the ship state, wherever the ship turns, there is truth. (Transliterating what Tolstoy said of Napoleon.)

Liberals do need to be funnier. That's it. That's the strategy. Michael Bérubé is performing the way forward -- performatively. A certain Glenn Reynoldsian anti-intellectualism (as in Atrios), combined with a Kierkegaardian flair for satire (even, in some cases, "unfair" satire), could revive liberalism in the public imagination. The problem with liberals, and also with the "left," such as it is, is precisely the plodding seriousness -- the earnestness of the Tom Tomorrow bearded liberal in a turtleneck sweater.

Take, for instance, the recent "debate" between Jonah Goldberg and Juan Cole -- even though Cole was clearly right in everything he said, he lost by default just because he took everything overseriously (like when he had such a moral indignation at the thought of betting on the outcome of the Iraq War -- get over yourself!). And Goldberg wasn't even putting in a good conservative-style performance.

The progressive policies are popular. They're just waiting to be picked up by people who will implement them rather than focus on their market share and quarterly fund raising returns. The market share people have more in common with Jonah than with Juan Cole.

Humor is also the antidote against fear. Intimidation and fear, even more than greed and resentment, are the driving forces of neocon rhetoric. The best defenese if to deflate that into bathos. "Gallows humor," "trench humor," "wit," "raillery," "banter," and parody. Mockery makes people angry and anger is the best way to lose a debate. Over mockery is too crude. Better to pretend to be an admiring Dunce. (Good Soldier Schweik, Bud Morans, Homer Simpson, Alfred E. Neuman.) Voltaire's wit is what defeated religious enthusiasm, not a stolid refutation. He made light of the whole matter.

I just came over to link Adam's thoughful commentary on the Tutor-Burke exchange, which I see he's too humble to hawk himself.

Adam's take on this is interesting, but I can't help feeling something important is missing. If our democracy is failing for the reasons cited, what do we do about it. No child left behind isn't going to give the kids the civic education they need to see through the biased media and the sound bites, so what will? Tutor's instruction methods go right over their heads. They go right back to Candidia's boots after a good caning, none the wiser.

The Cole-Goldberg discussion is an interesting one to point to. I agree with Adam's analysis of who "won", but I don't agree that humor is the only path to victory in it.

Why doesn't Cole "win" that exchange? Well, in a way he does, but he does with whom? With all of us who are already invested in the idea that a specialized knowledge of the Middle East is important to acting within it, that expertise is a valuable commodity, and so on. In that sense, Cole "wins" before he even starts: we know who has authority to speak as he does. Cole plays that role brilliantly, basically dropping a sack of hammers on Goldberg and treating him as the dunce in the back of his classroom.

Humor of the kind the Tutor describes and Berube practices is important because it potentially breaks the closed loop between the critic and an always-already persuaded audience. It can escape, it has a kind of wild possibility to it. It can sting the opponent in novel ways: Goldberg seems unashamed to be a complete ignoramus, but maybe he would feel and react differently if he were being treated as the butt of a joke. It may reach audiences unreached by masterful expertise.

But there are other ways. One of them is to match Goldberg's argument with something more symmetrical to it in terms of reason and debate. Goldberg is saying he has a moral principle that effectively trumps any details, information, specifics. So matching him with Cole is a bit like pouring phaser fire into the Energy Creature. Match him with someone who meets him on the ground he prepares.

Ok, too earnest for you? Probably so for me too. What is it about the "Tom Tomorrow bearded liberal" that doesn't work, after all? Is it just that he's not funny? No, I think it's also that he takes himself way, way too fucking seriously. I think you get the same mileage out of humility, self-deprecation, a sense of proportionality, as you do out of subversive humor or satire, maybe more so. That's what goes wrong when we don our armor and climb into the ring saying, "Well, Ted, I am an EXPERT". The antidote to that is not trying to be funny or sly or subversive: the antidote to that is gaining a proportional sense of our own significance, of pricking ourselves with a pin to let at least some of the hot air out.

Now left intellectuals in academia perform a version of that, but it's a hopeless version--the sort of genuflection to some valorized social constituency or class. Bruce Robbins noticed this a long time back, the tendency of the academic left to regard itself as unbelievably important while also denigrating itself for irrelevance.

The best thing about approaching the public sphere with a kind of modesty is that it doesn't have to be a lie or a mask or a strategem: it can be the humble and simple truth, that we should do what we can with what we have, but that what we know and write is not all that and a bag of chips.

Feel like I am far more the student than the teacher in this thread. Given how hard set is the mind of the right wing electorate isn't the first nearly impossible task that of unfreezing the certainties? "Hunh, wait a minute, I don't get this....?" Tale of the Tub. We each have only a little to offer, that would be new to mix. The satiric strain in liberal thought is not Chomksy, who is if anything one of the most earnest men on the planet. We need the thoughtful, well-reasoned, modest accounts, for our own benefit, but marketing that message, getting it out and abroad is going to take some low brow art. Limbaugh, the self-styled entertainer, is a challenge no one has met.

Liberals usually refuse the services of a rhetorical hitman, especially the wealthier liberals. How much of a chance does Reverend Billy have, or Al Giordano? One is relegated to clowning, the other lives in penury. Both can dish it out.

Jon Stewart and Margaret Cho have sorta started ... sorta every once in a while ... Chris Rock got coopted .. where's Lenny Bruce when you need him .. but he never got all that far, actually, did he ?

I think part of the problem is that what looks ridiculous - or able to be ridiculed or satirized - to some ... let's say something coming out of O'Reilly's mouth, or Santorum's, or any of a cast of hundredes ... will seem like eminent common sense to a goodly proportion of USians. I'm betting it will be a long long reach into primal something-or-other for the art that does not lie to create "the crack where the light gets in" (L. Cohen).

Liberals usually refuse the services of a rhetorical hitman, especially the wealthier liberals.

This is a critical point. The right empbraces the nuttiest of their fringe elements and uses them as pawns in the fight. The left is embarrassed by any voice that doesn't dress nice and speak like Minim.

One thing progressives need to get through their collective heads. Those *wealthier liberals* are just representatives of wealth bondage in different garb. Senator Minim couldn't win because he wasn't willing to take the lid off in the larger game. Who did he have to make deals with before finally being able to put Dean behind him in the primary? Who is choosing all the losing Democratic presidential candidates? We have a long string of them since the 60s.

Yeeeeaaaaaagggghhh in (imo) an honest burst of enthuisiam if not passion ... got ridiculized and satirized right off the stage ... by the media

Wonder why "edumacation about nukular ... uhh, uhh ... I say freedum n' democracy are what all god-fearin' folk should larn about why them terraists hate us and wanna killus ... the hordes will invade, so watch yer terra alert flags" ...can't be better satirized.

Where's the golden key of satire .. what's the theme/meme that would make GWBCheneyRumsfeld look pathetic ? Who will find it, if ever it's found ?

The media ... they ain't gonna help. I like the Survivor Smackdown ideas put up elsewhere on this blog ... or maybe a televised Risk board game ?

On another note ... I like this:

The best thing about approaching the public sphere with a kind of modesty is that it doesn't have to be a lie or a mask or a strategem: it can be the humble and simple truth, that we should do what we can with what we have, but that what we know and write is not all that and a bag of chips

but I think this is right:

We need the thoughtful, well-reasoned, modest accounts, for our own benefit, but marketing that message, getting it out and abroad is going to take some low brow art. Limbaugh, the self-styled entertainer, is a challenge no one has met.

It's kinda like the game of management consulting ... it matters less to a consulting firm what is right, correct, will work, is appropriate, is principled ... what matters is what sells, what "the client" will buy, and the number of billable hours delivered per month, per quarter and per year.

The first example above, from Timothy Burke is what sells to liberals ... the second, which is what would work, is a tough sell.

Remeber when Jon Stewart told Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala, live, that they were clowns and idiots ? ... there was a momentary "huzzah" from the sidelines .. and boy, did he get their dander up in a hurry ... we need that happening every day !!

Well this is a ponder.
Maybe it's overload of input, but I didn't connect this post with the Kotsko post, didn't link out on T.V.'s hit, and so believe it or not didn't realize I was already present in the room, as it were, from being here, which is also "there" and "there", in a next-door connecting-rooms sense. So when I linked in at UFO to that I wasn't working with this.
So now I'm having chills, sort of.
I feel like Eleanor Roosevelt on acid.
Because it comes together.
The twitching cartilage of Mullins' thesauric id, and my own identity switch. And nice people up and down the line, peeling away, turning, looking over their shoulders.
What are we really talking about here? Politics? Religion? Philosophy? Hermeneutic eschatolgy?
Or survival? Truth-bending in order to live. The god-plasma of grouped mentality.
And this sense I've had all along - that it matters, that you have to talk to the less-along, calmly, kindly, show them. Use the vocabulary, stay with the moment as it in turn stays with the ineluctable pass-through. This is war, already, no exit but cowardice - return with your shield or on it. Scum risen and browning in the extra heat of a newer, brighter, less-forgiving day. Unforeseen weapons discharging unexpectedly no matter how rich you get.
Refuge or redemption, and for who? Though they're the same in a definitional case-sensitive subjective way. I want something else.
Will you die for someone else's kids? Will you?
How about seeing it from Lucifer's pov? What's that like? The temptation to be a god in hell or to take the obvious path - become a mendicant on the long road home. There's a jumble around the names, with some distinguishing Satan, the Hebrew enemy, from Lucifer, the Roman light-bringer - others conflate them. For this I'm using the Miltonian brimstone-cratered arrogant.
Are there responsibilities in hell? Like a border-town traficante hmm? Rewarding your organization's myrmidons accordingly, as you anticipate your own reward - the god-in-hell template, with his burdensome duties and the weight of being in charge; even hell can decline, you know, the economy's a delicate thing - it takes constant vigilance.
Is this hell? Is this becoming hell? Can it not-be and then become so, or was it all along and we're just waking to it?
Isn't that the task? Making that clear. You should have seen the American city in the 50's - strung with buzzing wires and unsophisticated grasping signage, big round cars streaming poison and everyone on fire.
It doesn't matter.
I already said that.
It's hard when there's these ahistorical white-bread grins of confident knowing everywhere. And vicious catharsis-seekers living only in the moment. They sidetrack you. You want to mess them up. It's a diversion.
I know it's never been clear enough, but all along I've said it's going to be a biological resolution, if it gets resolved.
The liberal sensibility is too often the Southern belle's in 1859, privilege so native and unquestioned and right it can afford to be gracious and kind. All that niceness was purchased with exactly what appalls us in the current landscape, horror makes people hard-hearted, and that gets passed down - but once it's gained and the blood's soaked into the ground...peace, harmony of the aftermath. Move on. Start here. With me and mine in the valence.
John Berger's no liberal. El Supe's no liberal. Nor are they radicals. What they are is not up to anyone else to name, but what they are is there as real as any named thing.
That liberal/left framework's an extraction mechanism. The spectrum is two-dimensional, and colorless.
We're in a tidepool, at the edge of an unfathomable sea. And every single gesture is eternal.

"The liberal sensibility is too often the Southern belle's in 1859, privilege so native and unquestioned and right it can afford to be gracious and kind." Put more positively, it takes generations to create a higher class from the mean human clay that makes the money. The strange thing today is that the mean human clay that makes the money, on the right, particularly, wants the kids to retain the Family Values, instead of becoming a spoiled rich kid. The right does not want its kids to go soft and grow up liberal. Believe it or not, I have heard that said with real emotion to financial advisors from the podium, that we must not let the children grow up to limosine liberals, but must divize means to pass on the family values of hard working, money hunger, and control of assets.

The style of liberalism is that a a triumphant multi-generatonal elite, trained in noblesse oblige, self-restraint, public service, compassion for the less fortunate, good education, good taste and good manners - all good things. The problem is that those are not martial virtues, and when challenged mortally, whether by Limbaugh or de Man (two names never yoked befor I suspect in one sentence) the liberal of the Dick Minim mold, is piqued but unable to express his rage. So he chokes on it as his opponent smiles. Latent in that tradition though are all the wiles of the most vicious and effective political hitmen and satirsts of earlier eras. We have to read those authors as mentors and role models, not as guys in white powedered wigs.

Mark Twain is another good example of deflationary rhetoric, this time in the country-boy American style.

As you point out the game works both ways, and Mr. sweet Tucker Carlson is as prize a patsy as a comic could ever want. Right down the bow tie.

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Thanks alot

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