Saturday, September 9, 2017

Quotes: On the rise of militarism and the need for compromise

Sara Paretsky:

"When Congress passed the USA Patriot Act in the weeks following 9/11, the name of the act itself seemed to me to be Orwellian, the kind of title Stalin or Hitler or Franco might have chosen, one that tried to force people to choose sides. “You are either with us or against us,” Mr. Bush famously told the world, but he was delivering the same message at home. “You’re a patriot or a terrorist,” the Patriot Act screams in its very title. Indeed, in the run-up to the now-famous elections of 2006, when the Republicans lost control of Congress, Mr. Bush toured the country, proclaiming that a vote for Democrats meant, “The terrorists win and America loses.”

The Economist:

"The attempts of his [Obama's] secretary of homeland security to replace the word "terrorism" with "man-caused disasters" attracted much ridicule."

Arjun Appadurai:

"...the war unleashed on 9/11 was above all a war between two kinds of systems, both global in scope. The first may be described as vertebrate, the second as cellular. Modern nation-states recognize their common belonging to the vertebrate world and, like the last dinosaurs, see that they are in a desperate struggle for survival as a global formation."
Arjun Appadurai. Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2006. p. 21.

Susan Bordo:

"I once heard a speaker at an elite university sharply criticize the hierarchical, "binary" thinking of the (then) Republican administration, its good guys/bad guys, we-are-the-saviors-of-the-Western-world mentality. Without missing a beat, the speaker went on to congratulate the assembled audience for "of course" being "beyond such hierarchical, dualistic thinking." Pardon me, but I think the notion that there are those who are unimpeachably "beyond" and those that are hopelessly stuck in the muck is just a bit "binary." (Note, too, the presumption that one can tell the good guys from the bad guys on the basis of neighborhood.)"

Appadurai again (p. 3):

"No modern nation, however benign its political system and however eloquent its public voices may be about the virtues of tolerance, multiculturalism, and inclusion, is free of the idea that its national sovereignty is built on some sort of ethnic genius.

Andrew J. Bacevich in 2008:

”In consonance with this "military ascendancy," these American hawks are inclined to see the United States as already beset by acutely dangerous threats, with even greater perils lurking just around the corner. With a low tolerance for uncertainty, they are highly attuned to the putative risks of waiting on events, while discounting the hazards posed by precipitate action. This perspective found classic expression in September 2002, when Condoleeza Rice rejected a lack of detailed intelligence about Iraq's nuclear program as a reason to postpone a planned invasion of that country since "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." For his part, Vice President Cheney was even more explicit. Even a remotely suspected threat could provide a sufficient rationale for action. "If there's a one percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon," Cheney once remarked, "we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response."”

Bacevich again, in 2011:

In his 1956 book, The Power Elite, C. Wright Mills, a professor of sociology at Columbia, dubbed this perspective "military metaphysics," which he characterized as "the cast of mind that defines international reality as basically military." Those embracing this mind-set no longer considered genuine, lasting peace to be plausible. Rather, peace was at best a transitory condition, "a prelude to war or an interlude between wars."

Amos Oz:

"I think peace is possible because there is fatigue and exhaustion on both sides. I am a great believer in fatigue and exhaustion. Most human conflicts — not only international conflicts but even individual conflicts — don't solve through a magic formula. They die down through fatigue and exhaustion. And finally I see syndromes of blessed fatigue and exhaustion both on the Israeli side and on the Palestinian side. Not on the side of the fanatics; they never tire. But the majority is tired and ready for a sad compromise. And compromises are sad by definition. There is no such thing as a happy compromise."

Or, as a proverb has it: “The perfect compromise is the one nobody likes.”


Sources

Sara Paretsky. Writing in an Age of Silence. Verso, 2007. p. xvii.

"Two cheers and a jeer." The Economist. April 11-17, 2009. p. 26.

Arjun Appadurai. Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2006. p. 21, 3.

Susan Bordo. Twilight Zones: The Hidden Life of Cultural Images from Plato to O.J. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1997. pp. 18-19.

Andrew J. Bacevich. The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008. p. 83.

"The Tyranny of Defense, Inc." Andrew J. Bacevich. The Atlantic. Jan/Feb 2011. p. 76.

Amos Oz, interviewed by Tom Ashbrook on the On Point radio program, Oct. 31, 2011. http://onpoint.wbur.org/2011/10/31/amos-oz-on-israeli-life?autostart=true

Quotes: On why societies and groups trend away from democracy

Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet:

Nor did men any longer dare to divide humanity into two races, the one fated to rule, the other to obey, the one to deceive, the other to be deceived. They had to recognize that all men have an equal right to be informed on all that concerns them, and that none of the authorities established by men over themselves has the right to hide from them one single truth.”

Benjamin Franklin:

"It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”

Wendy Brown:

"Democracy requires that citizens be modestly oriented toward self-rule, not simply value enhancement, and that we understand our freedom as resting in such self-rule, not simply in market conduct. When this dimension of being human [homo politicus] is extinguished [in favor of homo economicus], it takes with it the necessary energies, practices, and culture of democracy, as well as its very intelligibility.

* * *

Democracy is always incomplete, always short of its promise, but the conditions for cultivating it can be better or worse. My point was that democracy is really reduced to a whisper in the Euro-Atlantic nations today. Even Alan Greenspan says that elections don’t much matter much because, “thanks to globalization . . . the world is governed by market forces,” not elected representatives. Voting has been declining for decades everywhere in the Western world; politicians are generally mistrusted if not reviled (except for Varoufakis, of course!); and everything to do with political life or government is widely considered either captured by capital, corrupt or burdensome—this hostility to the political itself is generated by neoliberal reason. Thus, today, the meaning of democracy is pretty much reduced to personal liberty. Such liberty is not nothing, but could not be further from the idea of rule by and for the people.”

Virginia Woolf had a character say in her first novel in 1915:

"...we'd better talk about life for a change. Questions that really matter to people's lives, the White Slave Traffic, Women Suffrage, the Insurance Bill, and so on. And when we've made up our mind what we want to do we could form ourselves into a society for doing it..."

* * *

...she professed herself certain that if once twenty people — no, ten would be enough if they were keen — set about doing things instead of talking about doing them, they could abolish almost every evil that exists. It was brains that were needed. If only people with brains — of course they would want a room, a nice room, in Bloomsbury preferably, where they could meet once a week...

Tom Carson:

“If you wonder who made [liberal] hauteur respectable, try Adlai Stevenson. The most celebrated exchange of his two campaigns against Dwight D. Eisenhower went like this: ‘Governor, every thinking person will be voting for you,’ cried a woman at a rally. Ever humorous, the Democratic nominee twinkled. ‘Madam, that’s not enough,’ he said. ‘I need a majority.’ That quip was one of the most appalling things ever said in public by anyone running for president, because either you believe in democracy or you don’t.”

Richard Flanagan:

"In the end, politics is not about focus groups and numbers; it is about the power of stories to galvanize and forge the thinking of societies."

Jeff Schmidt argues that people who have studied and who adhere to standards in this-or-that field, those who consider themselves or are considered "professionals" in the field and who adjust their worldviews and live their lives accordingly, may tend toward authoritarianism when it is related to upholding the standards or the overall vision of their field since the masses cannot be expected or trusted to uphold it.

"...although professionals may be liberal on this or that question of the day, they tend to be very conservative on a long-standing issue of much greater importance to society: democracy. Discuss politics with a liberal professional and you will not hear a word in favor of a more democratic distribution of power in society, perhaps because in the professional’s view ignorant nonprofessionals make up the large majority of the population. Even the most liberal professionals tend toward authoritarianism in their social visions.

* * *

And the liberal doctor who offers a cocktail party opinion against authoritarian police practices? Go to that doctor’s office with a medical problem and see her lean toward the traditional authoritarian doctor-patient relationship. Professionals are liberal on distant social issues, issues over which they have no authority at work and no influence outside of work."

To allow for willing participation in democracy, we have to find the facts and principles that we can agree upon and use those as a starting point for a connection that allows us to work together.

Quoting Ned Resnikoff — "When political actors can’t agree on basic facts and procedures, compromise and rule-bound argumentation are basically impossible; politics reverts back to its natural state as a raw power struggle in which the weak are dominated by the strong,” — Brooke Gladstone commented:

"Even if each of our realities is unique, our common cultures and environments ensure that we share some fundamental principles. That is what enables consensus, and that is what is under attack. By degrading the very notion of shared reality, Trump has disabled the engine of democracy."

Sources

Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet. Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind. (1794) Translated by June Barraclough. Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, Inc. 1955. p 129-130.

Benjamin Franklin, quoted in the Montreal Gazette. The Week, Oct. 11, 2013, p. 19.

Booked #3: "What Exactly is Neoliberalism?" Wendy Brown, interviewed by Timothy Shenk. April 2, 2015.

Virginia Woolf. The Voyage Out (1915).

Tom Carson in The American Prospect, quoted in The Week, Dec. 23, 2011. p. 14.

Richard Flanagan. The Sunday Age (Australia) September 2, 2001. Quoted in Clive James. Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts. (2007) New York: Norton, 2008. p. 463.

Jeff Schmidt, Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System that Shapes Their Lives. (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000) Kindle Edition.

Brooke Gladstone. The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time. New York: Workman Publishing, 2017.