OK, since Facebook can (and does) easily degenerate into bickering or meaningless posts about porn, cats, superheroes, the war between the sexes/races, food, and jiu-jitsu, I now present slightly deeper looks, once a week here on the blog, at books. Really. Albeit it briefly.
1. If you want live, in-person debate, though, The Nation and the New America Foundation are co-hosting a panel discussion tonight (RSVP here to join me in the audience) featuring my friend Sam Goldman, about the rather abstract and very highbrow question of whether we have exhausted old cultural ideas and are in desperate need of new ones, as Gramsci warned ninety years ago.
The talk is tonight at 6:30-8:15pm at the New America Foundation (199 Lafayette St. in Soho in Manhattan), but I now realize it’s also in the same building as the newly-opened Central Perk coffee shop, inspired by Friends. So you see the irony.
(Meanwhile, the discussion of the future of trashy pulp literature going on over at Half King bar at 505 W. 23rd at 7pm doesn’t look Half Bad, either, but I can't be in two places at the same time, as far as you know.)
2. But maybe you don’t see the irony in the cultural exhaustion/Central Perk juxtaposition.
Liberals, especially in NYC, tend to claim conservatives are the ones who can’t see irony – but, man, just watch what happens if, for example, a Republican politician, attempting to make the simple point that wolves are dangerous, says that releasing wolves in some congressional districts would decrease the number of homeless (I trust you see the point of his joke).
Watch, behold, see – as liberals with PhDs or media-analyst columnist gigs fall all over themselves to interpret the remark utterly literally for us all: HE WANTS TO USE WOLVES TO KILL THE HOMELESS!! THIS IS WHAT REPUBLICANS THINK!! Yet the liberals want me to think Grandma’s the stupid one for not knowing Colbert’s a comedian, right? Liberals love to imagine all their foes are ignoramuses. Makes the imagined fight easier. No more of that arrogance, please.
3. But speaking of old pop culture: yes, it’s the twenty-freaking-fifth anniversary of the Peter Murphy single “Cuts You Up” (the album was the very end of ’89 but the single March ’90) and Social Distortion’s “Story of My Life.”
4. Over roughly that same span of time, both liberals and conservatives have had a generation in which to imagine that their own ideology might become dominant in the post-communist world. Understandably, when conservatives aren’t getting their way, they tend to assume liberals are exultant and winning – and vice versa. The truth, which I think is rapidly becoming more apparent to more people, is that no one with any principles or philosophical integrity is getting his way in politics.
Stop imagining a pendulum, stop imagining a seesaw. Certainly stop imagining a dialectic. Now just picture a gigantic, miles-high revolving door – and passing through it, powerbrokers who don’t give a sweet goddam whether their next big gig is in a corporate boardroom, a well-connected non-profit, their own lucrative PR shop, a wasteful domestic arm of big government, or the Pentagon. They will still rule and you will not.
That is roughly the creepy, deeply disillusioning world described by Roger Hodge in his 2010 critique of President Obama (and others) called The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism. I enjoy (and not in a sadistic way, mind you) reading these occasional reminders that the left is just as unhappy about how things work as anyone on the right or among libertarians, or for that matter among all those ostensibly-pragmatic moderates who wish people would set aside their differences and yadda yadda yadda.
Sure, Obama has done things like veto Keystone, the bastard, but see him – and his vast array of large, familiar corporate donors – through Hodge’s idealistic eyes and he still looks like (and is) just a slightly different flavor of deal-making statist/corporate tool. The long list of banks and hedge funds and mega-corporations who made Obama’s campaigns possible, as Hodge shows, doesn’t sound much different than the one you’d expect to see for his Republican opponents, aside from the labor unions.
Not coincidentally, Hodge’s lament sounds a great deal like that of his fellow former Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham in the book The Wish for Kings, both men being evidence that there is still a real Jeffersonian streak on the left with which libertarians like me can sympathize – people who recognize that America seemed destined for some mix of freedom and/or egalitarianism but at some point during its arguing over those ideals got duped into turning over both the cash and the levers of political power to a ruling elite who don’t actually give a damn about any of those topics.
The sooner we admit it (and by my reckoning we’re almost exactly one century overdue), the better.
5. Obama still has his uses, and though I may not gush about the novelty of a biracial president the way the left does, I recognize that is something that goes in the plus column and teaches some people a valuable lesson. Furthermore, apparently psychologists have done studies showing it really is commonplace, whether you like it or not, for biracial people to be considered more attractive than others (sorry, you can’t argue with instinct, whatever its evolutionary roots might be).
Thus, I am probably not the only one who kinda wants to have sex with both these twin sisters now (simultaneously, obviously). Perhaps it’s some sign of instinctual seeking of novel gene-mixing opportunities. Really, there are scientists studying that sort of thing. Or it just means I came of age when Lisa Bonet and Sheilah E were on TV a lot.
6. But speaking of hybridization, lest I sound unable to overcome the right/left divide alluded to above, let me say, as I sometimes do, that Occupy is not so far wrong. You can’t read the Hodge book (written on the very eve of Occupy’s creation) and doubt that anger directed at corporate-government collusion and bailouts is warranted.
Hell, I’ll go farther than that, though. Despite my frequent criticism of left-anarchist (and math-hater) David Graeber, I would be delighted, like him and many of my fellow anarchists, to see a global “Jubilee” declared in which debts and past legal rules were erased and we began anew – if the prevailing post-Jubilee legal rule (privately enforced, of course, in this hypothetical world without government) were respect for property rights.
The alternative, whether it looks like a monarch or a mob, will always be some form of collectivism running roughshod over the individual, and left-anarchists aren’t the real friends of the individual (and the individual’s freedom) until they acknowledge that hurdle – and admit that it’s a very practical one, not just some metaphysical restriction arbitrarily foisted on the world by Ayn Rand or closet fascists.
Think of me, in my willingness to contemplate a change that radical but very wary of replicating the last hundred years of Progressive corporate-state collusion, as a sort of double-secret backwards – but also inverted – Progressive, if you will. Quite philosophically straightforward, really.
Or at least, the old leftist guy seated next to me on the bus to Connecticut while I was reading Mendacity of Hope seemed to think there might be common ground. That’s a start. I’ll build from there.
And lest my fellow libertarians ever feel as if the whole apparatus of the state is on the left’s side, do keep in mind the FBI won’t even tell the public who it was who was reportedly plotting to kill Occupy leaders a while back. There does come a point when the regime cares less about the radicals’ rightward or leftward desires than about making sure radicalism in general is contained, whether by means internal or external to the radical movements, and the boat is thus unrocked.
7. If you don’t believe the elite can dispense with all its apparent internal divisions when there is money and power at stake, how exactly do you explain media tycoon Chris Ruddy, originally famous for spreading those 90s conspiracy theories about Vince Foster being murdered, donating $1 million to Vince Foster’s ex-bosses the Clintons via their increasingly-infamous foundation? Well, maybe he’s hoping if he pays them enough, they won’t kill him.
8. Closer to home and on a less grandiose scale, libertarian-leaning NYC Councilman Dan Halloran got sentenced to ten years for what amounts to soliciting bribes. You may recall that in addition to being a rare Republican councilman here, he’s also a Norse-style neopagan – and sadly, it now appears he may be in the joint by the time Thor is on the big screen again.
A left-leaning, hippie-style neopagan in Austin, TX warned me the neopagan community was worried Halloran would embarrass them eventually. I know the feeling. Here’s hoping he gets out one day soon, though, and still achieves his dream of becoming a scuba instructor.
9. The new fashion in radicalism seems to be p.c. etiquette-enforcement on steroids, something I think will ultimately just prove annoying to the right, largely useless to the left, and baffling to the general population.
We now live in a society so left-wing and brain-addled by that specific metric that (as Justin Stoddard notes) people do things like produce videos condemning an evil man for taking up two subway seats (and thus abusing his supposed privilege) even while there is visibly a woman nearby in the same video taking up three subway seats and blocking the aisle. Can’t let the evidence of your own eyes get in the way of a liberal narrative, after all. Smash that patriarchy.
Meanwhile, if you use your video skills to expose real corruption, as journalist James O’Keefe has repeatedly done, your reward for your efforts is getting confronted by leftists like this.
10. There would seem to be ample opportunity for libertarians to weigh in about all the ways in which America is now insane, but libertarians aren’t very adept at connecting with public sentiment or riding the zeitgeist, mostly just at sounding half-assed and sold-out.
If you’re like me, you’d largely forgotten the Libertarian Party (a mere subset of the larger movement) exists since the rise of Rand Paul and other libertarians to prominence within the Republican Party, but some idiot at the Libertarian Party’s official Facebook page made a grab for relevance with a post calling for “No more Bushes, Pauls, or Clintons,” as though Rand’s dad Ron Paul spent his days in Congress being just another money-grubbing dynastic statist.
If I was uncertain before, now I know I can guiltlessly ignore the LP, and I don’t expect to mention them again. The search for better ways continues.
11. There are times when it seems as if the only way to predict what government will do is to assume that it is neither right nor left, neither pro-radical nor pro-establishment but simply consistently wrong and dangerous. How else does one explain things like the Department of Justice hiring a man who said Ayaan Hirsi Ali deserves to die? Whose side is the government on, exactly, if one still insists on asking questions like that?
One has to suspect chaos and violence, of any stripe, just sound like a good idea to the government.
12. And yet even the establishment gets something right once in a while, usually on the rare occasions it engages in self-criticism. With that in mind, by the week after next, I’ll take a look at a great book by the chief national correspondent of the New York Times, I kid you not: Mark Leibovich’s DC-dissecting, nausea- and laughter-inducing overview This Town.