Bulletin N° 344
Subject: ON "HUMAN NATURE" AND THE SOCIAL CONTEXT.
1 March 2008
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
The accumulation, the concentration, and the distribution of wealth in the United States of America are fundamental dynamics which contribute to the making of complex social realities, what we call Context and which in turn determines human behavior. Ideology, by definition, is one process of abstracting reality by creating certain levels of generality and excluding other levels, which might be considered inconvenient to the pursuit of goals adopted by specific ideological thinking.
Bourgeois ideology, for example, usually downplays or ignores entirely the complexity of social class relationships and the forces of production in contemporary capitalist society which surround and govern specific events and people. Rather, this thinking limits itself to a restricted number of levels of generality : at one level we can see the bourgeois media often focus on the uniqueness of events or of persons; at another level, we are often brought to focus on universal characteristics that are shared by all members of our species. Thus, writes NYU Professor Bertell Ollman, by excluding other levels of generality, bourgeois ideology repeatedly discovers that "people are either all different (at one level) or all the same (at another level)."
But thinking at additional levels of generality can bring forth abstractions that evoke other items of information, which have hitherto remained unnoticed.
In Information Theory these discoveries, which become apparent only after abstractions are made at different levels of generality, are called simply INFORMATION, which is technically defined as "a difference which makes a difference" (all other differences being defined as NOISE). Thus, for example, I may see another person as being uniquely "Z," the youngest daughter of X and Y, or this same person may be perceived as being a member of a class of people, say the class of American working women, "WW", or she may be perceived as representing our species, "H" (as a member of humankind living in a specific biosphere). The level of generality we evoke in our thinking process determines what is Noise and what is Information.
Bertell Ollman, in his very helpful book, Dance of the Dialectic: Steps in Marx's Method (Chicago, 2003), describes five levels of generality, some of which bourgeois ideology usually ignores, in order to gain a more powerful influence over our thinking.
. . . [F]or Marx, whose abstractions of extension usually include a significant number of social relations,
choosing the levels of generality of capitalism (level 3), modern capitalism (level 2), and class society
(level 4) was both easy and obvious, just as privileging these levels led to abstractions of extension that
enable him to take in at one sweep most of the connections that attention to these levels brings into
focus. (Ollman, p.99)
The carefully cultivated tunnel vision of western men and women is legendary. Professor emeritus of Communication at Simon Fraser University, Anthony Wilden, calls this manner of thinking "left-brain dominance" or "digital (numeric) thinking." This thought process is mostly unaware of what it excludes from its "field of vision," as it has no interest in looking for it.
In the 6 items below we invite readers to experience an information flow in its rich complexity, hopefully enabling us to break out of the ideological boundaries and received ideas that confine us, so that we are better able to understand reality and to build successful strategies and tactics necessary to disarm those forces which would reduce us to the status of "Kamikaze tacticians" (the term is Professor Wilden's) in a war to defend the privileges of the few against the well-being of the many.
Item A. offers Internet access to the award-winning film, "The Trials of Henry Kissinger," an hour-and-a-half documentary film offering a detailed examination of the life of a "war criminal."
Item B. is an article by U.S. presidential candidate Ralph Nader on the self-censorship of the other U.S. presidential candidates.
In item C. Seth Farber discusses what he believes to be disinformation tactics in the U.S. electoral campaign by Lyndon LaRouche followers.
Item D. is an article by Michael Parenti on "Republican hypocrisy."
Item E. is the New York Times book review by Harvard Professor Samantha Power criticizing Noam Chomsky's book, Hegemony or Survival.
Item F. is a short reply to Professor Power by Noam Chomsky.
In closing, we offer CEIMSA readers another view of "the complexities of social context," with a look at the authoritative economic journal, "Market Oracle," at http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/, which gives new meaning to the famous phrase from Charles Dickens: "It was the worst of times. It was the best of times". . . .
And finally, we recommend the Academy Award winning film, Taxi To The Dark Side, for still another view of "human nature".
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies
Director of Research
Université Stendhal Grenoble 3
from Information Clearing House :
Date: 22 February 2008
Subject: War Crimes are War Crimes.
A fascinating, bombshell documentary that should shame Americans, regardless of whether or not ultimate blame finally lies with Kissinger. Should be required viewing for civics classes and would-be public servants alike.
"The Trials of Henry Kissinger"
The Making Of A War Criminal
from Ralph Nader :
Subject: News and Analysis
Date: 28 February
Yesterday, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Ralph Nader announced that Matt Gonzalez, the former President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, will be his VP running mate. Check out the video of the press conference.
This morning, Ralph will appear on C-Span's Washington Journal from 8:00 to 8:30 EST.
Matt and Ralph will be interviewed on KQED radio from 12 noon to 1 p.m. EST.
And Ralph will appear Monday on the Lou Dobbs Radio Show from 3:10 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. EST
Last night, Ralph and Matt appeared before a young and energetic crowd at George Washington University. C-Span taped that event and it will air on C-Span sometime soon.
It's been a hectic week.
And people are paying attention.
What the inside the beltway partisans just don't understand is that we are on the opposite side of the fence from the corporate Republicans and Democrats.
And we are determined to build a nationwide movement to challenge their corporate policies.
To do this effectively, we first need to get Nader/Gonzalez on the ballot all across the country.
So, to give a big collective thank you to Matt Gonzalez for standing up to the political bigots and joining our campaign . . . .
from Seth Farber :
22 February 2008
Subject: The Shadow of Lyndon LaRouche?
by Michael Parenti
Republican party politicos espouse an unflagging devotion to old-fashioned morality and family values, inveighing heavily against gay marriage, abortion, homosexuality, adultery, feminism, crime, stem-cell research, secularism, and liberalismall of which they tend to lump together as different facets of the same evil decadence.
GOP leaders dilate on the need to “put God back into public life.” Many of them even claim to be directly guided by their deity’s mandate when legislating and governing. Their private deeds, however, frequently betray their words. Consider this incomplete sampling of politically prominent “social conservatives” who preach the conventional virtues to their constituents while practicing something else in their off-hours.
Recently-deceased Representative Henry Hyde, Illinois Republican, played a key role in the impeachment campaign waged against the adulterous president Bill Clinton. The several obituaries I read about Hyde failed to mention that he himself had carried on a six-year liaison with a young married mother of three children. The woman's former husband blamed Hyde for the divorce that followed from the affair, and for the emotional damage inflicted on his children. Hyde dismissed the affair as “a youthful indiscretion”---it having ended when he was just a callow youngster of 46 or so. In 1992, Hyde divorced his wife of 45 years. Soon after that, she died and he quickly remarried.
Representative Bob Livingston, Louisiana Republican, married with four children, resigned as House speaker-elect after his marital infidelities made the headlines in 1998.
Speaker of the House, Republican Newt Gingrich, led the charge against the philandering Clinton while himself carrying on an affair with a congressional aide. Gingrich hastened a divorce action against his (second) wife while she was hospitalized with cancer in order that he might marry the aide. At one point Gingrich’s ailing ex-wife and children had to get material assistance from their local church, having received insufficient sums from Gingrich himself. In 2007, he claimed to have come to grips with his “personal failures,” having sought God’s forgiveness.
Republican Baptist minister Bill Randall, who had been aggressively touted by the Republican party as a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Florida, admitted that he had fathered an illegitimate child in the 1980s. After confirming the child's existence, he changed his story the next day during a press interview, suddenly insisting that his teenage son was the father. Sensing that no one would swallow that story, Randall again reversed course and admitted to paternity. He did everybody a favor by dropping out of the 1998 congressional race.
Bob Barr was a Georgia GOP congressman until 2003, after which he became a conservative activist. While still married to his first wife, he was romancing the woman who would become his second wife. Barr was on record as a staunch right-to-lifer, but this did not prevent him from driving wife #2 to a clinic and paying the costs for her abortion. He soon took on a new mistress who became wife #3 shortly after he dumped #2. While in Congress, Barr authored the “Defense of Marriage Act,” probably with good reason.
Three leading candidates for the Republican 2008 presidential nomination, Rudolph Giuliani, John McCain, and Newt Gingrich, had five divorces between them, all involving adultery. On the Democratic side, the three front runners, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama, had neither divorces nor infidelities. Yet it was the Republicans who laid claim to being keepers of traditional family values, while damning the liberals for their amorality and profligacy.
In 2007, Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican and family-values man, made the news for having patronized a prostitution ring in Washington, D.C. for several years, and earlier having used the services of a New Orleans brothel over a five-month period. Vitter refused to resign, assuring everyone that “I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife.”
Along with the hypocritical philanderers, there are the subterranean gay blades. In 2007, Bob Allen, Florida Republican state legislator, married with one child, was arrested in a public restroom after offering to perform oral sex on an undercover officer for $20.
Another restroom adventurer was Senator Larry Craig, Republican of Idaho, an outspoken opponent of gays in the military and gay marriage. Craig was famously arrested for directing sexual advances toward an undercover police officer in a men’s toilet at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The police had been monitoring the restroom because of complaints about sexual activities there. Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. A number of other men, including one from Craig’s college days, identified the senator as having engaged in sexual activity with them or having made overtures with that intent, including an encounter in the restrooms at Union Station in Washington, D.C.
A few weeks later another GOP politico who consistently voted against gay rights, Washington State representative Richard Curtis, was caught with his panties down. Dressed in women's lingerie he met a man in a local erotic video store, and went with him to a downtown hotel for a night of oral and anal copulation. Once the story broke, Curtis resigned from office. By now, word on the Internet was that GOP stood for “Gay Old Party” or “Greedy Old Perverts,” and that Richard Curtis had left public life “so he could spend more time masturbating with his family.”
There are the three classic cases of ultraconservative anti-gay gays who go back half a century: FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, McCarthyite investigator and Washington lobbyist Roy Cohn, and Cardinal Francis Spellman of the New York Roman Catholic archdiocese. All three of these prominent right-wingers and keepers of American homophobic vigilance were themselves secretly full-blown homosexuals who sometimes partied together in the company of choice male escorts---back in the days when the press dared not touch such stories.
In the above cases, what is deplorable is not only the obviously hypocritical inconsistency between professed beliefs and private behavior, but the professed beliefs themselves; beliefs that advocate discrimination against gays, brand prostitutes as criminals, equate abortion with murder, denounce divorce as a mortal threat to family and nation, and treat sex between unmarried consenting adults (even of the heterosexual variety) as sinful fornication.
Consequently, a noticeable number of conservative politicos face the daunting task of trying to submerge their lascivious desires in order to live up to their puritanical mouthings, trapped as they are in an unyielding cycle of surreptitious sin and furious public denunciations of those same sins.
In recent years, Republican ranks appeared to be riddled not only with sexual hypocrites but, far worse, sexual predators. There was the former Republican mayor of Waterbury, Connecticut, Philip Giordano who is now serving a 37-year sentence for sexual abuse in 2001 of two girls, ages 8 and 10.
Jim West, conservative Republican mayor of Spokane, Washington, backed a measure to prohibit gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools on the presumption that they might get too close to their pupils. Meanwhile he was using his city hall computer to troll for sex with high school boys. Two men accused West of molesting them when they were Boy Scouts and he was a troop leader. He was ousted in a recall election in 2005.
A GOP congressman from Florida, Mark Foley, was caught sending sexually explicit emails to teenaged boys who had served as congressional pages. He reportedly invited one page to engage in oral sex with him, an offer the boy refused.[i] Foley chaired the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, which introduced stricter legislation for tracking sexual predators. Republican congressional leaders had received complaints about him from congressional pages---which they repeatedly failed to act upon. Foley resigned from Congress in 2006.
At that time, allegations of improper interactions with congressional pages were leveled at another Republican Congressman, Jim Kolbe of Arizona, who decided not to run for reelection.
In 2007, a Florida federal prosecutor working for the Bush administration, operating in “one of the most conservative United States attorney’s offices in the country,” dedicated to a hardline law-and-order approach, was charged with traveling across state lines to have sex with a five-year-old girl. J. D. Roy Atchison, had been chatting online with an undercover officer who posed as a mother offering to let men have sex with her young daughter. When arrested en route to his would-be rendezvous with a five-year-old, Atchison was carrying a doll and petroleum jelly. While detained in a federal prison in Michigan, he committed suicide.
In such instances, the most reprehensible thing is neither the hypocrisy nor the professed beliefs, but the behavior itself, involving the molestation and sexual assault of children and unwilling adolescents. The perpetrators are not merely hypocrites, they are criminals. In these cases, they really are sinners.
So the holy hypocritesphilanderers, homophobic gays, and pedophiles---crow their devotion to traditional morality while pursuing material and emotional plunder more rapaciously than any of us ordinary infidels and libertines. Looking at the above cases, and the many others that one could add if space and patience allowed, we can conclude that professions of religiosity are no guarantee of moral behavior. If anything, the hypocrites use religion as a bludgeon to be brandished against liberal opponents in order that they themselves might better pursue their aggrandizing goals and desires---no matter how selfish and destructive these may be. If this be morality, who needs degeneracy?
Michael Parenti’s recent publications include: Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader (City Lights, 2007); Democracy for the Few, 8th ed. (Wadsworth, 2007); The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories, 2006). For further information, visit his website: www.michaelparenti.org.
[i] Washington Post, 5-10 October 2006; ABC News, 5 October 2006.
form Samantha Power :
Date: 5 January 2004
Subject: Review of "Hegemony or Survival".
The New York Times
Since Sept. 11, 2001, Americans have been heard to exclaim -- with varying degrees of shame, bewilderment and indignation -- ''Why do they hate us?'' The response tends to fall between two extremes. Bush administration officials say, in essence, they hate us for who we are. As President Bush has put it, ''They hate progress, and freedom, and choice, and culture, and music, and laughter, and women, and Christians, and Jews and all Muslims who reject their distorted doctrines.'' At the opposite end stands the M.I.T. professor Noam Chomsky. ''Why do they hate us?'' Chomsky asks in ''Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance.'' ''Because of you and your associates, Mr. Bush, and what you have done.''
Revered and reviled, Noam Chomsky is a global phenomenon. Indeed, if book sales are any standard to go by, he may be the most widely read American voice on foreign policy on the planet today. With the United States increasingly suspect around the world -- a recent Gallup poll found that 55 percent of citizens in Britain thought the United States ''posed a threat to peace,'' while a June BBC survey found that 60 percent of Indonesians, 71 percent of Jordanians and even 25 percent of Canadians viewed the United States as a greater threat than Al Qaeda -- the appetite for Chomsky's polemics is only increasing. It is but one testament to America's diminished standing that his most recent book, ''9-11,'' a slight collection of interviews (largely conducted via e-mail), was published in 26 countries and translated into 23 languages, finding its way onto best-seller lists in the United States, Canada, Germany, India, Italy, Japan and New Zealand. And at home, as mainstream dissent dissipated in the wake of 9/11, a new generation of disgruntled critics has turned to Chomsky for guidance.
''Hegemony or Survival'' is a raging and often meandering assault on United States foreign policy and the elites who shape it. Drawing upon case after historical case of violent meddling (Iran, Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Kosovo, etc.), Chomsky argues that the Bush administration's war on terrorism builds upon a long tradition of foreign interventions carried out in the name of ''liberation'' or ''counterterror,'' of special interests run amok and of disdain for international institutions that dare to challenge American hegemony. ''It is only natural,'' he writes, ''that state policy should seek to construct a world system open to U.S. economic penetration and political control, tolerating no rivals or threats.''
Chomsky finds the Bush administration new in only two ways: the crassness of its motives is far more transparent, and it is now playing for far higher stakes. ''Over the years, tactics have been refined and modified,'' Chomsky writes, ''progressively ratcheting up the means of violence and driving our endangered species closer to the edge of catastrophe.'' Unless American statesmen stop ranking hegemony above survival, he says, our 100,000-year-old experiment in human life may well be doomed.
For Chomsky, the world is divided into oppressor and oppressed. America, the prime oppressor, can do no right, while the sins of those categorized as oppressed receive scant mention. Because he deems American foreign policy inherently violent and expansionist, he is unconcerned with the motives behind particular policies, or the ethics of particular individuals in government. And since he considers the United States the leading terrorist state, little distinguishes American air strikes in Serbia undertaken at night with high-precision weaponry from World Trade Center attacks timed to maximize the number of office workers who have just sat down with their morning coffee.
It is inconceivable, in Chomsky's view, that American power could be harnessed for good. Thus, the billions of dollars in foreign aid earmarked each year for disaster relief, schools, famine prevention, AIDS treatment, etc. -- and the interventions in Kosovo and East Timor -- have to be explained away. The Kosovo and Timor operations' prime achievement, he writes, was to establish the norm of resort to force without Security Council authorization. On this both the Kosovars and the Timorese, whose welfare Chomsky has heroically championed over the years, would strongly disagree.
from Noam Chomsky :
Date : 13 August 2007
Subject : Reply to Samantha Power's Book Review.
Noam Chomsky's ZBlog
ZNet Sustainer: Noam, Would you be willing to comment on Samantha Power's review essay in the 29 July NYT Book Review? The Times presents her as the very model of the liberal academic -- a columnist for Time, adviser to Democratic presidential candidates, etc. The article is a good deal more than a book review.
Noam Chomsky: It was an interesting article, and her work, and its popularity, gives some insight into the reigning intellectual culture.
There are many interesting aspects to the article. One is that "terrorism" is implicitly defined as what THEY do to US, excluding what WE do to THEM. But that's so deeply engrained in the state religion that it's hardly worth mentioning.
A little more interesting is Power's tacit endorsement of the Bush doctrine that states that harbor terrorists are no different from terrorist states, and should be treated accordingly: bombed and invaded, and subjected to regime change. There is, of course, not the slightest doubt that the US harbors terrorists, even under the narrowest interpretation of that term: e.g., by the judgment of the Justice Department and the FBI, which accused Cuban terrorist Orlando Bosch of dozens of terrorist acts and urged that he be deported as a threat to US security. He was pardoned by Bush I, and lives happily in Florida, where he has now been joined by his associate Luis Posada, thanks to Bush II's lack of concern about harboring terrorists. There are plenty of others, even putting aside those who have offices in Washington. Like John Negroponte, surely one of the leading terrorists of the late 20th century, not very controversially, so naturally appointed to the position of counter-terrorism Czar by Bush II, with no particular notice.
Even keeping to the completely uncontroversial cases, like Bosch, it follows that Power and the NY Times are calling for the bombing of Washington. But -- oddly -- the Justice Department is not about to indict them, though people are rotting in Guantanamo on far lesser charges. What is interesting and enlightening is that no matter how many times trivialities like this are pointed out -- and it's been many times -- it is entirely incomprehensible within the intellectual culture. That reveals a very impressive level of subordination to authority and indoctrination, well beyond what one would expect in totalitarian states.
A little more subtle, perhaps, is her observation that "if you continue to believe (as I do) that there is a moral difference between setting out to destroy as many civilians as possible and killing civilians unintentionally and reluctantly in pursuit of a military objective, you will indeed find "On Suicide Bombing" disturbing, if not always in the way he intends." Let's accept her judgment and proceed.
Evidently, a crucial case is omitted, which is far more depraved than massacring civilians intentionally. Namely, knowing that you are massacring them but not doing so intentionally because you don't regard them as worthy of concern. That is, you don't even care enough about them to intend to kill them. Thus when I walk down the street, if I stop to think about it I know I'll probably kill lots of ants, but I don't intend to kill them, because in my mind they do not even rise to the level where it matters. There are many such examples. To take one of the very minor ones, when Clinton bombed the al-Shifa pharmaceutical facility in Sudan, he and the other perpetrators surely knew that the bombing would kill civilians (tens of thousands, apparently). But Clinton and associates did not intend to kill them, because by the standards of Western liberal humanitarian racism, they are no more significant than ants. Same in the case of tens of millions of others.
I've written about this repeatedly, for example, in 9/11. And I've been intrigued to see how reviewers and commentators (Sam Harris, to pick one egregious example) simply cannot even see the comments, let alone comprehend them. Since it's all pretty obvious, it reveals, again, the remarkable successes of indoctrination under freedom, and the moral depravity and corruption of the dominant intellectual culture.
It should be unnecessary to comment on how Western humanists would react if Iranian-backed terrorists destroyed half the pharmaceutical supplies in Israel, or the US, or any other place inhabited by human beings. And it is only fair to add that Sudanese too sometimes do rise to the level of human beings. For example in Darfur, where their murder can be attributed to Arabs, the official enemy (apart, that is, from "good Arabs," like the tyrants who rule Saudi Arabia, "moderates" as Rice and others explain).
There's a lot more like this. It's of some interest that Power is regarded -- and apparently regards herself -- as a harsh critic of US foreign policy. The reason is that she excoriates Washington for not paying enough attention to the crimes of others. It's informative to look through her best-seller Problem from Hell to see what is said about US crimes. There are a few scant mentions: e.g., that the US looked away from the genocidal Indonesian aggression in East Timor. In fact, as has long been indisputable, the US looked right there and acted decisively to expedite the slaughters, and continued to do so for 25 years, even after the Indonesian army had virtually destroyed what remained of the country, when Clinton, under great international and domestic pressure, finally told the Indonesian generals that the game was over and they instantly withdrew -- revealing, as if we needed the evidence, that the immense slaughter could have been easily terminated at any point, if anyone cared. The implications cannot be perceived.
But in general US participation in horrendous crimes is simply ignored in Problem from Hell. Few seem to able to perceive that a similar book, excoriating Stalin for not paying enough attention to US crimes, would very likely have been very highly praised in the old Soviet Union. What better service could one provide to the cause of massacre, torture, and destruction -- by the Holy State and its clients, of course, whose only fault is that they do not attend sufficiently to the crimes of others.
I don't think, incidentally, that it would be fair to criticize Power for her extraordinary services to state violence and terror. I am sure she is a decent and honorable person, and sincerely believes that she really is condemning the US leadership and political culture. From a desk at the Carr Center for Human Rights at the Kennedy School at Harvard, that's doubtless how it looks. Insufficient attention has been paid to Orwell's observations on how in free England, unpopular ideas can be suppressed without the use of force. One factor, he proposed, is a good education. When you have been through the best schools, finally Oxford and Cambridge, you simply have instilled into you the understanding that there are certain things "it wouldn't do to say" -- and we may add, even to think.
His insight is quite real, and important. These cases are a good illustration, hardly unique.