Sunday, August 31, 2003
(12:35 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
This post is basically a repeat from the Slacktivist, Fred Clark. It is a very bad poem by Judge Roy Moore, a man who is employed by the United States government to interpret and apply the laws of our nation in a fair and impartial manner. The only problem with this is that the man is clearly an idiot. I'll admit that I don't read a lot of poetry anymore, just mainly the poems in The New Yorker, but I know crap when I read it, and this is crap:
But with man as his own master we fail to count the cost,
Our precious freedoms vanish and our liberty is lost.
Children are told they can't pray and they teach them evolution.
When will they learn the fear of God is the only true solution.
Our schools have become the battleground while all across the land,
Christians shrug their shoulders afraid to take a stand.
And from the grave their voices cry the victory has been won
Just glorify the Father as did His only Son.
When your work on earth is done ,and you've traveled where we've trod,
You'll leave the land we left to you, One Nation Under God!
This is only the end of the poem. Here's the beginning:
One nation under God was their cry and declaration,
Upon the law of Nature's God they built a mighty Nation.
For unlike mankind before them who had walked this earthen sod,
These men would never question the Sovereignty of God.
It's obvious that he's referring to the Founders, but apparently he lacks any and all historical knowledge of their ideas and even their words. Ever since the Pledge of Allegiance debacle, everyone knows that the "one nation under God" thing was only added to the pledge in the 1950s, and that the pledge itself was only written in the 20th century. This clumsy attempt to make it a founding document, parallel with the Declaration of Independence, is transparently ideological. He probably also forgets that Jefferson, one of the most foundational of all the Founders, created his own edition of the Bible, excluding the miracles and preserving the sublime moral teachings. Apparently the idea of a liberal education, based on scientific knowledge rather than divine revelation, was very important to at least one Founder -- and the fact that he was selected to write the freaking Declaration of Independence shows that his ideas were probably not way out on the fringe. You can claim that education should be based on divine revelation, but to attribute that view to "the Founders" is just dishonest.
The sovereignty of God was also not a huge priority for the Founders, and one might argue that the sovereignty of God, as normally conceived, does not provide much room for democracy or pluralism. Clearly the good Judge wishes everyone would be the same kind of Christian he is, but if he would just casually browse through the Federalist Papers, he might notice that our form of government was created specifically so that the rights of minority groups would be protected. It was also founded on the idea that a vague kind of humanism was the best kind of "common ground" that wouldn't constitute the self-assertion of one group over all the others. In that day, humanism made token gestures toward some generic "God," but it wasn't necessarily talking about the God of Jesus Christ. It may be the case that generic humanism is just one more biased position oppressing all others, but to claim that the humanist "bias" in our education system somehow subverts the intent of "the Founders" is just dishonest.
Too many conservative Christian Americans are stuck on the past. Sometimes it makes sense to be stuck on the past, because sometimes the past was better than now and we need to find a way to get back. In this case, however, the past for which conservative Christians pine away never existed in the first place. Our nation was founded on post-Christian principles. One can claim that the secular, humanist principles of the American revolution are generally Christian in genealogy, but they make no direct claim to a Christian character and they never appeal to the specifically Christian revelation of God the Father in Jesus Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit.
America is not and never has been a Christian nation. Maybe that's a bad thing, and maybe that needs to change--I doubt it, but maybe that is the case--but those who advocate for such a change do not help their case when they peddle this transparent bullshit of America being a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. A nation founded on Christian principles would have had some provision for guaranteed support of the poor written into its constitution, don't you think? It would have had some acknowledgment of Christianity's privileged character in its constitution, don't you think? It would have quoted scripture in its founding documents, don't you think? It would have invoked the blessing of God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in its founding documents, don't you think? I mean, come on! Christianity was and is tolerated by the government of the United States. Christian groups are given no more privileges than other religious groups as far as freedom to disseminate their message and freedom from taxation (the power to tax is the power to destroy, if you'll recall, and the government specifically disclaimed the power to destroy religion).
The United States always has been a secular humanist nation! GET OVER IT! I am really serious: I am sick of hearing about this. I'm sick of Christians disseminating lies in a transparent, and ultimately pathetic, grab for power. It seems like people who belong to a religion founded by an apocalyptic preacher who taught of the coming Kingdom of God would be a little more future-oriented and would not want to waste all their meager intellectual energies constructing some fantasy land, pretending that their fantasy land is actually part of real-live American history, and then acting like we're duty-bound to "return" to that past, or else God's going to be really pissed. What does that have to do with God becoming a man and dying on the cross? What does your desire to get your hands on power and impose your lifestyle choices on everyone in this great land (admirable though it may be on moral grounds) have to do with God becoming a man and dying on the cross? If we're going to spend our time remembering the past, how about we remember the past history of Jesus of Nazareth and of the apostles he left behind, rather than trying to shoe-horn a group of humanist political theorists and activists into the Bible?
Oh, and also, one of the essential elements of poetry is meter, dumbass. Maybe writing "rhymed couplets" where the second line keeps going until you can plausibly insert the necessary rhyming word is acceptable for a second grader, but not for an actual judge, who one hopes has some glimmer of intelligence and of command of his native tongue. And with this, I must confess that I wrote a lot more than Fred Clark did. This is because I think it's valuable to confront idiotic conservative ideas head-on, rather than simply dismissing them, because the dismissive attitude only encourages the characteristic conservative persecution complex.
Saturday, August 30, 2003
(3:11 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Online polls: Get Over It
I received a strongly-worded e-mail just now urging me to support "my side" on the latest CNN online poll about gay marriage. Here is an exerpt from the e-mail:
Subject: CNN Poll on marriage - we're losing 2-1 CNN is trying to prove the President wrong on his anti-gay-marriage stand, and we are losing. Forward it on to your friends. This poll will be used by CNN to show how "out of date" the President is.
First off, let's learn some basic punctuation skills. Second, let's stop with the idea that CNN is this evil liberal organization bent on destroying the president. (Poor writing and a persecution complex seem to be the hallmarks of the conservative movement.) And finally, who cares? The results of online polls indicate which group was best able to motivate its base to waste their time answering an online poll that is completely unscientific, completely non-reflective of the actual opinion of "the American public" at large, and completely unrelated to real life. I don't think that Atrios' constant attempts to "Torture Wolf Blitzer" are much better, except that he seems to realize how pointless such polls are -- whereas the conservative opinion poll activists seem to think that God will smite our nation if CNN's latest online poll swings a certain way.
This reminds me of back when Time magazine was running its poll for person of the millenium or something, and I got tons of forwards telling me to vote for Jesus. Yeah, that's exactly what Christians need: to look like bigger idiots. That was sent out to Olivet people, so it was reasonable to assume the recipients would take a pro-Jesus stance. This e-mail, however, was sent out to all students at CTS, which is a strongly pro-gay institution. It would appear that this e-mailer, who shall remain nameless, was ultimately hurting her own cause. I would think that was really ironic and cool and all that -- if online polls mattered at all.
(11:07 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Talking Koala Bears
I distinctly remember that when I was a child, there was a show on Nickelodeon about talking koala bears. They came from another dimension, which could only be reached by doing some occult kind of activity in the Australian desert. There were children involved, and those children's father was missing, but it turned out that he had been in the other dimension or something. I got the feeling that I wasn't watching the show in chronological order, because some of the episodes would be just that, episodes with no particular continuity between them, just fun-filled koala-based romps. Some of them, however, appeared to be part of some overarching plot of almost Marvel Comic-esque ambition.
I have found some resources for The Adventures of the Little Koala, but that doesn't seem to be the right show. Am I hallucinating the part about the kids and their dad? Am I conflating the adventures of Roo-Bear and his pals with some other, weirder show? This episode guide does not seem to fit my description at all, but "The Adventures of the Little Koala" seems to have run during the exact right years (1987-1993). Here is an illustration, which is very familiar to me:
There is apparently a petition to put "Adventures of the Little Koala" back on the air, which I would gladly sign if any of the damn links worked on the page.
In other news, what about "David the Gnome"? I mean, what the hell? That was another show that seemed to have a lot of shallow, fun-filled episodes (I remember one in particular where David's boots were too worn out and there was some worry that he'd fall off a tree because of it), and then there were these episodes where David was apparently fighting some transcendent, Sauron-like evil. I guess these shows from Nickelodeon in the 1980's are not a big deal on the Internet, because here's what I get for a description:
This show is about the gnomes that live in a forest. They are friends with the animals and nature. Wherever they are in the forest, they are in danger of the mean trolls who are always trying to capture them.
Here is a picture of the heroes:
And the villains:
To change the topic slightly, back in my computer heyday, when I was a master of the Commodore 64, I often enjoyed playing a game entitled "Ducks Ahoy." The search results for that title on Google are dominated by stories about this incident where some rubber duckies en route from China to Seattle were left out on the open sea. The main point, however, is that no one ever believed me when I described the game to them, even though I remember it vividly. Thus, I provide this link to a ROM of the original Commodore 64 game, as well as this link to an emulator that will play it. I think I have just discovered how I'm going to spend my last weekend before being engulfed in the rigorous academic demands of Chicago Theological Seminary's Master of Arts in Religion program. And probably every weekend after I am engulfed.
UPDATE: This is a page dedicated to all the Dangermouse merchandise available, including the all-important DVDs and videos of all the various episodes. I add this to the Weblog mainly for my own benefit, so that I can find the page and buy the videos when I have more money (i.e., any).
(12:35 AM) | Robb Schuneman:
I have reached a new low.
While sitting in line for my McDonald's on the way home from work tonight, I noticed a sign I have seen many times before. It was advertising the new Hi-C and Dr. Pepper flavored McFlurries at McDonalds. Every other time since this promotion first started in June I have turned away in disgust. Tonight however, the topic of what I should write here on this weblog was prevalent on my mind.
And so, in my enormous stupidity, I thought, "Well, if it sucks I can write a post about how horribly debaucherous it wasI think by now my ample foreshadowing has let you know how absolutely great this fun experiment was.
See, apparently this is a specific-to-Oklahoma promotion, or so the Dr. Pepper website says. (Yeah boy-o, I did some research.) Apparently Oklahoma is far and away the #1 Dr. Pepper drinking state in the nation, by some 4 trillion units sold or something. In typical Oklahoma fashion, we can't handle the full on actuality - Cherry Coke - thus we crave and rave for the watered down mutation - Dr. Pepper.
Anyways, because "we love our Dr. Pepper so much," we get this little special kick-back from McDonalds. Unfortunately it is aimed a little low.
The trouble with the Dr. Pepper McFlurry comes in deuces. First off, they get bad marks in presentation. The "Dr. Pepper flavored" peanuts look exactly like something that Grimace dropped out of his rear in the excitement of being chased by the HamBurglar - only, slightly smaller than Grimace would put out. Maybe they were dropped by the Fry Guys. I don't know, but by any count, it doesn't make me say "hmmmm" in that sexy and appealing way.
They also get severely graded down in the concept department. Who in the hifaza thought of this? I mean..did someone seriously sit down one day and go, "You know what'd be great to reward the people of Oklahoma for drinking lots of Dr. Pepper? Lets take some chocolate-covered peanuts and saturate them in "Oklahoma's Favorite Drink" for days on end, and once they are on the brink of decomposition we'll throw them in our delicious vanilla ice cream." Who thinks of that? Who thinks the people of America, or at least Oklahoma will stand for this mockery? Someone got payed massive amounts of money to come up with this crap, and I don't think it's unreasonable to expect them to give me back at least my $1.27 I payed to play the fool for them.
The third and final area where this failed was execution. There's no mention of any chocolate-covered peanuts on any of the signage or various commercials I've seen. They just exhort you to try the "new Dr. Pepper McFlurry." I had no clue exactly what I'd be getting. I had to leave open the possibility that I was just going to get a cup of Vanilla Ice Cream which had been held under the Dr. Pepper fountain drink dispensor for a few seconds. I can't say that would have been any worse.
To sum up, I'd like to thank the elderly Mexican lady who spoke little English at the drive-thru counter. Evidently, she pitied me the suck-bath I had coming, since she gave me an extra box of fries with no charge.
I'd also like McDonalds for the experience, it has been a while since I felt the urge for some serious religious cleansing ceremonies and ablutions. Indirectly, they have put me better in touch with Christian historical tradition. And I think therein lies the unstated goal of every fast food restaraunt.
Thursday, August 28, 2003
(6:56 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
"We need it, though."
A few points:
- Was there a law passed in 1862 that says that every time someone complains about the rain, someone else has to say, "We need it, though"? It doesn't matter who the conversation is taking place between -- the respondant could just as well be a homeless vagrant or the president of the United States, and the result would be identical. (No, it hasn't rained in a while, but I washed my car and figured that therefore it would rain soon enough.)
- I can't find my fingernail clippers, and it pisses me off. People are free to use my stuff, but it really helps me if they put it in a place where I can find it afterward, because obviously if I can't find it, it's useless to me. And what do we call it when someone denies the rightful owner of the use of his property without his permission? That's right: stealing. If you take my stuff and then go beyond the tacit agreement for the length of time to use it (i.e., "Can I use your fingernail clippers?" means essentially "Can I use them long enough to clip my nails?"), then you have stolen my property, you are in a state of mortal sin, and you are in danger of hellfire until you make good the wrong by returning my fingernail clippers and receiving the sacrament of penance.
- Oh, never mind. I found them.
- Still, living in a house with five people makes things difficult to find at times, especially when none of my roommates is as neurotic about neatness as I am. One commonly lost item is the "good" phone book, the one that is centered around Bradley and Bourbonnais rather than the vast wasteland of Watseka. So the last time I found it, I decided to take actions into my own hands -- I put it under the corner of Brett and Tara's bed (a.k.a. their air mattress). Now, whenever I need that phone book, I will know exactly where it is, because no one else is likely to find it there and move it.
- I realize that I just ruined the whole point of this, because when any of my roommates read this, they're likely to remove the phone book from its hiding place in disgust. But what's the point of a joke that no one will ever "get"? And in any case, when I decided to put it there, I explicitly told Kari that I was doing so, and she watched me do it. I suppose the point was the "lesson" -- boy, when they couldn't find the phone book, they'd sure "learn their lesson" about leaving stuff all over the place!
- I am difficult to live with in exactly the opposite way that slobs are difficult to live with. I'll admit that. It's just another case of forcing the idiosyncracies of my upbringing onto everyone around me, even if people like me tend to strike a pose of righteousness.
Okay, I'm going to clip my fingernails now, then I'm going to clip my toenails with the fingernail clipper, because my toenail clippers have been lost for several months now. I'll probably have to take the hit for that one. Maybe I'll put a pair of toenail clippers on my Amazon wish list. I mean, all the other "cool" bloggers beg for money, so the least I could get was some grooming products out of this blogging deal.
(2:18 AM) | Robb Schuneman:
Time Is Running Out
Since I finally got the new Dandy Warhols CD today, not to mention Damien Rice's album "O"..I had to find a new album to be released sometime in the future which I could get extremely too excited about. I succeeded by a few trial and error trips to my favorite artists' respective websites.
I'd like to here and now let everyone not in the UK know that Muse's new album "(Sing of) Absolution" will be coming out sometime in September 22. I heard the new single, saw the video for the new single, and am convinced enough to go ahead and a priori say that this will be the seminal rock album of the year.
If you have not heard of Muse, that's cool. By some fluke chance I happened to "acquire" their cd "Origin Of Symmetry" sometime a year and a half ago, and quickly it rose to the top of Mark Miller's "Play it 12 times a day" list. Thus I became intimately similar with the intricate beauty of this band which is somehow a mixture of the operatic drama rock of Queen, the hard pulsing stuff of Nirvana, and the indie sensibilities of every other band I like.
What's more, the video for this first single combines the greatness of Muse with a setting obviously taken from one of my top 2 movies of all time, "Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb" which is nearly as exciting as the fact that The Dandy Warhols entitled their album after a Kurt Vonnegut Jr. book/TV Series, Welcome To The Monkey House.
Wednesday, August 27, 2003
(9:21 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The blasphemy in my old jangly walk
While I was in New York, Kevin (whom I was visiting) noted that it was strange that I would be so indecisive in social situations while being so opinionated in general. I replied that I don't like to be opinionated in areas where I could change things.
I remember back in my early undergrad days, when I was firmly under the "spell of Plato," so much so that I made a somewhat serious attempt to learn Attic Greek. When Socrates debated about whether one could know the good and not know it, I was seduced. Surely, I thought, it made no sense that someone would know the good and not do it -- surely, his very negligence with regard to the good shows that he does not know it.
At some point, though, knowing stopped being such a weighty thing. Whether it is the scientific method, where every piece of knowledge could conceivably be proven false at any moment (never more clear than today, with our constant "advances" and constant contradictory reports on health issues in particular), or whether it is the more general hollowing out of the Great Ideas in the 20th century, "knowledge" is no longer convincing as a primary motivating factor in relating to reality. We can still understand, to some extent, the driving force of the thirst for knowledge, but there the motivation is provided by desire itself, not by the information or facts that the scientist or the polymathic scholar amasses.
Still, knowledge itself seems to be impotent. I stumble on that plain fact every day of my life, when I know, really know what must be done, know in intimate details the way that I am stunting my own possibilities, the ways I am acting as my own worst enemy, and see quite plainly that no change seems to be forthcoming. I have published self-analysis after self-analysis after self-analysis, and I have written many more for my own benefit. All that self-knowledge, which is more or less genuine or accurate as far as I can tell, has not, in itself, changed anything. I could repeat this pattern in broader, higher-brow ways, but I think the example of my own life is adequate in the context of a blog.
I wonder if the problem is something like the subject-object split, where the subject is supposed to be the locus of the "view from nowhere," divorced from the objects of its "knowledge." The modern self, as the place of consciousness and knowledge, is not in need of any fundamental change, since it is supposed to be the universal deep structure of all human beings. For us to return to the place where Socrates' argument works, we might need to look at the idea of knowledge through the lens of the Christian tradition. I think that is something like what Marx is doing when he says that to know something, you must change it. Knowledge, to become an active and productive concept, might best be understood along the lines of confession and penance, the process by which one's self-knowledge becomes an integral part of self-transformation -- you confess what you are so that you may no longer be that.
Bonus points to anyone other than Mike Schaefer who can give the citation for the quotation that makes up the title of this post.
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
(9:26 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Today's Krugman column is pretty good. I'll do a couple selected quotes:
Immediately after 9/11 there was a great national outpouring of sympathy for New York, and a natural inclination to provide generous help. President Bush quickly promised $20 billion, and everyone expected the federal government to assume the burden of additional security. Yet hard-line Republicans never wanted to help the stricken city. Indeed, according to an article by Michael Tomasky in New York magazine, Senators Phil Gramm and Don Nickles attempted to slash aid to New York within hours of Mr. Bush's promise.
Why this stinginess? A source told Mr. Tomasky that "Gramm just doesn't like spending money. And Nickles . . . he's just anti-New York." That sums it up: even after 9/11, hard-line conservatives opposed any spending, no matter how justified, that wasn't on weapons or farm subsidies, while some people from America's "red states" just hate big-city folk.
In the end, New York seems to have gotten its $20 billion — barely. As for the additional help everyone expected: don't get me started. There wasn't a penny of federal aid for "first responders" — like those firefighters and police officers who cheered Mr. Bush at ground zero — until a few months ago, and much of it went to sparsely populated states. The federal government spends much more protecting the average resident of Wyoming from terrorists than it spends protecting the average resident of New York City.
There's a line from Seinfeld where George mentions God striking him down. Jerry says that he didn't know George believed in God, and George replies, "I do for the bad stuff." I think that might be the same way for George (ha!) W. Bush's approach to "big government." As far as providing assistance for law enforcement and toxic chemical cleanup in a major target for terrorism that also happens to be one of our nation's most vibrant cultural and financial centers, Bush apparently doesn't believe the federal government has much responsibility. When it comes to expanding surveillance, restricting civil liberties, maintaining the farm subsidies that help to starve the Third World to death, and developing an unparalleled array of weapons of mass destruction, he's really into it.
The right wing has always had this backwards approach to government, usually backed up by an almost perverse misuse of such concepts as liberty and justice. Apparently government efforts to achieve justice for the poor, to grant health insurance to all Americans, to provide free public education, or whatever other actual good thing the government might do would encroach on our liberty by making us into a bunch of socialists. But whose liberty would it be encroaching on? Personally, I would love to have my "freedom" to worry about health coverage and to go into massive debt to finance my education taken away -- that's not the kind of freedom that enhances my life in any way. In the same way, apparently progressive tax schemes are "punitive" and "unjust," just because of the percentage of income they take from the very wealthy. But why on earth is a percentage rate the standard of justice? It is a really different thing for Bill Gates to pay 25% of his income in taxes than for the average person and especially the poor person. For the government to require that those who have benefitted vastly disproportionately from America's abundance and its stable economic and political structures give a proportionately larger amount of their income back to society as a whole seems perfectly just to me.
The problem is that conservatives seem to view things only on the level of individuals. When they see a very wealthy person, at least in their rhetoric they see someone who has "worked hard" to "earn" everything he has. They put on blinders the prevent them from seeing the ways in which they had to have certain social structures already in place. For instance, you can "work" as "hard" as you want in Uzbekistan, and you're almost certainly never going to become wealthy. The individualist approach leads to ingratitude among the very wealthy and among those conservative commentators who spend three hours a day advancing the cause of the wealthy. If those who were wealthy were encouraged to look at themselves as part of a larger social whole, then perhaps they might not view taxation as the government (a foreign agent in their mind, rather than their representative) confiscating their hard-earned wealth, but as a chance to contribute to the building of social structures that will expand opportunities for every citizen by making sure that wealth does not become overly concentrated in a few hands.
In America, though, we're so divided up as little individuals (or at best little nuclear families) that we can't really bind together for any project aside from war. That might be why the "war on poverty" didn't really work out -- American's aren't stupid. They realized it wasn't a real war, the kind with guns and stuff. For a society to bind together in order to bring about justice would be almost unprecedented, though -- almost, almost a miracle.
(9:00 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Between going to New York (starting Thursday), taking the day off Monday, and then today (Tuesday) going to orientation at Chicago Theological Seminary, where I will be going to grad school, I have gone almost a solid week without doing anything related to chiropractic. In fact, I have spent much of that time in the big city, an environment comparatively rich with beautiful women and things to do within walking distance. Needless to say, returning to Grumish Chiropractic Offices tomorrow is going to be a difficult thing for me. I think I might have gotten to the point where a break, rather than refreshing me and strengthening my resolve in my data-entry and x-ray-analysis duties, will actually make me less content. If there are any really rich people reading who would like to donate me a couple thousand dollars so that I can quit working outright for the next semester, please e-mail me and I will provide you with the appropriate "snail mail" address for your check.
Thanks in advance.
(12:09 AM) | Robb Schuneman:
Understand, The Dream Is Over
Everything now a days is affixed with "American" as its prefix. We have 400 different movie titles ranging from new indie sensation American Splendor to American Werewolf In Paris, American "something" clothing lines, American "Somewhat" book lines, I even saw an "American Light" night-light. Oh yeah, and perhaps the worst I saw was the "American Bible" during one trip to Mardel "Christian" Supercenter. (And I guess the "Christian" prefix could be a whole nother post..)
But for whatever reason, we today are caught up in this idea of "what is American?" I wholly expect within the next year to see some fragrance company having highly stylized goth models asking that very question in all sorts of alluring voices, promoting their new perfume "American."
I think what is so enamoring about this idea is the many different things we've been told are "American" over the history of our country, none of which has rung true. I think if anything can be defined as The American Dream, it is that very thing, that it is a hoax.
The one thing you can know for certain if you are an American, is that you are being lied to by someone. (Perhaps that's true for the world, but nowhere so certianly as here.) This has so become truth that America thrives on the hoax, a fortiori, hoaxes are the only way we know how to live our lives. And this starts from the beginning.
The Europeans want to find a new route to the East. They want to get to the East because it has spices, and other material goods, yes - but also because there is this sense of enlightenment seen to be coming from the East. We want that quick path to get the same spiritual fulfillment that everyone coming back from the East talks about. So Columbus sets out and lands in the islands. More come after him and push through to the mainland until the point where we are ready for settlement.
Think back to the first week of American Literature and John Smith. He wrote back about the amazing conditions and hasleless trip across to America. The Path to America was smooth, the weather was brilliant, there was a bounty of unending wealth just waiting for any man brave enough to step up and take it. He wrote this form the midst of losing most of his people on the way over and more in the terrible conditions after arrival in a most unlivable place filled with increasingly hostile indigenous people. This was the original American Dream. This was a hoax.
Progressively we push farther and farther west, because we have to get through the continent. We are told of free land, of piles of gold, of everything any man could ever want, if he only has the courage to make his dreams come true. We must get through the continent, afterall, in order to find that enlightenment of the East we originally sought after.
We get there, we get to the end of the continent, we see the ocean that is the Westernmost East, and we come face to face with a lie. What is to be found at this westernmost part of our dream continent? Hollywood. In Day of the Locust, Nathanael West describes Hollywood as "the place where people come to die." He describes it as a place filled with everyone who ever set out in search of this dream only to awaken to find they had been hoodwinked. People follow movie stars and show up in droves at premieres and any other place where one star might be spotted because here is the dream, able to be touched and grasped and for a moment to seem not so far away. But the dream is over and dead.
West goes on to describe the potential for violence contained within those who finally are confronted with the fact that they've been lied to, those with nothing else to lose because they've given it all to the dream. I've never been to Hollywood myself, so I can only speak as one who's read a book. But if indeed Hollywood is the place where people "go to die," the American Dream lies buried there as well.
That's a really pretentious way to end this, but heck, it's the only way I can think of.
Monday, August 25, 2003
(9:59 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
If any hardcore computer people are reading, I have a question for you. I am trying to get the pages from my old web servers, which still linger on in Google search results, to redirect automatically to the appropriate page on this server. The general form I want is that http://kotsko.tripod.com/* and http://home.attbi.com/~akotsko/* will redirect to http://www.adamkotsko.com/*. Ideally, I would be able to clear all files except index.htm (and whatever file pulls off this trick) out of both of those accounts. I have found information about using the file .htaccess, which works only with apache. Chances are, both tripod and attbi use apache, but neither of them allow filenames to start with the dot, at least not in the root directory of my account.
This brings me to the question: Can I do what I envision here without using .htaccess? I know that I could go through and make a dummy file of each and every thing on my web page that redirects to the parallel file on this server, but I'd have to make 90 such files, which doesn't seem like a good use of my time. If anyone can help me with this, please either leave your suggestion in the comments or e-mail me.
(6:29 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
As I mentioned earlier today, while I was in New York, I enjoyed modern art in superabundance. I hit the Big Three art museums: the Metropolital Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The Guggenheim's exhibit "From Picasso to Pollock" was of special interest to someone like me, who has long been "interested" in art but whose knowledge comes mainly from paying extra close attention to Olivet's "Intro to Fine Arts" class. It was practically "The Norton Anthology of Art, 1900-1950," in that it had just a few selections from each of the artists being displayed -- somewhat disappointingly, MoMA had a more impressive Pollock than the single one at the Guggenheim. The exhibit on Kazimir Malevich was less interesting, in that I was more moved by the explanations on the wall than by the art itself. By far the best was the Kandinsky Watercolors. At the MoMA, the best part was the incredibly large exhibit of Max Beckmann, for which I did not even read the huge introductory text. Aside from Picasso himself, he seemed to be the most diverse artist I saw -- I took Thomas Merton's advice and just focussed on a few, which I looked at very, very closely. At the Met, we looked mainly at the older stuff and some Asian things.
If I lived in New York, I'd likely spend too much money on getting a membership at all of them and go all the time (much like I currently subscribe to an excessive three literary magazines, something no human being can keep up with). In keeping with my normal masochism, I genuinely enjoy modern art, and in fact I find that the older stuff, even the early Impressionists, does not move me. Although Kevin made an obvious joke at my expense when I expressed this preference, modern art seems to speak to my own experience more than earlier things (he pointed to a ridiculously abstract painting and said, "So that speaks to your experience?"). I look at many of these paintings and see that that really is how the world is -- at this point, any attempt at direct representation, even the more "subjective" approach of the Impressionists, seems like some kind of bad joke.
What bothered me toward the end of "Picasso to Pollock," though, was that some of the artists seemed to give up on the world altogether, and the point became merely to continue the respected tradition of applying paint to canvas. Zizek talks about this in The Fragile Absolute, the fact that the role of contemporary art seems to be to try desperately to keep the space for "art" open, even after art itself seems to be exhausted and in some sense over. Art becomes nothing but a commentary on art, much in the same way that the study of literature shifted toward the study of theory some time around the 1970s. It's not that students are "reading Derrida instead of Proust, if they read anything at all" (Jameson), but rather that there is no more Proust, or that in some sense Derrida is our Proust, just as Harold Bloom may be our James Joyce. Every artist is painting (or sculpting, or assembling urinals, or photographing) about art, leading to an increasingly academic feel to the art world, just as in the literary world, we have a flood of novels about an aspiring novelist prevailing over his MFA program and finally learning to become a novelist who writes about writing novels.
At the same time, some false sentimentalism of the authentically "popular" art (Thomas Kinkade) is clearly inadequate, because our knowledge of marketting lets us see that the preferences of the masses are not in any sense authentic. Art loses its subversive power -- all the subversiveness is taken into account in advance and is in fact expected, as illustrated in this Onion article. Everyone can continue to play their meaningless little game, the academics effectively neutralized in their little circle jerk, the public pacified by corporate propaganda materials. The figure of the heroic artist writing in protest is rendered absurd in our context; even a figure such as Kafka seems to be impossible, and if one did come about, we would patronizingly diagnose him with some psychological disorder or other. I don't know if there is a solution to this situation or if it needs a situation, if the evacuation of meaning might possibly be considered a good thing, a gift to be given to as many people as possible through the spread of the mass market and democracy.
My analysis is probably hampered by my disproportionate emphasis on literature in a post supposedly about art; I apologize. I also completely left out classical music, but it seems to follow largely the same trajectory. The only possible "solution" seems in my mind to go back to the classical modernism of James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, or Arnold Schoenberg, but even a "return" to Thomas Pynchon, Jackson Pollock, or John Cage seems like wishful thinking.
Yes, I did write this long post in the misguided hope that I would provide something to comment on -- I know I have at least occasional readers who are more knowledgable in the areas that I have just commented on, and I painted such a sweeping picture that I'm bound to have screwed up somewhere. So let's have it.
(5:37 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
I have added comments, at the suggestion of the lovely and talented Melinda. I have tested them on the post below, and it appears to work, at least for me. I'm not sure what's going on with the counter, but we'll get it figured out. Please comment as you wish, though -- I think it will make the site a lot more interesting for everyone.
(11:12 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
I changed my template pretty thoroughly today, uprooting the old Homepage entirely and making this my main "official" page. I have moved the sidebar over to the right hand side of the screen, and now the commentary and political analysis on this site is firmly on the left, both literally and figuratively. If anyone, especially my fellow bloggers, has any questions, complaints, or points of rebuttal regarding this change, please let me know. Also, I am taking suggestions for the piece, either on the blog or among my old essays, which should be considered my "bio." A friendly e-mail would be more than welcome.
Since my fellow bloggers had relatively little material to choose from, I chose for them, but I will gladly put up something else if they so desire.
(9:44 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Back in Black
Let's give a round of applause to Robb, for keeping the site up to date in my absense. The trip to New York was good, providing me with an overdose of great art and theological discussion. The drive gave me ample time to consider what to write here. Thus, I have some bullet points:
- Did you know that in the book of Malachi, God himself actually says, in the first person, "I hate divorce"? Jesus also either absolutely prohibits or severely constrains divorce, depending on which gospel you read. That's more than we find for certain other behaviors it is fashionable to condemn in our day and age. In keeping with good Christian piety, then, I propose that groups of Chrisitan thugs begin looking for known divorced persons, or for those whom they suspect are divorced, and beating the hell out of them, all the while pointing out, "God hates divorce, [divorcer -- we have to come up with a one-syllable epithet for this]! Read a Bible!"
- The reason that this doesn't happen is that the evangelical community is full of people who divorce, unlike people who are homosexual or who get abortions or who do drugs or who watch dirty movies. I know it's obvious, and it's probably "human nature" or whatever cliche we can use to excuse it, but I do remember Jesus mentioning something about taking the plank out of your own eye. At the very least, that would make their moral exhortations more convincing.
- If you're ever thinking of driving to the east coast from around Chicago, don't. You can fly for cheaper, and your spine will thank you.
- On the way back from New York, I would try to search for radio stations with the "seek" button, and it would just complete the circle twice and stop back on the one I started from. I started to wonder what the deal was, since I had gotten plenty of stations on the way out, but then I realized that someone had stolen my antenna. I didn't realize that there was this big black market trade in antennas. In all likelihood, the thief stole it strictly for the hell of it, which is worse in my opinion.
- Sure, you're an REM fan -- we all are. But have you listened to New Adventures in Hi-Fi? Coming just after their "second career" of total radio dominance came to a close, this album is probably their most unsung, but it is by far the best of their later work. I know it's like six years old, but these things are important.
- I think it's time that someone finally paid tribute to all those workaday radio rock bands, the bands that never reach the level of real critical acclaim or total radio saturation, but still manage to put out solid singles that keep the radio from sucking entirely. To the Foo Fighters, I say, thank you. During those dark years from 1997 on, when rock radio started abjectly sucking, you were my beacon of hope. I might have given up on rock entirely if not for your single "Everlong." To Tool, I say, thank you. Your art rock with a twist of sexual perversion and militant atheism brought passion back to the radio. Also, Maynard, when you started up A Perfect Circle, you only helped your standing in my heart. To the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I say, thank you, but could you please write a new song? You've been releasing variations on "Scar Tissue" for a good three years. To Incubus, I say, thank you. Even though I don't like you guys enough to ever consider buying an album, I have to say that I usually don't change the channel when your stuff comes on. Also, the line where you say you're watching a documentary on spontaneous human combustion and say, "Man, I can relate" is pretty funny. And finally, to Limp Bizkit, I say, thanks a lot for spawning the worst genre in the history of music, bastards!
- I wake up at 8:00 central time every day, without fail, no matter what happened the night before or where I am. I was up until 2:30 last night because I couldn't fall right asleep after driving so much, but I woke up at 8:00 today like nothing had happened. This has also taken place in much more extreme situations. My grandpa had this same kind of problem when he retired, except for him it was absurdly early in the morning. 6 AM was sleeping in to him. It took him a year or so to break the habit and become a normal, lazy person. And with this, I've left the realm of the interesting. Posting for posting's sake is probably not a good idea.
Sunday, August 24, 2003
(11:23 PM) | Robb Schuneman:
Sucky Old Guys Playing Metal: An Intimate Portrait
I just wanted to write a comparatively short note to let the world know that the revolution in suck music is underway.
While biding my time in Michigan, I went with a friend to see A Perfect Circle in concert at Detroit's lovely St. Andrew's Hall. It wasn't until he handed me my ticket, however, that I knew of the full experience I was in for. As it would turn out, it wasn't just Tool Lite I'd be seeing that night, but I'd be getting a venerable carnival of music. Or perhaps better said, a circus. A Pigmy Love Circus.
Before going further I want to make sure one doesn't misunderstand me. Perfect Circle were great, rad, all the hype was met and I immediately bought the cd and have listened many times over since. Pigmy Love Circus, or, PLC, on the other hand, was none of those things.
What they were, was a lot of men in their 40's and 50's by the looks of it, singing all sorts of suck-everything death metal who happened to have the drummer from Tool as their drummer, and thus gained some acclaim. In between each act the lead singer would dress up in a different costume representative of the song. I thought I was at a Carrot Top concert. I wished to God that I was at a Carrot Top concert.
The costumes started off with a "Pioneer" outfit featuring about a 14 inch long bowie knife, with which the lead singer, named "Savage," kept motioning with in the most B-Movie movements I have ever seen. The next song involved a cave man's outfit, and a big long bone which the lead singer used to act like he was hitting various band members. Again, it was the worst "fake hitting" I've ever seen. There was a military outfit with a rifle and several others, but the highlight was when he put on what looked like some brown tent canvas, some bear claws, and a bird mask complete with a long beak, and flailed about as "The Swamp Creature." My word yes, The Swamp Creature. The audience had enough and began to actually laugh out loud. The lead singer's retort was simply "Don't laugh at the Swamp Creature! The Swamp Creature has feelings too!" before proceeding to sing the song about how we are all The Swamp Creature and demonstrated this with a flailing, wailing, interprative dance.
What's worse was the music, which was far louder than need be and consisted of 1 note being played at random times by the bass player while the guitarist just seemed like a 4th grader imitating Marty McFly's performance of "Johnny B. Good" On top of it all came the "scary growl" of "Savage." Again, the lead singer called himself "Savage."
My ears still have a low ringing sound in them that bothers me to no end when ever I am in a noiseless area, such as in my bed, every night, when I try to sleep. Please, even when they are with a fine band like A Perfect Circle...no one go see Pigmy Love Circus. You'll only do harm to yourself and to the world as a whole through buying that ticket and encouraging them. If you would beat them with a lead pipe until death, their last moans and groanings would be insurmountably better than any live show they have ever played.
(12:49 PM) | Robb Schuneman:
In case any of you don't know, I recently took a trip to michigan for several weeks, and just got back a week ago today. Of course, since the power outages were everywhere as I was flying back my mother and dad were unusually concerned about me flying. And this fact had terrorism on the brain.
I got to the airport about 3 1/2 hours early, only to sit in a line for 3 and 1/4 hours and just barely make my flight. While waiting I talked extensively with a surgeon from Ann Arbor who was trying to get to the Caymans on his vacation. When he found out that I have this obscure notion of one day teaching, he went on to tell me all about how he dreams one day to teach when he has enough money put away to support his two young kids through college. I later met his kids as they came to take his place in line while he went to try further to get tickets to "somewhere south" so that he could eventually connect on his vacation. Even though the line was long and there was no air conditioning on a 90 degree day, the kids played and sang songs and everything else little kids should do. Eventually their dad came back and said "Sorry kids..we gotta go" and then leaned over to me and said "Man..we're screwed.." I assume that there was no possible way to get a ticket to anywhere in the south since the line had made them miss their first flight.
After that I had a chance to talk with two sets of grandparents who were bringing their older son (probably in his 30's) on his flight back to Seattle. It was somewhat comical seeing the typical bickering that can go on between two sets of older people in pretty hot weather with no circumstances. When I asked what the son did, he didn't get a chance to answer due to both sets of grandparents going on endlessly and constantly correcting each other about the computer work he did for some software company out there.
On my first flight to Chicago I sat next to a mom and her little girl. The mom was a single mother who appeared to be in her 40's, the daughter was probably 4. They were flying back to Albuquerque where her mom played violin in the New Mexico State Symphony. We had a chance to talk extensively as we sat on the runway for about an hour before take-off, due again to complications from the power outage. At one point the little girl began to tear up some styrafoam peanuts and throw them all over, until the mom said she was going to pretend that she didn't know her daughter. The daughter picked up on the word "pretend," and begged to "play that game...the game like you don't know me." So we spent the rest of the flight talking about the "bad and messy" little girl over in that seat across from us, until we landed and I had to change planes.
On the flight to Saint Louis I sat next to two black girls who were going on vacation to see their grandmother in Dallas. They were two of the most well-spoken and polite kids I'd ever met, and they even let me play "The Incredible Hulk" on their gameboy, which was ever so fun.
Sitting next to me on the plane to Oklahoma City was another software developer who was some higher-up for whatever the main conference-call software is in the US and had a meeting right here in OKC. He asked me about a "top 10 pubhouses in the US" article in the special "Airway Magazine" provided by Southwest. Number 5 on the list was Bricktown's own Tapwerks, and although I don't drink, I humored the guy by telling him they had the best beer around, and they microbrewed..and something about hops. I acted like an authority on the issue even though I've only reason I've ever gone in there is to get my parking validated. But, heck, I gave the guy something to actually go do in Oklahoma City, which unless you are a big rodeo fan, is a rare occurence indeed.
With all the talk of terrorism going on in the background, I had to wonder what was going through the minds of the terrorists on 9/11. What if there had been the same sort of massive delays at every turn that day? I wonder if they had the same chances to talk to people that the delays gave me, could they have still gone through with it?
Or would they even have had the chance to talk to people? I recall one person saying to me "If there's a middle-eastern person getting on your flight..just get off." Regardless of the fact that I would have had to have waited around 3 weeks to actually board a flight, this statement is obviously hurtful and ridiculous. I wonder, if I had been Middle-Eastern instead of a pale white boy, would any of these people have talked to me? I think the kids still probably would have played with me, because they're children and don't know any "better." But outside of that, would I have gotten anything but frightened stares?
The thing is, I might be far too optimistic, but I just can't believe someone so shown humanity as I was that day could go through with flying that plane through a building. I don't think that any great need to make a point known can hold up to raw human-ness looking you in the face and offering you their gameboy, or asking about the best bar, or playing games with their kids, or seeing their vacation plans crumble.
Perhaps to one with a mission so firmly in mind as the terrorists of 9/11 these encounters only would have increased their hate. Maybe they would have seen the surgeon with the freedom to vacation in the Caymans as another sign of absurd American wealth. Perhaps the single mom would show the lack of American family values. Perhaps the little girls travelling alone would show disregard from the parents, and maybe the guy looking for the best bar while supposed to be "working" would be another sign of American debauchery, with all of these things needing to be taught a lesson. Perhaps all these lessons do need to be learned, but none are more important than the humanity displayed. And I know how ignorant and naive I am. I know that I can't possibly understand the durress that the people who commit terrorism have been put under watching their families die and formerly prospering cities put to ruin by some ignorant American policy, and then having this hatred being used, encouraged, and enhanced by a leader with something to gain by anti-American sentiment. But still I have to hope that humanity, even when it is brutalizing, bullying, shocking and awe-inducing in its violence, is still humanity, and still worth more than the idea of revenge or making a point.
The thought crossed my mind that I should write a book about a terrorist having these frivolous, meaningless conversations with people on his way to set off some sort of bomb. In the end, however, I think that it would be very anti-clamatic as I couldn't bring myself to write him/her going through with the explosion. It'd be a "boring" ending because there's no fireworks or explosions, nothing to grab the attention, just someone walking off a plane, or walking away from a building with a bomb still attached to their chest or whatever.
And that's the thing, it's not just the terrorists who fail to see the full value in humanity. The book wouldn't sell because the American people wouldn't buy it.
If I were asked to write a sequal off the first book, it'd have to be a prequal, which would sell even less and have the same plot. It'd be an First World superpower's president in some foreign, probably middle-eastern country. He'd be walking around, and masked so as not to be recognized, and he'd barter with someone over the price of chicken, talk to someone he rode next to on the bus, somehow just keep having these inane and meaningless conversations which hold all the meaning of the world. And perhaps in the end, he'd go back to his country and decide not to pass whatever policy would bring unending hurt, disillusionment and terror to these people.
But, then again, I'm pretty sure that plot has been done before, in Disney's Alladin and Alladin II: Jafar's Revenge, if nothing else.
Saturday, August 23, 2003
(5:49 AM) | Robb Schuneman:
(As a note of explanation, I posted this and one other post thursday night only to find no trace of them now. I'm not sure what happened, probably my error, but I will re-type them now. But, I give that as a way of explanation for my lack of posting up until this moment. All apologies.)
Earlier this week, wednesday to be precise, I was having a rather enjoyable day. I'd found out that a class at Olivet would sub for one of my major requirements, thus allowing me to drop that class from my current schedule. I'd stayed up virtually the whole night attempting to finish reading both The Myth of the Eternal Return by Mircea Eliade and The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West for two seperate classes. I'd managed to get most of the reading done somehow and had intelligently discussed both as well as aced the respective quizzes. To top it all off, I'd finally found a radio station in Oklahoma City that does not entirely suck some balls, 105.3, The Spy. In fact, it may be the best radio station ever. All of my top 10 bands from my last "real" post are featured rather extensively as well as the rest of the "indie" breed I love so much.
It was a good day. It was a fine day. And yet with a few strokes of a pen, some person, some girl, managed to ruin what was shaping up to be something beautiful.
I came out to my car to head for work after school and found a piece of paper attatched to my windshield wiper. At first I thought I'd gotten a parking ticket, which would have been assinine since it was the third day of school. But oh no, it was worse. It was a note, a note which read simply this:
Learn how to park your car.
Get A Clue."
I'd like to take this chance to respond to the writer of this note personally.
I assume that you are of the female persuasion due to both the form and structure of your notice to me, but also primarily because the note itself was written on the back of an Estee' Lauder receipt, and the comma after "Hey" was represented by a heart. If I am incorrect in this assumption I apologize.
When I first got your value judgment of my parking skills, and throughout the rest of the day I felt a certain anger towards everyone I encountered. I think this anger was not generated by the content of your note, so much as its very essence.
You see, what strikes me most is the lack of any sort of ferocity in your message to me. Besides the non-sarcastic heart/comma, one can see this evidenced in several ways; the lack of cussing, the opening greeting, and the practiced and non-harried caligrophy quality writing style.
I appreciate the fact that you did not jump to the hasty generalization many would have about my parking skills from my apparently "less than stellar" performance on the 20th of this month. The fact that you do not rush to assume that I have a deficiency in parking all cars, making sure to insist on my learning how to park "my" car, rather than the more expected "Learn how to park a car." I can only assume you noticed I drive a Mercury Sable, which is slightly longer than your normal 4-door car, and thus harder to maneuver. Your concern is well-noted and appreciated.
But honestly now, I simply must know, really, why did you write this note?
I can't find any traces of anger here. The tone is almost matching that of one who simply wanted to provide me with some guidance along the way. Even the attempt to "Spice up" the letter with the after thought, "Get a clue" simply does not ring true. Come on, Lizzy McGuire's "cut downs" of her brother Matt carry much more weight and do far more damage than your cliched attempt.
What's more, your letter was written in incredibly well practiced caligrophy quality handwriting. I can't find any evidence of being frenzied, late for class, "all in a tiff", or generally any recognizable signs of you being "miffed off" at all. Your note gets a good old Michigan "E" for this effort ma'am. This means I require you to mock up a topographical map of the UCOK parking facilities for extra credit if you hope to pass.
If you were angry at me for my lackluster parking job, I demand proof. I demand cuss words, I demand a loss of grammatical control while writing. I demand at least slightly wavy writing. Dangit woman, at least give me an exclamatory punctuation mark! Give me a "Hey Buddy!" or a "WTF??!?!" or possibly some sort of "This driving thing's a lot easier in GTA3, eh?" But, "Get A Clue"? I think not.
As is, I can only assume that writing this note was not a recourse of anger for you. You merely wrote it because you felt society warranted that you write a note after having a particularly hard time in parking. I almost want to assume that you said to yourself "Oh gee..I've always wanted to leave a hateful note on someone's windshield wiper...tee hee" as you got out of your car. Maybe you have a friend who drives a similar car to mine and were leaving the note as a joke for him/her. Heck, perhaps your mother was with you and, not wanting her to find out just how much you spent on Beyond Paradise Perfume, you came up with a creative way to get rid of the receipt without her noticing. These things seem unlikely, but are highly more believable than you actually being upset, judging from your note.
If I am mistaken and you were indeed upset at my parking skills so severely that you needed to leave a note that had me questioning myself in addition to every anonymous face that walked by, I want to help you for the next time. This experience was a failure. You expunged no demons, and you left me somehow unfulfilled. Call me a pugilist, but this lukewarm browbeating is terribly harder to take than if you had actually said anything slightly in coherency with the anger you seem to have intended. This isn't simply sending cold food back to the kitchen at Denny's anymore honey, the step up to the level of leaving notes on cars carries with it certain expectations. The sort of thing you did leaves me with the same impression I had the first 50 times I read "Archie and the Gang" Comic Books: "There must be a reason Jughead wears that crown all through school, baseball practice and his date with the oafish moose looking girl..." Screw Jughead lady, be Archie.
No, forget Archie. Be freaking Reggie Mantle. Be that rich kid making fun of Archie's second-hand clothing, dating Veronica and Betty. I heard weird things about Archie and Jughead and Mr. Weatherbee anyway.
I hope you don't mind, but as one final measure, I took the step of going to TheSpark.com's "Burn Maker" and submitting your letter to get their revamped and "burnified" version. I think they make some decent changes that should be followed. So as not to cuss and scare the woodland creatures, I shall rhyme the actual suggestions they make, but I suggest you go with the original:
Learn how in the (Dell) to (truckin') park you and your hand jobs' sorry car. (Mass Soul).
Look around you! You are a (Lit hag). Get a (Cod Ham) clue."
See..their version leaves me somehow better equipped to face the challenges that lie ahead.
Yours in tenderness,
"Think of it this way: In India there are some pretty reprehensible social practices, against 'untouchables', against Christians and Muslims, against women. Pakistan and Bangladesh have even worse ways of dealing with minority communities and women. Should they be bombed? Should Delhi, Islamabad, and Dhaka be destroyed? Is it possible to bomb bigotry out of India? Can we bomb our way to a feminist paradise? Is that how women won the vote in the U.S.? Or how slavery was abolished? Can we win redress for the genocide of the millions of Native Americans upon whose corpses the United States was founded by bombing Santa Fe?"
- Arundhati Roy, "Come September"
Wednesday, August 20, 2003
(11:08 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Adam Kotsko on the Road, pt. 3
I will be going to New York City for the next four days and will take a break from all internet-related activities, including blogging and e-mail. Robb has assured me that he will man the helm for that period, meaning that there will still be daily updates. As for Mike, he's in an awkward state of transition right now, so let's not put too much pressure on him.
I would like to make one parting comment about that radical orthodoxy article. I'll admit that I had only read half the article when I wrote my response, since I had to go to work eventually. It became clear toward the end that the author didn't like the radical orthodox because they didn't act as adequate apologists for the Roman Catholic Church. The implicit point throughout was that the radical orthodox, coming after the dawn of modernity and working within it, could not recover the Christian tradition adequately. The only way to do it right would be to join up with the institution that has continually preserved the Christian tradition completely unchanged, which is, of course, the Roman Catholic Church.
Modern Catholicism, however, is every bit as much a modern phenomenon as Protestantism or Radical Orthodoxy or whatever -- its main contours are the result of a deliberate choice by a particular pope (Pius IX) of what strain of the diverse Christian tradition would be authoritative. The Second Vatican Council distanced itself from that narrow vision somewhat, through precisely the recovery of certain ancient Christian writers and traditions that the Radical Orthodox theologians performed (though not necessarily the exact same materials were "recovered"). In any case, to hold that the Catholic Church has been an uninterrupted stream of authentic, constant teaching from St. Peter to John Paul II is frankly ridiculous (even if I did convince myself it was true at one time). Even if it weren't exceedingly improbable in theory, the continuity theory does not match up with the facts (see, for example, Jaroslav Pelikan's detailed and wonderful The Christian Tradition or Hans Kung's recent short history of the Catholic Church).
The key here: once modernity hits, there is no return to innocence. From that it doesn't follow that the Catholic Church is not an adequate expression of the gospel or that the way the Radical Orthodox have chosen to go is right or that we should just give up and become bleeding-heart liberals -- we just need to acknowledge the fact that no matter what we feel about Western secular modernity, none of us is immune, not even Pope Pius IX himself.
With that, I leave you, dear readers.
(8:57 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Radical Orthodoxy Article
The lovely Adam Smith, Scottish moral philosopher, political economist, and former roommate of the present writer, sent me this article on the new, hip Radical Orthodoxy movement in contemporary theology. One thing is for certain: they don't mean "radical" in the Marxist sense, but in the Ninja Turtles sense. "Tubular Orthodoxy" would therefore also work. Their quest is similar to mine in my post "Hegel can suck it": to become familiar with what the cool kids are reading so that they can point out the many ways in which they are better than the cool kids. Here are a couple quotes:
Milbank et al. use the prevailing vocabulary and verbal techniques of cultural and literary studies to expose the dark emptiness of secular postmodernism, hoisting it on its own petard. If Radical Orthodoxy is any sign of the future, tomorrow’s academy will see countless theses on the subversive power, not of transsexuality, but of the Eucharist—in all, a welcome development.
Although I didn't quite catch it while reading some of the Radical Orthodox figures reviewed in this article, apparently their goal is to provide a philosophical rationale for Catholic sexual morality:
Out of this central claim comes the brutally political nature of the postmodern moral agenda. If power defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, then power can change that definition. Not coincidentally, postmodern theoreticians are eager to exert power: to urge the judiciary to bring to bear the force of the state, to compel curricular changes, to enforce codes of speech. With enough redirection of power, they assume that marriage can come to mean the union of any two persons. A blow was struck in one direction; a blow can be struck in another. The arbitrary violence of conventional meanings is met by the new violence of postmodern revision. So professors denounce traditional understandings of marriage, scholars distort and willfully misrepresent the role of homosexuality in antiquity, and the entire university tries to shame the recalcitrant into conformity.
By contrast, the real scholars from the Radical Orthodox movement would take a different approach (emphasis on the "would," since again, I'm not sure this sexual thing is all that present in the actual Radical Orthodox thinkers -- in fact, Graham Ward is not convinced there are just two genders, for example):
For example, we can study the history of marriage and observe that Christianity substantively changed its meaning by assimilating the relation of men and women to the relation of Jesus Christ and the Church. Yet we need not conclude that such change resulted from a contest of power. Things can be understood and inhabited across change and difference without submission to power and dominion.
How can we tell it's not based on power and domination? Why, we can just see the word Jesus and know! Why is this?
Christian theology counters the Nietzschean nihilism of foundational violence (in the language Radical Orthodoxy borrows from postmodernism) by advancing a participatory framework, an analogical poetics, a semiosis of peace, a metanarrative that does not require the postulate of original violence. Put more simply, Radical Orthodoxy hopes to recover Neoplatonic metaphysics as an explanation for the glue that holds the world together. Something can be what it is—a unit of semantic identity or meaning, a person, a social practice—and at the same time depend upon and reach toward something else. Or more strongly, something is real only in and through this constitutive dependence and fecundity. For the Neoplatonist, you, or I, or the value of my moral acts, or the meaning of this essay, are as emanating from and returning to the One.
Notice the not-so-subtle shift from Christianity to Neoplatonism. One of the key hobbies of postmodern theorists is to insist that the Platonic worldview is itself originated in a violent imposition, and to my mind, they manage to do that very convincingly. If this author is any indication, the best answer the Radical Orthodox have to this accusation is: "No it's not."
I mean, Augustine is cool and everything, but the last time we had a "return to Augustine," the Reformation happened. Thankfully, now academic theology is virtually irrelevant to most of the world, including most churches, so we can't really expect this to have much effect on the world. I say this as an aspiring academic theologian, although one who often has "doubts." But before we go, one last quote, which should remind you of the quote on the nihilist theorists who impose their broader definition of marriage on us:
One of the tragedies of modern theology has been its systematic renunciation of this ambition [to recover and reconstitute a comprehensive Christian vision]. The deep end of "truth" has been ceded to science, while theology swims in the shallow end of "meaning." Aesthetic expression has been relinquished to the cult of original self–expression and "what–it–means–for–me." Morality becomes a subset of utility, or a creation of private conscience, and Christians are reduced to "sharing their values." An impoverished realm of "spirituality" or "transcendence" remains the rightful property of Christian reflection, and running on these slight fumes, theology drives toward relevance in a world over which it has renounced its authority. Radical Orthodoxy is nothing if not intensely opposed to this renunciation; for its adherents the whole world is fit for absorption into a theological framework. Christian theology should shape the way we talk about everything.
So how are they different from the postmoderns again? Oh yeah, Jesus.
Tuesday, August 19, 2003
(1:32 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Last night I read the very nice "conspiracy theory" article on education in the latest Harper's. It argued that the school system is designed to demoralize, divide, and conquer children, so that the chances of a worker's revolution are effectively reduced to zero. All the negative points of education, which people see as accidents keeping it from achieving its real goal, are themselves the goal. The entire point is to create bored and boring hollow men.
He documents this moderately well, at least as well as the average French theorist, but I think he neglects a couple points. First, plans as large and unwieldy as the public education system are bound to produce unexpected results. This is because the model of the police state, on which the author whose name I lazily can't remember rightly claims our public schools are built, is incapable of achieving its goals. Totalizing projects are horrible, brutal, dehumanizing, and -- which makes it all the worse -- impossible. To put it in academic jargon, ideological interpellation does not fully constitute the subject. There are gaps in the system, and that's where our freedom comes into play. Thus we have people who use the oppressive school system to actually become thoughtful and critical members of society, such as (I think) the holy trinity who writes this blog. The universe is not the realm of pure determinism -- the very fact that he's writing this article, despite having been indoctrinated for twelve years, proves that indoctrination is not all-powerful.
Second, his vision of a liberated, "truly" educated society rings hollow. In reality, it is nothing but the same old thing of the public schools, the same individualization, division, meritocracy, except that the materials used are ostensibly higher-quality. He claims that a society full of people who have learned to be self-reliant and to think for themselves would "manage itself," but isn't it the case that people in our society largely internalize the lessons of school so that it becomes second nature to submit to authority, stand in line, etc.? The simplistic idea that people would act according to their positive "deep down" inclinations if not for the intervention of oppressive society is not an adequate theory on which to build a society. As they say, hope is not a plan.
So yes, the public school system often tends to be mediocre, and it teaches people to be conformists. Yet a whole lot of people don't quite get the lesson. In addition, in the universal home schooling situation that he envisions, doesn't he realize that class inequalities will be even more pronounced than in our current socialized system? I think that universal mandatory public schooling is something that can be put to good use, and I don't think that the supposed motivations of its original creators thoroughly corrupt it beyond saving.
We are in a situation in which there is mandatory public schooling. We have a moderately well-funded infrastructure for this program. Millions of people are employed or otherwise involved in it. So do we just throw out the whole thing? Do we just radically alter our society in such a way and trust that it will "work out" due to the supposed real-life application of a romantic platitude? Is it ever possible to return to innocence, return to the times when schooling supposedly meant more or worked better? I don't have any answers to the problems facing public schools, but I do think that they, like most problems, are able to be solved, at least in part.
(8:31 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Brian Eno writes columns, too
Everything I've read by Brian Eno has been very insightful. This article is no exception. Here's a "quote":
How exactly did it come about that, in a world of Aids, global warming, 30-plus active wars, several famines, cloning, genetic engineering, and two billion people in poverty, practically the only thing we all talked about for a year was Iraq and Saddam Hussein? Was it really that big a problem? Or were we somehow manipulated into believing the Iraq issue was important and had to be fixed right now - even though a few months before few had mentioned it, and nothing had changed in the interim.
He writes it "Aids" instead of "AIDS" because he's British.
Monday, August 18, 2003
(7:25 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tom DeLay and Adam Kotsko: Fast Friends
Many of you may be surprised to see an America-hating leftist firebrand such as Adam Kotsko claiming friendship with Tom DeLay, renowned conservative. I'm coming to realize, however, that the conservative propaganda is actually correct: the liberal media is significantly slanted in their presentation of Mr. DeLay. He has a heart of gold, but not the hard kind of gold -- his golden heart is of the cuddly variety. I discovered this when he was in town promoting his upcoming historical novel, When Fellatio Was King. Loosely based on his experiences as a White House intern during the Clinton years, this novel is sure to be a hit worldwide, a welcome addition to the canon of semi-fictional presidential novels such as Primary Colors or Ulysses.
We met at Burrito Loco. I had the large beef burrito, and he had a couple of chicken tacos, because, he joked, chicken is "healthier." We had a good laugh over that, given that both of us are opposed to the bleeding-heart liberal crusade to make America into a healthy, energetic nation characterized by "wellness." Revelling in the racial diversity of the restaurant (Mexicans and white people!), we began to discuss contemporary political events. When I asked him about the cowardly Democrats in Texas who had fled to New Mexico in order to postpone the inevitable Republican takeover of all our political institutions, he was philosophical. He was concerned not so much with his own political ambitions as with the integrity of our constitutional system.
"Adam," he said, "we're supposed to, by Constitution, apportion or redistrict every 10 years. The state legislature in Texas couldn't do it in the last legislature, and three judges did it and they did a very poor job, as evidenced that the fact that we have a minority of Republicans in our congressional delegation."
"Wait," I said, "are you confessing that you wanted to redistrict solely because you wanted the Republicans to be in the majority in the Texas congressional delegation? Are you assuming that people always vote a straight party ticket?"
"What -- you know, we in Texas, Adam, have prided ourselves on honor, duty and responsibility. Unfortunately, the Democrats in the state legislature don't understand honor because they're violating their oath of office to support the United States Constitution. They don't understand their duty, which the Constitution calls for in redistricting. And they don't want to accept responsibility for it, so they ran. "
"It's the Democrats' duty to support a measure explicitly intended to undermine their party's power, and thus to insure that the kinds of policies they promote and that they think to be best for the American people will not be passed?"
He paused, then added, "We're insisting that the Constitution be upheld, and we feel very confident that if the state legislature does its duty and redistricts, then we will end up with a majority of Republicans in the congressional delegation."
That satisfied me. Here, the liberal media was portraying him as a megalomaniac bent on increasing Republican power, and here, in his own words, I could hear that the real megalomaniacs were the Republicans who apparently wrote the Constitution and inserted clauses specifying that the Republicans should, whenever practicable, hold the majority in every state congressional delegation. I mean, as a good American citizen, I have never read the Constitution, but I assume that people in congress have to at some point, so I just took his word for it. I asked him to pass the hot sauce, and the topic of conversation shifted away from politics.
But I will never forget that day when Tom DeLay poured out his heart, the heart of a true patriot, a heart made of cuddly gold, to me, Adam Kotsko, America-hating leftist firebrand and editor of American Heritage magazine.
(2:04 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Hegel can suck it
Recently I've decided that I need to read some Hegel -- namely, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the 19th-century German Idealist philosopher. All the cool kids around town were carrying their copies of Phenomenology of Spirit; some had moved on to The Science of Logic. The really slow ones were still slogging through his lectures on The Philosophy of History. I knew that if I was going to get any action, ever, I needed to be conversant in Hegel -- it's just part of living in a college town like Bourbonnais, Illinois. For a while I could fake it by drawing on my knowledge of Zizek, who loves Hegel, but everyone around here seems to think that Zizek is a lightweight, a "phase" that you go through before you get to the real hardcore stuff, kind of like in stupider towns how people start off with Blink 182 before getting into "real" punk. In Bourbonnais, the fashion is philosopho-punk, and Hegel is NOFX, the Clash, and the Sex Pistols all rolled into one massive orgy of dialetical fury.
Hegel's big hit, aside from his preface and intro to the Phenomenology, is his famous passage on lordship and bondage -- a staple of the philosopho-punk porn niche market. I decided to cut to the chase and skipped right to the good stuff, assuming that I'd end up reading the rest of the book later, in German. The twisted relationships between self and other, subject and subject, were laid out in all their gory detail by the H-man. The lord believes that he has independence and that his relationship to the object is one of pure enjoyment, but the truth of the situation is that this very independence is thoroughly dependent on the work of the bondsman. Meanwhile, the bondsman seems to be completely dependent on the lord, but this dependence only comes through the lord's power over the object. Here's where it gets really twisted: the independence the master believes he has is only found in fact in the bondsman, who becomes independent of the given state of things through his work. Rather than simply negating the object through wasteful enjoyment, he works on it and shapes it, and that shaping ability is the concrete version of the negativity of the lord's enjoyment. Negation of negation!
So far it seems pretty good, right? One wonders what Hegel would do with the S&M situation, but since he lived in such a distant era when people didn't talk about that kind of stuff (usually), I can understand the exclusion. I could see what the kids were getting excited about, but all I could think was, "Lame!" Have these people ever heard of Lacan? His diagrams of the four discourses achieve in the space of half a page what it took Hegel to do in ten, and Lacan has a much more nuanced and supple concept of desire as well. I know that all my peers want to seem "authentic" by pretending to like all the old stuff, but don't they realize that the stuff that has survived to our age is just what was picked out by our corporate overlords? By advocating only the very biggest hits of past ages, you're doing nothing but legitimating the authority of academic marketting campaigns to decide what kind of philosophy we'll like. Screw that! We can think for ourselves!
So while you guys are all trying to convince each other that you really like Hegel and really "get it," and while you're trying to get inside some girl's pants using the dialectical method, I'm going to be thinking for myself. Just wait for it: "Everyone's heard of Hegel -- ever heard of Schelling, poseurs? Huh, what's that? You've never read the unfinished third version of Ages of the World? Oh, that's too bad -- he has a pretty stunning materialist analysis started there, so groundbreaking that even he couldn't live with the implications. Oh, you want to throw Kant at me? Oh, of course I've read Prolegomena to any future metaphysics and Metaphysics of morals -- but did it ever even occur to you to pick up some of his later stuff, like Critique of Judgment or even Opus Posthumum? No? What a surprise. I thought you were a philosopho-punk, but I guess it's just a fashion thing for you. Ladies, would you like to talk about some real philosophy -- not this Hegel bullshit that your teacher told you you should like? Sure, we could swing by my place -- see you, poseur."
I'm doing it for the cause. It's hard to be a true philosopho-punk when there are so many poseurs around here, but I know one thing: I will never sell out.
Saturday, August 16, 2003
(9:16 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
If you haven't done so already, watch this Sigur Ros video.
(8:18 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Apparently people who don't smoke do sometimes get lung cancer, though smokers account for 90% of lung cancer cases -- at least according to this government propaganda. In addition, lung cancer is the most prevalent kind of cancer. I'll be back someday with statistics about lung cancer rates vs. motor vehicle fatality rates.
(6:40 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
I have often wondered, when I hear people complain about "theory" and its "uselessness" and its corruption of the university, what exactly they think the university should be doing, if anything. This quote from Fredric Jameson's essay "Transformations of the Image" in The Cultural Turn seems to be a good assessment of the true goal of the "anti-theory" crowd. In it, he is discussing a theorist who has to pretend to be anti-theory in order to be cool and trendy:
Here the word theory tacitly encompasses everything from radicalism to philosophical speculation, from Marxism to poststructuralism, from literary theory to 'Critical Theory', from sociology to philosophies of history: everything, in short, which today prevents the university work of the humanities from deteriorating into a sandbox operation devoted to harmless and decorative eternal values and formalisms.... (117)
I guess it all depends on what you mean by "useless." If you think the function of the university is to offer high praise of the dominant culture and call that serious intellectual inquiry, then by all means get rid of theory. If you think the function of the university is to help people to see possibilities beyond their preconceived ideas or to "think," then maybe theory has a place -- even if the language is sometimes "turgid" or some other word that critics use and whose meaning they probably don't even know. With that in mind, it's funny that conservatives denounce "liberal" approaches to education as focussed on nothing but building up self-esteem, when in fact that's exactly what they envision as the purpose of the university.
(12:14 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Behind the Times
One of the benefits of my blog is that if you've missed anything that was bouncing around the blogosphere three days ago, you can read it here. The "it" in question is a brutal editorial in the Washington Post, which I will gladly quote for you now:
TO LISTEN TO THE FUSS Europeans are making about their weather, anyone would think that it was actually hot over there. In Paris, shops have experienced a run on electric fans. In Sweden, a male bus driver showed up for work in a skirt after his company informed him that he was not allowed to wear shorts. In Amsterdam, zookeepers are giving iced fruit to their chimpanzees to cool them off.
Okay, so maybe it's a bit warmer than usual. Temperatures across the continent have shot up into the 90s and once or twice have topped 100 degrees in London and Paris. But is this really hot -- hot enough to close businesses, hot enough to cancel trains (the tracks might buckle), hot enough to wax nostalgic for the summer rain to which some Europeans, notably residents of the British Isles, are more accustomed?
Last time we checked, the weather here in Washington was in the upper 80s, which is average to low for this time of year. Temperatures in Houston and Dallas in the past couple of days have topped 100, as they usually do in summer. Yet somehow, no one's talking about extraordinary measures being taken by Texans or Washingtonians. On the contrary, President Bush, who qualifies as both, by some measures, is currently mocking the press corps by pretending to enjoy jogging in the Texas heat. Not all Europeans may want to go this far -- but maybe they will now at least stop turning up their noses at those American summer inventions they've long loved to mock: The office window that doesn't open, the air conditioner that produces sub-arctic temperatures and the tall glass of water, served in a restaurant, filled to the brim with ice.
I actually just quoted the whole thing, so the link is more a formality than anything. I got this link from Atrios, before "Lambert" unleashed the flood and the site was thrown back into its dogmatic slumber. (As I've noted before, I much prefer the "classic" Atrios format, where he wrote a paragraph at most and then let people dissect the story to death in the comment section. It allows one to immerse oneself as much or as little as one wishes, as opposed to the hundreds of scrolled pages of the average "Lambert" or "farmer" post. I realize it's perhaps hypocritical of me, given that my blog is almost all based on long posts, but whatever. I'm not trying to run the same kind of blog as Atrios is.)
After that long parenthesis, I might note that for all this talk of accusing Europeans of being wimps (so fashionable nowadays), the editorialists do not note the fact that "[t]he office window that doesn't open, the air conditioner that produces sub-arctic temperatures and the tall glass of water, served in a restaurant, filled to the brim with ice" are all operative starting in late April. I personally prefer the European approach. Unless the weather is truly life-threatening, I would not use the air conditioning if I lived alone, and I never have ice in my drinks (except in restaurants, where I don't like to appear picky to waitresses). Certainly the Europeans look a little ridiculous to us for shutting stuff down during a heatwave, but that obscures the more enduring "background wimpiness" of American society -- the reason we're able to bear such high temperatures all the time is that we never actually have to deal with the real temperature outside except for a few minutes at a time, unless we want to. President Bush can jog out in the hot weather because he can retreat back into the air-conditioned "Crawford, Texas, Ranch" immediately thereafter; the natural weather is commodified luxury at this point.
I do have to give the president some credit, though: even if he does retreat back into the air-conditioning immediately after jogging in 90-degree weather, the jogging itself is still fairly impressive in its own way. It's just part of the overall dedication and discipline that makes our president such an amazing person.
Also, now that I'm done bitching about Atrios' other bloggers, does anyone remember back when I used to have co-bloggers? It seems so long ago now...
Friday, August 15, 2003
(11:42 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
I just heard President Bush on TV, addressing the power outage issue by saying that those with electricity should be careful how they use it, because if they practice conservation, their neighbors may be able to get power sooner. To repeat: President George W. Bush was just on TV advocating conservation. In the face of a national crisis, he was advocating that people should sacrifice in order to give assistance to their neighbors. Does it remind you of anything?
Before I saw that snippet, I intended to write about public health initiatives and the huge blind spot therein. For instance, it is undoubtedly a great social good if fewer people smoke, particularly if they don't start at a young age. As lame as the propaganda campaign often is, it feels as though it has good motivations. The same is true, to a lesser extent, of the marijuana propaganda campaign. The most honest commercial is the one in which they show a pot-smoking loser still living in his parents' basement -- that, more than the absurd idea that you're going to get pregnant or run over a little kid, is what the campaign against marijuana is really about. People believe, rightly or wrongly, that marijuana use leads to idleness, and no one wants to be considered a lazy burden on society, right? Just like no one wants to be reminiscent of "kissing an ashtray" or to get lung cancer. (Side issue: do people who don't smoke ever get lung cancer? From the propaganda, I have to say that my impression is that they do not. Could that possibly be true?)
The problem is that the appeal to self-interest, coming from the government, ultimately rings hollow. If everything is reduced to the level of the individual, then there are a million possible goals. If all that matters is being the best that I can be, then why not say I'm at my best when I'm relaxed after smoking pot? So what if I don't "achieve" as much -- I can individually decide that the levels of responsibility and stress associated with "success" are just not worth it for me. As for the smoking thing, what if I sincerely prefer to smoke? One could argue that it places stress on our nation's health infrastructure, but last time I checked, our "health system" was not really "our nation's" -- it is largely offered by private enterprises that require me, or my insurance company, to pay my way. If I'm willing to make that kind of trade-off, especially when the risks are printed clearly on every pack of cigarettes, and if I'm supposed to pay for my own health care anyway, then who is the government to tell me I shouldn't smoke?
I think that in America, the government's function is finally to ensure that the market runs smoothly, and the market (as the aggregate of individual desires) makes all the real decisions. Thus it might make financial sense to discourage people from smoking, while still allowing tobacco companies and farmers to stay in business. The more glaring public health problem, the rampant use of automobiles, cannot be addressed, because such large-scale decisions are beyond the competence of the government. So all we get is the government as one voice among many, attempting to regulate public health through commercials. The president's response to 9-11 reveals the truth of the United States government: all he could tell us was to go shopping, and hopefully the market would fix this problem, too, in some mysterious way.
Luckily for us, most people do manage to "get by" in the present system: although malnourishment and infectious disease are problems, mass starvation and epidemics that kill entire generations are not. This is, however, not because of the inherent wisdom of the capitalist system; it's because we are fortunate enough to live in a prosperous country, the country that first amassed the huge means of production necessary for the capitalist system. We can afford our vast national waste because we've been saving up for the last 150 years or so. It's not at all clear that this can go on forever. In fact, it's pretty clear that it can't. But our government, which has given up almost all powers except the considerable power of disciplining and punishing its citizens, is powerless to make the kind of changes that would be necessary to create a more just and stable social order -- powerless by choice.
We have forgotten that human beings really do have choices about the way their lives will be structured, if they work together. Perhaps the problem of today's generation is how to make us all remember.