Monday, September 26, 2005

Governement Drowns

Grover Norquist a leading Republican has said: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."

Drowning the government is equivalent to drowning children the elderly, the poor and the sick, and Norquist got his wish. At least a thousand people, most of them Democrats, black, and poor - drowned in the New Orleans basin. It would be overly paranoid to say that this was planned but it certainly can be said that it was expectable after Bush drastically cut the funds for the Army Corps of Engineers who would have reinforced the levies, and put an Arabian horse expert and failed executive in charge of FEMA.

However it was not GWB who began the process that inevitably led to this disaster. It has been going on for over twenty years when after the defeat of Barry Golwater a handful of corporations invested several billion dollars to launch a Right Wing take-over of our government. And I was with Ronald Reagan that the deliberate and intentional destruction of the US government took hold. Quote Reagan: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

The neo-Nietzshian neo-cons don't "believe" in government, in anything other than a military and police capacity. Government should punish, but it should never nurture, protect, or defend individuals. Nurturing and protecting, they suggest, is the more appropriate role of religious institutions, private charities, families, and - most cynically - corporations. Let the corporations control environmental protection, medical care and old-age pensions

That is not the vision the Founders of this nation fought and died for. That government should "promote the general welfare" – was written into the preamble to our Constitution in 1787.

The reason Republicans want to remove government in its protective capacity is because they can then make an enormous amount of money when they privatize former governmental functions. And ultimately they would not really mind if as many of the poor and feeble died off--as soon as "humanely" possible, and stopped “draining” our budget with their needs. They got their wish partially fulfilled with Katrina.

And yet when Middle-Americans hear "smaller government," they nod their heads in agreement, not realizing the hidden agenda at work, an agenda which is beginning to affect all of us. Have the American people had enough? I hope so. It can all be reversed at the ballot box,
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Friday, June 03, 2005


It seems that optimism was an important if not deciding factor in the outcome of the 2004 elections. Voters liked Bush better than Kerry probably because of his positive, optimistic attitude. Liberals tend to be realistic and eschew optimism to their peril

The 2005 Political Typology developed by the Pew Reserach Center examines the role that optimism played in the 2004 election and concludes that:

* Voters inclined toward the Republican Party are distinguished from Democrats by their personal optimism and belief in the power of the individual. (pg 2)
* Poorer Republicans and Democrats differ in their levels of optimism. Pro Government Conservatives (poorer Republicans in the typology) are optimistic and positive and Disadvantaged Democrats are pessimistic and cynical. (pg 5)
* The relatively moderate voters who have a positive view of their financial situation and the state of the nation in general ( the Upbeats in the typology) came out for Bush by more than four to one even though they have not usually formally identifyied themselves with either political party (pg 3)
* George Bush had the broadest personal appeal of any national political figure among the main independent groups, the Upbeats and the Dissafected.

Political Rhetoric; Clinton and Obama:

In his successful election campaign Clinton called himself the Man from Hope. The very successful Barak Obama bases his platform on optimism:

Thank you for believing…it is your abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation that make America a beacon of hope and freedom around the world

Hope--the hope that we hold in our hearts for our future, the faith we share in our dreams, the timeless conviction that in a nation of freedom and opportunity, anything is possible

Barak is as liberal as we can hope a Democratic Senator to be, yet to the liberal ear, this sort of optimism grates the sense of reality which seems to overwhelm the liberal mind. Liberals who are the fasted growing group of the Pew typology and are describes as lowest in participation in religious activities, seem to equate optimism with religiosity.

The Power of Positive Thinking.

Remember how appalled the intelligentsia was when The Power of of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale became a world wide fad? The book, which sold around 20 million copies in 42 languages is written in the language of simple church-going folk in the 1950s and was misread to simply imply that a happy smile can overcome all obstacles. But Peale took serioously the pain, difficulty and struggle of human existence, and for him there was no greater source of personal power to counteract that pain than the example provided by the Gothic tales of the Bible. He can be said to be a founding father of the human potential movement within which the notion that everyone creates their own reality was a dictum. That concept, say what you will, has enormous appeal because it empowers the individual and while we liberals sneer at it, we do it at our peril. The fact is that optimism and individual empowerment, quite separate from religiosity, are powerful tools. The arbitrary link of optimism with religion is being successfully exploited in today’s electoral politics; liberals eschew optimism and the Republicans make us pay for it.

Martin Selignman's Positive Psychology.

Martin Seligman PhD, is a prestigious psychologist, past president of the APA, recipient of multiple awards and the leading proponent of positive psychology a new, and to some shocking, recent direction in the field.

Says Seligman, based on his extensive research on optimism and hope.: "If you are a pessimist in the sense that when bad things happen you think they are going to last forever and undermine everything you do, then you are about eight times as likely to get depressed, you are less likely to succeed at work, your personal relationships are more likely to break up, and you are likely to have a shorter and more illness-filled life. That's the main discovery that I associate with my lifetime."

"In our research on the roles of optimism and pessimism we tested 15,000 applicants for life insurance sales, a difficult job with frequent rejection and a high drop-out rate. We measured, by questionnaire, the explanatory style (a metric of optimism and pessimism) of the regular qualified people who were hired. Also included was a special force of 129 people who failed the industry test - who wouldn't normally have been hired - but who tested very well on optimism."

"First, within the regular qualified group that was hired, the optimists significantly outsold the pessimists. Second, the special force of optimists who failed the industry test outsold everyone. In another study, when subjects were given a lower grade in a class or a slower recorded time in an athletic event, thereby simulating defeat, the optimists rose to the occasion and did better the second time around while the pessimists did worse."

In 1988, Seligman and Harold Zullow content-analyzed the speeches of 33 senatorial races for optimism or pessimism and sent their predictions in sealed envelopes to the New York Times. By choosing the most optimistic candidates as the winners, they were able to predict 25 of 29 races, including five out of six upsets. They did better than any other forecaster. This research may be behind the Clinton and Barak campaign themes though there is no doubt that both of them are truly optimistic and hopeful in their attitudes.

People prone to despair have a pessimistic explanatory style marked by brutal honesty. They are in Seligman's words, "at the mercy of reality," a characteristic than can be said to be shared with liberals in the Pew typology.

Transactional Analysis and Optimism.

In Transactional Analysis the much maligned and little understood OK/OK existential position was made famous by Tom Harris who, with his book I'm OK Youre OK outdid Eric Berne's two year best seller Games People Play. The OK?OK position is called the "universal position" because Berne assumed that "people are born OK" that is to say that people, in their innate state tend to health, healing, and a benign expectation and trust of others.

It has been shown through hundreds of studies that human beings strongly tend to be positive in their language, thought, and memory and that people who are psychologically healthy show a higher level of positive bias. The research also indicates that people with an OK/OK attitude are likely to be healthier and live longer. It has been postulated that optimism has driven human evolution and is an innate, adaptive survival mechanisms of the species, a view that coincides with Berne's. The age-long notion--Vis Medicatrix Naturae; Nature's Healing Hand--reflects the fact that we are genetically programmed for self-healing and nurturance.

When lost, according to Berne, the OK position can be regained as it is innate while the not OK position is tied to an acquired "life script" an arbitrary narrative or schema decided upon early in life, on which people tend to base the rest of their lives; in other words the pessimistic position or attitude is optional and can be redecided if we put our minds to it. Is the glass half full or half empty? This question turns out to be an important indication of human destiny. Evidence over the last centuries is that the human social condition-- barring an ecological catastrophe--is steadily progressing in the positive direction of equality, cooperation, democracy and humanitarianism which would tend to support the view that this is an innate trend of the species.

Optimism, Realism, Pessimism and the Religious Feeling.

Is it possible to be realistic and optimistic at the same time? Is it possible to be optimistic and not religious? It does not seem to the liberal mentality to be possible. Realistically it seems, we are going to hell in a handbasket. Yet realism, even if it leads to dire predictions through statistical methodology does not necessarily mandate a pessimistic attitude. Nor does an optimistic attitude or religiosity necessarily denote an unrealistic approach. Realism and attitude about the future are not necessarily tied together and are in fact aspect of different portions of the brain.

Realism, a product of the frontal lobe, makes predictions which in the case of complex systems like economics, the weather and health are variable in their accuracy especially if they are projected far into the future. Optimism, pessimism as well as the religious feeling which are emotional in nature are functions of the limbic brain. Even though connected through neural pathways these two portions of the brain tend not to relate to each other though they are fully capable of developing a neural connection.

Jimmy Carter learned the hard way how being realistic and speaking of malaise can get you unelected. George Bush has been groomed otherwise. His message is unrelentingly optimistic and was much preferred to Kerry's realistic stance. One clear outcome of the elections was that Bush with all of his studied ignorance, arrogance, malaprops and untruths was far more popular than Kerry. I attribute this to a wholly manufactured polarity of optimism and negativity between the candidates which was combined with a superb use of the effect of positive attitudes on the electorate, to make Kerry the less likeable candidate.

As an example on the crucial issue of the war, Bush's unwavering attitude was (and still is) "We did the right thing, it was a good thing, we are winning we are going to succeed." Kerry's message: "Wrong war, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons, catastrophe, mistake” was music to my liberal ears but had a hidden component of pessimism that threw voters sympathies to Bush.

One truly gruesome consequence of the realism, pessimism confusion is the oft experienced liberal glee—duly noted by Republicans--as a reaction to dreadful news of deaths in Iraq; a sort of desperate clinging to bad news as a way to prove ourselves right. Should it not be possible to sadly say “this is as was predicted” instead of feeling the pleasure of vindication? How f-----d up is that? Go figure…

What are we to do?

The joke goes: Martin Luther's history-making speech was "I have a dream" not "I have a complaint."

It seems that pessimism and cynicism are optional attitudes and not necessary even for those who are realists and not inclined to religious beliefs. So for those of us who are compelled to be pessimists by our make-up or background and want to get on the same page with the electorate, the word, albeit glib, is "Get over it."

Claude Steiner

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Leo Strauss; The Prophet of Lies.

Leo Strauss; Neo-con Guru.
by Claude Steiner
Sampled and abstracted, with apologies, from numerous essays gathered on the Internet.

Leo Strauss the philosopher that legitimizes the Nietzsheian/Malthusian principles of the neo-conservatives that are now in power in our nation believed that the common people were unable to deal with the truth; that there is no God, no Nation, no Justice, no Equality, no God-given human rights. Noble lies are necessary to govern properly. If not deceived the people will lead the nation to destruction.

Leo Strauss (1899-1973) calls for a return to and a renewal of ancient political philosophy, in particular that of Plato. Strauss provides a very distinctive point of view about modernity; he is pre-modern and anti-modern, not in defense of religion or of tradition but in the name of reason.
Socrates, Strauss argued, was guilty as charged for philosophy is a threat to society. By questioning the gods and the ethos of the city, philosophy undermines the citizens' loyalty and thus the basis of normal social life, putting himself in danger of persecution. Yet philosophy is also the highest and worthiest of all human endeavors. Consequently philosophers should, and in fact did, keep their teachings secret, passing them on by the “esoteric” art of writing "between the lines." Strauss believed that he alone had recovered the true, hidden message contained in the great tradition of philosophy from Plato to Hobbes and Locke, namely; that there are no Gods, that morality is ungrounded prejudice and that society is not grounded in nature.

According to Strauss, Machiavelli's writings are the turning point that lead to modern political philosophy, and Machiavelli’s sin was to speak esoteric truths openly. He told all within hearing that there is no certain God who punishes wrongdoing; that one can get away with anything. He whispered these truths in the ears of princes but the common man heard.

Strauss was an atheist, for whom the Judeo-Christian religion was false, not just uncertain. For him, religion is at bottom simply dogmatic. Yet he combines this view with a vigorous defense of that self-same religion, because he believed that religion was a great necessity for ordinary men. Nietzsche, who he admired, was right: man needs lies.

From Nietzsche to Leo Strauss,

From Nietzsche to Strauss only the names have been changed. What Nietzsche called the "superman,” Strauss calls the "philosopher." The philosopher/superman is that rare man who can face the truth: that there is no God, there is no morality, no good and evil, and of course, no afterlife.

But the great majority of men and women are so far from ever being able to handle the truth, that they virtually belong to another species. Nietzsche called it the "herd," and also the "slaves." They require the bogeymen of a threatening God, the menace of punishment in the afterlife, and the fiction of moral right and wrong. Without these illusions, ordinary people would go mad and run riot and the social order, any social order, would collapse. This is a matter of human nature and, according to Strauss, will always be so.

It is the supermen/philosophers who provide the herd with the religious, moral, and other beliefs they require, but which the supermen themselves know to be lies. Nietzsche said that his supermen were "atheistic priests," and Strauss pretends that their lies are "noble lies." But they do not do this out of benevolence; charity and benevolence are mocked by Nietzsche and Strauss as unworthy of gods and godlike men.

However the philosophers require various sorts of people for support, the "gentlemen," among them. Rather than receiving the "esoteric," or secret teachings when young, the future "gentlemen" are indoctrinated in the "exoteric," or public teachings. They are taught to believe in religion, morality, patriotism, and the importance of public service. Of course, along with these traditional virtues, they also believe in the "philosophers" who have taught them their wisdom.

Those "gentlemen" who become statesmen, will continue to listen to the wisdom of the philosophers. The rule of the philosophers through their front-men in government, is what Strauss calls the "secret kingdom" of the philosophers, a "secret kingdom" which is the life's objective of many of Strauss's esoteric students.

Enter the Modern World,

The "modern world" of the modern, enlightenment philosophers who gave birth to both scientific-technological progress and the liberal ideology of social-political progress ha sfailed. The enlightenment philosophers argued that instead of hiding philosophical activities, philosophers should reform society to make it more hospitable to philosophy. One such reform is the acceptance of modern science, by which reason masters nature and provides material gratifications -- safety, health and wealth -- to common men. Physical science and technology would provide the know-how, while a new kind of regime, liberalism, would provide the conditions of rationality, liberty and equality enabling people to pursue their self-interest.

This modern project failed, Straussians claim, because it exposed the true nature of philosophical beliefs and ultimately prostituted philosophy into the service of common men. The esoteric tradition was forgotten, and modern philosophy with its belief in truth, equality and democracy inadvertently exposed people to certain hard truths, truths too hard for them to bear: that there are no Gods to reward good or punish evil; that no one's nation—patria--is really any better than anyone else's; that one's ancestral ways are merely conventional. This information in the hands of the common man leads to nihilism; the listless, meaningless life of the bourgeoisie.

The Straussians go on to imply that the major evil of modern egalitarianism is that it makes philosophy impossible, by reducing anything that is not accessible to the common man to the lowest common denominator. But philosophy is not the only thing that suffers: so do creativity, heroism, authority, and all other "elite" qualities which the members of the herd cannot comprehend.

Strauss, an ethnic Jew and refugee from Nazi Germany saw the liberalism of mid-century America as a mirror image of the Weimar Republic: morally weak, incapable of self-preservation as proven by the ignominious collapse of the liberal establishment, both political and academic, in the face of the New Left. Curiously, the Straussians and Left-wing nihilists agree on most points—there is no God, no Nation, no Justice, no Equality--differing only in that the Straussians think these "truths" should be known only to the few.

The key Straussian concept is the "Straussian text," which is a piece of philosophical writing that is deliberately written so that the average reader will understand it as saying one ("exoteric") thing but the special few for whom it is intended will grasp its real ("esoteric") meaning.

There is an evident contradiction between the idea of philosophy as the pursuit of truth, and the Straussian imperative to write obscurely. Allan Bloom, a Straussian, wrote The Closing of the American Mind a stunning 1980’s best seller which much more clearly written than anything by Leo Strauss. But even Bloom makes his argument complex and subtle to the point of evasiveness, as if he wants to confuse and mislead the reader. The Straussian method is so careful to hide the point of its argument that he nearly fails to make it; certainly he fails to support it. Strauss puts his students to such a mental effort to try to understand him that they are too exhausted to make the mental effort to criticize him.

Straussians believe that we need to try to refurbish the old notion of "natural rights," on which the republic was founded. Bloom regards "natural rights" as illusory, and bourgeois society as distasteful; but they are at least preferable to the nihilism of the New Left which was the inevitable culmination of the ideology of liberty and equality. Given the disaster of the modern egalitarian project Bloom's only hope seems to be the cultivation of a tiny cabal to pass on the old lore through the new Dark Age of egalitarianism.

This small cabal of Straussians has among his adherents Justice Clarence Thomas; Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork; Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; former Assistant Secretary of State Alan Keyes; former Secretary of Education William Bennett; Weekly Standard editor and former Quayle Chief of Staff, William Kristol; Allan Bloom; former New York Post editorials editor John Podhoretz; former National Endowment for the Humanities Deputy Chairman John T. Agresto; the National Review publisher William F. Buckley; former Reagan Administration official Alan Keyes; current White House bio-ethics advisor Francis Fukuyama; Attorney General John Ashcroft; and William Galston, former Clinton Administration domestic policy advisor, and co-author, with Elaine Kamark, of the Joe Lieberman-led Democratic Leadership Council's policy blueprint.

Earlier Strauss allies and protégés in launching the post-World War II neo-conservative movement were Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Samuel Huntington, Seymour Martin Lipset, Daniel Bell, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and James Q. Wilson. All these individuals have been influenced by Strauss’s thinking and share with him the belief that it is not possible to govern without hiding the truth from the people. The openly support liberty, God given human rights, freedom, equality, democracy, religion, the Constitution, but privately-esoterically-they are highly skeptical of these concepts and would not hesitate to covertly undermine them if they believed that to be to the advantage of effective government.

Are People Entitled to the Truth?

The neo-cons' answer to this question is plainly "No!." The necessity to be truthful, for these people and others who have become the leaders of our country is merely a practical encumbrance; there is no harm in lying unless the lie is discovered. In fact it is a necessity; it is impossible to govern by being truthful, people cannot tolerate the truth and need to be lied to. For instance, the facts about the threats from external as well as internal sources to our country has been systematically falsified from the time that Donald Rumsfeld testified to the existence of secrets Soviet weapons in the 70’s, the time that Elliot Abrams and Nicholas Negroponte lied to congress about the Nicaraguan contras, the lies about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the progress of democracy in the Middle East. The same sort of falsification is going on internally with regard to the threat to our Social Security System, the willful and systematic destruction of our welfare system and the true threat of terrorism. The list of “noble lies” is long and will continue as long as the Straussian cabal maintains control of our nation’s affairs.

Claude Steiner

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Why would Bush lie about Social Security?

In his commentary entitled “Unsocial Insecurity” (New Yorker; Jan 34-31) Hendrick Hertzberg asks why the White House seems determined to fix the Social Security system when it is, in fact, not broken. One possible reason he gives is that privatization will spur young people to think like investors, thereby augmenting Republican rolls. He offers a second more cynical explanation—that privatization would transfer vast amounts of money to Wall Street and swell party coffers with stockbroker’s contributions. The third reason he explores is ideological, the Republican belief that it is good to save, be self reliant and plan ahead; that privatization will encourage “wholesome” Republican values. All three explanations are probably true to some degree.

But I believe Hertzberg overlooks a far more cynical, arguably malicious, motive that drives this administration. The Bush regime wants a huge deficit to “starve the beast” of government. Privatization would create an additional trillion-dollar deficit. I believe that the Iraq war waged for fictitious reasons, this imaginary social security crisis-and-fix, as well as Bush’s huge tax cuts all serve the same purpose. If the goal is to get rid of most social welfare programs, outlandish tax cuts and huge expenditures are a far more efficient approach than piece-meal cutting. Even more sinister, I believe it is understood by the architects of these policies that the poor and the enfeebled will be the ones to suffer (and even die). Such suffering would not be an unintended consequence. They see cutting off the poor and infirm from government assistance as key to creating the better society they envision; their aim is to free society of the drag imposed by those who, in the eyes of the increasingly ruthless right, don’t pull their own weight.

The designers of the White House policies—the so-called “neo-cons”—are clearly imbued with an ideology that can only be described as Nietzschean/Malthusian. “Why spend billions yearly on welfare programs which encourage passive insufficiency, don’t help anyway and only prolong the agony of the unfit?” they ask. “Cut the funding and let nature take its course. Many will see the light, smell the coffee and pull themselves together and become productive citizens. As for the rest, whatever happens will be the result of their own freely made choices. American is a land of opportunity where anyone can make it if they try. So let the chips fall as they may.”

The most extreme and never openly expressed view of these conservative extremists is: Let those who are self-destructive, undisciplined, and willfully unproductive perish—let them die—if they so choose, while we invest in the talented, self reliant and productive. In this view Rowanda, Bosnia, the AIDS epidemics, the tsunami, and de-funding social services are just natural and inevitable Malthusian phenomena that serve to selectively depopulate a world that is failing to allow the talented their proper place in history. When GWB boasts that he will spend his capital he quite literally means that he will give his political base—the Uber privileged, the economic elect—what he takes away from the poor and needy.

Dr. (and Mrs.) Claude Steiner PhD