Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Post-Post-Partisan Post

Apropos the prior posting, here's today's Washington Post lede:
"Van Jones, special adviser for green jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, resigns following weeks of pressure from the right and a flurry of revelations about his past statements."
Pressure from the right. Get it. This public servant has been hounded from office by right-wingers. Even when the sing-a-long media feigns objectivity -- which they hardly bother to do anymore -- they expose their bias all the more. According to the Post's innuendo, Jones' departure from the current administration was due to the politically motivated and by implication mean-spirited attack of "the right." Ignore the glaring facts about Mr. Jones' political radicalism and contempt, not just for his political opponents, but for the country from whose taxpayers he condescended to draw a generous salary.

There's more than a grain of truth to the Post's claim that the pressure came from the "right," but it hardly flatters the mainstream media for which the Washington Post serves as a flag ship. The relatively tiny cross-town paper, the Washington Examiner, reported on Friday, weeks after the story had begun to emerge, that the conspicuously non-right-wing news organizations had conveniently averted their eyes:
Total words about the Van Jones controversy in the New York Times: 0.
Total words about the Van Jones controversy in the Washington Post: 0.
Total words about the Van Jones controversy on NBC Nightly News: 0.
Total words about the Van Jones controversy on ABC World News: 0.
Total words about the Van Jones controversy on CBS Evening News: 0.
This leaves all the reporting to the new media and to media outlets that can be labeled as "right-wing," giving the old mainstream media the opportunity to take the sting out of the story by hinting at political bias. Had the Pravda-style mainstream been doing their job, there would have been no grounds whatsoever for the accusation. Had a comparable story emerged -- about, say, a Bush administration figure -- everyone knows that it would have been page one, above the fold in the print press and a prominent feature on the cable channels. As it is, the old and now predictably biased mainstream media had ready at hand a way to deflect the impact of the story: It was all a tempest in a right-wing teapot.

But no one gets a job as prominent as Mr. Jones job was without being vetted by the White House, and no one with anything like Mr. Jones' resumé would survive the Secret Service vetting without very high-ranking White House sponsorship. This is not just another of the administration's personnel problems; it is symptomatic of the same out-of-touch mindset that assumes that the town-hall meetings are the work of disreputable right-wing fanatics. So much for the post-partisan promises. The shell game isn't working as well as planned.

The corollary to all this is that, by noticing the ideological bias of the current administration and its mainstream media votaries, occasional bloggers like yours truly must be right-wingers. It isn't so.



20 comments:

Athos said...

Jeff Hendrix here. Truth will out. Follow the money. And, clearly, the cone of silence doesn't work for leftists any better than for the right wing administrations.

Paul said...

Here is a link to a profile of Van Jones in the New Yorker. So this is what passes for a radical nowadays?

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/01/12/090112fa_fact_kolbert?currentPage=all

It seems that Gil is suggesting that the media failed miserably to investigate Van Jones and find out that he signed a zany petition. Or even that they DID investigate, but just didn't want to TELL anyone what they found because that would be bad for "the left." Does anyone really believe that that's how magazines and newspapers work? Do you think this New Yorker writer, for instance, would not have liked to have found out that information, and so gotten to ask him about that?

In the Soviet Union, perhaps, and in Hollywood films like Enemy of the State, it would be possible that the fact that one signed a dubious petition would be immediately brought to light by "the Secret Service" -- you know, those guys who we all thought were there to protect important people but are actually pouring over old petitions 24-7.

Gil's post suggests that "the left" (AKA "the media") cared very very deeply about Van Jones and tried to cover it all up. Is that more likely than the fact that no one really cared enough about him to dig up old news?

Gil says that this is a "post" post-partisan post. Suggesting that his earlier posts -- such as the one in which he said the only thing he needed to know in order to reject the health care reform plan was that Obama was for it -- were not partisan.

Gil Bailie is an excellent reader of texts, but this blog -- which I came to hoping to hear his insights about Rene Girard -- is a post-unbiased view of politics in the United States. There is a consistent paring down of data to those points with which a negative stereotype of the Obama administration and "liberal" causes (such as saving the environment) can be constructed. It's as if in any sphere of contemporary life, an opportunity for a negative judgment of liberals and Obama in particular is sought frantically.

What I don't understand is why? Gil Bailie is a smart guy. Is it the abortion issue that makes all other issues non-issues?

Why is there this apparent predisposition to behave in a prejudiced manner -- this sort of cherry picking of experience and "news" in order to find negative examples that prove the legitimacy of the negative judgment?

Athos said...

Jeff H. again. Hi, Paul. I, too, venture here to ROFAC for mimetic theory insights, but blogs being what they are really don't lend themselves to substantial, sustained discourse. Blogs by their nature are only good for sound bites and shorthand.

Perhaps I'm wrong but it seems to me that Gil would be saying precisely the same thing if a Republican administration was (a) doing such a poor job of vetting, (b) the MSM was consistently turning a mythologically blind-eye to its ideologically-driven agenda, and (c) popular culture as packaged by the MSM weren't at-odds with the magisterium of the Church.

Have you ever watched, for example, the Today Show recently? Fluff. And when not fluff, it is showing its politically correct presuppositions to make sure it stays atop the morning show list by dutifully lining up with the dogmatics of The View.

If you want Girard's mimetic theory in general and the ins and outs of the primitive sacred, just ask yourself this question: Who are the most defenseless, innocent, voiceless victims of the sacred in today's culture?

Remember Hamerton-Kelly's dictum - when a conventional culture begins to break down, it tries to surcharge its victimary mechanism by either increasing the prestige of its victims or number of victims: regicide or genocide.

We're in the latter stage presently, and we are sacrificing our unborn children. The Old Testament prophets would spot it in a heart beat. We don't very often because we live under the mythological fog of pop culture. We speak about "compassion" and health care reform and keep the voiceless victims dying - absolutely legally - in abortuary mills.

I'd say Gil is indeed proclaiming mimetic theory here. Best

Mike O'Malley said...

Paul can you fix your link to the New Yorker article on Van Jones so we can check and compare.

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I'm going to test your comprehension of the scope of the whitewash Paul.


Paul to what degree are you aware whether or not the official Obama campaign website in 2008 hosted a section for virulent anti-Semitic supporters of then candidate Obama?

Mike O'Malley said...

Athos said: Remember Hamerton-Kelly's dictum - when a conventional culture begins to break down, it tries to surcharge its victimary mechanism by either increasing the prestige of its victims or number of victims: regicide or genocide.

Thank you for your most excellent observation Athos. Can you provide me with a link to a source of the Hamerton-Kelly dictum. It seems I'm going to have to visit your website on a regular basis too. ;-)

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The ruthless and relentless "regicide" of President George W. Bush started no later the post-election recount campaign in November and December 2000. I was a local level union officer back then and attended several of my union's national legislative conventions. Back in 1999, one of our featured convention speakers had been one of Al Gore's national campaign managers some time earlier. This speaker began his long talk by touting his Marxist and radical union connections going all the way back to his grandfather in Chicago. He boasted that they had a campaign "book on George W. Bush". No surprise there. However, what I found chilling was that the speaker transitioned from haranguing about candidate Bush and the "Republicans" to degrading and demonizing Evangelical Christians. This was in 1999.

Let there be no doubt that the Progressive Left demonized Pres. Bush in no small part because they perceived him as part of some sort of Christian threat to their political and social dominance. This too would appear to conform with mimetic theory's consideration of "selection" of the victim.

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I doubt a practiced Alinskian such a Pres. Obama is troubled by this. He should be. It seems to me that if public sentiments and/or media sentiments turn on Pres. Obama, his fall maybe quite shockingly sudden if he were to become the substitute scapegoated leader.

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To my recollection there is only one academic work about the MSM distortion and manipulation of Pres. Bush's effort to communicate with the American people. That scholarly work is Bush's War: Media Bias and Justifications for War in a Terrorist Age by professor Jim A. Kuypers. I recommend it to you.


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Here is a comparison for consideration. The MSM expended quite an effort ferreting out and reporting fraudulent National Guard records which they believed would damage Pres. Bush politically. I ask you Athos, Paul, Gil and other readers: to what extent has the American Mainstream media reported this pertinent peace of historical information on Sen. Ted Kennedy?

http://www.americanthinker.com/Kennedropov.pdf

This May 14, 1983 KGB memo form KGB head Victor Chebrikov to his boss to the hardline Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov. The accompanying translation is accurate. This KGB memo was given the highest classification of secrecy and was found in KGB files after the fall of the Soviet Union. Teddy Kennedy's Boston office did not deny this document's authenticity when this KGB document was initially published in Britain. They confined themselves to quibbling vaguely about the interpretation given to it. No major American newspaper, network or news service report anything about this stunning document at that time.

Paul said...

Athos, without question the mass media is failing. Generally incapable of presenting the truth about anything that matters, it tends (beyond ideology) to gravitate toward whatever will pollute the social atmosphere. This is not a question of right and left. Gil Bailie insists that it is. I am amazed by that, because he should know better. It wasn't me who asked on this blog "what happened to the old Gil Bailie?" But it's a good question.

Because the old Gil Bailie would not be betraying his Girardian training. I asked in my last post why Gil seems to cherry-pick news to suit ideological purposes?

You seem to confirm my suspicions that it is the abortion issue that is the stumbling block here. That Gil's anti-Obama passion is driven by his being on the wrong side of that issue.

You suggest one ask the Girardian question: "Who are the most defenseless, innocent, voiceless victims of the sacred in today's culture?"

That is a very good question. But here's the thing: Girard has no answer for this! Gil Bailie does. Girard doesn't. He would point out to you that you cannot measure victims, because mine is always infinitely innocent and yours is less so.

Girard doesn't answer this because he insists that for one thing we never see our own scapegoats. How many times in his work does he quote Jesus' line saying that we cannot judge lest we judge ourselves.

Who is the biggest victim cannot be resolved, one spins endlessly around switching from one victim perspective to another.

Explain to me what Gil Bailie is up to here in his diatribe against the liberal media (The Washington Post as liberal???) if not "putting on show certain kinds of victims (rather than all of them) in a way that is still effectively unilateral and revengeful." (Things Hidden, p. 440)

"The victims are always there, and everyone is sharpening his weapon for use against his neighbor in a desperate attempt to win himself a plot of innocence that he can inhabit on his own or in the company of a regenerate human race."

Your Hammerton-Kelly quote is fine -- but it works both for and against those who seek to polarize all the issues into right and left in order to decide the undecidable. One can only be a victimizer today by claiming to be victimized. That explains why we must frantically seek opportunities for negative judgments of those who oppose us.

Deciding for one pole against the other, refusing to take up the complexities of the issues, cherry-picking political news about health care to find fuel for anger driven by quite another issue (abortion)...this is a cop out. It's a mistake. It's not Girardian. And I'll go even one more: it's a failure of nerve.

"Stop the world I want to get off." For some people, the abortion issue solves that. The world is in need of a great deal of care and clear-thinking. The complexities cause one to gnash one's teeth like those poor sods in the Old Testament. But that is all of us! Sooner or later some find it easier to decide the issue -- to "make it simple" as Gil would put it -- and ever after cherry-pick issues to defend one's capitulation.

But if abortion is the only issue, the secret center of these Girardian "reflections on faith and culture," Gil might consider rewriting the copy at the top of the landing page on his blog to talking about "the challenge" of our time (abortion, right?) rather than the (many, difficult, maddening, satanic, apocalyptic) "challenges" that the rest of us Girardians want to investigate.

Athos said...

Paul wrote: That is a very good question. But here's the thing: Girard has no answer for this! Gil Bailie does. Girard doesn't. He would point out to you that you cannot measure victims, because mine is always infinitely innocent and yours is less so.

Girard doesn't answer this because he insists that for one thing we never see our own scapegoats


I almost did not respond because I don't think I can add anything more than I wrote in my second comment.

What I will say is to the above: I have read a 'Girardian' who purports to stand up for pro-choice folk because they will undoubtedly be scapegoated by pro-life folk.

This is the Ouroboros problem of mimetic theory. With no point of reference it devours itself in relativism. Hence, I have heard Gil say that Girard (and he) will gladly subsume all MT matters under the magisterium of the Catholic Church for without a truth claim, even MT becomes a mere political tool.

(An aside: The war on Iraq, which JPII decried as unjust by Church teaching might be seen as a way of keeping the sacrificial maelstrom away from "here", just as, I suspect the growing Afghan war is presently.)

So, if I am remembering aright in my memory - Gil wd have to verify this himself - Girard knows the need to bow to an External Mediator transmitted and vouchsafed by the magisterium of the Church. If you do not subscribe to this source of truth, Paul, then good luck to you with that. Best

Paul said...

In Gil's latest post he, mercifully, puts some distance between himself and Glenn Beck. But he doesn't get too far way. He goes on to say that he (like Beck and Limbaugh) is getting his news these days from Newsbusters, which is run by L. Brent Bozell III, a notorious advocate of censorship, whose father was the brother-in-law of William F. Buckley and co-wrote a book with Buckley (later downplayed by Buckley for obvious reasons) in the heart of the Red Scare entitled MCCARTHY AND HIS ENEMIES. Quote from book: “As long as McCarthyism fixes its goals with its present precision, it is a movement around which men of good will and stern morality can close ranks.”

There were doubtless many people at that time who would have both stood with Joe McCarthy and at that the same time vehemently denied that they had sacrificed the complex middle-distances.

Gil Bailie said...

Paul's a real history buff, huh? The question about NewsBusters is whether or not what they publish is true. If real factual errors can be shown, that would amount to a valid critique.
My best to all.

Gil Bailie said...

P.S. I forgot to mention GetReligion.org; a good site for interesting insights into cultural matters.
Just so you don't think I'm completely asleep at this end.
Cheers, Gil

Mike O'Malley said...

Yes Gil, Getreligion.org is a great website. Readers will often find there missing depth and accuracy in news reports about religion that MSM seems incapable of handling.

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On the other hand Paul, I'm not particularly impressed by your interweaving of guilt by association and ad hominem attack, thereby afflicting the sins of the father unto the several generations!

as in above:
Paul said... In Gil's latest post he, mercifully, puts some distance between himself and Glenn Beck. But he doesn't get too far way. He goes on to say that he (like Beck and Limbaugh) is getting his news these days from Newsbusters, which is run by L. Brent Bozell III, a notorious advocate of censorship, whose father was the brother-in-law of William F. Buckley and co-wrote a book with Buckley (later downplayed by Buckley for obvious reasons) in the heart of the Red Scare entitled MCCARTHY AND HIS ENEMIES. Quote from book: "As long as McCarthyism fixes its goals with its present precision, it is a movement around which men of good will and stern morality can close ranks."

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OK Paul, as you are into guilt by association, Tailgunner Joe McCarthy had strong personal and political connections with another famous conservative American Catholic patriarch of a rather politically influential family. Sen. Joseph McCarthy dated two of this chap's daughters and employed one of this chap's several politician sons (future US Senator and US Attorney General) on his congressional staff. Indeed Joe McCarthy is the godfather for one of this chap's prominent politician granddaughters.

Paul said... There were doubtless many people at that time who would have both stood with Joe McCarthy and at that the same time vehemently denied that they had sacrificed the complex middle-distances.

Can you name and so discredit that other famous American Catholic conservative patriarch and his sons, Paul? Here's another hint. This chap in question had an affinity for Hitler during the 1930s and tried to undermine FDR's anti-Nazi foreign policy in this regard.

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Reader's who wish to get a more accurate view of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's place in American history might do well to read, Blacklisted By History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America's Enemies, by M. Stanton Evans.

Mike O'Malley said...

... less I forget, that staffer for Sen. McCarthy referred to above. He got his start in Washington working as a lawyer in the Internal Security Section(which investigated suspected Soviet agents) of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. His dad, the chap referred to above, got him a job working on Senator Joe McCarthy's staff as a rather active assistant counsel of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI). In time this politician son became Chief Counsel of PSI. Sen. Joseph McCarthy was the Chairman of PSI which he used to investigate Communist infiltration into the US government.

Since you have an interest purported enemies of free speech Paul I'll tell you a story I learned from an old fashion gumshoe reporter some time ago. This particular assistant counsel of PSI (referred to above) caught a prominent news reporter, David Brinkley (I think), in the corridors under the US Senate. This assistant counsel (and son) was furious with Brinkley for having broadcast something negative about Sen. McCarthy, so he violently grabbed Brinkley by his jacket lapels and threw Brinkley up against the corridor wall under the US Senate and threatened him angrily demanding that Brinkley never offend McCarthy again! BTW: it was this staffer/son's daughter for whom Joe McCarthy is a godfather.

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So Paul, what do you say? Can you name and so discredit that other famous American Catholic conservative patriarch and his sons, Paul?

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BTW Paul you characterize L. Brent Bozell III as a "notorious advocate of censorship". That seems hardly reasonable or fair as Bozell pretty much limited his focus to indecency in the broadcast media. It's difficult to imagine that the Founding Fathers would have consider that censorship no matter what Keith Olbermann might tell you Paul. You know Paul, Olbermann named Bozell the "Worst Person in the World" several times in 2006 and 2007. One would think the a person concerned about the evils of scapegoating, such as yourself, would be wary of mimicking Olbermann and would be fair to Bozell.

Cheryl Maslow said...

Athos writes: When a conventional culture begins to break down, it tries to surcharge its victimary mechanism by either increasing the prestige of its victims or number of victims: regicide or genocide. ... We’re in the latter stage, and we’re sacrificing our unborn children.

The word “genocide” seems misapplied when used to describe abortion. (Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group, according to Merriam-Webster.) This is not just a quibble over definitions. We have a much better chance of understanding both abortion and genocide as sacrificial phenomena if we make careful distinctions.

Athos described the unborn as “defenseless, innocent, and voiceless,” and the unborn (and small children) are in fact universally regarded in this way. This doesn’t prevent their being killed in abortions and wartime bombings or neglected to the point of starvation or disease-related death. I am not the first to point out that caring for the unborn and newly-born requires caring for the mothers that are carrying or nursing them, for the fathers that support these mothers financially and emotionally, and even for the broader society and ecology that sustains all of them. This means that the abortion issue is also the health care issue and the income disparity issue and the environmental quality issue. And it is a part of a vast web of many other issues as well. How many millions of the unborn or newly born have suffered and died in the Sahel because of water shortages caused by desertification and resulting disturbances in the hydrological cycle? (Water shortages are associated with typhoid.) These are infant deaths that could have been prevented, but tribes and sovereign nations decided that other matters were more important. This is sacrifice, but it’s not necessarily “victimage” in the Girardian sense. These deaths did not restore harmony to a community in crisis. Rather, the powerful (the state, multinational corporations, tribal leaders, warlords, etc.) decided that these individuals were expendable.

Soldiers are also considered expendable, and they are also sacrificed. (8.5 million were killed or died in WWI.) But, again, they are not “victims” in the (Girardian) sense that there is any polarization of animus against them. (The animus is directed toward the enemy.)

But genocide requires animus toward its victims, who cannot and must not be regarded as defenseless, innocent, or voiceless. Paul echos the classic Girardian paradigm when he writes, The victims are always there, and everyone is sharpening his weapon for use against his neighbor in a desperate attempt to win himself a plot of innocence that he can inhabit on his own or in the company of a regenerate human race.

So we have sacrifice with and without animus toward the sacrificed. In one case (exemplified by both regicide and genocide), the sacrificed are victims in the Girardian sense because their deaths restore social order (by investing the victimizers with their coveted innocence). In the other case (exemplified by abortion and sending soldiers off to war), the sacrificed are considered expendable for the sake of some national, tribal, or societal interest, and the sacrifice is given legal and even moral sanction by the state.

Many pro-life individuals believe the state should not have the right to sanction violence against the unborn (and that it has no God-given right to do so). Some of these individuals would prefer that powers now held by the state should be returned to the Church. But the reality is that the nation-state does have the right to kill and to sanction killing, and it has the right to sacrifice whatever group it deems expendable. In our present health-care and insurance reform debate, we’re about to find out who is expendable. The sad part of it is that the state has now become so identified with corporate interests that it has begun to operate like a front for them. Thus, we are now at two removes from the magisterium of the Church that Athos referred to.

Mike O'Malley said...

Cheryl Maslow said... But the reality is that the nation-state does have the right to kill and to sanction killing, and it has the right to sacrifice whatever group it deems expendable.

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Tutto nello Stato
(Everything in the State)
Niente al di fuori dello Stato
(Nothing outside the State)
Nulla contro lo Stato
(Nothing against the State)
His Excellency Benito Mussolini

Athos said...

genocide requires animus toward its victims, who cannot and must not be regarded as defenseless, innocent, or voiceless

Not at all, Cheryl. Rather, as Chesterton pointed out, genocide merely needs "splendid dupes" -

Evil always takes advantage of ambiguity ... Evil always wins through the strength of its splendid dupes; and there has in all ages been a disastrous alliance between abnormal innocence and abnormal sin.

And as far as "classical Girardian paradigm(s)" go, one must never listen to the themes spoken by scapegoaters; rather, observe carefully the structure of their actions. That is, if there is violence toward victims, listen not to soothing words. And specifically in this case, the structure is the death-wielding, stainless steel, latex-gloved abortion industry.

Intention as nice and vital as you make it sound is the first victim of the mythological haze of the Sacred.

Mike O'Malley said...

Thank you for another worthy post Athos. I'm going to leave the Girardian substance of this issue largely in your competent hands and limit myself to policing the factual and historical framework of this discussion for now. I'd like to comment on another of Gil's unaddressed posts or two with my limited time.

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Cheryl Maslow writes: The word "genocide" seems misapplied when used to describe abortion. (Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group, according to Merriam-Webster.)

In the American context genocide of non-White Americans was always part of the impetuous for legalizing abortion in the USA. Justice Ruth Ginsburg recently alluded to this in a recent interview. Indeed the deliberate and systemic nature of the racial aspect of abortion in America continues to be reflected in the placement of Planned Parenthood abortion mills in or close to Black neighborhoods. Many Third World critics of the US observed the racialist and genocidal motivations for the American Population Control Movement's global outreach decades and decades ago. The result of which is that in much of the Third World the American Population Control Movement has promoted what has become in effect gendercide. Perhaps Athos can explore the Girardian aspect of gender selective abortion in China for example.


Cheryl Maslow writes: ... This doesn't prevent their being killed in abortions and wartime bombings or neglected to the point of starvation or disease-related death. I am not the first to point out that caring for the unborn and newly-born requires caring for the mothers that are carrying or nursing them, for the fathers that support these mothers financially and emotionally, and even for the broader society and ecology that sustains all of them.

I agree, however in the USA it is the absence of the married biological father from the family that is causally associated with largely all neglect, malnurishment, abuse, lack of financial support and emotional support, instances of warlike inner-city violence and other social pathologies which plague children. This fatherlessness is the consequence of several related factors in which include Great Society social programs, the American Population Control Movement's Sexual Revolution and Wade vs. Roe.

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Cheryl Maslow writes: Soldiers are also considered expendable, and they are also sacrificed. (8.5 million were killed or died in WWI.) But, again, they are not "victims" in the (Girardian) sense that there is any polarization of animus against them. (The animus is directed toward the enemy.)

I'm inclined to agree regarding WWII, nonetheless it seems misleading to say that the US military or American culture considers its military personnel to be expendable in wartime. Moreover, I believe the Girard does indeed see these wartime casualties as sacrifices as Bailie and Girard have discoursed on war as sacraficial and have noted self-sacrifice in primitive hunting rituals. Perhaps Athos or even Gil can address this too.

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Cheryl Maslow writes: Many pro-life individuals believe the state should not have the right to sanction violence against the unborn (and that it has no God-given right to do so). Some of these individuals would prefer that powers now held by the state should be returned to the Church.

I doubt you will for evidence supporting such a preference for transfer of power from the state to church in the Magisterium or in American Protestant versions of Christianity. In this regard, I expect that you have been mislead by anti-Christian "socialist" Chris Hedges and his ilk.


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Cheryl Maslow writes: The sad part of it is that the state has now become so identified with corporate interests that it has begun to operate like a front for them.

That observation would seems supportable in the US and around the world only by adherence to rigid ideology ... ;-)

Cheryl Maslow said...

This is a continuation (part 2) of my previous comment, and there will be at least one more part.

I clipped a March 2009 article from The Atlantic Monthly about a Hamas leader who had sent one of his own sons to his death in an attack on an Israeli settlement. He told the writer that he intended to encourage another son to do the same, and that, with four wives, he hoped to have 50 children. (The writer reports that shortly after the interview, this man, his remaining children, and his pregnant wife were killed by an Israeli bomb dropped on his house.) The article is entitled, “Beyond Belief,” as if to suggest that this Hamas leader’s intended serial sacrifice of his children was beyond comprehension to us civilized folks in the West.

This man considered his sons, and perhaps even his daughters, as expendable, but who are we to be so scandalized? We who hold up Abraham as a paragon of faith and have sent our own sons off to be slaughtered by the millions in the trenches?

I see two kinds (or perhaps levels) of sacrifice. In the first, exemplified by regicide and genocide, social order is restored through polarization of conflictual mimesis against the victim. (The victim is vilified in an attempt to force unanimity about his or her guilt.) In the second (e.g., combat death and abortion), no animus is directed toward those who are “sacrificed.” They are treated as expendable because the nation that disposes of them (or, in the case of abortion, allows their deaths) holds what it considers a higher interest. Soldiers are expendable because they are protecting the nation’s fertile center (which is strongly associated with women). Aborted fetuses are expendable because the women carrying them have decided that the fetus’s survival is incompatible with something that they value even more highly, and, in many cases, I should hasten to add, their decision may be entirely altruistic. The nation, with its voting women, has granted women the right to make this decision and, in so doing, has demonstrated its own “higher” interest in protecting its fertile center—associated more with women than with fetuses. (Our sisters, aunts, cousins, daughters, and mothers must be kept safe from back-alley abortionists and protected from prosecution.)

This, to me, is the meaning of the startling title of Richard A. Koenigsberg’s book, “Nations Have the Right to Kill.” There is certainly no other entity that can claim this right, which passed from the Church to secular power centers many centuries ago in the West. International bodies have been trying to wrest some of this authority from nation states and to claim legitimacy for their own declarations of human rights, and this is an encouraging development. Meanwhile, sectarian groups compete with each other and with the state, but it seems unlikely to me that we’ll return to a theocratic era anytime soon (in Western democracies, at any rate). Athos believes in the need to “bow to an External Mediator transmitted and vouchsafed by the magisterium of the Church,” and this is what we would expect from someone representing a sectarian group. Fine. The problem, however, is that this “vouchsafety,” if I may coin a term, is not believable or acceptable to those outside the Church. Other sectarian groups have similar notions and would hardly allow the Church to gather all authority and legitimacy into itself. And then there are the secularists, like myself, for whom such talk is meaningless. Excuse me, you want me to bow to whom? Pluralism has grown too vast and unwieldy to ever be stuffed back into the little starter pot where it began, so perhaps we need to approach issues of authority from a more universalist perspective. (Hmmm. Maybe the Unitarians can help us here...)

(More later)

Mike O'Malley said...

Maybe the Unitarians can help us here...)

No they can't. Their time has passed before it came. It's a demographic thing and their sense of the sacred is far too attenuated.

But the Islamofascists are eager to help!
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I'll recommend for you, Ms. Maslow, a recent essay by René Girard in the August 2009 First Things:

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2009/07/apocalypse-now

On War and Apocalypse
by René Girard

I'll quote Girard:
"Atta, the leader of the September 11 group who piloted one of the four airplanes, was the son of a middle-class Egyptian family. It is staggering to think that, during the three last days before the attack, he spent his nights in bars with his accomplices. There is something mysterious and intriguing in this. Who asks about the souls of those men? Who were they and what were their motivations? What did Islam mean to them? What does it mean to kill oneself for that cause?

We are witnessing a new stage in the escalation to extremes. Terrorists have conveyed the message that they are ready to wait, that their notion of time is not ours. This is a clear sign of the return to the archaic, a return to the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries, which is significant in itself. But who is paying attention to this significance? Who is taking its measure? Is that the job of the ministry of foreign affairs? We have to expect a lot of unexpected things in the future. We are going to witness things that will certainly be worse. Yet people will remain deaf.

On September 11, people were shaken, but they quickly calmed down. There was a flash of awareness, which lasted a few fractions of a second. People could feel that something was happening. Then a blanket of silence covered up the crack in our certainty of safety. Western rationalism operates like a myth: We always work harder to avoid seeing the catastrophe. We neither can nor want to see violence as it is. The only way we will be able to meet the terrorist challenge is by radically changing the way we think. Yet, the clearer it is what is happening, the stronger our refusal to acknowledge it. This historical configuration is so new that we do not know how to deal with it. It is precisely a modality of what Pascal saw: the war between violence and truth. Think about the inadequacy of our recent avant-gardes who preached the nonexistence of the real."

[That is our post-Christian secularist Post-Modernist elite that Girard is talking about in the last sentence of the quote.]

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The storm gathers Cheryl ... and our list of allies draws thin ... watch Honduras and Georgia ...

Cheryl Maslow said...

The two sacrificial types that I mentioned (one exhibiting animus toward the sacrificed and the other not) have permeable boundaries, and we need only expand the number of examples for this to become clear. I selected only two from each category (regicide and genocide for the one and abortion and combat deaths for the other). Expanding either one is simple, but let’s take the second category, where no animus exists. Fetuses and combat troops are highly visible, and the spilling of their blood is generally noticed by those who have decided they are expendable. But what of all those other people that we treat as expendable, either through our actions or our neglect? The homeless, the uninsured, children living in poverty in one of the richest countries in the world? Every small decision to turn our backs on a person in need involves a sacrifice, and those of us who live in dense metropolitan areas make such sacrifices every day. We sacrifice others to our convenience, our comfort, our security, and our privilege—all without the slightest animus toward them. We may even feel pangs of guilt, but these are quickly over-ridden by numb indifference. We constantly make decisions about where to allocate our resources of time, energy, and money, as we must, and many of these decisions are made in the political realm and affect millions of other people in our own society and abroad.

These sacrifices—for sacrifices they are—have real impacts on people’s lives. When we decide to seal our borders against immigrants from poorer countries, we may have the best reasons in the world, but they all come down to preservation of our own comfort, security, and privilege. Impoverished Mexican workers are expendable, and we sacrifice them to a “higher” interest. I am saying this as one who supports rather strict immigration controls.

So where’s the permeability between this category and that of the other one, where there is animus toward the sacrificed? Well, I think we see it where groups or individuals that are sacrificed for the sake of what we might consider some sort of higher good become more powerful and begin to resist and to find their voice. Those less powerful who refuse to accept their own expendability—who refuse, in Athos’ words, to remain “defenseless and voiceless”—may be softened up through vilification. In wartime, those able-bodied men who protest the war and refuse to enlist may be labeled as unpatriotic or even treasonous. In our society, the poor are often blamed for their condition, even when many of those poor are small children and pregnant mothers. (Obviously, fetuses do not belong in this intersecting area. This is because they are not yet “persons” capable of self-defense and because they are incarnations of innocence.)

Everyone is struggling not to become expendable, and some of our greatest fears about health-care reform are that we will be left out, uncared-for; that our care will be rationed, or that government death panels will decide when we are to die. We all know, on some level, that passive neglect, discrete demotion, or deselection can morph into scapegoating if we don’t go quietly.

But in struggling not to become expendable—and not to become victims—we are also struggling to stay on top, to preserve and enhance our own prestige, our privileges and our security, even if this means treating someone else as expendable. We send our boys off to war because we consider whatever they’re fighting for to be more important than their lives. We seal our borders against desperately poor Mexicans because we consider them a threat to our prosperity and well-being. We lock our doors against the homeless in our cities because the homeless are expendable when balanced against our own interests. The plain truth of the matter is that all of us are in the business of sacrifice, all the time. It’s practically all we do.

In such a diverse society, we are bound to have wildly divergent ideas about who is expendable.

Doug Hickman said...

Michelle Goldberg writes in The American Prospect, 09/09/09: It's a bitter shame that a brilliant man like Jones should be disqualified for his brushes with nuttiness, while conservatives who view global warming as a fraud perpetrated by the forces of the one-world government, or support Middle Eastern policies meant to hasten the second coming, are able to serve in Republican administrations. Nevertheless, it is generally a good thing that the Democrats don't coddle their crazies the way the right does.

James A. Haught, writing in Free Inquiry, reminds us of George W. Bush’s allusions to Gog and Magog during his conversation with French President Jacques Chirac in early 2003:

Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their “common faith” (Christianity) and told him: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East... The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled... This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”