NON-VIOLENCE IS ALIVE IN SYRIA, STILL

AlJazeera today has an article about the non-violent movement in Syria — Yes, a non-violent movement.  Who knew?

AlJazeera September 9, 2013  4:30AM ET
The Syrian Non Violence Movement continues, despite being
largely ignored in the conversation about Syria.Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images
…. Typically ignored … are the voices of
the non-violent opposition movement that took to the streets to challenge Assad
in March 2011, and which has persisted against great odds.
“No matter how beleaguered it is, civil resistance
continues,” says Mohja Kahf, a Professor of Middle East studies and
literature at the University of Arkansas and a member of the Syrian Non
Violence Movement (SNVM). A network of peaceful groups remains active in
opposition to the regime inside Syria, their activities plotted by SNVM on an interactive map that
can be viewed online.
Although it was the activists in such groups that originally
drove the nationwide uprising against the Assad regime, these days much of
their activity involves triage, mitigating the impact of the civil
war
 and building the capacity for self-governance in towns no longer
under regime control.
[There is] … a flourishing alternative media infrastructure
[in Syria, with] grassroots councils to run local government [that] organize
humanitarian relief in areas vacated by the regime, and projects such as the
Karama Bus — or “bus of dignity” — which travels around Idlib
province offering psycho-social support for internally displaced children.
“For Syrians living in Syria, just surviving and engaging in daily
activities is a form of opposition, a form of activism,” said Salahi.
Many such efforts are funded by the Syrian diaspora. Rafif
Jouejati, a Syrian-American activist organizing solidarity work describes its
results as including schools in Idlib, media centers in Aleppo, relief-distribution
in Homs and a planned water-treatment facility in Deir Ezzor.
And while many Syrians who first engaged in peaceful protest
later turned to arms in the face of the regime’s crackdown, others continue to
do non-violent political work.

Reproducing the blunders of the past

The United State government seems to be cursed with a tendency to blunder over and over again in the Middle East.  At least it seems about to reproduce the blunders of the past — again.  The reason we elect individuals to lead the country is to entrust to them the responsibility of acting in the interest of the whole.  In that capacity they should, on every issue, turn to the individuals that specialize in the issue in question to help decide what is wise.  One of the problems is of course that “experts” seldom agree when it comes to making practical applications on the basis of their abstract knowledge.  Even so, if experts find it difficult to give wise advise it hardly makes sense to entrust crucial and difficult decisions to the American people at large.  That is what the Obama administration has done with respect to the problem of punishing the Assad regime in Syria for gassing its own people.

Of course every major policy decision in a democracy is in some way affected by political considerations.  Politicians, who are supposed to be reasonably intelligent, are nevertheless swayed by their constituencies, so they can entrust specific policy decisions to their respective publics – but to do that is to invite disaster.  We currently have a Congress scattered to their respective home communities and asking their constituencies to decide on how to deal with the difficult and complex question of whether or not to punish Assad’s regime for gassing their own people.

I’m shocked and grieved that the groups I normally identify with, like MoveOn.Org, want to enter the debate, as if they had the understanding to deal with such a complex issue.  But they are not alone.  All kinds of people now are expressing opinions – now that have in the last two weeks paid some attention to what has been going on in the Middle East.  And of course they know what to do; I hear that the vote is against taking action against Assad.  How well does the public know why poison gas was outlawed after World War I?  Why weren’t these weapons used during WWII, even by either side in its greatest extremity?  What prompted the great powers on all sides to refrain from such barbarous instruments of death?  There is a reason those weapons were banned – by essentially universal agreement.

The very idea that such an instrument of mass murder could have been contemplated by any regime is a reflection of how much has been forgotten.  So the American people, who have as a whole little interest in affairs in the Middle East, in fact, have little awareness of what American interests there might be — it goes far beyond the welfare of Israel.  So of course they see no reason why the United States should take any action on Assad’s brutal resort to mass murder.

The pattern, it seems to me, keeps on being reproduced:  Each new event provides another opportunity to display ignorance and arrogance.  It is hard to face situations as they are without seeing them through the lens of the past.

A brief history:
• When Saddam Hussein’s army swept into Kuwait 1991 George Herbert Walker Bush took the wise decision to deploy a military force against Iraq.  He was supported by his Republican colleagues in Congress but most Democrats opposed him.  As it turned out, it was the right thing to do and it was a success; the Democrats looked timid and foolish.
• So when George W. Bush proposed to invade Iraq in 2003 the Democrats, chastened by the blunder in the previous event, provided little opposition.  It was a foolhardy program from the beginning and was in fact based on a lie that the Democrats – and the press — could easily have exposed.  But the Democrats were too cowardly to oppose it.  Now after many lives lost it is clear how unwise it was, and how costly.  The American people seem to have forgotten the lies that made that policy possible; it was a disaster in the end and the general respect the Americans had to that point enjoyed all around the world was lost.  Now no one argues for how wise it was. • The Obama administration is at this time faced with the question of how to respond to the outrageous use of poison gas by the Assad regime.  And our politicians, and the American people, seem to be deciding against taking even the most minimal action against the Assad regime.

I admit that the issue is not simple, but the one conviction I have is that to allow the American people to make the decision, as seems to be what is in process, is to guarantee another disaster.  The right move, whatever it is, should not be submitted to a vote.  The reason we have the electoral process – again — is to entrust to our leaders the task of dealing with difficult decisions as wisely as possible.

Our country is about to blunder in the Middle East — again.  

MORAL SENSIBILITY, NOT RELIGION, IS A FUNDAMENTAL QUALITY OF THE HUMAN BEING

Forgive me for some abstract thoughts on an issue of importance to me:  Ruminating on morals

I need to distinguish between “religion” and a moral sensibility that is more general.  Santayana famously pointed out the problem of using the word “religion” to refer to something shared by all human beings:

“Any attempt to speak without speaking any particular language is not more hopeless than the attempt to have a religion that shall be no religion in particular . . . . Its power consists in its special and surprising message and in the bias which that revelation gives to life.”  

The moment we use the word religion to refer to something common to human beings we strip the concept of any significance; in that general sense the concept is vapid, insipid, jejune.  It is not “religion” that inspires, justifies and animates extreme commitments, it is particular religious ideals associated with Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Krishna and heroic figures whose causes seem worth embracing:  Sayyed Qutb, Mother Theresa, etc.

Moral sensibility is, on the contrary, something that we all as human beings share.  We all as human beings share it. We can all be outraged.  Human beings everywhere share, I assume, the sense that some things going on in our world are outrageous and reprehensible.  Assad’s gassing of his own people – 426 children, we hear – was an act so monstrous as to require worldwide opprobrium.  And for some of us the inability of the great powers in the world to punish his regime for gassing his own people – scarcely worse than the thousands of his own citizens he has murdered through more conventional means – is equally scandalous.

Analytically the failure to distinguish between the moral sensibility that we all share as human beings and the specific religious traditions that give specific shape to such feelings had led to such nonsensical notions that religion should be avoided because in the name of religion so many atrocities have been committed.

The moral imagination expresses itself in many more forms than mere “religion”.  It is a powerful device in politics, specifically political rhetoric.  The great speeches of public leaders are great because they put into verbal form the sentiments of many ordinary people.  The great memorials “work” because somehow in their form they express the collective sensibilities of a people:  the Vietnam memorial is still an effective vehicle of collective and individual grief, evident in the number of people who come to that black wall of granite, place their hand on a name and weep.  You don’t have to be religious to share in that experience but you and I are able to recognize the deep feelings that some folks attach to the scratchings on a block of stone.

Deep feeling, expressed in whatever form, is moral in a fundamental sense.  And in that sense words for it are hard to come by.  That people call it “religious” is understandable but it is better referred to as moral imagination.  Bruce Kapferer has stressed that religion and patriotism are fundamentally similar.  Yes, they are alike in their ability to enlist through various forms – flag, statues, songs, gestures, poetry – the moral sensibilities of a people.

Somehow we are born with it, all of us.  And it colors our judgment of each other and even ourselves, at least when we can be honest with the truth.  This is why we all love to be self-righteous: moral outrage is a privilege we all indulge in.  But it is as fundamental as the pre-language qualities we were born with.  Through experience we learn how to give vent to such feelings, those fundamentally moral sentiments that inform and animate our experiences.  We acquire those devices of moral expression as we acquire articulate speech and other conventions of sociality.

Moral imagination:  this is the fundamental animus of human sacrifice and significance.  Can this term in a more exact way capture what it is to be human?

THE WASHINGTON CESSPOOL — WHO COULD HAVE GUESSED?

Watching Bill Moryers’s interview with Mark Leibovich today, on the system of relations in Washington, I learned what I could not have made up, could have have imagined.  Justice is being subverted in DC on a
gargantuan and pervasive scale.  Moral sensibility has been dulled all around, not only among the political leaders who
are being bought off by the powerful corporations but also among the
media.
The details of Liebovich’s book are worth repeating, some of them discussed in the interview.  Every person named here should be closely inspected for how he or she has caved into the powerful vortex of corporate interest, which now controls the way our country’s wealth is being divvied up.
Here I reproduce Bill Moyers’s critical summation of the situation at the end of the interview: it states so bluntly and vigorously the sense of outrage that the people of this country
should feel toward what is happening in Washington [I only wish I could write like him].  Washington is not a place where the interests of the
American people are being dutifully served but a place where vultures [the rich and well connected of all sorts] feed on the
wealth paid in by the ordinary Americans, distributing the largess in such a way as to insure that blame
is so broadly distributed that no one — no person, no corporation, no industry — can be held to account.  Most of us don’t know how totally our country is dominated by an upper class that includes both parties and even a media that now sucks up to the powerful and connected.

BILL MOYERS: We are so close to losing our democracy to the mercenary class, it’s as if we are leaning way over the rim of the Grand Canyon and all that’s needed is a swift kick in the pants. Look out below. 

The predators in Washington are only this far from monopoly control of our government. They have bought the political system, lock, stock and pork barrel, making change from within impossible. That’s the real joke. 

Sometimes I long for the wit of a Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. They treat this town as burlesque, and with satire and parody show it the disrespect it deserves. We laugh, and punch each other on the arm, and tweet that the rascals got their just dessert. Still, the last laugh always seems to go to the boldface names that populate this town. To them belong the spoils of a looted city. They get the tax breaks, the loopholes, the contracts, the payoffs. 

They fix the system so multimillionaire hedge fund managers and private equity tycoons pay less of a tax rate on their income than school teachers, police and fire fighters, secretaries and janitors. They give subsidies to rich corporate farms and cut food stamps for working people facing hunger. They remove oversight of the wall street casinos, bail out the bankers who torpedo the economy, fight the modest reforms of Dodd-Frank, prolong tax havens for multinationals, and stick it to consumers while rewarding corporations. 

We pay. We pay at the grocery store. We pay at the gas pump. We pay the taxes they write off. Our low-wage workers pay with sweat and deprivation because this town – aloof, self-obsessed, bought off and doing very well, thank you – feels no pain. 

The journalists who could tell us these things rarely do – and some, never. They aren’t blind, simply bedazzled. Watch the evening news – any evening news – or the Sunday talk shows. Listen to the chit-chat of the early risers on morning TV — and ask yourself if you are learning anything about how this town actually works. 

William Greider, one of our craft’s finest reporters, fierce and unbought, despite a long life in Washington once said that no one can hope to understand what is driving political behavior without asking the kind of gut-level questions politicians ask themselves in private: “Who are the winners in this matter and who are the losers? Who gets the money and who has to pay? Who must be heard on this question and who can be safely ignored?” 

Perhaps they don’t ask these questions because they fear banishment from the parties and perks, from the access that passes as seduction in this town.   

Or perhaps they do not tell us these things because they fear that if the system were exposed for what it is, outraged citizens would descend on this town, and tear it apart with their bare hands. 

“ONE DROP OF NEGRO BLOOD”: WHAT IT MEANT AND WHAT IT MEANS

[This is a revised version, 8/8/13]
It took me many years in my teaching to declare to my
students that societies run on myths.  At
this point it seems strange that it took so long for me to come to that. But
now I see it so clearly in so many places, in so many ways.  David Runciman reviewed a book in the London Review of Books that caught my attention. Ira Katznelson, in Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our
Time
, explains the strategic partnership that FDR had with southern
Democrats.  Both sides had to compromise
in order to work together even though in fact their agendas were different and
actually contrary in some critical ways. 

What struck me was how racism was such a critical basis of
the agenda of leaders in the South in that relationship.  The whole agenda in the South was to make
sure that the federal government didn’t interfere with what the power elite in
the south were doing in their own states.  States rights was
crucial in their federal discourse because the power elite needed to do what they
wanted locally.  Among themselves in
the South they justified their grip on power by appealing to racial
superiority.  Northern agendas should
never intrude on that myth. 

An example:  In a
debate about anti-lynching legislation in the US Senate in 1938 the Senator
from Mississippi, Theodore Bilbo, said that “one drop of Negro blood placed in the
veins of the purest Caucasian destroys the inventive genius of his mind and
strikes palsied his creative faculties.”  With this argument he protected lynching in the South from
federal legislation. 

In some ways not much has changed in the South, we might
say, because politics in the southern states seems still to be aimed at holding
at bay the pressures of outside [Northern] mores. 
The difference is that the Republican Party seems to be a better vehicle today for effecting that agenda than the Democratic Party. 

But of course in lots of ways much has changed.  Senator Bilbo made his statement – it shocks
ours sensibility in these times – in 1938. 
But his world was already ineluctably caught in a world that would
unmask the myth that seemed plausible in his time.  Thirteen years later, doctors in Baltimore
removed some cells from a tumor of an Afro-American woman, Henrietta Lacks, who was, it turned
out, dying of cancer.  To their surprise the doctors discovered that the cells taken from Mrs. Lacks could be multiplied in the lab.  Cell research became possible on a scale previously inconceivable.  Since that time those cells have been multiplied more times than anyone knows and become the basis for more than 74,000 scientific studies.  One drop of Negro blood has in this case provided
the world – scholars all over the world – with basic insights into “cell
biology, vaccines, and in vitro fertilization and cancer” [NYTimes 8/8/13, p. 1].

Little did the good Senator from Mississippi know. But my point is he wouldn’t care. What he sought to effect was protection of the interests of the power elite of his state [who happened of course to be white and their constituency to be white] justifying that agenda by reference to a myth about race; it paid to promote such a fantasy.  The justifications now are different – the power elite and their constituency in Mississippi are different now — but power seems to work about the same way as before.  Those who have it seek ways to protect it and — as humans need always to justify what they do – they explain the reasons for their behavior and policies in highly moral terms.  The South – and the North, and all human collectives, when they try to represent their collective interests – still speaks in moral terms; and in the case of the South it is still the Bible Belt.

The difference now is what can ring true: cell research, based on blood samples of a human being is taken to be exemplary of the whole “human race”; it is no longer considered to be a sample of a particular “race” [a category that cannot be documented biologically].

But it still raises questions about what is “real.”  Are all those studies based on Mrs Lacks’s cells?  Are they still hers?  Are they “Negro”? Who do they belong to?    

WHEN THE RICH CONTROL NEWS, ADVERTISING, AND CONGRESS

An unknown group is funding an advertising blitz in Missouri to reduce state taxes.  They tried through the Missouri legislature to cut state taxes but the governor vetoed the bill.  Now this group has put images of families and minorities on the screen to push for lower taxes, which they say will create jobs.

Reducing government services, which the reduction of taxes would entail, would put people out of jobs, not create jobs.  If jobs are created in this way they will be jobs working for the rich, in companies that will benefit the well-to-do, not the weakest elements of our society.

What the advertisements don’t tell us is who these people are who insist on reducing taxes — that is, for the well-to-do — and reducing services for the needy.  I would appreciate any guidance on who these people are.

We are getting closer and closer to being a country in which the weak and poor have little or no true voice.  How can this system escape the critique of the great prophet?
“They do not plead the cause of the fatherless,  they do not defend the rights of the poor…. I will certainly cause retribution on such a nation as this!
“… all of them are greedy for dishonest gain.  Prophets and priests alike all of them practice deceit.  They offer only superficial help for the harm my people have suffered.”
“Stop oppressing foreigners who live in your land, children who have lost their fathers, and women who have lost their husbands.  Stop killing innocent people in this land.”
Jeremiah  5:28-29; 6:13-14; 7:6

McClatchy: CIA Operative Fabricated Reasons for Kidnapping a Muslim Cleric in Italy

The more we learn about the Kidnapping of the Muslim cleric in Italy the more unsavory it becomes.  Here is what an unappreciated whistle blower from that operation had to say about why it was pulled off:

McClatchy Washington Bureau. Sat, Jul. 27, 2013, last
updated July 29, 2013 06:21:18 AM

U.S. allowed Italian kidnap prosecution to shield
higher-ups, ex-CIA officer says
By Jonathan S. Landay | McClatchy Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON —  A
former CIA officer has broken the U.S. silence around the 2003 abduction of a
radical Islamist cleric in Italy, charging that the agency inflated the threat the preacher posed and that the United
States then allowed Italy to prosecute her and other Americans to shield
President George W. Bush and other U.S. officials from responsibility
for approving the operation.
Confirming for the first time that she worked undercover for
the CIA in Milan when the operation took place, Sabrina De Sousa provided new details about the “extraordinary rendition” that led to the
only criminal prosecution stemming from the secret Bush administration
rendition and detention program launched after the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks.
The cleric, Osama Mustapha Hassan Nasr, was snatched from a
Milan street by a team of CIA operatives and flown to Egypt, where he was held for the better part of four years without charges and
allegedly tortured. An Egyptian court in 2007 ruled that his imprisonment was “unfounded” and ordered him released.
Among the allegations made by De Sousa in a series of
interviews with McClatchy:
– The former CIA station chief in Rome, Jeffrey Castelli,
whom she called the mastermind of the operation, exaggerated Nasr’s terrorist threat to win approval for the rendition and misled his
superiors that Italian military intelligence had agreed to the operation.
– Senior CIA officials, including then-CIA Director George
Tenet, approved the operation even though Nasr wasn’t wanted in Egypt and wasn’t on the U.S. list of top al Qaida terrorists.
– Condoleezza Rice, then the White House national security
adviser, also had concerns about the case, especially what Italy would do if
the CIA were caught, but she eventually agreed to it and recommended
that Bush approve the abduction.

More than 130 people were “rendered” in this way, according
to a February 2013 study by the Open Society Justice Initiative, a U.S.-based group that promotes the rule of law. Many were tortured and
abused, and many, including Nasr, were freed for lack of proof that they were hatching terrorist plots, said Amrit Singh, the study’s
author.
….
“There was concern on the seventh floor about this
operation,” he said, referring to the executive offices at the CIA’s
headquarters in Langley, Va. “But they were reassured” by the Rome station and the
agency’s European directorate that “everything was OK and everyone was on board
in the country in question.”
De Sousa accused Italian leaders of colluding with the
United States to shield Bush, Rice, Tenet and senior CIA aides by declining to
prosecute them or even demanding that Washington publicly admit to
staging the abduction.

De Sousa said
Italy and the United States cooperated in “scape-goating a bunch of people . .
. while the ones who approved this stupid rendition are all free.”
The Senate and House intelligence committees enabled the
coverup, De Sousa added, by failing to treat her as a whistleblower after she
told them of the lack of prosecutable evidence against Nasr and
what she called her own mistreatment by the CIA that compelled her to resign in 2009.
“Despite that, no one’s been held accountable,” she said.

For more go here.

Mobilizing “the masses” and slandering a president: More reason to worry about the Republican Party

At this moment, when we all wonder about what is happening to this country, I want to reproduce here some signs of how seriously the politics in this country is broken.  What I present here has been available to the public for a long time but seems largely unremarked.  

In 2005 the BBC produced a film called The Power of Nightmares. The film was directed by Adam Curtis.  The style of presentation, in its content and background music, suggested menace, the sense of dread and suspicion that animated the two opposing leaders whose struggle preoccupied world attention after 9/11/2001:  Osama Bin Laden, representing the Islamist movement, and George W. Bush and his administration. The film was constructed to provoke, even to irritate, especially an American audience.

Whatever might be said about the film, it included some information about the opinions and activities of notable American officials that few Americans seem ever to have heard of.  So I reproduce selections from the film [drawing from the screenplay posted by Bill St Clair]. What they reveal is a body of individuals within the Republican Party who were willing to exploit the religious populations of the country through unseemly manipulation of information.  

A central point of the film was that the Neoconservatives who came to power with George W. Bush had been influenced by Leo Strauss’s notion that societies run on myth.  For these neoconservatives myth is good when it mobilizes populations to take on “good” projects, even if the “myth” is indeed untrue.  Many of the neocons entered government and participated in the Nixon and later Republican administrations.  They had ideas and agendas, but they had the problem of how to mobilize the American people to join in their particular reading of the world and what to do about it.  

Truncating much that ought to be said about the context, I here reproduce what the film reveals about the way the “neocons” got their “troops” – by appealing to the sentiments of the evangelical community.  This is the story I reproduce here.

A major shift in the conservative white community had taken place during the Carter administration.  The white “evangelical” community turned against Jimmy Carter, the only President who had a Bible class before being elected President and returned to his Bible class afterward.  The reason for this abandonment of Carter was this [according to Ralph Reed, Active Faith, p. 105]]: 

“The greatest spark of the [white evangelical] movement was not abortion but an attempt by the Carter-appointed head of the Internal Revenue Service to require Christian and parochial schools and academies to prove that they were not established to preserve segregation or they would risk losing their tax-exempt status. … For conservative evangelicals it was nothing less than a declaration of war on their schools, their churches, and their children.  More than any other single episode, the IRS move against Christian schools sparked the explosion of the movement that would become known as the religious right.” 

Ronald Reagan, a new-age president, saved the white conservative community from Jimmy Carter.  Whatever his personal beliefs were, Reagan easily articulated the concerns of the white evangelical movement.  We pick up the narrative here from “The Power of Nightmares.”   
From Part One:

Voice Over: And at this very same moment, religion was being mobilized politically in America, but for a very different purpose. And those encouraging this were the neoconservatives. Many neoconservatives had become advisers to the Presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan. And as they became more involved with the Republican Party, they had forged an alliance with the religious wing of the party, because it shared their aim of the moral regeneration of America. 

IRVING KRISTOL , Founder of Neoconservative movement: The notion that a purely secular society can cope with all of the terrible pathologies that now affect our society, I think has turned out to be false. And that has made me culturally conservative. I mean, I really think religion has a role now to play in redeeming the country. And liberalism is not prepared to give religion a role. Conservatism is, but it doesn’t know how to do it. 

VO: By the late ‘70s, there were millions of fundamentalist Christians in America. But their preachers had always told them not to vote. It would mean compromising with a doomed and immoral society. But the neoconservatives and their new Republican allies made an alliance with a number of powerful preachers, who told their followers to become involved with politics for the first time. 

JAMES ROBISON , Fundamentalist Preacher, 1980: I’m sick and tired of hearing about all of the radicals, and the perverts, and the liberals, and the leftists, and the Communists coming out of the closet! It’s time for God’s people to come out of the closet, out of the churches, and change America! We must do it!

Rev. Robinson epitomized the particular way the religious right described those who supported   progressive change in America:  as “radicals, perverts, liberals, leftists, and Communists.”  This became the rhetoric by which the conservative leaders  of the country, especially in the South, characterized the progressive movement in America.

PAUL WEYRICH , Religious activist – Republican Party: The conservative movement, up to that point, was essentially an intellectual movement. It had some very powerful thinkers, but it didn’t have many troops. And as Stalin said of the Pope, “where are his divisions?”. Well, we [Republicans] didn’t have many divisions. When these folks became active, all of a sudden the conservative movement had lots of divisions. We were able to move literally millions of people. And this is something that we had literally no ability to do prior to that time. 

INTERVIEWER (off-camera): Literally millions? 

WEYRICH : Literally millions. 

Note Weyrich’s terms:  The Republican Party was able to “move literally millions” of evangelical Christians by harnessing the agenda of social conservatives in the South to rhetoric of the evangelical tradition.  Some evangelical preachers may have felt it accorded with their own social perspective; at least some became useful voices for the politically conservative movement.  Conservative rhetoric worked for the evangelicals who believed it as well as for the neoconservatives who merely found it useful.  

VO: And at the beginning of 1981, Ronald Reagan took power in America. The religious vote was crucial in his election, because many millions of fundamentalists voted for the first time. And as they had hoped, many neoconservatives were given power in the new administration. Paul Wolfowitz became head of the State Department policy staff, while his close friend Richard Perle became the Assistant Secretary of Defense. And the head of Team B, Richard Pipes, became one of Reagan’s chief advisers. The neoconservatives believed that they now had the chance to implement their vision of America’s revolutionary destiny—to use the country’s power aggressively as a force for good in the world, in an epic battle to defeat the Soviet Union. It was a vision that they shared with millions of their new religious allies.

From PART TWO

WILLIAM KRISTOL , Chief of Staff to the Vice President, 1988-92: For Strauss, liberalism produced a decent way of life, and one that he thought was worth defending, but a dead end where nothing could be said to be true; one had no guidance on how to live, everything was relative. Strauss suggests that maybe we didn’t just have to sit there and accept that that was our fate. Politics could help shape the way people live, that politics could help shape the way that people live, teach them some good lessons about living decent and noble human lives. And can we think about what cultures, and what politics, what social orders produce more admirable human beings? I mean, that whole question was put back on the table by Strauss, I think. 

VO: The neoconservatives set out to reform America. And at the heart of their project was the political use of religion. Together with their long-term allies, the religious right, they began a campaign to bring moral and religious issues back into the center of conservative politics. It became known as the “culture wars.” 

[ TITLE : Christian Coalition commercial ] 

VO (on commercial) : Your tax dollars are being used to sponsor obscene and pornographic displays. 

PAT ROBERTSON : I don’t like Jesus Christ, who is my Lord and Savior, being dumped in a vat of urine by a homosexual, and then have my money to pay for it! I think that’s obscene. 

ROBERTSON : Satan, be gone! Out from this [unintelligible]! C’mon! 

VO: For the religious right, this campaign was a genuine attempt to renew the religious basis of American society. But for the neoconservatives, religion was a myth, like the myth of America as a unique nation that they had promoted in the Cold War. Strauss had taught that these myths were necessary to give ordinary people meaning and purpose, and so ensure a stable society.… 

MICHAEL LIND , Journalist and former neoconservative: For the neoconservatives, religion is an instrument of promoting morality. Religion becomes what Plato called a “noble lie.” It is a myth which is told to the majority of the society by the philosophical elite in order to ensure social order.… 

LIND : In being a kind of secretive elitist approach, Straussianism does resemble Marxism. These ex-Marxists, or in some cases ex-liberal Straussians, could see themselves as a kind of Leninist group, you know, who have this covert vision which they want to use to effect change in history, while concealing parts of it from people incapable of understanding it. 

VO: Out of this campaign, a new and powerful moral agenda began to take over the Republican Party. It reached a dramatic climax at the Republican Convention in 1992, when the religious right seized control of the party’s policy-making machinery. George Bush became committed to running for President with policies that would ban abortion, gay rights, and multiculturalism. Speakers who tried to promote the traditional conservative values of individual freedom were booed off the stage.…  

VO: For the neoconservatives, the aim of this new morality was to unite the nation. But in fact, it had completely the opposite effect. Mainstream Republican voters were frightened away by the harsh moralism that had taken over their party. They turned instead to Bill Clinton, a politician who connected with their real concerns and needs, like tax and the state of the economy.…. 

VO: At the end of 1992, Bill Clinton won a dramatic victory. But the neoconservatives were determined to regain power. And to do this, they were going to do to Bill Clinton what they had done to the Soviet Union: they would transform the President of the United States into a fantasy enemy, an image of evil that would make people realize the truth of the liberal corruption of America. 

….. 

VO: But despite all his efforts, Kenneth Starr could find no incriminating evidence in Whitewater. Nor could he find any evidence to support any of the sexual scandals that had come from the Arkansas Project. Until finally, his committee stumbled upon Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, which Clinton denied. And in that lie, the neoconservative movement believed they had found what they had been looking for: a way to make the American people see the truth about the liberal corruption of their country. A campaign now began to impeach the President. And in the hysteria, the whole conservative movement portrayed Clinton as a depraved monster who had to be removed from office. But yet again, the neoconservatives had created a fantasy enemy by exaggerating and distorting reality. 

JOE CONASON , Author ‘The Hunting of the President’ : They were trapped by a mythological person that they had constructed, or persons—the Clintons, these scheming, terrible people who they, the noble pursuers, were going to vanquish. I think, in the leadership of conservatism, during the Clinton era there was an element of corruption. There was an element of a willingness to do anything to achieve the goal of bringing Clinton down. There was a way in which the people who perceived Clinton as immoral behaved immorally themselves. They ended up behaving worse than the people who they were attacking. …

They commissioned David Brock to uncover every possible evidence of unseemly behavior in Bill Clinton’s past.  This is the story the film presents of that period, based on an interview with David Brock himself. 
From PART THREE

VO: Since then, Brock has turned against the neoconservative movement. He now believes that the attacks on Clinton went too far, and corrupted conservative politics. 

INTERVIEWER (off-camera): Was Whitewater true? 

BROCK : No! I mean, there was no criminal wrongdoing in Whitewater. Absolutely not. It was a land deal that the Clintons lost money on. It was a complete inversion of what happened. 

INTERVIEWER : Was Vince Foster killed? 

BROCK : No. He killed himself. 

INTERVIEWER : Did the Clintons smuggle drugs? 

BROCK : Absolutely not. 

INTERVIEWER : Did those promoting these stories know that this was not true, that none of these stories were true? 

BROCK : They did not care.  

INTERVIEWER : Why not? 

BROCK : Because they were having a devastating effect. So why stop? It was terrorism. Political terrorism. 

INTERVIEWER : But you were one of the agents. 

BROCK : Absolutely. Absolutely.

So it turned out that none of the accusations against Carter were true and the Republican leadership seems to have known it all the time.  The whole point was to slander Clinton.

And it was to continue appealing to the loyalty of the evangelical “troops” who could be persuaded to support the Republican Party even if the grounds of their appeal were cynical:  There is little evidence that the Neocons shared the deep convictions of the evangelicals whom they sought to use for their projects.

I post this material because I suspect few Americans are aware of these affairs.  I have lamented that the Republican Party seems tragically to have gone astray, to have lost its authentic moral fiber.  These comments by individuals who seem to have been directly involved in the movement since the 1980s give us some clues as to how this misadventure took form. 

The world’s most successful gun salesman:

Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, says that he represents the mothers and fathers and families who are gun-owners.  He never mentions the gun manufacturers who are the main sources of funding for the NRA.  LaPierre represents the gun manufacturers of the country and for that his reported income in 2007 was $900.000.  Pretty good work if you can get it.  Do the American families he claims to represent know how much he gets for representing the NRA? 


Do the American people who hear him object to banning automatic weapons know that he is essentially a gun salesman?

Working list on “The Moral Imagination in Social Practice”

This is a working
list on the topic of the Moral Imagination in Social Practice  [11/10/12]. 
[To accommodate requests for notes from a former course.  There is a huge amount of material; this is
only stuff I have used in a course.]
In process
>  I take this to
be what is involved in all social life. 
It is of course manifest in political practice in the sense that all
political interactions are informed by issues that in some sense have a
transcendental significance, since political discourse implies attempts to
frame situations with significance.  So
the moral imagination is involved not only in “religious” affairs but in all
narratives.

Hayden White:  ??? has
argued that all narratives implicitly imply moral orientations

A useful start on the term “moral imagination” can be found
at:
http://www.engr.psu.edu/ethics/moral.asp
What I have in mind by social practice I mean practice in a
sense developed by Bourdieu:  Outline of a Theory of Practice, The Logic
of Practice
, etc.

So the topic, Moral imagination in social practice is
essentially a way of looking at cultural affairs, social practices, so as to
appreciate the moral implications or insinuations in all social interaction.
It’s another way of thinking about culture.  I have defined what I mean by “culture” at:

If I were looking backwards to earlier works of interest I
would include:

The counter enlightenment authors:  See Isaiah Berlin,  Counter Enlightenment.  Dictionary of the History of Ideas.  Key figures: 
Vico, Hamann, Herder, Hume. 
Respondents:  Kant, Voltaire
Max Muller:  In,
Exploratons in Language and Meaning by Malcomb Crick
Max Weber.  On
Religion…

Other important works:
For a course I gave on this topic, here is a list of some of
the readings we examined together: 
            [* =
required of most students],  
            [# =
optional, except for grad students or students who have taken AN3700, in which
case it is required instead of the other],
            [& =
another optional reading in case you are interested and familiar with the other
readings.].

As per my understanding of culture as essentially a body of
forms whose meanings a community more or less share:
* Clifford Geertz. 1973. “Religion as a Cultural System.”
In: The Interpretation of Culture. New York: Basic.
# Clifford Geertz. 1973. 
“Ethos, Worldview and the Analysis of Sacred Symbols.”  In Interpretation of Culture. New York:
Basic.
& Clifford Geertz. 1973. Thick Description. In
Interpretation of Culture. New York: Basic.

Geertz:  The following
are both about art as a cultural system and can be compared with his Deep Play,
which is also about art as a cultural system. 
By comparing them you can get a sense of Geertz’s concept of cultural
system, a topic on which I am not sure many readers have gotten right.
* Clifford Geertz. 1973 “Lost in Translation: Social History
of the Moral Imagination.” In: Local Knowledge.
# Clifford Geertz. 1973. “Art as a Cultural System.” In: Local
Knowledge.

Clifford Geertz:  The following is the
most important article to understand and internalize but it is difficult; it’s
easy to miss the fact that the views he presents first are defective.  Note what is wrong with each.  Hint: 
Look for what he has to say about defining situations.  The definition of the situation is a critical
concept for our topic.
* Clifford Geertz. 1973. “Ideology as a Cultural System.”
In: The Interpretation of Culture. New York: Basic.
Also, Geertz, Thick…[above]

Victor Turner:  all of his works are aimed at understanding the moral imagination in social practice.  He comes out of a different tradition [British Manchester School] and so uses a somewhat different language.  See for instance his Betwixt and Between, and his other works on the Ndembu.

Abner Cohen. See his Custom and Politics in Urban Africa.  Also, his Masquerade Politics. [Also from the same tradition as Turner.  Their mentor:  Gluckman.]

Irving Goffman was an influence on Geertz’s thought, but he comes
out of a “symbolic interactionism” tradition.  This was early associated with Geo Herbert
Mead:  “I” vs “Me”,
as fundamental concepts of the person. 

G. H. Mead. 
1934.  Mind, Self and
Society.  Ed by C.W. Morris.  Chicago
G. H. Mead. 
1938.  The Philosophy of the Act.
Ed by C.W. Morris.  Chicago.
Irving Goffman. 
1959.  [selections] The
Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life. 
New York:  Anchor.    *Introduction 1-16.  * [6th day] Performances 17-76.

Marshal Sahlins.  Sahlins’s
ideas we will spend a lot of time on.
Marshal Sahlins 
1985  Historical Metaphors and Mythical Realities [Selections]
Marshall Sahlins. 2004. [selections] Apologies to Thucydides: Understanding Culture as History and Vice
Versa
            Included is: *”Elian
Gonzales”
            Included is: *“On the
Shot heard round the world”

William Sewell is looking for theoretical frames of reference that
will help historians be more deliberate and conceptually consistent in their
work.  I like the whole book.  I don’t think he understands Geertz but he find’s Sahlins’s structuralist approach [that is, as critically revised by Sahlins] to the study of history
helpful.  [Of course Sahlins sought to
revise structuralism, as in the readings above.]
William H. Sewell, Jr. Logics of History . Chicago:
University of Chicago.Chapter 1
* [ch 3, Eventful Sociology ] Logics of History
William Sewell, Jr. [ch 4, Theory of Structure] Logics of
History:  Geertz
William Sewell, Jr. [ch 5, Concepts of Culture] Logics of
History:  Sahlins
Sewell [ch 6, Geertz]
Sewell [ch 7, Sahlins, Theory of Culture]
* Sewell [ch 8, Translations of Structures]
Sewell [ch 10 Refiguring the Social]

From here many useful studies of the moral imagination
appear in the anthropological journals. 
Examples that I have used follow:
On civil wars [civil wars always provide excellent examples of how competing sides misconstrue and misrepresent each other, so good examples of how moral rhetoric works in social practice:
*Denich, Bette.  1994. 
“Dismembering Yugoslavia: Nationalist Ideologies and the Symbolic
Revival of Genocide.”  American
Ethnologist 21(2):367-390. [ISSN 0002-7294]
Sells, Michael A. 1996. The bridge betrayed:
Religion and genocide in Bosnia.
Berkeley: University of California
Press.
Sells, Michael A.   2002.  “Construction
of Islam in Serbian Mythology.”  In:  Maya Shatz Miller, ed: Islam and Bosnian
Conflict Resoltuion and Foreign Policy in the Miltiethnic states.  Montreal: 
McQueens.
Ben Anderson:  Imagined Communities.
Bruce Kapferer.  Evil and the State, In: Legends of People Myths of State.

Other works of my own [apologies for self-promotion]:
Robert L. Canfield  :
2008c  Fraternity, Power, and Time in Central
Asia. In: The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan, edited by Robert
Crews and Amin Tarzi. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.
2004b  New Trends among the Hazaras: 
From “The Amity of Wolves” to “The Practice of
Brotherhood”.  Iranian Studies
37(2): 241-262.
2003.   Symbol and Sentiment in Motivated Action.  In: 
Tom Headland, MaryRuth Wise and Ruth Brend (eds), Language and Life:
Essays in Memory of Kenneth L. Pike

Dallas: SIL International.  Pp
343-358. [This was perhaps too abstract an argument; few people pay attention
to it.  The Linguists think it is too
elementary to be useful.  But the point
is to find a way to describe how signs “resonate” both subjectively and
intersubjectively.]
Other works of interest:

Richard G. Fox. 1983. [Selections] Gandhian Utopia
Fredrik Barth. 1993. [Selections] Balinese Worlds. Chicago: University of Chicago.
Fredrick G. Bailey: [selections] The Prevalence of Deceit. Ithaca: Cornell University

Verdery, Katherine. 1991. “Introduction: Ideology, Cultural Politics, Intellectuals.” In: National Ideology under Socialism; Identity and cultural politics in Ceausescu’s Romania.
Michel-Rolph Trouillot. 1995. “The Power in the Story” Ch 1 in Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon.
Michel-Rolph Trouillot. 1995. “An Unthikable History: The Haitian Revolution as a Non-Event” Ch 3 in Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon.
Wolf, Eric R. 1999. “National Socialist Germany.” pp 197-273.  In Envisioning Power: Ideologies of Dominance and Crisis. Berkeley: California University.  [What is interesting about this is the effective way that Wolf’s marxist approach turns out to reveal effectively how the moral imagination was constructed and reiterated in German history.]
Fernandez, James. 1986. “The Dark at the Bottom of the Stairs: The Inchoate in Symbolic Inquiry and Some Strategies for Coping with it.” In: Persuasions and Performances: The Play of Tropes in Culture.

Lindsay:. Ch 1, “Presidents and Power” in Faith
in the Halls of Power. Oxford University Press.

Wendy James.  
* James, Wendy. 2000. Postscript to Part I: On Moral
Knowledge. In: The Listening Ebony: Moral Knowledge, Religion, and Power among
the Uduk of Sudan. Oxford: Oxford University. pp 143-156. [James is a product of the Evans-Pritchard approach to anthropology, but she reflects the maturation of that tradition into ethnography that is still very interesting. In the above chapter of the longer work she pauses to reflect on the implications of her ethnographic material.  I found it creative and imaginative; my students don’t get it.]
* M.  Foucault.  Two
Lectures. [and other works]
*Katherine Verdery: The Political Life of Dead
Bodies
* Yael
Navaro-Yashin.  2009.  “Affective Spaces, Melacholic
Objects:  Ruination of the Production of
Anthropological Knowledge.”  JRAI
15(1):1-18.
* Starrett: [on Egypt]
Sorabji, Cornelia. 2006. “Manging Memories in Post-war
Sarajevo: Individuals, Bad Memories, and New Wars.” JRAI 12:1-18.
Stoczkowski, Wiktor. 2008. UNESCO’s doctrine of human
diversity: A secular soteriology. Anthropology Today 25(3, June):7-11.
Backer-Cristales, Beth. 2008. “Magical Pursuits: legitimacy
and representation in a transitional political field.” American Anthropologist 110[3]:
349-359.
Armstrong, Karen. 2000. Ambiguity and Remembrance:
Individual and Collective Memory in Finland. American Ethnologist, 27(3):
591-608.
Eisenlohr, Patrick. 2006: “The Politics of Diaspora and the
Morality of Secularism: Muslim identities and Islamic Authority in
Mauritius.”  JRAI 12: 395-412.
Lester, Rebecca. 2009. Brokering Authenticity. Current
Anthropology. June
Dipesh Chakrabarty. 2002. “Subaltern Histories and
Post-Enlightenment Rationalism.” Ch 2 in Habitations of Modernity: Essays
in the Wake of Subaltern Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Dr. Robert Canfield Professor of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis