Tag Archives: the rhetorics of power

CULTURE MAKES SOME UNACCEPTABLE PRACTICES SEEM NATURAL. BUT COULD WHAT IS CONVENTIONAL NOW BRING DOWN CIVILIZATION?

We all tend to reject some practices that were considered conventional in the past.  Would we countenance the way the EuroAmericans treated the Native Americans who hunted down and drove out from their lands the Seminole, the Chickasaw, the Creek, the Choctaw, the Cherokee?  Would we have participated in the night patrols seeking to recapture runaway slaves in the 1850s? What was practiced in those times was consider conventional and necessary by otherwise god-fearing Americans.

But what is conventional and seemingly fitting to the times need not be wise or fitting for the long term.

Adam Frank, a physicist at the University of Rochester, has written such a nice statement on popular attitudes toward science [NYTimes 8/22/13].  What the article implies but does not state is that the doubt about scientific formulations in our time has potentially tragic — rather, catastrophic — consequences.

Global warming is the most obvious example.  A few days ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change established by the United Nations issued a 2,000 page report claiming again that human beings have caused the warming of the globe and that if the trajectory of warming is not interrupted human society will be radically disrupted.  This time they have announced that they hold this position with 95% certainty, a rare degree of agreement among independent scientists.

We live in a time when a confusing mix of politics and religious faith has undermined the authentic attempts of scientists to reach a degree of certainty about what is happening to our world.  So the claims of science about a vitally important condition, the physical object we live on, are openly scorned.

I have friends who want their doctors to be the best trained and the most up to date physicians available but at the same time refuse to accept the results of scientific knowledge in other fields such as biological history and the climatic changes in our time.  In truth the scientific assumptions and methods that enable medical science are the same as those that lead scientists to conclude that the earth is warming.

A fundamental assumption that made “science” as we know it possible was uniformitarianism, the notion that everything works the same everywhere, provided that the conditions be the same.  Such assumptions and others make a science of the natural world possible.  The knowledge tradition we call science is a single fabric of assumptions and approaches.  Science is a way of thought, a way of seeing.

But in a sense it can never be fully right, which makes it possible for “experts for hire” to claim, as some did, that the evidence linking smoking and cancer is uncertain. And some “experts claim that the evidence for global warming is incomplete and can be doubted.  So in the United States — nowhere else, I hear — many people believe that the issue of global warming is highly contested. People seem unaware that those “experts” who contest that claim are funded by the industries whose operations are most at risk if anything is done to reduce the causes of global warming — most notably, of course, the energy industry.

To neglect to act on what is broadly believed among the real experts and accept the claims of those who have funding from the fossil fuel industry, for instance, is folly.  If the true experts are correct the day will come when it will be too late to save the earth from a crisis, when all hope of avoiding calamity will have evaporated.

A personal grief of this for me is that some of my dear friends, who share a belief in God, nevertheless reject the claim that the earth is warming, convinced that they cannot trust science.  Will our generation reproduce the folly of King Canute, who according to legend tried to hold back the tides?  In our case the price of such folly could be the collapse of modern civilization.

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?

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.

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.

The threat of super-rich self-interests

Apparently it was Karl Rove who said to the donors who supported the Romney campaign with huge blocks of cash, “without us, the race would not have been as close as it was.”  The “us” in that statement was the small number of superrich donors who forked over megabucks to defeat Obama.  While Obama’s donors were by comparison fairly modest, which is to say that the support for him came from a broad range of individuals, those for Romney, on the contrary, came in large part from a few superrich individuals, that is, from the upper 1%, even the upper .01%.  AlexanderAbad-Santos on Atlantic Wire has reported on the top donors to both sides.

The top donors for Romney were among the richest individuals in the world.  A Romney win would have been disastrous for the 99% of our country because as the new President he would have been indebted to a small number of individuals.  The presidency would be an instrument of the interests and outlooks of a tiny fraction of the population.  The United States of America would be a Banana Republic.  

And this could happen for little cost to those who are truly super-rich.  According to Abad-Santos the amounts given to Romney’s campaign by the largest donors were tiny fractions of their total worth: 
  • Sheldon Adelson, Owner of Las Vegas Sands, gave a mere .04% of his total wealth (i.e., between 70 and 100 million dollars);
  • Harold “The Ice Man” Simmons, owner of Contran Corp, a Dallas-based waste/chemical management company gave a mere .3 to .5% of his total wealth (30 to 50 million dollars);
  • The Koch Brothers – well, they could have given as much a $95 million but no one knows that actual total.  Most of it is hidden; Open Secrets say they can identify $36,637,591 given to conservative, essentially libertarian causes. 
The top donor to Obama, Jeffrey Katzenberg, gave peanuts by comparison: $2.566 million.
Why would Romney’s supporters give such huge sums?   According to Abad-Santos none of them claimed to have done so in the interest of the country, that is, for anyone else than themselves.  Adelson claimed he did so because he “liked to win,” and he was piqued by a comment of Obama that Wall Streeters shouldn’t be taking free trips to Vegas on taxpayer’s money.  Simons said he gave such amounts because Karl Rove recommended it, and anyway he thinks Obama is a socialist.  The Koch brothers are known to be libertarians; they seem to be major factors in the right-ward bolt of the Republican Party in the last few years.  According to Carter Eskew of the Washington Post, “they are giving to support what they see as being in their business or personal financial interest: lower taxes, less regulation, smaller government” (quoted by Abad-Santos).     
So, to state the obvious:  a President Romney would have owed his soul to a few donors who for little cost to themselves had gained a strangle-hold on the most powerful office in the world.  The rest of the country could have been disenfranchised.  
And would the great donors care?  They have given little sign that they care much about the rest.  Would they even notice the privations of  ordinary people?  Not so far.  
For these men the proportional cost of their investment in Romney was minimal, although for Romney they would have been critical to his success.  He would never be unaware of where the big contributions came from, even though they can legally be hidden from the rest of the country.  In the last election Romney knew very well who gave large sums – a fair number of them showed up for his “victory party” in Boston.  If he had been elected he would have made sure they got their due. 
Our country has been spared a great transformative catastrophe.   But what about the next time?  Does anyone doubt that it will happen again? 

Some related sources on this topic: 

http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2012/11/which-billionaires-got-their-moneys-worth-election/58786/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanmac/2012/11/07/california-billionaires-win-state-initiative-to-raise-taxes-on-themselves/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rose-ann-demoro/whats-at-stake-when-billi_b_1980688.html

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanmac/2012/11/06/billionaires-take-to-social-media-soapboxes-on-election-day/

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/08/us/politics/little-to-show-for-cash-flood-by-big-donors.html?_r=0

Mitt Romney, the Mystery Candidate

Most of us look around the world and we wonder how a society
could become flawed to such an extreme that it accepts, even fosters, policies
that lead to destruction.  We wonder how
the people of Germany
could have allowed Hitler’s National Socialist Party to have total power within
the country and lead the country into a devastating war.  We wonder how so many Hutus of Rwanda could
have been persuaded that they should take up machetes against their Tutsi neighbors.  How could the Serbs of Bosnia become
convinced that they should “cleanse” their society of Muslims, not only to kill
members of their own communities but also to destroy buildings, museums, every
notable structure built by their Muslim neighbors?  We wonder: 
How did these societies seem to have lose all reason.
Is not this country about to do something comparably
irrational?
There is a chance that we will elect as our president someone
about whom we scarcely know anything, a person who steadfastly refuses to tell
us much about himself or even of his future program.  He has, as Professor Garry Wills puts it, a “mystery
box” of solutions to our country’s problems [NYRB 11/8/12], along with a body
of opinions that we know he has changed over time and even now he carefully veils.    
  • On abortion,
    his wife Ann Romney refused to reveal his opinion [she said it was merely
    a distraction.   
  • On the
    loopholes he will plug in order to get to a balanced budget even
    though he plans to reduce taxes even further [they are already close to an
    all-time low]:  he says that that matter
    will be the surprise he will give Congress once he is in office.
  • On
    voter-ID drives that would reduce the electorate [those most likely not to
    vote for him], he said the issue was a distraction.
  • On
    requiring ultrasound exams for pregnant women seeking abortions as many of
    his party support, he said the question was a distraction.
  • Most
    surprisingly, on his actual record he carefully provides few details: 
    • On what
      he did at Bain capital he reveals little;
    • On his
      major accomplishment as governor of Massachusetts, the health-care law, he
      carefully evades mention of it since it was the model for the “Obamacare”
      law that he now denounces.
  • He
    reveals to the public only the last two years of his tax returns.  This is most curious because his father
    published his tax returns for the previous ten years when he ran for President.  Does Mitt Romney think that more than
    the last two years of tax returns should be revealed?  Decide for yourself:  He demanded to see the tax returns of the
    last ten years of those individuals he was  considering for his running mate
    .  Romney has seen the tax returns of Paul
    Ryan for the past ten years [NYRB 11/8/12] but he steadfastly refuses to reveal more than two years of his own tax returns. 
The American public knows almost nothing substantial about
Mitt Romney, and he could be our next President.  What would he really do for our economy?  We don’t know.  What plans does he have to fix the
deficit?  We don’t know.  How will he deal with the incessant conflict
in the Middle East? We don’t know.  What is his policy toward minorities?  Well, this we can guess and he knows better
than to put that into words.
Romney was scarcely liked or supported by his own Republican
Party – he just turned out to be the last one standing.  So why is he a viable candidate for President
of the Unites States of America,
the most powerful leader in the world?  

Bahrain’s abuse of its own citizens — with American complicity

We and most of the world rightly have condemned the Syrian government’s abuse of its own people, but what about the similar situation in Bahrain?  There is a difference:  In Bahrain there is a Naval base that is crucial to the United Sates in the Gulf.  So the US tolerates the abuse of the people in Bahrain and condemns the abuse of people in Syria.  

Shame on us. 

How can the United States not  be considered complicit in these abuses of the Bahrani public?  

Bahrain has convicted its own doctors for treating the injured in public demonstrations
Bahrain convicts medics for role in uprising – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

And Bahrain has, with the rest of the world looking elsewhere, continued to abuse their own people with impunity
Bahrain: Shouting in the dark – Programmes – Al Jazeera English