In his memoir, Zweig did not excuse himself or his intellectual peers for failing early on to reckon with Hitler’s significance. “The few among writers who had taken the trouble to read Hitler’s book, ridiculed the bombast of his stilted prose instead of occupying themselves with his program,” he wrote. They took him neither seriously nor literally. Even into the nineteen-thirties, “the big democratic newspapers, instead of warning their readers, reassured them day by day, that the movement . . . would inevitably collapse in no time.” Prideful of their own higher learning and cultivation, the intellectual classes could not absorb the idea that, thanks to “invisible wire-pullers”—the self-interested groups and individuals who believed they could manipulate the charismatic maverick for their own gain—this uneducated “beer-hall agitator” had already amassed vast support. After all, Germany was a state where the law rested on a firm foundation, where a majority in parliament was opposed to Hitler, and where every citizen believed that “his liberty and equal rights were secured by the solemnly affirmed constitution.”
Read more at the New Yorker.
It is going to be a busy day! So much to do!
- Congratulate a bunch of people — those who felt the system was failing them — for letting their voices be heard in a dramatic way. I’m sure there is something hopeful in that. Well done.
- After considering some of the people mentioned in #1 — just as a precaution, change my Christmas shopping wish-list from Amazon books to Cabella’s gun department.
- Check into that whole “rigged election” thing…after all, he’s been right about everything else.
- Check the over/under on “Days Until Military Coup.” If they’re calling it 230, I’m taking the under.
- Select my outfit for the Inaugural Ball. (I am thinking something white and billowy, with maybe a pointy cap….)
- Read a good “prepper” manual and stock up on canned goods, freeze-dried meals, and water. Also pretzels. I really like pretzels.
- Remember to boot my computer from Tails, and always use a zero-knowledge VPN and the TOR browser. Get all my friends to switch to the Signal instant messaging app (end-to-end encryption, and not owned by Facebook). Delete all my social media accounts (please send cute baby and kitten pictures via snail-mail to my new post office box in Belize).
- Smash capitalism.
- Scoop the litter box.
- Shut down this blog.
Well, I’d better get busy!
People want to know: Who is to blame for this whole election, for these two candidates, for all the rancor and dissension. I’ll explain:
- The Republicans are to blame: from Gingrich on, the party has positioned itself to lead inexorably to Donald Trump. Their emphasis on no-nothingness, obstruction, racism, sexism, their denigration of the poor, weak, and vulnerable — no wonder this is who they’ve nominated. He is a mirror to that party, and many in it now don’t like what they see. But Republicans have brought it on themselves.
- The Democrats are to blame: ever since Bill Clinton, the party has tried to move rightward such that it is now “Republican-lite” — and not even that “lite.” They are in bed with finance capital, and no longer are they the party of labor. They are traitors to their base. They are the ones who started to cut the social safety net to ribbons, they are the ones who removed the protections of Glass-Steagell, they are the ones who implemented mass incarceration and the prison-industrial system. The forgotten and disaffected needed someone who would listen — or at least feign listening, as the Democratic party no longer even pretends to be the representatives of the middle and working classes. And when a candidate like Sanders comes along who can galvanize the party’s historical base, they do everything in their power to quash his efforts. Instead, they nominate the one candidate in the world who is vulnerable in a campaign against Trump. The Democrats have brought this on themselves.
- Democracy is to blame: Democracy — the rule of the people, by the people, for the people — i.e., self-rule is an oxymoron. If the system depends on everyone having a voice, then the enemies of democracy get a voice — and no anti-democratic voice has been louder in recent times than Donald Trump (“I, alone, can fix it!”). A social system based on the occasional voting of a populace otherwise unconcerned and ill-equipped in matters of governing, is fundamentally vulnerable to demagoguery, fascism, political suicide. Was Churchill correct? Is democracy the worst form of government…except for every other form of government? Democracy requires constant attention. Trumpism (or something like it) is a permanent risk and tempation for democracies. Is it worth it? Democracy has brought this on itself.
- We are to blame: We consent to work 50+ hours per week, often at what David Graeber calls (technically speaking) “bullshit jobs.” We have our faces buried in our mobile devices. We live our lives on social media, blissfully unconcerned about matters of privacy, ideology, manipulation, and control. We dumb down our schools, cutting music and the arts, belittling philosophy and critical thought, turning educational institutions into factories for producing more cogs for the machine. We get our “news” from any website with a .com, regardless of its quality. We repost articles we haven’t read and have not vetted, and then feel we’ve added to the civic conversation. We believe all the lies that make us feel better about ourselves and that give us someone else to blame for all the troubles. We pat ourselves on the back for making it down to the polls once every four years and throwing a few switches (or punching out a few chads) for candidates about whom we haven’t the slightest idea. We are proud patriots. We look down our noses at the non-voters (lumping them all together under the umbrellas of “lazy un-americans”) and feel superior that we have kept democracy safe (for capital, for the 0.1%, for creeping bureaucracy, for the surveillance state, for a system for lining the pockets of those who play this highly artificial game). We denigrate those who just say ‘no’ to this charade, insisting that they have no right to complain, no voice, nothing to say. If they propose alternatives, we simply stop our ears. “Just vote once every four years, then shut the hell up.” Well, in fact we voters are the lazy and the ignorant — perhaps the most ignorant, the most duped, the most “played.” We are right where the powers-that-be want us: compliant consumers of whatever bullshit they configured us to “need.” We brought this on ourselves.
Until we admit this, we will continue to be plagued by bad politics. And it will be our fault.
So what shall we do?
What, again? Are you still asking someone else what you should do? Let me remind you of something Immanuel Kant wrote [An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? (1784)]:
Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a proportion of [people], long after nature has released them from alien guidance, nonetheless gladly remain in lifelong immaturity, and why it is so easy for others to establish themselves as their guardians. It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me. The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them…regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention difficult. Having first made their domestic livestock [i.e., us] dumb, and having carefully made sure that these docile creatures [i.e., we] will not take a single step without the go-cart to which they are harnessed, these guardians then show them the danger that threatens them, should they attempt to walk alone. Now this danger is not actually so great, for after falling a few times they [i.e., we] would in the end certainly learn to walk; but an example of this kind makes men timid and usually frightens them out of all further attempts. Thus, it is difficult for any individual [person] to work him- or herself out of the immaturity that has all but become his [or her] nature.
Has immaturity become your second nature? Are you able to respond to Kant’s clarion call: sapere aude — “Dare to know!”? Can you think for yourself? And do you think you can think for yourself if you don’t even know yourself?
Okay, you say, you’ll think for yourself for a change. But still you ask: can you at least give us some guidance, some way to go about it?
Fine…but just this once. On Tuesday, go down to the polling place and pull the Democrat lever. Don’t even look at the names…just pull it and leave. [Why not Trump? Answer: Clinton is (a symptom of) the problem; Trump is not the answer; there is no quick fix.] On Wednesday, after Clinton is deemed President-elect, write her a letter (okay, okay, an email). Congratulate her, then tell her that you vow to never let up on her the entire time she is in office. Tell her you don’t mean you are falling for all these phony “scandals” the opposition has tainted her with all these years. Tell you mean you will be on her about her policies, decisions, alliances, and performance on the job. Tell her you are not doing this because she’s a woman. Tell her you are doing this because you should have been doing this all along, no matter who got elected. Tell her you promise to seek out your local and state representatives and deliver them the same message. Tell her you will do what you can to organize a local meeting of your party — whatever your party happens to be, or, if you do not belong to a party, that you will at least meet with neighbors and friends (it could even be bi- or non-partisan) — every two months to discuss the performance of all your representatives, and that you will report to all those representatives your collective views of how they are doing. That means that she, along with all your other representatives, will be getting a “report card” based, not just on your own idiosyncratic opinions, but on the research, discussions, and debate that you’ve been engaged with and tested by. Tell her you hope to encourage friends and family outside your local community to do the same. Tell her a failing grade will not be tolerated, at least not by your local, informed, diligent, and objective group which has actually thought things through. Tell her that the existence of this network of discussion groups may very well result in a significant grassroots movement or even a third (or fourth) party, unless she (and your other representatives) are adequately responsive to those she/they purport to represent.
There you go! Do that. Not enough, you say? Won’t work, you say? Well, it is likely to be about a jillion times more than what you have been doing, right? And things have gone to shit, I’m sure you’ll agree. So give this idea a whirl. At least you might meet a few neighbors and make some new friends and learn a few things. How bad could that be?
“…the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”
— J.R.R. Tolkein
Worth considering: Philosopher Scott Soames argues that  philosophy’s recent history has been much more impressive than its critics would have you believe, and  philosophy is best done in a university setting, rather than in the public square.
Soames is generally irenic (so long as the grumbling parties are fairly connected to the Anglo-analytic methods he favors). He does not take too seriously the fad of logical positivism in the 20th century, and he does not limit legitimate philosophical interest to any one are of exploration (e.g., he does not dismiss moral philosophy as a going concern). On the contrary, he argues that real advances have been made across the board, and that this is mainly thanks to philosophy’s having been disciplined by the modern research academy. This is no argument, however, for philosophy’s being arcane or divorced from concerns of non-professional philosophers. There is much to consider in this essay.
The impetus for this piece was another that appeared in the NYT “The Stone” philosophy column by Bob Frodeman and Adam Briggle, which argued that philosophy lost its way when it morphed into just another academic discipline (one with science-envy). I confess, I’ve seen it in much the same way as Frodeman and Briggle, and having just re-read their piece I generally still do.
It makes me wonder: Is there just *one* thing that philosophy is? Or is term “philosophy” like term “religion” — a blanket term that (legitimately?) covers widely divergent practices? Is the philosophy for the public square (or philosophy-as-a-way-of-life) “the same thing” as the philosophy done in academic settings and disciplinary practices? If not, is there at least a possibility for a mutually enriching intersection or overlap? Philosophers themselves have been notoriously argumentative about what counts as philosophy at all (for instance, the Derrida affair). Often they divide up their “orthodox” and their “heterodox” and their outright “heathen dogs.” Maybe that’s just part of the game.
But I know I do more than one thing as a philosopher…or maybe I am more than one thing as a philosopher. What and how I teach (and to what end) is not the same (exactly) as what I do when I write a journal article or a book review on a technical issue in, say, ontology. And I don’t think, as a philosopher (not as a philosopher professor), that I am ever “off the clock.” Perhaps I am large and contain multitudes. But why not be large and why not try to contain multitudes? Frodeman/Briggle and Soames. Why not?
Well, I know what she’s trying to say…but my cat needs food! Can we continue to do the wrong thing until we figure out how we’ll do the right thing (which we should do, of course)?
Over there at the New Statesman, a gaggle of interesting people were asked what you can’t say, what we’re not allowed to say…and then to say it. Well worth a scan, but I think I prefer Nick Cave’s answer the best:
The lovely thing about the unsayable is that it is unsaid. As soon as it is said, it is sayable and loses all its mystery and ambiguity. Art exists so that the unsayable can be said without having to actually say it. We cloud it in secrecy and obfuscation. The mind is free to roam and all things can be imagined, under the cover of darkness. How nice that is. The unsayable. How tired we are of having things explained to us. Having things said. How nice it is, when people just shut the fuck up.
And you probably didn’t read this either.