Yves here. The Real News Network continues with its discussion between Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin of what Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism.” One of the focuses here is how skillful fragmentation of the public, and keeping various groups separate from, and better yet, suspicious of each other, has helped greatly reduced the cost of keeping this system in place.
Younger readers may not recognize how radical the transformation of public discourse has been over the last 40 years. While there were always intellectuals who were largely above consuming much mass media, as well as political groups on the far right and left that also largely rejected it, in the 1960s and well into the 1980s, mass media shaped political discourse. There were only three major broadcast networks: ABC, NBC, CBS. They hewed to generally the same outlook. Similarly, there were only two major news magazines: Time and Newsweek, again with not much distance between in their political outlook. The Wall Street Journal was a stock market newspaper with little general news coverage. The New York Times didn’t aspire to be a national newspaper until the 1990s. Local newspapers were much more influential in their markets then than now, but they seldom deviated much from the national middle of the road, pro-middle class sentiment. The sort of fragmentation that this interview mentions is in part a result of the Karl Rove strategy of focusing on hot-button interests of narrowly-sliced interest groups, along with media fragmentation which has made it easier to target, as in isolate, them.
CHRIS HEDGES, PULITZER-PRIZE WINNING JOURNALIST: Welcome to part six of my interview with Professor Sheldon Wolin, who taught politics for many years at Berkeley and later Princeton. He is the author of several seminal works on political philosophy, including Politics and Vision and Democracy Incorporated.
We were talking about superpower, the way it had corrupted academia, especially in the wake of World War II, the increasing integration of academics into the power system itself. And I wanted to talk a little bit about the nature of superpower, which you describe as essentially the face of inverted totalitarianism. You say that with superpower, power is always projected outwards, which is a fundamental characteristic that Hannah Arendt ascribes to fascism of totalitarianism fascism and that the inability–and she juxtaposes Nazi Germany with countries like Hungary, so that the nature of fascism in a country like Hungary is diluted because they don’t have that ability to keep pushing power outwards. We, of course, in our system of inverted totalitarianism, have been constantly expanding–hundreds of bases around the world; we virtually at this point occupy most of the Middle East. And I spent seven years in the Middle East, and to come back to America and have Americans wonder why we are detested is absolutely mystifying, because the facts on the ground, the direct occupation of two countries, the proxy wars that are carried out–Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen–have engendered ISIS and resurrected al-Qaeda and other jihadist movements in a way that is completely understandable and rational from their perspective.
So I wondered if you could talk about what that quality of constantly projecting power outward does to the nation and to democracy itself.
SHELDON WOLIN, PROF. EMERITUS POLITICS, PRINCETON: Well, I think in some respects it’s pretty apparent what it does in terms of governing institutions. That is, it obviously enhances their power and it increases their scope, and at the same time renders them less and less responsible, even though we’ve kept the outward framework of elections and criticism and all the free press, etc. But the power is there, and it is–thanks particularly to contemporary technology, it is power that’s kind of endlessly expandable.
And it’s very different from the sort of imperialism of the 18th or 19th centuries, where resources always had a limit and that territorial and other expansion was severely restricted by it. But now expansionism is accompanied by an ability to impose cultural norms, as well as political norms, on populations that did not have them. And that has made a tremendous difference in the effect of the imperial reach, because it means that it’s becoming easier to have it rationalized not only at home, but also abroad. And the differences, I think, are just very, very profound between the kind of expansionism of the contemporary state, like America, and those in the 18th and 19th centuries.
HEDGES: What are the consequences? You talk in Politics and Vision about–you mentioned Thucydides and Thucydides raising up the figure of Pericles, who warned the Athenian demos that expansion, constant expansion, would ultimately destroy Athenian democracy by in essence bringing back the mechanisms for control, the harsh, violence mechanisms of control of empire, back into Athens itself. And that, of course, is what we have done, from the use of drones to militarizing police forces, to the security and surveillance state. What are the consequences, the physical consequences of superpower?
WOLIN: You mean particularly upon the population?
HEDGES: Right. Upon us.
WOLIN: Yeah. Well, I think what it does is create an enormous chasm between the sort of pictures we have of or are given of what our system is in high school, grammar school, even college, and the reality of where we are. I think it’s that disjunction that seems to me so kind of perilous, because it means that much of our education is not about the world, our world that we actually live in, but about a world that we idealize and idealize our place in it. That makes it very difficult, I think, for Americans to take a true measure of what their leaders are doing, because it’s always cast in a kind of mode that seems so reassuring and seems so self-confirming of the value of American values for the whole world.
And I think that that problem is such that you don’t really have a critical attitude in the best sense of the word. I don’t mean that the public is never disgruntled or the public is never out of sorts; I’m talking about a critical attitude which really is dealing with things as they are and not with a simple negativism, but is trying to make sense out of where we are and how we’ve gotten to be where we are. But it requires, I think, a level of political education that we simply haven’t begun to explore.
And I think it’s become more difficult to kind of get it across to the public, because there’s no longer what Dewey and others called the public. The public is now so fragmented and so almost comatose in so many ways that it becomes very difficult to reach them. And there are so many intermediaries of entertainment and diversion and so on that the political message, even when it’s presented, which it is, rarely, as some kind of public-spirited set of ideals, just gets lost.
It’s a very, very perilous period, I think, because I think the net effect of it is to render the political powers more independent even while they proclaim their democratic basis.
HEDGES: And, of course, superpower creates a bureaucracy which operates in secret, virtually. And I think that is something that we have seen transferred back, that you’re no longer allowed to peer into the internal mechanisms of power. And the Obama administration has been quite harsh in terms of going after those few whistleblowers, people within the systems of power who have reached out through the press–Edward Snowden would be an example–to allow the public to see the workings of power, misusing the Espionage Act, which was really the equivalent, I think, of our foreign secrets act, to shut down this kind of lens into how power works. And that is, I think, the disease of superpower itself that has now been brought back, would you say?
WOLIN: Yeah, I think that’s substantially correct. The difficulty is really so enormous now in trying to educate a public to awareness of what is happening when there are so many countervailing methods of conditioning and informing that public that are quite concerned to prevent exactly that. And I think it’s very much a question of whether the whole idea of a public isn’t in such jeopardy that it isn’t really faced with a certain kind of antiquarian significance, and nothing more, because the public has, I think, ceased to be a kind of entity that’s self-conscious about itself–I mean when everybody may vote and we say the public has expressed itself. And that in one sense, in a quantitative sense, is true. But the real question is: did they, when they asserted themselves or voted in a certain way, were they thinking of themselves as a public, as performing a public act, a political act of a citizen? Or were they expressing resentments or hopes or frustrations more or less of a private character? And I think that it’s that kind of a quandary we’re in today. And, again, it makes it very difficult to see where the democracy is heading with that kind of level of public knowledge and public political sophistication.
HEDGES: Well, the public is encouraged through the ethos of capitalism to express their interests. And I think it’s in Politics and Vision that you speak about how that fragmentation of the public is by design, that people are broken down according to their (quote-unquote) interests, not as a citizen within a democracy, but as a particular group that seeks to acquire certain rights, power, economic advantages. And that fragmentation, which is assiduously cultivated–opinion polls become a way to do that, although, of course, modern public relations do it and campaigns do it, that rather than speak to a public in a presidential campaign, you target quite consciously–these public relations mechanisms within the campaigns will target these fragments to keep them fragmented.
WOLIN: Yeah, I think that’s true, and I think that’s a very significant development, where they–I mean, the notion of a public had always assumed a kind of cohesive character and some kind of a set of commonalities that justified describing it as a public. But I think that that day has long since gone, because of precisely what you describe, and that is the fragmentation of it, deliberate fragmentation of it, and the skill with which you can slice and dice the public into smaller fragments that can be appealed to, while holding that fragment in relative isolation from what’s happening to the other fragments or to the society as a whole. Yeah, you can target now in a way that you couldn’t before. Before, you had a blunt instrument called public opinion, and you assumed it, yet you shaped it as you shape some kind of amorphous mass into a whole. But that’s not it anymore. It’s far more sophisticated, far much more aware of lines of distinction that set one public against another, and that you had to be careful not to ruin your own case by antagonizing one public that you needed for your cause, so that it’s become a highly, highly sophisticated operation that has no counterpart, I don’t think, in our previous political history.
HEDGES: It makes Walter Lippman look benign.
WOLIN: Yeah, it certainly does. Yeah. I mean, his public is still a coherent whole, even if it’s a little crazy.
HEDGES: And I think what’s frightening is the way not only the public has been fragmented, but the way that these fragments are manipulated to be turned one against the other. So, for instance, corporate capitalism strips workers of benefits and job protection, pensions, medical plans, and then very skillfully uses that diminished fragment to turn against public sector workers, such as teachers, who still have those benefits. So the question doesn’t become, why doesn’t everyone have those benefits; the question becomes, to that fragment which is being manipulated by forces of propaganda and public relations, you don’t have it, and therefore they shouldn’t have it.
WOLIN: They shouldn’t have it. Yeah.
HEDGES: And I think that’s example of what you are speaking about.
WOLIN: Yeah, I think that’s accurate. The ability of the fragmentation strategy is really quite astounding, and it’s that we’ve got such sophisticated means now of targeting and of fashioning messages for specific audiences and insulating those messages from other audiences that it’s a new chapter. It’s clearly a new chapter. And I think that it’s fraught with all kinds of dangerous possibilities for any kind of theory of democracy which requires, I think, some kind of notion of a public sufficiently united to express a will and a preference of what it needs and what it wants. But if you’re constantly being divided and subdivided, that’s an illusion now, that there is a public.
And the amazing thing, it seems to me, is that the ruling groups can now operate on the assumption that they don’t need the traditional notion of something called a public in the broad sense of a coherent whole, that they now have the tools to deal with the very disparities and differences that they have themselves helped to create, so that it’s a game in which you manage to undermine the cohesiveness which publics require if they are to be politically effective, and you undermined that. And at the same time, you create these different distinct groups that inevitably find themselves in tension or at odds or in competition with other groups, so that it becomes more of a melee than it does become a way of fashioning majorities.
HEDGES: And this was quite conscious, the destruction of the public.
WOLIN: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, again it’s that theme we’ve talked about. They’re capable of doing it now, that is, of dealing with fragmented publics who aren’t aware of their ties to those fragments but are–everybody feels sort of part of a group that has no particular alliance with another group.
HEDGES: And the cultivation by the dominant forces of that sense of victimhood of your group.
HEDGES: And that victimhood is caused by another fragment.
HEDGES: I mean, that, of course, characterizes the right wing.
WOLIN: Yeah. Yeah.
HEDGES: The reason for our economic decline and our social decline is because of undocumented workers, or because of liberals, or because of homosexuals or whatever.
WOLIN: Yeah. No, that’s a time-honored strategy of really not only divide and conquer; subdivide and subdivide and conquer.
HEDGES: They were good students of Hobbes, I guess.
WOLIN: Yeah. Yeah, better than they know.
HEDGES: Thank you very much.
Gee, I guess the whole history of the American south didn’t happen, then: a period of many decades in which lower-class whites were convinced that their interest lay with the planters and budding industrialists of the region, rather than with the lower-class (to put it very mildly) blacks.
Secondly, the imputed ability to keep fragmenting messages insulated from other than the target group seems to have dissolved in the last decade, thanks to the universalizing power of the internet. Any message directed at any group can, in a keystroke, be shared much more widely.
“Secondly, the imputed ability to keep fragmenting messages insulated from other than the target group seems to have dissolved in the last decade, thanks to the universalizing power of the internet.”
These fragmented groups have simply found their own niche on the web and that niche is a complex nexus of websites. And that nexus is so large that readers can easily convince themselves that they are getting a variety of views instead of the same view re-packaged. In fact it has become so large that they can share content across dozens of sites, reach 100s (perhaps 1000s) of people, and never leave the nexus.
I have to agree with GlassHammer. With the internet people are basically dividing into smaller and smaller political/informational niches. NakedCapitalism could almost be an example of one of the niches.
The fragmented masses autofilter any message they hear for the bits that reinforce their own particular agenda no matter what was said. Watch any political debate in a mixed forum sometime and ask the audience members afterward who won and why. The results will astonish you, especially if you’re an honest neutral observer. Confirmation bias is a real bitch!
I’m not sure I understand your reasoning or point vis-a-vis the antebellum South.
Also, you never know if the person posting rebuttals and counterarguments are a honest debater or a paid shill with a bank of links and talking points on hand.
The most clear claim of such that i have ran across was over at boingboing.net, where an admin told of how his interest was piqued about some commenters. They kept showing up on the same topics and always posted the same comments and links with supposed rebuttals. when looking into the IP addresses, they all came from the same one. And it lead back to a “online image management” agency…
And that is the crude form.
The other day “Banger” noted the difference between the public discourse of any Western leader and Super Hitler, Putin is staggering.
There was and still is an attempt to portray Putin as worse than Hitler–for some people just saying that is enough. But that battle has degenerated into sniping at Putin’s “undemocratic” regime–as if we had one here that is better.
In regard to Putins ““undemocratic” regime, it is worse here in Central California where the Tulare County overturned the citizens of California vote for Medical Marijuana and flat out outlawed it in Tulare County. This is a law passed by the California voters, five million of them and it was overturned in Tulare County, just because they could. How can we call this a Democracy? even if you are against Medical Marijuana, the law was passed by the citizens in 1996 and even was not overturned by the Supreme Court when they tried to say we must obey the federal laws. I am 73 years old and really feel we have lost our Democracy to whoever has the power, this is no longer a country of the Brave and Free, we do have brave people who fight our wars, but we are no longer the Land of the Free, we are the land of the Pee (test) and it is all about controlling the people in the way the Fascists who have taken over want it to be.
Hitler was his own unique brand of racist crazy, Putin runs an oligarchal kleptocracy under a veil of nationalism for public conmumption. In the end it’s all about the money and has been since his being the boss in St Petersburg, A rhetorical comparison to Hitler is meaningless.
IMO it is highly dangerous to dismiss Hitler as “crazy”.
He operated with a burning agenda of hate, but that does not equate to “madness”. You cannot write off all evil as “madness”. The Nazl leaders, of whom Hitler was by no means the only one, were ringleaders of this agenda of hate – but he joined an already existing political party, mind you. They were not all “mad” or suffering from clinical mental problems – they were bad human beings who let themselves succumb to the weakness of hate and blaming minorities, fuelled by a set of individuals in leadership,
It is important to have that perspective otherwise we in our own time can become equally culpable of actively or tacitly supporting agendas of evil. Evil can occur in plain sight, and agenda of hate and divisiveness can be embedded in banal decisions and policy – and it should not require any clinically insane people to be attached to policies and actions before your antennae should go up.
If there is one lesson we need to be mindful of in our time, IMO this is it right there.
You’re being sarcastic, right?
Yes, he is being sarcastic. Banger made a great comment the other day. He compared Obama’s speeches that are chuck full of nothing but platitudes to Putin’s direct style currently on display in a recent speech in Sochi. Putin lays out the problems in detail and then actually comes up with a way forward. Instead we get from our leaders all kinds of blather about how the U.S. is an exceptional country made up of exceptional people who enjoy our “freedoms” that no other country comes close to having. Blechh!
The central concept here reminds me of auto-immune disease (a series of them) where the body attacks itself. This all spells a terrible breakdown. But it’s helpful to have an image, so when you see it, you also can see its cause and its effect.
This reminds me of a blog I wrote some while back. (Many links are broken – those that came from the defunct TPM Cafe.). But the main point of the blog seems to fit the underlying issues of these interviews. Underlying issues and especially underlying assumptions are what interest me: http://therapysblog-fromtpm.blogspot.com/2010/09/systemic-deception-and-breakdown-of.html
Gosh, I hope that link works! I may or may not be on the right track. But both of these posts on the lecture rang bells for me. The title of the post I hope I’ve linked is “Systemic Deception and the Breakdown of Civic Trust”. There’s also an interesting discussion below it – that occurred back in March of 2009 – at the old TPM Cafe.
Their analysis of fragmentation would benefit from a consideration of the work of writers like Wolfgang Streeck and Peter Mair, both of whom usefully update Otto Kirchheimer’s concept of the “catch-all” party. Writing in the late 50s, Kirchheimer described the passage of the “mass party,” whose model was the German SPD, that was oriented to the representation of a more or less coherent class interest, and which sought to fortify the basis of that orientation with party-based recruitment and education.
There are a number of reasons for the passing of this party, including assaults by the state and the development of the grand compromise of welfare capitalism. What Kirchheimer focused on was the contribution of efforts by the mass party to extend its electoral base by appealing to groups outside its original membership by tacking on policies that would appeal to narrow electoral segments. These policies, often taking the form of “tax expenditures,” would appeal to groups that would otherwise have little in common with the mass party’s basic program. Over time the effort to keep the increasingly polycentric, “catch-all” coalition together would result in a watering down of the original party program and, as militant tendencies were either crushed or exhausted, its suppression. What you end up with is very much like what Wolin and Hedges describe.
Proper analysis of this process requires a careful approach to the interaction between state, party, and the electorate. Wolin and Hedges shouldn’t be talking so much about Pericles and Athens, because they then lose track of the fairly well-defined degeneration that these writers chart (Mair’s last book, pieced together after his untimely death, was entitled “Ruling the Void”).
Wolin and Hedges, in their excellent discourse, have gotten to the point–fragmentation! It isn’t just fragmentation of “the public” into many publics–it is fragmentation of everything even fragmentation of the self and of meaning itself. This fragmentation has been worked on by political operatives but the ground was laid by the advent of propaganda, advertising and public relations as well as the social/cognitive- and neuro-science works of the past century. The powerful have access to wizards and witches who know how to manipulate people and do it with art and science.
We have to attack this regime dominated by the super-powerful and their highly skilled and creative operatives by understanding that the problem is fragmentation itself. We have to start with making ourselves whole and work to help others do the same because the affliction is now beyond serious. The powerful, I believe, dimly sense that they are killing the Goose that layed all those golden eggs they are enjoying and want more of. They may be open to change and, at this point, are the only agents able to make changes–the people are too fragmented, tired, confused, distracted to do much of anything other than continue to react as conditioned–they are helpless because their internal strength has been, largely, lost.
“They may be open to change and, at this point, are the only agents able to make changes–the people are too fragmented,”
But what will motivate/compel the powerful to be the agents of change before they kill the Goose that laid the golden eggs? What “Quid pro Quo” arrangement can be offered at this point?
We can’t just tell them (or anyone) “If you don’t change these systems/institutions for the benefit of others the whole thing will collapse.” Even if that is true, they will simply wait until it actually harms them.
Two tracks–one is organize into communities–that itself will immediately get their attention because any trend towards communitarianism on the left or right will automatically set back the whole project of framgentation they depend on. But that takes time so in the meantime you appeal to the better nature of the non-sociopathic rich and I believe there are many of those people–they tend to be surrounded, however, with virtual “courts” of flatterers and hustlers and some of the know that. We need to make the attempt to influence these people by engaging in whatever way we can at whatever level we live within. There is no other option. You can blanche from the enormity of power the rich have but that’s where the power is and that’s where it will, ultimately, have to come from unless you can raise an army of ninjas.
“The Power of the Powerless” by Vaclav Havel. 1978 essay.
See Czech dissident and later president Vaclav Havel’s 1978 essay
“The Power of the Powerless”
Thank you for this, flora. I see parallels to that time and place.
We have to attack this regime dominated by the super-powerful and their highly skilled and creative operatives by understanding that the problem is fragmentation itself.
God love you man, but “we have to” appeals are pretty much dead on arrival these days. The answer to a fragmentation strategy from above is not to consolidate in resistance to it, but to further fragment and dissipate it as it passes through to below us. The answer to undoing hierarchical wealth and power is to reject it in ourselves and to ridicule it in others. “The regime” is us. We’re all complicit.
Have I mentioned lately how Hedges is a worthless trash-heap of a person, whose role in the past several years has been to help middle-class white people feel bad in a kind of self-flagellation ritual the purpose of which seems to be to let them feel like they’ve done something productive (since work = suffering, therefore suffering = work probably), but who has organized nothing, suggested nothing substantive, and served only to create paralysis of despair?
Have I mentioned lately how Hedges is a worthless trash-heap of a person…
LOL! I think you just did! That’s pretty harsh, don’t ya think? I’m not sure our ongoing paralysis of false hope is much better.
Don’t worry about it. It’s just a drive-by from a member of the black bloc’s severely diminished fan base.
Keep on ignoring what I say if you choose, but this continues to be incontrovertible proof that Hedges is a liar: https://libcom.org/files/images/22929.jpg
Thanks Yves, AGAIN for turning up the “light”.
Hedges and Wolin touch on the effectiveness of the strategic stupor trade (marketing/propaganda). I’m a
class of ’68 reader that remembers the widespread rejection of the Emperor’s “policies” in the ’60’s. It seems
the Emperor was caught off guard by the intellectual discourse “permitted” by the bureaucracy. The technology
of “culture production” must be enhanced.
The “presstitutes” have always played a roll in the public discourse. The “ears” of the public, or consciousness
determines the effectiveness of the mind-control regime of marketing or propaganda. We may quibble, chicken
or egg first, that the cultural appartus AKA “Education” is trumped by media. The “quibble” won’t hide the
contradictions of professed values, doctrines, ideologies and the results. The old “proof is in the pudding”,
the proof of the strategy is found in the results. The “strategy” of naming the management concept favored
by TPTB as a “Democracy” works world-wide.
The metrics of contemporary US education (historical student count/graduations-HS and College) paint
us as the most educated of all time. On the other hand, wealth concentration is at historical levels.
Eve’s magic apple?
Right from the beginning, with the wonkish title that evades apprehension and practically begs for the Eric Cartman treatment, this conversation ran as fast as it could to overeducated shithead territory. “Inverted totalitarianism!” What is that, tyranny of the majority? That’s what the word implies but not what they’re talking about. I’m so sick of word-turds that only serve as straw men (labels for political ideologies and stuff like that) and embitter others with whom we must work in order for democracy to happen. This vid reeks of the 1980s and all that whining about “imperialism.”
Seriously? You don’t know what “inverted totalitarianism” is? Why don’t you try reading the book? It’s been out for 6 years already. No, you’d rather rant from ignorance.
Yes I’m serious I don’t know what inverted totalitarianism is, neither do the rest of them, and the world doesn’t need any more “isms” with which to pigeonhole and bludgeon the opposition. That was my point well worthy of a rant against such forms of scholarship, which is fair game. I try to avoid the ad hominem attacks but being an old crank it’s not easy ;-) The terminology “inverted totalitarianism” is artless and ill-suited as a label for the phenomenon he’s talking about, so that’s bothersome don’t you see. I insist on making stuff as accessible as possible, being pedagogically minded and cognizant that in order we may be interdisciplinary (and no isolated from each other) we should make our specialties accessible to each other. People are intelligent but their various specialties require different reading/research priorities which make it difficult to be well-rounded so the problem I’m having here is that this “inverted totalitarianism” is actually promulgated by this kind of wonkish scholarship. You dig?
Inverted Totalitarianism is the name of Wolin’s book, so unsurprisingly he mentions it. I guess you could say it’s a bit self-promotional.
Imperialism of course isn’t entirely wrong to describe U.S. foreign policy, although it may not be exactly the same as earlier forms of imperialism, it’s more indirect (inverted imperialism :) ). But “imperialism” is a lefty signifier, even striking some Marxist overtones. You want to talk about how messed up u.s. foreign policy is to lefties: “imperialism”. But I don’t think it goes over quite so well to non lefties, even though U.S. foreign policy is still messed up.
Maybe you missed it, but around the time of the Iraq 2003 neocons were starting to use the term. The mask was briefly dropped.
It might be useful to consider what the alternatives might be. “Aggressive democracy exportation masking an intention to develop comprador local elites who will serve as agents to help expand markets and maintain access/control of natural resources”?
Last week I attended a talk on ISIS at the U. of Michigan. One panelist who is likely familiar to many here, was Juan Cole. Although he made many important points on this topic I was really struck with two points of extreme propaganda. He began by saying there were countries who had moved from “socialism” to neo-liberalism badly (Argentina) and those who had done it right. Well good to know!
He did not question that neo-liberalism was the way to go. That was just slipped in as a fact that no one in their right mind would question. Why of course, neo-liberalism is the most excellent system in the whole world. Of course you’d want to move to that kind of economy and do it right!
Mr. Cole also greatly minimized the role of the US in the destruction of Iraqi society. He only briefly mentioned Bremer, the man who disbanded the Sunni Iraqi army, throwing all these people out of work with a wave of his Viceroyian hand. Mostly he blamed Maliki for throwing the Sunnis out of work, while forgetting to mention that Maliki was USGinc.’s hand picked lackey.
Another presenter was a political science professor at U. of Michigan. He talked about how there were democratic states which supported free trade and freedom of the people (for example, the US). Then there were nations like Singapore who were geared toward supporting a kind of modified free trade but tended to be authoritarian. Then there were those evil nations that supported neither capitalism or freedom.
I was just blown away. Exactly where does he get the idea that the US is a nation of free trade and isn’t an authoritarian govt.? It’s as if the news of mass surveillance, military or military style reaction forces towards peaceful protesters, or having a president that can detain people indefinitely without trial and kill them on his own say so, etc. just hadn’t reached this professor. This is a major university. What is going on?
If they said anything else they would have a very hard time being invited to the sort if boring talks they give. The world of academia is deeply political and interacts seamlessly with the FP and Security elite. Cole was once a critic of US policy but something happened as it almost always does.
Cole has compromised himself into irrelevance.
“This is a major university. What is going on?” Well, just what goes on at major universities: support of the status quo. PS: I grew up in Hamtramck and was taught to always admire and respect U of M.
My impression is that Cole, who should be credited for occasionally doing great detail analysis and a maintaining a consistent, strong criticism of Zionism, doesn’t want to shut himself out of policy circles. His whoop-up of the Libyan fiasco was astonishing, and he’s held on to that stance to the bitter end, e.g. citing how on a recent visit to Tripoli secular parties look strong, etc.
Short and sweet Wiki overview of Wolin’s concept:
Thanks for the link, Doug.
Yea I think he’s right to trace much back to WWII, the birth of the modern U.S. really. I was reading how frustrated some people got in the cold war about the citizens apathy toward the danger of nuclear war (nuclear annihilation is of course the way to put it accurately). So even back then, the same damnable and at times utterly incomprehensible apathy as today. But WWII probably was the game changer.
Great Interview! Pure genius..completely agree with fragmentation. And i would say..it really only became possible with the advent of the internet…
To address Yves’ first comment: As a younger reader (29), the only references I have to the old-media style culture (of the big 3 TV channels, and 2 news magazines) are in films, such as X-Men Days of Future Past (in which 70s era ‘Beast’ brags about keeping track of all 3 news channels) or tangentially in Charlie Wilson’s War, where the old media mindset is treated with not but quaint amusement. Any sort of larger realization of a media landscape’s change affecting social dialogue is obscured or lost to entertainment targeted to draw eyeballs rather than to contemplate what this means for modern social discourse.
In the terms of fragmentation: modern news channels don’t as much just provide ‘news’, but competing worldviews; each attempting to capture viewers by promoting specific worldviews uncritically. Fox News being one of the more blatant worldview-centric networks is easiest to see—have more than a thirty second discussion with an avid follower of Fox News to find the jingoistic, Real America-first, might-makes-right, prosperity gospel cultural core of their worldview coming at you like a freight train.
Not that CNN (tagged Certainly Not News and Chicken Noodle News by my favorite not-news site Fark.com), NBC/MSNBC, or any of the others are much better. There are anchors on those networks (including Fox) that at the least try to look at the world critically, but I can’t say it isn’t disheartening when news stories about inequality are treated by the mainstream as an unavoidable side effect of prosperity, a consequence of those supermen at the top of finance that are better than the rest of us pushing our country to new heights.
It makes the rest of us forget that some people have discovered capitalism’s cheat code.
Good stuff Adam. A fresh take on the media for sure for those of us over 50. I would only add that nothing IMO on the spectrum from left to right could even be remotely be considered “objective” in any sense of the word anymore, nor do I think it’s even possible anymore. I think we’ve gone “post-objective” if you will, a society that as none other than Karl Rove famously said, “creates our own realities.” We’re as post-modern as post-modern gets these days. We’re a freak show of unapologetic, serial, and proud “natural born killers,” based on whatever whim we like, or what the f***!, NO WHIM AT ALL! It’s a crazy time to be alive!
Very well. But I can’t read every book out there, my main man. I simply dislike verbosity and abstraction, pashonately.
I think the mere fact of a splintered ‘public’ due to multiple media channels does not explain why the liberal/left/environmentalist/alternative side is so disorganized and weak. Surely we have to face the facts and hold ourselves accountable for allowing truly radical, right-wing power to out-think, out-organize and out-work the liberal/left from Nixon on – the career and still-considerable prestige of one H. Kissinger being one way to take stock of just how long we who opposed all of this have flailed away with little to show for it.
For instance, do not tell me there isn’t enough money held by people with liberal/left et al views to build and grow a first-class media platform that would force the likes of Fox and CNN to start talking about reality, not the supremely infantile drivel they spout on behalf of US State and corporate power. And such a platform would have to be able to speak with many voices on many levels of engagement – something the liberal/left is terrible at doing, but that the right has mastered. As it stands, all of our eggs are in the Internet basket, and that basket is under very serious threat. We need presence on the Tube, on radio, and a flagship publication. We need to be able to cede some measure of our precious 100% autonomy to a larger body that speaks for all of us. The model for that is not Omidyar, but rather something akin to an IPO for an all-star team of writers, researchers, performers, dramatists, first-rate analysis, etc., all with myriad opportunities for volunteers, new talent, authentic video news-breaking, and much more.
In the ’60’s and early ’70’s the liberal/left for a time had almost won – but did not know what to do with the power, so almost immediately lost it. With a vehicle such as I describe, the whole process of thinking and working and living it through will provide the vital goals and prescriptions to attain them the public can then translate into direct political action.
We have so very little time left to once and for all get our act together – surely it beats what we all know is the alternative going forward if we fail to unite in opposition to the collection of cretins and ghouls who constitute our ruling elite.
I like your thinking. I agree it is time for organizing and acting. As you say, the obstacles are hardly insurmountable in themselves. The problem — and since this is election-eve I feel free to harp on this point — is that we Progressives drag the corpse of the Democratic Party with us everywhere we try to go. That, IMHO, is what makes our obstacles insurmountable. We do it to ourselves by refusing to recognize, acknowledge and act upon the fact that the Democratic Party’s pupose today is to drain and dissipate Progressive energy while it enacts and helps enact neoliberal policies.
Bingo! Possibly the young folks will not be so obliging to the two-faced corporate money-sponge. our only hope!
In the ’60′s and early ’70′s the liberal/left for a time had almost won – but did not know what to do with the power, so almost immediately lost it.
It hadn’t really, not even close, but I’ll grant your point that it was certainly light years ahead of where it is now.
So what’s the difference between then and now? For one, the liberal left, mostly young and idealistic, actually knew they were in a fight and were prepared to wage it. Massive undeclared and illegal wars have a way of focusing your attention that way, especially when a draft can conscript you and your friends against your will to participate. Think the end of the draft shortly thereafter didn’t have a small influence in quelling said protest and outrage?
The problem with the so-called “liberal-left” (whatever the hell that even means anymore) is that, now as then, it is all too easily bought off into submission by a few stale crumbs from the master’s table. In the end, the liberal left wants the same things the conservative right does – power, privilege, status, and wealth – it just hasn’t achieved it yet and still feels pangs of guilt about wanting it, naively and dishonestly proposing that if it only gets its way then perhaps everyone can prosper in the process. In the end, most such efforts die on the vine of their own hypocrisy, leaving only the most truly opportunistic and avaricious to become the nouveau riche, eventually joining the conservative ranks of those whom they once despised.
Rinse and repeat for a few hundred years, add in some very fortuitous geography, an historical godsend of cheap concentrated energy, and you arrive where we are at today: an insular, entitled nation of idiots, whiners, and sociopaths who imagine that there’s some easy way out of the fix that we’re in after having systematically raped, looted, and plundered the rest of the world while we had the opportunity for the better part of the 20th century for no better reason than “because we could.”
I respect Wolin and Hedges for their academic cred and work, but after you digest theirs’ and others’ work over time, you begin to realize that most of this is pretty simple. The US leviathan, in all its corporate capitalist and militarist manifestations, has become global public enemy number one both internally and externally, and there simply will be no negotiating with this abomination on anything other than its terms, terms it always wins on.
In short, in this political crazy season where (foolish) hope springs eternal, I’d simply caution that we’ve “been there, done that” countless times before in arriving at exactly where we are now, and nothing this old man’s seen has led me to believe that this time’s any different.
Johnson was broken. Nixon and his National Security State were terrified. Why? Because they could not themselves contemplate unleashing the US military (as opposed to State National Guard) against the people. If the people had been able to see a unified leadership capable of pressing its advantage at critical junctures, they would’ve responded. But instead, they were out-manouevered and co-opted (like now) into supporting the utterly discredited Humphrey, then following up with the weakest candidate in the post-War period – McGovern was a fine Senator, but any ‘focus group’ (or any objective observer) would’ve balked at the thought of him as a candidate for President running against Nixon and corporate America. There is a critical lesson there.
Missed the ‘edit’ opportunity – I forgot to emphatically state that I included environmentalism as a co-pillar on which to build something real and solid. It is indeed folly to believe we can have it all and everyone else can have it all, too. We have to meet the developing world half-way, with a footprint that is not just ‘sustainable’ but with the rest of this planet’s life and life systems given ample space to thrive.
What is making this easy is this:
Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community
“HEDGES: And the cultivation by the dominant forces of that sense of victimhood of your group.
HEDGES: And that victimhood is caused by another fragment.
HEDGES: I mean, that, of course, characterizes the right wing.
WOLIN: Yeah. Yeah.
HEDGES: The reason for our economic decline and our social decline is because of undocumented workers, or because of liberals, or because of homosexuals or whatever.
WOLIN: Yeah. No, that’s a time-honored strategy of really not only divide and conquer; subdivide and subdivide and conquer.”
Hmm that quote is directly contrary to actual political strategies. The left wing is characterized by victimization, divide/conquer and class/race/gender warfare. It is a calling-card.