Being Primal: Interview with Richard Nikoley: Unplugged and Uncensored-Part 1
First of 4 parts.
The Coming Sino-American Internet Schism
18 minutes ago
Mr. Paul’s big mistake and mine as well in my more misplaced hopeful moments is that one can “return to the Constitution.” That cannot be; that experiment has failed; the embryo of the failure was tucked into the Constitution itself in the “general welfare clause” and the “commerce clause.” The foul egg was nurtured by Hamilton, Marshal, Webster, Story and Clay. It hatched into the cockatrice of Lincoln and the Republican Party. What the Hobbesian state does not, disregarding all subsidiarity, subsume itself, it allows its corporate, for-profit and not-for-profit, allies to consume. The Fed is an important link between the state and its allies.
What feminism is, in Gloria Steinem's own words:
“Feminism starts out being very simple. It starts out being the instinct of a little child who says ‘it’s not fair’ and ‘you are not the boss of me,’ and it ends up being a worldview that questions hierarchy altogether.”
In other words, it is an intrinsically childish ideology founded on an abstraction and defies empirical reality and the entire historical record of Man. That sounds about right.
Plainly, the reverse is true. We live, in essence, segregated lives. As much as middle-class Londoners like to believe that they live in a multicultural and mixed city, most of us actually share precious little with those who face un- and underemployment, dependence on shrinking and strained public services and police harassment. Even those of us who live in ex-council properties do not, in truth, share much beyond the spaces we temporarily inhabit. In most cases we will move on and out, send our children to private schools or quiet comprehensives outside of the city and reproduce the distance over and over again.
If we want to live in a society in which everyone feels they have a stake, we have to find a way of getting beyond the social othering that renders our ‘communities’ largely notional. Undisputedly, political struggle is vital if we are to challenge the gross inequities and that are foisted upon more and more people in our society. We should strive for political and economic systems – for social relationships – that are genuinely equitable and inclusive. But without a real community base underpinning it, any political movement will remain similarly notional, relying on moral impetus rather than lasting community structures that could genuinely offer an alternative. Thirty years of neoliberalism has eroded our capacity to generate social movements with an enduring social grounding.
Those of us who work full-time with young adults know that even the highly privileged Canadian university student is at something of a loss in answering these questions. The Internet gives you plenty of data, but little wisdom. The seductive world of social media provides hundreds of friends, but little actual friendship. The modern university, devoted to endlessly celebrating the sheer magnificence of each individual student, is rather silent about who she really is, and what she ought to do. Talented young people have an almost infinite array of options, but a mission in life is hard to find. Consequently, without a strong identity and mission, so many young people feel very much alone.
The show begins in New Orleans, a city I feel very connected to—and continues deep into the heart of Cajun country and culture. The South—particularly (but not exclusively) Louisiana, is where “American” food comes from. There are certainly other uniquely regional cuisines and specialties in this country—but creole and Cajun constitute uniquely American-born mutations. They could not have occurred anywhere else. Like the birth of jazz—they were created at bizarre yet magical intersections of cultures and circumstances—the end products of long journeys, much pain and simple pleasures.
But the Pope isn’t so skeptical. He is determined, it seems, to will into an ecclesial reality the mutual enrichment of the two Masses. If, by a working of the Holy Spirit, his vision of a mutually enriched Roman rite someday comes to fruition, then what? Well, then we might be looking at an altogether new Mass, a third form that blends the best of both the ordinary and extraordinary forms.
This notion isn’t as farfetched as it might seem. This May, at a conference on Summorum Pontificum held in Rome, Kurt Cardinal Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, hinted that the motu proprio is “only the beginning” of a “new liturgical movement.” The Holy Father, he said, “knows well that, in the long term, we cannot stop at a coexistence between the ordinary form and the extraordinary form of the Roman rite.” In the future, says Cardinal Koch, the Church “naturally will once again need a common rite.” This new common rite doesn’t figure to be either of the two extant forms of the Mass. It would instead be the result of a “process of growth and purification” — and a lengthy one at that, if the process is to be organic and not synthetic, as many have characterized the “development” of Pope Paul’s New Mass. The first phase of this process, the cardinal suggests, is the present one, in which “the two [current] forms of the Roman rite can and should enrich each other.” Perhaps now we are getting an inkling of what Pope Benedict has in mind — and it is a vision on a grander scale than any of us had imagined.
Could the two main streams of Benedictine liturgical thought — the “reform of the reform” and the “restoration of tradition” — one day flow together into as-yet uncharted waters? That a third form of the Mass could be drawn from the two current forms sounds fantastical. But really, how improbable is it? After all, who could have imagined half a century ago that in the space of five short years the Church would jettison the pageantry and majesty of a centuries-old Mass in Latin in favor of a stripped-down, folksy, “on-the-spot product” (as Benedict himself once described the New Mass) in the vernacular?
The criminal enterprises of the state should not be replaced, but instead displaced, by cooperative alternatives. This may seem like nitpicking, but to me it emphasizes the differences between authoritarian and anarchic functions. Authoritarian systems command obedience to those on top through force, threats, denial of alternatives, and encouragement of conformity. This is their primary function, and anarchists do not intend to create anything to replicate this function.
Instead, anarchists tend to believe in the ability of people to establish rules as equals, to work out consensus and compromises, and use violence only as a last resort. This is how social relations work on a basis of mutual benefit rather than power politics.
This is not the place to fully theorize about anarchist justice systems or fully describe precedents, but I’ll scratch the surface. A precedent Gary Chartier mentions in his excellent book The Conscience of an Anarchist is the merchant’s law of Medieval Europe. Courts established voluntarily within the merchant community made decisions based on standards that had evolved over time. Another precedent is found in Terry Anderson and P.J. Hill’s work on how American settlers handled disputes in the Western frontier, which was not nearly as violent as Hollywood would have you believe.
1d. There is zero utility in attempting to teach science to schoolchildren who can't read, can't do math, and will never be scientists. They can't understand it, aren't interested in it, and have no use for it. It makes no difference if you're trying to teach them mainstream scientific theory, iambic tetrameter, or running the 100m dash in five seconds. It isn't ever going to happen. My return question: how can you justify teaching public schoolchildren mainstream scientific theory and not teaching them basic personal economics like how to balance a checkbook or calculate compound interest or basic physical fitness?
What is known as Islam’s “golden age” happened largely in spite of Islam, rather than thanks to it. Connecting the brief blossoming of arts and sciences in Baghdad and Cordoba with the “benevolent” influence of Islam is the same as saying that the high level of scholarship on Pushkin or Tolstoy in Moscow in the 1950s was the result of Stalinism and dialectical materialism, or that the Berlin Philharmonic under Furtwaengler was as good as it was in the late 1930s thanks to Nazism. But the true causes of squalor and corruption in the Muslim world are indeed moral and cultural, rather than economic. After that brief period of flowering its had very little to offer to the world, either in the sphere of ideas or in the sphere of material production—even though it had that unique geographic position at the crossroads of civilizations . . . The problem cannot be resolved by seeking to import Western technology and Western know-how, while retaining the old mindset. We’ve already seen it with the Ottoman Turkey in the 19th century. They’d brought in Western engineers and military officers, and doctors, to train their Muslim students, but the latter never managed to produce more than what was imparted to them.
We have an effectively limitless supply of information, but then it’s not information that I got from reading The White Stag at age eight, and it’s not a lack of information that’s dragging us down to a sorry end.In his talk about incoherence, I hear echoes of MacIntyre.
The problem—for it is a problem, and thus at least in theory capable of solution, rather than a predicament, which simply has to be put up with—is the collapse of the framework of collective meanings that gives individual facts their relevance. That framework of meanings consists, in our culture and every other, of shared narratives inherited from the past that form the armature on which our minds place data as it comes in.
A couple of years ago, in a discussion on this blog that touched on this same point, I made the mistake of referring to those narratives by their proper name, which is myth. Those of you who know how Americans think know exactly what happened next: plenty of readers flatly insisted on taking the word in its debased modern sense of “a story that isn’t true,” and insisted in tones ranging from bafflement to injured pride that they didn’t believe in any myths, and what was I talking about?
The myths you really believe in, of course, are the ones you don’t notice that you believe. The myth of progress is still like that for most people. Even those who insist that they no longer believe in progress very often claim that we can have a better world for everybody if we do whatever they think we ought to do. In the same way, quite a few of the people who claim that they’ve renounced religion and all its works still believe, as devoutly as any other fundamentalist, that it’s essential to save everybody else in the world from false beliefs; the central myth of evangelical religion, which centers on salvation through having the right opinions, remains welded into place even among those who most angrily reject the original religious context of that myth.
But there’s a further dimension to the dynamics of—well, let’s just call them cultural narratives, shall we?—unfolding in America today. When the shared narratives from the past break apart, and all you’ve got is popular culture spinning feedback loops in the void, what happens then?
What happens is the incoherence that’s become a massive political fact in America today. That incoherence takes at least three forms. The first is the rise of subcultures that can’t communicate with one another at all. We had a display of that not long ago in the clash over raising the deficit limit. To judge by the more thoughtful comments in the blogosphere, I was far from the only person who noticed that the two sides were talking straight past each other. It wasn’t simply that the two sides had differing ideas about government finance, though of course that’s also true; it’s that there’s no longer any shared narrative about government that’s held in common between the two sides. The common context is gone; it’s hard to think of a single political concept that has the same connotations and meanings to a New England liberal that it has to an Oklahoma conservative.
It’s crucial to recognize, though, that these subcultures are themselves riddled with the same sort of incoherence that pervades society as a whole; this is the second form of incoherence I want to address. I wonder how many of the devout Christians who back the Republican Party, for example, realize that the current GOP approach to social welfare issues is identical to the one presented by Anton Szandor LaVey in The Satanic Bible. (Check it out sometime; the parallels are remarkable.) It may seem odd that believers in a faith whose founder told his followers to give all they had to the poor now by and large support a party that’s telling America to give all it has to the rich, but that’s what you get when a culture’s central narratives dissolve; of course it’s also been my experience that most people who claim they believe in the Bible have never actually read more than a verse here and there.
Mind you, the Democratic Party is no more coherent than the GOP. Since the ascendancy of Reagan, the basic Democrat strategy has been to mouth whatever slogans you think will get you elected and then, if you do land in the White House, chuck the slogans, copy the policies of the last successful Republican president, and hope for the best. Clinton did that with some success, copying to the letter Reagan’s borrow-and-spend policies at home and mostly toothless bluster abroad; of course he had the luck to ride a monstrous speculative bubble through his two terms, and then hand it over to the GOP right as it started to pop. Obama, in turn, has copied the younger Bush’s foreign and domestic policies with equal assiduity but less success; partly that’s because the two Middle Eastern wars he’s pursued with such enthusiasm were a bad idea from the start, and partly because his attempts to repeat Bush’s trick of countering the collapse of one speculative bubble by inflating another haven’t worked so far.
I’ve discussed more than once before in these posts the multiple ironies of living at a time when the liberals have forgotten how to liberate and the conservatives have never learned how to conserve. Still, there’s a third dimension to the incoherence of contemporary America, and it appears most clearly in the behavior of people whose actions are quite literally cutting their own throats. The kleptocratic frenzy under way at the top of the economic pyramid is the best example I can think of.
It is not just that Jerks are predominantly male but that jerkitude is a quintessentially male quality that grows out of our nature, when that nature fails to ripen into manhood. Many “great men” are jerks–conquerors like Napoleon, statesmen like Churchill, novelists like Hemingway, self-important surgeons and scientists. Women by contrast, even stunted women, are born to care about other people, because they are designed to be wives and mothers. One of the teenage girl’s most annoying qualities is their affection for melodrama, but they do not simply make themselves the stars of their ongoing soap opera; they let others share the limelight. The way they carry on over a sick friend or a girlfriend who has been jilted! And Lord help us if someone they met once somewhere has died in a car accident. I was talking with a friend of mine not long ago about the awful tragedy songs of the 50′s and 60′s–”Teen Angel,” “Tell Laura I Love Her, “Honey,” “Patches,” “Last Kiss.” My stomach is curdling as I write the titles. Most of you are too young to remember these–but you can get them off Youtube–but the one thing my friend and I distinctly recalled is that no guy could ever stand them. (“The Leader of the Pack” was unintentionally amusing, though.) And we loved the parody, “I want my baby back.”
What is the feminine equivalent of the Jerk? I think we all know the answer and it rhymes with witch. But while the Jerk is an otherwise normal male who has not grown up enough to acknowledge other people’s existence–at least not consistently–the b–ch is a terrible deformation of the female character. The act is part domineering mother but, and this is significant, partly an imitation of what women perceive to be male behavior. It is a common complaint in offices that when women do what men do routinely, they get known as b–ches. This is only partly true, because this sort of woman goes way over the top in her aggressive and exploitative behavior, but the element of truth doesn’t make them any more tolerable. The sassy, self-assertive, scheming female–Scarlet O’Horror as Jones calls his boss in A Confederacy of Dunces–does things a man would get punched out for. I don’t want to dwell on this, because it is too easy for men, who are responsible for the way the world is, to point the finger at their victims.
In the same article I described what I think we will do with our time instead:
- Instead of downloading music and film, create our own music and theatre, in live performance
- Instead of taking photos, draw, paint, sculpt
- Instead of blogging, write a journal, and meet in our community and share stories and ideas, cook together, rant, organize, build something together
- Instead of playing online games, organize a real-space scavenger hunt, eco-walk, or bicycle rallye, or play board games
- Instead of taking online courses, unschool ourselves in our own communities, and learn about our place… or show/teach others what we know (including, most importantly, teaching children how to think and learn for themselves)
- Instead of organizing online petitions and complaining online about the state of the world, go visit our local politicians, get involved in community activities that make a difference (disrupt, show our outrage, satirize, or create something better)
- Instead of looking for health information online, set up a local self-help health co-op, offering preventive care, self-diagnostic and holistic self-treatment information
- Instead of porn… well, use your imagination
Take a look at these photos of man friends from the late 19th and early 20th Century. These guys were pretty touchy with each other. In fact, it was these photos that inspired me to write the post. During my weekly searches for vintage pics of men for the blog, I kept on coming across old photographs of men being really affectionate with one another. It’s pretty jarring to our modern man sensibilities.
I have tried to categorize America's political parties along a continuum not of conservative to liberal, but rather of conservative to radical. By this I mean that conservatives would want to preserve a way of life that ensures the long-term continuity and survivability of human communities. But I find only radical political parties in America. Therefore, crowded on the radical end of the spectrum I characterize the following groups in decreasing order of radicalness (with only tiny distinctions between them):
1. Libertarians - They champion allowing unfettered radical change to the Earth's surface, oceans and atmosphere and unfettered exploitation of its resources. Their distinguishing characteristic from other parties is that they--I mean the real Libertarians--believe government should favor no particular group in this process.
2. Republicans - Like Libertarians they champion allowing unfettered radical change to the Earth's surface, oceans and atmosphere and unfettered exploitation of its resources. But they tend to rail against the evil of cities and laud the totally unsustainable and ahistorical hypertrophy of the suburbs. Unlike Libertarians they are eager to use government to steer public resources toward favored constituencies, primarily the wealthy.
3. Democrats - Democrats believe that radical changes to the Earth's surface, oceans and atmosphere and exploitation of its resources should proceed at a slightly slower pace than Republicans do, and that there should be a minor appearance of public spiritedness by inconveniencing some industries with health and safety regulations and by redistributing some wealth via the tax system and government services from the wealthy to the middle and lower classes. Not surprisingly then, like Republicans, Democrats see government as a way to steer public resources toward favored constituencies, primarily, but not exclusively, the wealthy.
4. Socialists - Socialists are like Democrats used to be. Socialists continue to see government as a way to share society's wealth very broadly with the entire population, primarily through publicly-funded education, health care, transportation, pensions and a variety of social services. They tend to believe that government control of and/or stringent regulation of large parts of the economy are the best way to serve the public interest. Some socialist governments have embraced the idea that radical changes to Earth's atmosphere are unwise and have taken modest, but hardly adequate steps toward curbing those changes.
5. Greens - We must distinguish between what I call the techno-optimist Greens and the ecologically-grounded Greens. The techno-optimists feel that technology will allow us to repair radical changes we've made to the Earth's surface, oceans and atmosphere and prevent new ones while radically reducing our exploitation of resources. We'll do all this without missing a beat when it comes to living modern, technological lives. Our use of resources may go down, but we won't have to give up any of the things we've come to expect. They believe that government will have a major role in this transition through regulation, incentives and taxation. One cannot dismiss their ideas as completely without merit. But they certainly partake of the radical catechism of the four previously mentioned parties. On the other hand, ecologically-grounded Greens accept that the modern industrial way of life cannot succeed. They sometimes offer a vision of what I'll call a craft-based, agriculturally-oriented society retaining some of the key technical benefits of industrial society.