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From the quarterly which I believe to be the most profound political journal in the country.
Dear Dissent Facebook Group Members,
While this may come as a surprise to some of our readers, small quarterly magazines are not traditionally on the vanguard of communication technology. We move slowly, when the zeitgeist demands speed; we fight for the long form, while the culture calls for short and plentiful.
In the summer of 1994, Dissent co-editor Michael Walzer wrote (http://dissentmagazine.org/article/pdfs/FaxMachines.pdf) about Dissent’s latest technological acquisition: the fax machine. “The machines are fun in the beginning, toys for grownups, though it is only our kids who will ever master them. And it probably makes some people feel important to be besieged with messages the way a city besieged by soldiers is suddenly the key to military victory or defeat. But the fun will become routine and the routine more and more exhausting. And the importance will fade once everyone is similarly besieged. Imagine the men and women of the future with mobile phones and hand-sized fax machines in their pockets and a wrist watch p.c. for their e-mail: never a moment alone. When that happens, I’m calling for a General Strike.”
But what are Dissentniks, both grownups and kids, to do now, fifteen years and an internet revolution later? To whom would we address our strikes—to the international committee of pocket faxes and wrist-watch computers? The political demands of our times do not allow us to strike against technology; instead, we labor to continue doing what Dissent has always done best, while tentatively engaging in the inescapable new.
With that in mind, we ask those who are members of the Dissent Facebook “group” to join our Facebook “page” (click here to join: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dissent-Magazine/54789869630?v=wall). The “page” will better allow us to share the writing at Dissent, and information about Dissent’s non-virtual events, throughout Facebook’s vast network. Facebook won’t allow us to merge the group and page together, so we’re asking you to make the switch on your own.
Invite your friends to join the page. Share links to the pieces you find essential. But when you need a moment alone—when the routine does become exhausting—log off for a little while, and read in the old, slow way. And if you’re looking for a companion for those offline moments, the print edition of Dissent (http://dissentmagazine.org/display.php?id=subscribe) will be waiting there for you.
I’ve explored this question before, though not nearly with the depth that a thinker like Michael Walzer approaches the question. In this Dissent article (yes, I’m catching up with the Dissent copies next to my bed) he explores all the theories. Perspective of a history of cultural marginalism; practical necessity of a tolerant, open, liberal society; The powerful imagery of Exodus and the Passover traditions; The theological triumph of Hillel over Shammai; cultural values underscoring education and intellectualism; philosophies and theologies which do not shy away from ambiguity; communalism of closed communities; social identity; etc.
The end of the article raises a new question to my intellectual experience; namely the concern of Walzer that Jews may become a “banal minority.”
AT THIS point, I would like to make a more personal argument—that of a participant-observer in Jewish diaspora politics—in favor of the survival and continual re-invention of Jewish liberalism.
Writing in the 1950s, Hayim Greenberg warned that American Jews were in grave danger of becoming “merely an ethnic group in the conventional sense of the term. . . no more the Congregation of Israel, but only a group with a long and heroic history, with memories which, when cultivated, can arouse much justified pride (thus still not quite a mere banal minority) but without the consciousness of a specific drama and tension in its life.”
Many critics of diaspora Jewry would go further today and argue that the historic memories, since they are only rarely cultivated, are themselves fading and that we are indeed becoming a banal minority. The Jews are one more interest group, different from the others only in the obvious sense that our interests sometimes conflict with the others’—as is happening in the U.S. in the case of Jews and their relations with American blacks and Hispanics. Such conflicts can impose a certain transient unity on the different groups, but they are unlikely to revive heroic memories.
Walzer goes on to argue that Jewish neoconservatism embraces the interest group reduction, defending “only Jewish interests and not Jewish values,” resulting not only in the near totality of cultural assimilation, but the loss of an history. Food for thought.
I haven’t read all of the entries yet to a discussion I find compelling, and I’ll have something to say once I have. I fully expect maybe 10 of you to even hit the link, let alone actually read any of it. But the 10 of us could have an interesting discussion. The foundation for the discussion:
In our own uncertain era, it is useful for women and men with a reputation for thoughtfulness and creativity to reflect on issues that bear profoundly on both their craft and their country. We asked four questions:
1. What relationship should American intellectuals have toward mass culture: television, films, mass-market books, popular music, and the Internet?
2. Does the academy further or retard the engagement of intellectuals with American society?
3. How should American intellectuals participate in American politics?
4. Do you consider yourself a patriot, a world citizen, or do you have some other allegiance that helps shape your political opinions?
Each writer could choose to respond to one or all of them. We expect to run additional essays in a forthcoming issue.
I would add the question of whether the mere posing of the question is inherently elitist. More later in the week.
So last night I was driving home from a long day in Eureka. I was listening to KGOE, which plays some Air America offerings. Mike Malloy was ranting and is pretty much giving up on Obama. There was a nice story about some protestors with a sign in Norway directed to Obama with regard to the Nobel Peace Prize which read, “you won it, now earn it.” Then they started in on the Medicare buy-in compromise, when I reached the Main Street exit of Fortuna and lost the signal. It dawned on me that when driving at night I always lose the signal as I reach Fortuna. Is conservative Fortuna jamming the frequency?
I switched stations. Gene Burns on KGO was discussing something boring. A few notches to the left at 780 a.m. is KOH, a station out of Reno with all conservative broadcasting. I used to listen to it often when I lived out on Red Rock Road in Benbow. Back then Michael Reagan had the time spot, but last night there was a soft-spoken but dogmatic host named “Roger.” He went through a litany of grievances, crowed in sanguine manner about Obama’s poll numbers being in the tank, and complained about…. the war in Afghanistan. He complained that we are in a war which has no clear goals and will potentially be endless. The war in Iraq made more sense, but now Obama is “starting” a war in a country which has no democratic traditions to build on.
Huh. I’d like to know if he was raising the same points two years ago. Any conservatives out there listen to him?
The defeat of health care reform this week is about as depressing as the Bush wins of 2000 and 2004. Lieberman pretty much killed it single-handedly, and today said he would even filibuster an “irritant” such as a triggered public option. He says, “If they say that it’s unlikely to be [pulled] then it’s unnecessary.” He’s right about that.
But now he’s even “troubled” about the Medicare buy-in proposal. I think Snowe and the Republicans finally caught up with him and explained how dangerous a slippery slope that one could be, especially if it made Medicare more solvent. Someone would figure out that lowering the age even further would do more.
Well, there’s a little bit of noise gathering in the House. Grijalva and other progressives are hinting that they may just sink the bill. And in fact the Democratic leadership is talking about skipping conference and going straight to the House floor for a vote. Grijalva says he and others won’t look kindly on that, but hesitates to make any firm threats until he’s seen what comes out of the Senate.
And if Lieberman pushes them too far, Reid may have to reconsider reconciliation – which would make my day.
But Lieberman has jutzpa. Look what else he’s carved out for himself. If it passes like this and Lieberman retains that chairmanship, I may boycott all Democrats in the next election.
Nate Silver thinks I’m overreacting.
We report, you decide – Fox gets the award for the all time most loaded poll question from a major news network: “What do you think President Obama would like to do with the extra bank bailout money — save it for an emergency, spend it on government programs that might help him politically in 2010 and 2012, or return it to taxpayers?”
Michael Walzer argues that Obama’s escalation of the Afghan war is not just prudent, but moral. Some of his arguments are at the core of my own ambivalence about the issue.
I guess North Carolina has a provision in law which bars atheists from serving in office. It almost kept this individual out of office. It’s probably only been on the books this long because it hasn’t been enforced.
A great article by Mitch Cohen in Dissent entitled Anti-semitism and the Left that Doesn’t Learn. I’m posting the intro, but it goes on to draw some interesting parrallels between the “left that won’t learn” and classic anti-semitism. Once Stephen plasters his obligatory “khazar cult” posts and a few posters trot out their rote rants about Israel/Palestine, I’d like a more focused discussion on the ideas of the article itself.
A DETERMINED offensive is underway. Its target is in the Middle East, and it is an old target: the legitimacy of Israel. Hezbollah or Hamas are not the protagonists, the contested terrains are not the Galilee and southern Lebanon or southern Israel and Gaza. The means are not military. The offensive comes from within parts of the liberal and left intelligentsia in the United States and Europe. It has nothing to do with this or that negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians, and it has nothing to do with any particular Israeli policy. After all, this or that Israeli policy may be chastised, rightly or wrongly, without denying the legitimacy of the Jewish state, just as you can criticize an Israeli policy—again, rightly or wrongly—without being an anti-Semite. You can oppose all Israeli settlements in the occupied territories (as I do) and you can also recognize that Benjamin Netanyahu, not just Yasir Arafat, was responsible for undermining the Oslo peace process without being an anti-Semite or anti-Zionist. You don’t have to be an anti-Semite or anti-Zionist to think that some American Jewish organizations pander to American or Israeli right-wingers.
The assault today is another matter. It is shaped largely by political attitudes and arguments that recall the worst of the twentieth-century left. It is time to get beyond them. But let me be clear: I am “left.” I still have no problem when someone describes me with the “s” word—socialist—although I don’t much care if you call me a social democrat, left-liberal, or some other proximate term. My “leftism” comes from a commitment to—and an ethos of—democratic humanism and social egalitarianism.
What I care about is the reinvention of the best values of the historical left—legacies of British Labour, of the Swedish Social Democrats, of Jean Jaurès and Léon Blum in France, of Eduard Bernstein and Willy Brandt in Germany, of what has always been the relatively small (alas!) tribe in the U.S. associated like Eugene V. Debs, Norman Thomas, Michael Harrington, and Irving Howe. It’s not so much a matter of political programs, let alone labels, as it is of political sensibility. I care about finding a new basis for that old amalgam of liberty, equality, and solidarity, a basis that makes sense for our “globalizing age.” But I also want a left that draws real, not gestural, conclusions from the catastrophes done in the name of the left in the 20th century.
There is a left that learns and there is a left that doesn’t learn. I want the left that learns to inform our Western societies (a difficult task in George W. Bush’s America) and to help find ideas that actually address poverty in what used to be called the third world—rather than romanticizing it.
The article then moves into more specifics focusing on the Middle East politics debate within “the left,” in particularly a Nation Magazine exchange between Paul Berman and Adam Schatz, then moves into a bullet point comparison between fringe anti-zionists and anti-semites.
I have to get home, but I’ll follow up with some thoughts later.
Food for thought from Dissent
FOR THE LAST decade or so, economists have contended that the baby boomer generation is about to become the beneficiaries of the greatest intergenerational transfer of wealth in history–if, that is, we’re kind enough to die on their timetable. But what if we don’t?
From the Dissent website:
The editors of Dissent asked a number of distinguished commentators to respond to the following statement and questions:
For a quarter of a century, Iran has been ruled by a militant theocracy. After the shah’s regime–authoritarian, brutal, and backed by the United States–was overthrown, the new regime quickly proved itself to be authoritarian, cruel, and self-warranted by Islamic fundamentalism. Reform efforts have proved chimerical, and Tehran has pursued nuclear capabilities with vigor, long deceiving the International Atomic Energy Agency and Western interlocutors about its efforts. To what extent should the character of the Iranian regime govern Western responses to its ambitions? Should Iran be considered just one state among others, seeking its legitimate self-interests? What “threat” does the current Iranian regime pose in today’s world? –Eds.
The responses are short, articulate, and diverse. I expect some posters will trot out their own views, or Noam Chomsky’s, but what I’d like to see is direct responses to the views expressed by the symposium participants.
Well-to-do liberals don’t like to think of themselves as susceptible to the marketing gimmicks that sucker the less enlightened proles. We know that the products we buy are superior because they’re packaged in rainbow/tye-die/rough-art wrap, with product names that incorporate words like natural, earth, green, etc. Obviously these products must be owned by progressives, and thus buying these products make the world a better place. If the companies break unions, dodge regulations, pollute, or even commit corporate crimes on occasion, well, all is mitigated by the feeling of superiority we feel over those who buy Western Family or Chef-Boy-Ardee. And the businesses that sell these products must be progressive in their own right, particularly if they have “the look.”
And how do we know we’re in such a business? Mark T. Harris explained it in his Dissent Article last Winter:
On a trip to Portland, Oregon, in 2004, I wandered into the Whole Foods Market, where shoppers are greeted with soft-hued lighting, high ceilings, and carefully groomed displays of choice desserts and organic foods. The overall effect is more like entering some modern cathedral to upscale consumption, one in which the creed is not suffering, but celebration (although with plenty of tithing at the cash register). Casually dressed clerks add to the sense of Whole Foods as business as unusual. The mostly young employees convey a kind of “alternative” aura that says, “You’ll never catch me working at Wal-Mart.”
But where Wal-Mart has come under deserved scrutiny from labor, community, and feminist activists for its exploitive “big-box” business model and miserly wages, Whole Foods, the world’s largest natural foods retailer, enjoys a reputation as a progressive trendsetter at the forefront of a “green lifestyle revolution” in American life. After all, a slogan like “Whole Foods, Whole Planet, Whole People” conjures up more ennobling vistas of planetary progress than, “We Sell for Less.”
Indeed, as you walk through the store, you can see that a lot of care goes into the Whole Foods ambience. This is shopping as experience, food merchandising as a gallery show. But more than the aesthetics or products of the “authentic food artisans” on display, what’s being sold here is Whole Foods itself. This is shopping for those market-branded Americans known in the “socially responsible” business community as the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) crowd. These are the millions of so-called cultural creatives who apparently want some personal development and social justice with their blue-corn tortilla chips and echinacea.
But the article continues:
Actually, there is a lot to object to. A closer look at the company’s business practices and (John) Mackey’s ideas about business and society reveals a vision not that different from a McDonald’s or a Wal-Mart. In fact, the Whole Foods business model is more or less the standard stuff of Fortune 500 ambition. This is a vision of mega-chain retailing that involves strategic swallowing up (or driving out of business) of smaller retail competitors. It is a business model that objectively complements the long-term industrialization of organics (that is, large-scale corporate farms) over small family farms. It is also a vision in which concerns about social responsibility do not necessarily apply where less publicly visible company suppliers are concerned. Subsidiaries of cigarette manufacturers (for example, Altria, owner of Kraft’s organic products) or low-wage exploiters of minority workers (such as California Bottling Co., Inc., makers of Whole Foods’s private-label water) are apparently welcome partners in this particular eco-corporate version of “the sustainable future.”
Mackey, the company’s CEO has been described as “something akin to a world-changing prophet of organica, a corporate ‘hippie’ subverting the business paradigm, one heirloom tomato and chocolate enrobing station at a time. (Right wing hippies aren’t unheard of. Just ask Ann Coulter.) In fact, as explained in a more recent Common Dreams article, Mackey is a right wing ideologue who believes that all prosecutions of corporate crime should be abolished. All of them. Corporate personhood does not extend to corporate personal responsibility. The article describes him as a fan of Milton Friedman, although he expressed in a Reason debate that he is not quite so cynical as Friedman with regard to the role of humanitarianism in the free market. Still, he is a great fan of “Ludwig von Mises and Abraham Maslow, Austrian economics and astrology.” And in fact Whole Foods does stand for an ideology, as he described in his keynote speech to a Whole Foods convention.
And yet, his primary customers are liberal yuppies, who “have enough money to spend $9 on a pound of cherries.” Just remember, Whole Foods is not a cooperative. It is not union. It is not committed to local growers. It is not in any way progressive. In this Slate article it is suggested that WalMart may even be more progressive than Whole Foods.
Meanwhile, here’s a site dedicated to unionizing Mackay’s business.
The photo is from the Slate article linked above.
Update: Wooowie!!! I posted this at Daily Kos, and boy has it kicked up a storm!
Second update: One of the Kos posters linked me to an interesting dialogue on MacKay’s site. I’ve only skimmed it, and he seems like a complex individual. My other criticisms stand, but the Slate article may not be completely accurate re support of local farms. I’ll read it more carefully later and update further.
This is kind of a follow-up to my radio show and my previous Dissent post. Sunday’s New York Times contained a review of The Good Fight (no relation to the documentary of the same name about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade), a book authored by Peter Beinart, a self-described liberal. In the book Mr. Beinhart argues not only that liberals should take a more hawkish position on the so-called “war on terror,” but that only liberals are capable of defeating terrorism. I don’t often read The New Republic so I’m not all that familiar with Beinhart – he appears pretty young in the photo, but his arguments resonate with some other liberals I’ve encountered in recent years, even before 911. The review quotes some provocative wording:
“If today’s liberals cannot rouse as much passion for fighting a movement that flings acid at unveiled women as they do for taking back the Senate in 2006,” he writes in his stirring introduction, “they have strayed far from liberalism’s best traditions.”
Okay, so my knee-jerk reaction is probably along the lines of many of yours. He’s a holdover cold war liberal who wants to push the Democratic Party towards the center and probably marches lockstep with the Lieberman/DLC wing. Perhaps he does as suggested by The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel. But at least in terms of his rhetoric, what separates him from the DLC types is that he is not calling for moderation. He views his hawkish views as an extension of his liberalism rather than an exception to it. This standpoint figured prominently in the recently ended television series The West Wing, where the tone of some of the scripts heaped sympathy, even favor, with “gunboat liberal” characters who believed that the liberal values democracy, due process, equality, tolerance, diversity are inextricably tied to fundamental rights to which everyone is entitled. Accordingly, it is appropriate for a liberal nation with great power to use all aspects of that power to uphold those basic rights and essentially promote a liberal agenda through a nuanced combination of reason, compassion, empathy, and, if necessary, force.
There are several strains of liberalism in opposition. You have the isolationists, who are more often cited as strawmen rather than substance of reality of the modern debate. You have the “self-determinist” crowd whose influence comes from post-Vietnam war new left notions of cultural moral relativity often expressed in statements like: “as an imperial power we lack the moral standing to judge cultures we don’t understand.” And you have process- obsessed liberals like me who simply ask by what procedure and criteria do we make to establish whether violations of rights meet such a threshold as to nullify national sovereignty as a consideration. We take an organic view of progress, believing a society holds a collective right to make its own history. Call it the “prime directive” view of foreign policy.
But whatever your position, the Beinharts and Cohens are asking some legitimate questions. Are there values and rights for which we are willing to support military action to promote? I’ve been asking this question on my radio show for a few years now, and all I get are deflections about the evils of existing policy. Nobody wants to address the question of precisely what we should have done about Hussein and/or Bin Laden. Nobody wants to risk the experience of cognitive dissonance apparently.
I’ve got the prime directive covering my ass. What’s covering yours?