A Gramscian Take on The Times And McCain

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sat Feb 23, 2008 at 09:07


The proper perspective for viewing the NYT McCain story, the unfolding food fight, and the continuing fallout, is Gramsci's twin concepts of the war of position and the war of movement.  I've written about this several times before, but here's a quick refresher.

(A) Gramsci's motivation was that the predicted worker's revolution did not occur in the mot advanced capitalist countries, as Marxist theory predicted.  He therefore sought to explain why this was so, and what to do about it. The answers he came up with, described briefly below, have been adapted by people whose viewpoints are far removed from his--Rush Limbaugh, for one--so there is no need to accept his initial premises, if--like I do--one finds his descriptions of processes compelling.

(B) Grmsci attributed the failure to make an anti-capitalist revolution to the capture of worker's ideology, and organizations by the hegemonic (ruling or dominant) culture, transmitted by institutions such as the church, compulsory education, popular culture, etc. as well as appeals to bourgoise ideologies, such as nationalism, consumerism, careerism, etc. which also enjoy their own forms of instutional support.

Such institutions and ideologies have both their own independent rationale and function in their own spheres, as well as their function in the largr social system.  Gramsci's conception allows us to view both institutions and narratives at varying different levels of abstraction operating according the same over-all logic, without denying or distorting the fact that they also follow their own particular logic as well.

(C) To overcome the power of hegemony, and create a workers revolution, Gramsci argued for a two-fold strategy, First, a "war of position" to build working-class counter-institutions, and take over bourgoise ones while promulgating working-class ideology. Second, once this stage was successful, then a "war of movement" to the actual insurrection against capitalism, with mass support that Marxist theory originally predicted.

Consciously or not, the American right has adopted Gramsci's fundamental insight, but adapted it to their somewhat different position in society.  On the one hand, as Gramsci advised, they have dilligently built up their own institutional infrastructure, and attacked existing instriutional structures that they do not control, seeking either to take over or cripple or destroy them.  On the other hand, they have combined the war of position and war of movement into a more integrated whole, frequently taking advantage of a constellation of positions to launch a "war of movement" attack on an insitution they wish to cripple, destroy or take over, or an idea, principle, value, or narrative they wish to discredit, or subvert.

With this in mind, the NYT McCain story can be viewed as particularly involving:

(1) The expression of conservative identity politics, a binary worldview that involves the valorization of all things "conservative" and the demonization of "liberals" specifically, and anything generally that stands opposed to, or outside of self-defined "conservatism."  I've written about this previously, back in 2006 in diaries at MyDD here, here, here, here and here.

(2)  The narrative of "personal virtue" as the foundational concern of politics, which is a core conservative belief dating back at least to Hesiod's Works and Days, and heavily inscribed into the DNA of the Western Worlds in the writings of Plato and Aristotle.  This narrative is strongly connected to cognitive developmental levels two and three in Robert Kegan's schema, which I've previously described here and here, for example.

(3) The rightwing war on fact-based (i.e. "liberal) journalism as a specific facet of their overall attack on modernity, empiricism, reason and critical thought.  The NY Times, as the nation's leading daily newspaper has long been a prime target in this war, and has long been significantly compromised by their successes.

For a more detailed description of how this perspective affects our understanding of the NYT-McCain story and its repurcussions, join me on the flip....

Paul Rosenberg :: A Gramscian Take on The Times And McCain
A Quick Prelude

It's my utmost desire to stand back from this episode and see it in larger perspective.  But I think it's only fair to lay a few cards on the table about my immediate reaction.  First and foremost, as a working journalist what I find most troubling is that one of the four NY Times reporters working on the story, Marilyn Thompson, felt so distressed at how it was handled that she quit--as TNR noted--and went back to work at the Washington Post, where she had previously worked for 14 years.  Whatever that was about, it was not normal, and the Keller's attempt to say there was nothing extraordinary about how this story was handled simply doesn't pass the laugh test.  

As discussed below, some people feel this story should never have been published.  As I note along the way, if so, it joins a long list of similar stories written about the Clintons. (Not just in the 1990s, but as recently as a May 23, 2006, when the Times ran a 2,000 word front page piece, "For Clintons, Delicate Dance of Married and Public Lives", that stirred up Hardball, NBC's Today, CNN's The Situation Room, Fox News' Fox & Friends, Fox News' DaySide, and several editions of Fox News Live as Media Matters noted at the time--h/t Digby.  You'll be Shocked! Shocked! to discover there was no tut-tutting over the Times decision to frontpage the story above the fold.  The Tuts were saved for the Clintons.)  Furthermore, as Jamison Foser notes ("John McCain and the Clinton Rules"), "In contrast to their treatment of Democrats, in which they declare a 'scandal' true if any element of it is true, the media have moved to declare the entire McCain story a 'smear' if any element of it is false."

Finally, it seems quite possible that the Times story was published instead of a much more straigh-forward story that should have been published months ago.  Be that as it may, such machinations are all too typical of the Times conduct over a period of decades.  And if we cannot tell for certain what happened in this particular case, the larger pattern is much, much easier to discern....

The Conservative War On Reason, Generally, And The NYT In Particular

The New York Times is hardly my idea of the embodiment of reason, but that is at least substantially due to the remarkable success that the right has had in subverting it over the years.  Never pure to begin with, of course, the Times none-the-less has had made a number of dramatic rightward moves over the past 30 years that richly illustrate the success of the rightwing culture war, and the absurdity of their claims that Times is a fearsome liberal monster.

In the 1970s, it played a decided second fiddle to the Washington Post's Woodward and Bernstein in the Watergate Affair, then hired Spiro T. Agnew's former speechwriter, William Safire, as an op-ed columnist as Nixon's presidency was circling the drain.  Safire proceeded to wage a relentless war against those who dared ferret out the truth about Nixon, using the most faithful of the propagandists tools: lies and repetition.  His big lie was that Nixon hadn't done anything particularly bad, and he made this point by comparing anything unsavory a Democrat might have done to Watergate.  He wrote dozens of columns with this same tired theme, over and over and over again.  There is a word for this sort of journalism:  Safire was a hack.  And "liberal" New York Times was happy to give him a regular slot in the most valuable media real estate in the land to peddle his rightwing hackery.

In recent days, the Times has repeated this move, with amazing fidelity, giving a similar slot to the spectacularly wrong-headed Bill Kristol, one of the biggest neo-con cheerleaders of them all.  Not just totally wrong about Iraq, but totally wrong about everything.

In betewen these two episodes, the Times brought us Whitewater and Wen Ho Lee--two Clinton pseudo-scandals which its ace reporter, Jeff Gerth, did everything imagineable to keep alive.  At the same time that the Times was advancing the Whitewater story, of course, Rush Limbaugh was falsely attacking them for allegedly ignoring the story.  This is a key element of righwing culture war practice.  Evidence means nothing.  Facts mean nothing.  All that matters is what one asserts... over and over and over again. Repetition="proof."

Then, of course, there was Judith Miller and the WMDs that were not there.  If only it was only Judith Miller.  But, of course, it was not. She was just the lightening rod, as the Times' recent hiring of Kristol makes, well, Kristol clear.

But there's a deeper point that goes to very heart of how America's worldview has been utterly perverted, and the role that the Times as an agenda-setting institution has played in that process.  It includes, but go far, far beyond the fact that the Times has never really seriously considered the Downing Street Memo, or any of the wide range of evidence supporting its revelations that the Iraq War was flimsy put-up job.

Indeed,  rather than being an enemy to Bush, the neocons, and the entire rightwing agenda, the Times has been a remarkably faithful purveyor of their worldview. The counter-narratives that might challenge this view have been assiduously marginalized in the Times coverage.  The Times quite simply ignores the mountains of evidence that the neocon plans had nothing to do with fighting terrorism, that 9/11 was just an excuse for them, that their response to 9/11 was, quite predictably, totally inappropriate and counterproductive, that their policies have been a catastrophic failure, not just objectively, in realworld terms, but in terms of their own ideological program.  (Iraq really was supposed to be a cakewalk, even Iran and North Korea were minor concerns, China was the real enemy. This is all spelled out in the Project for a New American Century's September 2000 report, "Rebuilding America's Defenses" [PDF].)

Finally, bringing us back to the topic of John McCain, there's the minor additional point, which I blogged about last weekend, that McCain was the number one choice of the neocons in 2000, and that his worldview--dating back decades--is virtually identical to what Bush's only became after 9/11, the worldview that lead to the Iraq War, and to his ~30% job approval ratings.

This is, of course, not at all in line with McCain's "moderate maverick" image.  Accurate reporting about Bush, the war on terror and John McCain would, quite simply, doom the Republicans to at least a 40-state landslide defeat this coming November, and countless downticket losses as well.  Compared to that, the Times story about McCain was positively benign, not to mention utterly trivial.

Finally, I want to mention Cenk Uygur's post calling attention to a pattern of buckling under rightwing intimidation. Cenk wrote:

NY Times Holds Stories Because They're Afraid of Conservatives

The John McCain-Vicki Iseman story is not the first article the New York Times has held back for political reasons. They have now done this on at least three occasions:

1.    The original FISA story on how the Bush administration was not getting warrants for wiretaps inside the United States.
2.    The original story in 2004 that showed Osama bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.
3.    The McCain-Iseman story.

We had James Risen, the writer of the first two stories on our show back in 2005 and he admitted that they held the Bin Laden story until after the 2004 election because the New York Times didn't want to "get caught up in the politics of it." (You can listen to the whole Jim Risen interview here.)

Another way of stating that is that they were afraid of being called the liberal media by Republicans. After decades of being chastised for being liberal, they have become gun-shy. In this McCain story, they also held off until they were about to outed by other news agencies as sitting on the story.

Now, this is abosolutely, positively true.  But, as I have indicated above, it's all relatively superficial. Even the NSA spying story is relatively innocuous compared to the various impearchable offenses involved in fradulently taking us to war with Iraq.  After all, the latter involves international war crimes, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, not to mention more Americans than died on 9/11.

The fact that all this falls well outside the scope of the debate over the NY Times story on McCain is silent testimony to the power of hegemony, and the incredible strength of the rightwing culture war apparatus.

Vicki Iseman And The GOP's Adulterer's Primary

Perrhaps what's more remarkable about the Iseman story is that it's somehow regarded as remarkable.  After all, way back in the summer of 2006, Steve Benen speculated on the prospect of an adultery-laden GOP primary, and did so in an article with a revelatory lede, reminding us--as if we really needed it--that the treatment John McCain just got from the Times (and the rest of the Versailles media) has been SOP in writing about the Clintons for a decade and a half:

High Infidelity
What if three admitted adulterers run for president and no one cares?

By Steve Benen

Last month, The New York Times published a 2,000-word, front-page dissection of Bill and Hillary Clinton's marriage. It contained no real news, few named sources, and plenty of gossip masquerading as political coverage. Observing that the Clintons typically spend 14 days of each month together--hardly unusual for a couple that includes a senator and a peripatetic former president--the Times opted for the half-empty conclusion that the two lead "largely separate lives." The story also made an oblique reference to a Canadian politician named Belinda Stronach, the significance of which would likely be grasped only by insiders and people who read tabloids at supermarket check-outs. In a cover article last year, the Globe claimed that Stronach and Clinton were more than just good friends.

If the Times had evidence to support the innuendo, it decided not to print it. But despite the vaporous quality of the story's facts, David Broder's Washington Post column just 48 hours later indicated that a new conventional wisdom was forming, one which sought to undermine Hillary's presidential ambitions. After describing his boredom at a substantive speech the senator gave to reporters on energy policy, Broder concluded that the failure of reporters in the post-speech Q&A to grill Hillary about her personal relationship with her husband was the "elephant in the room."

Gosh, that's funny.  I have no memory of the firestorm that erupted over that story. Must've been one of those lost weekend thingies.  Oh, wait. I forgot. Media Matters already covered that.  Never mind.

Benen, again:

Of course, there was once a time when reporters believed that the sexual peccadilloes of American leaders were a private matter, and the nation was probably better off for that belief. In the late 1990s, Broder himself argued several times that these kinds of stories don't do voters any favors. But the rules were shifting, thanks largely to the mainstream press and the GOP's relentless pursuit of Bill Clinton. Now the Times piece suggests that we're in for three long years in which reporters will judge Hillary Clinton's character by rumors about her husband. But it may be Republicans who have the most to lose.

Lurking just over the horizon are liabilities for three Republicans who have topped several national, independent polls for the GOP's favorite 2008 nominee: Sen. John McCain (affair, divorce), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (affair, divorce, affair, divorce), and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (divorce, affair, nasty divorce). Together, they form the most maritally challenged crop of presidential hopefuls in American political history.

Well, of course, mean old Newtie didn't run after all.  But Fred Thompson did.  And while we have no evidence that Fred Thompson cheated on his first wife, before divorcing her in 1985 so he could date younger women, Mark 10:11 [see below] has no statute of limitations written into it, when it says, "And he said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her".

So, let's just say that (A) this is one of the strangest "family values" parties one could possibly imagine, and (B) the press has never really said "Boo!" about it.

A while back, however, Glenn Greenwald had  a bit more to say:

Saturday September 1, 2007 07:41 EST
McCain's selective defense of "traditional marriage"

Here is John McCain's "straight talk", in defense of traditional marriage yesterday, regarding the Iowa state court's decision declaring unconstitutional that state's opposite-sex-only marriage law:

    John McCain also entered the fray last night, calling the decision "a loss for the traditional family," and noting that he supports "the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman."

By stark contrast, this is John McCain's "straight action":

    McCain was still married and living with his wife in 1979 while, according to The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, "aggressively courting a 25-year-old woman who was as beautiful as she was rich." McCain divorced his wife, who had raised their three children while he was imprisoned in Vietnam, then launched his political career with his new wife's family money.

How can John McCain claim to believe that the law should recognize only "traditional marriages" while simultaneously demanding that the law recognize his own so-called "second marriage" -- also known as "an adulterous relationship" under the precepts of "traditional marriage" (Mark 10:11 -- "And he said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her").

The issue is not that McCain sinned in the past. It is that he argues now that the law ought to recognize only "the traditional definition of marriage" while simultaneously demanding that the law recognize and treat as equal his own "marriage," which is as much a deviation from the "traditional definition" as the same-sex marriages he opposes. How can someone with this "family" stand up in public and claim to support the "traditional definition of marriage"?

This is what's known as a "twofer"--both McCain's own trademarked "straight talk" schtick and the conservative brand name "family values" schtick go down in flames at the same time.

But, it's not news.  Such is hegemony.  And McCain is hardly alone in this.  Indeed, it's truly remarkable how riddled with sex scandals and used-to-be-sex-scandals the GOP is, and yet how little news it makes, how little impact on the nation's politics.  And the New York Times is a partner in making this happen.

A mostly silent partner.

But that's precisely the point.

Straight Talk?  The Meme, The Man, The Muck

Say, did I just say, "Straight Talk"?  Did I just "Glenn Greenwald"?  Well, Glenn had a post up yesterday, highlighting the Newsweek story about how McCain's categorical denials of the NY Times story contradicted his own sworn testimony.

Before getting into the meat of the matter, I want to comment on how Glenn starts off his post:

I agree completely with Greg Sargent, the editor of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and many other McCain critics that the NYT's story on McCain yesterday was extremely poor journalism -- filled with unsubstantiated irrelevancies (his alleged affair with a lobbyist) and, where relevant (McCain's intervention on behalf of Paxson), composed exclusively of long-disclosed news to which the story added nothing new. It shouldn't have been published, at least not in that form.

Here, Glenn is weighing in with a conventional "liberal media" ethos.  It's an ethos that is absolutely not designed for fighting a cuture war.  Indeed, it's an ethos that's designed to make you a sitting duck in a culture war.  And that's a big, big part of why the right has been cleaning up in the cuture war for the last 30 years.  

Two points need to be made here.  First, I'm not arguing that we should descend to the level of the right.  But when we do make this sort of criticism, we should not do it in a way the right can use.  We should explicitly link to similar examples that have targetted liberals and/or Democrats, such as the 2,000 word piece on the Clinton's marriage referred to above.  That's how to be both principled and savvy in the ways of the culture war at the same time.

Second, this is actually a very weak attack on McCain that actually distracts from the most significant--and most newsworthy--reasons why the man is actually a danger to our national future. As indicated above, the Times didn't have to run this sort of piece to damage and/or tell the truth about John McCain.  All they had to do was print the truth about the Bush, the neocons, 9/11, the war on terror, and McCain being way out front on all of this long before 9/11.  But no one expects the Times to do that.

Now, back to Glenn's post:

But what is significant is the seriously misleading statements that McCain made when denying key parts of the NYT story. One of the central claims of that story was that Paxson Communications, a major McCain contributor and provider of jet travel, repeatedly requested that McCain intervene on its behalf with a pending FCC matter, and thereafter, McCain personally contacted the FCC to demand that it expedite its ruling on a matter of vital important to Paxson (a contact which prompted a "scolding response" from the FCC Chairman, who called McCain's letter on behalf of Paxon "highly unusual" and inappropriate).

In issuing a very specific, point-by-point denial of the NYT story, McCain specifically denied that he ever talked to Paxson's CEO, Lowell Paxson (or any other Paxson representative) about this matter:

       No representative of Paxson or Alcalde and Fay discussed with Senator McCain the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proceeding. . . . No representative of Paxson or Alcalde and Fay personally asked Senator McCain to send a letter to the FCC regarding this proceeding.

But Newsweek's Mike Isikoff today obtained (or was given) the transcripts of deposition testimony which McCain himself gave under oath several years ago in litigation over the constitutionality of McCain-Feingold. In that testimony, McCain repeatedly and unequivocally stated the opposite of what he said in this week's NYT denial: namely, that he had unquestionably spoken with Paxson himself over the pending FCC matter....

And if that's not enough, the Washington Post now has a story, "McCain Disputed On 1999 Meeting: Broadcaster Recalls Urging FCC Contact", in which Paxson himself contradicts McCain.

So, again, Straight Talk?  Not so much....

Which leads me into one of my recurrent topics--the politics of cognitive developmental levels--and how it helps illuminate the strange workings of the "Straight Talk" meme, a meme that's been prominently applied to Ross Perot, George W. Bush and Ron Paul, as well as John McCain.  The implications of "straight talk" are quite clear--in ordinary parlance, a straight talker is someone who tells the truth, without all manner of qualifications and embellishments.

But the "Straight Talk" meme is something quite different--it takes the superficial lack of qualifications and embellishments as proof that what is said is true, even if what is being talked about happens to be rather complicated, and very much in need of qualifications and embellishments. One could understand the "Straight Talk" meme simply in terms of American anti-intellectualism, ala vintage Richard Hofstadter.  But I prefer Robert Kegan.  In the table below, "Straight Talk" is an example of the underlying structure of Level 2--a "durable category":

Kegan's Subject/Object Schema of Cognitive Development
StageWe Are:
Subject
(structure of knowing)
We Have:
Object
(content of knowing)
Underlying Structure
1Perceptions

SOCIAL PERCEPTIONS

Impulses
Movement


Sensation
2Concrete

POINT OF VIEW

Enduring Dispositions
Perceptions

SOCIAL PERCEPTIONS

Impulses
3
Traditionalism
Abstractions

MUTUALITY/
INTERPERSONALISM
Relationship


Inner states
Concrete

POINT OF VIEW

Enduring Dispositions
Needs, Peferences
4
Modernism
Abstract Systems

INSTITUTION
Relationship-Regulating Forms

Self-authorship
Abstractions

MUTUALITY/
INTERPERSONALISM
Relationship

Inner states
Subjectivity
Self-consciousness
5
Post-
Modernism
Dialectical

INTER-
INSTITUTIONAL

Self-transformation
Abstract Systems
Ideology

INSTITUTION
Relationship-Regulating Forms

Self-authorship
Self-regulation
Self-formation

The first thing to understand is that we are talking about mere appearances here. While the real deal is an "Enduring Disposition"--the psychological manifestation of a durable category--the "Straight Talk" meme refers simply to the appearance described above.

The second thing to understand is that normal conservatism operates on Level 3.  It corresponds to adult consciousness in a traditional society.  The self is defined in terms of the matrix of social roles and relationships of the surrounding society.  

At that level, we are those roles and relationships, and any criticism of them is a criticism of ourselves.  "America, love it or leave it," indeed.  

Except that--Third Thing--America was founded as a Level 4 institution.  Our very Constitution is the very embodiment of a "Relationship-Regulating Form."  And it is the conservative, Level 3 mind's complete incapacity to deal with Level 4 that leads to falling back on Level 2 pseudo-certainties.  

You see, each level is more complicated than the one before.  Each level involves taking what was subject, the foundation of thought and being, and making it object, turning taken-for-granted context into clearly manipulable content.  For those who remain embedded in the taken-for-granted context, this is not merely a frightening possibility, it is, quite literally, inconceivable, because they lack the context needed to conceive it.  

Traditional, Level 3 societies change only very slowly over time. This is where the "narrative of 'personal virtue' as the foundational concern of politics" described at the beginning of this post fits in.  So long as society is basically unchanging, the person who exemplifies living by the rules has a very strong claim to encompass the very essence of what politics is all about.

But modernism developed out of the quickening pace of change that first hit Europe a good seven centuries ago, in the fast-paced trade-oriented city-states of Northern Italy.  They called it "The Renaissance," but it was actually much, much more than the rebirth of ancient knowledge, because that ancient knowledge feed into a newly dynamic form of life, from which a wholly new future would spring--the future in which we now live.  This future requires, among other things, the active engagement in reshaping the rules by which we live.  Change is simply too rapid, and too all-pervasive for us to remain unchanged and still fit with the world around us.

But the Level 3 mind sees such change as its very destruction.  To note things that need changing in America is to be anti-American in this view.  Ironically, this view is quintessentially un-American.  People come here to reinvent themselves.  That is the whole point of America.  If reinvention is not your thing, then you just don't belong here.  Of course, no Level 3 mind can grasp such a basic Level 4 fact, which constitutes an existential threat to its very existence.  And a common response to such overwhelming threats is one form or another of ego defense mechanism, such as regression, which is defined as :returning to a previous stage of development."  

Other defense mechanisms are commonplace in conservative politics. Wikipedia describes the most primative level of defense mechanisms thus:

Level 1 Defence Mechanisms

The mechanisms on this level, when predominating, almost always are severely pathological. These three defences, in conjunction, permit one to effectively rearrange external reality and eliminate the need to cope with reality. The pathological users of these mechanisms frequently appear crazy or insane to others. These are the "psychotic" defences, common in overt psychosis. However, they are found in dreams and throughout childhood as healthy mechanisms.

They include:

   * Denial: Refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening; arguing against an anxiety provoking stimuli by stating it doesn't exist; resolution of emotional conflict and reduce anxiety by refusing to perceive or consciously acknowledge the more unpleasant aspects of external reality.
   * Distortion: A gross reshaping of external reality to meet internal needs.
   * Delusional Projection: Grossly frank delusions about external reality, usually of a persecutory nature.

These mechanisms clearly underly the aforementioned "rightwing war on fact-based (i.e. "liberal) journalism as a specific facet of their overall attack on modernity, empiricism, reason and critical thought," described in the introduction to this post.  They also serve the preservation of "conservative identity politics, a binary worldview that involves the valorization of all things 'conservative' and the demonization of 'liberals'"--also described in the introduction.  

The third item connected with there two was "the narrative of 'personal virtue' as the foundational concern of politics," which I have already touched on above.  But it emerges in the context of defense mechanisms as well. The next level of more advanced defense mechanisms includes:

* Idealization: Subconsciously choosing to perceive another individual as having more positive qualities than they may actually have.

This is clearly how conservatives tend to see their leaders, and John McCain is no exception--even though many conservatives are not on board with him just yet.  Conservatives are hardly alone in this, but their tendency toward idealization is generally more intense, and often occurs in tandem with regression.  This helps explain the potency of the "Straight Talk" meme--a leader idealized for honesty tells them it's okay to turn away from, even deny the bewildering complexity that seems to threaten their very existence.  It' not just okay--it's downright noble.  It's good old, down-home, Red State "Straight Talk"!

Counter-Hegemonic Conclusion

John McCain is trainwreck waiting to happen.  But, then, so was George W. Bush.  The right will try to unify itself via hatred of the left, and the push-back against the NY Times story is emblematic of that effort.  We must fight back against this with a wide array of responses, although we're severely handicapped by the degree to which conservatives have captured and/or incapacitated so many institutions, particularly media institutions.

But above all, we must fight back by developing our own critical consciousness, and sharing our insights with one another.  We must develope a common language for speaking the truths that conservative deny, as well as those they simply cannot conceive.  The development of this consciousness has to be supplemented by the development of new institutions as well.  That is what counter-hegemonic struggle is all about.


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Paul Rosenberg Is Extremely Boring (0.00 / 1)
I've been meaning to post this for a while, and even though I didn't really want to I created an account solely for the purpose of saying this.  So you know I mean business.

Paul Rosenberg is just extremely, extremely boring and long-winded.  It's like he can't talk about an issue without bringing in some grand political science theory that he learned in college.  And it seems like he brings in these theories for no good reason.  Like this post, for example.  Gramsci is a name I am vaguely familiar with, I have no idea who Robert Kegan, I have no idea what "Subject/Object Schema of Cognitive Development" is, etc.  Look at that ridiculous and complicated chart!  What the fuck does any of this have to do with a story in the NYT about John McCain!

Rosenberg should learn to write about issues in a way that is relevant to Open Left readers.  That is, every time some story unfolds he shouldn't rush to his college notebook and see how EVERY SINGLE philosopher he studied would address the issue.  "Barack Obama is going to raise $50M this month?  Hmmmm, I wonder what Hegel and Rousseau think about this."  


A Simple Solution For Anti-Intellectuals (4.00 / 4)
Don't fucking read it!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I don't... (0.00 / 0)
The part of your post about Gramsci and his theory of hegemonic culture taking over worker institutions was fascinating and accurate.  I appreciate what you said.

I like much of what you write and everybody around me calls me an intellectual, but I find your charts and explanations of Robert Kegan irrelevant and unimportant.  So every time it is part of your post, I skip that section and often the entire post.


[ Parent ]
Why Do Find Kegan Irrelevant? (0.00 / 0)
Kegan's work is a synthesis of Piaget, Kohlberg, Erickson, Maslow and others representing decades of research, empirical testing and clinical observation.  It addresses profound differences in how people think, how they construct the world, how they misunderstand one another, how they do or do not cope with the complexities they encounter, and much, much more.

Do you (a) Not believe in developmental psychology?  (b) Not believe his synthesis? (c) Not believe in its relevance for politics? or (d) Something else?

I'm really curious to know.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
I have an M.A. in psychology so... (0.00 / 0)
obviously not (a).  I would say (d).  Because the complexity of human behavior being a combination of at least the factors of economic forces, nationality, ethnic backaground, religion, family upbringing, education, and past life karma (I have memories of life in previous bodies and read too many other descriptions of same that are credible so please do not dismiss this) any synthesis that puts human behavior into a series of five or six boxes is too simplistic to explain as completely as you attempt to do in your posts.  

Please do not take that criticism as a blast at all  you write as some of it I find useful and helpful.


[ Parent ]
Well, Perhaps I'm Not Explaining This Well Enough (0.00 / 0)
But Kegan's schema is about the structure of consciousness, rather than the specific contents.  It is a generalization of Piaget's original work on the perception and conception of physical reality, which there is good reason to believe is primarily a function of nervous system development through the maturation process, which is certainly influenced by socio-cultural factors, but not driven by them--just as a tree will grow differently under different conditions (indeed, not grow at all in some), but not have its basic DNA code altered in the process.

This has two immediate consequences.  First, it gives Kegan's schema a great deal of generality, and it decouples it from automatic cauasal relationships with most influences that are specifically focused on the contents of our experience.

Of course, everything that you mentioned, "economic forces, nationality, ethnic backaground, religion, family upbringing, education, and past life karma" tends to produce differences in terms of specific content, which are quite obvious even before we set out to study them.  But the effects in terms of structures of consciousness are far less clear without specific investifation.

Furthermore, the effects produced are also quite likely to reflect common factors shared by different nationalities, ethnic backtgrounds, etc., rather than reflecting the relatively superficial differences that tend to receed in importance when broad comparative methods are employed.

For example, education does indeed seem to have fairly regular impacts, which have been widely noted.  In particular, college tends to assist in gaining Level 4 consciousness, and going back to graduate school tends to assist in gaining Level 5 consciousness.  There is no particular evidence so far that the specific subject matter, for example, has any effect.  Furthermore, cross-ethnic background--coming from or marrying into a cross-ethnic or cross-racial family, also tends to assist in gaining Level 5 consciousness, though I don't believe this has been rigorously established.

All this seems to indicate that the factors you site can almost certainly be empirically tested in relationship to the strutuctures Kegan identifies, and that many of them may have significantly correlations, but that these are likely to reflect structural aspects of these different categories of human experience.

In short, from my understanding of Kegan's work, I see nothing in the wide diversity of human experience at odds with his categorization schema.

It might help if you could present a specific example that you think confounds his schema, and explain why this would be so.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Let me clarify... (4.00 / 1)
Your explanation is clear.  

Before the internet, I had a much narrower spectrum of information readily available about news, politics, and current events.  Now I always have to prioritize what I choose to read because there is no way I can take in all that is easily available even if I spent 24/7 at the computer.  I skip over the Kegan section of your posts because to take it in would require a lot more time to analyze and figure out than I can possibly spend given my time constraints.


[ Parent ]
Fair Enough (0.00 / 0)
Overwhelm is... overwhelming.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
The Blind Monk Effect (0.00 / 0)
Based on a Buddhist teaching about 5 blind monks that have a chance encounter with an elephant.  Each feels a different part of the animal and so each has their own version - based on physical evidence - of what an elephant "looks" like.  

Thus, perspective is an element of understanding - sometimes, changing the perspective will afford more understanding.  You describe a functioning human psychological/social system in these Kegan Charts.  In a sense, you've gone the elephant-feeling monks one better, because from a single perspective you've managed to describe a useful model of human society.  But, for some perhaps, another perspective might be better able to bring the "thing" into focus.  Myself, its more basic and the Jungian Archetypes, dosed with modern molecular genetics, and functional biochemistry provide the "frame" that allows me to see "thing" that you are talking about.  I think.


"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


[ Parent ]
I found it interesting. (0.00 / 0)
I have never heard of Kegan. I found the chart hard to understand. But I still finished reading the whole thing feeling that I now have a little more insight into the conservative brain. Very interesting. Definitely not boring. Thank you.

miasmo.com

[ Parent ]
there are lots of sites (0.00 / 0)
where one-line comments based on three-sentence punditry of current events is the order to the day. We are different, always have been.

Go find one of those sites. Maybe they also have no problem with you taking pot-shots at them in the comments.  


[ Parent ]
I Have No Problem With Folks Taking Pot Shots (0.00 / 0)
After writing all that terribly turgid prose, I'se just itching for some punk to make my day so I can sling me some red-hot snark!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Yo momma's got some red-hot snark! (4.00 / 2)
There.  I said it and I'm glad.

But really, your stuff is really helpful.  What we see too much of is progressives taking the correct side, while embracing the same intellectual framework that has gotten us so fucked in the first place.

How we oppress ourselves is ultimately more deadly than anything the right does to us.

Full Court Press!  http://www.openleft.com/showDi...


[ Parent ]
Get over yourselves. (0.00 / 0)
I like this site. I found this post very interesting. I agree that if Random Dude finds something boring, there is plenty of other stuff out there to read. But as someone who hangs out on other sites besides just this one, you guys come off as kind of elitist. Your comment is dripping with holier than thou condescension. "This is the site for smart people. Why don't you go to one of the sites for people who aren't as intellectual as us." There is plenty of smart progressive analysis here, but really, get over yourselves.

miasmo.com

[ Parent ]
Elitism (0.00 / 0)
miasmo,
You might want to take your advice to RandomDude.

I have read little of Gramsci's work and I know nothing of Kegan.  The diagram was confusing, at first, and I'm sure can be improved.
But none of this came off as elitist to me.  Many of us have asked ourselves, surely, how "conservatives" can believe what they believe in the face of the mountain of contrary evidence available.
Seems to me discussions such as this one serve to answer that question.  I don't think Rosenberg here is the final word, nor the first, but it certainly confirmed something I have suspected for a while.  Moreover he articulated some things I have been unable to articulate, possibly because my own studies were in a different field.

If you want simple analyses, go over to RedState.  They have everything watered down, black and white, and are decidedly non-elitist.
The irony is you have exhibited, partially, the kind of level 3 behavior described in the article.  All this elitist, condescending intellectualism is so clearly not "straight talk".  Hence it is worthless.
Rosenberg doesn't need to get over himself.  He might need better diagrams, but the substance of the article is good.
I think you need to do the getting over.  Of what, I can't say.  Only you know.


[ Parent ]
Please see my response below (0.00 / 0)
to Paul Rosenberg's reply.

miasmo.com

[ Parent ]
Yes, please avoid smart things! (0.00 / 0)
I have to agree that saying smart things and digging into deeper meanings really leaves the impression that those that can't or choose not to follow it don't belong in the conversation.  I mean really!  Paul should get his own site, perhaps with a few of his activist friends, to post this kind of intelligent stuff!  But no, instead he forces us to read it here!


[ Parent ]
Please see my response below (0.00 / 0)
to Paul Rosenberg's reply.

miasmo.com

[ Parent ]
Sorry For The Misunderstanding (4.00 / 1)
I think you've been unfairly misread by the others responding to you, and I want to apologize for that.  I think it's quite legitimate to complain when people are putting on airs.  It doesn't serve anyone when we do that.  Our credo is an egalitarian one, and we should do our best to live by it.

But until they misread you I was having a hard time saying just what it was that bothered me with what you said, because I definitely felt that osomething wasn't quite right.  Now, I could be wrong, but here's what it seems like to me.

You were interpreting Chris as saying, "This is the site for smart people. Why don't you go to one of the sites for people who aren't as intellectual as us."

But that's not how I read Chris at all.  I read him as saying "This is a site for smart, sometimes extended discussions.  If you don't enjoy them, there are plenty of other places to go."

The difference is that Chris's remarks were not directed at or about individuals.  They were about the nature of the discussions here.  And anyone is welcome to get whatever they can out of them.  You don't have to be an intellectual to do so, although some of the discussions are rather intellectual.

Frankly, however, in my grandparents' generation they were pretty much all considered "working class intellectuals," to one degree or another. Which, to me, simply meant they were people who took ideas seriously and cared about them, because they saw that ideas had consequences.  And in that sense, I think that just about anyone who stumbles on this site and sticks around would qualify as an intellectual in that very fundamental sense.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Thanks for the reply (0.00 / 0)
Mark Matson and skeptic apparently thought my comment was directed at you, which it was not. It was directed at Chris' comment, not in isolation, but as part of a pattern I have perceived here of snarky dismissive comments directed at other liberal blogs, particularly daily kos. I have just gotten a general feeling of a superiority complex here from some, not all. It has nothing to do with you or your work, which I appreciate.

Perhaps my lumping Chris' comment with other unspecified comments was not fair. But I doubt I am the only one who visits this site in addition to dailykos and others who occasionally feels insulted by snarky remarks about other blogs.

miasmo.com


[ Parent ]
I wonder if this piece is part of the game (0.00 / 0)
  Like you mentioned, there are a million ways for the Times to legitimately destroy John McCain and the Republicans, simply by telling the truth about the Bush regime.

 And yet they held their fire on all the substantial stuff, while publishing this relative banality of a story, of which the sex angle, at least, is poorly substantiated.

 So McCain can now whine and bluster about a "smear" job, and emerge as "stronger" for it, at least among his base.

 Was that the Times' plan all along?  

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn


Does The Times Think??? (0.00 / 0)
It's more like the Times is riven by conflicting visceral and emotional forces.  Attributing conscious thought is a rather dubious proposition, IMHO.

Occam's razo, don'cha know!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Likely multiple motives (4.00 / 4)
The crux of the story is that McCain was attracted to a lobbyist who went around town boasting of her access to him, and for whose clients he did favors, and this created an appearance of impropriety.  So his staff (particualrly Weaver), who immediately saw the contradiction between the image and the reality, tried to shut it down.  But McCain believes his own hype and thinks his superior insight and judgment enables him to act badly while preserving his virtue.  This is a very dangerous combination.

This is news and worthy of reporting.  It also is an attack on McCain's fundamental narrative about why he should be President--to restore America's virtue and valor.  

But Keller evidently has mixed feelings about taking McCain down, probably because he is at heart a neocon too (witness his fawning NYT Magazine profile of Paul Wolfowitz when it was clear the Iraq War was a mess). This is at the root of all their problems with Judy Miller and with running the Risen stories.

My guess is that they may have more stuff on the sex angle but not enough to be able to run it, and they thought it was a hook to get attention for the story.  Of course it diverted attention from the crux of the story, which is McCain's abuse of office to do a favor for a powerful business interest as a favor for a woman who seemingly had un paralleled access to him.

McCain is susceptible to pretty women and strong-willed men.  He is a timebomb as a candidate and would be as Pres.  

Finally, one has to wonder if this is an attempt to wound McCain and have the GOP be forced to pick a seemingly stronger candidate at the convention, or a very strong VP who could take over if need be.  (Cheney redux?  Jeb Bush?)

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.


[ Parent ]
Great Gramsci! (4.00 / 2)
Regardless of Random Dude's weird allergy to political science and social theory, (shorter: Random Dude is not amused!) Gramsci has long been useful in trying to understand ideological conflict in large modern, media saturated circumstances.  And I'm sorry, but Random Dude may want to take it up with (a sadly dead) Edward Said who used Gramsci to great effect in his pioneering work on understanding imperialism/colonialism or Stuart Hall in his efforts to understand the meanings of Thatcherite neo-liberalism in the 1980's.  
Just because we've got a lot to do on the ground in terms of activism doesn't mean we give up trying to orient this activities within a larger theoretical understanding of the present moment.  
And yes, I've long thought the capture of the internets/netroots by the left and the earlier monopoly of am radio by the right could best be explained in terms of Gramscian theory of a "cultural war of position".  Think of Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas, and Gramsci would engage there nicely.
But it is important to think in these terms not just to make ourselves feel good about the books we've read (do you feel me Random Dude?), but because it helps understand the complex social/cultural situation at hand and determine how best to meet the challenges that face a modern progressive movement.  

Understanding the impotence of revolutionary thought in US (4.00 / 1)
It's very simple.  People don't sell out, they buy in.  And it has to do with the lack of rigid class distinctions in the early US and the fact that for so long you could always go West.  The closing of the frontier was important, but it didn't change the psychological dynamic that much.  The post WWII consumerism didn't come from nowhere and it has a strong base to work with.

"Few Americans feel entirely at ease with the slogan 'Soak the Rich,' but the phrase 'Deal me in' springs spontaneously and joyously to their lips."  David M. Potter, People of Plenty, 1954.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.


[ Parent ]
To each their own... (4.00 / 3)
Paul's comment goes without saying - if you don't find something relevant or interesting, don't read it.  That's the strength and backbone of the blogosphere and other organic, distributed, collaborative environments.  Why someone needs to flame is beyond me...
That said, i can understand why a lot of people find the psychological angle on all this to be daunting.  The very nature of the topic requires synthesis and reflection that takes time to arrive and and comprehend.  (I can't imagine anyone - even a genius - who hasn't pondered these topics to be able to digest them from start to finish all at once...)
i've been reading Paul's posts on these topic for sometime and while i do find them fascinating, i think i'm only at a 50% comprehension level (which i think still allows me to get the gist of the various points that he makes...)
I think having a systematic framework in which to analyze politics as a social and psychological phenomena is invaluable (heck, any framework is helpful for that matter...)  The only suggestion i would make is to find a way to help bring those who aren't yet imbued with the understanding or academic background "up to speed" in an approachable and gradual way.  Something like a set of tutorials or short essays that start with the basics in layman's terms and slowly build to the full analysis model that Paul refers back to.  Having a link to these tutorial in each post would allow those who want to become "illuminated" to easily do so.
Writing this, i realize that it's easy to make suggestions for others to do something ;-), and i'm not trying to arm-chair quarterback.  My point is that from what i've grasped reading paul's posts on these topics, i think the model he uses is a powerful tool for understanding and reacting to political events and movements.  But, the models subtlety and academic nature makes it harder for many who could benefit from it to be able to understand it.

An Interesting Suggestion--A Tutorial (4.00 / 1)
The approach I've tried to take is simply to keep reintroducing the material in slightly different contexts, figuring that this provides various different openings for people to get different aspects of what I'm writing about.

The concern I have about writing a tutorial is that I'm not sure how to orient it or who would read it, since a pure tutorial would not necessarily have a continual thread of relevance to political topics.  But I'm certainly willing to give it further thought.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Not a Tutorial--More Targeted Text (4.00 / 1)
I'm not sure a tutorial is really what you need, here.  I am a theory head, and even my eyes tend to glaze when I see the Kagan diagrams again.  It's just way too much complex content to take in in a single enormous horse pill.

It would be more work, but I'd recommend not giving the diagrams at all in these posts, and instead giving a more targeted mention of Kagan that focuses on what is specifically relevant to a particular discussion.  

The problem with this is that more work might get in the way of what blogs are good at, relatively quick think-pieces like these, which I like.  

So I'm not complaining, only agreeing that the Kagan stuff really doesn't work the way you want it to.  You can't just throw it in there and expect it to do anything like the same job that a much shorter revisitation of Kagan in context would do.  

The fact is, every time we use someone like Kagan, we "mean" them differently, because their theories are doing different "work" in a particular context.  That's why we need to keep repeating these ideas, and it's also why just repeating them doesn't get the job done.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)


[ Parent ]
I was thinking exactly the opposite (0.00 / 0)
my eyes tend to glaze when I see the Kagan diagrams again.  ... I'd recommend not giving the diagrams at all in these posts, and instead giving a more targeted mention of Kagan that focuses on what is specifically relevant to a particular discussion.

I was thinking the posts should focus more on the theory at the heart (ie, the diagram) and less on "Kagan" or any other name or history.  Academia cares so much about credit and plagiarism that it has developed a habit of using names and history lessons in place of actual theory.  While I find it how the various theories build on top of each other and how one person influenced another, ultimately I find it distracting to the actual discussion.  The fact that Gramsci was motivated by Marx isn't that important in terms what is being discussed.

To me it is the diagrams and the ultimate theory that really matter, plus how we apply it to the given case.  Better to leave the history lesson for a link.

But, of course, easier said then done, eh?  What's the famous quote, "I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time."

But overall, Paul's work here has been excellent.  He provides a very powerful frame to understand current events and the politics of our times.


[ Parent ]
Worth considering, I think (4.00 / 1)
I think your approach of "reintroducing the material in slightly different contexts" is a very valuable one, though it does tend to make your posts very long.  

It might be worth having one or more "tutorial" posts that provide a relatively full exploration of some of your major theoretical/analytical threads (e.g., Gramsci and the cognitive levels).  I'm guessing you could put this together with a modest amount of time, mainly cutting and pasting from prior posts (though, as DanDrasin notes, its a lot easier to suggest this then to do it).  

This might allow you to scale back the length of the introductory sections of some of your posts.  But, as your comment suggests, you probably wouldn't want to scale this back too far, for risk of totally losing those that are new to the subject.

If you took this approach, it might be useful to include with these "tutorial" posts a running list of links to "specific example" posts that build on their foundational analysis.  

This might provide a place where someone reading one of your posts (or hearing about them) could go and:
1) get grounded in the analysis at a pace that was comfortable for them and easily found on the OL site;
2) select "example" posts on subjects they are most interested in, to see how you link these events, people, etc. to the underlying theories.

I agree with other commenters that the combination of the Gramsci and cognitive-level perspectives is very important and rich with potential to help us understand what's going on and what needs to be done about it.  This, in turn, highlights the value of considering how best to help more people digest and internalize it.


[ Parent ]
tutorial (0.00 / 0)
May I suggest something similar to David Niewert's outstanding series on eliminationism in America over at Orcinus?
I admit this is a purely selfish suggestion as it would prevent me from having to go and re-read Gramsci's work as well as Kegans.
The stack of books I have to read is this high I just don't have time to wade into an entirely new pool.

[ Parent ]
competing discourses of "rationality" (4.00 / 1)
Hmm...perhaps turning 'inward' to the works of developmental psychology may not be the best place to find tangible ways to overcome (or reform) the current political conversation that ensues in America.  Although I find the discussion interesting, the examples in this article (certain 'memes,' reiterations of positions by the NYT, lies and denials by politicians) seem better suited to study by means of actual public perception (or, minimally, discourse analysis) as opposed to a psychological "read" of intentions behind these words.  I say this because I found some of the claims about broad segments of the populace toward the end of the article to be tenuous, if not reductionist: e.g., "This is clearly how conservatives tend to see their leaders."  Most of the institutions we call "mass-media" in the U.S., however, are simply comprised of a limited number of actors who sit around in the newsroom, waiting for an "interview" with the same old talking heads, hoping that a linguistic gem will spurt forth that they can reiterate among their little circles, and (ideally) fiost upon the "mass" ad nauseum.

The thing is, the "mass" is really unspecificied, and (largely) non-participatory in this discursive exchange.  Even among a small segment of U.S. voters, has anyone really done a good study of what "rationality" looks like (aside from one's own beliefs)?  Is something that is labelled "straight talk" seen as 'clear truth' or 'mind-numbingly naive and simplistic'?  If someone's speech bears affect, are they 'human and sympathetic' or 'crazed and angry'?  If someone's sentences are long, are they 'smart' or 'boring'?  I find these fascinating subjects, but empirical investigation really is necessary.... and our "mass-media" certainly isn't going to go out and do it!!!!


Bring On The Empirical Studies! (4.00 / 2)
I'm all for 'em!

But until we have them, what I'm trying to do--and clearly I could always do a better job of specifying what I'm saying, the basis on which I say it, etc.--is take what evidence we do have from different sources and bring it together into a synthetic analytic whole.

For example, when I wrote about how conservatives tend to see their leaders, this is based primarily on Robert Altemeyer's research into rightwing authoritarianism, supplemented by other attitudinal research and, of course, the evidence of history from a wide range of sources.

In particular, Altemeyer writes about how RWAs are much more prone to the fundamental attribution error, which is the tendency to over-emphasize dispositiona/character- or personality-based, explanations for observed behaviors while under-emphasizing situational explanations.  So, if a would-be leader tells two groups of people what they want to hear, the one with the most RWAs in it is the one that's more likely to take him at his word, and not think too critically about what other motives he might have.  This naturally attracts more unscrupulous would-be leaders to RWA-heavy groups--they are just better marks.

Consequently, while they have a higher propensity to see their leaders in terms of professed ideals, the leaders they get are disporporationately likely to be conning them.

Hence, the adulterer's primary.

This is good enough evidence for me to support the claim I made, and I'd be happy to disuss the foundation for other claims as well.  But of course I'd love to have much more empirical evidence to build on.  There is clearly much, much more that we don't know about the cognitive science of politics than small amount that we do know.

Still, that small amount is a whole lot more than zero--not mention the negative number realms of pure myth and baseless speculation.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
'We Don't Care About the Political Content of Your Show" (0.00 / 0)
I just watched Newtork last night.  Three things about how the movie progressed really struck me as still relevant:

1) No one cared about putting crazy Maoists on the air saying whatever they wanted--the sensational hook was all that really mattered

2) No one cared with Beale was saying on the air or how mad he got people, until he actually asked people to do something about how mad they were--the Network didn't yell at him when he told them to turn off their TVs, but they sure as hell did when he told them to write President Ford.

3) When Beale actually started advancing a consistent narrative that went against conventional wisdom, people stopped listening to him.

Talking about lies that lead us into war, the Downing street memo and lobbyist influence in Washington is a coherent, relevant narrative that goes against what people want to think.  In a for-profit driven media, this is just never going to be a sticky narrative without having some sort of sex angle as a lead-in.  

I just have so much trouble getting over how mutually reinforcing all this is--the right wing offers a simple, exciting narrative, which is easy for the press to communicate quickly and without effort.  Critiques of this viewpoint are difficult to communicate, because they are long, drawn-out, boring, and often, depressing.  


Well, Don't Forget, Network Was A Work of Fiction (0.00 / 0)
And it was about a network.  In fact, a broadcast network.  Newspapers always have been rather a different kettle of fish.  So, while I don't dismiss your observations as irrelevent, I do think there's some give in the analysis.

After all, Whitewater got a great deal of traction, despite the fact that it was almost entirely made up, and it was something quite apart from the Clinton sex scandals.  Ken Starr was given both to deal with, but it was Whitewater that he spent the vast majority of his time on.

Now, it's certainly true that the right works on a nexus of inherently juicier narratives.  That's part of the consequences of turning your back on Level 4 consciousness.  You focus on stuff that most people can understand--conspiracies as the explanation for history, rather than the intersections of all sorts of hazy influences that most people can't even see, because the time-scale of our daily lives is too short to notice the significant changes.

But that's one very compelling reason why institutions are so darned important--beause institutions recognize and respond to much more substantive, impactful, long-term processes.  Subvert them so that they respond to market forces like the latest Brittney Spears soap opera episode, and you've taken away a good deal of what makes us both civilized and human, as well as competently rational.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Ken Starr, this is tangential (0.00 / 0)
I thought he replaced Robert Fiske on the Whitewater investigation in 1994, then he broadened it, seeking authority to witch hunt for what he could find (since he never did find any evidence against the Clintons with Whitewater despite holding Susan McDougal hostage to the end), including Monica Lewinski and Paula Jones. It wasn't that the 3-judge panel gave Starr Whitewater and sex scandals to deal with at the start.

[ Parent ]
And this post proves how hard journalism is (0.00 / 0)
As in it's hard to take a topic like NYTimes/McCain using Kagen charts to explain and write it in away that anyone could understand. Journalists are always accused by sources of dumbing down the information and the nuances, especially on deadline.  

[ Parent ]
A few thoughts triggered by your post (4.00 / 1)
My sense is that the video medium (and, as Rush et al have shown, radio) is better suited than written words to address the less-than-rational cognitive levels you address here.  

That highlights to me the value of web-based video (including its relative ease of editing, posting, distribution, viewing and re-editing) as a tool for building the counter-hegemonic institutions you refer to in your closing.  And the fact that web-based video can also be integrated with written words, links to source material and interactive discussion, makes it much better suited for moving up the cognitive-level hierarchy than one-way broadcast TV, especially given the latter's entrenched role as a hegemony-maintainer (both intentionally and by virtue of its economic incentive system, technology, regulation, etc.).

Related to this is the reasonable expectation that the capabilities (software, bandwidth, availability, etc.) of web-based multimedia communications will continue to grow, probably at an accelerating rate.

Another point that comes to mind after reading this post is that there's an emotional counterpart to lower levels of cognition, which I'd simplistically describe as "fear-driven" emotions, which obviously include fear itself, but also include externalized anger (related to defense mechanisms like "delusional projection") that can be intensely triggered as lower levels of cognition bang up repeatedly against realities they cannot accommodate.

In my view, this links to Obama's "hope-focused" political message and strategy.  While there are good reasons to be doubtful about its efficacy and to be concerned about risks associated with its failure, I see this strategy as an invitation to Americans that are "on the cusp" in terms of their predominant cognitive level to move up the cognitive scale.  

From this perspective, one key goal of Obama's strategy would be to help lessen the fear/anger intensity level--especially as relates to these "on the cusp" folks and offer them a way to adopt perspectives, take actions and form communities that provide a manageable (at both emotional and cognitive levels) transition path from fear/anger/defense/denial to a willingness to accept and even embrace reality and begin to work to change it rather than deny it with a defensiveness that is intensified by so many events as presented by the mass media.

This, of course, requires not only this "emotional engagement" bridge, but also a cognitive bridge that can help "cognitive cusp-dwellers" begin to move up the cognitive and emotional scale simultaneously.  

This need makes me appreciate he "thoughtful/professorial" aspect of Obama.  He seems to have a notably better ability to listen and engage in genuine and relatively illuminating dialog than most political figures--a dialog that tends not to be overly confrontational, but nevertheless moves steadily toward clarifying reality and realistic options.  

In my view, this, combined with his inspirational speaking ability, makes Obama well suited to serve in a leadership-facilitator role in these two processes, which I'd suggest need to be addressed in pretty close parallel.

I suspect--and certainly hope--that, on some level, Obama shares this basic view of the value of his candidacy.

All of this points to:

1) A potential evolution of the progressive (broadly defined) netroots as an increasingly capable counter-hegemonic institution (in terms of content, format, technical capabilities, integration with other political, social and media institutions, etc.).  We're already seeing that today, and I have no reason to believe it will not continue, very likely at a generally accelerating pace.

2) The potential for the netroots to provide high-value input that is distilled and synthesized from the citizenry as a whole, accompanied by consistent and constructive pressure on an Obama Administration and Congress.

3) The netroots working with the expanding progressive elements within the dominant political institutions in ways that build strong and sustainable linkages between them, and strong and sustainable institutions that can provide the cognitive and emotional evolutionary bridges for an increasing number of Americans who are ready to move up the cognitive and emotional scales.

4) As this "war of position" unfolds in the political and media arenas, the growth of the Internet and related technologies would enable a "war of movement" that I might describe as a shift from today's hyper-capitalism to something that would incorporate (among other things) the principles and practices described in the book Natural Capitalism.  

This war involves an economic shift from control by concentrated aggregations of capital and the high levels of negative externalities with which this concentration is associated (e.g., pollution, poverty, poor health), to a more decentralized and democratic economic structure marked by local and global collaborations of "connected" citizens in peer-based "social production" systems (as described well in Yochai Benkler's "Wealth of Networks"), coupled with the migration to decentralized and renewable energy systems described in Natural Capitalism and other books.  

This war of movement would also encompass powerful development-related innovations pioneered by folks like Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize-winner and founder of the Grameen Bank, and discussed in his most recent book: "Creating a World Without Poverty: How Social Business Can Transform Our Lives."  

As Yunus explains in that book, his "on the ground" economic and social development strategies (including the simple but transformative concepts of "micro-lending" and "social business") are closely tied to the potential to achieve high levels of productive and equitable "connectivity" in the world, even in relatively poor developing countries and regions.  

Achieving this connectivity ties back once again to the integration of declining-cost and decentralized communication and energy technologies.  

The weak development and limited availability of "traditional" communications and energy infrastructures in poorer countries presents not only a challenge, but also an opportunity to leapfrog these 20th century support systems, both technologically and institutionally...and to do so largely from the ground up, as Yunus and others have demonstrated.

This, at least, is how I envision the most fruitful path of opportunity and how it relates to the current campaign cycle as well as the broader challenge suggested by Gramsci's framework.

As a final note, I think an Obama v. McCain campaign would present a fairly clear and potentially very dramatic contrast in terms of the choice we individually and collectively face with regard to moving up or down the cognitive and emotional scales.  

I'd expect this face-off to both test and strengthen the abilities of Obama, his campaign, the netroots and the American people.  I feel pretty confident we can win that phase of the war, though this week's right-wing flare-up is a reminder that there will be a very strong (and at least verbally violent) push from these entrenched sources to move the American people in downward direction in terms of the cognitive and emotional scales discussed in this thread.   This, again, highlights to me the value of Obama's "hope and inspiration" message as a key element of what's needed right now to help more and more Americans shift the momentum from downward to upward movement. But, as others have noted, it's not enough by itself, which I think is something Obama understands (though others might disagree).


Rather Than Respond At Length (0.00 / 0)
I'm going to quote and comment on some of this in my next diary--the long-delayed conclusion to the "Three Waves" diary set. (Yes, something happened IRL that I can blame the delay on... and even write about.)

The reason here is two-fold.  One is that you're hitting on a lot of important facets, and I like to give credit where credit is due.  I hadn't gotten to writing about these yet, and it just seems fitting to be dialogic about it.

The second is the lack of immediate alternatives.  The traditional media really is a terrible mess, and the only way it's likely to get better is by getting beat upside the head, badly, by new media.  I can't for the life of me understand why Clinton didn't sue ABC out the wazoo for The Path to 9/11.  That would have sent a message and then some.  But it's pretty clear that nothing like that is going to happen, so we're largely going to have to do the work from the bottom up.

So, more in the next diary.


"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
That sounds like a good plan (0.00 / 0)
I'm happy to see you take the time to integrate the responses you get into follow-up diaries. You're pretty prolific in responding directly to comments, but there are limits to how far that can go and, presumably, on how much time you can spend on any given thread.

I'd like to take the time be more organized and readable in my comments, but until that happens, I'm grateful that you keep pushing things forward and keep giving folks like me a chance to throw some thoughts into the mix, with the hope that some may find some useful role in carving a path forward.


[ Parent ]
It Seemed Pretty Well-Organized To Me! (0.00 / 0)
Don't sell yourself short, dude!

The new diary is up, so you can see how well it fit into the overall scheme.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
road blocks? (0.00 / 0)
well, i'm still struggling with the most basic ideas paul has been discussing, so i appreciate the repetition.

in the mean time, there is one thing i hope we can figure out - how to build strong progressive institutions.

The development of this consciousness has to be supplemented by the development of new institutions as well.

this, it seems to me, is a real weakness in out ability to move forward because i don't think we know how to build progressive institutions. i don't mean institutions that support progressive ideals in the larger world - i mean institutions that operate internally on progressive ideals. because i don't see how institutions can support progressive goals in the larger world (at least for more than a short period) if they are built on non-progressive, closed organizational relationships and corporate money. the temptation to "buy in" becomes too strong for most groups of people.

i'm sure there are other road blocks i'm not seeing, but this one seems like a big one to me.


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