Monthly Archives: April 2014

Mad Magazine’s Al Feldstein Dies at 88 – NYTimes.com

A profound influence upon my life…

Mad Magazine’s Al Feldstein Dies at 88 – NYTimes.com.

Mad Magazine’s Al Feldstein Dies at 88

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NEW YORK — Before “The Daily Show,” ”The Simpsons” or even “Saturday Night Live,” Al Feldstein helped show America how to laugh at authority and giggle at popular culture.

Millions of young baby boomers looked forward to that day when the new issue of Mad magazine, which Feldstein ran for 28 years, arrived in the mail or on newsstands. Alone in their room, or huddled with friends, they looked for the latest of send-up of the president or of a television commercial. They savored the mystery of the fold-in, where a topical cartoon appeared with a question on top that was answered by collapsing the page and creating a new, and often, hilarious image.

Thanks in part to Feldstein, who died Tuesday at his home in Montana at age 88, comics were more than escapes into alternate worlds of superheroes and clean-cut children. They were a funhouse tour of current events and the latest crazes. Mad was breakthrough satire for the post-World War II era — the kind of magazine Holden Caulfield of “The Catcher In the Rye” might have read, or better, might have founded.

“Basically everyone who was young between 1955 and 1975 read Mad, and that’s where your sense of humor came from,” producer Bill Oakley of “The Simpsons” later explained.

Feldstein’s reign at Mad, which began in 1956, was historic and unplanned. Publisher William M. Gaines had started Mad as a comic book four years earlier and converted it to a magazine to avoid the restrictions of the then-Comics Code and to persuade founding editor Harvey Kurtzman to stay on. But Kurtzman soon departed anyway and Gaines picked Feldstein as his replacement. Some Kurtzman admirers insisted that he had the sharper edge, but Feldstein guided Mad to mass success.

One of Feldstein’s smartest moves was to build on a character used by Kurtzman. Feldstein turned the freckle-faced Alfred E. Neuman into an underground hero — a dimwitted everyman with a gap-toothed smile and the recurring stock phrase “What, Me Worry?” Neuman’s character was used to skewer any and all, from Santa Claus to Darth Vader, and more recently in editorial cartoonists’ parodies of President George W. Bush, notably a cover image The Nation that ran soon after Bush’s election in 2000 and was captioned “Worry.”

“The skeptical generation of kids it shaped in the 1950s is the same generation that, in the 1960s, opposed a war and didn’t feel bad when the United States lost for the first time and in the 1970s helped turn out an Administration and didn’t feel bad about that either,” Tony Hiss and Jeff Lewis wrote of Mad in The New York Times in 1977.

“It was magical, objective proof to kids that they weren’t alone, that … there were people who knew that there was something wrong, phony and funny about a world of bomb shelters, brinkmanship and toothpaste smiles. Mad’s consciousness of itself, as trash, as comic book, as enemy of parents and teachers, even as money-making enterprise, thrilled kids. In 1955, such consciousness was possibly nowhere else to be found.”

Feldstein and Gaines assembled a team of artists and writers, including Dave Berg, Don Martin and Frank Jacobs, who turned out such enduring features as “Spy vs. Spy” and “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.” Fans of the magazine ranged from the poet-musician Patti Smith and activist Tom Hayden to movie critic Roger Ebert, who said Mad helped inspire him to write about film.

“Mad’s parodies made me aware of the machine inside the skin — of the way a movie might look original on the outside, while inside it was just recycling the same old dumb formulas. I did not read the magazine, I plundered it for clues to the universe,” Ebert once explained.

“The Portable Mad,” a compilation of magazine highlights edited by Feldstein in 1964, is a typical Mad sampling. Among its offerings: “Some Mad Devices for Safer Smoking” (including a “nasal exhaust fan” and “disposable lung-liner tips”); “The Mad Academy Awards for Parents” (one nominee does her “And THIS is the thanks I get!” routine); “The Lighter Side of Summer Romances;” and “Mad’s Teenage Idol Promoter of the Year” (which mocks Elvis Presley and the Beatles.)

Under Gaines and Feldstein, Mad’s sales flourished, topping 2 million in the early 1970s and not even bothering with paid advertisements until well after Feldstein had left. The magazine branched out into books, movies (the flop “Up the Academy”) and a board game, a parody of Monopoly.

But not everyone was amused.

During the Vietnam War, Mad once held a spoof contest inviting readers to submit their names to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover for an “Official Draft Dodger Card.” Feldstein said two bureau agents soon showed up at the magazine’s offices to demand an apology for “sullying” Hoover’s reputation. The magazine also attracted critics in Congress who questioned its morality, and a $25 million lawsuit in the early 1960s from music publishers who objected to the magazine’s parodies of Irving Berlin’s “Always” and other songs, a long legal process that was resolved in Mad’s favor.

“We doubt that even so eminent a composer as plaintiff Irving Berlin should be permitted to claim a property interest in iambic pentameter,” Judge Irving Kaufman wrote at the time.

By Feldstein’s retirement, in 1984, Mad had succeeded so well in influencing the culture that it no longer shocked or surprised: Circulation had dropped to less than a third of its peak, although the magazine continues to be published in local editions around the world.

Feldstein moved west from the magazine’s New York headquarters, first to Wyoming and later Montana. From a horse and llama ranch north of Yellowstone National Park, he ran a guest house and pursued his “first love” — painting wildlife, nature scenes and fantasy art and entering local art contests. In 2003, he was elected into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame, named for the celebrated cartoonist.

Born in 1925, Feldstein grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. He was a gifted cartoonist who was winning prizes in grade school and, as a teenager, at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. He got his first job in comics around the same time, working at a shop run by Eisner and Jerry Iger. One of his earliest projects was drawing background foliage for “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle,” which starred a female version of Tarzan.

Feldstein served in the military at the end of World War II, painting murals and drawing cartoons for Army newspapers. After his discharge, he freelanced for various comics before landing at Entertainment Comics, whose titles included Tales From the Crypt, Weird Science and Mad. Much of Entertainment Comics was shut down in the 1950s in part because of government pressure, but Mad soon caught on as a stand-alone magazine, willing to take on both sides of the generation gap.

“We even used to rake the hippies over the coals,” Feldstein would recall. “They were protesting the Vietnam War, but we took aspects of their culture and had fun with it. Mad was wide open. Bill loved it, and he was a capitalist Republican. I loved it, and I was a liberal Democrat.”

___

AP writer Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana contributed to this report.

As If Denying Climate Change Wasn’t Bad Enough, Heartland Institute Has Now Sinned Against George Carlin

As If Denying Climate Change Wasn’t Bad Enough, Heartland Institute Has Now Sinned Against George Carlin.

ALL BETTER NOW  11:16 am April 29, 2014

As If Denying Climate Change Wasn’t Bad Enough, Heartland Institute Has Now Sinned Against George Carlin

by Doktor Zoom

We love us some George Carlin. We can think of no higher occupation than Foole. We even love his later ranty years, those concerts where he was so thoroughly disgusted by the Damned Human Race and our institutions that it took a conscious act of will for him to go out on stage and not just howl for an hour. Which, OK, he certainly did, only he at least included some nouns and verbs. We’d like to think Carlin would have gotten a certain grim satisfaction from seeing one of his own rants remixed and brutalized by corporate pimps, because he could at least point to it and say This is exactly what I was telling you fuckers about.

This is not to say we don’t share the disgust of the Daily Kos writer who found this thoroughly bastardized George Carlin “quote” on the Facebook page of the Heartland Institute, the nice corporate-funded folks who brought us those charming “Ted Kaczynski believes in global warming” murder billboards a couple years back. It pulled a few lines from the routine up top, gave them an anti-government libertarian spin, and removed any reference to the moneyed shitheads who in a better time would have been the first up against the wall:
It's sort of 'accurate,' if you don't mind it being almost the oppposite of what Carlin actually said

We won’t reprint the full transcript that the Kos article provides; it’s really rather impressive, though, that a group so dedicated to the very sort of anti-thinking agenda that Carlin rants about in the routine would use him as an avatar of corporate libertarianism. It’s not even so much that the fake quote portrays Carlin saying “Governments don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking” instead of the actual “The big wealthy ibusiness interests don’t want that” — hell, the bit dismisses the power of government, not because government is evil, but because it was already fully purchased and neutered by the moneyed bastards under Reagan:

Forget the politicians, they’re an irrelevancy. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you.

That’s some prime late-vintage Carlin, all right.

We aren’t even so sure that the “corrected” version put together at Kos is all that much better, apart from being an accurate collection of pull-quotes from the Carlin routine:

Not nearly bleak enough, frankly

This has the benefit of being Carlin’s actual words, but without the surrounding refrain — “You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything … They’ve got you by the balls” — it seems a little bit too optimistic and hopeful, because the part of Carlin’s rant that both versions leave out is that this isn’t gonna change:

And, now, they’re coming for your Social Security. They want your fucking retirement money. They want it back, so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They’ll get it. They’ll get it all, sooner or later, because they own this fucking place. It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it. You and I are not in the big club.

This country is finished.

Carlin was not big on the hope and change thing; not because he distrusted government, but because he had an abiding disgust for people in power and not a lot of hope that anything would improve. He was way beyond any solace from communing with tortoises in the desert, and had maybe even given up on the idea that satire could help, except perhaps to make the bad shit a little easier to bear.

For their part, we should probably mention that this chopped-up Carlin quote did not originate with the corporate whores at the Heartland Institute — they just found an image macro that is all over the web in nine million versions, with “government” as the bad guy every single time. It just appeared to match their agenda. Once they got a virtual earful from Carlin fans, they posted an apology that Carlin would have loved tearing into:

A recent post on this Facebook page has caused some controversy. We posted an image of George Carlin along with a quote attributed to him. We discovered, thanks to the diligence of Carlin fans following us that the quote was taken out of context.

In addition to producing extensive original commentary, we attempt to serve as a clearing house for interesting and informative quotations and thoughts by academics, statesmen, and other public figures. It was through that latter endeavor that we came across the quotation in question. Ordinarily we check carefully to establish the veracity of these posts before reusing them, but in this instance we failed to do so.

Our intention is always to provide accurate quotes and information, and we acknowledge our failure in this instance. We did not design the meme we posted, but because we did post it, we own it. We apologize for the error.

Oh, also, we like to make up complete bullshit about climate change. Sorry about that, too.

Anyway, one instance of a bogus George Carlin quote has been removed. Victory is surely at hand.

[Daily Kos / Facebook via Daily Kos]

Follow Doktor Zoom on Twitter. He likes tortoises.

Read more at http://wonkette.com/547827/as-if-denying-climate-change-wasnt-bad-enough-heartland-institute-has-now-sinned-against-george-carlin#C00zUvLCbcZCveOg.99

ALL BETTER NOW  11:16 am April 29, 2014

As If Denying Climate Change Wasn’t Bad Enough, Heartland Institute Has Now Sinned Against George Carlin

by Doktor Zoom

We love us some George Carlin. We can think of no higher occupation than Foole. We even love his later ranty years, those concerts where he was so thoroughly disgusted by the Damned Human Race and our institutions that it took a conscious act of will for him to go out on stage and not just howl for an hour. Which, OK, he certainly did, only he at least included some nouns and verbs. We’d like to think Carlin would have gotten a certain grim satisfaction from seeing one of his own rants remixed and brutalized by corporate pimps, because he could at least point to it and say This is exactly what I was telling you fuckers about.

This is not to say we don’t share the disgust of the Daily Kos writer who found this thoroughly bastardized George Carlin “quote” on the Facebook page of the Heartland Institute, the nice corporate-funded folks who brought us those charming “Ted Kaczynski believes in global warming” murder billboards a couple years back. It pulled a few lines from the routine up top, gave them an anti-government libertarian spin, and removed any reference to the moneyed shitheads who in a better time would have been the first up against the wall:
It's sort of 'accurate,' if you don't mind it being almost the oppposite of what Carlin actually said

We won’t reprint the full transcript that the Kos article provides; it’s really rather impressive, though, that a group so dedicated to the very sort of anti-thinking agenda that Carlin rants about in the routine would use him as an avatar of corporate libertarianism. It’s not even so much that the fake quote portrays Carlin saying “Governments don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking” instead of the actual “The big wealthy ibusiness interests don’t want that” — hell, the bit dismisses the power of government, not because government is evil, but because it was already fully purchased and neutered by the moneyed bastards under Reagan:

Forget the politicians, they’re an irrelevancy. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you.

That’s some prime late-vintage Carlin, all right.

We aren’t even so sure that the “corrected” version put together at Kos is all that much better, apart from being an accurate collection of pull-quotes from the Carlin routine:

Not nearly bleak enough, frankly

This has the benefit of being Carlin’s actual words, but without the surrounding refrain — “You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything … They’ve got you by the balls” — it seems a little bit too optimistic and hopeful, because the part of Carlin’s rant that both versions leave out is that this isn’t gonna change:

And, now, they’re coming for your Social Security. They want your fucking retirement money. They want it back, so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They’ll get it. They’ll get it all, sooner or later, because they own this fucking place. It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it. You and I are not in the big club.

This country is finished.

Carlin was not big on the hope and change thing; not because he distrusted government, but because he had an abiding disgust for people in power and not a lot of hope that anything would improve. He was way beyond any solace from communing with tortoises in the desert, and had maybe even given up on the idea that satire could help, except perhaps to make the bad shit a little easier to bear.

For their part, we should probably mention that this chopped-up Carlin quote did not originate with the corporate whores at the Heartland Institute — they just found an image macro that is all over the web in nine million versions, with “government” as the bad guy every single time. It just appeared to match their agenda. Once they got a virtual earful from Carlin fans, they posted an apology that Carlin would have loved tearing into:

A recent post on this Facebook page has caused some controversy. We posted an image of George Carlin along with a quote attributed to him. We discovered, thanks to the diligence of Carlin fans following us that the quote was taken out of context.

In addition to producing extensive original commentary, we attempt to serve as a clearing house for interesting and informative quotations and thoughts by academics, statesmen, and other public figures. It was through that latter endeavor that we came across the quotation in question. Ordinarily we check carefully to establish the veracity of these posts before reusing them, but in this instance we failed to do so.

Our intention is always to provide accurate quotes and information, and we acknowledge our failure in this instance. We did not design the meme we posted, but because we did post it, we own it. We apologize for the error.

Oh, also, we like to make up complete bullshit about climate change. Sorry about that, too.

Anyway, one instance of a bogus George Carlin quote has been removed. Victory is surely at hand.

[Daily Kos / Facebook via Daily Kos]

Follow Doktor Zoom on Twitter. He likes tortoises.

Read more at http://wonkette.com/547827/as-if-denying-climate-change-wasnt-bad-enough-heartland-institute-has-now-sinned-against-george-carlin#C00zUvLCbcZCveOg.99

ALL BETTER NOW  11:16 am April 29, 2014

As If Denying Climate Change Wasn’t Bad Enough, Heartland Institute Has Now Sinned Against George Carlin

by Doktor Zoom

We love us some George Carlin. We can think of no higher occupation than Foole. We even love his later ranty years, those concerts where he was so thoroughly disgusted by the Damned Human Race and our institutions that it took a conscious act of will for him to go out on stage and not just howl for an hour. Which, OK, he certainly did, only he at least included some nouns and verbs. We’d like to think Carlin would have gotten a certain grim satisfaction from seeing one of his own rants remixed and brutalized by corporate pimps, because he could at least point to it and say This is exactly what I was telling you fuckers about.

This is not to say we don’t share the disgust of the Daily Kos writer who found this thoroughly bastardized George Carlin “quote” on the Facebook page of the Heartland Institute, the nice corporate-funded folks who brought us those charming “Ted Kaczynski believes in global warming” murder billboards a couple years back. It pulled a few lines from the routine up top, gave them an anti-government libertarian spin, and removed any reference to the moneyed shitheads who in a better time would have been the first up against the wall:
It's sort of 'accurate,' if you don't mind it being almost the oppposite of what Carlin actually said

We won’t reprint the full transcript that the Kos article provides; it’s really rather impressive, though, that a group so dedicated to the very sort of anti-thinking agenda that Carlin rants about in the routine would use him as an avatar of corporate libertarianism. It’s not even so much that the fake quote portrays Carlin saying “Governments don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking” instead of the actual “The big wealthy ibusiness interests don’t want that” — hell, the bit dismisses the power of government, not because government is evil, but because it was already fully purchased and neutered by the moneyed bastards under Reagan:

Forget the politicians, they’re an irrelevancy. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you.

That’s some prime late-vintage Carlin, all right.

We aren’t even so sure that the “corrected” version put together at Kos is all that much better, apart from being an accurate collection of pull-quotes from the Carlin routine:

Not nearly bleak enough, frankly

This has the benefit of being Carlin’s actual words, but without the surrounding refrain — “You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything … They’ve got you by the balls” — it seems a little bit too optimistic and hopeful, because the part of Carlin’s rant that both versions leave out is that this isn’t gonna change:

And, now, they’re coming for your Social Security. They want your fucking retirement money. They want it back, so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They’ll get it. They’ll get it all, sooner or later, because they own this fucking place. It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it. You and I are not in the big club.

This country is finished.

Carlin was not big on the hope and change thing; not because he distrusted government, but because he had an abiding disgust for people in power and not a lot of hope that anything would improve. He was way beyond any solace from communing with tortoises in the desert, and had maybe even given up on the idea that satire could help, except perhaps to make the bad shit a little easier to bear.

For their part, we should probably mention that this chopped-up Carlin quote did not originate with the corporate whores at the Heartland Institute — they just found an image macro that is all over the web in nine million versions, with “government” as the bad guy every single time. It just appeared to match their agenda. Once they got a virtual earful from Carlin fans, they posted an apology that Carlin would have loved tearing into:

A recent post on this Facebook page has caused some controversy. We posted an image of George Carlin along with a quote attributed to him. We discovered, thanks to the diligence of Carlin fans following us that the quote was taken out of context.

In addition to producing extensive original commentary, we attempt to serve as a clearing house for interesting and informative quotations and thoughts by academics, statesmen, and other public figures. It was through that latter endeavor that we came across the quotation in question. Ordinarily we check carefully to establish the veracity of these posts before reusing them, but in this instance we failed to do so.

Our intention is always to provide accurate quotes and information, and we acknowledge our failure in this instance. We did not design the meme we posted, but because we did post it, we own it. We apologize for the error.

Oh, also, we like to make up complete bullshit about climate change. Sorry about that, too.

Anyway, one instance of a bogus George Carlin quote has been removed. Victory is surely at hand.

[Daily Kos / Facebook via Daily Kos]

Follow Doktor Zoom on Twitter. He likes tortoises.

Read more at http://wonkette.com/547827/as-if-denying-climate-change-wasnt-bad-enough-heartland-institute-has-now-sinned-against-george-carlin#C00zUvLCbcZCveOg.99

Rights Are for People Like Us | The Weekly Sift

Rights Are for People Like Us | The Weekly Sift.

Rights Are for People Like Us

Those high-flown principles put forward by the militiamen defending Cliven Bundy’s rights … do they apply to anybody else?


The best summaries I’ve seen of the conflict between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal Bureau of Land Management are from the local St. George News and the Washington Post. Cutting it down somewhat: the BLM charges that Bundy has been grazing his cattle on public land without paying grazing and tresspass fees for 20 years. (They got their first court order telling him to stop in 1998; he ignored it.) The claimed fees now amount to over $1 million, and so April 5 the BLM started seizing some of Bundy’s illegally grazing cattle.

Self-appointed defender of Freedom.

Armed militiamen who support Bundy started gathering at a camp on April 10, and on April 12 the BLM backed down after what the Las Vegas Review-Journal described as “a 20-minute standoff … [w]ith rifles pointing toward each side”. The BLM released a statement:

Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public.

The Bundy Ranch blog described the scene like this:

The result was a group of Bundy’s family members and supporters making a slow advance on a line of armed agents who kept ordering them to halt. At one point, the protesters were even told “one more step and you’re dead,” but the group kept coming, eventually walking easily through the line of federal agents and SWAT members who obviously didn’t have the courage of their convictions. According to InfoWars, the BLM had already announced it was leaving, but the county sheriff refused Bundy’s demand to disarm the federal agents and return his cattle. Within about a half hour, the cattle were released from the federal pen.

In other words, federal agents tried to enforce the law, were met with armed resistance from a mob, and decided to temporize rather than start killing people. On the extreme Right, this was celebrated as a victory for Freedom. Bundy’s son said, “The people have the power when they unite. The war has just begun.”

And the mainstream Right went along. The Powerline blog wrote “Why You Should Be Sympathetic Toward Cliven Bundy” while admitting “legally, Bundy doesn’t have a leg to stand on.” National Review‘s Kevin Williamson made “The Case for a Little Sedition“, saying

Of course the law is against Cliven Bundy. How could it be otherwise? The law was against Mohandas Gandhi, too

Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano described the BLM (and not the miltiamen) as “a group of thugs dressed in military uniform with loaded M16s pointed at a rancher and his family.” Fox News produced this sympathetic segment, in which National Review editor Rich Lowry described the resistance as “in the finest American tradition of civil disobedience going back to Henry David Thoreau.”

To me, the Bundy incident has captured much of the basic sickness of conservatism in America: The rhetoric is full of high principle, but it’s hard to find any actual principle that would apply to anyone other than People Like Us — people like the people who belong to the conservative fringe.

It’s tempting to characterize this kind of thing as racism. Certainly that’s what the NYT’s Timothy Egan is suggesting with:

If you changed that picture to Black Panthers surrounding a lawful eviction in the inner city, do you think right-wing media would be there cheering the outlaws?

But it’s more subtle than that. Probably a black man who behaved like a far-fringe-rightist in all other ways could become People Like Us and come to have similar “rights” recognized. But the Black Panthers are clearly not People Like Us, so it would be an absolute horror if they were to arm themselves and resist the law. Likewise, it would be a horror if a Hispanic militia decided to liberate one of Sheriff Arpaio’s detention camps for immigrants. If some miltiamen got killed in such an attempt, I doubt Fox News would lament about “government overreach”. The Occupy protesters weren’t People Like Us, so they could be thrown off public land with impunity. Imagine the outrage if Occupy had militarized Zuccotti Park!

One of the reasons Bundy is supposed to deserve sympathy is that “his family has been ranching on the acres at issue since the late 19th century”. You can imagine how far similar sympathy would extend if armed Native Americans were threatening to kill whites over land their people had been hunting and fishing on for thousands of years. Hispanics have been wandering back and forth across the Rio Grande for centuries, but if they do it today, we have to enforce the Rule of Law. If people get killed, well, so be it.

But not People Like Us. When we feel wronged and take up arms, everyone should sympathize, the government should show restraint, and the media should re-litigate our case to the general public.

A number of Bundy’s sympathizers are rehashing the bizarre claims he has made in court: that the federal government can’t own land inside a state, or that the federal government is itself illegitimate. Bundy repeatedly refers to the federal government’s ownership as “unconstitutional”, probably because his reading of the Constitution never got as far as Article IV:

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States

This is why we have courts, to adjudicate disputes like this. Bundy made his argument in court and lost. Most people don’t then get to appeal their case to the Court of Nuts With Guns. But People Like Us do.

Whenever Bundy supporters are given media time, I would like to see them challenged to state their position in such a way that they would support similar rights for people not at all like them and not already part of the conservative movement. And I’d like to see mainstream conservative pundits confronted with a different challenge: Are there any limits to what you will support if the people doing it are on your side?

Is it possible to be a Jewish intellectual?

http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-features/.premium-1.585401

Is it possible to be a Jewish intellectual?

How do concepts such as ‘ahavat Israel’ and ‘solidarity for the Jewish people’ square with the need for intellectuals to remain detached from their national or religious group to retain their moral integrity?

Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt Photo by AP

 

In a famous exchange between Gershom Scholem and Hannah Arendt, the scholar of Jewish mysticism accused the political theorist of not having enough “ahavat Israel” (love for the Jewish nation and people). What did Arendt do to deserve such a supreme insult? She had written a series of articles for The New Yorker on the Eichmann trial, published in 1963 as a short book called “Eichmann in Jerusalem.”

In what turned out to be one of the most famous reports of any trial, Arendt indicted the Jews who had aided the Nazis, the Judenräte, claiming there would have been fewer dead people had the Jewish leaders not been accomplices to the demands of the Nazis. She also indicted the State of Israel for turning the event into a show trial and missing the new legal category that Eichmann’s crime represented. Mostly, though, she seemed to let Eichmann off the hook of “radical evil” too easily, viewing his actions as the somewhat benign consequence of an inability to think for himself and understand the nature of his words and actions. (Her famous expression “the banality of evil” suggested that evil could be of an invisible and pervasive variety, coming not from diabolical psychological makeup, but from ordinary failures of thought, from the incapacity to think independently about what a moral action is, and from the habit of following orders.) In other words, instead of displaying what we would have expected from a Jew on such an occasion – undiluted horror at Eichmann’s deeds; unreserved compassion for the moral dilemmas of the Jewish leaders who dealt with the Nazis; solidarity with the State of Israel – Arendt analyzed each one with a cold sense of truth and justice, and blurred the moral terms in which these had been hitherto judged by the public.

This, Scholem claimed, in a letter he wrote to Arendt on June 23, 1963, made Arendt’s intellectual position point to a lack of love for Israel. “So why does your book then leave behind such a feeling of bitterness and shame, and not with respect to that which is reported, but with respect to the reporter?” he wrote. “Why does your report cover over to such a large extent that which is brought forward in that book, which you rightly wanted to recommend for reflection? The answer, insofar as I have one, and which I cannot suppress, precisely because I esteem you so highly … [is] what stands between us in this matter … is the heartless, the downright malicious tone you employ in dealing with the topic that so profoundly concerns the center of our life [the Holocaust]. There is something in the Jewish language that is completely indefinable, yet fully concrete – what the Jews call ahavat Israel, love for the Jews. With you, my dear Hannah, as with so many intellectuals coming from the German left, there is no trace of it. I don’t have sympathy for the style of lightheartedness, I mean the English ‘flippancy,’ which you muster all too often … in your book. It is unimaginably unbefitting for the matter of which you speak … Was there really no place, at such an occasion, for what one might name with the modest German word Herzenstakt? [‘duty of the heart’].”

Scholem’s response goes to the heart of what we may call the problem of the Jewish critique today. Scholem, like Arendt, had supported the idea of a binational state, yet here he reacted like other Zionist Jews, with dismay and anger. Scholem interpreted Arendt’s indictment of the Judenräte and of Israel as the expression of inappropriate, infuriating distance, and even, in his own words, “malice” and “heartlessness” (he could hardly have found worse accusations). Tone, then, is not a matter of opinion (they shared the same opinions); rather, it is what we pay attention to in those from whom we expect love and commitment.

Arendt’s tone, Scholem suggested, lacked a priori closeness to the Jewish people, and such a tone is inappropriate in occasions in which the right thing is to refrain from telling all the truth, because there are moments when telling the truth should be subsumed under a duty of the heart. Scholem did not call for self-censorship, only for the same sense of appropriateness that makes us not talk about the defects of someone during his or her funeral. When so many are still mourning, stubborn truthfulness amounts to a sneer.

Arendt was not intimidated and did not spare him in her answer: “How right you are that I have no such love, and for two reasons: First, I have never in my life ‘loved’ some nation or collective – not the German, French or American nation, or the working class, or whatever else might exist. The fact is that I love only my friends and am quite incapable of any other sort of love. Second, this kind of love for the Jews would seem suspect to me, since I am Jewish myself. I don’t love myself or anything I know that belongs to the substance of my being … [T]he magnificence of this people once lay in its belief in God – that is, in the way its trust and love of God far outweighed its fear of God. And now this people believes only in itself? In this sense I don’t love the Jews, nor do I ‘believe’ in them.”

To Arendt’s ears, Scholem’s love of the Jewish people sounded like a call to collective narcissism. We now know she erred on many important facts central to her thesis; but facts would not have altered her basic and deep suspicion of “the nonreflexive, self-celebratory nature of group affiliations,” as historian Steven E. Aschheim put it. Thus, even if Scholem and Arendt had both supported Brit Shalom (a group which, in the 1920s and ’30s, favored Arab-Jewish coexistence in Palestine), here they parted company, precisely on the question of how close to the Jewish people Arendt’s tone of speech should be.

To better grasp what should strike us here, let me refer to another debate, one that had taken place just a few years earlier in France, where another intellectual’s position had also generated a storm. Upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm in 1957, Albert Camus was interviewed by an Arab student about his positions on the Algerian war. He famously answered, “People are now planting bombs in the tramways of Algiers. My mother might be on one of those tramways. If that is justice, then I prefer my mother.”

Camus’ statement provoked a ruckus in French intellectual circles. As Norman Podhoretz wrote, “When he declared that he chose his mother above justice, he was, as [Conor Cruise] O’Brien puts it, choosing ‘his own tribe’ against an abstract ideal of universal justice. A greater heresy against the dogmas of the left is hard to imagine.”

Indeed, since the Dreyfus affair, at the end of the 19th century, intellectuals’ intervention in the public sphere had been defined by their claim to universality, a position that remained unchanged throughout the 20th century. Another commentator, Andrew Hussey, emphasized the point in a Literary Review article: “[Camus’] impassioned statement [about choosing his mother over justice] has been held up by generations of anti-colonialists and academic post-colonialist theorists – including the likes of Edward Said – as proof of Camus’s weak-mindedness and vacillating nature and, by extension, colonial arrogance toward Algeria.”

I evoke here Camus’ example only to better highlight how the position of the contemporary Jewish intellectual differs from what we may call the position of the intellectual in Europe. What was anathema to the European intellectual – to defend one’s group and family against competing universal claims – is, in fact, what is routinely expected from the Jewish intellectual – by which I mean not only the intellectual of Jewish origins, but the one who engages in a dialogue with his/her community.

I am, of course, perfectly aware there is a wide range of positions in the Jewish intellectual world – from the Zionist to the anti-Zionist via the religious Zionist and the liberal-secular. And yet within this diversity, there are structural constraints, push-and-pull forces that make the position of the Jewish intellectual somewhat unique. In trying to reflect on this position and its constraints, I will adopt Julien Benda’s definition of an intellectual. His 1927 treatise “The Betrayal of the Intellectuals” argued that intellectuals ought to remain above the fray of ordinary politics, and that detachment from one’s national, religious or ethnic group was the condition for the intellectual’s capacity to keep his moral integrity. That is because moral integrity, for Benda, is defined by universal values, which one can represent only by detachment from a particularist, national membership to a group.

Arendt’s dismissal of ahavat Israel runs even deeper than her distaste for collective narcissism. It threatened what Arendt, and many other thinkers before her, defined as the very essence of thinking: namely, independence of mind. In the same letter to Scholem, without even trying to hide her sense of superiority, she averred: “What confuses you is that my arguments and my approach are different from what you are used to; in other words, the trouble is that I am independent. By this I mean, on the one hand, that I do not belong to any organization and always speak only for myself. And on the other hand, that I have great confidence in [Gotthold] Lessing’s selbstdenken [thinking for oneself] for which, I think, no ideology, no public opinion, and no ‘convictions’ can ever be a substitute. Whatever objections you may have to the results, you won’t understand them unless you realize that they are really my own and nobody else’s.”

For Arendt, as for many other Enlightenment thinkers, the possibility of knowing the truth depended on the possibility of thinking on one’s own, unimpeded by prejudices and traditions. This independence gave her a crucial right: not to address the special historical situation of the Jewish people. If true thinking is defined by its independence, it must disregard the needs of her audience or group of reference. That is because remaining within the compass of a group’s own preoccupations would threaten the thinker’s capacity to withdraw from the world in a disinterested way. Arendt coined a striking expression to speak about such activity of thinking: “disinterested intelligence” – the capacity to detach oneself from one’s self-determinations and identity, to understand and judge the world from numerous perspectives, from outside oneself.

Scholem was right: Arendt adopted the position that was most familiar to European Jewish intellectuals who had been, by and large, opposed to nationalism and for whom universalism and Lessing’s selbstdenken were almost synonymous: to think for oneself was to be a universalist, because it presupposed the capacity to see and understand humanity at large rather than to espouse the point of view of a specific group. Groups had narrow interests, and could only blunt the sharpness of disinterested intelligence.

Even more than non-Jews, Jews had a fraught relationship with patriotism and nationalism, whose histories had run on parallel tracks to the history of racism. Moreover, the extension of universal rights had been the quickest road for the Jews to achieve equality in their national contexts. As the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman wrote, “Universality is the war-cry of the underprivileged … [and] Jews were underprivileged.”

But as Arendt would experience firsthand, the question of group solidarity came to haunt the Jewish intellectual with a new insistence, because of the two most important events of Jewish history of the last millennium: the Holocaust and the creation of the Jewish state. As an imagined community, the Jews reorganized themselves around a new geographical and political center – Israel – and around a new temporal axis – the memory of the Shoah – making the universalist position that the Jewish intellectual had hitherto taken far more difficult to hold.

Even if some Jews remained universalists, from the 1960s onward, that universalism faced the two highly particularist demands of the State of Israel and the memorialization of the Shoah, and both renewed and even intensified the claims of ahavat Israel. As historian Pierre Birnbaum wrote, “[A] long history is probably coming to an end: that of the encounter of the Jews and the Enlightenment, conceived strictly on the universalist mode.”

Arendt’s refusal to respond to the needs of her group and the fury her positions generated is only one of the many occurrences in a long list of hostile reactions by the organized Jewish community to critique, defined here as a sustained questioning of a group’s beliefs and practices. (For a superb discussion of these issues, see Idith Zertal’s 2005 book “Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood.”) In fact, over the last 30 years, one of the favorite exercises of various representatives of Jewish and Israeli communities has been to unmask the hidden anti-Zionist or anti-Jewish tenets of critique. I am not saying some of the critiques of Israel may not be motivated by anti-Semitism.I simply note that the suspicion of critique has become an elaborate cultural and intellectual genre in the Jewish world.

Given that many of the members of that Jewish community do not profess strict religious dogma (and are thus dissimilar from the Muslims who issue fatwas against their intellectuals), this raises a puzzle. Why have moderately religious Jewish communities become so reluctant to perform what has characterized the ordinary task of intellectuals since Socrates: namely, to criticize and question the assumptions of their group in the name of universals? Why has it become so palpably difficult to criticize Israel or Jewish communities, even when Israel engages in blatant “marches of folly”? Scholem’s anger offers a hint: To be admissible, critique (of the Jewish people) must produce a code of love and solidarity.

The politics of solidarity

For sociologists, solidarity is an ordinary feature of any group, it is situated in the many rituals through which people act as members of a group, be it a tribe, a large country, or a university (public holidays, anthems, distinctive food or clothing style all mark group membership and solidarity). Ahavat Israel is a form of solidarity, but slightly differs from it. For one, it is an explicitly formulated injunction to love one’s group, whereas ordinary solidarity is invisibly embedded in social relations. The Talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva made the injunction of loving one’s neighbor into a rule, and his interpreters (Hazal, the sages) interpreted that rule as a commandment to love the close neighbor, the Jew. That interpretation became institutionalized in the 12th century by Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah.

There is another difference between solidarity and ahavat Israel: the historical context of Rabbi Akiva’s injunction was the destruction of the Temple and the growing conflict between different Jewish sects, the persecution of Jews, the Second Diaspora, and the rise of Christianity. In that sense, ahavat Israel was more than solidarity. It was a self-conscious attempt to overcome divisiveness through the imperative of loving a threatened metaphysical, transhistorical and trans-geographical entity called the Jewish people. I would call ahavat Israel a form of hyper-solidarity, an imperative that was all the more moral in that it invited one to consciously, actively love one’s group and to protect it from self-destructive divisiveness and the threats of others.

Cultural values can perpetuate themselves when they are institutionalized and reproduced in organizations. In becoming institutionalized, values become also ways of generating feelings (think, for example, of the “love of one’s country,” which remains abstract until it is institutionalized in concrete practices). Counterintuitively, I would argue that the imperative of ahavat Israel intensified in the period after World War II by way of three major institutions: the structure of American politics; the memorialization of the Holocaust; and Zionism.

1.

What is conventionally called the Israel Lobby – arguably the strongest one in American politics, along with the National Rifle Association – was the result of the encounter of the powerful cultural value of ahavat Israel with two key institutional features of American society: the fact that American politics is organized into interest groups; and the fact that immigrant minorities could legitimately hyphenate their citizenship (these two conditions are, for example, absent in France).

The Israel Lobby started exercising its power on American politics with the Truman administration (see Jerome Slater’s blog for an in-depth discussion of John Judis’ book “Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict”), and basically went from strength to strength with the following administrations, enforcing everywhere the idea that American Jews had a natural bond of solidarity with Israel, and creating a powerful politics of solidarity through organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and myriad other networks, both philanthropic and Zionist (e.g., one-year study programs at Israeli universities, Taglit-Birthright trips, the Hadassah organization, the Hillel organization on American campuses, and many others). John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s widely derided book “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” (2007) has exposed what it views as the detrimental effects of such lobbying on American foreign interests.

But my point here is different: The Israel lobby institutionalized ahavat Israel in the space of American politics. Once it became institutionalized, it became a powerful, invisible, unspoken assumption of organized American-Jewish politics. In Mearsheimer and Walt’s original essay, published in the London Review of Books in March 2006, they quote an activist from a major Jewish organization: “It is routine for us [Jews] to say, ‘This is our policy on a certain issue, but we must check what the Israelis think.’ We as a community do it all the time.” Mearsheimer and Walt reported that when Edgar Bronfman – then president of the World Jewish Congress – wrote a letter to President George W. Bush in mid-2003, urging him to intervenewith Israel’s project to build a “security fence,” his move was deemed “obscene” by members of the Jewish community. In the eyes of many, the only function that the president of the World Jewish Congress should have is to lobby the president of the United States to support policies of the Israeli government.

Clearly, then, the organized American-Jewish community translated ahavat Israel into the prime form of political expression. Such imperative of solidarity brings with it the injunction to not oppose or express publicly disagreement with official Jewish bodies. Rabbi Dr. David Luchins – who had been a Senate staff member for three decades – said it was “devastating” for American Jews to criticize Israeli policies “in front of U.S. politicians” or in ads in The New York Times. (Haaretz, August 2, 2004). The expression “in front of” reveals an unconscious and deep division between an in-group back stage, and a front-stage of non-Jews, a high “in-group” awareness, an inner injunction that the inside should be protected from the outside, an imperative of solidarity, and a belief that public critique fissures the strength of a vulnerable group. This basic in-group/out-group division in turn creates transnational bonds of solidarity and extends to world Jewry at large.

2.

The second element that played an enormous role in the consolidation of Jewish solidarity in conditions of modernity was the institutionalization of the memory of the Holocaust. Sometime during the 1970s and ’80s, liberal societies became increasingly uncomfortable with their colonial past and of the pan-European persecution of the Jews. They engaged in a politics of memorialization, recognizing through public apologies and rituals of memory the suffering that European powers had inflicted on their colonial minorities and on the Jews. Such political recognition of liberal societies resonated with changes within Jewish communities after World War II, who reorganized their identity around non-religious values.

The memory of the Shoah became a source of secular identity for Jews, and was accentuated by the universalization of the Holocaust by liberal societies (non-Jews started appropriating the memory of the Shoah to promote their own universal values). The centrality of the Shoah for Jewish identity is largely confirmed by an October 2013 Pew Research Center survey, which asked young American Jews to define their Jewish identity. A staggering 73 percent answered that remembering the Holocaust was an essential part of their Jewish identity. Thus, the collective memory of the Shoah generated solidarity by becoming a form of, or a part of, Jewish identity.

More than that, memory quickly became a devoir de memoire – a moral duty to remember, commemorate, identify with Jewish history. This memory in turn connected Jews to a central element of the moral vocabulary of modern societies: the victim.

Victims (of political regimes, massacres, traumas, disasters) have become the central and uncontested moral figure of the post-1960s political culture, ironically helping Jews find the moral status they had lacked in a European culture that had, for centuries, demonized them. The exercise of memory had further and more subtle implications on Jewish solidarity. Through a displacement that is frequent in the collective unconscious of peoples and nations, Arab countries – which did not initially recognize the State of Israel and launched their own aggressive wars against it – would slowly replace the Germans’ threat to annihilate the Jews.

Germany had become one of the most liberal countries in the world, had done a considerable amount of symbolic memorialization of the genocide they undertook, as well as taking financial responsibility for it, and was thus no longer a target of Jewish fear and mistrust. Arabs, however – who cultivated their own brand of anti-Semitism inside and outside Arab nations (see, for example, the virulent species of Muslim anti-Semitism currently in vogue in France) – could become the New Germans: the entity that for Jews now threatened to annihilate them. Drawing a straight historical line between the Nazis and the Arabs, fear constituted a strong axis of solidarity for Jews around the world.

3.

The third and final element that turned solidarity into the prime emotional and political motif of world Jewish communities was Zionism itself. As a nationalist ideology, Zionism became somewhat anomalous: Instead of ending with the creation of the state, it only gained in strength and scope. In fact, it became an ongoing project of identification, membership and belonging for Jews around the world, both inside and outside Israel. Through the wide-ranging and far-reaching activities of the Jewish Agency and myriad youth movements deployed in the Diaspora, Zionism extended its activities far beyond the borders of Israel, long after the creation of the state in 1948.

Zionism became a permanent and transnational nationalist practice, creating and incessantly activating the conditions for identification with Israel among Jews. In that sense, it made belonging into a permanent condition of being Jewish, produced and reproduced by a large amount of Jewish institutions, events and organizations (the Jewish Agency, gala events, support for the Israel Defense Forces, philanthropic events, the very concept of aliyah and “return,” etc.). As Faisal Devji argues in “Muslim Zion,” his 2013 book about the making of Pakistan, “Zion is a political form rather than a holy land, one that rejects hereditary linkages between ethnicity and soil in favor of membership based on nothing but an idea of belonging.”

My point is this: Beyond the real plurality of positions and interests that make up the Jewish community, the imperative of hyper-solidarity has been the dominant political ethos and pathos of contemporary organized Jewry. To paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz’s famous words, for the Jews, hyper-solidarity has been politics by other means.

This is in sharp contrast to traditional forms of politics, which preoccupy themselves with questions of representation, limitations of power, the relationship between rulers and ruled, etc. The politics of hyper-solidarity, and hyper-solidarity as politics, are so deeply entrenched in Jewish liturgy, in philanthropic networks, in collective memory, in institutions linking Israel and the Diaspora communities, it has come to define and even overwhelm the moral, existential and epistemic reality of Jews, the filter through which questions of morality and truth are thought of and decided.

What obstructs the realization that solidarity and belonging have been political strategies and a source of political strength is that solidarity is always a work of love, a moral enterprise and, by and large, we do not have a political vocabulary to criticize love. This double characteristic of solidarity – it is a source of both power and moral identity – explains why it is more difficult for the Jewish critic to find an institutional niche inside organized Jewish communities, why critique cannot be proffered. Rather, what is audible inside the organized Jewish community is only a critique that affirms its basic identification with, and love of, the Jews and Israel.

A few examples come to mind. Ari Shavit’s recent book, evocatively titled “My Promised Land,” discusses the Nakba (“catastrophe” – what the Palestinians call their expulsion by the Jews when Israel was created), but still vehemently affirms and reaffirms throughout its unwavering commitment and love for the State of Israel. Or think of the efforts by American-Jewish liberals to show that their liberalism is an emanation of (presumably universalist) Jewish values rooted in the Bible, as if humanist and liberal values unconnected to Jewishness would disqualify their legitimacy. Or J Street, a liberal organization that defines itself as a political alternative to AIPAC. Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder and chair of J Street, declared on the inauguration of the organization: “The party and the viewpoint that we’re closest to in Israeli politics is actually Kadima.”

In other words, if an organization calling itself an alternative to the mainstream Jewish networks of solidarity defines its views on foreign policy as being closest to a party founded by members of Likud, such an organization clearly aims to consciously remain within the orbit and compass of Israeli conventional politics.

These examples help us ask the following question: Why is it so difficult to criticize Israel from a greater distance? Why is critical detachment so difficult?

Solidarity vs. Truth

In his 1983 lectures on “Discourse and Truth,” French philosopher Michel Foucault became interested in an astonishing form of speech, which he called “parrhetic.” Parrhesia is that quality of speech whose impulse is to say the truth (and not, for example, to conceal, or to persuade or to want power). How do we know its impulse is to say the truth? Because telling the truth endangers the speaker, puts him/her at risk of being banished by his/her community or the sovereign. Parrhesia is the fearless speech one utters to someone who in turn has the possibility of punishing him/her for telling the truth (punishment can be real or symbolic).

Because of this danger, Foucault argues that between the sovereign and the truth-speaker, a “parrhesiastic contract” is forged. This contract, he explained, “became relatively important in the political life of rulers in the Greco-Roman world” and consisted of the following: “The sovereign, the one who has power but lacks the truth, addresses himself to the one who has the truth but lacks power, and tells him: ‘If you tell me the truth, no matter what this truth turns out to be, you won’t be punished; and those who are responsible for any injustices will be punished, but not those who speak the truth about such injustices.’”

Parrhetic speech appeared to be an important element of Athenian democracy, both for the rulers and citizens. It later became the mark of the wise sovereign, the one who was able to listen to the hard truths told by his adviser (as opposed to the foolish rulers who do not listen to difficult truths).

Let me offer what can be nothing more than a speculation here: For most of their long history, Jews have not enjoyed political sovereignty, and thus did not develop cultural and political models for parrhetic contracts – by which the sovereign forgoes his power and listens to the truth (in other words, hears the critique of his power). While the image of the biblical prophet could have provided a model of parrhetic speech, its possible legacy was never exploited in the context of a politics of critique.

On the contrary: Because exclusion and the halakha (Jewish religious law) forced on Jews a communal life contained within well-drawn ethnic and religious boundaries, preoccupied with the purity of Jewish blood, manifestations of solidarity were of paramount importance and substituted for politics. Moreover, after the 17th century fiasco of the false messianism of Shabbetai Zvi, Jewish communities became far more preoccupied with the false speech that pretends to say the truth, rather than with the question of the conditions for true speech. Let me offer the hypothesis that these two elements made cultural models of parrhetic contracts far less dominant in Jewish culture than in the non-Jewish one.

Parrhesia is a speech that claims to say the truth, but changes its object according to the domain in which it is exercised. Sometimes it can be opposed to, say, Apollo’s silence; sometimes to the will of the people itself (as when one opposes demagoguery, or the flattery of the majority); and sometimes, as with Socrates, parrhesia is, as Foucault explains, “opposed to self-ignorance and the false teachings of the sophists.” Parrhetic speech does not always speak the same truth, but it speaks the truth that a specific community or sovereign does not want to hear.

Following Foucault’s concepts, we may say then that the parrhetic speech of the Jewish intellectual is directed not to self-ignorance (as in Socrates) or to silence (Apollo), but to group solidarity, because, as Arendt rightly claimed, parrhetic speech is independent. If an intellectual is the one “who has the right, the duty and the courage to speak the truth,” then he is the one who takes the risk to breach solidarity with the group.

The Jewish intellectual‘s dilemma is even more acute than that of the non-Jewish intellectual, because s/he is divided between two equally powerful and explicit moral imperatives: truth and solidarity. To put oneself in the position of speaking the truth is to undermine the solidarity of the group, found not only in the affirmation of love to the group, but also in the participation of its collective myths and stories.

Finally, by definition, parrhetic contracts – those which legitimize critique – enable the critic to remain within the group. But in conditions of hyper-solidarity, to criticize is to forgo that solidarity, because critique always assumes a position of exteriority. When Arendt wrote to Scholem, “The injustice committed by my own people naturally provokes me more than injustice done by others,” she only defined the normal situation of parrhetic speech. But she was not granted the right to occupy the parrhetic position – that is, remaining inside the group while critiquing it. Indeed, “Eichmann in Jerusalem” was virtually banned in Israel until 2000, when it was finally translated into Hebrew.

Critique in the Jewish world must either constantly provide proofs of love or must face accusations of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, various forms of ostracism, black lists, media watch agencies, organizations such as Im Tirtzu monitoring course curricula and universities, philanthropic blackmail, etc.

One could retort that critique of Israel is far more present in Israel than among Jewish communities in the Diaspora. This is correct. Here, too, Foucault is enlightening. In his analysis of Euripides’ “The Phoenician Women,” Jocasta – Oedipus’ mother – asks her son Polyneices what it feels like to be exiled.

 

Jocasta: This above all I long to know: What is an exile’s life? Is it great misery?

Polyneices: The greatest; worse in reality than in report.

Jocasta: Worse in what way? What chiefly galls an exile’s heart?

Polyneices: The worst is this: right of free speech does not exist.

Jocasta: That’s a slave’s life – to be forbidden to speak one’s mind.

Polyneices: One has to endure the idiocy of those who rule.

Jocasta: To join fools in their foolishness – that makes one sick.

Polyneices: One finds it pays to deny nature and be a slave.

 

Exile, says Polyneices, prevents you from speaking the truth fearlessly. Only being at home provides the conditions for fearless speech, perhaps precisely because only political homes and sovereigns create parrhetic contracts and enable critics to remain inside the group while looking at it from the outside. We are then compelled to conclude that while most of the liberal nations in which Jews live are far more liberal than Israel, their Jewish communities are far less liberal in their toleration of dissent than Israel.

Some, like U.S. philosopher Michael Walzer, would argue that it is the responsibility of the critic to be heard in such a way as to remain inside the group. The best critics, Walzer claims, are those who speak in a tone that feels close and familiar to the group he criticizes; the best critics rebuke their fellows in the name of the values their group holds dear, and does not speak from radical detachment (like Arendt, for example). But Walzer does not ask if some communities make it easier to remain inside their compass while critiquing them. He does not ask which contracts must exist for a critic’s voice to feel close and familiar to the members of the community s/he addresses. He does not ask if some communities do not make more demands of closeness than others. Surely, not only critics but also their communities must be scrutinized for the extent to which they enable or deny the right to criticize them.

Before I conclude, let me confess this: I am moved by Scholem’s anguish. Like him, I believe there are such things as duties of the heart (herzenstakt). These duties are the informal codes that regulate our sense of appropriateness, how we mark our respect and care in delicate and painful circumstances.

Should the intellectual care about tact and taste? As Scholem suggested, the Jewish people aches and we request from you that you suspend your cold examination and participate with us in this pain. One does not criticize a person at their funeral. Scholem invokes a tacit code of honor in which one should not attack someone who is weak or add pain to a long-standing history of suffering.

A striking example of such tact can be found in Raymond Aron, the great Jewish-French intellectual. A few years after Arendt wrote with restrained passion about Israel, on June 7, 1967 – after the onset of the Six-Day War – Aron wrote in Le Figaro: “Statecide, of course, is not genocide. The French Jews who gave their soul to all the black, brown or yellow Revolutionaries now feel great pain when their friends scream their fear of death. I suffer like them not because we have become Zionists or Israelis, but because an irresistible movement of solidarity rises in us. And it does not matter where such movement comes from [emphasis added]. If the great powers, according to their own cold and interested calculations, let that small state that is not mine get destroyed, this crime, which will be small in regard to the world, would take away from me any desire to live and I believe that millions and millions of men would be ashamed of their humanity.”

Aron makes clear that Israel is not his country; he remains French. And yet he says in heartrending terms that if Israel ceased to exist, he would not have the strength to keep living. Solidarity here is not a principled or systematic position, but an instinct activated by a unique historical event. It is not politics, not an institution, but a movement of the heart, the trace of a noninstitutional memory, a supreme form of tact, knowing what to do and say in the right circumstances – not because of an a priori ideological position, but because in extreme circumstances, one simply knows for whom one’s heart beats faster.

In the public sphere, herzenstakt is that ineffable capacity to balance the urge to speak the truth with the recognition of someone else’s actual or potential distress. In that sense, Arendt lacked tact, and infuriatingly so. But she and Scholem’s exchange opened a much-needed debate on the brutal demands of love that the politics of solidarity makes. Jewish intellectuals must resist these demands. When distress becomes institutionalized and memory routinized, the duties of the heart become the handmaidens of ordinary politics. When solidarity becomes a form of politics, it should be treated as politics: we should look for its interests and strategies, for the myths it builds, for the people it excludes and for the injustices it creates. Solidarity can never be demanded a priori by institutions, nations or communities; it should never be the default mode of a group. It can be only the end point of citizens’ relations to just nations and just institutions.

If the contemporary Jewish intellectual has an urgent task, then, it is to unveil the conditions under which Jewish solidarity should or should not be accepted, debunked or embraced. In the face of the ongoing, unrelenting injustices toward Palestinians and Arabs living in Israel, his/her moral duty is to let go, achingly, of that solidarity.

This essay was originally a 2014 Andrea and Charles Bronfman Lecture in Israeli Studies, at the University of Toronto.

Please Fund Our Kickstarter To Send Mike Huckabee To North Korea, Where He Can Be Free

Please Fund Our Kickstarter To Send Mike Huckabee To North Korea, Where He Can Be Free.

PROPERTY RIGHTS UBER ALLES  11:23 am April 14, 2014

Please Fund Our Kickstarter To Send Mike Huckabee To North Korea, Where He Can Be Free

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Huckabee: ‘More Freedom Sometimes in North Korea Than in United…
Huckabee: ‘More Freedom Sometimes in North Korea Than in United States’

Do you dig Mike Huckabee? Who doesn’t, really? If you do, you’ll definitely be into his speech at the Conservative Value Freedom Summit God Bless America Property Rights Jamboree thing over the weekend, sponsored, of course, by Citizens United and Americans For Prosperity. Huckabee, like every other conservative there, was stroking himself off to the thought that there might be an insurrection uprising shootout fun time over Cliven Bundy’s refusal to pay fees to graze his cattle on public land, because everyone knows that God meant for Americans to use every last bit of land for their personal gain whether they own it or not, because freedom. But Huckabee took his haranguing one step farther, and managed to do a conservative greatest hit concert and hit every imaginary grievance those people have. Oh, and he also decided he’d rather live in North Korea because of all their freedoms.

 

Oh my god, check out that crowd of old white people. They keep hopping up to give Mike a standing O for his stirring words, but then they sit right down again, only to pop up a few seconds later. A bunch of them probably had to take their heart pills after that.

Now you might think “oh hey, I kind of wouldn’t feel free in a place where people are starving to death and get shot by the Dear Leader for disagreeing, or for being his ex-girlfriend, you know how it is, chicks man, but that is because you are not Mike Huckabee, and you have not suffered the slings and arrows of Fast and Furious, which is a thing conservatives are still mad about, we guess? Also too BENGHAZI!1!, which we did not think could relate at all to cattle grazing, but in the fevered mind of Mike Huckabee it does because we have no idea why.

Mike Huckabee is also very mad about Brandeis students protesting the proposed commencement speaker, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, because they realized she is maybe kind of a bit too firebrand-y about hating Islam. And oh, Mike is positively overcome with sadmad about Brendan Eich having to leave Mozilla because of the gay marriage hating. We are not really sure how examples of two private institutions making decisions about speech in their own private institutions equal government tyranny, but again, we are not Mike Huckabee. Perhaps he thinks that Bamz amassed some ATF and FBI agents at the doors of Brandeis and Mozilla and made them do it?

So Fast and Furious plus Benghazi multiplied by Brandeis and Mozilla equals less freedom than North Korea, especially because Mike Huckabee has to show ID at the airport.

“My gosh, I’m beginning to think that there’s more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States,” he continued. “When I go to the airport, I have to get in the surrender position while people put hands all over me. And I have to provide photo ID in a couple of different forms, and prove that I really am not going to terrorize the airplane.”

Huckabee added: “But if I want to go vote, I don’t need a thing. All I got to do is show up and I can give them anybody’s name, and that’s okay.”

Sound argument! Except for the fact that there is no constitutional right to fly on a plane, but the whole voting thing is kinda enshrined in the Constitution, but otherwise those things are exactly the same indeed.

Given that we don’t yet have the technology to send Mike Huckabee on a rocket into the sun, we’ll have to settle for crowdfunding a plane to take him to the Worker’s Paradise that is North Korea. Help us out, won’t you?

[Raw Story]

Read more at http://wonkette.com/546424/please-fund-our-kickstarter-to-send-mike-huckabee-to-north-korea-where-he-can-be-free#211rEY374UiLbBJH.99

PROPERTY RIGHTS UBER ALLES  11:23 am April 14, 2014

Please Fund Our Kickstarter To Send Mike Huckabee To North Korea, Where He Can Be Free

by snipy

Huckabee: ‘More Freedom Sometimes in North Korea Than in United…
Huckabee: ‘More Freedom Sometimes in North Korea Than in United States’

Do you dig Mike Huckabee? Who doesn’t, really? If you do, you’ll definitely be into his speech at the Conservative Value Freedom Summit God Bless America Property Rights Jamboree thing over the weekend, sponsored, of course, by Citizens United and Americans For Prosperity. Huckabee, like every other conservative there, was stroking himself off to the thought that there might be an insurrection uprising shootout fun time over Cliven Bundy’s refusal to pay fees to graze his cattle on public land, because everyone knows that God meant for Americans to use every last bit of land for their personal gain whether they own it or not, because freedom. But Huckabee took his haranguing one step farther, and managed to do a conservative greatest hit concert and hit every imaginary grievance those people have. Oh, and he also decided he’d rather live in North Korea because of all their freedoms.

 

Oh my god, check out that crowd of old white people. They keep hopping up to give Mike a standing O for his stirring words, but then they sit right down again, only to pop up a few seconds later. A bunch of them probably had to take their heart pills after that.

Now you might think “oh hey, I kind of wouldn’t feel free in a place where people are starving to death and get shot by the Dear Leader for disagreeing, or for being his ex-girlfriend, you know how it is, chicks man, but that is because you are not Mike Huckabee, and you have not suffered the slings and arrows of Fast and Furious, which is a thing conservatives are still mad about, we guess? Also too BENGHAZI!1!, which we did not think could relate at all to cattle grazing, but in the fevered mind of Mike Huckabee it does because we have no idea why.

Mike Huckabee is also very mad about Brandeis students protesting the proposed commencement speaker, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, because they realized she is maybe kind of a bit too firebrand-y about hating Islam. And oh, Mike is positively overcome with sadmad about Brendan Eich having to leave Mozilla because of the gay marriage hating. We are not really sure how examples of two private institutions making decisions about speech in their own private institutions equal government tyranny, but again, we are not Mike Huckabee. Perhaps he thinks that Bamz amassed some ATF and FBI agents at the doors of Brandeis and Mozilla and made them do it?

So Fast and Furious plus Benghazi multiplied by Brandeis and Mozilla equals less freedom than North Korea, especially because Mike Huckabee has to show ID at the airport.

“My gosh, I’m beginning to think that there’s more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States,” he continued. “When I go to the airport, I have to get in the surrender position while people put hands all over me. And I have to provide photo ID in a couple of different forms, and prove that I really am not going to terrorize the airplane.”

Huckabee added: “But if I want to go vote, I don’t need a thing. All I got to do is show up and I can give them anybody’s name, and that’s okay.”

Sound argument! Except for the fact that there is no constitutional right to fly on a plane, but the whole voting thing is kinda enshrined in the Constitution, but otherwise those things are exactly the same indeed.

Given that we don’t yet have the technology to send Mike Huckabee on a rocket into the sun, we’ll have to settle for crowdfunding a plane to take him to the Worker’s Paradise that is North Korea. Help us out, won’t you?

[Raw Story]

Read more at http://wonkette.com/546424/please-fund-our-kickstarter-to-send-mike-huckabee-to-north-korea-where-he-can-be-free#211rEY374UiLbBJH.99

PROPERTY RIGHTS UBER ALLES  11:23 am April 14, 2014

Please Fund Our Kickstarter To Send Mike Huckabee To North Korea, Where He Can Be Free

by snipy

Huckabee: ‘More Freedom Sometimes in North Korea Than in United…
Huckabee: ‘More Freedom Sometimes in North Korea Than in United States’

Do you dig Mike Huckabee? Who doesn’t, really? If you do, you’ll definitely be into his speech at the Conservative Value Freedom Summit God Bless America Property Rights Jamboree thing over the weekend, sponsored, of course, by Citizens United and Americans For Prosperity. Huckabee, like every other conservative there, was stroking himself off to the thought that there might be an insurrection uprising shootout fun time over Cliven Bundy’s refusal to pay fees to graze his cattle on public land, because everyone knows that God meant for Americans to use every last bit of land for their personal gain whether they own it or not, because freedom. But Huckabee took his haranguing one step farther, and managed to do a conservative greatest hit concert and hit every imaginary grievance those people have. Oh, and he also decided he’d rather live in North Korea because of all their freedoms.

 

Oh my god, check out that crowd of old white people. They keep hopping up to give Mike a standing O for his stirring words, but then they sit right down again, only to pop up a few seconds later. A bunch of them probably had to take their heart pills after that.

Now you might think “oh hey, I kind of wouldn’t feel free in a place where people are starving to death and get shot by the Dear Leader for disagreeing, or for being his ex-girlfriend, you know how it is, chicks man, but that is because you are not Mike Huckabee, and you have not suffered the slings and arrows of Fast and Furious, which is a thing conservatives are still mad about, we guess? Also too BENGHAZI!1!, which we did not think could relate at all to cattle grazing, but in the fevered mind of Mike Huckabee it does because we have no idea why.

Mike Huckabee is also very mad about Brandeis students protesting the proposed commencement speaker, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, because they realized she is maybe kind of a bit too firebrand-y about hating Islam. And oh, Mike is positively overcome with sadmad about Brendan Eich having to leave Mozilla because of the gay marriage hating. We are not really sure how examples of two private institutions making decisions about speech in their own private institutions equal government tyranny, but again, we are not Mike Huckabee. Perhaps he thinks that Bamz amassed some ATF and FBI agents at the doors of Brandeis and Mozilla and made them do it?

So Fast and Furious plus Benghazi multiplied by Brandeis and Mozilla equals less freedom than North Korea, especially because Mike Huckabee has to show ID at the airport.

“My gosh, I’m beginning to think that there’s more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States,” he continued. “When I go to the airport, I have to get in the surrender position while people put hands all over me. And I have to provide photo ID in a couple of different forms, and prove that I really am not going to terrorize the airplane.”

Huckabee added: “But if I want to go vote, I don’t need a thing. All I got to do is show up and I can give them anybody’s name, and that’s okay.”

Sound argument! Except for the fact that there is no constitutional right to fly on a plane, but the whole voting thing is kinda enshrined in the Constitution, but otherwise those things are exactly the same indeed.

Given that we don’t yet have the technology to send Mike Huckabee on a rocket into the sun, we’ll have to settle for crowdfunding a plane to take him to the Worker’s Paradise that is North Korea. Help us out, won’t you?

[Raw Story]

Read more at http://wonkette.com/546424/please-fund-our-kickstarter-to-send-mike-huckabee-to-north-korea-where-he-can-be-free#211rEY374UiLbBJH.99

Portraits of Reconciliation

If you need a good cry or some serious reflection upon humanity, here’s an outstanding NY Times piece…

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/06/magazine/06-pieter-hugo-rwanda-portraits.html?action=click&contentCollection=Baseball&module=MostEmailed&version=Full&region=Marginalia&src=me&pgtype=article

Portraits of Reconciliation

20 years after the genocide in Rwanda,
reconciliation still happens one encounter at a time.

Photographs By Pieter Hugo Text by Susan Dominus

François Sinzikiramuka, perpetrator (left); Christophe Karorero, survivor.

Last month, the photographer Pieter Hugo went to southern Rwanda, two decades after nearly a million people were killed during the country’s genocide, and captured a series of unlikely, almost unthinkable tableaus. In one, a woman rests her hand on the shoulder of the man who killed her father and brothers. In another, a woman poses with a casually reclining man who looted her property and whose father helped murder her husband and children. In many of these photos, there is little evident warmth between the pairs, and yet there they are, together. In each, the perpetrator is a Hutu who was granted pardon by the Tutsi survivor of his crime.

The people who agreed to be photographed are part of a continuing national effort toward reconciliation and worked closely with AMI (Association Modeste et Innocent), a nonprofit organization. In AMI’s program, small groups of Hutus and Tutsis are counseled over many months, culminating in the perpetrator’s formal request for forgiveness. If forgiveness is granted by the survivor, the perpetrator and his family and friends typically bring a basket of offerings, usually food and sorghum or banana beer. The accord is sealed with song and dance.

The photographs on the following pages are a small selection of a larger body on display — outdoors, in large format — starting this month in The Hague. The series was commissioned by Creative Court, an arts organization based there, as part of “Rwanda 20 Years,” a program exploring the theme of forgiveness. The images will eventually be shown at memorials and churches in Rwanda.

At the photo shoots, Hugo said, the relationships between the victims and the perpetrators varied widely. Some pairs showed up and sat easily together, chatting about village gossip. Others arrived willing to be photographed but unable to go much further. “There’s clearly different degrees of forgiveness,” Hugo said. “In the photographs, the distance or closeness you see is pretty accurate.”

In interviews conducted by AMI and Creative Court for the project, the subjects spoke of the pardoning process as an important step toward improving their lives. “These people can’t go anywhere else — they have to make peace,” Hugo explained. “Forgiveness is not born out of some airy-fairy sense of benevolence. It’s more out of a survival instinct.” Yet the practical necessity of reconciliation does not detract from the emotional strength required of these Rwandans to forge it — or to be photographed, for that matter, side by side.

Sinzikiramuka, Perpetrator (opening image, left): “I asked him for forgiveness because his brother was killed in my presence. He asked me why I pleaded guilty, and I replied that I did it as someone who witnessed this crime but who was unable to save anybody. It was the order from authorities. I let him know who the killers were, and the killers also asked him for pardon.”

Karorero, Survivor: “Sometimes justice does not give someone a satisfactory answer — cases are subject to corruption. But when it comes to forgiveness willingly granted, one is satisfied once and for all. When someone is full of anger, he can lose his mind. But when I granted forgiveness, I felt my mind at rest.”

Jean Pierre Karenzi Perpetrator (left) Viviane Nyiramana SurvivorKarenzi: “My conscience was not quiet, and when I would see her I was very ashamed. After being trained about unity and reconciliation, I went to her house and asked for forgiveness. Then I shook her hand. So far, we are on good terms.”

Nyiramana: “He killed my father and three brothers. He did these killings with other people, but he came alone to me and asked for pardon. He and a group of other offenders who had been in prison helped me build a house with a covered roof. I was afraid of him — now I have granted him pardon, things have become normal, and in my mind I feel clear.”

Godefroid Mudaheranwa Perpetrator (left) Evasta Mukanyandwi SurvivorMudaheranwa: “I burned her house. I attacked her in order to kill her and her children, but God protected them, and they escaped. When I was released from jail, if I saw her, I would run and hide. Then AMI started to provide us with trainings. I decided to ask her for forgiveness. To have good relationships with the person to whom you did evil deeds — we thank God.”

Mukanyandwi: “I used to hate him. When he came to my house and knelt down before me and asked for forgiveness, I was moved by his sincerity. Now, if I cry for help, he comes to rescue me. When I face any issue, I call him.”

Juvenal Nzabamwita Perpetrator (right) Cansilde Kampundu SurvivorNzabamwita: “I damaged and looted her property. I spent nine and a half years in jail. I had been educated to know good from evil before being released. And when I came home, I thought it would be good to approach the person to whom I did evil deeds and ask for her forgiveness. I told her that I would stand by her, with all the means at my disposal. My own father was involved in killing her children. When I learned that my parent had behaved wickedly, for that I profoundly begged her pardon, too.”

Kampundu: “My husband was hiding, and men hunted him down and killed him on a Tuesday. The following Tuesday, they came back and killed my two sons. I was hoping that my daughters would be saved, but then they took them to my husband’s village and killed them and threw them in the latrine. I was not able to remove them from that hole. I knelt down and prayed for them, along with my younger brother, and covered the latrine with dirt. The reason I granted pardon is because I realized that I would never get back the beloved ones I had lost. I could not live a lonely life — I wondered, if I was ill, who was going to stay by my bedside, and if I was in trouble and cried for help, who was going to rescue me? I preferred to grant pardon.”

Deogratias Habyarimana Perpetrator (right) Cesarie Mukabutera SurvivorHabyarimana: “When I was still in jail, President Kagame stated that the prisoners who would plead guilty and ask pardon would be released. I was among the first ones to do this. Once I was outside, it was also necessary to ask pardon to the victim. Mother Mukabutera Caesarea could not have known I was involved in the killings of her children, but I told her what happened. When she granted me pardon, all the things in my heart that had made her look at me like a wicked man faded away.”

Mukabutera: “Many among us had experienced the evils of war many times, and I was asking myself what I was created for. The internal voice used to tell me, ‘‘It is not fair to avenge your beloved one.’’ It took time, but in the end we realized that we are all Rwandans. The genocide was due to bad governance that set neighbors, brothers and sisters against one another. Now you accept and you forgive. The person you have forgiven becomes a good neighbor. One feels peaceful and thinks well of the future.”

François Ntambara Perpetrator (left) Epiphanie Mukamusoni SurvivorNtambara: “Because of the genocide perpetrated in 1994, I participated in the killing of the son of this woman. We are now members of the same group of unity and reconciliation. We share in everything; if she needs some water to drink, I fetch some for her. There is no suspicion between us, whether under sunlight or during the night. I used to have nightmares recalling the sad events I have been through, but now I can sleep peacefully. And when we are together, we are like brother and sister, no suspicion between us.”

Mukamusoni: “He killed my child, then he came to ask me pardon. I immediately granted it to him because he did not do it by himself — he was haunted by the devil. I was pleased by the way he testified to the crime instead of keeping it in hiding, because it hurts if someone keeps hiding a crime he committed against you. Before, when I had not yet granted him pardon, he could not come close to me. I treated him like my enemy. But now, I would rather treat him like my own child.”

Dominique Ndahimana Perpetrator (left) Cansilde Munganyinka SurvivorNdahimana: “The day I thought of asking pardon, I felt unburdened and relieved. I had lost my humanity because of the crime I committed, but now I am like any human being.”

Munganyinka: “After I was chased from my village and Dominique and others looted it, I became homeless and insane. Later, when he asked my pardon, I said: ‘I have nothing to feed my children. Are you going to help raise my children? Are you going to build a house for them?’ The next week, Dominique came with some survivors and former prisoners who perpetrated genocide. There were more than 50 of them, and they built my family a house. Ever since then, I have started to feel better. I was like a dry stick; now I feel peaceful in my heart, and I share this peace with my neighbors.”

Laurent Nsabimana Perpetrator (right) Beatrice Mukarwambari SurvivorNsabimana: “I participated in destroying her house because we took the owner for dead. The houses that remained without owners — we thought it was better to destroy them in order to get firewood. Her forgiveness proved to me that she is a person with a pure heart.”

Mukarwambari: “If I am not stubborn, life moves forward. When someone comes close to you without hatred, although horrible things happened, you welcome him and grant what he is looking for from you. Forgiveness equals mercy.”

Digital design: Matt Ruby and Rumsey Taylor

Suggestions from an old SIU-C watcher for new entrants to our system

Here is some academic advisement from beyond the grave by deceased Southern Illinois University philosophy professor George McClure. He contributed this essay for issue #1 of BASEMENT, an underground newspaper in Carbondale, IL that came off the press in the form of 3,000 8 page tabloids April 1, 1989. Space and time constraints resulted in the omission of this piece. Written over 25 years ago, it may or may not be relevant for you today, but I’ve been carrying the typewritten manuscript with me for the duration and submit it for your edification.

Suggestions from an old SIU-C watcher for new entrants to our system:

This is addressed to those people who want to get an education, whatever that means.  Part of what it means to me is that you’d like to exit the place a bit smarter and more open for new possibilities than you were when you got here.  Also, of course, you’d like to be equipped with some abilities that would make you more able to earn a living in the present (awful) real world.  I don’t think these are two exclusively eliminative options.  But you have to work at it because the external bureaucracy isn’t set up to encourage education.  I mean, the officials who operate the offices and advisement centers and loan offices (with a few important exceptions I’ll mention later) are just trying to do their jobs as defined by their bosses.  Few persons of authority you’ll talk to are disinterested counselors as to how to trick SIU into giving you a decent education.

Well, but wait for a second.  Why should you want a decent education for Christ’s sake?  I’m not sure.  God knows there are plenty of clods and sods who’ve made a name for themselves without any benefit of the slightest knowledge of anything whatever—and without any demonstrable skills in activities above the level of guile and thievery.  It’s hard to say briefly, but a lot of good people, for the last couple of millennia, have thought that having some sense of what’s going on, and some sense of what’s important for human life, is a better guide to the good life than simply sticking your head where the wind only blows one way.  Education, as I’m using the term, doesn’t by any means guarantee that you’ll have that sense, or that you’ll always be clear about why you got the shaft, but it usually puts you in a position to detect its entrance, and, after the first shock, figure out some alternative responses.

To get practical: here are some suggestions about getting an education at SIU (not listed in order of importance):

Avoid all professional colleges (except possibly engineering) during your first two years.  Register in some college like liberal arts where you don’t have many requirements and you do have a lot of electives.  The reason is that in most of the professional (I use that word with revulsion and sneers) colleges, the faculty are not themselves educated.  They (most, not all) came through the American system of the ’60’s and ’70’s when their schools (of education, business, agriculture, etc.) were not training teachers or scientists, just turning out graduates as fast as they could, in order to boost their own claims to academic respectability.  The more graduates they turned out, the more important they were.  If anyone disagreed about their academic credentials, they started their own journals in which they could publish junk that older journals would never have accepted.  If you seek academic advice from these professionals, you will get mush, because they themselves never had an education, and, not having missed it (since they are making more money than any history prof) they are not aware of its benefits.  When, in time, life catches up with them–e.g., they turn alcoholic, change religions or wives–they have no resources from which to draw sustenance, hope, or understanding.  To comfort themselves in their loneliness, they try to recruit you into the same meaningless career they are victims of.  Misery loves company.  Also, it boosts the student credit hour ratio.

The college of education is especially to be shunned.  Here is the largest collection of pseudo-social scientists masquerading as professionals who know something about how to do what no one knows how to do very well:  educate the young.  But remind yourselves that in the last year or so, major professors of education (themselves!) have recommended (in SCIENCE magazine, for example) that colleges of education at Harvard, Yale, etc. be abolished.  The idea is that prospective teachers should learn something–chemistry, English, or whatever it is they need to be grammar school teachers or high school teachers on the side, and then, go and teach chemistry or reading, to children.  No doubt, there are a few helpful hints and pieces of wisdom (gained through experience, not “scientific studies”) that can be passed on to you, later, when you need it.  But don’t enter a college that exists mostly to give meaningless degrees to not very bright white males who want to move up from principal to superintendent.

Second piece of advice:  Work to develop an active network of informants about quality courses.  (Not who gives an A for a lay, but who seems on top of the field, or at least, who isn’t totally boring.)  There are many helpful people here at SIU who will give such networking aid, if asked.  But you do have to ask, seriously and persistently.  There are advisers, in the college of Liberal Arts, and in the college of Science, who really know what kind of class Prof. Blow runs, and whether Blow is understandable, knowledgeable, boring, or what.  They also know whether this is a class that a person simply wishing to broaden their education can benefit from, or whether this is a class strictly for majors already committed to the field.

Then, too, you need to sidle up to older students who seem, at least, to have been around longer.  Who do they think is good?  If the older and wiser guy starts telling you about who is an easy grade, you can turn them off.  We all want an easy grade, but, damnit, we want to learn a little something too.

Third piece of advice:  if the above two fail, rely on your own cunning.  Sign up for six or seven classes that appear to you to offer some interesting possibilities.  Go to the first few sessions of all of them, and, if you can, talk to instructors or TA’s about what’s going to happen in the class.  In any case, listen to what the instructor seems to be planning, and listen for any signs of intelligibility or understanding of the subject matter.  Also, look out for stylistic incompatibility.  I mean, look out for whether the manner in which this particular person seems to conduct the class is compatible with your own limits of tolerance.  The prof may be very good, but also be possessed of a manner you can’t abide.  No point in sticking around if you’re going to be repulsed by every tone and nuance in the prof’s delivery.  You may decide that you can tolerate the style in order to get the material.  Whatever.  But, at the end of the week or two, make your decision about which three or four or five of the classes you’ll stick with, and drop the others.  At this stage, it won’t cost you anything except the hassle of bureaucracy.  And you will improve your chances of ending up with classes you enjoy and or learn something from.  If, later in the semester, it turns out that you made a mistake about this or that class, drop it officially.  That means, go back to the damned bureaucracy and fill out the proper forms for dropping.  Don’t just blow it off.  If you do that, you’ll get an F on your record, and it’s harder to get rid of those things.  The system, and its computers, are set up for the person who goes through lock-step, obeying all channeling rules, and never changing her mind or having those second thoughts produced by growth and development.

The moral of this polemic is that you can, if you’re devious enough, get an education at SIU, but you have to scheme and plot to do it.