Friday, April 09, 2010

Hypothetical violence: still not as scary as actual violence

I’ll concede one point: I got her first name wrong. My bad. But for having 12 shots of Cuervo*, I think the piece came out fairly well.

Otherwise, though, this blog post purporting to debunk Chris Floyd and me for our criticisms of political science professor and Nation contributor Melissa (!) Harris-Lacewell makes for a perfect example of the mental corruption that accompanies partisanship, a depressing but timely illustration of how once one political faction gains power it almost immediately starts acting like the one it just replaced.

Providing a perfectly smug case-study of the archetypal Humorless Liberal, the blog post in question begins by deferring to the power of authority, noting Harris-Lacewell -- who recently suggested Tea Partiers were seditious opponents of the state's status as the ”legitimate owner of the tools of violence, force, and coercion” -- just “happens to be a tenured professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton,” whereas I am but an "independent journalist” (complete with scare quotes). There's also the unsubtle suggestion that I could be a misogynist, and of course no mainstream liberal attack on Obama's critics is complete without the mandatory musing that, hmm, maybe you're just a racist.

The substance of the piece, if you will, is that I -- by arguing that liberals wary of violence should focus most of their attention on the state and its prisons and wars rather than the largely hypothetical threat posed by Tea Partiers -- fail to take the threat of “domestic terrorism” seriously, too caught up am I in the violence of empire rather than the rhetoric of Glenn Beck. The evidence for why one should quake in fear of an impending spate of domestic terrorism? The arrest of nine yokels in the Hutaree militia who, while probably not the kind of people I'd invite to my weekend barbecue, never actually hurt anyone and were only arrested on trumped up charges of planning to use “weapons of mass destruction."

Facts aside, "The deaths of two dozen people in a remote village might not be as far away as Davis seems to think," the blogger gravely writes. Of course, if George Bush were president and the accused a supposed al-Qaeda cell in, say, Miami, liberals like my critic would probably view the government showboating over their arrests with a good deal of proper skepticism (and might even recognize that when it comes to Christian militias, one should fear those employed by the state the most). A Democrat in office, however -- and the right’s preferred target of poor black people replaced with liberals’ preferred target, religious hicks with guns -- and that skepticism fades away.

So, seemingly, does opposition to war:
Floyd and Davis are not so much scornful of her use of the word “seditious” as they are at her failure to hop on their hobby horse, the evil American empire. Well, it is an empire, and it does quite a bit of evil. I spent more of my life than I care to think about on one small example, the crushing of elected government in Honduras. But all empires do evil. If the Chinese rise to power, one can predict that they, too, will do evil.
In other words: if it’s not Barack Obama and the USA killing and invading, it’ll be somebody else, so why all the fuss? Such a weird little hobby horse too (good thing no one's found my blog on crystal skulls).

Then there is this:
And, it turns out, Melissa Harris-Lacewell is not the defender of empire that they paint her as. True, her writings are about her professional interests. She has not written about peace and justice issues, though she is affiliated with the Princeton Peace and Justice Center [ed. note: that's meaningful]. Like most college professors, she shies away from advocacy in her writings.
It is also suggested that Harris-Lacewell has never "applauded" government force, and that her silence on issues of war, peace and justice can perhaps be explained by the fact she is "aware that only a small fraction of government revenues go to 'state violence'", a laughable claim easily proved false with a simple Google search.

Having written an entire essay -- and apparently beginning every poli-sci class -- with a vigorous defense of the state’s “legitimate” monopoly on the use of violence, which she by all accounts views approvingly, Harris-Lacewell’s greatest problem is not that she applauds state violence per se, but, like this critic, she assumes it, takes it for granted. Her greatest sin is one of omission: if she is deeply upset about the victims of the wars Barack Obama is expanding, she doesn't show it -- instead appearing curiously friendly toward the man directly responsible for their deaths, not deigning to mention the thousands killed under the man she once absurdly wrote is "stunningly similar to Martin Luther King, Jr.," a statement that surprisingly has not resulted in a lawsuit from the King estate.

In that earlier piece, Harris-Lacewell argued that King, like Obama, was a “pragmatic political strategist,” noting that he worked to help President Lyndon Johnson politically despite having major differences with him. Why? Because he recognized that he “needed Johnson to pass civil rights legislation"; he recognized the need to be pragmatic, sensible, willing to compromise his beliefs when it served the greater good.

That might be all good and true, but what Harris-Lacewll left out -- and what my critic and other liberals might wish to consider -- is that King later rejected that strategy of compromise when he began speaking publicly and without reservation in opposition to the mass murder the American state was carrying out against the people of Vietnam; a war, one should remember, that was fully embraced by the liberal establishment of that time and tacitly accepted by many others in exchange for the promises of a Great Society at home. But as King said then, “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government.”

King recognized that, if one was serious about opposing violence, then it was the state one most oppose, and that it was the duty of the person of conscience to call out those perpetrating the violence -- even when the perpetrators were liberal Democrats. In the same remarks he also quoted a statement approved by churgoers from the Riverside Church in New York City: "A time comes when silence is betrayal."

The silence of Harris-Lacewell and other cheerleaders for the Obama administration is deafening.

* Joking. I would never drink Jose Cuervo.

[I initially wrote that Chris Floyd was described by the blogger as a “guy,” when in fact it was Michael J. Smith.]


  1. I wonder how many times this cycle of a "political faction ... almost immediately ... acting like the one it just replaced" has to repeat itself before the masses can see what is happening right in front of their eyes? I grow weary of the people having a "referendum" against the Demopublicans in office by voting a whole bunch of Republocrats into office to replace them.

    "...if one was serious about opposing violence, ... it was the duty of the person of conscience to call out those perpetrating the violence -- even when the perpetrators were liberal Democrats."

    This is so glaringly obvious; I don't understand how the "humanitarian" liberals fail to recognize this simple principle. I don't know how they sleep at night knowing that they are condoning or directly supporting the killing of innocent "brown" people in the Middle East in exchange for paltry efforts to help the "brown" people here in the United States.

    "...Harris-Lacewell ... just 'happens to be a tenured professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton,' whereas Floyd is just a 'guy' and I am but an 'independent journalist'."

    I was actually pondering this very mentality last night and I was reminded of an Emily Dickinson poem:

    I'm Nobody! Who are you?
    Are you – Nobody – too?
    Then there's a pair of us?
    Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

    How dreary – to be – Somebody!
    How public – like a Frog –
    To tell one's name – the livelong June –
    To an admiring Bog!

    WHY do people think that the expensive degree they have, the type of clothes they wear, the amount of money they have, the corporate or political title with which they either prefix or suffix their name, etc. makes them a SOMEBODY whose ideas or musings are more important than a NOBODY who "lacks" one of all of those things? WHY do "influential somebodies" think the admiration of the sycophantic masses somehow inherently validates their political positions as morally correct?

    I will concede that in certain situations a good education or a large amount of personal experience or historical knowledge makes a person more qualified, but I am increasingly exasperated with these "educated SOMEBODIES" who seem to lack the common sense or critical thinking to identify the glaring hypocrisy of their own behavior.

    To be perfectly clear, I am not claiming that I never engage in hypocrisy---I think the nature of the human condition is such that the majority of people engage in hypocritical behavior regularly---but I at least strive, each and every day, to behave in a way that coincides with my belief system. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I succeed, but I make a conscious effort to try to see my behavior for what it is.

    Why do the "somebodies" in power lack either the interest or the will to engage in this same behavior?

    I actually think I am going to start a blog based on the "I'm nobody! Who are you?" theme. The observations of a "nobody" are far more valuable than the observations of a "somebody" as long as the "nobody" demonstrates qualities that the "somebody" lacks: critical thinking, tolerance of those with a different opinion, the ability to identify hypocritical behavior, the skill to attempt to see both sides of an issue without becoming clouded by emotion, the humanity to debate in a reasonable manner and give your fellow man the respect he deserves, etc.

    I want to start a blog where everyone is a no one. I want to encourage other "nobodies"---and that label includes anyone, anyone at all who is willing to be reasonable, has the insight to see the world for what it is, has the common decency to accept that the musings or opinions of another "nobody" have just as much value as their own---to respond to my posts. American culture greatly undervalues the rational sharing of different ideas and beliefs.

  2. Phoenix Woman wrote it??? I'm shocked, shocked, as her primary task on the Net has been to empathize with left concerns while corraling them safely within the confines of the Democratic Party.

    If I remember correctly, she posts frequently atf Al Giordano's Narco News blog, a site known for its notorious censorship of people who malign Obama's policy in Central America. Or, most criticisms of Obama, for that matter.

    I wouldn't even waste my time with these people. They are just speaking to the choir. Things are slipping away from them, and they know it.

  3. Anonymous11:47 AM

    Actually it was written by "Charles II" who apparently is one of Phoenix Woman's cats.

    That cat has some nimble paw-pads, to bang out such incredible unintentional comedy. Must be divine forces at work.

  4. Anonymous11:49 AM


    When you question the foundations of the Merit Class's belief that it's entitled to hold a superior position in American society, you get ... what Charles II used as a "critique" of Davis and Floyd. You get a focus on getting the Esteemed Imperial Apologist's name wrong, and nothing substantial regarding what Davis or Floyd actually wrote.

    Charles II dropped some "criticisms" at Floyd's place recently, under a different handle. That's one clever kitty!

  5. Anonymous12:09 PM

    "Michael J. Smith is… a guy", is the quote. Floyd isn't characterized.

    A small detail but enough to lengthen the charge sheet.

    Be careful!

  6. Anonymous,

    Thanks. In my defense: I suck.

  7. BTW, anyone interested can send their copy editor application to my email.

  8. Charles F. Oxtrot:

    "Esteemed Imperial Apologist"

    What a great phrase; I particularly like the capitalization.

    Yes, when you question the logic or reasoning of a "somebody" on a particular matter, the "somebody" frequently does not address any of the challenges made to their argument. Rather, the "somebody" responds with irrelevant, non sequitur drivel---such as in this case.

    Of course, in reality, such a response serves only to further highlight the lack of logic in the initial "somebody's" argument---a fact that somehow eludes these highly-educated, highly-esteemed individuals.

  9. It just keeps alluding y'all doesn't it? to wit:

  10. Anonymous11:58 AM

    I think JM means


    and not


    but who knows? Only JM knows for sure.

  11. Anarcho-Hippie8:13 AM

    Charles, first off, your "Lacewell" post was spot on. Great piece of writing. You see, the main problem with liberals is that they NEVER want to admit openly that they support state terror, though they do. Essentially your critique was an anarchist critique--and garden variety liberals hate anarchists. Underneath it all that's what all the blather is about, imo.

  12. Anonymous7:48 AM

    "-Lacewell", eh? Sounds like an S&M porn-star name but in this case it's someone who prostitutes for the State because honest porn starlets at least offer a service people WANT to pay for.