Saturday, April 11, 2009

"I like things wide open, with question marks hanging over it, everything changing - nothing settled."

This is another in a series of my discussion with Feodor. If you're out there, read on.

A few year back, conservative columnist David Brooks wrote a book entitled Bourgeois Bohemians, which did little more than earn him the sobriquet "Bobo". It was nothing more than an updated version of the term "limousine liberal". The latter term emerged in the 1960's, after the New York literati flirted with the radicalism of serious militants, including the Black Panthers.

A common complaint among some political radicals is that the bohemian tradition in America is actually an elite revolt against itself. Ronald Steele's biography of Walter Lippmann has snippets of this same phenomenon in pre-WWI America. What could be more ridiculous than the thought that students at Harvard University in the years of Teddy Roosevelt's and William Howard Taft's Presidencies were actually communists? Well, in fact, John Reed would die and be buried a hero in the Soviet Union, and Lippmann was a member of Reed's circle, celebrated by Reed for his embrace of socialism. Lippmann's one foray in to practical politics was a stint as an assistant to the socialist mayor of Schenectady, NY. Lippmann was also a regular at various bohemian salons in New York.

Harold Bloom wrote a book in the 1990's, The American Religion, in which he argued, by way of examples from American history, that gnosticism lies at the heart of the American pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. While I disagree with some of what Bloom has to say, there is no doubt that this trend extends far beyond the various religious traditions he traces. An examination of the radical tradition in the United States, at least its aestheticized, bohemian tradition, has more than a little of the gnostic about it. I also think the criticism that it is an elite revolt is both fair and also inconsequential. When are revolts not led by an elite against certain elements of whatever reigns as elite practice and opinion? What could have been more elite than the group gathered in Philadelphia, first in 1776, then eleven years later to rewrite the American Constitution? Who could have been more elite than the son of middle-level Russian nobility who led the Russian Revolution, having already written several theoretical works putting Marx's theories in a Russian context?

Who could be more elite than a blogger writing about this stuff?

The Grateful Dead has been on my mind as I have been contemplating my discussion with Feodor. They epitomize a strand of aetheticized American radical thought, apolitical yet socially radical nonetheless, gnostic in their appreciation for the mind-expanding possibilities of art and rejection of the then-reigning values embodied in post-WWII America. Dirty, frightening in their unruly looks and embrace of everything from Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters to the Hell's Angels, the Dead embraced all of life - the positive and the negative - in a way that is both almost touchingly naive and deeply American. They were not blind to the threat they embodied, but insouciant to the political dimension of their refusal to play by society's rules. Their entire ethos centered on the personally transformative potential of music. They lived it out night after night, trying to play something new, and to have the audience be a part both of the playing and the newness. On their first trip to New York, they received a pretty typical (for them) dismissal by rock critics as part of some supposed California elite, ignorant of and apathetic to the real issues facing the country. On the contrary, they were coming at those issues from a different angle, one that should have been familiar to New York radicals who only a few years before had hyped the folk revival embodied by purists like Pete Seeger and newcomers like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. The problem for the Dead was these three, in particular, were overtly and self-consciously politically radical as well as typifying a kind of bohemian aesthetic and lifestyle.

The quote that is the title of this post comes from an early-1980's interview with Jerry Garcia, in which he criticizes then-President Ronald Reagan. This sums up not just Garcia's views on Reagan, but a general approach to life that, I believe, is embodied in the best of the American pragmatist tradition, and embodied in the folk art tradition as well, including the folk music tradition, in which I put the Dead. After all, "Wharf Rat", "Franklin's Tower", and "Eyes of the World" from Garcia/Hunter, and "Me and My Uncle", "Mexicali Blues", and "Weather Report Suite" from Bob Weir are nothing more than folk songs played really loud. The American folk song tradition tells the stories of outsiders - criminals, the down-and-out - and does not so much celebrate those outside elite and polite society as it does simply portray the reality of that life (which is why, say, Snoop Dogg and NWA, Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. are also in this tradition moreso than, say, MC Hammer; they are just reporting from a different context and history).

The political dimension - and I daresay the philosophical dimension as well - of this tradition is both the rawness of and openness to all that life has to offer. It neither accepts nor rejects what comes, it simply faces it squarely. Part of my own embrace for this openness, which includes a refusal to get down and dirty and settle moral issues once and for all, comes (ironically enough) from reading a German theologian. Dietrich Bonhoefer's Ethics fragments, includes a discussion in which he turns Nietzsche's post-morality on its head. For Nietzsche, morality was a playground for infants; true humanity only emerged once one rejects good and evil. Bonhoeffer does one better than the anti-Christ from Basel, however, and says, "Yes, indeed. But moving on past notions of good and evil is only possible in a Christian context." Bonhoeffer specifically states that a Christian ethic that centers on the question of good and evil, on morality versus amorality, is a sign of human fallenness and sin. Christian ethics, properly owning that name, concerns itself only with doing God's will. Getting in to questions of "good" versus "evil" is a sign that we are not centered on God's will, but still under the spell of the serpent and the apple.

The willingness to be open to all that life has to offer - the good and the bad, the Puckish and the Violent, the dark and the light - takes courage. It also takes a certain sense of humor. Finally, it has to be taken with the understanding that none of this - not even death - is the final answer. This is the way the Dead approached their art and their lives, collectively and individually. There is something deeply familiar, deeply attractive for me, in this approach. It may not satisfy all sorts of tests of intellectual rigor, or political correctness, but it does have the virtue of being honest, even in its naivete.

On The One Hand, On The Other Hand (VERY Strong Language Alert)

On the one hand, we have George Carlin . . .

On the other hand we have Courtney at Feministing:
But Mr. Broman Comedy Dude of the moment, Seth Rogen, is seriously misguided if he thinks women are going to sit happily and giggle at the date rape scene in his new movie. Essentially Anna Faris' character gets horrifically drunk, throws up, and passes out in a bed. As Seth Rogen's character is basically grinding away, he suddenly pauses and appears to have a crisis of conscious, soothed immediately by Anna Faris' character coming to and grumbling, "Why'd you stop motherfucker?"

It's not funny Seth. First of all, one out of six women in this country is sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Which means a whole lot of your bromen are confused about what consensual sex is. Is the laugh you get worth making them even more confused? Basically giving them permission from one of the most adored dudes of the moment to not take rape seriously? Yeah, we didn't think so.

Come correct Seth. Put out a statement apologizing for your stupid humor and start working to prevent sexual assault instead of making light of it. Otherwise 52% of the movie-watching population just might stay at home when your movies hit the theaters. (italics added)

Majikthise has a bit more, including this from Time magazine's review:
Now that's character comedy, I mean tragedy, I mean tromedy, of the highest, I mean lowest, I mean high-lowest order. Beyond the weirdness, if you can get there, is a quick portrait of trailer-park America pursuing its urges by any means necessary. It's clear that Ronnie, no babe magnet, will take what he can get on this night of nights, even if it's not quite the exalted ecstasy he had hoped for; and that Brandi, who's been in this position once or twice before, wants the sexual exercise, even if she's not awake to take an active role in it — somewhere in her stupor, she's feeling a rote rumble of pleasure. The scene achieves what few American movies even attempt: to pinpoint the grim compromise, the desperation, that can attend the sex act. Don't call it love; don't call it grand; but whatever it is, don't stop.(emphasis added)

Beyerstein writes, in part:
Rogen is saying that the scene is a bait and switch: We're led to think Ronnie's a date rapist, but at the last possible minute we realize that Brandi consented after all. Psych!

That she's drunk, drugged out, covered with her own vomit, and unconscious is never in doubt.

Rogen excels at a brand of awkwardness-based humor where much of the laughter is tension release. Which means that the scene fails on its own terms, unless you believe that an unconscious person can consent. Without the unexpected "evidence" of consent, it's just a rape scene. If you see the encounter as rape, Brandi's slurred semi-conscious interjection just seems piteous. It doesn't make anything "okay."

Corliss apparently relishes the sexual violence in the spirit Rogen intended.

Corliss also reaffirms the patriarchal nostrum that slutty women consent to sex by default. He writes: "Brandi, who's been in this position once or twice before, wants the sexual exercise, even if she's not awake to take an active role in it — somewhere in her stupor, she's feeling a rote rumble of pleasure." So, even when she's unconscious, she's asking for it.

Don't even get me started on the "trailer park America" line--as if substance abuse and sexual assault are just for working class people. Tell that to the frat boys.

The scene as portrayed in the trailer on Feministing shows it in the context of the film - and Rogen's character is funny in the way that disturbing people can be funny. I honestly don't know if the scene was intended to be "funny"; both Faris' and Rogen's characters are portrayed as deeply flawed individuals, and I believe - having just watched a little snippet from the trailer, that we are supposed to laugh not so much at "date rape" as we are to cringe and laugh at ourselves because a line has been crossed.

Unlike Richard Corliss' review, however, I don't believe that this scene is some archetype of working class ("trailer park") sexual mores. I actually think his review is far more revealing of elite opinion regarding the working class than anything else. In fact, I find his review to be as disturbing as the scene in question.

My original thought in approaching this subject was to raise the issue of "liberal humorlessness" - the thought that there are lines which, a priori, should not be crossed when presenting words and images because they are offensive in some way or another. Is the racism in Blazing Saddles no longer appropriate, even though it is a presentation of racism done in such a way as to make us laugh at ourselves, yet also cringe with embarrassment at our own complicity in it (if such a thought can be attributed to Mel Brooks' smackdown of westerns)?

The film in question is described as a "dark comedy". These films always skirt lines of appropriateness precisely because they are offering us a glimpse of our baser natures. We may laugh and cringe simultaneously, but the person who is the object of these reactions should be - when it is done right - the audience more than the characters in question.

So, we have two separate issues here. On the one hand, we have the scene, and the movie of which it is a part. On the other we have, in particular, Richard Corliss' review in Time, a review that disturbs me far more than any film ever could.

Thoughts, anyone?

Saturday Rock Show

According to Grateful Dead biographer Dennis McNally, the song "Blow Away" came about in part because lyricist John Barlow was furious with Bob Weir for writing the song "Victim Or The Crime" with another lyricist (scorned lovers . . .). McNally calls the song fairly conventional in its approach to the theme of lost love. Perhaps, although the thought that if we "give it just a minute, it'll blow away" is an interesting, if frightening thought. Brent Mydland's approach to this song, reflecting his own inner turmoil, makes more of this song than McNally's somewhat dismissive tone would seem to indicate.

What's interesting is to wonder what might have happened had the band's label, Arista, been able to arouse enough enthusiasm to put this song out as a single and promote it the way they had "Touch of Gray" a couple years before. It is a very pop-oriented song, built around a very simple riff and just a couple chords. Who knows? It might have been another Top Ten single for the Dead. It might also have given Mydland more confidence, a sense of no longer being "the new guy" after ten years with the band.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Now Krauthammer Is Pissing Me Off

Sometimes I should trust my instincts and not click the little tab to some columns. Yet, I feel moved to read a syndicated column for no other reason than the fact that such a column has a long reach, if nothing else.

I get home from work, spend a little time with my family, play with my dog, have my cat yell at me, and while I sit and enjoy a hot cup of coffee, this is my reward:
"Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons. Now is the time for a strong international response."

A more fatuous presidential call to arms is hard to conceive. What "strong international response" did Obama muster to North Korea's brazen defiance of a Chapter 7 -- "binding," as it were -- U.N. resolution prohibiting such a launch?

The obligatory emergency Security Council session produced nothing. No sanctions. No resolution. Not even a statement. China and Russia professed to find no violation whatsoever. They would not even permit a U.N. statement that dared express "concern," let alone condemnation.

Having thus bravely rallied the international community and summoned the United Nations -- a fiction and a farce, respectively -- what was Obama's further response? The very next day, his defense secretary announced drastic cuts in missile defense, including halting further deployment of Alaska-based interceptors designed precisely to shoot down North Korean ICBMs. Such is the "realism" Obama promised to restore to U.S. foreign policy.

I really don't want to read any more.

"Fatuous"? Is there any commentator out there more fatuous than Charles Krauthammer? I suppose the depressing answer to that question is "yes", but, at least for this morning, the answer is an unequivocal "not by a country mile!".

In the first place, what else does Krauthammer expect? For Obama to invade? For the US to stop the North Koreans from launching a missile, which they have every right to do as a sovereign nation, would require far more than mere chutzpah on the part of the United States.

I really can't fathom what goes on between the guy's ears.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates - who was George W. Bush's Defense Secretary as well - indeed made drastic cuts in the nonsensical and largely nonexistent missile defense program. And it's about twenty years passed due for such cuts. Even if this Godelian bit of nonsense actually worked, what possible relevance would it have for a rocket system that barely scraped the outer rim of the atmosphere? Does Krauthammer believe the North Koreans - who have a million or so troops poised within an easy day's march of the capital of South Korea, and have in their arsenal some of the most powerful and concentrated artillery in the world - would shrug their shoulders at such an outrage and affront and say, "Well, the US shot down our missile. I guess that shows us!"

Frustration, thy name is reading idiocy like this.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

What Universe, Indeed

It's like those studies you read about in your psychology survey classes in college. Rats pressing levers for food pellets, pigeons learning how to walk a tightrope, and Congressional Republicans and right-wing media blowhards carrying on about how much Democrats hate the military. This is behaviorism on display - a Democrat in the White House = America-hating anti-military radical.

Now, it should be obvious to anyone with brain cells that a four percent increase in spending, in an economic atmosphere of deflation, is hardly a cut in spending. Which is why the Republican reaction to the proposed DoD budget is evidence that, in fact, the Republicans have no brain cells. Watch Jon Stewart break it down.

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What has Sec. Gates proposed? Cutting overpriced, unnecessary weapons systems (although surely not all that could receive this ax) like the 1980's-era F-22 fighter jet (there are 187 of the planes in service, none of which have seen combat yet), and something called the "airborne laser" which should never have gone beyond the manuscript phase of a bad science fiction book. Joe Lieberman's crocodile tears about that system getting chopped is parody. I don't even think Newt - who fancies himself a forward thinker, but is in fact almost clinically detached from reality - could have pleaded for such a nonsensical piece of garbage better. A "laser plane" that can shoot down ballistic missiles? It seems to me, just sitting here in my little study, that we might need to get those planes somewhere near launch sites pretty fast, and there are such things as SAMs (surface-to-air missiles), enemy fighters, and the whole it's-a-long-way-to-Tipperary factor. But, who cares about things like the simple fact we might need to know a few hours in advance that a ballistic missile launch is pending in order to get the planes in place, plus make sure we get more than we actually need in the air so that if any are lost to hostile fire we can still keep those missiles from getting past "boost phase" - if the whole "laser" works (I suspect the whole program was sold using Star Trek reruns, including sound-effects).

I do like the fact that Obama keeps himself above this kind of thing, for the most part, only engaging when things get out of hand, and only so far as to remind people that he, the President, is an adult, and leader of a nation made up, for the most part, of adults. The only non-adults, it seems, are the right-wing folks who think that increasing spending is somehow, in some way, a cut in spending.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Schadefreude Alert

I was going to call this post "Focus On The Family Jewels", but thought that might be in poor taste, all things considered:
A Colorado Springs man who narrates the Bible in Spanish on CDs and works in the Spanish broadcasting department of Focus on the Family appeared in court Monday in Golden on two felony counts of using the Internet to lure a 15-year-old girl for sex, The Denver Post reports.

Juan Alberto Ovalle, 42, was arrested Friday when he drove to Lakewood to meet the girl — who turned out to be an undercover officer — after discussing various sexual acts he wanted to perform with her, the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office said.
Ovalle “came to know the Lord at the age of 14,” according to a Web site offering his Spanish Bible narration for sale, and founded Spanish Christian Audio in 2001 to “help Christian organizations with their audio needs.”

After first encountering the officer who was posing as a 15-year-old girl on the Internet last week, Orvalle made “sexually graphic statements in a chat room to a person he believed to be an underage teen,” the district attorney’s office said in a release. When the undercover officer said her mom wouldn’t be home the next day, Orvalle said he was “horny” and made arrangements to come to her house, according to an arrest affidavit

Imagine getting horny for a minor, working for a guy who advocates fathers and sons showering together . . .

I realize this doesn't mean everyone at FoF is a pedophile. But, c'mon, this is nice. One more right-wing pervert off the internets. And people wonder why I monitor my daughters' internet activity so much; they might check out Focus on the Family!

Sheer Will Power

I don't think you can read as much in to these little "protests" as Joshua does, for several reasons. One very important reasons is that, except for the Toles cartoon mentioned, neither of the other two stories call what Will has been doing by its proper name - just making stuff up. Lying, in other words. It would seem that if there was functioning accountability in political commentary, Will would be out on his ass, sending clips around to whatever paper might be interested in hiring him.

Even saying this, however, brings up other reasons why I'm not going to read too much in to two little lines, one in a print story, one on a blog, calling what Will did "misrepresentation". Will's challenged ethics go back nearly a generation, when he first gained national attention. Even as he sat as an op-ed columnist for the Post, he was also serving as debate coach for then candidate Ronald Reagan, without ever revealing the connection. Now, I realize this might not seem to be that big a deal; yet, it does reveal a conflict of interest, or at least full disclosure on Will's part at the time might have been in order.

Now, it has gone beyond merely moonlighting for a Republican candidate without letting his readers know he was doing so. The gross mishandling of scientific data, with the full intent to distort various bits of data to serve narrow, political purposes, has not been challenged forcefully enough. Even the Post's Ombudsman has seemed a bit skittish in calling this kind of thing what it is. Even Somerby's take on Will leaves a bit to be desired:
Will’s two columns about climate change did gain wide circulation. Unfortunately, both columns seemed quite shaky; the second was quite disingenuous. (In responding to criticism, Will omitted the largest errors he had apparently made.) After several weeks, the Post published this excellent bit of rebuttal, an op-ed by science writer Chris Mooney. But Will’s columns appear in hundreds of papers. We’ll assume that Mooney’s did not.

Both Will’s columns seemed under-informed; his second column seemed disingenuous. Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander soon stepped in to opine; his piece was weak and disingenuous too. (Why disingenuous? Because he seemed to understate what he’d said in an earlier e-mail, in which he seemed to support Will’s first column.) Meanwhile, we thought some liberals misstated the problem; they seemed to say that no one has the right to interpret scientific data except the scientists who first presented it. (In this case, those at the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center.) Clearly, that just isn’t the case. Clarity itself melted down.

What was the fundamental problem with Will’s columns? Just this: Almost surely, Will doesn’t know enough about the science of climate change to be writing interpretive columns about it. (Neither do we; neither do you.) We’ll assume he believes what he seemed to suggest—that the scientific world has gotten conned by a gang of global warming alarmists. But it seemed that Will himself got conned, by the type of misleading, cherry-picked data the fixers are constantly churning. You can always find a fact or three which seem to suggest the conclusion you like. Almost surely, the Post was unwise to give Will license to rummage around among millions of facts and select those which struck him as most relevant. Simply put, Mooney knows much more science than Will. And unless an editor proceeds which a great deal of care, this topic calls for a specialist.

The last part of the very last sentence is, for all intents and purposes, wrong. It doesn't take a specialist to write about science. It takes someone willing to report science as science to write about science. When approaching an issue as artificially politicized as climate science, the editors should have done the simplest thing in the world - taken an hour or two to check the data Will reported, then taken it back to him and said, "Either change your column, or write on something else." It's really that simple.

Except, Will has pull. He's syndicated. His mug is on ABC every Sunday, looking self-satisfied even as he gets all sorts of things wrong (he has managed in the past to mangle everything from the political philosophy of Edmund Burke to the unfounded allegations that Bill Clinton raped a Miss USA contestant in the back of a limo when he was governor of Arkansas, with impunity) with no repercussions.

In the current political and economic climate, however, the Post can ill-afford to continue their laissez-faire attitude toward Will's blase attitude toward factual matters. It is one thing to defend his right to say whatever he wants. It is quite another thing to say that right includes lying about all sorts of things on the op-ed page of one of the most important newspaper's in the country.

He should have been gone a long time ago. That he isn't shows how broken (a) editorial power is in this country; and (b) how much the simple fact of name-recognition can overcome the fact that a person is a serial liar of near- pathological proportions. One hopes that someone at the Post wises up and realizes that Will's continued presence is a hindrance, not a help, to the reputation of the newspaper.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Great Cat Massacre

I was going to reflect on this, or perhaps extend my conversation with Feodor, but after a short back-and-forth "in another place" (as British Parliamentarians refer to the House of Lords), I decided to tell a story I heard from my father, back in 1992 or so.

In 1931, my father's family moved to a three-hundred acre farm in the almost non-existent town of Lockwood (it did have a train station at the time; and a mill!). My father was not quite ten. Like all good farm families, they acquired a number of cats to keep the rat-and-mouse population down to a dull roar. Like all semi-wild animals with no natural predators (this was before traffic up and down Lockwood Run Rd. could deal adequately with the problem), they quickly bred to near-overwhelming proportions.

My grandmother would feed them by cooking two pots of oatmeal, one mixed with bacon grease, etc., for the cats. She would call them to the porch by banging on the pot, and they would scurry up to the porch. I imagine it could be considered slopping the cats.

One day, or perhaps it was the final day that broke this particular camel's back, my grandmother complained about "all the cats". My guess is that it had been a theme of hers for a few days, and while my grandfather had to be a patient soul, I suspect he had reached the breaking point. He loaded his rifle, stuck some extra ammunition in his pockets, took the pot on to the porch and started banging on it. As the clouder approached, he opened fire. My grandfather probably couldn't have missed, at least first.

As the cats scattered and he ran out of ammo, he reloaded, banged the pot, and like Pavlov's Dogs, the cats immediately forgot their fear. Grampa opened up again. My father said he did this until there were only a couple left. He took their carcasses out in to a field.

When he came back in the house, my grandmother told him, "George, I didn't want you to kill them."

There is a sick part of me - and, yes, I do know it's sick, but I can't help it - that laughs whenever I think of this. Even Lisa, who is a far more feeling, sensitive soul than I will ever be, chuckles over this one.

It's Obvious That Obama Hates The Troops, And They Hate Him

Indisputable photographic evidence that the right-wing in America is so full of shit, they squeak going in to a turn:

Yea Vermont!

Keeping their reputation as the coolest state in the nation (take that, California; what other state has a Dead Head as a senior Senator, and a Socialist as a junior Senator?), the Vermont legislature overrode the governor's veto and passed a law recognizing the rights of same-sex couples to marriage.

Go Green Mountain!

Monday, April 06, 2009

A New Take On An Old Fable

Four blind folk are in a room. They are asked to describe what is in front of them. One man says, "A tree". Another, a woman, says, "A snake". On and on. There is a fifth person in the room who declares, "You are all wrong. It is an elephant."

My position is that this fifth person is as blind as the other four, and draws the wrong conclusion. His declaration seems to make sense, but there is really no way to be sure, is there?

Music For Your Monday

Since it's Holy Week, I thought I'd be a tad irreverent - but just a tad. Since the week ends, for us Christians at any rate, with Jesus dying, the cry of abandonment on his lips, I thought I'd start out with XTC's somewhat bitter, slightly angry "Dear God". If you offend easily, you might wish to skip this.

Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" has always fascinated me; hearing a version by the very reverent Johnny Cash fascinates me even more. There are fewer more authentic American voices than his - maybe Willie Nelson (a good friend) or Bob Dylan - and it adds a different dimension to the song hearing it declaimed by the great man.

Along with Holy Week, we shouldn't forget Passover, should we? I hope not to offend my Jewish cousins in the faith with this raucous retelling of the story of the Angel of Death in what is my favorite song by Metallica, "Creeping Death" (strong language alert). By the way, in my own humble opinion, this was caught at the peak of their career - no one did it better than they did at this point in time:

Saluting The Real Cost Of The Bush Years

The Obama Administration has lifted the ban on photographing real hereos:

This is the return of Air Force Staff Sergeant Phillip Meyers, killed by an IED in Afghanistan. Prayers to his family for strength, to his comrades who lost one of their own, and to all of us who have lost a part of ourselves.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Authenticity And Authority

In pursuit of this particular discussion, I made the observation that standing behind much of the worry over "authority" is the question of "authenticity". Since the Protestant Reformation, many have declared theirs to be the "original faith" of the "Apostolic Church", or at least approaching it far more than other rival claims. This same desire to recover the "original meaning of the text" lies behind the historical critical method of Biblical exegesis. Stripping away the layers to get to the "real text" has absorbed Biblical scholars for generations.

This is a desire not limited to Biblical studies. The debate over "original intent" that seem to engage Constitutional scholars relies upon the unspoken assumption that there would be something more authoritative about finding that "original intent" rather than whatever passes for our current understanding.

Another variation on this theme was heard in the wake of the '06 mid-term elections. Right-wing blabbermouth Sean Hannity could drone endlessly that the American people rejected the Republicans that year because they weren't "real" conservatives. What was marvelous about this particular bit of nonsense was Glenn Greenwald. He did the entire country a service by taking this particular piece of anti-intellectual drivel apart (which isn't really that hard to do). Greenwald's point is so simple as to be easily overlooked. Hannity's argument ignores the fact that what "conservatism" is, is what "conservatism" does. We had conservative governance, in two if not all three branches of the Federal government, for six years at that point, and already the foundations were shaky. The American people judged, quite rightly, that conservative governance was responsible for much of that shakiness, and booted them out.

This same argument - what a group calls itself and what that name really signifies being two different things - was heard by Marxists in the wake of the collapse of the Eastern European Soviet satellite states, and the Soviet Union itself a couple years later. Alas and alack for all those western Marxists who shouted, "Leninism/Stalinism isn't Marxism!", there was a real, honest to goodness Russian Marx scholar, Vladimir Yakovlev, who published a book entitled The Fate of Marxism in Russia that went to great lengths to show that Marxism inexorably leads to tyranny. It isn't that Lenin and Stalin were bad people who misunderstood what they were doing. Despite Marx's desire for a truly moral society (read Cornel West's The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought for details), the practical effects of putting his theory in to practice is . . . totalitarianism, the terrorist state, and impoverishment. Yakovlev makes the remarkable statement that he argued for sloughing off much of Marxist nonsense with the consolidation of power by Leonid Breshnev in the late 1960's, in a long memo. He ended up being "exiled" to the Soviet embassy in Ottawa for decades, his writings banned.

All this is to say that the pursuit of the "really real", whether in Platonic terms, or historical terms based in some quest for authenticity, is itself a kind of contingent human desire that has no basis in reason or fact. It might be nice to understand the Gospel stories as the first hearers and readers understood them, but I have to wonder why one would want to do so. We aren't those original hearers and readers, and pretending we are is as phony as the results of such a search would most likely be.

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