Monday, February 27, 2017

The Soothsayer Award

In some quarters it’s become something of a parlor game. Who predicted the advent of Trump? Who wins the soothsayer award this year?

Master salesman, showman and famed cartoonist Scott Adams proudly touted his prognosticatory powers on his blog.  He even suggested that, for having called the election correctly, he had demonstrated that his pseudo-theorizing was absolutely correct. One happily grants credit to the Adams Ouija Board. As a theorist, he leaves much to be desired.

More serious intellectuals and a few pseudo-intellectuals nominated the Frankfurt School of anti-fascist Marxist philosophers who rose to prominence after World War II. Having lived through the Nazi era they wanted, reasonably enough, to ensure that it would not happen again. So they theorized that it would come back and give everyone a chance to get it right this time. They wanted to fight it… with words.

In truth, the Third Reich was not defeated by words. And the Marxist fairy tales they were selling, once they were put into practice, produced some of the greatest political catastrophes the world has known.

The Frankfurt School’s love of Marxism, coupled with a strenuous critique of capitalism meant only one thing. They could not bring themselves to credit the capitalistic Anglosphere with winning the war. They did not want to emulate life in stuffy, proper Great Britain. They were afraid that the Anglosphere would take their mistresses away from them.

In truth, Nazism was another effort to win a culture war against Anglo-American hegemony. So, grant the Frankfurt School some consistency.

Now, we have Eric Hoffer. At least, he was not a pointy-headed intellectual elitist.  In a Wall Street Journal op-ed today Prof. Reuven Brenner recalls some thoughts of the great longshoreman philosopher, a man whose book, The True Believer was a best seller in the 1950s. According to Brenner Heller predicted the rise of Trump in a 1970 New York Times op-ed: “Whose Country Is America?”

As it happens, one admires Heller for his clear thinking and robust prose. Did he predict the advent of Trump? Not exactly.  On the other hand, Heller’s analysis of American culture circa 1970 resonates well.

Writing in the midst of the Vietnam counterculture, Hoffer took out after the intellectual elites and student radicals.

About the intellectuals, he wrote:

Scratch an intellectual, and you find a would-be aristocrat who loathes the sight, the sound and the smell of common folk.

Does this explain the Democratic and Clintonian contempt for the common people. Perhaps it does. Hoffer argued that “the alienated intellectual” wants to assert his own importance:

He wants to influence affairs, have a hand in making history, and feel important.

True enough, intellectuals want to assert their own importance. They abhor a world where military and industrial prowess determines status and prestige. Apparently, they were willing to place their self-importance ahead of the national interest. Today, they are promoting factional interests, multiple cults over national interest.

Intellectuals look at the world and see only problems. And they declare that they have solutions to the problems. Hoffer suggested that they do not. Intellectuals believe that problems “like race relations, violence, drugs” can be solved by government programs.”

Common people like Eric Hoffer, however:

… know that at present money cannot cure etc., whereas the social doctors go on prescribing an injection of so many billions for every social ailment.

Even John F. Kennedy understood this. Brenner writes:

Even John F. Kennedy had been skeptical of intellectuals. Arthur Schlesinger noted that JFK had “considerable respect for the experience of businessmen,” which “gave them clues to the operations of the American economy which his intellectuals, for all their facile theories, did not possess.”

This is a noble theory. It is belied by the facts. Didn’t John F. Kennedy hand the reins of government over to a band of intellectuals, aka the best and the brightest? And didn’t these people give us Vietnam. One understands that Robert McNamara was not a Harvard intellectual, but he had no military experience. The Vietnam War was escalated by McNamara, a man in love with his brilliance, by McGeorge Bundy, a Harvard dean and by Lyndon Johnson.

Now the best and the brightest are at war again… this time against Donald Trump… a man who was, until recently, a New York Democrat. In truth, they are defending their social position against someone who is promoting national identity.

As for what was wrong with the counterculture, Hoffer posited that the young were too rich for their own good. They could indulge themselves and avoid meaningful work. They could especially avoid fighting in Vietnam.

The point is worth considering:

They have become more flamboyant, more demanding, more violent, more knowledgeable and more experienced….The general impression is that nowadays the young act like the spoiled children of the rich.

Hoffer called the problem, the “ordeal of affluence.” As he suggested, it is a quality that recalls aristocracy. Nowadays we have trust fund children. Brenner explains Hoffer’s analysis:

Wealth without work “creates a climate of disintegrating values with its fallout of anarchy.” Among the poor this takes the form of street crime; among the affluent, of “insolence on the campus”—both “sick forms of adolescent self-assertion.” As a result, “‘men of words’ and charismatic leaders—people who deal with magic—come into their own,” while “the middle class, lacking magic, is bungling the job” of maintaining social order.

Arrogance, decadence and insolence… it’s a wondrous trifecta. Were I to be slightly churlish I would point out that counterculture was a cult to a charismatic and martyred president, one JFK. And, I would also note that Bill Clinton owed his appeal to his charisma. The same applies to Barack Obama. These presidents did not work their way up the ranks. Most of them never did anything but work for the government.

As for what was wrong with the Boomer generation, some thinkers at the time suggested that the fault lay with the pervasive influence of the child rearing techniques of Dr. Benjamin Spock.

Hoffer was correct to see that the intellectual elites, a group that was empowered by JFK—and by FDR before him—would want to assert their own importance by shaping: “a new generation in their own image.”

Today, bureaucrats, celebrities and the media elite are fighting for their influence. They are trying to rally the nation against Trump by conjuring up nostalgia for Barack Obama. Since Obama projected weakness on the world stage and since he significantly diminished American pride and influence, those who are marching in his name are projecting strength… but not national pride. They are marching for multiculturalism.

Hoffer was having none of their pretensions:

We must deflate the pretensions of self-appointed elites. These elites will hate us no matter what we do, and it is legitimate for us to help dump them into the dustbin of history.


Ares Olympus said...

I see Hoffer died in 1983.
In the wake of the Korean War, Hoffer does not recommend exporting at gunpoint either American political institutions or mass democracy. In fact, Hoffer advances the possibility that winning over the multitudes of Asia may not even be desirable. If on the other hand, necessity truly dictates that for "survival" the United States must persuade the "weak" of Asia to "our side," Hoffer suggests the wisest course of action would be to master "the art or technique of sharing hope, pride, and as a last resort, hatred with others."

During the Vietnam War, despite his objections to the antiwar movement and acceptance of the notion that the war was somehow necessary to prevent a third world war, Hoffer remained skeptical concerning American interventionism, specifically the intelligence with which the war was being conducted in Southeast Asia. After the United States became involved in the war, Hoffer wished to avoid defeat in Vietnam because of his fear that such a defeat would transform American society for ill, opening the door to those who would preach a stab-in-the-back myth and allow for the rise of an American version of Hitler.

Hatred as a last resort sounds like prudence. Are we at wit's end?

I do think we elected Donald Trump just in time, and the Right, denied for 12 years, probably would have picked someone in 2020 truly crazy enough enough to become a Hitler, but hopefully Trump and his Republican posse will run things into the ground much too quick to attempt American Empire II. I mean I don't even want to blame the republicans for what will happen under their watch, but just seeing proactive chaos is sometimes better than reactive chaos.

As always, my only hopeful advice is that everyone with the means should get out of the way, and there are at least minimal ways to divest from a sinking ship. We could pretend innocence in 2008, but not now. Now surely, we've all been warned to stay close to home until the storm's course becomes more apparent.

trigger warning said...

Speaking of the affluent on campus, John Etchemendy, Stanford's Provost, recently fave a brilliant speech. Excerpt:

"Over the years, I have watched a growing intolerance at universities in this country – not intolerance along racial or ethnic or gender lines – there, we have made laudable progress. Rather, a kind of intellectual intolerance, a political one-sidedness, that is the antithesis of what universities should stand for."

The speech is targeted precisely on the Leftist Progressive cabal that claims elite status in the intellectosphere.

Sam L. said...

"Now, we have Eric Hoffer. At least, he was not a pointy-headed intellectual elitist. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed today Prof. Reuven Brenner recalls some thoughts of the great longshoreman philosopher, a man whose book, The True Believer was a best seller in the 1950s. According to Brenner ****Heller**** predicted the rise of Trump in a 1970 New York Times op-ed: “Whose Country Is America?"

As it happens, one admires ****Heller**** for his clear thinking and robust prose. Did he predict the advent of Trump? Not exactly. On the other hand, ****Heller’s**** analysis of American culture circa 1970 resonates well." Where did Heller come from?

I believe Hoffer nailed it in his last paragraph/

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

"We must deflate the pretensions of self-appointed elites."

The best way to do this is to tackle the grotesque overvaluing of a higher education degree, brought on by limitless government subsidy that has wildly inflated tuition prices.

We live in a culture that associates education with status, often in ways it does not confer. I am suggesting that -- for many -- a college degree is a status symbol, for the individual and his/her larger family. This status comes at a huge price, which people pay and/or government subsidizes, at levels that are out of control.

It is wasteful, on a host of levels: time, talent, money, etc.

And we have done this on the backs of people who add other forms of economic value in our culture... requiring different mental and physical skills. Blue collar families are getting royally screwed.

Not only do these college/graduate credentials have a wildly disproportionate impact on compensation in the marketplace, it causes most people to overestimate their intellectual abilities. This has contributed to pretension and self-righteousness that is not aligned with cultural value. In fact, all this abstraction is creating social chaos.

Marx himself overestimated the economic contribution of intellectuals, wanting everyone to be a poet once the dictatorship of the proletariat was achieved. Fantasy.

This is not to be anti-intellectual, but merely to point out that there are numerous ways that people create different kinds of value within their communities. The idea that one needs a college degree as a requirement in order to contribute such value is poppycock. We have created a higher education system -- especially in the liberal arts -- that employs thought control methods. Their reason? "Just because." Because of what? That's not intellectual, that's totalitarian!

If our education system is not creating social value commensurate with the money we're paying for it, what are we doing? Why should society have to pay through the nose for substandard mental trivialities? We have young people who believe themselves wonderful, but can't hold a job. That's betrayal, and it's going to bite us in the ass, at a huge price.

Indoctrination is not education.

Shaun F said...

I'm not in agreement with the observation about Scott Adams metaphoric ouija board. I read all his entries about the election and I found him quite able to articulate in a fashion which I understood the reasoning associated with his perceptions. There was another blog I also read that called a Trump landslide. Some people can just see patterns clearly.

Ares Olympus said...

Shaun F said... There was another blog I also read that called a Trump landslide. Some people can just see patterns clearly.

I presume the landslide prediction is for the yet future, for Trump's 2020 reelection, at least 46% of the vote is not considered a landslide by nondelusional people.

71,000 margin votes in 4 states was all it took for the largest republican electoral win since GHWB in 1988. I bet it feels so good for the true believers.

Myself I'll nominate Michael Moore for "The Soothsayer Award."

Anonymous said...

"avoid fighting in Vietnam".

I took a Military Sociology course taught by Prof. Roger Little. U of I Chicago, 1973.

He did a serious study of draft evasion. Numbers, stats, wars. DOD. Selective Service. Et. al.

Conclusion (unexpected): Less during VN Era than WW2! 90+ % of draftees reported for service.

Of course, there were other ways of avoidance. Bill Clinton used a few (we were born in the same week - I enlisted).

Still, if the stats still hold, pretty impressive IMO. We were our fathers' sons, our uncles' nephews.

I'm vexed that the Era is defined by non-vets. The Sixties! Blah blah blah.

We liked the same music tho. Lusted for the same Beauties (Raquel Welch on every other foot locker). I subscribed to Esquire, if you please.

Came home (18 month tour, extended per my request) during the Chicago Riots of 68. After 18 mo. in the boonies. Yawn. -- Rich Lara

Sam L. said...

IAC at 12:55 reminded me of this:
How many readers remember a ('60s or '70s) poster of a man standing by his open garage door with five (5!) expensive cars inside (Ferrari, Rolls, etc.), with text to indicate this is what a college education will enable you to get? How many readers recall the outrage of some who saw this as the CRASS Commercialization of a college education?