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Archive for the ‘Political Theory’ Category

Seed Newsvine

After nearly 6-1/2 years of the Bush Theocracy, an absolutism born of the desire to control the private thoughts of citizens of the United States, to insure that the absurdest, religious based notion of intelligent design be taught in public schools, wars waged on abortion, homosexuality, and other moral campaigns, the stacking of the Supreme Court of the United States with right wing zealots, battles waged in support of the Ten Commandments –oh how the list goes on and on–the nation is indeed at risk of falling into the same sewer as the Taliban dominated Afghanistan. I fear for the deist wisdom of the Founding Fathers of this nation, a nation born of religious intolerance, as we fall into the devil’s own trap of becoming intolerant ourselves. How ironic! How the pendulum swings!

American Taliban

Updated January 25, 2007 and April 19, 2005 (originally published November 24, 2004)

The “War on Terror” has provided Americans with a helpful

introduction to theocracy. The fight against Al Qaeda, the war on

the Taliban, and the growing tensions with the regime in Iran has

offered a quick primer on the hallmarks of the religious state.

First is the rule of religious authorities, whether it be Bin

Laden’s new Caliphate, Mullah Omar’s Taliban regime, or the mullahs

in Tehran. Second is the imposition of the faith’s sacred texts as

law, in these cases, some variant of sharia law of the Koran. And

last is the direct involvement of the state in the most minute and

deeply personal aspects of individual lives, enforced by religious

police, informed by spies, and punished severely (and often

publicly).

Now thanks to the Bush administration, a Republican Congress and

the conservative ascendancy, Americans need not travel to Kandahar

to learn about the perils of theocratic rule. Right here in the

United States, a network of politicians, religious leaders,

“faith-based” organizations and (literally) their amen corner are

working overtime to make a particularly onerous concept of

Christianity the de facto law of the land. Armed with the Bible in

one hand and the Patriot Act in the other, George W. Bush and his

GOP jihadists threaten to fundamentally change the role of

government in monitoring Americans’ lives, liberties and

even bodies.

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Seed Newsvine

Žižek (2001) makes the claim that in order to break the liberal-democratic hegemony in order to reclaim an authentic radical posture, one must endorse a position that refuses to compromise (in the pragmatic political sense) and be willing to accept both the positive and negative effects of one’s position. To do otherwise is to fall embarrassingly short of the “unconditional ethical demand.” In order to accomplish this goal Žižek suggests that one cannot turn to foundational theorists. He argues that Christ does not become Christian until he encounters St. Paul and later Augustine, bishop of Hippo; that Marx does not become a Marxist until he is interpreted by Lenin; that Freud does not make sense until he is seen first through the eyes of Jung and, finally, through a Lacanian lens. The point made by Žižek is simply this: the revisionists, those that first put into practice that which the foundationalists offer reject the “irresponsibility” of the foundational thinkers. Žižek argues that the foundationalists advocate grand projects, but, when the chips are down, they are unwilling to pay the price for implementing their positions with concrete and often cruel political acts. “Like an authentic conservative,” Žižek writes, “a true Leninist is not afraid to pass to the act, to assume all the consequences, unpleasant as they may be, or realizing his political project.” Žižek goes on to write, “[A] Leninist, like a Conservative, is authentic in the sense of fully assuming the consequences of his choice, i.e. of being fully aware of what it actually means to take power and to exert it.” (emphasis in original)

In brief, what Žižek suggests is that in order to break the strangle-hold of any established institution, in this case perhaps global-liberal-capitalism it is not enough to simply fixate on adjusting the old program to new conditions. To do so is something like moving the deck chairs on the Titanic. Change, in Žižek’s terms, is not nostalgia, not more of the same, not a return to the good old days. Change, rather, is brought about by radical acts that are bound up by in but are significantly different than their theoretical origins. Žižek sums up this way: “What Christianity did with regard to the Roman Empire, this global “multiculturalist” polity, we should do with regard to today’s Empire.” This clear reference to Gibbon’s argument that the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of Rome was the root cause of the decline and fall of the once great Empire is arresting. What does Žižek see as the uncompromising force of the 21st Century that will prove to be the underlying action that will bring about the decline and fall of the West?

References

Žižek, S. (2001). On belief. London, UK: Routledge

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Seed Newsvine

I sat through an active presentation by Steven Turner in which he asked whether teaching for achievement or teaching for understanding is appropriate in public schools. In the current climate many of the participants at this session agreed that teaching for achievement as an isolated concept equates to teaching skills appropriate for testing with little or no evidence of transferability or sustainability. We also tended to agree that teaching for understanding led to students developing critical thinking, reflection, rigorous sense of internalization of knowledge. One participant argued that teaching for achievement meant teaching to a predetermined, external set of standards while teaching for understanding had no predetermined borders but is broadly focused on relevant issues and knowledge. What also developed from this discussion was a consensus that if one teaches for understanding this does not negate the need to teach the necessary skills required for particular understanding. The two are not mutually exclusive. Furthermore, the great irony is that when children are taught with understanding as the goal of the process test scores rise in a direct relationship to student engagement. If, however, children are taught only for achievement their test scores are erratic and, perhaps more importantly, students become resistant to school and schooling. Turner’s work is worthy of a second look and some follow-up studies as well.

In a second session, Steven J. Thornton and Keith C. Barton presented a paper entitled Why history education is impossible without social studies. This work suggests that teaching history as a separate academic discipline is impossible without relating the history being taught to the other social studies, areas of study that include economics, political science, sociology, psychology, anthropology, geography and the like. I was drawn to the session not only because of Thornton’s work, but by the title of their paper. I have been thinking about how to effectively link the social studies to teaching history as many social studies educators are doing but I simply assumed that history serves as the underlying foundation for the rest of the social studies. Thornton and Barton suggest a different relationship, one that understands history as the factual exemplar for the theoretical concepts endemic to the rest of the social studies. An example they gave is the American Revolution. One cannot understand the revolution without understanding the concept from political science of representation or the concept from economics of taxation. While a gross oversimplification, the point they are making is that political science and economics provide us with theoretical constructions while the narrative of the revolution transforms those abstractions into narrative reality. History, in this sense, is the exemplar that provides students with concrete examples of weighty though abstract concepts. I really liked this take on the problem raised.

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Seed Newsvine

Appearing in the Peninusla Clarion. The writer demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of both the point of the first amendment and the history of ‘In God We Trust’ as a jingoistic slogan. Now I suppose it is okay for a citizen to be ignorant but for an editor to actually choose this letter for publication is simply unconscionable. See for yourself. I am deeply offended by Shannon’s bigotry, intolerance and anti-intellectualism. Her lack of knowledge and understanding regarding alternatives to faith suggests a world view that excludes cognition and rational thought rather than working toward acceptance and clarity. I am tempted to ask Alice Shannon to stay in Alaska and not wander into the lower 48 but that would be falling into her trap. How about an old fashioned face-to-face debate. Maybe that would be enlightening (pun intended).

Believe or else!

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Writing in the Washington Post, Peter Baker reports:

“He strode alone into the Rose Garden and complained that “it has now
been 57 days” since he asked Congress for more money for the Iraq war
and still has not gotten it. For President Bush, the fight over
war-spending legislation has become the only talking point — an
opportunity, his strategists hope, to demonstrate strength and turn the
tables on a Democratic Congress that may be overreaching.”


What, he thinks he just snaps his fingers and the Democratic Congress just wilts and complies? No, Georgie. In Civics 101 you should have learned about the Constitution of the United States, a document that established 3 co-equal branches of government each with a check on the other in order to maintain a pragmatic balance. But, gosh you must have been soused during those lectures. You have had no checks on your rule in the White House until now. But, oh my, get used to it for the remainder of your time in office.

Rather than asking for more money, perhaps you should begin to think about how you can work to restore balance in the Middle East so that it doesn’t erupt into the melting point for WWIII. But, that one will be on your hands as well. Perhaps you should join forces with Nancy Pelosi as she seeks to be a peacemaker rather than a mad bomber, as she tries to restore confidence in the reputation of America that you have ruined. But, you are do arrogant that I suspect that will never happen.

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The paradox of sovereignty consists in the fact that the sovereign is, at the same time, outside and inside the juridical order.
Giorgio Agamben (1998)

In Agamben’s view, the sovereign has the implicit power to declare himself outside the law, to create an exception which cannot be subsumed by any other. In the United States, this creation of the exception is often couched in the language of “executive privilege” upon which Richard M. Nixon so heavily relied. The President of the United States, in whomever that office resides, has made a living drawing upon executive privilege. From Ford, to Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush, the claims of executive privilege distance the office of the president from the people the president is elected (or in the case of George W. Bush–SELECTED) to serve. Democrat, Republican who cares. The office itself carries with it an overwhelming need or desire to create a state of exception; of being at once outside and inside the law.

In the case of the present Bush White House, domestically that exceptionality has reached a boiling point surrounding the actions of Attorney General Gonzalez as he acted on behalf of the President. The White House demanded that in the Patriot Act, the President, through his AG, shall have the right to hire and fire and or replace federal prosecutors without the advice and consent of the Senate. In a Republican dominated Congress, one that did little, if any, oversight as was their duty as a fully authorized and equal constitutional branch of government along side the executive, the Patriot Act passed and was signed into law. The Patriot Act, by the way, creates many new areas of exceptionality but I’ll save those for later posts. The specific flap that concerns me here is that the AG chose to exercise the exceptional authority granted him as an agent of the President and allegedly fired a number of prosecutors for purely political reasons.

The White House had, but has since lost, the opportunity to step away from the problem by simply admitting to the problem and moving to rectify the situation. Bush, in this sense, is not unlike any of his predecessors. He chose to hunker down, to create a state of exception that places him simultaneously outside and inside the law. In the case of this sovereign, and much like Nixon, the state of exception is designed to protect his friends, foremost among them being AG Gonzalez. So Bush, taking his lead from Nixon (who, in the end, was not so successful in his defense of his friends), is declaring that he and his administration is both outside the law and is standing firmly within that law–after all, the AG acted in compliance with the Patriot Act, didn’t he?

The good news is there are less than two-years to go. Of course the bad news is that Bush’s replacement, whether Democrat or Republican, will necessarily fall into the same trap. It seems to be part of the territory of office.

References

Agamben, G. (1998). Homo Sacer: Sovereign power and bare life (D. Heller-Roazen, Trans.). Sanford, CA: Sanford University Press.

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I received a comment from someone who did not agree with my position. After some consideration I decided that I would delete the comment, not because of its content, but because of the language used to express disagreement. In two lines I counted five off-color comments. Rational debate has no room for language that is offensive, for name calling, or for displays of anger that are out of control. One of the great features of a blog is the ability to carry on reasonable discussions regarding many issues of interest to the blogger. This blog is no exception to that idea. My concern here is not that someone disagrees with my position; I do not nor can I claim a lock on any knowledge. Rather, my quarrel is with the tone and tenor of the comment itself. Rather than dispute ideas, the commenter resorted to name calling and foul language that has no place in civilized discussion. I will delete comments like this one every time I see one. I will never delete a comment that engages in an exchange of ideas.

Giorgio Agamben (1998) makes the point that modern democratic societies run the risk of decaying into totalitarian states when the subjective self confuses itself with the objective whole thereby granting to the sovereign all power, even full power over death. The comment I received was from an individual who, in his (or her) anger, could no longer engage in rational debate; he (or she) could no longer recognize that a difference of political opinion in a democratic state must not lead to responses embedded in anger, rather that they ought to be open to the light of day for all to respond. When anger wins out Agamben’s point appears in full force–the totalitarian state is here as we are expected to submit to the will of the dictator, in this case, George W. Bush. Granting the sovereign maximum power outside of debate and with no accountability is nothing more than objective submission to totalitarianism, something a democracy cannot tolerate.

I struggled with deleting this particular comment, the first time I have ever done so, because I believe in the power of rational debate, discussion and the inevitable disagreements that flow from these debates. The fact is, however, that I have chosen to approve comments as a form of censorship of abusive, crude, or foul language; language that has no place in thoughtful debate or discussion. I doubt if the commenter is a regular reader of this blog, but if he is I invite him to resubmit his comment without the language problems that prompted my deletion. Make your point, make it clear and let’s have at it and see what ideas prevail in the end.

References

Agamben, G. (1998). Homo Sacer: Sovereign power and bare life (D. Heller-Roazen, Trans.). Sanford, CA: Sanford University Press.

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