Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Godwin's Law and a Fear of Telling the Truth About the Republican Party's Cuts to Food Stamps and Racism Driven War on the Poor

I am very interested in online writing as a type of performance which is a means to (hopefully) contribute in a positive way to the public conversation on matters of politics and society--however defined. As readers of my work here on WARN and elsewhere know, I am also very interested in the meta-game of punditry, professional opinion making, and who gets the chance to shape the public discourse under the guise of being an "expert".

There is a pattern and a type of style which allows some types of opinions to be considered respectable and mainstream. Some of these boundaries are stylistic (how and in what tone, manner, and venue does one write and speak). The other limitation is that of sticking to approved talking points and subjects.

"Speaking truth to power" can be very difficult within those rules. The trick is to push the boundaries outward while also creating one's own space within which to operate.

My most recent piece here on We Are Respectable Negroes focused on what I suggest is a clear connection between the Tea Party GOP's ethic of racialized citizenship and their efforts to destroy the social safety as a means of furthering the long game that is transferring resources to the 1 percent. The framework for the Republican's odious War on the Poor can be found in the concept of a Herrenvolk society that practices a type of bio politics which subsequently separates the public into "productive" and "unproductive" citizens.

The most obvious examples of a Herrenvolk order are South Africa, Jim and Jane Crow America, and of course Nazi Germany.

My reference to the latter forces a consideration of how Godwin's Law applies not just to online trolls, but also to a broader limit on the types of truth claims that are considered "acceptable" by many in the mainstream media, the chattering classes, and public, more generally.

During my several years of writing online and experiment with public pedagogy, I have learned that there are no guaranteed formulas for how a given piece of work may resonate (or not) with readers and the broader community.

Some of our best work--or what we think is our "best" and actually is not--may not be noticed until a later date. There is such a thing as being ahead of the curve. Alternatively, we can believe that there is something novel and interesting--and yes, attention-worthy and notable--about our work, when in reality our claims are too obvious. Thus, they are made to be uninteresting.

Yet, I have a lingering sense that my reference to useless eaters, Germany, and racial democracy in the context of the Tea Party's GOP assault on the poor and cutting of food stamps, was too direct, and thus too "problematic" for many readers and other venues.

I do not want to surrender to what I see as petty speech norms and rules that deem some ideas verboten. But, this is also a game which has to be played strategically and smartly. 

Are my instincts misplaced? Or are more basic alternative explanation in play in the fear of clear echoes in current events which can be tied directly to the habits and practices of racial fascism of the near past?

Ultimately, how would you find balance between truth-telling and the practical hustle that is jockeying for one's proper position among the chattering classes?


OldPolarBear said...

Your instincts are not misplaced. Unfortunately some quite useful terms, e.g., fascist, and others that apply more correctly to specific historical cases, e.g., Nazi, have been thrown around indiscriminately until they have started to loose meaning. Godwin's Law is perhaps a useful way to moderate overwrought rhetoric, but it also becomes a sort of inoculation against being called out for actual Nazi-like behavior. Even the valid comparisons to Hitler, etc., are made to look ridiculous.

Part of this careless use of words is just stupid people throwing things around without knowing what they are doing. Hitler is the bad thing they know about from history, so if they want to insult someone, they say they are acting like Hitler. And so on. But there are also people who really want a word like "fascist" to lose its meaning, so that it becomes more difficult to call a system like ours fascist without sounding overwrought and hysterical.

We are constantly told that we must treat all opinions and policy positions as if those holding them are acting in "good faith," that is to say, that everyone wants what is best for "the country" and the people in it -- we just differ on how to achieve the goals. I don't believe this of modern, current conservatives in this country or worldwide. They hate democracy and want all power to be held by an aristocratic elite.

There is an essay by Philip Agre, a former professor at UCLA, that I like to share: http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/pagre/conservatism.html titled "What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong With It?" Maybe some have already heard of it. It basically says what I said in the last sentence of the paragraph above, but he goes into a lot of useful detail. It is longish, but quite readable and he really elaborates well on some of the techniques used by the right to control language and cow their opponents.

So, no, I don't think you were wrong in the terms you used. But I don't have any good answers to the question of you asked at the end. I will think about it some more.

chauncey devega said...

I have had some shine and been given some nice exposure. No doubt for which I am thankful. I am just fascinated by speech norms and the performance that folks have to give--and important things that go unsaid--one which does not serve the public interest long term.

chauncey devega said...

I hear you. But the problem is Whiteness is a dynamic social force with hug overreach. It will not go out with a whimper. Moreover, white identity politics are bringing the whole country down the toilet. We are all getting--pardon the pun--flushed.

chauncey devega said...

I appreciate that essay and will carefully consider it. You are spot on with how the rise of cultural of narcissism and victimologist anti-intellectual conservatism has generated this "all opinions are equally valid" mess. Is there a way out of it?

rikyrah said...

you speak the truth, but I'm just tired of their stupid azzes

Michael Varian Daly said...

Nebs Nullification
Aug. 1st, 2011 at 4:38 PM

~Wherein the grotesque over-usage of Godwin's Law has become pernicious to the point of being repressive, a counter-meme has become essential.

To wit, it is contended that the German National Socialist movement, aka Nazism, had an impact upon the 20th Century – politically, psycho-culturally, philosophically, economically, technologically, theologically - of such depth and profundity that it far outweighs the impact of all the other movements of that century, one which irrevocably changed the not only the course of human history, but even the ways in which we perceive ourselves as human.

Therefore, it is stated that said over usage of Godwin's Law is to be considered an Epistemological Crime of the First Order and those who commit it are to be branded Enemies of Knowledge.

Commentary: [Aug 1st, 2011] I have been cogitating upon this for a while. What finally brought it to a head was the Tea Party's actions regarding The Debt Ceiling contrasted with the US Chamber of Commerce’s quiet, but desperate attempts to head them off.

The CoC had funded a fair number of Tea Partyeirs and helped them to take The House. Yet here they were trying to stop them from wrecking the US economy, something inimical to their interests. I referred to that as The Hitler Mistake, the false
belief by Capitalist Interests that they can control Political Radicals via the application of money.

Of course, such a statement, though clearly valid, would automatically draw a Godwin's citation and derail the entire conversation. Hence the above, which I shall now immediately cite in return, as may anyone else.

Note however that hyperbolic statements such as “Obama is like Hitler” or “Glenn Beck is a Nazi” are
still covered by Godwin's Law. Obama is a thoroughly owned Center/Right Corporatist sycophant and Glenn Beck is mere another in a long line of American Nativist demagogues with Fascistic tendencies.

Outside of fiction and nightmares, Hitler and the real Nazis are dead and gone. But their lessons seem largely still unlearned or forgotten. It is past time that we begin to remember and truly learn them once again.

Learning is Eternal said...

Don't dumb it down, CDV, ever. We have 'certain' people in various areas of media who have that on lock. If you're ahead of the curve, so be it. Don't look back, you not going that way. Would you rather be overrated or underrated? My favorite 'anything' rarely has the publicity to match their talent. A major reason we support WARN is b/c you never broke "kayfabe." Not that it/you was something made-up in the 1st place. You give us 'the real' in every post. You not mainstream b/c you NOT mainstream.

chauncey devega said...

Those are some kind and inspirational words. Sometimes matters for all of us can be frustrating. Especially, when you see all of the shark biters out there who copy but do not acknowledge. Your good energy and those of others here on WARN keep things moving forward.

Me thinks you may have figured out my relationship to the performance side of politics as professional wrestling. But let us just keep it between the two of us...

Buddy H said...

I don't have any solid evidence for the views I am expressing here, just a feeling I get from TV and print news:

I like the metaphor of politics as professional wrestling, a big noisy show, full of drama and hyperbole, staged for the benefit of us, the rubes in the audience. I feel like the establishment democrats and republicans don't care about the stuff they argue about. It doesn't affect them personally because they've got their money and their healthcare. The audience, my neighbors who watch fox news, are pissed off as hell, and wouldn't give the time of day to a liberal, but the politicians (when the cameras are off) are actually cordial and friendly with each other. They don't take it as seriously as their intended audience.

Having said that, I see the new extreme right-wing of the GOP, the "tea baggers" (who mysteriously sprang into existence five minutes after Obama's election) are not joking around, not like the establishment GOP. They are deadly serious. They remind me of this Ultimate Fighting Match promo spoof that Key and Peele staged:


One side (the democrats) is cheerfully mouthing scripted putdowns, but the bagger folk are fanatics, taking the game seriously, fighting to the death.

The "right" side, the baggers are the ones throwing about the "Nazi" references, but their rise, during the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, reminds me of Germany, pre-WWII.

chauncey devega said...

That is one hell of a cogent point. I may have to borrow it. One of the things that always surprises students is when I explain the obvious: almost all of the Senators and congress people are millionaires. Now, given that fact whose interests are they going to look out for? Look at the tax code and the insider trading for example where members of the oversight cmtes were getting stock tips and kickbacks from legislation. Response from them? Crickets.

Redpoet said...

Your remarks were absolutely right on target. Do not worry about being too direct. Keep it up. I reprinted your article with a link to this page over at my blog SCISSION. It has been well received.

chauncey devega said...

How kind. Appreciated. Let's support each other...