Category: Arts & Letters (Page 1 of 4)

Populism: The Long Con

By: Jared Marcel Pollen

Some time ago, likely in a moment of procrastination over some more important task, I found myself browsing through a cache of old interviews from The Daily Show (the Jon Stewart era). One such interview was with Mike Huckabee (2015), which I’d remembered watching live years earlier. Huckabee was promoting his apologia, God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy–– another puritanical installation in the great conflict between the provincial interior and the cosmopolitan coasts. After likening Beyoncé to a stripper and mocking the Harvard faculty, Huckabee posed a question: “If your car breaks down in the middle of the night on a country road, who do you want coming by? An MBA in a Beemer, or do you want a couple of good ol’ boys in a pickup truck, with a toolbox in the back?”

These “would you rather” scenarios are a common trope in the culture war. The most famous is probably William F. Buckley’s claim that he’d rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the phonebook than by the Harvard University faculty. Huckabee, who grew up in Arkansas and was educated at a Baptist University, might be able to claim membership in the heartland, but Buckley (a Yale man) certainly couldn’t have, no more than most Republicans in the House of Representatives can today.

With decades of this stuff piled high in the American consciousness, the mental conditions required to give rise to a populist like Trump should have been obvious. These kinds of sentiments, aside from being very stupid, are also very insidious, and highly corrosive to the idea of an informed society. For populism’s great peril is in its mawkish insistence on normalcy as a kind of authenticity––on there being a “real America.” And more still, that this authenticity is somehow measured by, say, how much gravy one has coursing through one’s veins. It also produces rip currents of anti-intellectualism and vulgarity (and by vulgarity I don’t mean profane, but simply that which is “of the common people”). The apotheosis of this has been reached (one hopes) with the 45th president of the United States, who is less a portrait of someone with an anti-intellectual posture than someone living an anti-intellectual existence.

Populism is an old trick. It’s been around since the earliest democracies. Plato, Aristotle and all the classical thinkers wrote about it and rightly condemned it, understanding that it would naturally end with a demagogue. And it should come as no surprise that they regarded the most threatening aspect of this kind of politics to be its disdain for the educated. One of the best dramatizations of this in the ancient world is Aristophanes’ The Clouds. Written during a lull in the Peloponnesian War, it’s considered one of the playwright’s lighter, apolitical comedies.

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Russia Interested in Interrogating Rocky Balboa

Don’t Feed The Animals, A Series of Satirical Musings by: Josh Lorenzo

Washington, D.C. – According to sources within the White House, the President is seriously considering sending Rocky Balboa to Russia to be interrogated for his role in defeating Ivan Drago on Christmas Day, back in 1985. If true, this could send a terrible message abroad regarding America’s standing as a world power, and might seriously jeopardize the possibility of any further Rocky films.

Balboa, as could be expected, is quite concerned about this potential turn of events. “Hey, yo, I don’t know, you know?” he remarked to journalists, “I, uh, like it here in Philly, and, uh, I, you know, don’t want to leave.”

In an interview with Fox News, Trump indicated that he would be amenable to this request, should Putin urge it. “Drago was a tremendous athlete. Tremendous,” he said, “Frankly, I don’t see how Balboa would’ve defeated Drago.”

When confronted with the growing outrage over his anti-American sentiment, President Trump indicated that he misspoke: “In fact, I meant to say, ‘I don’t see how Balboa wouldn’t have defeated Drago.’”

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Potential Television Project Planned for May Sweeps on Fox: Reality Series Aims to Destroy National Park

Don’t Feed The Animals, A Series of Satirical Musings by: Josh Lorenzo

Washington, D.C. – If the rumors are true, President Trump’s first major project after leaving office will be a return to his television roots.  This time, however, there will be a political twist.

According to our sources, President Trump is currently in negotiations with Fox Studios to produce a reality television series starring the former Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, and Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke.

Based on the information we have obtained, these two distinguished politicians will be placed within an undetermined National Park, where they will face off against each other in a desperate attempt to completely devastate the scenic beauty that surrounds them.  Whoever can destroy the Park first will win $500,000 and a timeshare at Trump’s first lunar colony, opening in the Spring of 2021.

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“Make America Great Again”: Regina Jose Galindo’s Performance Art Illustrates the Struggles of Immigration

Art of Politics, Politics of Art, A Series By: Jeanette Joy Harris
In this series, Jeanette Joy Harris looks at how artists around the world are using public and participatory art forms to describe, analyze, and influence contemporary politics.

In May of 2018, Guatemalan national Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez was shot at the US-Mexico border by patrols. The previous month, former Guatemalan military dictator and human rights criminal, Efrain Rios Montt died at the age of 91. Considering these two events together illustrates the struggle that Central Americans face as they deliberate between staying in countries with high levels of violence or risking immigration into the United States. Guatemalan artist Regina Jose Galindo has spent much of her career bringing international visibility to the very issues that these people deal with at home. Her performances are often brutal physical actions that reimagine environments that portray the social, political, and economic instability of many countries in Central America.

Galindo has had a special focus on Montt, exemplified by her performance “Quien Puede Borrar Las Huellas,” (“Who Can Trace These Tears”). The artist was outspoken when the former military leader ran for president of Guatemala in 2003. Early on election day morning, she went to a medical lab and purchased human blood. She poured it into a white basin and then, clothed in black, started a 45-minute walk that began outside the Constitutional Court in Guatemala City. It ended at the front steps of the National Palace. With each step she dipped her feet in the basin, leaving a trail of bloody prints behind her. As she faced security guards at the end of her pilgrimage, she left two final footprints and the basin as the final documentation of the work.

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House of Representatives Votes to Make Every Season in America Summer

Measure Intended to Curb School Shooting Epidemic

Don’t Feed The Animals, A Series of Satirical Musings by: Josh Lorenzo

Washington, D.C. – The landmark legislation, passed strictly by the GOP along partisan lines, is intended to appease both the National Rifle Association and concerned parents.  All 248 GOP members of Congress celebrated the legislation, though some were secretly expressing concern that this bill would lend credence to the Democratic claim that climate change is real, and that the rising sea level is not because rocks are falling into our oceans.  Opting to fortify the NRA over the climate-change-is-a-hoax wing of the party, despite the two being wholly intertwined, the bill was celebrated by the GOP through a series of ignominious tweets.

“Thoughts and prayers definitely weren’t working, which was surprising because they always worked in the past,” said Texas Congressman Ted Cruz.  “It feels good to finally take action against this blight on society.”

“The American people deserve the right to feel safe and have an opportunity to better their lives, and the best way to do that is to make sure schools never open again,” said Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks.  “Kids love summer, and we love our kids.  We also like guns so when you factor all of that in, this is a no-brainer.  Besides, we never really have winter in Alabama anyway.”

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Crooner Michael Bolton’s Introductory Press Conference as National Security Advisor

Don’t Feed The Animals, A Series of Satirical Musings by: Josh Lorenzo

April 16th, 2018, Washington D.C. – In an attempt to increase his numbers in national polls, President Trump has appointed singer Michael Bolton to be the new National Security Advisor, replacing former NSA advisor, John Bolton. John Bolton, you may recall, briefly replaced H.R. McMaster, who briefly replaced acting advisor Keith Kellogg (who had served for about a week), who replaced embattled advisor Michael Flynn, who briefly filled the role before he was forced to begrudgingly step down by President Trump.

In his introductory press conference, Mr. Bolton reassured a worried public that a powerful balladeer from the 1980s and 90s would be able to bring a sense of calm and professionalism to the position.

Jim Acosta, CNN:
Mr. Bolton, have you had a chance to speak with the outgoing advisor, the other Mr. Bolton?

Michael Bolton: 
Hello, DC! I told Mr. Bolton that I could hardly believe the news today.
Are you leaving John, leaving me blue?
Sadly, so sadly, I found out that it’s true.

Jim Acosta, CNN:
Why do you take long pauses to gaze into the cameras with sensual eyes and pouty lips? Is that a singer’s trick to get people to listen to you?

Michael Bolton: 
When the National Security Advisor loves a country, can’t keep his mind on nothing else
He’ll fight the whole world to keep the good thing he’s found.

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Heidegger, Metaphysics, and Wheelbarrows: A Poetic Introduction to Heidegger’s Being and Time

By: Richard Oxenberg

so much depends
upon
a red wheel
barrow
glazed with rain
water
beside the white
chickensWilliam Carlos Williams

In order to appreciate Heidegger’s thought it is necessary to see it in relation to the Western metaphysical tradition from which it has emerged. This would be true, of course, for any thinker, but it is especially so for Heidegger, because Heidegger’s thinking represents a radical challenge to the tradition itself. Heidegger does to the traditional view of Being and the world what Marx is said to have done to Hegel’s dialectic: he stands it on its head. He stands it on its head – so he might contend – in order that we might finally see it right-side-up.

The problem with the traditional view, from Heidegger’s perspective, is not that it fails to illuminate the most abstract and remote issues, the Alpha and Omega of Being, but that it fails to properly grasp what is most obvious, what is everyday, what is right before our eyes; what is, perhaps, so close that it is uncomfortably close. And in this failure it has institutionalized an interpretation of life that is inauthentic and self-alienated. Perhaps the best way to see this is to examine something that is itself rather simple and everyday, first from the traditional and then from the Heideggarian standpoint.

The poem quoted above will serve this purpose well. It is, apparently, the expression of a simple moment of life; perhaps it is a worried sigh, a moment’s nervous reflection. It might have been uttered at the end of a long day’s work, or in preparation for a new one. It is almost too simple to say anything about. We are finished with it before we have begun. And yet it is precisely here, in the obvious, in the everyday, that Heidegger begins his revolutionary investigations.

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Racist Ideas, Justice, and Freedom: A Review and Reflection on Ibram Kendi’s ‘Stamped from the Beginning’

By: Jeremy Kingston Cynamon

We tend to think that hierarchical institutions like slavery emerge as the result of racist and hateful ideas. Ibram Kendi’s new book Stamped From the Beginning, offers an intriguing and far reaching historical challenge to that narrative. Kendi reverses the causal arrow and argues that rather than racist ideas causing discriminatory practices, racist ideas are more accurately understood as ex post justifications of those practices. In other words, hierarchical institutions emerge first – owing to self-interested economic, political, and social reasons –  and are then justified in theory by clergy, intellectuals, and other elites.[1] Perhaps Kendi’s most surprising claim is that racist ideas penetrate even the minds of liberal reformers, activists, and theorists, who are otherwise considered progressives. Here he cites W.E.B. Du Bois and Barack Obama amongst many others, ultimately suggesting that racist ideas infiltrate nearly every discourse and sphere of social life.

Kendi’s book is, as its subtitle suggests, an incisive and thoroughgoing study of the history of racist ideas in America. But it is more than that; Stamped From the Beginning is also rife with implications for political theory. It has much to say both about the ongoing discussion about distributive justice, and about how we conceptualize freedom. Its central argument, which points to the need to address deep structures of inequality, can be interpreted as particularly troublesome for liberal theories of distributive justice. This same argument also highlights some important limitations of the typical bifurcation of freedom into its positive and negative variants.[2]

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Naked, Shivering Creatures: A Look Behind Burke’s “Pleasing Illusions”

By: Sonia Maria Pavel

“Only man placed values in things to preserve himself – he alone created a meaning for things, a human meaning! That is why he calls himself “human,” that is: the esteemer. […] Only through esteeming is there value: and without esteeming, the nut of existence would be hollow.”[1] – F. Nietzsche

In the Reflections, Edmund Burke expresses his concern with the radical political changes prompted by what were then recent events in France. He sees the “new conquering empire of light and reason” threatening to tear off the old “decent drapery of life.”[2] Contrary to the enlightened reformers leading this empire of light, Burke defends prejudice and the “pleasing illusions” that surround political power. In his view, prejudices ought not to be cast aside simply because they are old or irrational, but rather valued as a common moral heritage that engenders stability through feelings of familiarity and belonging.

In this article, I differentiate between two dimensions of Burke’s argument. The first is a historical and anthropological description of ‘pleasing illusions’ – their manifestations and meanings in pre-revolutionary France. On this front, I take Burke to be arguing that the ‘pleasing illusions’ surrounding power are not designed as ways of deceiving people into obeying authority, but evolve alongside relationships of obedience thereby making them gentler and more liberal.[3] According to him, communities and cultures are not built from scratch in accordance to a rational plan to yield particular results, but emerge and develop historically.

At the same time, on a secondary political level, Burke’s argument is not merely a tribute to this fading cultural reality; it is in itself a rationalist justification of why it should be revived and rehabilitated. Burke argues that life without such prejudice is brutish and crude. Sans prejudice we would be left with nothing but our “naked shivering nature,” alone and afraid. As a result, he reasons that conventions should be maintained through prejudice.[4]

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Femininity and the Emasculation of Western Politics

By: Glen Paul Hammond

“Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me, from the crown to toe, top-full of direst cruelty!”

With these words from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the playwright provides modern readers with a sense of what the western world’s view of womankind was in the late medieval period. This view backed up a foundational belief that women were ill-suited to the hard demands of leadership outside the home. Shakespeare’s stratified society was a more complicated system than our own; aristocrats were “born to rule,” and women, depending on their placement within that system, were, more or less, expected to turn their talents to the personal sphere of society, allowing men to apply theirs to the professional world that operated outside the home. In Lady Macbeth’s desire to “unsex” herself, the character outlines the way different traits were assigned to the sexes: She wants kindness to be replaced with cruelty, and compassion to be replaced with action.

As these caricatures of sex traits began to be dismantled in the post-feminist world of the 20th century, female leaders were expected to adopt the attributes of male-styled leadership, since these were still considered the defining features of a leader. However, by the end of the 20th century this began to change, so much so that in the early 21st century, the pendulum seems to have swung the other way.

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