Swans Commentary » swans.com March 8, 2010  



A Short History Of Stupidity - Part 2


by Michael Doliner





[ed. Part 1 of "A Short History Of Stupidity" was published last month.]


(Swans - March 8, 2010)   The nation-state system Metternich founded in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna was a device to preserve aristocratic rule through avowing Jacobin "metaphysical principles" while at the same time opposing any changes to ancient traditions and customs these principles might inspire. In this way they hoped to bubble off the passions that led to Jacobin uprisings and preserve their own power. The nation-state allowed Jacobin passions to simmer in the low heat of exhausting parliamentary debates or tedious judicial proceedings. When necessary it could mix profession of Jacobin ideals of universal freedom and equality with the passion of patriotism to fire up a war-making boiler.

But in addition to Jacobin uprisings, capitalist expansion threatened aristocratic rule, and threatened it far more effectively. Although the popular assemblies instituted as a result of the French Revolution were for the most part all but powerless after the Restoration and through most of the nineteenth century, their power grew, and eventually, after The Great War, broke the steadily weakening aristocratic grip on power completely. By that time these were bourgeois institutions in that they served bourgeois interests rather than the interests of the entire "Third Estate." The transfer of power in the nation-state from the restored aristocracy to the burgeoning bourgeoisie was gradual but inexorable. What effect did the transfer of control of the nation-state to the bourgeoisie have?

The growth of bourgeois power was, of course, not revolutionary. The bourgeoisie had no interest in manning the barricades and clothing themselves in Roman garb. Instead of the ideal of universal human equality, they had a better idea: money. The true bourgeois is nearly a megalomaniac, for he has come to the conclusion that he need have no interests but money. The modern corporation, in which the CEO is obligated to consider nothing else but how to make money, is an organizational incarnation of this mentality, and in a very real sense, a new life form. The modern growth of both the acceptance and power of corporations parallels the growing bourgeois power.

The making of money, though an obsession, is an obsession that can, and often does, come to an abrupt end. "What is all this for?" is a question the bourgeois ridicules, but it nevertheless haunts him. The anxiety and uncertainty of the enterprise practically forces this question to be asked. For there are no real skills that can guarantee the making of money. What worked today might not work tomorrow. The wunderkinder of yesterday are tomorrow's idiots. Just when you thought you had it all figured out, an abrupt change in the marketplace or a false move dooms you. Your highly successful techniques become conventional wisdom, and conventional wisdom is, according to conventional wisdom, always wrong. When the ceaseless energy necessary for the enterprise flags, or the whole thing crashes in a sudden surprising turn of the market, the question is more than likely to pop up.

The first answer to it was easy to formulate but impossible to achieve. The European bourgeoisie started by serving the aristocracy. Their hope was, through the making of money, to become part of that aristocracy itself. However, much of this effort met with ridicule. Moliere's Bourgeois Gentilhomme depicts the plight of the successful bourgeois. Though rich, M. Jourdain is ridiculous. He wants but cannot have the thing that the aristocracy were so good at, the art of living. He seeks advice from the music master, the dancing master, his tailor, and indeed all those he thinks somehow taught the aristocrat how to live. But all this is futile. Whatever he does, he is still ridiculous. He wants to buy not stuff, which is easily available to him, but polish which he thinks will make him an aristocrat. But what he lacks he can never have. An aristocrat, with his title, was somebody, the Duke of whatever, and what he presented to the world was himself. The bourgeois, however much money he had, was still a nobody. All the polish in the world could at best make him a grotesque imitation, a caricature. To be sure, it was possible for a bourgeois to become a bourgeois gentilhomme, but only by serving the nobility so well, and in such a large way, as to obtain a title, as, for example, the Rothschilds did. Even so, several generations had to pass. Noble families often lived off this bourgeois doubt, marrying rich bourgeois heiresses when funds got low. For the bourgeoisie money was for social climbing. Though ostentation was important, mere stuff was not enough.

The American bourgeoisie took a somewhat different tack. Without an aristocracy to imitate that in turn would ridicule them, they formed their own blue blood society. Nelson W. Aldrich Jr., himself a "blueblood" such as it is, puts it like this:

That sidereal chandelier suspended from the hand of God, for example: something more than social imagination is needed to hang an American upper class on that metaphor, something more like hallucination. Whatever else it may be, the estate to which I was born is not a First Estate, nor a Nobility. It's an array of tutorial institutions and exemplary roles designed to encourage the flourishing of a particular vision of the good human life, above the reach of market circumstances, beyond the clutch of vulgar and craven passions. (1)

Like the European bourgeoisie, they tried to escape being bourgeois by setting themselves to create a way of life that was in contrast to what Aldrich calls "market man." But they, having no real aristocracy to imitate, and having been formed far more by the Enlightenment than their European cousins who had a longer history to contend with, put their faith in education. So they set up a group of educational institutions -- prep schools and Ivy League colleges -- to indoctrinate their young with their moral principles, principles that were in contrast to those of "market man," the monomaniacal bourgeois. Frederick Lewis Allen gives the following account of J. P. Morgan before a Congressional committee called the Pujo Committee. Samuel Untermyer is the council to that committee:

"Is not commercial credit based primarily upon money or property?" asked Untermyer.

"No sir," said Morgan; "the first thing is character." (2)

The American bourgeoisie hoped that through a classical education they might imbue their children with "character," an adherence to certain virtues of uprightness and reverence for what was old that were obviously often missing in "market man," whose interest was in one thing: making money by any means possible. To be sure, this worked some of the time, but there were also spectacular failures. I imagine the American upper class like a squadron of bombers in formation flying serenely through the sky far up in the blue. But now and then one of them peels off to spiral down in smoking ruin. For a surprising number of sons and daughters abandoned the class. Many, such as William Burroughs, Rudy Wurlitzer, Gloria Vanderbilt, Paris Hilton, and James Merrill, turned to the arts and, often, threw themselves into profligate lives in Bohemia. Few, of course, gave up the money; they just didn't want to spend their lives either toiling to make more of it or staying in formation among the other flying boxcars.

Blue blood society tried to preserve its exclusivity. One could not get into it; one had to already be in it. Of course this was never quite true, as Aldrich, who confesses that his pedigree is bogus, admits. But still, for the most part, this avenue was closed to the new market men whose wealth, because they were tending to it, eventually allowed them to shoulder aside the blue bloods and take control of the state themselves. So the blue bloods suffered a fate more or less like that of the aristocracy whom they were trying to imitate not in style but in social position.

Another alternative, probably the most popular one, was what Fitzgerald called "the rich being rich together." Exclusive vacation retreats such as the Hamptons allowed the rich to gather together in opulent surroundings and congratulate one another on their richness. Tennis sweaters tied over the shoulders, golf, yachts, horses, and trophy wives were part of the good life. In such circles the distinction between "market man" and "blue blood" was, well, muted; though one did not, of course, discuss what this or that cost. But even here the sense of refinement, the need to distance oneself from the vulgar job of making a buck or a lot of them, is very strong. Just as the blue bloods think these people parvenus, these people look down on the yet more recently arrived. The closer one is to actually making money, the lower on the totem pole one's status. Aldrich's title, "Old Money" perfectly describes the sense that bourgeois life, the making of money, is dirty, though the having of it is good. A vacation is, of course, in itself, an affront to market man, for where is the profit in it?

All of it taken together reveals the enormous bad conscience at the heart of bourgeois life. It is hard not to see being bourgeois as a life spent in an effort to escape being bourgeois. Poverty might easily spur one to embrace the megalomania of money making, but as soon as one has one's head above water, the awful question, "what for?" is in danger of popping to the surface right beside one. Just to call someone bourgeois is a slur, and I suspect that it is a rare child of the rich "market man" who doesn't, at some time in his college years, declare with scorn that he does not want to be bourgeois. For "bourgeois" denotes philistinism, shallowness, boorishness, insensitivity, but above all else, boredom.

One always must wonder whether it might have been possible for the bourgeoisie, on such unstable ground, to have been convinced that actually improving the lives of those toiling in dark satanic mills would be a good thing. Of course the aristocracy would have had to embrace the project, for the bourgeoisie wanted to be like them. But what is interesting is that many in the aristocracy did embrace the Enlightenment ideals to the damage of their own position. Burke lamented just such a situation.

The particular gentlemen who are seized with that malady (such I must consider it), have, to my thinking, so completely changed their minds, that one knows no longer what to depend upon, or upon what ground we stand. Some of them (besides the two leaders) are, indeed, so high in character, and of such great abilities, that their mistake, if such it be, must make a most mischievous impression. I know they say, that they do not want to introduce these things here, &c. &c., but this is a poor business, while they propagate all the abstract principles, and exalt to the stars the realization of them at our door. They are sublime metaphysicians; and the horrible consequences produced by their speculations affect them not at all, They only ask whether the proposition be true? - Whether it produces good or evil, is no part of their concern. (3)

To be sure nothing could have induced the bourgeois industrialist to improve the lives of his workers unless his competitors did likewise. The enterprise would have to be well nigh universal. If it were so, no one would be harmed by being undercut, at least for having given higher wages. Were the workers given a decent way of life, the Enlightenment ideal, as an educational project, might have had a chance.

In any case, the arrival of Karl Marx put an end to that possibility, if there ever had been one. For Marx converted the Jacobin revolution for the rights of man into the proletarian revolution for control of the means of production, making the bourgeoisie the enemy against whom the revolution was to be fought. In the French Revolution the bourgeoisie were part of the Third Estate. Now suddenly they had moved into the spot the aristocracy was vacating. They were suddenly the ones standing in the way of all that was human and decent. The whole folderol of ideas were nothing more than a stage play, first as tragedy then as farce, to hide the simple truth: who in the end gets all the stuff is what matters. All the rest of life is just so much fog and confusion. Show me the money!

For many, Marx's arrival must have been like drawing the veil from the eyes. All these confusing ideas were just so much stagecraft, so much "business" as it is called on the stage. The intellectual part of being a revolutionary suddenly got easier. You just shoved all of Western civilization off your desk and turned your attention to who had control of the stuff! One the other hand, Marx's revelation placed the bourgeois obsession for making money in the crosshairs of revolution. Nothing else could have made bourgeois life more exciting. We're under attack! In a flash the inherent boredom of bourgeois life vanished. We have to protect this at all costs! It's only half a step from "They're against us," to "we're right."

Marx was, of course, right to see class war underneath parliamentary farce. But is it necessarily class war? The Enlightenment ideal could only make sense as an educational project. To produce equal educational opportunity would have required a considerable improvement of the lot of the poor toiler in the satanic mills. Would the bourgeois have been persuaded that it was a good thing to give up some of the wealth to achieve this Enlightenment ideal? I don't know. Would a very nearly harmonious world have been preferable to what we have now? Certainly.

But back to stupidity. With the shift from the Jacobin to the proletarian revolution, revolutionaries gained analytical tools but lost the passion that ignited the uprisings. For gaining control of the means of production was not a noble or inspiring goal. It is a noble impulse to want to raise one's fellow man out of the those prisons of starvation, but quite another matter to man the barricades in the hope of making off with a good chunk of change for oneself. To be sure the pitiable state of the "prisoners of starvation" inspired many to noble dedication to Marxist revolution, but few of these people were proletarians. Anyway, the new revolutionaries were not people who manned barricades, but intellectuals in seedy clothes who worked tirelessly in offices cranking out manifestos or met secretly with others of their party to make plans. Marx himself declared that uprisings were characteristic of bourgeois (Jacobin) revolutions and that the proletarian revolution would have to be a long, perhaps endless, meeting in which things already decided would have to be once again opened for negotiation. It was hard to ignite a passion for this prospect. The Russian Revolution consisted of a February Jacobin revolution and an October, pseudo-Marxist, coup d'état. The revolutionaries noted that the revolution occurred in the wrong country, backward Russia rather than highly developed Germany, and then, with a shrug of the shoulders, they theorized on. They declared the revolution Marxist even though it contradicted all of Marx's ideas. For it was a high level of material accumulation that was supposed to ignite the proletarian revolution. In the Soviet Union the workers councils, the Soviets, quickly became nothing more than a rubber stamp for Stalin, and he abolished them in 1936.

The one thing the proletarian revolution was not was proletarian. The real Marxist heroes were not laborers but labor organizers who blew into town and created unions, often in the face of appalling personal risk. They often came from working class backgrounds, but they did not toil in the factories themselves. You simply can't work all day on the production line and then come home and crank out a manifesto or two. Their task, like that of all true heroes, was a hopeless one. For the Marxist Holy Grail, proletarian class consciousness, is a chimera, something like a belief that Sisyphus can, someday, get the rock to the top of the hill and it will stay there.

The problem with proletarian class consciousness is perfectly captured in a short memoir by Louis Proyect. In it he writes:

Only two years before Les had found himself in the Iron Range, I had moved from New York to Kansas City in order to "make the turn toward industry" myself. When my attempts failed in Chaplinesque fashion, I returned to New York unaffiliated. Although I made a little goodbye speech in New York before leaving for Kansas City hailing the "tremendous opportunities" for socialists in factories and mines, I told friends and comrades privately that I did not believe my own words. I was going through a charade that perhaps a thousand members went through in order to remain a member in good standing. If you decided to keep your job as a programmer or a librarian, you might as well have turned in your resignation then and there. (4)

Those who sympathize with the working class do not want to become part of it. Louis Proyect, an intellectual seduced by his noble commitment to improving the lot of his fellow man, accepted the Marxist logic (though knowing it false) that told him he should become a member of the proletariat, only to discover, from the school of real experience, that he had no inclination or ability to do so. Work in factories is dull, unpleasant, and dangerous. To sympathize with the proletariat is to fervently wish that they cease being proletarian. And those proletarians who do escape, usually through education, want to associate with those, like themselves, who work with their minds, not their bodies. For real friends must be able to share experiences. It is no wonder that union leaders are so often corrupted, for they too, because of their position, have climbed out of the proletariat. This is, in fact, exactly as Marx said it would be -- our relationship to the means of production creates our consciousness. Large numbers of workers, when hopeful, want their children to get a better education than they had and so escape factory or mine life. When in despair they are just as likely to turn to a destructive fascism and attack leftists and their false hopes with fury. It is hard to make someone embrace what he is when his fervent hope is to escape it. So, although workers did band together in unions and founded Marxist political parties, their consciousness, such as it was, ebbed and flowed. Again and again they are bought, betrayed, or bamboozled. During crises worker solidarity can remain strong, but everyday life, especially when it is hopeful, will inevitably produce thoughts of escape. When Americans dream the "American Dream" they dream of escaping the working class and joining the bourgeoisie.

Whatever consciousness the proletariat had, it was just not consciousness enough. The Marxist revolutionary embraced the proletariat in the fervent hope that he cease being proletarian. He thus had to live with his own deep contradiction and his bad faith whenever he extolled proletarian class consciousness. Since according to the Marxist theory it is the proletarian's misery that will at last launch him into class consciousness, the Marxist revolutionary also had to decide, when he is working in the field, whether he should try to improve the worker's lot, gaining his confidence at the expense of postponing or even canceling the revolution, or, horror of horrors, work towards making the worker's lot worse. Since the actions of the bourgeoisie produce this necessary misery, in Marxist terms the bourgeoisie work harder for the revolution than the Marxists do. The Jacobin revolutionary suffered no such internal conflicts.

Both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat embraced the Marxist ideology, namely that "it" was all just money. Marx may have called his philosophy materialism, but it was really moneyism. For one controls the means of production by owning them, and one owns them because one bought them. Of course, if you're Marx you might just take them, but then how would you run them? Money is Marxist "material." What Marx was really saying is that the bourgeoisie had it right. Marxist ideology, namely that money was everything, was just bourgeois monomania. Both sides benefited, or thought they did, from Marxism's ideological victory. The proletariat got (aside from its existence) political analysis; the bourgeoisie got self affirmation and an enemy. In the end I think Marx gave the bourgeoisie the better of the deal. Everything was just money, the idea they had first embraced with all their hearts and then in a moment of weakness, doubted. Marx allowed them to at last put aside the question "what for?" with the answer, "That's all there is." But the presentation of the proletariat as their enemy might have been even more valuable. For people naturally put aside all doubts and band together when attacked.

Marxism also weakened the left in transforming the Jacobin revolution for universal human equality -- a noble, moral, and even logical goal embraced by the loftiest thinkers, into the goal of gaining control of the means of production, an act of theft that has as its moral justification only Marx's tendentious argument for the labor theory of value. The justice of the proletarian revolution was certainly not a "self evident truth."

But it was even worse. The bourgeoisie had been part of the original Third Estate. Marx himself admits that they performed a revolutionary service in the earlier, Jacobin, revolution. Marx now claimed that they were on the other side, that suddenly they were the oppressors and the revolution was against them. So Marx himself insisted that the bourgeoisie were still the ones championing the Jacobin revolution. With their new Marxist perspective, they argued that that revolution was simply fought for the right of anyone to be free to make money. And that's exactly what the bourgeoisie wanted. Marx, though he thought he was going to be able to transfer the fervor of the earlier revolution to the proletariat, left the bourgeoisie in charge of the Jacobin revolution, and they, with his blessing, had every right to appropriate it.

So, to recapitulate. The bourgeoisie, "market man," found himself in control (in his own manner) of the nation-state. The haunting question, "what for?" had the new answer, "that's all there is," that Marx provided. They found themselves face to face with an "implacable" foe, the proletariat, who wanted to take their stuff away from them. It was only natural that they use the nation-state as an instrument in this war. Whereas the aristocracy had invented the nation-state system to keep the lid on Jacobin passions, the bourgeoisie used it to push that lid down tighter and tighter upon proletarian wages. They were at war like the aristocrats never thought they were. Where the aristocrats looked to restore a stable world they had lost, the bourgeoisie wanted to unfetter their monomaniacal money-making activity that was changing the world at an ever more breakneck pace. The proletariat, as Marx had told them, were in the way of this spiraling expansion. The bourgeoisie felt they were defending the ideals of the Jacobin revolution in fighting this good fight. All this relieved them of the obligation of asking "why?" and allowed them to turn on their enemy, the proletariat, with fury.

The proletariat, named for an ancient Roman class with whom they had little in common, suddenly came into being and seemed to have been there all along. When one looked through the Marxist lens, there they were. Born toiling, at war, and in need of "raised consciousness," they were a desperate bunch. Marx had identified their enemy, namely, the boss, and if anyone didn't think he was that, he just wasn't class conscious enough. A kind of new grim type of intellectual, who had cut through all the crap and was telling it like it really is, sprouted. A race of Raskolnikovs fanned out into the hinterland.

The proletariat had two big problems: 1) How the hell were they going to take power? And 2) The even more difficult problem: what the hell were they going to do with it if they got it. The revolution of 1848 had shown Marx that just taking power, without knowing what to do with it, produced farce; that is, no change in control of the means of production. But Marx had no real answers as to what the proletariat should do with power if they got it. They would have to make it up as they went along. Without class consciousness they would lack the intellectual tools. Among the revolutionaries debates flared everywhere. Proletarian parties made up mostly of intellectuals formed, split, and fought with other newly-fledged proletarian parties. In garrets and storefronts everywhere, Marxist intellectuals debated strategy, tactics, and theory. Everybody was writing, speaking, organizing. Everybody thought he knew what had to be done. No one knew what the hell he was talking about.

The nation-state proved to be a handy tool for the bourgeoisie. As Marx predicted, capitalism's necessarily continuous expansion would eventually breach the boundaries of the nation-state, and the capitalists within that state would want to use its power to extend their own beyond those boundaries. Such was the birth of imperialism. That such a use violated the Burkean principles used to found the nation-state caused some problems to begin with, but less and less as the bourgeoisie gained greater and greater control. For the problems came only from the aristocrats still hanging around. The bourgeoisie had never really embraced the idea of preserving the ancient customs and traditions natural to a people. To blow these up was good for business. To preserve them was the Burkean aristocrats's concern. Market man, as Marx himself had admitted, was a revolutionary force. He could wholeheartedly embrace the Jacobin revolution just so long as it was now interpreted in Marxist terms. "Market man" had his new Marxist vision of himself as the one who had always had his eye on what was real to protect him against the irritating "superstructure" of culture, refinement, and intellect with which the aristocracy and the blue bloods used to flog him. With his guardianship of the glorious Jacobin revolution for universal human freedom and equality (to make money), he could stride out on the world stage with a clean conscience while devoting himself to what he always did, his own financial interests. To dragoon the nation-state into serving these interests was not in fact dragooning it at all. For what other interests could it serve, since, let's face it, there weren't any other real interests but making money.

Under the guidance of the bourgeoisie, the nation-state, already a drunken boat, launched itself on a journey to nowhere, a never-ending journey of production and consumption stripped of all values other than the goodness of this process itself. This process had to do with the market only tangentially. Its real core was making money by hook, crook, or any other means. To call such a process, without any stable qualities, good, is to guarantee that no quality outside this process can be good, for any fixed quality can, at some point, interfere with the flow of money making. For example, the elaborate Enlightenment system of justice, though varying from place to place, was always structured so as to make the law clear and to create a mechanism for determining, objectively, the facts. In a scientific age the hope was that justice would be objective rather than dependent upon the whims of this or that aristocrat. But what happens when the facts point to something that interferes with someone who is making or already has made a lot of money? Well, laws that favor the wealthy, and a simple elaboration of the legal system to an extraordinary degree so that he who can pay the best and most lawyers will almost certainly win, solves that problem. The structure remains, but its purpose is thwarted. The legal "justice system" becomes, like the mechanism in Kafka's "Penal Colony," a mechanism that no one any longer knows how to use or fix that torments the innocent and guilty alike, etching in their flesh some indecipherable simulacrum of their crime. A Supreme Court Justice can blithely claim that guilt or innocence has no bearing on the case provided one adheres to the correct procedure. However, within the new ideology in which money is all that is, the failure of the structure is hardly noticeable. That the form is followed is all that matters. Market man, engaged in a fight to the death with the proletariat, a fight that encompasses everything real, has no qualms about twisting the Enlightenment principle of objectivity to favor himself. That's reality, and indeed, noble reality.

Even scientific truth had to pass the moneymaking test. Scientists were all very well, just so long as they knew their place, namely as tools for making money. But if truth interfered with moneymaking it was truth that had to go. The harmfulness of smoking, the reality of peak oil, even the threat to human survival presented by climate change, cannot be allowed to interfere with the only reality, making money. For moneymaking was all that was real. So the science is twisted, bought, falsified, what have you.

If "not knowing what you are doing" were a sport, the Marxist revolutionary and the bourgeois would be running neck and neck. The Marxist revolutionary, like Groucho, wouldn't want to belong to a class that would have him, but unlike Groucho, he hides this from himself. He also couldn't decide whether, in working to improve workers' lives, he was helping or hurting the revolution. The bourgeois dedicates himself to a process that wreaks death and destruction on everybody except, he hopes, himself. He seems to believe that he doesn't need air, water, or food just as long as he has money. Making deserts and calling them peace was all in a days work. The nation-state's modus operandi, to profess loyalty to Enlightenment ideals while hindering their realization, was no longer really necessary. For the bourgeoisie, by furthering their own interests, believed they were upholding the Enlightenment ideal of universal human equality and freedom. All dirty tricks were thus in the service of the good cause. Since freedom and equality were often just other names for nothing left to lose, they could even attack and destroy other countries in the name of freedom. They could help them just like they helped Iraq. With enlightenment humanism as their flag, their "humanitarian" attacks against the inhuman other could be incredible vicious. So, although the leaders still professed human concerns, tied these concerns to patriotism, and thus fanned the flames of war, they now did so with equanimity. For they believed their project good, even if this project was something like a maelstrom with no fixed point swirling and sucking down the poor little ship of state and along with it humankind.

So the lies the bourgeoisie now tells are something more akin to whistling through the graveyard then actually trying to fool anybody. They don't know what the hell is going on or what the hell to do next. But when they hear someone else say what they are saying they are convinced that it is true. It is like someone picking up many copies of a newspaper to provide inductive proof of some claim therein. All the bluster about Iran, for example. Why? They attacked Iraq in spite of public opposition. Why not Iran? If they decide to attack Iran will anything any of us do stop them? Of course not. So why do they care what we think? Why lie to us? Why bother with all the phony diplomacy, the threats, the journalistic distortion, the propagandizing heads? Surely they don't need our consent to jack up the war budget? Of course the truth is they are not going to attack Iran because that would be a disaster. Of course maybe they will attack Iran since they are incapable of understanding that it will be a disaster. Maybe they are trying to destabilize it with trash talk. They haven't a clue.

So the lying has become a habit. It now hides nothing but a swirling confusion of monomaniacal moneymaking activity beyond which nobody can see. Their policies are incoherent. Here is a tidy tidbit of bourgeois speak if you care for rotten fruit. Cass Sunstein is an Obama friend and Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He is a professor of law at both the University of Chicago and Harvard. An abstract for a paper Prof. Sunstein wrote includes this: "Because those who hold conspiracy theories typically suffer from a crippled epistemology, in accordance with which it is rational to hold such theories, the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups." (5) What Sunstein is proposing is a governmental conspiracy to infiltrate conspiracy theorist groups to provide misinformation because the members of these groups can't be convinced of the irrationality of believing in government conspiracies. Sunstein wrote this paper for Harvard and University of Chicago lawyers, and of course, government officials. It was certainly not written for polloi. In this sentence Sunstein speaks of a "crippled epistemology," apparently a colorful way to say the conspiracy theorists are irrational. The real kicker is that this paper is written for elite policy-makers. Are they supposed to believe the conspiracy theorists do have a "crippled epistemology" when Sunstein's paper demonstrates just how right they are? Apparently he is trying to persuade his own people of something he has just demonstrated is false. Or is this all some kind of wink wink behind which hides the real truth? Why do that when you are writing in a venue that only the elites are likely to read? Is he lying to the very elites he thinks he is serving?

I hate to stop here, but where else is there to go? Their lying has reached such a point that the liars don't even know to whom they are lying and to whom they are telling the truth. It almost seems as if the hope is for the swirl of moneymaking to continue without any rational dialog and without even a planet capable of supporting life. Moneymaking, in the eyes of the bourgeoisie, seems now to have some independent metaphysical existence, an ideal whirlwind without air, earth, and water, though maybe a lot of fire. And that is their promised land.


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About the Author

Michael Doliner studied with Hannah Arendt at the University of Chicago (1964-1970) and has taught at Valparaiso University and Ithaca College. He lives with his family in Ithaca, N.Y.   (back)


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1.  Nelson W. Aldrich Jr.: Old Money, The Mythology of America's Upper Class (Random House, New York, 1988) pp 70-1.  (back)

2.  Frederick Lewis Allen: The Great Pierpont Morgan (Harper and Row, New York, 1949) p 8.  (back)

3.  Letter to William Weddell # 341.  (back)

4.  Louis Proyect: "Leslie Evans's Outsider's Reveries," Swans, January 25, 2010.  (back)

5.  http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1084585  (back)


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Published March 8, 2010