Impeachment

“We can not defeat the armies of Mordor.”

“No. We can not. But we’ll meet them in battle nonetheless.”

Lord of the Rings. The Return of the King.

Democratic Congress needs to start impeachment proceedings even if they think the impeachment will die in the Senate. Yes, it probably will. But that’s not the point of the proceedings. The point is the process, not the outcome. The process will demonstrate to the public that there are still some public institutions that are functioning as they were intended to.

Democrats are very good at stroking their chin and weighing pros and cons in different complex situations that, instead of arriving at a concrete course of action, they twist themselves into an eventual paralysis. Already now, some leftist intellectuals are calling on Democrats to avoid going through with impeachment, arguing that it will turn the public against them. But where is the evidence that it will? A more popular Democratic president was impeached for a far lesser crime, but the opposition party still won the next election 2 years later. There’s no evidence of the possible damage to the brand as the Democrats brand has been damaged already from an opposite end: not that they’re too aggressive, but that they’re too timid. No, this situation opens an avenue for Democrats to flex some muscle. There’s a real public hunger out there for a more muscular opposition party. If Democrats show that they have a willingness to fight, it may sway some swing voters or disaffected voters back into Democratic fold. It will show the public that here’s another party, and it’s willing to fight for the rule of law.

Further, the process will keep Trump’s treachery in the spotlight. Like in 1998, it will force the low-information voters to pay attention to Trump’s conduct in office. No, he did not collude with Russians, but he welcomed their help. He obliged their entreaties with a shrug and a wink. A man like Trump can sit behind his desk and commit no crime, while knowingly allowing private entities and foreign agents to do the job for him. No court would convict him, even when it is clear to anyone who cares to look that he’s a traitor to the republic. For this reason impeachment was not supposed to be an instrument of a criminal justice system; no proof beyond the reasonable doubt is required. It was designed to be a political process. This is the reason why founding fathers placed the impeachment powers within the Congress and not within the Supreme Court.

And finally, Pelosi is a shrewd and seasoned politician. She will have credibility on the issue as she repeatedly spoke against impeachment. Now she can come out, with a grave posture and concerned look, and declare in an urgent tone: “I don’t want to do this but it must be done”.

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Victimhood Culture Gone Too Far

I’m amazed at the sheer variety of ways Democrats commit unforced political errors. It takes real talent. The way we attack our own for committing minor sins almost does the job of Republican strategists for them. People whom I always regarded as smart and politically savvy, like Vox guys and a couple of feminist writers I follow, are choosing to keep piling on on Joe Biden. It’s been going on for weeks now.

Biden is the only Democrat that has 10 points on Trump in a hypothetical match-up. Everyone else is a toss-up. Is Biden really that bad that we should risk another 4 years of Trump? We have two things on the scale: on one side is inappropriate touching; on the other side is a completely remade Supreme Court that will decide on matters much more consequential for the entire women’s rights agenda. There will be a time and place to talk about it, it’s just not fucking now.

And it’s not just Biden. People are digging into Kamala Harris’ past as a prosecutor and finding out that, as part of her job, she, gasp, put some black people to jail! She was doing her fucking job! That’s what prosecutors do. Also, Kamala is black. If one decides to use black identifier on one side of the equation, then the same weight should be given to Kamala on the other side of the equation.

The thing is, for the past year I was defending what many derisively call Social Justice Warriors on my Facebook. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with social justice, and thus I don’t even find this moniker offensive. My main argument was that complaining on liberal excesses is barking at the wrong tree, because college professors and ‘safe space’ crowd are not the equivalent of Trump and his ochlocratic administration. Trump, possessing the power, can inflict far more damage on our democracy that a few leftist professors.

But what is happening now is shaping to be a 2016 repeat, when the primaries will divide the Democrats and it will be of our own making. The ‘offended’ will take a ‘principled’ stand and will demand to be ‘convinced’ to vote in the general for a candidate that is not their first choice. And then, when Democrats lose again, the ‘offended’ will shrug and point at some obscure issue so dear to their uncompromising heart that the candidate X didn’t spend enough time on.

I wrote about it before, but the victimhood culture is turning a part of the electorate into picky customers who view the political process as some kind of product that has to meet all of their expectations in order to go and ‘buy’ it, that is vote. If they thought of themselves as citizens called by duty, and not as customers expecting a service, perhaps, we would not be in this mess.

Roger Stone, Nixon and the Age of Celebrity

I think that outward, deliberate assholishness, the kind that Roger Stone ostensibly displays in an attempt to shock an audience (Nixon tattoo?) and cement his ‘notoriety’ — a label that he’d wear with pride – really betrays some deep internal hurt and insecurity. In normal times, such need for attention, and as a way to deal with a trauma, would lead one to become an actor or a comedian. But being notorious and being talented are two different things. In today’s Hollywood a propensity for a wide-eyed affectation on camera will not cut it: it’s all about Method acting, and Method acting is hard in a way that it requires a degree of self-negation — an impossible demand in the age of celebrity.

But lo! Who needs Hollywood when there’s plenty of other venues that welcome the type. The B-rated actors wannabes can sharpen their showmanship skills in the world of TV punditry or in the current Administration. For a while it worked like magic: The affect and the histrionics of the talking head brought an audience in a win-win for both the platform and the actor. But as with any fad, the novelty shock value wore off and the audience became gradually immune to more and more outrage, even as the performance often veered into the grotesque in order to keep the eyeballs engaged. (Like, who will want to watch Kellyanne Conway now? At this point she’s just boring.)

And that is where it becomes scary for the performer. That future book, the twitter following, or a speaking tour on a conservative circuit becomes more problematic when the audience is not engaged anymore. One stares at the possibility of ending up old, alone and poor.

Roger Stone himself, while on the steps of the court, waving a Nixonian victory sign, acknowledged this sad fact, declaring that “the only thing worse than being talked about is NOT being talked about.” That’s the main difference with the crooks of today and the crooks of old. In 1970s no one from Nixon’s entourage wanted the attention that Trump’s entourage craves; they wanted everything to be quiet.

And that encapsulates the desideratum of the modern right: it’s a business selling a product in need of salesmen. When the product – fear – doesn’t change in decades, the salesmen have to get more and more creative. And at this point we’ve seen everything: Tucker defending Nazis, Jeanine Pirro justifying getting stolen info from the Russians, Kellyanne outright lying about easily verifiable facts, Sarah Sanders tweeting a deliberately doctored video, Sam Nunberg showing up drunk for an interview, and Stone doing a Nixon (itself a pathetic parody, a second time farce).

But celebrity is also a sword by which one dies. Once they’ve run out of tricks, once the only avenue to hold everyone’s attention has been reduced to shitting on a carpet and Instagramming it, they will become a subject to a punishment that neither courts nor law enforcement can ever top: oblivion.

Critique of Classic Rock.

When I drive I usually listen to classic rock stations. As a result, over the years I have internalized a man’s despair as a primary marker of human condition, as this music genre has been a perfect medium to telegraph his existential ennui.

An unhappy man – the main hero of any rock song – searching for a culprit of his unhappiness, often turns his gaze to his romantic partner (‘The Woman’). His lament can be broken down into following categories:

  1. I come home from hard work and you’re not home. (Santana, Led Zeppelin)
  2. Why did you leave me, woman? (Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin)
  3. Can’t get laid (ZZ Top)
  4. Stay away, woman, I can’t take you anymore (The Guess Who).
  5. She’s so annoying I have no choice but to kill her (Jimi Hendrix, Guns’n’Roses).

Maybe because the birth of rock coincided with the peak of Beat generation culture, with its heroes ‘rebelling’ against ‘the system’ by simply leaving women and children behind and running away from responsibilities by going ‘on the road’, it was easy for rock pioneers to designate a woman as the main culprit of a man’s unhappiness. She was just the lowest hanging fruit. Still, it could have been worse. I think we have to give credit to classic rock bands for avoiding singling out the other usual suspects: minorities and immigrants. Even Lynyrd Skynyrd dodged a bullet there.

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Guest Post: Life for Yourself as a Way Towards Putinism.

(Below is a essay by Dmitry Ahtyrsky which originally was written in Russian. I helped translate it into English as I think its message is not only applicable to Russia, but to modern-day US, and it echoes a lot of what I was writing about recently but with more depth and insight.)

By Dmitry Ahtyrsky.

One of the central shortcomings of anti-Bolshevistic discourse of post-Soviet Russia during Perestroika was the gospel of the so-called ‘life for yourself.’ The old notion of serving the ideals has compromised itself, as those ideals turned out to be false, simulative, manipulative, and buffoonish. As a result, selfish cynicism has been declared to be an ideal condition. “Thoroughly chewing your food, you help the society.”[1] Abstract economic doctrines of such economists as (Milton) Friedman’s, which are regarded as either neo-liberal or neo-conservative and which state that your best contribution to society is to maximize your own profit, proved to be conveniently handy.

‘Life for yourself’ evangelists, however, have ignored the fact that the society in USSR has not been collectivist, but, on the contrary, it has been deeply atomized. A cog didn’t serve in the interest of parts of the mechanism that comprised the machine. It didn’t serve anyone at all; to be more precise, it served only in its appearance, without possessing an agency. A society is a society, as opposed to a mere collection of individuals, only when it includes free, voluntarily cooperating persons. Even if this collection of individuals as a whole serves a purpose, that purpose is not the well-being of the whole, but some external interests. Moreover, those interests are those of a deity or an evolutionary process, but, instead, of people, who, along with the power, have also appropriated the function of speaking on behalf of a deity, delivering the laws of God and/or Nature to the masses. Enthusiasm fueled by repression is false. Such conditions of reigning false enthusiasm nurture atomized, profit-seeking, self-interested egoists – and ‘social’ becomes a euphemism either for a direct coercion or corrupt interactions. In such a system the word ‘corruption’ means a ‘corruption’ of a coercive hierarchy rather than a disintegration of horizontal societal bonds – producing a maxim that ‘the only thing worse than a corrupt totalitarian regime is a NON-corrupt totalitarian regime.’ The absence of genuine horizontal collectives not overseen from above – the collectives of equal individuals – IS an absence of ‘society’. As a result, every separate person in such a simulative ‘society’ resides in his own solitary confinement cell and can interact only with prison guards.

When such an atomized individual finally leaves the heavily structured system of control and domination – the system that has stimulated atomization, as opposed to collectivism – he’s being invited to continue behaving in the same way he did under the false collectivism: “Live for yourself.” What does such an invitation mean and where does it lead us given the absence of civil society and its institutions? Did those advocates understand that the emergence and operation of civil society are simply impossible in a world where such an egotistic manifest reaches its goal and plants itself in the mass consciousness of all those separate atoms, unaccustomed to critical thinking?

Naturally, those ‘living for themselves’ never became citizens. As a result, the ‘civil rights’ that they have received turned out to be no more than a simulation, a weak forgery prompting giggles from slave holders and slave traders. The ‘freed’ contingent failed to form a society. Individuals haven’t learned how to be free, as this pseudo-freedom of an egoist offered neither equality nor brotherhood. In this egoistic pseudo-freedom there can be only masters and servants.

Instead of leading towards freedom, the hatred of all things ‘social’ led, instead, towards the ‘new old slavery’. Unable to self-organize, the sheep found themselves not on greener pastures, but inside another corral. Civil society emerges only through free, uncoerced striving towards a common good, which is understood on the basis of a peer-to-peer networking consensus.

This striving towards the common good assumes a decidedly critical analysis of power. Resistance against such power that seeks to suppress and control by decomposing the social whole into atoms represents striving for the common good and not, as a authorities would like us to believe, an ‘anti-social behavior’. Actual resistance is possible only in an atmosphere of mutual help and cooperation; only after this condition has been met can the emergent force – in the form of civic association – work with the ‘administration.

One can argue that even the most selfless and idealistic knights, when they acquire power, could become tyrants. This can happen when there’s a misperception that the structure of oppression can one day become ‘ours’, when people put their trust in it without any levers of control, hoping that, at last the ‘wrongs will be righted.’ They won’t be. Civil society is a constant civic activism, constant peer-to-peer cooperation counteracting the corrupt and parochial social tendencies. Any state lacking such social activism will, in a very short time, become a fascist, totalitarian state.

It is precisely this kind of process that we’re witnessing yet again. And Putin isn’t even an initiator of it. Putinism is, among other things, a result of cynical-egoistical constructs that show contempt towards anything ‘communal’, that scorn any altruism. Constructs that are more fitting for a mob boss in a strictly enforced criminal hierarchy than for a free citizen.

By the way, any talk of “homeland” or, in a broader sense, of common good, is frequently understood as being about the rulers – in the words of Saltykov-ShchedrinMany tend to confuse the two concepts: “Fatherland” and “Your Excellency, or, as an old Soviet adage goes, “In our country everything is for the good of a man, and I have even seen that man.”  The possible aversion (the consequence of the past simulations) towards the idea of common good can be compared to an attempt to cure a headache with a guillotine. Thus, Putinism, with its characteristic assessment of any social activity as ‘everything is paid for’ and ‘everything is PR’ is the logical extension of such egotistic denial of ‘communal.’ As it turns out, the exalted egoistic cynicism of ‘free individuals-wolves’ can effortlessly convert into ‘extreme declaration of forced jubilation’ at the appearance of the master.

Let’s not confuse ‘common good’ with ‘Your Excellency’. Let’s not forget that the word ‘republic’ literally means ‘common affair.’ The existence of this ‘common affair’ and the shared efforts in the name of ‘common good’ is precisely what enables a person to be free, to possess individual freedom, as well as freedom of choice and a claim to privacy. Refusal of the ‘communal’ destroys the ‘private’, producing the atomized lack of individual space. Under slavery both the common and the private cease to be. A slave lacks both individuality and society.

An egoistic cynic will, inevitably, conclude that a ‘bad master’ can be rid of by means of a ‘good master.’ Such cynic is ready to accept a mediocre master if that means protection from social chaos. This dynamic will continue until social cynicism is overcome. True freedom is only possible within an amiable, friendly framework, in the openness towards an equally free and respected Other. Such openness yields real, as opposed to simulative, society. And this openness transforms an atom into a person.

 

[1] A popular quote from a Soviet satire ‘Twelve Chairs’ by I.Ilf and E. Petrov

 

Girls as Cinematic Vessels of Demonic Possession.

An evil little girl is one of the most favorite tropes of a horror movie genre. Just to name the most iconic ones – The Exorcist, The Shining, The Ring – they all feature little, pre-teenage girls as channels of evil.

I don’t think it’s accidental. What drives a little girl? Nothing that would make sense in our adult world. She’s interested in nature and ponies. One day, when she hits puberty, she will discover the money-sex-power triad and things will never be the same. The evils of a teenage girl, and really of any adult, are boring and predictable: meanness, greed, obsession with hierarchy,  trading on her sex-appeal. We do not find any of this scary, because we understand where she’s coming from. We are all operating in the same mutually-understood, dominant social framework.

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Do you think these girls care about their future career or earning potential or meeting a nice guy?

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But it is the pre-pubescent girls (along with mentally sick) that really scare us in horror movies. We don’t know what drives them. ‘Nature and ponies’ realm is alien to us, adults. Those residing in that realm are scary to us because we don’t know how their mind works. ‘Nature’ and ‘ponies’ are signifiers of things that do not fit into our modern values system of ‘money’ and ‘profit’. Because they don’t yet speak the language that any of us speak, because they don’t yet understand and don’t really care about ‘how business is done, how the world works’, we realize that we can’t reason with such a person, and thus can’t cure her possession. At least not until she hits 13, when we all can exhale with relief and welcome her to our ‘normal’, real world order. (Now, I’ve heard, from many parents, that puberty is even worse than childhood, but in the context of what I’m discussing here – horror movie tropes – children, girls especially, are scarier than teenagers).

Take the twins from The Shining or a girl from Hereditary. Do you think any of these girls care about their future careers or earning potential or meeting a nice guy? This is what’s scary about them: with their irrational behavior they telegraph the existence of a world that operates with notions that don’t produce profit or pleasure. Thus the carrier of this bad news, of this unprofitable sentiment – a girl – is, implicitly, a threat to our normal way of life. She’s more horrifying than a monster, because, and I will repeat myself, we know what drives a monster – he or it needs our flesh or brain to survive; a monster is not really scary because its behavior can be rationalized and thus harnessed. But a girl – who the fuck knows what’s on her mind. She’s on par and perhaps even surpasses, in her terror factor, the silent goons from Halloween and Friday the 13th.

The films featuring the possessed girls, however, never choose to explore this very ‘nature’ and ‘ponies’ aspect of girlhood. Instead, the plot usually revolves around curing them from evil ailment or sending them back to hell, and saving the main protagonist – an adult. One day, a script will be written where such a girl ‘cures’ an adult of his, shall we say, misconceptions. It’s a novel concept, but some are already beginning to chip away at this, like Game of Thrones.