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This site exists to promote the pleasures of discussion and to nudge us all -- myself included -- an inch or two towards decency. You're welcome, and encouraged, to comment on any of the opinions you encounter here by using the e-mail link on the left.

John R. Turner
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Thoughts for January 17, 2018

As we know, Donald Trump is the least racist person we have ever seen. He has repeated the statement so often it’s as though he’s trying to set a record. The frequency of it may have dulled us to its peculiarity. What can it possibly mean to be the least racist person anyone has ever seen?

I actually saw Martin Luther King once. Does that mean that he was more racist than Donald Trump?

Trump makes his pronouncement with great flair. He obviously likes to hear himself say it. Perhaps it’s the case that the sound of it pleases him so much the meaning of it has become entirely irrelevant. It could be that Trump will go down in history as the person who established a new type: one who has totally banished meaning from his mind. Everything he says comes out simply because he likes the sound of it. It doesn’t have to have a meaning because, for him, meaning is meaningless. It is well established that Trump is a wild narcissist. So if one were able to carry narcissism beyond any limit heretofore known, he could pioneer a novel personality: the meaning-devoid brain, one who spews incessantly when there is never any meaning in the spray.

Trump is obviously a highly racist person. He pumps out racist comments every week. He piles them on top of one another incessantly. But in his thought-process -- if you can say he has one -- making racist remarks has nothing to do with being a racist, because, you see, he is the least racist there is.

The droid-like figures who trail around after him, hoping to lap up some dribbles of favor from him -- even though they too would be meaningless -- are in an void even more pathetic than Trump’s own vacancy. They know what he says has no meaning but they have to make up stuff that appears to give it meaning. So in some ways what they say is even stupider than what he says. They construct nothing out of nothing and proclaim it to be full of substance.

Trump and all of his cronies are the prime dopes of history. And nothing that history can ever do will ever come close the changing that. It is not written in stone. It is written in something so obdurate it cannot be discovered in the solar system. There is something truly cosmic about it.


Thoughts for January 12, 2018

This morning both David Leonhardt of the New York Times and John Cassidy of the New Yorker declared unequivocally that Donald Trump is a racist. This should surprise no one. The evidence supporting their conclusion has been piling up mountainously over the past two years. Now it has become so voluminous it can’t be denied even by the most careful and circumspect of journalists.

Donald Trump’s racism has been established and it can never be disavowed by honest people. One thing this means is that if someone does disavow it, he or she is dishonest and is not worth anyone’s attention. In other words, anyone who makes such a defense is a political hack, a toady, a louse, a rat, a goon, a twerp, an imbecile, a servile idiot.

Why the mainstream media should ever interview such a person is incomprehensible and yet we see such types showing up on the news shows day after day after day. Why is that? Here too the evidence is conclusive: what the so-called news outlets want is not truth but sensation. They deal in the pornography of public discussion. They know that a great portion of the public revels in lies and they are determined to give that slice of the public what they want. Salivation is the news media’s primary goal.

If democracy is ever to be restored in America -- an increasingly dubious prospect -- a lot of people who are not doing it now have got to start struggling against being used as dupes. What we do about the people who don’t mind being used as dupes and, in fact, rather enjoy it, I can’t say. I wish I could but I’m not up to answering every question. All I can say is that it’s a question that needs to be continuously raised.

Perhaps a first step in having it addressed would be conveying to the whole public that by casting a vote one testifies to who one is. If you vote for a racist, you are a racist. You may think you’re not. You may assume that you have other motives besides racial bigotry to vote as you do. But all that’s claptrap. You vote for a racist, you are a racist. There’s the end of it.

Since Donald Trump is definitely a racist, every single person who votes for him is a racist also. There’s no doubt about it.


Thoughts for January 11, 2018

In his column today, Charles Blow of the New York Times says: “Trumpism is a religion founded on patriarchy and white supremacy.”

He’s right about that. But the implication of his statement runs beyond the denunciation of Trumpism. If we dig into its meaning we discern that Trumpism is merely one of innumerable religions, virtually all of which are cruel and degrading. It seems there is almost nothing that somebody won’t worship.

What do we mean by worship? As a noun it means adoration; as a verb it means to show reverence and adoration for.

What is the purpose of worship? That’s the significant question.

The purpose of worship, primarily, is to escape thought, to be free, completely, from the rigors of thought. When you worship, you don’t have to submit yourself to any perplexing queries. You know everything essential already. Worship is the essence of intellectual disgrace. And it reminds us of W. H. Auden’s famous quatrain:

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

In other words, pity and mercy are incompatible with the degradation of intellectual disgrace.

I’m strongly aware that many fine minds have perceived themselves as religious and, therefore, worshipful, figures. John Henry Newman comes immediately to mind. They have been mistaken about their basic intellectual nature. But their mistakes are understandable, and excusable, because they were swimming in a sea of corrugating belief that was in their time virtually irresistible. They lived in a near unendurable tension that twisted their lives and caused many of them misery and intellectual torture. Everywhere about them the message of worship’s necessity pounded on their ears. I’m not surprised they succumbed to it.

Yet, sometime in the early 20th century, that necessity relaxed its hold. It became possible to consider living without certainty and to fashion a self based on one’s own commitments to his or her fellow creatures. It was a freedom that permitted kindness. And as that process went forward the multitude of religions became more petty, mean, and stupid. Now, as Blow says, we have reached the stage where something like Trumpism can constitute a religion. When Trumpism can be a religion, anything sordid can. And most of the small, pathetic belief refuges turn nasty. It’s past time we were done with them.


Thoughts for January 5, 2018

One of the most trenchant articles about American political culture I’ve read is in the New Yorker for January 8th. It’s by Louis Menand and titled “Been There.” Ostensibly about the election of 1968, its main message is how that event, now almost fifty years in the past, explains the political situation we now inhabit.

As you know, I’ve been arguing for quite a while that Donald Trump and all he stands for has been a long time coming. Menand makes clear just how long it has been, and how the years since 1960 have laid the stepping stones many Americans -- and perhaps most -- have trod obediently along. He offers us a series of comments which limn the nature of that path. One of them is Mayor Richard Daly’s shouted denunciation when Senator Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut was speaking at the Democratic Convention in 1968: “Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch, you lousy motherfucker, go home.”

That’s the flavor of the sentiment that has been growing ever stronger in the United States since Lyndon Johnson was president, and now has become politically, if not demographically, dominant.

Menand ends his essay with a discussion of Deeply Divided, a book by Doug McAdam and Karina Kate, published in 2014. They argue that for the past half-century our politics has been rent between two movements, the civil rights movement and what they call a “countermovement” which can be generally characterized as anti-integrationist. They are clearly right about that. And until we recognize how right they are, we’re unlikely to find ways to escape the Trumpian view of things.

Read Menand’s piece if you get a chance. It’s deeply educative.


Thoughts for January 3, 2018

I got up on this very cold morning to watch of a clip of Stephen Colbert’s jokes about Donald Trump’s tweets, which consist of nothing but reading them word for word. How a mind like Trump’s could have come to be may be one of the world’s great mysteries (but, then, maybe not). What could possibly have brought it forth? No comic could have devised his mental ejaculations. It would be impossible to imagine them. And, yet, there he sits in the White House, and we’re going to be forced to listen to him all the way through this new year.

What did we do to deserve this? Perhaps we know, don’t we? We just got dumber, and dumber, and dumber, and dumber, and then, finally, the Trump brain emerged. It simply issued forth out of the core of dumbness, a gigantic glob of intellectual sterility more frigid than anything at the South Pole.

I have known people who say there’s nothing really dangerous about dumbness. I’d like to watch them take the measure of Trump’s intellect and tell us that again. But, still, they could probably do it because that’s an attitude propelled by their own mental stagnation.

I’m running on here aimlessly because I feel compelled to express the disgrace I feel at Trump’s being, actually, the president of the United States. Unbelievable? But it’s true. And its truth grates on me every day.

A part of me warns I shouldn’t write commentary of this kind and yet I sense that we need to remind ourselves regularly of the crime we have committed against our own social being. We seriously do need to be ashamed of ourselves, and perhaps that could be a small beginning towards something healthier. It will be a long time coming though.


Images Rising for December 25, 2017: Wormwood

I watched the six episodes of Netflix’s Wormwood, which tells the story of the death of Frank Olson, an Army scientist, in 1953, and the long drawn out investigation of what actually happened to him, fueled by his son Eric’s inexhaustible curiosity.

The series is being called a docudrama because some of the scenes are enacted by current actors while others are made up of interviews with the actual participants, particularly with Eric Olson and the journalist Seymour Hersh.

The original story put out by the government was that Frank Olson killed himself by diving out the window of a tenth story New York hotel room. It was not until twenty years later that the C.I.A. took some slight partial responsibility by saying that Olson had been a subject in an experiment to investigate how LSD affected people’s behavior. It is now fairly clear that Olson did not throw himself out the hotel window, and it is not clear that he was ever given LSD by the agency.

The family had Olson’s body exhumed some forty years after the death, and examined by an expert crime scene investigator. The result was a finding that Olson had probably not been conscious when his body was dropped out the window, and that what happened to him was strictly in accordance with a C.I.A. assassination manual.

There are many murky details in the story, but the basic conclusion is that Olson was executed by the C.I.A. because he was disturbed by weapons he had discovered the United States had used during the Korean War (lethal germs distributed by bombs) and had given the impression that he might talk openly about these acts.

It was deemed to be in the interests of national security that Olson should disappear. One of the curious revelations of the series is that it does not seem to be against the law for the C.I.A. to kill someone for that reason, even though all other facts of the case would indicate it was pure murder.

In one of his final interviews, Eric Olson asks himself if simply finding out that the C.I.A. killed his father, is enough to justify his long devotion and the sacrifices he made to carry it out, given that though he is sure he knows the basic truth, it has not been officially established by government or journalistic agencies, and that all the multiple details of what happened and who was responsible are buried in C.I.A. vaults where they may never be seen.

If I could talk to him, I would try to assure him it was justified. There is probably nothing more needed by the American people than for them to discover what their government actually is, and to see that though this story doesn’t nail down every fact, it helps us grasp that the government’s goals and our own are nowhere close to being identical.


Thoughts for December 23, 2017

“Toady” as an intransitive verb means “to play the servile dependent; to pay deference from interested motives.” And, of course, as a noun, it means one who does these things.

I have been wondering if there has ever been a more perfect toady than Mike Pence, the vice president of the United States (I’ll let you in on a little secret: I think having Pence as our vice president is just as degrading and nauseating as having Trump as president).

I’ve concluded that the answer is no. It is not conceivable that there could be a more complete toady than Pence. No one could surpass him in that regard.

There are minds one has difficulty grasping. And then there are minds that go so far beyond any imaginative stretch that one is startled to see that they exist. Pence is one of the latter. How is it possible that he could be? I have no idea.

To debase oneself as he does almost daily is not credible. Yet, there he is, doing it over and over again. When he looks in the mirror, what in hell can he see?

It enhances his status as toady extremist, of course, that the object before which he grovels is so low, so pathetic, that he, himself, is almost impossible to imagine. You can’t get lower than Trump is, and yet, there is Pence, trying desperately to dig a hole that will get him beneath the bottom. I guess you could say it’s a kind of ambition.

When he goes home at night, does his wife say to him: “Congratulations; you were a bigger toady today than you were yesterday.” Think of the sweetness of the kiss accompanying that compliment. One can’t avoid the thought of Dickens: “Ah! Here’s sugar!”

I guess we could give him credit for expanding the range of humanity. When you shove it further at either end, the whole thing does get bigger.


Thoughts for December 21, 2017

On a small piece of thin wood yesterday I wrote down the names of the four worst men in America, so I could be reminded of them every day. You probably already know who they are: Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Mike Pence and Donald Trump. By “worst” I mean hurting as many people as possible as severely as they can.

This quartet fills the bill because they are all Republicans. You might say they are the most perfect Republicans, although most Republicans are pretty damned perfect in their unremitting desire to hurt you.

Republicans are former humans who are trying as hard as they can to transmogrify into non-reflective machines. A good many of them are almost all the way there.

In an essay published in Buzzfeed, science fiction writer Ted Chiang warns us about how Artificial Intelligence may destroy humanity. AI machines are totally non-reflective. We tend to think of them as robots, who are simply programmed to do what they do no matter what, and to keep on doing it as long as they possibly can. But Chiang reminds us that it is not only machines, in the ordinary definition of that term, who operate without thinking about the consequences of their actions. We have machine-like organizations which do that already. We call them corporations. A corporation has no insight whatsoever. Its only function is to pile up money, and it will keep on trying to amass it no matter what its actions do to the human race. It has no functional component within it that will step back and say something like, “Hey, what’s going on here?”

The Republican Party is no more than a horde of puppets owned and controlled by the corporations. They do what the corporations tell them to do exactly when they are told to do it, and then, in the aftermath, lie about what they did. Don’t delude yourself that they can change their ways. They can’t. They are programmed to do what they do, and so they do it.

The tax bill they just pushed through is a pure example of what they do and what they will always do.

The big technical companies appear to be the most perfect examples of these controlling apparatuses. As Chiang says, “But when Silicon Valley tried to imagine super-intelligence, what it comes up with is no-holds-barred capitalism.”

A close friend who is no longer with us used to remind me almost every day that absence of imagination is the best definition of evil. These times are showing me -- conclusively -- how right he was.


Thoughts for December 20, 2017

It’s clear that our country is entering the saddest holiday season in more than a hundred and fifty years. The capitalist machines keep clacking along assuring us that if we’ll just buy a lot of stuff we’ll be happy. But increasing numbers are realizing you can’t buy your way to happiness. They may still think they could if they had enough money, but the reality they face shows them they can’t get that much money.

A truth I, myself, had not faced adequately is the effect living in a rotten society would have on me personally. I had told myself that I had enough personal resources -- people I loved and who loved me, my books, my intellectual projects, developing my thoughts, putting pencil to paper -- that I could persevere okay even if my society went bad. And maybe I can, to a certain degree. But I have to face the truth that a putrefied society weighs on me; it drags me down. Every time I see the face of the current president of the United States I am reminded of that.

There is, of course, the hope that over time we can cleanse our society somewhat, and push it towards decency. Yet the headlines we see every day make that hope hard to grasp. The evolution of societies is often a matter not just of decades but even of centuries. Might it make me happier now to learn that the United States in the year 2150 will be a fairly just, and merciful, and healthy society? I will have been dead a long time by then, and also my children and my grandchildren. I need some evidence to indicate that government and society are bending toward truth and kindness. Where is it?

Right now, I don’t know. I think I do know this: I have to keep hunting for it and keep trying to find some solace in that hunt. That’s not much of a greeting for the coming year. Still, it’s the best I have to offer right now. I hope that, if nothing else, it will be a little gleam.


Thoughts for December 19, 2017

Is it possible to die of outright stupidity? If it is, the American people may be staggering along one of broadest avenues to national suicide ever devised. For the past two years the citizens of this country have been wallowing through a swamp of fatuity that can scarcely get thicker or more syrupy.

We say that Donald Trump is the symptom which shows this most clearly. And it’s true that he’s a pretty compelling symptom. But a single man can’t serve as evidence for a national psychosis. The nation, after all, is responsible for itself to some extent.

I might be asked if stupidity constitutes a psychosis. My answer would be yes, if it’s so extreme it has driven people away from reality. And I do think stupidity has got that extreme in the United States at the moment.

If one were to ask me for evidence of this stupidity I would cite, first, the acceptance of the Republican Party as a truth-telling institution. The leading Republican politicians lie virtually every time they speak. They say they are pursuing goals they have no interest in whatsoever. The current tax bill that is scheduled to pass both houses of Congress this week is not designed to make the nation more productive. Every single Republican politician knows that. Not a one of them believes it to be true. And yet they repeat it over and over again, incessantly.

The purpose of the bill is to ensure that the vastly rich continue to make large contributions to Republican politicians. That’s it. There’s nothing else. And since there’s not, and since every Republican will vote for the bill, it means that every Republican member of Congress is lying to the public -- every one of them.

Is it stupid, or is it not, for a nation to keep a political party in power that always lies and that never pays any attention to the well-being of the majority of people who vote for it?

If that’s not stupid I don’t know what is. One could scarcely find a better definition of stupidity.

Yet, right now there’s little evidence that the nation will turn against that behavior. 



 
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