To worry, or too worried?


Nestled within the quest to be free and to experience life through the portal of YOLO (You Only Live Once), or FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), lies a fear, concern, and worry that we might be too free.  Born, if the thesis of Francis O’Gorman’s book, from a need to be led.

It may seem illogical to make an argument that we’re too free, in lieu of the technological, and governmental, advances have led us to believe every move we make, and every thought we have is monitored, infringed upon, and legislated against.  Francis O’Gorman Worrying: a Literary and Cultural History is not a study of freedom, but one of the common man worrying about how the people, places, and things around us that are affected by the freedom.  Mr. O’Gorman makes this proclamation, in part, by studying the literature of the day, and the themes of that literature.  He also marks this with the appearance, and eventual proliferation of self-help guides to suggest that this greater sense of concern, or worry, led to readers, of another era, rewarding writers that provided them more intimate, more direct answers.  This study leads Mr. O’Gorman to the conclusion that this general sense of worry is a relatively new phenomenon, as compared to even our recent ancestral history.

yes_me_worryOne fascinating concept Mr. O’Gorman introduces to this idea is that the general sense of worry appears to have a direct relation to the secularization of a culture.  As we move further and further away from the religious philosophies to a more individualistic one, we may feel freer to do what we want to do, but we are also more worried about the susceptibility we have to the consequences of unchecked, mortal decision making. We humans have an almost inherent need to be led.

How often does a secular person replace religion with politics?  Politics, at its core, is leadership, and in our dining room table discussions of politics, most of our discussions revolve around why one person is capable of leading our locale, our state, and our nation.  It involves why one person’s idea of leadership may be inept, while another –that abides by our principles– is more capable. As much as those adults that believe themselves fully capable of living without leadership would hate to admit it, all political thought revolves around the desire to be led.

Reading through the various histories of man, we have learned that our ancestors had more of a guiding principle, as provided by The Bible.  The general theory, among those that preach the tenets of The Bible is that man’s mental stability, and happiness, can be defined in direct correlation to his desire to suborn his will to God’s wishes.  God gave us free will, they will further, but in doing so He also gave us guiding principles that would lead us to a path of righteousness and ultimate happiness.

If a man has a poor harvest –an agrarian analogy most preachers use to describe the whole of a man’s life– it is a commentary on how this man lived.  The solution they provide is that the man needs to clean up his act and live in a Godlier manner.  At this point in the description, the typical secular characterization of the devoutly religious comes to the fore, and their agreed upon truth has it that that these people are unhappier because they are unwilling to try new things, and puritanical in a sense that leads them to be less free.  The modern, more secularized man, as defined by the inverse characterization, has escaped such moral trappings, and he is freer, happier, and more willing to accept new ideas and try new things.  If the latter is the case, why are they so worried?

We’ve all heard snide secularists say that they wish they could set aside their mind and just believe in organized religion, or as they say a man in the sky.  It would be much easier, they say, to simply set their intelligence aside and believe.  What they’re also saying, if Mr. O’Gorman’s thesis can be applied to them, is that it would give them some solace to believe that everything was in God’s hands, so that they wouldn’t have to worry all the time.

Like the child that rebels against authority, but craves the guidance that authority provides, the modern, enlightened man appears to reject the idea of an ultimate authority while secretly craving many of its tenets at the same time.  A part of them, like the child, craves the condemnation of immorality, a reason to live morally, and for some greater focus in general.  The randomness of the universe appears to be their concern.

One other cause for concern –that is not discussed in Mr. O’Gorman’s book– is that the modern man may have less to worry about.   If social commentators are to be believed, Americans have never been more prosperous:

“(The) poorest fifth of Americans are now 17 percent richer than they were in 1967,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau

They also suggest that the statistics on crime are down, and teenage pregnancy, and drinking and experimental drug use by young people are all down.  If that’s the case, then we have less to worry about than we did even fifteen years ago.  It’s a concern.  It’s a concern in the same manner that a parent is most concerned when a child is at its quietest.  It’s the darkness before the storm.

Francis O’Gorman writes that the advent of this general sense worry occurred in the wake of World War I.  Historians may give these worriers some points for being prescient about the largely intangible turmoil that occurred in the world after the Great War, but World War I ended in 1918 and World War II didn’t begin until 1939, a gap of twenty-one years of people worrying about the silence and calm that precedes a storm.  This may have propelled future generations into a greater sense of worry, after listening to their parents’ concerns over a generation, only to have them proved right.

The idea that we worry about too much freedom, as in freedom from the guidelines and borders that religion, or God, can provide, can be accomplished without consequences, writes The New Republic writer, Josephine Livingstone in her review of Francis O’Gorman’s book:

“The political concept of freedom gets inside our heads.  It is a social principle, but it structures our interiority.  This liberty worries us; it extends to the realm of culture too, touching the arts as much as it touches the individual human heart and mind.

“In this way, O’Gorman joins the tide of humanities scholars linking their discipline with the history of emotion, sensory experience, and illness. It’s an approach to culture most interested in human interiority and the heuristics that govern the interpretation of experience: Happiness can be studied; sound can be thought through; feeling can be data.”

Ms. Livingstone furthers her contention by writing that the human mind can achieve worry-free independence, in a secular society, by studying select stories, from select authors:

“Worrying also fits into the tradition of breaking down myths and tropes into discrete units, a bit like Mircea Eliade’s Myth and Reality or C. S. Lewis’ Studies in Words. We care about these books because we need stories about the cultural past so that we might have a sense of ourselves in time. The real value of O’Gorman’s book lies, I think, in the way it flags the politics of the stories we tell ourselves. In its attribution of emotional drives to the ideas behind modernist culture and neoliberal politics alike, Worrying shows that their architects –writers, mostly– are as much victims of emotion as masters of thought. If we can see the emotional impulses behind our definitions of rationality, liberty, and literary craftsmanship, we can understand our own moment in cultural time more accurately and more fairly: Perhaps we can become our own gods, after all.”

One contradiction –not covered in the O’Gorman book, or the Livingstone review– is the trope that religious people are miserable in their constraints.  This is ostensibly based on the premise that they fear the wrath of God so much that they’re afraid to live the life that the secular man does.  Yet, O’Gorman infers that religious people tend to worry less, because they follow the guidelines laid out in The Bible, and they place their destiny, and fate, in the hands of God.  The import of this is that for religious minds, the universe is less random.  Ms. Livingstone’s review basically says that the secular life doesn’t have to be so random, and it doesn’t have to cause such concern.  She basically states that if we study happiness as if it were an algorithm of either physical or aural data points, and incrementally form our thoughts around these findings we can achieve happiness.  She also states that through reading literature we can discover our own master plan, through their mastery of emotions through thoughts and ideas.  On the latter point, I would stress the point –in a manner Ms. Livingstone doesn’t– that if you want to lead a secular life, there are the ways to do so and still be worry free.  The key words being if you want to.  If you’re on the fence, however, a religious person could argue that all of the characteristics Ms. Livingstone uses to describe the virtues of the stories and the authors she considers masters of thought, could also be applied to the stories, and writers of The Bible, and the many other religious books.  If her goal, in other words, is to preach to her choir, she makes an interesting, if somewhat flawed case.  (I’m not sure how a living, breathing human being, could study a data sheet on happiness and achieve the complicated and relative emotion.)  If her goal, on the other hand, is to persuade a fence sitter that secularism is the method to becoming your own god, this reader doesn’t think she made a persuasive case.

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Camille Paglia on the 2016 presidential candidates


If you are at all familiar with the politics of Camille Paglia, you either love her or hate her, but you find it annoying difficult to ignore her.  In her latest, provocative interview with Salon.com, part II, and part III, she discusses her views (thus far, 7/30/2015) on some of the candidates of the 2016 presidential elections.  She is, at times, critical, at times constructive, and at other times a little mean-spirited, but Ms. Paglia rarely submits an opinion on any matter without backing it up with some objectivity, and thoughtful examination.

presidential-candidate-tracker-1422646394170-videoSixteenByNine600-v7Ms. Paglia is a life-long Democrat, but she is often as critical of Democrats as she is Republicans. This is based on the idea, presumably, that she wants to help fix her party.  As opposed to most social critics that call the Democrat Party their home, Ms. Paglia makes no secret of her perspective on individual Republican candidates, but this reader finds her views very insightful … even when she’s leveling my favorite Republican candidate.

Though it’s difficult to sift through all of her negative and positive comments, Camille Paglia’s take on the election right now, appears to be that once all the smoke clears, it will probably be (Republican Governor, Wisconsin) Scott Walker and (former Democrat Governor, Maryland) Martin O’Malley left standing.

Hillary Clinton:  I have constantly said that Senator (California) Dianne Feinstein should have been the leading woman presidential candidate for the Democrat Party long ago.  Congresswoman (California) Nancy Pelosi is a very deft and clever behind-the-scenes legislator and dealmaker, a skill she acquired from her political family–her father and brother were mayors of Baltimore. Both of these women, to me, are far better politicians than (Former Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton. Hillary has accomplished nothing substantial in her life. She’s been pushed along, coasting on her husband’s coattails, and every job she’s been given fizzled out into time-serving or overt disaster.  Hillary constantly strikes attitudes and claims she’s “passionate” about this or that, but there’s never any sustained follow-through.  She’s just a classic, corporate exec or bureaucrat type who would prefer to be at her desk behind closed doors, imposing her power schemes on the proletariat.  She has no discernible political skills of any kind, which is why she needs a big, shifting army of consultants, advisors, and toadies to whisper in her ear and write her policy statements.  There’s this ridiculous new theme in the media about people needing to learn who the “real” Hillary Clinton is.  What? Everything they’re saying about what a wonderful person Hillary is in private tells us that she’s not competent or credible as a public figure! A politician, particularly a president, must have a distinct skill or expertise in communicating with the masses.  It’s the absolutely basic requirement for any career in politics.

If you don’t have an effective public persona, if you’re not a good speaker, if you don’t like to press the flesh, if you’re not nimble enough to deal with anything that comes along, then you are not a natural politician!  And you sure aren’t going to learn it in your late 60s!  Get off the stage, and let someone else truly electable on! All this silly talk about how wonderful Hillary is in private.  Oh, sure, she’s nice to the important people and the people she wants or needs something from!  Then she’s Pollyanna herself!  There are just too many reports stretching all the way back to Arkansas about Hillary’s nasty outbursts toward underlings when things aren’t going well.  The main point is that the ability to communicate with millions of people is a special talent, and Hillary pretty obviously lacks it.

Hillary Clinton Part II: I don’t see Hillary as even getting as far as the debates!  If things continue to trend downward for her, in terms of her favorability and the increasing scandals, then the Democratic establishment will have to take action to avoid a sure GOP win.  Hillary has way too much baggage for a general election–that should have been obvious from the start.  If Vice-President Biden jumps in, that would change everything.  I don’t think Hillary wants to be defeated, so what I’ve been predicting all along is that there will be a “health crisis,” and she will withdraw.  Right now, her campaign is trying to change the headlines by releasing some new policy statement every day, but it’s not going to change the looming investigations into her conduct as Secretary of State.  And of course the GOP is holding back its real anti-Hillary ammunition until she’s the nominee.  Then we’ll all be plunged backward into the endless nightmare of the Clinton years–it will be pure hell!

I’m hoping, once we get to the debates, that Martin O’Malley can show himself to best advantage.  He was an experienced mayor and governor of Maryland, and he has an attractive, low-key temperament. He’s presented himself very well thus far in media interviews.  He’s relaxed, open, and actually enjoys being with people–which Hillary clearly does not. He has an outgoing, fun-loving Irish pol quality, which many people nostalgically remember from the Kennedy years.

Martin O’Malley: I feel that once we get to the debates, O’Malley’s actual hands-on, day-to-day experience with complex big-city governance will get traction. Right now we’re in a volatile period of slogans being shouted and passions about racial and immigrant issues boiling over. That’s what’s currently driving the news, but we’re not at the point where people are sitting in front of their T.V.s and intently assessing candidates for the presidency. How is this person handling him or herself behind the podium? How is that person responding to questions or conflict? The actual debates are when the electorate is auditioning candidates for the presidency.  That’s where Obama gained big on Hillary.

Joe Biden: If (Vice-President) Biden enters, I’m not counting him out. He’s going to suck up a lot of Hillary’s support. I’ve never taken Biden too seriously–he always seemed like a lightweight.  But the death of his son Beau, a nice guy with military experience who seemed on track for the presidency, has given Biden more gravitas than he ever had before.  The way he handled himself at Beau’s funeral–standing for five hours, personally greeting all callers. Biden comes in as someone who doesn’t have enemies and who knows the departments of government and international affairs.  He handles himself well in debates–even though Sarah Palin defeated him!

Biden doesn’t have any of Hillary’s negatives.  Why do we want another divisive, polarizing figure in the White House? Who wants a president that half the country already hates? Does that make any sense? At a time when the U.S. has to negotiate with hostile or untrustworthy foreign states, you’d think we would want a president who has the support and good will of the nation.  People are tired of the polarization and looking for a uniter!

Bernie Sanders: (Democrat Senator, Vermont) Bernie Sanders has the authentic, empathic, 1960s radical voice. It’s so refreshing. Now, I’m a supporter of Martin O’Malley–I sent his campaign a contribution the very first day he declared.  But I would happily vote for Sanders in the primary.  His type of 1960s radical activist style descends from the 1930s unionization movement, when organizers who were sometimes New York Jewish radicals went down to help the mine workers of Appalachia resist company thugs. There are so many famous folk songs that came out of that violent period.

When I was in college–from 1964 to 1968–I saw what real leftists look like, because a lot of people at my college, which was the State University of New York at Binghamton, were radicalized Jews from downstate. They were very avant-garde, doing experimental theater and modern dance, and they knew all about abstract expressionism. Their parents were often Holocaust survivors, so they had a keen sense of history.  And they spoke in a very direct and open working-class style. That’s why, in the 1990s, I was saying that the academic leftists were such frauds–sitting around applying Foucault to texts and thinking that was leftism!  No it wasn’t!  It was a snippy, prim, smug bourgeois armchair leftism.  Real ’60s radicals rarely went to grad school and never became big-wheel humanities professors, with their fat salaries and perks.  The proof of the vacuity of academic leftism for the past forty years is the complete silence of leftist professors about the rise of the corporate structure of the contemporary university–their total failure to denounce the gross expansion of the administrator class and the obscene rise in tuition costs. The leading academic leftists are such frauds–they’ve played the system and are retiring as millionaires!

But what you see in Bernie Sanders–that is truly the voice of populism.  I love the way he says, “This is not about me, it’s about you–it’s about building a national grassroots organization.”  That is perfect!  I doubt Sanders can win a national election with his inflammatory socialist style–plus you need someone in the White House who knows how to manage a huge bureaucracy, so I’m pessimistic about his chances. However, I think that he is tonic–to force the Democrat party, which I belong to, to return to its populist roots. I applaud everything that Sanders is doing!

Donald Trump:  So far this year, I’m happy with what (Republican) Trump has done, because he’s totally blown up the media!  All of a sudden, “BOOM!”  That lack of caution and shooting from the hip. He’s not a president, of course. He’s not remotely a president. He has no political skills of any kind. He’s simply an American citizen who is creating his own bully pulpit.  He speaks in the great populist way, in the slangy vernacular.  He takes hits like a comedian–and to me he’s more of a comedian than Jon Stewart is!  Like claiming John McCain isn’t a war hero, because his kind of war hero doesn’t get captured–that’s hilarious! That’s like something crass that Lenny Bruce might have said!  It’s so startling and entertaining.

It’s as if the stars have suddenly shifted–because we’re getting a mix-up in the other party too, as in that recent disruption of the NetRoots convention, with all that raw emotion and chaos in the air.  To me, it feels very 1960s.  These sudden disruptions, as when the Yippies would appear to do a stunt–like when they invaded Wall Street and threw dollar bills down on the stock exchange and did pig-calls!  I’m enjoying this, but it’s throwing both campaigns off. None of the candidates on either side know how to respond to this kind of wild spontaneity, because we haven’t seen it in so long.

Politics has always been performance art.  So we’ll see who the candidates are who can think on their feet.  That’s certainly how I succeeded in the early 1990s.  Before that, the campus thought police could easily disrupt visiting speakers who came with a prepared speech to read.  But they couldn’t disrupt me, because I had studied comedy and did improv!  The great comedians knew how to deal with hecklers in the audience.  I loved to counterattack!  Protesters were helpless when the audiences laughed.

So what I’m saying is that the authentic 1960s were about street theater–chaos, spontaneity, caustic humor. And Trump actually has it!  He does better comedy than most professional comedians right now, because we’re in this terrible period where the comedians do their tours with canned jokes. They go from place to place, saying the same list of jokes in the same way.  But the old vaudevillians had 5,000 jokes stored in their heads. They went out there and responded to that particular audience on that particular night.  They had to read the crowd and try out what worked or didn’t work.

Our politicians, like our comedians, have been boring us with their canned formulas for way too long.  So that’s why Donald Trump has suddenly leapt in the polls.  He’s a great stand-up comedian. He’s anti-PC–he’s not afraid to say things that are rude and mean.  I think he’s doing a great service for comedy as well as for politics!

Marco Rubio: (Republican Senator, Florida) Rubio is widely praised for his intelligence, but he comes across as unsettlingly glib to me. He’s sharp on foreign affairs–that’s a strong suit for him.  But he seems oddly weightless, like a peppy young boy. I don’t see any depth yet.

Ted Cruz: (Republican Senator, Texas) Ted Cruz–oh, lord!  Cruz gives me the willies. The guy is a fanatic!  He’s very smart, clever and strategic, and he has a fine education from Princeton, so people have to watch out for him. But I think he is self-absorbed and narcissistic to a maniacal degree.  I will never forgive him for his insulting arrogance to Dianne Feinstein when the Judiciary Committee was debating gun control two years ago. There’s a two-minute clip on YouTube which I urge people to look at it.  Cruz is smirkily condescending and ultimately juvenile.  He peppers Feinstein with a long list of rat-a-tat questions, as if he’s playing Perry Mason grilling a witness on the stand.  He was trying to embarrass her but only embarrassed himself.  A president must be a statesman, not a smart-alecky horse’s ass.

Rand Paul: As a libertarian, I find myself agreeing with (Republican Senator, Kentucky) Rand Paul on so many different social and political issues. Unfortunately, however, Paul lacks gravitas as a physical presence. The U.S. presidency has a highly ceremonial aspect.  The president isn’t merely a prime minister, a political leader–he’s the symbolic embodiment of the nation. Therefore, physical attributes and vocal style are very important.  Despite the cartoons that caricature and ridicule him as a befuddled boy with big ears, Obama has always known how to handle himself as a candidate and then president. He projects a sober, unflappable confidence and presents himself with elegance and grace–all of which produced his success early on, when Hillary was the frontrunner in 2008.  Many Americans were so sick of Bush, with that lumbering cowboy stance of his.  And remember that terrible moment at a European summit when Bush came up behind the seated Angela Merkel and grabbed her by the shoulders?  She jumped out of her skin.  What an embarrassment to the nation!  I was so happy when Obama took office–finally a president who projected class and dignity.  I’m talking only about persona here, not policies–because while I voted for Obama in 2008, I would not do it again in 2012, when I voted for Jill Stein of the Green Party.

In the primary debates, Cruz will benefit from having a tall and commanding physique, as Bill De Blasio did in the New York mayoral debates.  On the whole, Republicans don’t seem to realize that persona and self-presentation are crucial in a media age.  For example, Rand Paul has obviously had his eye on the presidency for years, so it’s astonishing that he apparently has never given any thought to how he should dress or cut his hair or even stand in front of cameras.  It’s as if his idea of style was flash-frozen in the Everly Brothers era. The tall candidate often has a big advantage in any campaign. It wasn’t the case with Jimmy Carter, but he was an exception.  People do want a sense of implicit authority in the president.  This is certainly what has also held women back from reaching the White House–they don’t present or conceive of themselves in an authoritative way. Dianne Feinstein is the only woman politician in America who has true gravitas. I’m not talking about her policies, about which there is huge division in California.  What I’m saying is that candidates for president must have a perhaps unteachable quality of inward power and steadiness–and Feinstein has it.  Rand Paul neglected this issue–which led to his surprisingly thin skin with the media. You would think after so many years in the public eye, he would be better about handling the press.  But right out of the gate, he was arguing and sniping with a woman TV interviewer.  It came across as petty and tacky–utterly unpresidential.

In the same way, Sarah Palin, who I had great hopes for as a dynamic new type of frontier-woman politician, was way too reactive with the media. She was fighting with bottom-feeders half the time, and they dragged her down to their level.  A major politician can’t do that! You have to learn how to take it but give it back in ways that don’t bounce back at you.  You have to pick the right fights.  It’s a game that every politician must learn–including the ability to satirize the media, which voters love. Being able to handle the media is an essential aspect to running for president, and here is where Hillary has failed abysmally in this campaign. You can’t simply ignore the media or spew memorized talking points at them.  Carly Fiorina is proving herself surprisingly superior to Hillary in knowing how to spar with the media.

Scott Walker: I think that liberals are dangerously complacent about Scott Walker. They’ve tried to portray him as a madman, an uneducated rube, a tool of the Koch brothers.  Right now, Walker seems to be the true GOP frontrunner, but I also feel he lacks gravitas.  He’s not ready for his close-up.  What is this oddity about so many of the GOP candidates–their excessive boyishness, as if their maturation stalled?  But Walker is a very talented and combative politician, with far more substance than liberals are allowing for.

The union issue is huge–because as governor of Wisconsin, Walker went to war with unions and won.  Liberals are caught in the past right now in their rosy view of unions, which were heroically established during the progressive era that reformed the abuses of the industrial revolution.  But the union battle in Wisconsin had nothing to do with exploited working-class miners or factory workers.  In his push to balance the state budget, Walker took action against the middle-class public sector unions, whose negotiations with municipal and state governments outside the arena of private competition have become an enormous drain on local budgets as the economy has worsened. There has been a history of rampant corruption in the public sector unions, coming from their cozy quid pro quo relationships with politicians.  Liberals need to wake up about this!  All they have to do is read the obituaries of the smaller newspapers in metropolitan New York to see how the early retirement and lavish pensions of the public sector unions have grotesquely drained taxpayer dollars.  Obituary after obituary–so-and-so, aged 75, worked for fifteen or twenty years as a policeman or city sanitation worker, retired in his late 40s, and spent the rest of his life on the taxpayer’s dime, pursuing his hobbies of fishing, boating, and golfing.  Great work if you can get it!

And then the teachers’ unions! What a colossal tactical error American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten (a longtime Clinton friend and donor) made several weeks ago in unilaterally declaring her union’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton right in the middle of the Bernie Sanders surge. Probably for the first time ever, American liberals woke up to the corrupt practices that have become way too common in the political maneuverings of the big unions. The point here is that Scott Walker, in his defeat of the public sector unions, drew the roadmap for struggling municipal and state governments everywhere to balance their budgets, as he did in Wisconsin.  Because who ends up suffering the most? It’s the kids.  All that money outrageously pouring into inflated pension plans has been gutting public education and community arts programs.

Exactly how have the teachers unions improved the quality of education in our big cities?  Look at the dilapidated public schools in Philadelphia or in many other cities run by Democrats.  The rigid and antiquated seniority system imposed by the teachers unions has been a disaster–”last hired, first fired.”  So many young and vital teachers have been terminated during budget cuts–the entire future of the profession.  The unions value seniority over quality, and it’s inner-city children who have paid the price.

In my opinion, Scott Walker still lacks seasoning, presidential temper, and a working knowledge of international affairs.  But if Democrats try to use the union issue to take him down, they’re simply empowering him–and we’re going to end up with President Walker.

Jeb Bush: [loud laughter] What a joke! I didn’t remember him at all! This shows what a nothing he is! The major media have been constantly saying that (former Republican Governor, Florida) Jeb is the GOP front-runner, which is utter nonsense. It’s the same thing with Hillary–the polls have just been showing name recognition, nothing more. I’ve been looking at the comments on political news articles since last year, and Jeb Bush seems to have absolutely no support whatever–like zero!  To this day, I’ve never seen an online commenter enthusiastically supporting him.  It’s really strange!  All these rich people throw big money at him, but I don’t know who his voters could possibly be.

If Jeb had run for president after his successful run as governor of Florida, he would have had a better chance.  But he lost his chops during his long hiatus, and he’s coming across as fuzzy and bumbling.  Conservative talk radio is totally against him–he’s dismissed as the ultimate RINO.  On the other hand, let’s see what happens in the primary debates.  It could well be that some of the younger GOP candidates will seem too shallow or shrill, and Jeb will gain because of his amiable personality and fund of government knowledge and experience.  Voters might well go for him in the end as the safe choice.

Camille Paglia: The Radical Libertarian


Reading through Camille Paglia’s criticisms of the culture, one cannot help but think that most other social critics of our generation either feed a confirmation bias or speak about things for which most of us have no interest. As evidence of their lack of confidence, they scratch and claw their way through the competition to achieve an unprecedented depth in the sewer. On those occasions when Ms. Paglia does use overly provocative words, she backs it up with objectivity and a display of knowledge that is so vast that the adjective “informed” seems incomplete.

Camille Paglia is not a conservative, or liberal, and her politics have been described as “radical libertarian”, but she is a life-long Democrat. The “difficult to define” nature of her politics is something that most partisans pine for, but few of these “all over the map” thinkers could finish one paragraph of Camille Paglia’s thoughts without acknowledging that there is a comparative consistency to the overview of their thinking that could only be called limited to a certain ideology. Most diverse thinkers would also shrink at the evidence of inconsistencies in their beliefs system that suggests that they’ve either never been challenged, or that they’ve never truly given opposing views any consideration. From what I’ve read of Ms. Paglia’s work, when she is confronted by inconsistencies she confronts them head-on, and in a manner that contains no obfuscation or spin.

She is in favor of pornography, abortion, prostitution, drug-use, and assisted suicide. She is a proud lesbian, an atheist that respects religion, and a self-described dissident feminist, or as some feminist critics have called her an “anti-feminist feminist”.

1412025458115_Image_galleryImage_Mandatory_Credit_Photo_byIf you have strong views on a specific topic, she’ll probably offend you in some manner, but her methodology does not consist of the quick to the throat one-liners that one has come expect from a provocateur. Those that worship at the altar of provocateurs may not even recognize what Camille’s methodology for what it is, as her criticisms dig deep and leave a lasting wound.

The average and ubiquitous provocateur will say something along the line of: “I don’t want some guy (Ted Cruz) that purportedly memorized the constitution at twelve years-old to be my president. If I would’ve been in his grade, at twelve years old, I would’ve put my knee into his throat until he changed … I want the guy I vote for to smoke pot, have premarital and post-marital affairs … and yes … I’m talking about in the White House, and I want my guy to snort coke off their partner’s backside. I want my politician to be a real man or woman that has lived a real life.”

Those of us that worship at the altar of provocateurs are temporarily put in a jam by such comments, because they’re directed at “our guys”, but it’s not that, and we find ourselves in a sand hole trying to defend our disinterest. It’s that that type of ridicule is lacking in ingenuity and depth, and originality. It’s something George Carlin was saying forty years ago, it’s Lenny Bruce, it’s retread. Those of us that pine for something different want that cutting-the-edge-of-the-throat type of originality from our social critics that is informed and appears to have no influence, and we also want the kind of critiques that have staying power in the manner Camille Paglia’s criticism does:

“(Ted) Cruz gives me the willies. The guy is a fanatic! He’s very smart, clever and strategic, and he has a fine education from Princeton, so people have to watch out for him. But I think he is self-absorbed and narcissistic to a maniacal degree. I will never forgive him for his insulting arrogance to Dianne Feinstein when the Judiciary Committee was debating gun control two years ago. There’s a two-minute clip on YouTube which I urge people to look at it. Cruz is smirkily condescending and ultimately juvenile. He peppers Feinstein with a long list of rat-a-tat questions, as if he’s playing Perry Mason grilling a witness on the stand. He was trying to embarrass her but only embarrassed himself. A president must be a statesman, not a smart-alecky horse’s ass.”

There is no substance to the insight of most provocateurs. Listen to the most caustic crowd long enough, usually found on satellite radio, or on podcasts, and you’ll hear that their analysis of even the most important subjects devolve to 5th grade potty humor and fart jokes. Provocative jokes like those have their place, but they don’t have the kind of staying power that a Camille Paglia statement does, as her most recent interview with Salon.com, part II, and part III proves.

On Bill Clinton:

“Bill Clinton was a serial abuser of working-class women –he had exploited that power differential even in Arkansas. And then in the case of Monica Lewinsky– I mean, the failure on the part of (iconic feminist leader) Gloria Steinem and company to protect her was an absolute disgrace in feminist history! What bigger power differential could there be than between the president of the United States and this poor innocent girl? Not only an intern but clearly a girl who had a kind of pleading, open look to her–somebody who was looking for a father figure.

“I was enraged! My publicly stated opinion at the time was that I don’t care what public figures do in their private life. It’s a very sophisticated style among the French, and generally in Europe, where the heads of state tend to have mistresses on the side. So what? That doesn’t bother me at all! But the point is, they are sophisticated affairs that the European politicians have, while the Clinton episode was a disgrace.”

Camille preceded this observation with a slight correlation between Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton:

“Right from the start, when the Bill Cosby scandal surfaced, I knew it was not going to bode well for Hillary’s campaign, because young women today have a much lower threshold for tolerance of these matters. The horrible truth is that the feminist establishment in the U.S., led by Gloria Steinem, did in fact apply a double standard to Bill Clinton’s behavior because he was a Democrat. The Democrat president and administration supported abortion rights, and therefore it didn’t matter what his personal behavior was.

“But we’re living in a different time right now, and young women have absolutely no memory of Bill Clinton. It’s like ancient history for them; there’s no reservoir of accumulated good will.”

Salon.com Interviewer David Daley: “A cigar and the intern is certainly the opposite of sophisticated.”

“Absolutely! It was frat house stuff! And Monica got nothing out of it. Bill Clinton used her. Hillary was away or inattentive, and he used Monica in the White House–and in the suite of the Oval Office, of all places. He couldn’t have taken her on some fancy trip? She never got the perks of being a mistress; she was there solely to service him. And her life was completely destroyed by the publicity that followed. The Clinton’s are responsible for the destruction of Monica Lewinsky! They probably hoped that she would just go on and have a job, get married, have children, and disappear, but instead she’s like this walking ghoul.”

Salon.com Interviewer David Daley: “Fifteen years later, that’s still the sad role left for her to play.”

“Yes, it’s like something out of “Wuthering Heights” or “Great Expectations”–some Victorian novel, where a woman turns into this mourning widow who mopes on and on over a man who abused or abandoned her. Hillary has a lot to answer for, because she took an antagonistic and demeaning position toward her husband’s accusers. So it’s hard for me to understand how the generation of Lena Dunham would or could tolerate the actual facts of Hillary’s history.”

Salon.com Interviewer David Daley: “So have the times and standards changed enough that Clinton would be seen as Cosby, if he was president today.”

“Oh, yes! There’s absolutely no doubt, especially in this age of instant social media. In most of these cases, like the Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby stories, there’s been a complete neglect of psychology. We’re in a period right now where nobody asks any questions about psychology.  No one has any feeling for human motivation. No one talks about sexuality in terms of emotional needs and symbolism and the legacy of childhood. Sexuality has been politicized–“Don’t ask any questions!” “No discussion!” “Gay is exactly equivalent to straight!” And thus in this period of psychological blindness or inertness, our art has become dull. There’s nothing interesting being written–in fiction or plays or movies.Everything is boring because of our failure to ask psychological questions.

“So I say there is a big parallel between Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton–aside from their initials! Young feminists need to understand that this abusive behavior by powerful men signifies their sense that female power is much bigger than they are! These two people, Clinton and Cosby, are emotionally infantile–they’re engaged in a war with female power. It has something to do with their early sense of being smothered by female power–and this pathetic, abusive and criminal behavior is the result of their sense of inadequacy.

“Now, in order to understand that, people would have to read my first book, “Sexual Personae”–which of course is far too complex for the ordinary feminist or academic mind! It’s too complex because it requires a sense of the ambivalence of human life. Everything is not black and white, for heaven’s sake! We are formed by all kinds of strange or vague memories from childhood. That kind of understanding is needed to see that Cosby was involved in a symbiotic, push-pull thing with his wife, where he went out and did these awful things to assert his own independence. But for that, he required the women to be inert. He needed them to be dead! Cosby is actually a necrophiliac–a style that was popular in the late Victorian period in the nineteenth-century.

“It’s hard to believe now, but you had men digging up corpses from graveyards, stealing the bodies, hiding them under their beds, and then having sex with them. So that’s exactly what’s happening here: to give a woman a drug, to make her inert, to make her dead is the man saying that I need her to be dead for me to function. She’s too powerful for me as a living woman. And this is what is also going on in those barbaric fraternity orgies, where women are sexually assaulted while lying unconscious. And women don’t understand this! They have no idea why any men would find it arousing to have sex with a young woman who’s passed out at a fraternity house. But it’s necrophilia–this fear and envy of a woman’s power.

“And it’s the same thing with Bill Clinton: to find the answer, you have to look at his relationship to his flamboyant mother. He felt smothered by her in some way. But let’s be clear–I’m not trying to blame the mother!  What I’m saying is that male sexuality is extremely complicated, and the formation of male identity is very tentative and sensitive–but feminist rhetoric doesn’t allow for it. This is why women are having so much trouble dealing with men in the feminist era.  They don’t understand men, and they demonize men. They accord to men far more power than men actually have in sex. Women control the sexual world in ways that most feminists simply don’t understand.

“My explanation is that second-wave feminism dispensed with motherhood. The ideal woman was the career woman–and I do support that. To me, the mission of feminism is to remove all barriers to women’s advancement in the social and political realm–to give women equal opportunities with men. However, what I kept saying in “Sexual Personae” is that equality in the workplace is not going to solve the problems between men and women which are occurring in the private, emotional realm, where every man is subordinate to women, because he emerged as a tiny helpless thing from a woman’s body. Professional women today don’t want to think about this or deal with it.

“The erasure of motherhood from feminist rhetoric has led us to this current politicization of sex talk, which doesn’t allow women to recognize their immense power vis-à-vis men. When motherhood was more at the center of culture, you had mothers who understood the fragility of boys and the boy’s need for nurturance and for confidence to overcome his weaknesses. The old-style country women–the Italian matriarchs and Jewish mothers–they all understood the fragility of men. The mothers ruled their own world and didn’t take men that seriously. They understood how to nurture men and encourage them to be strong–whereas current feminism simply doesn’t perceive the power of women vis-a-vis men.  But when you talk like this with most men, it really resonates with them, and they say “Yes, yes! That’s it!”

“Currently, feminists lack sympathy and compassion for men and for the difficulties that men face in the formation of their identities. I’m not talking in terms of the men’s rights movement, which got infected by p.c.  The heterosexual professional woman, emerging with her shiny Ivy League degree, wants to communicate with her husband exactly the way she communicates with her friends–as in “Sex and the City.” That show really caught the animated way that women actually talk with each other.  But that’s not a style that straight men can do!  Gay men can do it, sure–but not straight men!  Guess what–women are different than men! When will feminism wake up to this basic reality? Women relate differently to each other than they do to men. And straight men do not have the same communication skills or values as women–their brains are different!”

On Atheists that sneer at Religion:

“I regard (those that sneer at religion) as adolescents. I say in the introduction to my last book, “Glittering Images”, that “Sneering at religion is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination.”  It exposes a state of perpetual adolescence that has something to do with their parents– they’re still sneering at dad in some way.  Richard Dawkins was the only high-profile atheist out there when I began publicly saying “I am an atheist,” on my book tours in the early 1990s. I started the fad for it in the U.S, because all of a sudden people, including leftist journalists, started coming out of the closet to publicly claim their atheist identities, which they weren’t bold enough to do before. But the point is that I felt it was perfectly legitimate for me to do that because of my great respect for religion in general–from the iconography to the sacred architecture and so forth. I was arguing that religion should be put at the center of any kind of multicultural curriculum.

“I’m speaking here as an atheist. I don’t believe there is a God, but I respect every religion deeply. All the great world religions contain a complex system of beliefs regarding the nature of the universe and human life that is far more profound than anything that liberalism has produced. We have a whole generation of young people who are clinging to politics and to politicized visions of sexuality for their belief system. They see nothing but politics, but politics is tiny. Politics applies only to society. There is a huge metaphysical realm out there that involves the eternal principles of life and death. The great tragic texts, including the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, no longer have the central status they once had in education, because we have steadily moved away from the heritage of western civilization.

“The real problem is a lack of knowledge of religion as well as a lack of respect for religion. I find it completely hypocritical for people in academe or the media to demand understanding of Muslim beliefs and yet be so derisive and dismissive of the devout Christian beliefs of Southern conservatives.

“But yes, the sneering is ridiculous!  Exactly what are these people offering in place of religion? In my system, I offer art–and the whole history of spiritual commentary on the universe. There’s a tremendous body of nondenominational insight into human life that used to be called cosmic consciousness.  It has to be remembered that my generation in college during the 1960s was suffused with Buddhism, which came from the 1950s beatniks. Hinduism was in the air from every direction–you had the Beatles and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Ravi Shankar at Monterey, and there were sitars everywhere in rock music. So I really thought we were entering this great period of religious syncretism, where the religions of the world were going to merge. But all of a sudden, it disappeared!  The Asian religions vanished–and I really feel sorry for young people growing up in this very shallow environment where they’re peppered with images from mass media at a particularly debased stage.

“There are no truly major stars left, and I don’t think there’s much profound work being done in pop culture right now.  Young people have nothing to enlighten them, which is why they’re clinging so much to politicized concepts, which give them a sense of meaning and direction.

“But this sneering thing!  I despise snark.  Snark is a disease that started with David Letterman and jumped to Jon Stewart and has proliferated since. I think it’s horrible for young people!   And this kind of snark atheism–let’s just invent that term right now–is stupid, and people who act like that are stupid. Christopher Hitchens’ book “God is Not Great” was a travesty. He sold that book on the basis of the brilliant chapter titles. If he had actually done the research and the work, where each chapter had the substance of those wonderful chapter titles, then that would have been a permanent book. Instead, he sold the book and then didn’t write one–he talked it. It was an appalling performance, demonstrating that that man was an absolute fraud to be talking about religion.  He appears to have done very little scholarly study.  Hitchens didn’t even know Judeo-Christianity well, much less the other world religions.  He had that glib Oxbridge debater style in person, but you’re remembered by your written work, and Hitchens’ written work was weak and won’t last.

“Dawkins also seems to be an obsessive on some sort of personal vendetta, and again, he’s someone who has never taken the time to do the necessary research into religion. Now my entire career has been based on the pre-Christian religions.  My first book, “Sexual Personae,” was about the pagan cults that still influence us, and it began with the earliest religious artifacts, like the Venus of Willendorf in 35,000 B.C. In the last few years, I’ve been studying Native American culture, in particular the Paleo-Indian period at the close of the Ice Age.  In the early 1990s, when I first arrived on the scene, I got several letters from Native Americans saying my view of religion, women, and sexuality resembled the traditional Native American view. I’m not surprised, because my orientation is so fixed in the pre-Christian era.”

On Jon Stewart, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the liberal media:

“I think Stewart’s show demonstrated the decline and vacuity of contemporary comedy. I cannot stand that smug, snarky, superior tone. I hated the fact that young people were getting their news through that filter of sophomoric snark.  Comedy, to me, is one of the major modern genres, and the big influences on my generation were Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl. Then Joan Rivers had an enormous impact on me–she’s one of my major role models.  It’s the old caustic, confrontational style of Jewish comedy. It was Jewish comedians who turned stand-up from the old gag-meister shtick of vaudeville into a biting analysis of current social issues, and they really pushed the envelope. Lenny Bruce used stand-up to produce gasps and silence from the audience. And that’s my standard–a comedy of personal risk.  And by that standard, I’m sorry, but Jon Stewart is not a major figure. He’s certainly a highly successful T.V. personality, but I think he has debased political discourse. I find nothing incisive in his work. As for his influence, if he helped produce the hackneyed polarization of moral liberals versus evil conservatives, then he’s partly at fault for the political stalemate in the United States.

“I don’t demonize Fox News. At what point will liberals wake up to realize the stranglehold that they had on the media for so long? They controlled the major newspapers and weekly newsmagazines and T.V. networks. It’s no coincidence that all of the great liberal forums have been slowly fading. They once had such incredible power. Since the rise of the Web, the nightly network newscasts have become peripheral, and the New York Times and the Washington Post have been slowly fading and are struggling to survive.

“Historically, talk radio arose via Rush Limbaugh in the early 1990s precisely because of this stranglehold by liberal discourse. For heaven’s sake, I was a Democrat who had just voted for Jesse Jackson in the 1988 primary, but I had to fight like mad in the early 1990s to get my views heard. The resistance of liberals in the media to new ideas was enormous. Liberals think of themselves as very open-minded, but that’s simply not true! Liberalism has sadly become a knee-jerk ideology, with people barricaded in their comfortable little cells. They think that their views are the only rational ones, and everyone else is not only evil but financed by the Koch brothers.  It’s so simplistic!

“Now let me give you a recent example of the persisting insularity of liberal thought in the media. When the first secret Planned Parenthood video was released in mid-July, anyone who looks only at liberal media was kept totally in the dark about it, even after the second video was released.  But the videos were being run nonstop all over conservative talk shows on radio and television.  It was a huge and disturbing story, but there was total silence in the liberal media.  That kind of censorship was shockingly unprofessional.  The liberal major media were trying to bury the story by ignoring it.  Now I am a former member of Planned Parenthood and a strong supporter of unconstrained reproductive rights.  But I was horrified and disgusted by those videos and immediately felt there were serious breaches of medical ethics in the conduct of Planned Parenthood officials.  But here’s my point:  it is everyone’s obligation, whatever your political views, to look at both liberal and conservative news sources every single day.  You need a full range of viewpoints to understand what is going on in the world.”