Author Nato Thompson explains how art and culture became a weapon aimed at the public - by expanding the influence of the powerful across society, and revealing the deeply emotional dimension to life and politics long concealed by liberal appeals to rationalism - and what Roger Ailes understands about human nature that Plato just couldn't get.
Nato is author of Culture as Weapon: The Art of Influence in Everyday Life from Melville House.
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
It's important at all times, but especially at such times as these, when tragedy and catastrophe dominate the news, to remember the origins of conflict. Obviously, our understanding of the origins of conflict depend on our point of view. What historical period are we in? Where do we live? What language do we speak? What economic class do we inhabit? What is our social position, and how likely is it to change? And how far back are we willing to go when we look for the origins of conflict?
We might as well begin at the beginning. In the beginning, a spontaneous fluctuation out of nothing created the Big Bang. That may seem to be going a bit farther back than necessary, but maybe not. After all, if we're going to consider root causes, why not consider the root of all roots?
It's a little silly, I guess. Nonetheless, let's see what fruit the tree of silliness bears. We eat the fruit of worse trees every day. Silliness isn't the worst of human crimes.
Immediately after the Big Bang, there was a great deal of heat and expansion. It's possible the heat was so hot it couldn't even be called heat. I'm not even sure what I mean by that but, trust me, odds are there are at least three cosmologists who know what I'm talking about, even if I don't.
Leaving aside heat, then, there was expansion. Expansion, now there's a cause of conflict. And to think it all started with the Big Bang. It's a cosmic principle, expansion. In human terms it's gone by various names: Manifest Destiny, lebensraum, and the popular umbrella, imperialism.
Is it possible that the desire of some groups of humans to control ever larger areas of land can be traced all the way back to the beginning of the universe? No, it's not. See what kind of truth the tree of silliness can bear? We've already debunked a notion that, in the desire to acquire greater territory, humans are channeling a cosmic principle.
The question arises now: why is it even necessary to debunk a doctrine no one holds? I would answer, We've tried debunking doctrines people do hold, and that hasn't worked out at all. We can't even debunk easily disproven lies that the most transparently mendacious people tell. Studies have shown both that people are reluctant to accept new information running counter to their beliefs, and that even when they're open to contrary... read more
In 1944 – (72 years ago) – on the second day of the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, members of a Nazi German combat unit intercepted a US truck convoy near Malmedy, Belgium, took some 120 American troops prisoner, confiscated their weapons, herded them into a field, and mowed them down with machine guns and pistols. Eighty-one soldiers were killed in what became known as the single worst atrocity against US troops in Europe. News of the Malmedy massacre had a major impact in the States, and led to war crimes trials in 1946, in which forty-three German soldiers were sentenced to death and another twenty-two to life in prison. But legal and political disputes over details of the defendants’ arrest and trial eventually led to none of the death sentences being carried out —and by 1956 all the convicted war criminals had been released. One of the German commanders went to live in France, where he received constant death threats. He finally died on Bastille Day 1976, when his house was set on fire by arsonists who were never apprehended, and firefighters arrived to find that their equipment had been sabotaged.
In 1961 – (55 years ago) – In Niterói, Brazil, near Rio de Janeiro, a circus attended by three thousand people went down in a massive fire. The Gran Circus Norte-Americano featured some 60 humans and 150 animals performing inside an enormous tent pitched in the city’s central square. The circus tent was advertised as being made of nylon, but it was actually made of cotton treated with paraffin wax. When fire broke out during a trapeze performance, the flames spread so fast that the whole tent was consumed in five minutes. Some 500 people were killed, including about 350 children.
In 1967 – (49 years ago) – Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt, who had cooperated with US President Lyndon Johnson by sending Australian troops to the war in Vietnam, went for a swim at a beach south of Melbourne that was noted for its often dangerous riptides. Holt, then fifty-nine years of age, was known to be an athletic type and a good swimmer, but he was also suffering from health problems, having collapsed in a parliament session some months earlier. Soon after swimming into the surf, he disappeared under a wave — and before long, Australian police, navy, and air force personnel were out over the ocean in what quickly... read more
Andrew wrote the article The New Red Scare in the December issue of Harper's.
Ed will cover new modes of living, collaborative solidarity and insurgent media but I couldn't fit that in the above headline.
Dan wrote the recent article How Centrists Failed Immigrants for Jacobin.
Viet is author of the book Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War from Harvard University Press.
Michael will take us through the highs and lows of the year in craft beer.
A radical turn from his hammock-bound MOT last week.
Here's what Chuck is reading to prepare for Saturday's show:
The New Red Scare - Andrew Cockburn [Harpers]
How Centrists Failed Immigrants - Dan Denvir [Jacobin]
Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War - Viet Thanh Nguyen [Harvard University Press]
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
As the fateful moment draws nigh when the man with an orange face and no tan from his brow ridge to his cheeks like a Creamsicle raccoon puts his hand on an ancient book and lies to its god about upholding a Constitution which is itself being eaten away from within the very structures it delineates, the slow-motion farcical death of democracy is playing itself out on the stage of the 24-hour news cycle.
Don't normalize this! Don't normalize this! It's too late, it's been normal for decades. I know, you're hollering about the fascism, the racism, the anti-Semitism of Semites both Jewish and Muslim, the misogyny, the xenophobia and LGBTQ+phobia. But as someone who's been on the receiving end of at least one of those pathologies, and as I've heard other of their targets report for decades, these threads make up the normal fiber of many a US patriot. It's not a surprise at all that a Creamsicle raccoon channeled them in order to serve himself up a heapin' helpin' of presidentially leveraged wealth an power. Leftists of every stripe, from the unrepentant Stalinist to the anarcho-feminist queer, have been predicting the rise of the Creamsicle Raccoon with ever more certainty since the days of Joe Hill.
Nothing could be more normal than sociopathic fascists using government as a festive bazaar for exchanging money and influence with each other. That's what government is: the currency exchange, complete with speculation, on the way to advancement into the Spectacle, but at this currency exchange they serve alcohol.
When was the last time a political figure was jailed for influence peddling? Or was censured for conflict of interest? Or forced to resign for giving a corporation in which they had a stake access to an open tap gushing public money, stealing from working people, the elderly, the unemployed, and school kids to stack up money and favors in the private sector and then wandering over to collect them through the public sector's revolving door? No, you have to send someone a picture of your dick to warrant removal from office. But if you bend a few hundred million people over and screw them, well, that's normal.
There's no one watching the henhouse. It's amazing there are any hens left. The only way we the people have secured the eggs we have has been by banding together and forcing the scum to... read more
In 1510 – (506 years ago) – forces of the Portuguese navy, led by the admiral Afonso de Albuquerque and assisted by local mercenaries, seized the prosperous, centuries-old port city of Goa on India’s west coast. The Portuguese, who had briefly held Goa earlier that year and then lost it to a local sultan, now retook the city in less than a day, defeating the sultan and putting large numbers of the Muslim population to death by the sword. Men, women, and children were massacred, and Albuquerque allowed his troops to spend three days sacking the city. Though the conquest took place against the wishes of the Portuguese king, it gave him an important colonial port and commercial capital which remained under Portuguese control for more than 450 years until it was finally reclaimed and annexed by India in 1961. To this day, Goa remains perhaps the most culturally European-influenced city in India, and the only one in which soccer is more popular than cricket.
In 1796 – (220 years ago) – in Caracas, Venezuela, José Leonardo Chirino, a free farmer of mixed African and indigenous blood, was hanged for the crime of leading a slave revolt in the sugar plantations of the Spanish New World colonies. Chirino had been inspired by the ongoing slave rebellion in Haiti, which would later prove successful in establishing an independent republic there. He had also been deeply affected by the ideals of the faraway French Revolution. In the eastern Veneuzelan city of Coro, he led an uprising of Congolese slaves, with the aim of expelling the Spanish and abolishing slavery and white supremacy. But when his rebellion failed, he was betrayed by an associate. The Spanish authorities executed Chirino, cut his body into pieces, put his head on public display, and sold his wife and children into slavery.
In 1907 – (109 years ago) – in the Battersea district of London, about a thousand medical students of University College and other schools staged a demonstration supporting the practice of vivisection, in which living, conscious animals were cut open, operated on for purposes of medical research and instruction, and then killed. Public passions had been aroused by the court trial of a medical lecturer who, according to witnesses, had muzzled and bound a brown terrier in his classroom, cut it open to remove internal organs, and subjected it to electric... read more