Month: July 2018

Political Tribalism

There has been a lot of hand-wringing about the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency.  This began the night of the election and shows no signs of abating.  The current issue of Foreign Affairs, the august publication dedicated to the impact of the world on the US and vice versa, is dedicated to unraveling this question from the point-of-view of foreign affairs and policy. In the issue is an article from Amy Chua, John M. Duff, Jr., Professor of Law at Yale, adapted from her new book, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations.  In it, Chua argues that tribalism explains not just messy American involvements in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, but Trump.  In the case of those three messy wars, she notes that American policy makers failed to recognize questions of ethnic or national identity in those three countries, hence the quagmires.  Her argument is compelling and well argued. But when it comes to Trump, it seems to me she is on much shakier ground.  She argues that tribalism is what led to white voters to elect him.  She notes that the white majority in the United States is shrinking and Trump capitalized on that.  So far, so good.  She goes on to discuss classism and the plight of the (white) poor in the country.  Again, so far, so good. But it’s when she gets into...

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Art and the Left: Michaels’ Reply

This is latest entry in an ongoing dialogue which began with Sean McCann’s critique of Walter Benn Michaels’ book The Beauty of a Social Problem in Politics/Letters Live. Here, Michaels responds to McCann’s most recent contribution on Politics/Letters Live. McCann’s reply — the last word — will appear on 26 July. Thanks to the editors of Politics/Letters for letting us go one more round in this discussion. The disagreements between us may be too fundamental to be resolved but it’s helpful to become clearer about what they are. So I’m just going to mark what seem to me the main ones and then last word goes to Sean McCann. First, and most puzzling to me, is the Kant thing. It’s partly puzzling because, as I noted, I mention him only three times, not really enough straw to build that straw man. And it’s puzzling also because my observations about his blurriness on the question of intention and the aesthetic are basically conventional; in Kant and the Claims of Taste, for example, Paul Guyer devotes a number of interesting pages to trying to work through the difficulties produced by the fact that in some places Kant says things that “could be taken to mean that art not only allows but also requires a judgment of beauty made without any consideration of concepts of purpose or intention” and in other places he says things...

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Palestine and “Progressive” Politics

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ recent statements on Palestine-Israel in response to a PBS Firing Line interview have, not surprisingly, led to a huge political discussion. The most thoughtful commentators, including Corey Robin, Philip Weiss, and Ali Abunimah, have raised important and productive points. But there are two crucial political points that I haven’t seen come up. Both of them might prove important down the line for those of us who consider ourselves part of the Palestine solidarity movement and who are also engaged with the electoral possibilities of socialist candidates like Ocasio-Cortez. First: there is no question that Ocasio-Cortez’ performance, in...

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Noah Smith — Long Cut

Noah Smith Long Run Gargonia Records Something interesting is happening in country/American music of late.  Artists like Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson have clearly and purposely turned their backs on the Nashville industry, focusing on songcraft and story-telling.  Those two are the leaders of a new kind of outlaw country, minus, of course, the ultimate bad-assery of the likes of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and company.  My problem with this is I can no longer declare that I love all forms of music, but country.  And into this new country tradition comes Brown County, OH’s Noah Smith. Smith is drawn to the narrative, claiming that back in the day of mixtapes, it was always the lyrics that mattered to him.  He also sees his home state as the American melting pot.  Long Run is his first long-player and it bristles with rollicking songs, his clear voice and an energy that is the key component of his live show.  His songs are carefully constructed and he avoids the slickness of the Nashville sound.  His songs are all stories: love, small-town life, and the alienation of trying to go home again. And even if they fall into the tropes familiar to listeners of pop music today, between his musicality and ear for small things in his songs (like buried guitar licks, Edge-like shimmery guitars, cute little fiddle licks) give him both a familiarity and...

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Child Spies

News has erupted in the United Kingdom that Scotland Yard has been using children as spies for criminal cases.  Not surprisingly, most British are sickened and appalled by this, as are the usual array of human rights groups.  There can be no defence of this. None.  This is one of the most morally repugnant things I have ever come across in my life. The children are pulled from a database about gang members, apparently.  And certainly, some have already decided that they’re criminals and therefore forfeit their civil rights.  It’s not that simple.  First, they’re children.  Second, being in this database is not necessarily an indication of criminality.  Third, even if they are, that is not an excuse to curtail someone’s civil rights. To do so is inhumane. It says that someone is less of a human due to past behaviour. The House of Lords committee that revealed the existence of this programme is sickened.  Even David Davis, one of the most self-serving British politicians of our era (he resigned from PM Theresa May’s cabinet a couple of weeks ago) is appalled.  I wonder what Boris Johnson thinks? And yet, here is May’s spokesperson defending this practice: Juvenile covert human intelligence sources are used very rarely and they’re only used when it is very necessary and proportionate, for example helping to prevent gang violence, drug dealing and the ‘county lines’...

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