Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Gnostic Themes in American Politics

Events are sometimes grand enough to take on a mythic resonance that can be discerned even by those preoccupied by profane matters. The Great Recession and its aftermath have been such events, and a myth that captures those moments and their paradoxes is the Gnostic Hymn of the Pearl. As I explain elsewhere, what we learned from the bursting of the housing bubble is that Western economies are dominated by feckless supervillains who retain their godlike plutocratic privileges even though they don’t deserve to be worshiped by the herds of little people. The American and European bankers led deregulation of the financial markets in 1990s (via lobbying, the revolving door, etc), orchestrated the real estate fraud through financial scheming, won a no-strings-attached, one-sided bailout through their capture of Obama’s economics team, and subsequently pushed through austerity measures to further squeeze the middle classes (via their think tanks' ideological capture of the neoliberals in government). Those bankers thus demonstrated that the Western political and economic systems are corrupt in that they no longer serve the interests of the majority of Western citizens. European countries such as Greece, Italy, and Portugal revolted against their political Parties’ handling of the European debt crisis.

But nowhere are the mythic proportions of the scandal more apparent than in the American presidential campaigns. In both Parties, the establishment is faced with insurgencies from political outsiders. Despite the fact that the US leads the Western world in its enthrallment to market logic, creating what Guy Debord called the society of the spectacle, a society in which false realities or images rule by commodifying every aspect of social life, that forlorn nation appears to be the site of a progressive revolution. Whereas ordinarily the multitudes are blind to the corruption that’s become so pervasive it’s been normalized, so that far from fighting for their political rights, they cheer on figures who promise indirectly to further entrench the oppressive social systems, as explained by Thomas Frank, American Democrats and Republicans have now struck upon a populist language that can’t easily be coopted by the deep state. This is the language based on the dichotomies of insiders and outsiders, and of the corrupt establishment and the promise of renewal by radically transforming the social systems. On the left, the solution is democratic socialism, on the right it’s nativism, theocracy, or fascism.

As summarized by the Wikipedia article, the Hymn of the Pearl, found in the apocryphal Acts of Thomas, ‘tells the story of a boy, “the son of the king of kings”, who is sent to Egypt to retrieve a pearl from a serpent. During the quest, he is seduced by Egyptians and forgets his origin and his family. However, a letter is sent from the king of kings to remind him of his past. When the boy receives the letter, he remembers his mission, retrieves the pearl and returns.’ In the ancient Jewish context, Egypt stood for corruption, so the Egyptian seducers are the demonic archons who serve as prison wardens, distracting us with sinful pleasures so that we’ll lose our chance of enlightenment or gnosis. The Hymn is an allegory, the point being that we’re all like that boy, lost in a profane world; we’ve forgotten our true calling and our authentic ideals and must be reminded by an outsider. In Gnostic systems, there’s often a transcendent redeemer emanating from the ineffable ground of being, a prophetic saviour who informs us that we’re in the ultimate bad news/good news situation: we’re imprisoned in the fallen natural universe so that even our bodies lead us astray, but there’s a perfect, more real world beyond which is our true home, and we can return to it by taking various mystical or ascetic steps.

The Gnostic Connotations of the 2016 Democratic Campaigns

In the American presidential election, there are likewise outsiders and insiders, transcendent redeemers and archons, angels of the Demiurge. Let’s begin with the Democrats. Bernie Sanders’ entrance to the American mass media narrative was delayed for months, because the corporate media, which serve up the cultural spectacle, what Marx called the ideological superstructure that explains away injustices in the economy, are of course part of the establishment. The media establishment defends the status quo, putting systems before people, whereas the predominant social systems are typically Trojan horses for natural hierarchies and cycles, and people have the anomalous potential to transcend or subvert natural processes. So Hillary Clinton was touted as a shoe-in for the Democratic nominee, and the “free” world’s so-called leading nation was poised to welcome another political dynasty. But Sanders was supported by a grass-roots movement, fuelled in part by disappointment with Obama who had campaigned as a transformative, Rooseveltian figure but had governed as a centrist, having evidently fallen under the archons’ spell. Obama thus stands for John the Baptist, Sanders for the Christ-like real deal, for the true, incorruptible redeemer who will separate the wheat from the chaff, washing away the Egyptian seducers, like Moses at the Red Sea. Having become too popular to ignore, the corporate centers of infotainment ended their media blackout, opting for the standard framing devices of a horse race or a boxing match between equals. In any case, Bernie Sanders is still manifestly the outsider, the old, Jewish socialist who takes no money from Wall Street and promises specific radical changes, such as universal health care and education paid for by a tax on Wall Street speculation so that Wall Street can return the favour and bail out the middle class. 

By contrast, Hillary Clinton is the establishment candidate. A woman and thus partly an outsider, to be sure, but a phony feminist, as Camille Paglia explains, as well as wife of Bill Clinton who stayed in power by triangulating, meaning that he cynically chose the middle ground between the left and right wings. As the country moved further and further to the right, this entailed abandoning liberal and progressive principles. (Obama fancied himself a similarly reasonable man who would work with his opponents, but crafty Republicans opted instead to deny him legislative victories, allowing the anarchistic Tea Party to denounce Obama as a commie tyrant or as a covert Islamist terrorist.) Bill Clinton was a neoliberal, a technocrat who became a functionary of the deep state. Thus, after he left office, having governed as a centrist rather than as a progressive radical, deregulating derivatives and passing the three strikes bill, the latter being a boon for the prison industry since it filled prisons with poor people most of whom are African Americans, Clinton took millions of dollars in return from private industry in the form of speaking fees. Hillary Clinton has followed suit as secretary of state, as Conor Friedersdorf explains. (She helped the Swiss bank UBS with the IRS and the bank rewarded her by donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Clinton Foundation as well as paying Bill Clinton $1.5 million in speaking fees.) Hillary Clinton herself took $675,000 from Goldman Sachs to give three speeches. As Matt Taibbi points out, regardless of whether that’s a case of quid pro quo, the transaction itself puts Hillary on the wrong side of history, firmly in the establishment camp, and the American political and economic establishments happen now to be infamous for their corruption. If she took that money and gave it away like Robin Hood or turned it into an organization for fighting evil, like Batman, that would be one thing. Instead, she aligns herself with the Democratic power elites, saying the Democrats need to defend Obama’s achievements. But progressives view Obama’s bailout of Wall Street to be part of the problem that calls for a radical solution; indeed, the Occupy Wall Street movement helped fuel Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Thus, the Democrats are fighting over what they stand for.

Specifically, the conflict takes the form of the old division between idealists and realists. Sanders stands for the youthful, idealistic radicals, Hillary for the pragmatic, experienced compromisers and technocrats. The former oppose the political system as a whole, the latter protect it and so are conservatives at heart. Sanders wants to turn the US into a Scandinavian social democracy; Hillary thinks that’s unworkable and like Obama, she wants to make only incremental, piecemeal changes to the status quo. Realism here means not so much an acknowledgment of any political reality that Americans won’t embrace progressive values. After all, some such revolution already happened within the United States, when the New Deal followed the Great Depression. Moreover, as a 2014 study by Princeton and Northwestern Universities shows, the American majority opinion is politically irrelevant unless it matches up with that of the power elites. This is to say that the US is already an oligarchy with dysfunctional democratic institutions. Therefore, the realist’s estimation of progressivism’s unpopularity is irrelevant and disingenuous. In any case, on the contrary, polls indicate that a majority of Americans take progressive positions on particular social issues, and are becoming more rather than less progressive. Hillary Clinton’s realism, then, is an “Egyptian” seduction, a delay tactic to reverse the momentum of Sanders’ progressive mass movement.

Obama too was a political insider: despite his skin colour, he took enormous campaign contributions from Wall Street, since that’s what the US political system demands if you want to become part of the establishment. Obama proved he was no radical as soon as he kicked out his progressive campaign advisors, Goolsbee and Kornbluh, when he took office in 2008 and appointed or kept in place Wall Street bankers or insiders, Froman, Geithner, Paulson, and Gensler as well as Clinton-era, Bob Rubin proteges Summers, Furman, and Farrell (see Taibbi’s article on the transition); the neoliberal team dutifully protected Wall Street after its frauds nearly sent the global economy into a depression. The banksters were bailed out at the taxpayers’ expense, they remained in place in their amoral institutions, and they rewarded themselves for their unscrupulous initiatives, with colossal bonuses. Virtually none of the bankers were prosecuted for their part in the ongoing organized crime that is the bulk of the US financial market.

The Gnostic myth raises the central paradox of how a corrupt system can right itself. Religions use absurd symbols to yada yada the crucial steps. For example, Moses’ righteousness was confirmed because he spoke directly to the hidden deity who incarnated himself as a magical burning bush. Jesus was likewise divorced from the fallen world by a virgin birth. According to the religions, then, these heroes can be trusted because they’re sent from another realm and aren’t corrupted by the powers and principalities that direct nature towards ungodly ends. In the real world, of course, we do a disservice to religious myths when we take them literally. The myths express our hope that somehow it’s possible to be righteous in an inhumane world, that sometimes there are heroes who stand apart from disgraced systems and can make them safe for respectable participants. And yet Hillary Clinton asks how an outsider and a dreamer like Sanders could “get stuff done” in Washington. Apparently, being an effective politician takes experience and thus involvement in the political system, which in turn necessitates being corrupted by that involvement. “ 'Effective' in pursuing whose interests?” you might well ask. Sanders represents those who have already been excluded by the American plutocracy, whereas the Republicans stand for those who least need political representation, for the top one percent of economic elites, and Hillary Clinton sides with the system itself, taking the status quo on principle as the ultimate good. It’s the system that enriches her, namely the nepotistic one that rewards her for being the wife of a charismatic president; it’s the tribal rule of “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” that dictates she’d govern as a centrist rather than as a radical progressivist, as she’s signaled she’d do, by embracing Obama’s legacy. Hillary says Sanders is too naïve to govern in the rough-and-tumble of American politics. It’s as if Sanders could learn from Obama’s "realistic" decision to keep in place the Wall Street bankers even after they’d presided over the frauds that brought their banks to ruin, because allegedly no one understands the financial system other than the organized criminals who run it.

The realist’s maxim is, “You can reform a system only if you know how it works, and you gain that knowledge only after becoming part of that system.” The idealist’s rejoinder is obvious: “You will no longer care to reform the system after you’ve become part of it, because reforming it by that point would be against your self-interest.” Would Darth Vader revolt against the very empire that provided him with the artificial breathing apparatus that enabled him to live? He eventually slew the evil emperor and it cost him his life. There are selfless persons outside of fiction, but their ambition isn’t sufficiently toxic to drive them to run for president of the world’s most militarily powerful country. And yet there stands Bernie Sanders, now inescapably part of the corporate media narrative, challenging the centrists, not to mention the Republican theocrats and white power nativists. Is Sanders a saint? Is he incorruptible? Is he so naïve that his presidency would be powerless to change a thing? Does he even have a pathway to the presidency, since for some reason his progressive message is supposed to be anathema to African Americans and Latinos who have the most to gain from it and who instead side blindly with the Clintons (because Bill Clinton played the saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show)? No one currently knows, but what we see is the Gnostic myth playing itself out on the American stage.

The Futile Search for Republican Saviours

The Gnostic undertones of the Republican nomination process are different from those of the Democrats’. The prospect of a superhuman savior freeing us from the clutches of self-destructive predators who exploit our dysfunctional social systems entails that the saviour isn’t part of those systems. In the Gnostic myths, the saviour figure is a transcendent being dispatched by the alien god beyond space and time. Now, the Democrats are nominally liberal and progressive, and so their goal is to improve on the natural conditions of society. They exult in the anomalies of human nature, in our freedom, rationality, and creativity, and they seek to develop societies that allow us to express our individuality. By contrast—and quite regardless of the conventional view of conservatism—Republicans are regressive to the point of being antihuman. In theory, American conservatism is supposed to return the US to a golden age such as the 1950s or the late 1800s. In practice, due to the effects of rampant economic deregulation and of the anti-intellectual aspect of religious fundamentalism, what Republicans conserve is the prehuman state of nature. This is to say that the Republican program disarms Americans in their confrontation with evolutionary pressures and cycles, hamstringing the government and thus the collective will to maintain the people’s welfare, so that market forces come to dominate. Untethered to an ethical code enforced by the government, the “free” (wild) market rewards the most selfish and unscrupulous individuals while it punishes those who are the least like animals, who think in universal terms and deplore the rat race as being undignified for godlike beings.

All of this is by way of saying that while the Gnostic issue for Democrats is that a true saviour/radical may be too idealistic to be effective as leader of the most powerful country in the fallen world and thus of a chief source of that fallenness, the issue for Republicans is that none of their alleged outsider candidates may be genuine. Sensing the appalling decrepitude of their society, and suffering the embarrassment that a country which boasts its values lead the world has fallen far down the list of countries in which it’s wise to live, the American have-nots are in the process of bashing their political establishment. This is why the duplicitous Evangelicals and the Tea Party nativists have flocked to Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.

The leading establishment candidates, Rubio and the early front-runner Jeb Bush, are nearly transparent in their commitment to representing the top one percent of wealth holders who are indifferent to the free-for-all struggle against institutional decay that’s at the core now of life for the American majority. Those two candidates’ appeal to the masses is (or was) thus pitifully superficial. Cruz is correct when he says that Rubio is little more than a pretty face, as Rubio demonstrated in his humiliating dustup with Chris Christie. But Rubio’s power derives from his financial backing by cynical plutocrats who trust that most voters are motivated merely by the adolescent desire to have a handsome or a pretty face on their television screens. Rubio’s policy statements are Republican boilerplate: for example, his proposed tax cuts would cost the government between $2.4 and $6 trillion in revenue, which Rubio would redress by cutting government spending, including funding of Medicare. Instead of speaking to the massive resentment against the dysfunctions of both the government and the economy, he seeks to maintain the status quo dynamic of a grotesque increase in economic inequality.

As for Jeb Bush, who’s since dropped out of the race, he too would have represented not the majority of Americans but just the narcissistic and sociopathic alphas at the apex of the national pecking order. The regressive impact of a Jeb Bush presidency would have been foreshadowed by the anachronism of its being a political dynasty. Whereas Bush II was allegedly a “compassionate conservative,” Jeb Bush was heralded as being more like his father, the first Bush president, as a thoughtful and aristocratic centrist—rather like Hillary Clinton but less articulate. But that’s just window dressing, since as ever the Republican policies are carved in stone: decreasing capital gains taxes on millionaires, restricting welfare payments for the poor, raising the retirement age to reduce social security benefits, and repealing the Dodd-Frank financial reform law as well as essentially declaring war on regulators. In any case, the point is that neither Rubio nor Jeb Bush is a radical who can politically afford to admit that his country is broken. Neither is an outsider with an interest in reforming the system, let alone with the superhuman capacity to do so. Both are effectively on the side of nature and of the animals; that is, both would degrade the majority in the brutal, crony capitalistic marketplace so that the multitudes would lose touch with the sensibilities and talents that make them shining anomalies in the animal kingdom, and they'd be forced to live in desperation as beasts.

Returning to the potential outsiders, Ted Cruz should be considered an outsider mainly for the characterological reason that he’s ostracized by his fellow power elites. Evidently, he doesn’t work well with others and thus must oppose the system in which he’s unpopular. His religious convictions would likewise conflict with the reason-based powers (science and industry) that sustain any modern, developed nation—except that his particular religion, being the odious evangelical Southern Baptist Church is compatible with the worst excesses of secularism, because its message is worlds apart from Christianity’s original inspiration. In any case, Cruz’s religious credentials are dubious: he’s a libertarian at heart and only trotted out his religion in his presidential campaign in a calculated bid to win support from the evangelical part of the Republican base, whereas he’d kept his alleged religion under wraps during his run for the Senate seat.

The real story of the Republican nomination is centered on Donald Trump. “What is the meaning of Trump’s ascent?” asks the befuddled mainstream media which instinctively mocks the very features of his campaign that are cherished by Trump’s many supporters. Is Trump an outsider and a radical? His slogan, “Make America Great Again,” implies that American society is currently not great, which in turn sets up Trump as the saviour. However, like the sons of Bush I, Trump is effectively an aristocrat, the inheritor of a vast fortune and a trove of family connections. Trump has a point when he says he’s uncorrupted by the sphere of US politics and that, due to his independent wealth, he needn’t be influenced by the lobbyists. But this hardly makes Trump a paragon of virtue; after all, he enlarged his fortune not in the corrosive world of politics but in the toxic one of the 1980s Manhattan real estate market. That was when Trump learned firsthand the merits of social Darwinism and to never show weakness by admitting to having erred; and that was when he practiced crushing his enemies in earnest. In short, it was thanks to the equally noxious world of unrestrained capitalism that Trump adopted the fallen logic of the chaotic, inhuman wilderness, what Justice Kennedy calls in his Citizens United majority opinion, “soft,” meaning systemic, “corruption.” Part of this systemic corruption which has so energized the millions of American voters who are clamoring for secular salvation is the revolving door between the public and private sectors: even if there’s no quid pro quo, a politician can indirectly reap rewards for favouring some private firm while in office, by selling his or her connections after leaving for a job in that firm which invariably pays more than any standard of decency allows. There’s an indirect form of favouritism to get around bribery laws: it looks good to put on your resume that you saved Company X millions of dollars by killing a government investigation into its illicit dealings. Trump’s attempt, then, to compartmentalize these matters, to pretend that he’s innocent because he hails from the business world, not from politics, is feeble. The two worlds have merged in the crippled American system. Far from standing apart from the American oligarchy in general, Trump, the real estate and media mogul is a leading figure in it. Gnostically, he’s positioned as an archon's avatar.

The question for resentful American voters, therefore, is whether he’s an "Egyptian seducer" with misgivings. Is he like Batman or the Buddha, a renegade who will bite the hand that fed him? By all accounts, the American “establishment,” which is to say its deep state, has backed candidates like Bush, Rubio, Christie, and even Cruz to beat Trump, because they fear what would happen were Trump to win the nomination. There’s even talk of an anti-democratic brokered convention should Trump win the most delegates, which would pit the power elites against the base of have-nots. Trump would explain this hostility to his campaign by saying that the establishment fears the reform he’d bring. There’s an alternative, less preposterous explanation, though. After all, no one but Trump can know what exactly he would do in office, since he’s been a Democrat, a Reformer, an Independent, and a Republican, each at different times from the late 1980s to the present.

In a nutshell, Trump is bad for the Republican brand. The Republican policies are never questioned by “conservatives”; only the rhetoric used to sell them to the public can flow with more or with less cynicism. In the familiar quasi-Freudian analogy, Trump speaks for the Republican Id, the establishment for its Superego, and so naturally the establishment would be embarrassed by Trump’s airing of his Party’s dirty laundry. The deep state’s job is to suppress most people’s awareness of what the country’s actually doing and the woeful messiness of its inner workings, to avoid a bloody revolution at the hands of the horrified masses. In Straussian terms, Trump’s sin is the same as Bush II’s: they both give the game away as hypermodernists who trust that the people can stomach a revealing of the true, monstrous character of their power elites, as opposed to taking the ancient course of concealing the dire contents of wisdom. To be sure, neither Bush II nor Trump ever discloses in detail what they actually do or did, since neither ever answers a question in public with any straightforwardness. Being both the American equivalents of European aristocrats, both are disgusted by the unwashed masses and demonstrate their disdain by lying to them on a minute-by-minute basis, typically by omitting crucial details or snowing the audience with platitudes and talking points.

Still, their personal crudity inadvertently reveals the deeper truth that great power tends to fall into the hands of amoral predators. Ancient philosophers understood that naturalism implies determinism, nihilism and relativism, or what today we might call cosmicism. It’s in the natural course of things for the strong to prey on the weak, there being no supernatural moral force to stop this savagery. The ancient remedy, according to Leo Strauss, was for philosophers to conceal these unwelcome truths by employing doubletalk in their writings. In the modern political context, this would mean that the power elites would much prefer a sophisticated neoliberal centrist like Obama or Hillary Clinton, whose articulateness allows each to avoid taking definite stands since they’re able to dance around issues or to rationalize their misdeeds and broken promises. By contrast, Bush II and Trump are comically inept at disguising their monstrous inhumanity. They lack the verbal facility to lie well or to pretend to be honourable statesmen; instead, they come off as bloodthirsty thugs who are incapable of holding the moral high ground.

Again, this surface monstrosity is anathema to the Republican brand. There can be no exorcism to free the Republican Party of its barbaric leadership, since psychopaths seize power as a matter of natural probability. But the mask the leadership wears to appear respectable to the civilized public must be protected, and Republican leaders are expected to have the wherewithal to keep their antisocial tendencies to themselves. Obviously, Trump imposes on himself no such restrictions; thus, he terrifies the Republican establishment. Should the brand be tarnished, the public might lose confidence in their “conservative” leaders. It’s one thing for the poor to be misled into trusting that the rich will look out for the poor. It’s another for sheep to trust in the wolves that are supposed to protect them, after the wolves lose their sheep’s clothing. Republican voters mistake Trump's political incorrectness for authenticity and trustworthiness, as though a coarse individual would necessarily be altruistic. Likewise, they're deluded in assuming that business savvy translates into political know-how, especially since Trump isn't a self-made man and when he expanded his father's real estate empire to Manhattan and the casinos, he overextended himself and his companies went bankrupt several times. As the documentary, The Mad World of Donald Trump explains, Trump was an early beneficiary of the Too-Big-to-Fail rule, and he was certainly no business genius. 

And so the Gnostic lesson for Republicans is that they’re all lost in darkness. Their putative saviours are henchmen of archons, in disguise. Trump isn’t a reformer so much as a demolitionist: judging from the experience that’s molded his character, he wouldn’t rebuild American social structures to benefit the majority, but would impulsively, clumsily bring down his entire Party, leaving the Democrats to deal with the pitchfork-carrying mob. 


  1. My favorite quote from Bernie. "Greed, fraud, dishonesty, arrogance,” These are just some of the adjectives we use to describe Wall Street.” Someone should tell Bernie what an adjective is.

  2. Well, that's one way to show your support for Bernie Sanders.

    1. Remember, I'm Canadian, so I'm speaking about American politics as an interested outsider. I'm not really a Bernie Sanders supporter, though. I said in my Feb 27 reply to Matthew Steinbergs elsewhere on this blog (link below): "What would a humanist revival look like? Bernie Sanders seems to be starting one, but it doesn't look good for him. He's way too old and slow and POLITE to be leading that revolution when the US seems on the precipice of an apocalyptic downturn. Symbolically, Sanders is bad for humanistic business, because he makes social democracies look obsolete."

      The more interesting question is whether we should be supporters of progressive politics, not whether we should support Bernie Sanders. Sanders may be just a flawed spokesperson for a movement. Like I said, he's too old and polite, he's not broadminded enough, and he's been in politics for too long. But I do think it's healthy to inject genuine political alternatives into the American duopoly. Would it hurt for the US nationally to be more like a European social democracy? I don't think that will happen, because the national government has to be in the technocratic center to govern what are actually two entirely different societies, cultures, and economic classes. The liberal states already operate like those Scandinavian democracies; it's just that they don't receive the core benefits like free healthcare and education.

      I also think it's wise to regulate the American banking industry, such as by breaking up the too-big-to-fail banks. That won't happen without a progressive revolution, as Sanders says and contrary to Hillary's happy-talk, and I don't think that sort of revolution will happen again in the US without a civil war. Unlike Sanders and Hillary, though, I don't trust in government. It's wise to take away some monopoly power from private firms, so they can't hold the country hostage like the banks did during the 2008 crisis, but empowering government only shifts the center of corruption. The root problem is sociobiological, not political.

      However, the Scandinavian democracies appear to have cut down on their government's ability to do damage with its accumulated power, because their culture is deeply egalitarian. The people there honestly care about helping each other. They're not as Darwinian or "individualistic" (i.e. selfish/egoistic) as Americans. They don't believe that greed is a good thing or that the market should dictate values. Read the Salon article below for an interesting take on the non-American aspect of progressive politics. Here's a key quotation:

      "In the Nordic countries, on the other hand, democratically elected governments give their populations freedom FROM the market by using capitalism as a tool to benefit everyone. That liberates their people from the tyranny of the mighty profit motive that warps so many American lives, leaving them freer to follow their own dreams — to become poets or philosophers, bartenders or business owners, as they please."

      That instrumental attitude towards capitalism looks deeply un-American, so that if you need that for progressive politics, progressivism will seem downright transhumanistic in the US, which is to say that progressivism there will seem strange and utopian. That's why the corporate media had a blackout on covering Sanders' campaign for so long. Progressive ideas and egalitarian values are currently taboo in the US.



    2. I don't think it's possible for any cultural or racial group to adopt any political system. One of the unspoken reasons why social democracy is successful in certain European countries is because the population is homogeneous and highly interbred. The citizens of those countries have a lot to gain from "spreading the wealth" and professing equality, because it's ultimately their own genes that get promoted. Social democracy is good for inclusive fitness. In contrast, social democracy is highly unlikely to be successful in a region like the Middle East, because the population is highly inbred due to a centuries-long practice of cousin marriage, and what you have are distinct lineages or tribes that are in competition with one another, and would have little to gain from welfare policies that help their competitors.

    3. Ben, what do you mean when you say, "the US seems on the precipice of an apocalyptic downturn.?" Do you think the US economy is in trouble?

    4. ABM, that sounds a little too reductive to me, but I suppose there could be a genetic component to those political differences. One problem with the hypothesis is that people in the Middle East have a strong tradition of helping strangers, because you never know when you too may find yourself in need in the desert. Altruism has a genetic basis too, in an extension of kin selection.

      Anyway, I can think of several interesting historical reasons why Europeans would favour social democracy, having to do with postmodernism, feminism, and so forth.

    5. Anon, well, I was thinking of a cultural downturn. Economically, I think the US as a whole will do fine, because manufacturers in China need consumers, and Americans are bred to consume. That's the partnership that will keep the American system afloat.

      The plummeting of American cultural expectations and ideals to subhuman depths, though, bodes ill for the standard of living of the average American. Americans will have enough credit to consume (even as that will create more bubble markets), but they'll live more and more like peasants. They beg for schlock, because they're less able to tell the difference between what's valuable and what's not. The apocalypse in question was presaged by the movie Idiocracy, and we see it coming to pass, beginning with George W Bush's presidency, as Matt Taibbi recently wrote, and coming to a head now with Donald Trump's rise.

      Of course, I'm not talking about all Americans. One of my brothers is married to an American and they live in South Carolina. But yeah, the American spectacle is looking pretty ugly these days.

  3. "Bernie Sanders is still manifestly the outsider, the old, Jewish socialist who takes no money from Wall Street" Interesting you mention Bernie's ethno-religious background, in reference to him not accepting Wall Street Money. Yet fail to mention the ethno-religious background of some of the biggest Wall Street players.

    1. I suppose it's true that Jews aren't outsiders to banking, but they are outsiders to American politics in general, especially to the presidency, since the president has to represent all Americans. According to the American spectacle, that is, the image of political correctness corresponding to the Overton Window of centrism, American culture is currently beholden to Christian values and so the president must be Christian.

      Anyway, Sanders' Judaism competes with his democratic socialism, so whereas a pure Jew might be expected to defer to the financial sector, Sanders obviously does no such thing. He descries the decadence of Wall Street and doesn't take its money in his campaign. Your attempt to tie him to Wall Street via his religion, then, is pretty weak. Still, I don't worship him as a saviour or anything. I suspect that his peaceful, commonsense kind of radicalism will fade out like the Occupy Wall Street movement.

  4. "I suppose it's true that Jews aren't outsiders to banking, but they are outsiders to American politics in general" Ever hear of David Axelrod? Debbie Wasserman Shultz, how about Victoria Nuland? Chuck Shumer? Dianne Feinstein? Irving Kristol, while not a politician himself is known as the "godfather of neoconservatism," The neocons made up a good deal of the Bush Administration. Some of these included Paul Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrams, Elliot Cohen. I think they are quite well represented in American politics, on both sides. Certainly for the size of their population. There are also currently two Supreme Court Justices. As far as the President is concerned, I don't think it's unreasonable for most people to want a President, who is of the same belief as the majority. I doubt Isreal will be electing a Christian or Muslim Prime Minister anytime soon. Personally I would love to see an Atheist as president, since I am one. I won't hold my breath. Although some say that Richard Nixon was, but kept quiet about it.

    1. Yes, there are Jewish politicians in the US, but not presidents. The majority of American so-called Christians are followers of the character Jesus only in name, not in deed. Over 20% of Americans are explicitly not religious, but there won't be a nonreligious president in the foreseeable future. The president doesn't actually represent all Americans equally, but only has to be seen as doing so. The relevant appearances are determined by the nation's reigning myths.

      Israel was founded as a Jewish nation in response to the Holocaust. The US was founded as a secular nation after the religious wars and persecutions in Europe.

      As for whether most presidents in the last several decades were actually rather than just nominally Christian, they were about as genuinely Christian as most Americans. To be a Christian nowadays, you don't have to do much of anything, because the myths that inspired the religion are dead and meaningless in today's world. You can excuse any horrid behaviour by picking and choosing nonsense from the Bible. Mass Christianity is a game of rationalizations, not a serious form of spirituality.

    2. Ben, were you raised with any religion/religious beliefs? When did you realize that you were an Atheist?

    3. "The majority of American so-called Christians are followers of the character Jesus only in name, not in deed." Isn't this a good thing? I mean other than the obvious cognitive dissonance, that they are oblivious to. Personally, I tend to align with Neitzsche on Christ.

      "A Jesus Christ was possible only in a Jewish landscape--I mean one over which the gloomy and sublime thunder cloud of the wrathful Yahweh was brooding continually. Only here was the rare and sudden piercing of the gruesome and perpetual general day-night by a single ray of the sun experienced as if it were a miracle of "love" and the ray of unmerited "grace." Only here could Jesus dream of his rainbow and his ladder to heaven on which God descended to man. Everywhere else good weather and sunshine were considered the rule and everyday occurrences."

      Nietzsche's The Gay Science

    4. I was raised as a "reformed" or secularized Jew. I went to Hebrew School and to the Synagogue on High Holidays, and I celebrated those holidays with my extended family. I've never once genuinely believed that a personal creator deity exists. I got interested in philosophy of religion in high school. Two formative books were Kaufmann's Critique of Religion and Philosophy, and the debate book Does God Exist?, by Moreland, Nielson, Craig, Flew, and others. I recall Nielson's argument that god-talk is literally meaningless.

      I learned much from Nietzsche's books, but his take on Christianity is largely outdated. Specifically, he couldn't have known much about Gnosticism. When Nietzsche says Christianity arose in a "Jewish landscape," he's not taking into account the syncretism at the time. It was a Jewish-Roman landscape. But I do agree that Judaism was a glum religion for desert wanderers.

      My next article will talk about how Christianity went astray.

    5. My closest friend of 20+ years was raised with Conservative Judaism. He resented religion being pushed on him from a young age, and for the most part no longer identifies as such. I was raised Christian, and am now Atheist. I find that even though my friend is no longer religious, he still has a fairly romantic, magical, optimistic view of life. My view is much closer to yours, and even a bit more pessimistic. He has a very difficult time understanding how I look at the world. He is quite sentimental about a lot of things, and I'm not at all. Have you done any posts about anti-semitism? Someone with your historical/philosophical knowledge, probably has an interesting take on it.

    6. I haven't written about anti-Semitism or about racism, for that matter. I believe "anti-Semitism" is a misnomer, because Semites include non-Jews. I'm interested in evaluating cultures but not in discrimination based on physical characteristics--unless those happen to genuinely indicate some questionable culture.

      The typical response to racism, that the negative judgments overgeneralize, is pretty lame since every single concept overgeneralizes, as David Hume pointed out. The concept of swans is of certain white aquatic birds, but some swans are black. All our concepts are stereotypes, because we don't have enough brainpower to process all the particularities under the sun. So the political correctness here is a kind of laziness. This is part of the reason for Trump's traction.

      I think being Jewish helped me view the world as an outsider, from an early age.

    7. You talk a lot about esoteric interpretations of religion. Are you familiar with the Tetragrammaton?


  5. "Your attempt to tie him to Wall Street via his religion, then, is pretty weak." Your attempt to tie him to altruism via his religion is also weak.

    1. I tied Sanders to altruism via his socialism, not his Judaism.

    2. "The Jews — a people "born for slavery" as Tacitus and the whole ancient world says, "the chosen people" as they themselves say and believe — the Jews achieved that miracle of inversion of values thanks to which life on earth has for a couple of millennia acquired a new and dangerous fascination — their prophets fused "rich", "godless", "evil", "violent", "sensual" into one and were the first to coin the word "world" as a term of infamy. It is in this inversion of values ... that the significance of the Jewish people resides: with them there begins the slave revolt in morals."

    3. This is nonsense. Anti-natural views (samsara, moksha, maya, etc) arose independently out of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism, which are at least as old as the formative period for Judaism, if not much, much older. If I were you, I wouldn't turn to Nietzsche for historical details.

  6. Sanders did receive money from Martin Shkreli. Per Wiki.

    "In October 2015, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders acknowledged having received a $2,700 donation from Shkreli whom he had previously called a "poster child of greed"

    1. I suspect Sanders is too old to be on top of his campaign. If he received that money, he wouldn't have known about it. If he did know about it, I don't see how he'd avoid the charge of hypocrisy--and that's even if he returned the money after he was caught. Another question would be why Shkreli (whose last name is exquisitely villainous) would donate money to Sanders in the first place. It would look like a setup.