Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Horror The Horror

The immortal Bela Lugosi as Dracula

Tibetan Demon Mask

Years ago Chris Jaworski asked an online discussion group to talk about horror movies and their appeal. I posted the following:

The other day I was reading an article about the Kielce pogrom. On July 4, 1946, some citizens of Kielce stoned, bayonetted, and shot to death 42 Jews living in their midst. It was a scholarly article, meant to be cool headed, and yet many sentences in it read like horror literature, e.g.: "... they made rumour sound like truth and fanned the crowd's emotions ... when the crowd had swelled to about one hundred, people began gathering stones..."

And 42 Jews, who had survived the Holocaust, were murdered. Why? Someone spread the Blood Libel.

Shirely Jackson's "The Lottery" comes to mind.

"The horror, the horror," from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

When I experience horror while reading stuff like this, I think, why go to a horror movie? Why inject more of this feeling into my life?

I've got a rarely diagnosed illness and have been fighting for SSDI. I recently had a hearing in front of a judge. The judge, in spite of my inches thick file of medical records, and inches thick file of medical journal articles, and corroborating testimony from a civil rights attorney and a nun, for heaven's sake, wrote, in his decision, that I was "faking bad" (sic). That the condition doesn't exist, that I have no symptoms, that we all were lying.

Needless to say, we'll appeal, and in preparing the appeal I've been on the phone to lots of local lawyers who have appeared before this particular judge. I've been told by folks who interact with this guy professionally that he is an "evil" man who enjoys denying benefits, especially to women, and, most especially, to articulate women –  and that he has been suspended from the bench for the unfairness of his decisions, and that he just recently returned from this suspension, and asked, specifically, to be assigned to this particular work –  hearing SSDI cases, although it is notoriously low prestige and low pay.

In my confrontations with this man, and with the illness in general and with the experience of being poor and sick, I feel fear and horror all the time.

I really dislike feeling both fear and horror. I much prefer the feelings I get from even a bad romantic comedy, and, most preferably, from a great romantic comedy like "It Happened One Night."

I prefer this

to this.

In trying to understand why some like horror, I've thought –  who is the most likely audience for a really scary horror movie?

Certainly other cultures have had works of art that produce fear and horror, but often these couldn't best be compared to American horror movies. Usually, folk tales or dramas that incorporate fear and horror also contain humor, uplift, long, boring, exposition that emphasize the importance of tribal values.

It seems – is this correct? – that the concentration of fear and horror in American horror films is a diagnostic characteristic of the genre.

Who are the biggest audiences of such movies? American teenagers, no? And American teenagers are a very protected audience. Why would a sheltered, protected audience choose to plunge into fear and horror? Is it a hunger for emotions that don't occur in sheltered, protected lives?

But this isn't always the case. Roman Polanski made a couple of highly praised, scary and horrible movies. "Knife in the Water" and "Rosemary's Baby." And he's had no shortage of real horror in his life. He lived through WW II in Poland.

Anyway ... I wish I could figure out how to express how my thoughts and feelings about a man who makes a career out of destroying the lives of poor and sick people is interacting, in my head, with thoughts of "The Blair Witch Project" and horror in general.

I guess my illness and my encounters with individuals like this judge has hammered home to me at every turn, since I got sick, anyway, what I suspect people feel, and choose to feel, while watching horror movies: that the human body is not integral, that our convictions of our own autonomy are delusions –  no, I've never quite turned into Linda Blair as a possessed kid, but, I can't, single handedly, hold back disease and keep my body from changing in ways I don't like. I am constantly reminded that apparently innocent scenes and people can, without warning, erupt into terror and threat. There is a mindlessly destructive, death-hungry, pain-hungry urge in the human make up, and that urge occasionally has its way, while rationality and compassion are made impotent and thrust to the sidelines.

If you're not a sheltered American teenager, and you feel you have quite enough fear and horror in your life, thank you, does a movie like "The Blair Witch Project" have something to offer? The movie advertises itself by announcing that all the protagonists are dead, or at least missing. There's no triumph of the human, the rational, the compassionate, over fear and horror. Fear and horror win. Why is there an attraction to that?

Or, is there a sense of trimuph because the viewer assumes he'll be alive when the movie is over?

Could it serve as does the Tibetan Book of the Dead, or even initiation rituals –  this is how bad it gets. Let go of your attachment to the goodies of life. After you've completely let go, go back into life, acknowledging that all you love and rely on is an illusion, or, maybe, a choice, a product of your moment to moment choice making? And that very choice making makes you heroic and triumphant?

Needless to say, all these questions are inchoate... 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jan Tomasz Gross. As Polish as Pierogi.

Jan Tomasz Gross


I received an email asking me what I think of Jan Tomasz Gross.

Gross is, of course, the author of "Neighbors," about the massacre in of Jews by Poles in Jedwabne, German-occupied Poland, in 1941, and "Fear," about the pogrom in Kielce, Poland, in 1946. "Neighbors" and "Fear" received a huge amount of attention in the American press and on college campuses. These did what Gross did not: they used the tragedies to label all Poles as bestial monsters unlike anyone else on planet earth. I cover this ground thoroughly in my book "Bieganski."

I've never met Prof. Gross, and I'm not privy to any intimate details about him. Everything I know about him I know from the public record, available to anyone.

First, Gross was born a Pole.

And I must pause to comment.

People like to compliment me, or, alternately, to insult me, by referring to me as a Pole. Some of those same people would never refer to Jan Tomasz Gross as a Pole.

Funny, isn't it?

I was born in the US of a Slovak-born mother. In many ways I am a typical American. I listen to Bruce Springsteen and drink coca-cola and wear jeans. Thanksgiving, not Wigilia, was the biggest holiday in my childhood home. I had to study Polish as a foreign language, and I speak it poorly, not at all as well as I speak French or other foreign languages I've spoken. And, as for the "Catholic" part of "Polish Catholic" – don't get me started. Look at any opinion poll of how American Catholics feel about the church sex abuse crisis, women priests, teachings on homosexuality, and church attendance, and you will find me.

To the identity politicians, though, I am, for better or for worse (never is this information neutral), a Pole.

Though Jan Tomasz Gross was born in Warsaw, and speaks Polish as a first language, many identity politicians, again, for better or for worse, insist on identifying Gross as a "Jew," and not as a Pole.

Those identity politicians who love Jews and hate Poles compliment Gross by labeling him a Jew. Only a Jew, they insist, is smart enough to write reliably about Polish-Jewish relations. Only a Jew, they insist, is ethical enough. Only a Jew is compassionate enough to care about the victims of Jedwabne or Kielce. Only a Jew could educate Poles about how bestial they are.

This is all pretty absurd, given Gross' Polish identity. But stuff like this was published in mainstream American newspapers; stuff like this was clung to by the anti-Polonists in the Ivory Tower. Gross is good because Gross is a Jew, not a Pole.

On the other side of the identity politics divide you have those who wish to insult Gross by calling him a Jew. Only a Jew, they insist, would attempt to cash in on Poland's darkest hour by selling books about those tragic days. Only a Jew, they insist, would wreak this vengeance on Poland. Only a Jew would be so crafty as to try to pull the wool over the reader's eyes as Gross does.

All this identity politics is trash. The ethical, aware person will reject it.

In any case, those who wish to insult or compliment Gross by labeling him a Jew or a Pole can't get around the fact that he was born in Warsaw to a Polish mother and a Polish-Jewish father. Gross' father, like Pilsudski, was a member of the PPS. Gross' mother was a member of the Home Army, the AK, the underground, anti-Nazi resistance movement. Gross' mother risked her life by defying Nazi edicts and aided his father in surviving the war. Can we please just all agree that Jan Tomasz Gross is as Polish as pierogi?

Gross participated in rebelling against the Soviet-supported, Communist regime in Poland in 1968. Gross was jailed by that regime for five months. I admire a man who serves time as part of an effort to make Poland free. I wonder how many of Gross' detractors have served time as he has.

In exile in America, where focus on Poland would not have earned him many points, Gross published a well-received book frequently cited by Poles who want to communicate how horrific Soviet crimes in Poland were: "Revolution from Abroad: The Soviet Conquest of Poland's Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia." This was no quickie, fly-by-night book. Gross' research involved twenty thousand documents.

Here's what Library Journal, April 15, 1988, says about "Revolution":

"A well-written and carefully documented study. Gross examines surviving depositions and surveys collected by Polish authorities in the wake of the Soviet occupation of the western Ukraine and western Belorussia, 1939-41. Through the miseries of the common people he presents, Gross reveals the means by which the Soviets assumed power. The topics analyzed are dictated by the documents: conquest, elections, socialization, prisons, and deportations. The themes which emerge are twofold: the substitution of the rule of law for that of individuals and the destructive power of totalitarianism through wasted human talent. Highly recommended."

Here's a snip from Prof. Anna M. Cienciala's review in "The American Historical Review":

"The first scholarly account and analysis, in English, of the Communist revolution in Soviet-occupied eastern Poland." Cienciala points about that Gross shows that the Soviets killed more people during this time period than Germans killed in German-occupied Poland. Cienciala concludes by calling the book "detailed and fascinating." "His book should be read by all students of Soviety history, sociology, and government."

Excerpts from a laudatory New York Times review by Thomas Swick, published on June 12, 1988:

"Controlling over 50 percent of Poland's territory, the Soviet Union deported approximately half a million civilians between 1939 and 1941. It also established a policy of spoliation - of land, property, cities, lives - that was so complete it caused the Poles to assume the foreign presence was only temporary. For if the Russians meant to stay, they reasoned, why would they be destroying everything? Through extensive research - including the discovery of handwritten accounts by ordinary people who experienced the occupation - Jan T. Gross has given us an invaluable portrait of that time…There is no chapter without its horrors … The exhuming of so much valuable information would be enough to recommend this book, but Mr. Gross adds to his gripping account a masterly analysis of the nature and workings of the totalitarian state."

In short, Jan Tomasz Gross, in rebelling against the Soviet-supported Communist regime in Poland, in serving time, and in devoting himself, in exile, to writing books that introduce the English-speaking world to Poland's crucifixion under the Soviets, fully deserved the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland which was bestowed on him.

After Gross published "Neighbors" and "Fear," many attacked Gross. To me, this looks like "kill the messenger" syndrome. The message upset many: Poles committed atrocities. Many Poles confronted this troubling news head-on. I quote two such Poles in "Bieganski." Here's one: Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska, Polish journalist and diplomat. "Neighbors is a book which had to be written … If I want to have a moral right to justified pride in [Polish] rescuers, then I must admit to a sense of shame over [Polish] killers."

To me, it's that simple. People who share my ethnic background have done bad things. People who share my ethnic background have done good things. If I want to be proud of the heroes, I must also come to terms with the killers.

I can't emphasize enough: I'm talking here about Gross' books, not about press response to them. I address the press response in "Bieganski."

Gross' critics tend to advance the following complaints:

* Gross is a sociologist, not an historian, so his history can't be trusted.

Gross was a sociologist when he wrote "Revolution from Abroad." Did anyone mount that protest against that book?

And can anyone give a reason why Gross' training as a sociologist renders "Neighbors" or "Fear" flawed?

* Gross wrote these books for financial gain.

Academics don't make a lot of money from books. Gross had no way of knowing that these books would become front page news. There is a flood of Holocaust material out there; some very good books get very little attention. This comment is a baseless attempt to impugn Gross' honor; as such, it merely reflects badly on the speaker.

* Gross shows outrage when writing of massacres of Jews.

I find this argument particularly hard to read. Gross' outrage is entirely appropriate. Anyone who isn't outraged by what transpired in Jedwabne and Kielce is incapable of the kind of humanity necessary to produce worthy history.

* Gross was wrong in this or that particular.

Yes, Gross got some details wrong. It is to be hoped that any follow-up printings of "Neighbors" correct errors.

* Gross attributes actions to Poles when German Nazis or Russian Soviets were really the guilty parties.

The massacre at Jedwabne occurred under German Nazi occupation. The pogrom in Kielce occurred under Russian Soviet occupation. Many argue that Germans and Russians are guilty, not Poles. While it is important never to forget the occupying powers and their impact, testimonies, including from Poles, locate agency in Poles.


FWIW, my Amazon review of "Fear" can be read here.


I admire Jan Tomasz Gross. I admire the courage to speak unpopular truths. I admire the courage to go on when one is insulted for speaking unpopular truths.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Juan Williams. Free Speech. Who Needs 'Em? Muslims.

Freedom of speech is the best friend American Muslims have. CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, may feel that it won a victory in NPR's October 20, 2010 firing of Civil Rights author Juan Williams. Williams was fired because, as part of an attempt to have a productive conversation about a best possible response to terrorism, he publicly confessed that he feels "nervous" when he sees passengers in "Muslim garb" on airplanes. CAIR's victory was pyrrhic. This vanquishing of an identified enemy of Islam did American Muslims more harm than good.

Americans who have grown up with freedom of speech, and who have never had to fight for it, take it for granted. Even when invited to do so, my American students can't imagine living under a system that monitors what you say, what you don't say, what films you view, what pictures you hang on the wall of your business or your home. They really can't imagine living in a country where paid informants monitor your private convictions and the faith you mention to a personal friend.

For me the question is more concrete. In Poland I saw Solidarity graffiti mushroom overnight, and I saw state employees whitewash that revolutionary graffiti within hours of its appearance.

A clean city is a dead city. Source

In Nepal, ruled by a Hindu God-king, I met secret Christians who feared imprisonment if they spoke publicly of their faith. In several countries I have been stopped by friends and loved ones in the middle of sentences and warned not to speak the next word I was about to pronounce.

Once you've lived without free speech, you realize how very revolutionary those dead white males who authored the US Constitution really were. Once you've lived without free speech, you think harder about it. Once you've lived without free speech, you question: Do I really want free speech? Free speech causes trouble: hurt feelings, social tension, quarrels, division, and, yes, death.

The surprise is that many people don't want free speech, and, in fact, have no use for it. They are not forming original observations; they feel no prod to confess complicated internal struggles; they're not inventing some product or process no one's ever thought of before. Free speech opens Pandora's Box. Better to leave all that mess in the deep, locked, dark. Better just go with the flow. Even in 1989, when protestors filled the streets of the Soviet Empire, most citizens stayed indoors, watching their government-run TV stations. Who needs the headaches, the complications, the mess, of free speech? Life is so much smoother when you have one benevolent Big Brother taking care of all the thinking for everybody.

In September, 2010, I posted a message on my Facebook page in support of Molly Norris. Norris was – note the past tense – a young Seattle cartoonist who innocently proposed a tongue-in-cheek holiday called "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day." Norris never actually drew Mohammed. She just proposed this holiday in an "I-am-Spartacus" gesture. She was responding to controversy over "South Park"'s ribbing of Mohammed, and the subsequent death threats that animated series' creators received. Her reasoning was that if everyone drew a picture of Mohammed, it would be harder for terrorists to single out one cartoonist and threaten that person. Norris, a previously obscure cartoonist, received so many credible death threats that to protect her life she had to "go ghost," as her former employer put it. She erased her life, her public record, her home, and her relationships, and she disappeared.

I posted a message about Norris on Facebook. I immediately received two messages, both from posters who self-identify as multicultural, sexually liberated, peace-and-love, hot-tub-and-massage liberals. One message was rageful, the other was diabolical in its quiet. Both said the same thing, paraphrase: "To hell with Molly Norris. Norris, with her big mouth, stirred up trouble. If she'd just kept quiet and not needled the Muslims, we wouldn't have this mess. Molly Norris got exactly what she deserved."

Other people had already marched through the muck, the terror, the flak and the inconvenience, to make these two Facebook posters free. Like pizza delivery boys, soldiers and activists had already delivered to these Facebook posters their lifetime supply of free speech. These posters had been born into what they wanted: enough freedom to enjoy unconventional sex lives and backyard barbecues and online games and a superior contempt for Western Civilization and the Judeo-Christian tradition. Just like those Soviet citizens who never did join us in the streets in 1989, these two were happy to consume un-free, standard-issue speech that never upset anyone who might cause a fuss, whose fuss might disrupt the barbecue, the hot tub, the predictable conversation and its predictable sneers at Tea Party activists and others you can insult who won't hurt you in return.

After Juan Williams was fired, a leftist friend, a white woman who has given her life to international black liberation struggles, posted a message criticizing Juan Williams. I shuddered. How could this woman so rapidly denounce Williams, a black man who chronicled the Civil Rights movement? This is how Stalinism works. What really matters is not the loyalty a true believer owes to any one person. What really matters is ideological purity. NPR and its ideologically pure followers dispatched Williams with the ruthless speed and cruelty of the ice axe that penetrated Leon Trotsky's transgressive brain.

Leftist ideologues play with ethnic minorities the way Bobby Fischer played with chess pieces. According to African American author Shelby Steele, white liberals demand that blacks play an assigned role. Blacks must certify white liberals' worth. Blacks perform this service for white liberals when they reinforce the image of most Americans as so racist that blacks can never do anything to improve their own status. It is only white liberals, in this scenario, who will associate with, and uplift, the black man.

Juan Williams challenged this liberal gospel simply by appearing on Fox News. In these appearances, Williams made clear that conservative Americans are not the racist boogiemen that white liberals insist they are. Williams, just by having a respectful exchange with Bill O'Reilly, withdrew his certification for white liberals' worth. It almost didn't matter what Williams said. Williams refused to be a token. Williams, with his free speech, in the tradition of public confession, exhibited human individuality. For its firing of Williams, some black commentators have labeled NPR a "plantation" that punished Williams for being "uppity."

In his book, "White Guilt," Shelby Steele described his own reaction when he encounters white liberals who cannot see him as an individual, but see him, rather, only as a token black man whose struggle and gratitude certifies white liberals' worth. In the presence of such white liberals, Steele reports feeling "a palpable anger, potentially more intense even than any I felt back in the sixties when confronted by open racists. It is a sharp, bristling, and ego-fueled anger that, on the level of metaphor, would annihilate the offending party. It is triggered by encountering someone who cannot see you, even as he stands before you, because of all the presumptions he has made about you."

Muslims Trump Blacks. Why?
In NPR's chess game, Muslims trump blacks. Why? One possible explanation: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Islam poses an existential threat to Western Civilization in a way that African Americans, themselves participants in and products of Western Civilization, never could. Witness Martin Luther King, who created revolution not by uprooting and discarding the West, but by calling it back to its best self, from the words of the God of the Book of Exodus: "Let my people go!" to the strategy of Henry David Thoreau's Civil Disobedience. In this ethnic chess game, a black man, a Civil Rights author like Juan Williams, must stand aside as NPR kowtows to CAIR.

Williams' public confession of his fear of Muslims on airplanes reminds us: freedom of speech has an invisible, silent twin: freedom of conscience. You get to think what you want. You get to feel what you want. You get to decide what you want, including the god of your own choice. Because you have all these freedoms, you have a responsibility: to examine your own conscience, and publicly confess your misgivings and mental processes. Again, freedom of conscience is so much a part of the Western tradition that it's hard for many of us to imagine living in a world without it. Imagine it. Such worlds exist. Just ask men like Brian O'Connor, who was imprisoned and tortured in Saudi Arabia for the crime of owning a Bible.

Choice is central to the Judeo-Christian tradition. It's there in Genesis, the oldest story many of us know. God gave Adam and Eve a garden, a tree, and a choice. In Deuteronomy, God said: I have placed before you life and death. Choose life. Jesus continued the radical theme of a deity who grants his creations free choice in order that they have the option of choosing him. If you preach about me in the town and they aren't open to the message, Jesus said, leave the town. Don't torch the town. Don't mount a military assault against the town. Don't boycott or tax or even curse its inhabitants. Just – move on.

No one can argue that Jews and Christians have always lived up to the message of freedom of conscience; we have not – but no one can deny that freedom of conscience, granted by a loving God who wants us to use our own free will to choose him, is central to the tradition, the North Star that we, in spite of our having gotten lost at times, have strived to navigate by, to guide us home to the free will that God granted to Adam and Eve.

A key cultural feature of freedom of conscience and its handmaiden, free speech, is the Judeo-Christian tradition of ritualized confession – the very kind of confession that Williams made that lead to his firing. Jews and Christians are remarkable for their repeated and ritualized examination of conscience, and public articulation, in narrative form, of where they went wrong and how they hope to do right in the future. This ritual is so central and so revolutionary that cultural observers have cited it as foundational to Western products like the novel, individuality, psychoanalysis, and the very idea of progress, of a future that can be better than the past.

In Islam, on the other hand, apostasy – leaving Islam – is a capital offense. Freedom of speech cannot even be a consideration as long as this tradition is enforced: that whoever insults Mohammed should be killed. Public confession is not emphasized. Consider that Turkey, a model, modern, Muslim state, uses all its might to resist owning up to its genocide of Christian Armenians. Given this hostility to freedom of conscience and freedom of speech, CAIR might indeed celebrate NPR's firing of Juan Williams.

Even though it causes a lot of trouble, even though many of those blessed with it have no use for it, even though one must fight to keep it, freedom of speech is the best option we have. In fact, freedom of speech is the best friend Muslims living in the West have.

Life requires movement. Stasis, standing still, is a quality of lifeless objects. A free mind and free speech are the best way to move around new ideas. Imprisoning the mind and suppressing speech guarantees a build up of inarticulate hostilities. When liberals erect a Politically Correct Iron Curtain around speech and thought about Islam, they make the world a less safe place for Muslims. When liberals like NPR CEO Vivian Schiller, who said that Juan Williams should mention his fears of Muslims on airplanes only to his psychiatrist, demonize or pathologize free speech about Islam, they guarantee that resentments against Muslims will build up, and eventually explode.

The most frequent compliment writers hear is, "Thank you so much; you said exactly what I have been thinking, but what I could not put into words." A society's wordsmiths – lucky individuals exactly like Juan Williams – must put into words what others are thinking. When wordsmiths do this, they do no less of a service than construction workers in building our physical infrastructure. As Winston Churchill said, "Jaw jaw is better than war war." Juan Williams was contributing to bringing America closer to having a conversation about Islam, a frank conversation it desperately needs. Juan Williams said what everybody, including liberals, including Schiller herself, almost certainly has felt.

What happens in the absence of words? On September 11, 2001, I was walking across the parking lot of the university library in Bloomington, Indiana. I saw a pickup truck with a sign in the rear window. The crude, handmade sign promised that the truck driver's plan for the day was to do physical harm to any passing Muslims he encountered. I approached the man in the truck. The young, muscular man had a shaved head and was wearing heavy boots. I began to talk. The man responded. We talked at length. He was convinced that his comrades, men in uniform, had been killed in terrorist attacks. He wanted revenge. He wanted to hurt Muslims. He looked physically strong and intimidating enough to do someone harm. He began to cry.

I didn't tell this man to keep his "Islamophobic" thoughts between himself and his psychiatrist. I didn't demonize him, pathologize him, or tell him to take a course in multicultural relations. I didn't phone his boss and demand that he be fired. I listened and I nodded and I talked, too. I talked about my own Muslim friends, neighbors, and students who were lights in my life. People who were kind to me, hospitable to me, loving to me. People who would no more harm me than I them. I acknowledged the pain this man felt. I didn't take away his pain. All I did was talk: move ideas around with words, rather than with fists. Ideas do move in response to words, if you let them. But you have to have a free environment, where people are allowed to say what they feel. The man in the pickup truck didn't beat up any Muslims that day. He could have. He did not. He did talk. And he did cry.

I've also been in environments where people do not feel free to say what they feel – to confess their fears and move ideas around with words. In the recent past, I lead a discussion on a university campus. We were talking about America's multicultural population and how the coming together of various cultures would have an impact on education in the future. When it came to Islam, many participants froze up, and remained completely silent. They had been well-trained. In an age when a powerful public figure like Juan Williams can lose his job over taboo speech about Islam, average people feel all the more intimidated. If they said what they really thought about Islam, they risked punishment. In America, on a university campus, I saw the kind of rigid and fearful facial expressions I saw in the old Soviet Empire. In the face of this silence, this absence of movement, this apparent death, one might think that CAIR had won. One would be wrong.

One of the group participants was a lovely young woman, a future teacher, and herself a member of a minority group. Before she left the meeting, she handed me a written note. My jaw dropped as I read. This very gentle, polite woman, who breathed not a single taboo word, wrote that she despised Muslims and their culture, and that she knew she'd never change her mind about that. Perhaps if I had gotten her to speak, we could have moved her ideas around. But she would not speak. She knew the barriers, and the penalties, too well. She was frozen in hate.

Islam's apologists keep insisting that Islam is a sophisticated, non-violent system, profound and powerful enough to withstand any intellectual criticism. And then they prove that they don't really believe that, by, in this country, clamping down speech codes on any criticism of Islam, insulating Islam in a way that Christianity and Judaism, not to mention Hinduism and Buddhism, are not insulated. In Muslim countries, those who criticize Islam face dreadful fates. In this, Islam's apologists reveal that whatever Islam's true nature, they themselves do not believe that Islam can withstand the same intellectual critique that Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism have endured, and, often, enthusiastically invited, for thousands of years. Both Muslims and those of us who love Muslims and don't want to see any more violence should not celebrate Juan Williams' firing. Muslims should call for Williams to be rehired. And then Muslims should roll up their sleeves and get ready – not to fight – but to do what other persons of faith have been doing since the founding of their faiths. Muslims should get ready to use words, and, in a no-verbal-holds-barred environment – to debate.

Friday, October 22, 2010

NPR Fires Juan Williams. Jesus Responds.

Early in the morning Jesus arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them.

The high priests of Political Correctness brought Juan Williams, who had been caught in Political Incorrectness, and made him stand in the middle.

And the High Priests of Political Correctness said to Jesus, "Teacher, this man was caught in the very act of committing Political Incorrectness. Now the law commands us to stone this man. And to fire him, as well. What do you say?"

Jesus said to them, "Let the Politically Correct among you who has never felt anxiety when viewing someone in 'Muslim garb' on the same airplane flight with him be the first to throw a stone at Juan Williams."

In response, they went away one by one, because all of them, including the most Politically Correct High Priests, had felt the same anxiety that Juan Williams describing feeling: "When I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."


I've faced exactly what Muslims face. I've been told that people like me are dangerous, and wrong, and not to be funded, published, or hired. I've heard this from potential employers and I've heard it from commentators on NPR. I haven't gotten anyone fired over it. I haven't made any attempt to take away anyone's right to free speech.

I wrote "Bieganski" to respond to negative images of Poles and Polish Americans like me. The answer to speech you don't like is not to take away someone else's right to speech, it is, rather, to produce better speech that addresses other's offensive speech.

I've been told, over and over again, by Jewish Americans, that they would never travel to my ancestral homeland, Poland, because they were certain that Poles would kill them. I didn't try to get these Jews fired for expressing such fear. Rather, I studied Polish-Jewish relations and worked to better understand Jews' anxiety. And I wrote a book addressing the issues at hand. No firing. No hate. No threats.

I have faced this bigotry not just casually, in day-to-day life, but in my professional life, as well. I know it's had a negative impact on me. I have been told, many times, that I was the "wrong ethnicity" to be funded in academia, to be published, or to be hired. And, so far, I haven't gotten anyone fired over this.

One day I was waiting to talk to Alan Dundes, the head of my department at UC Berkeley. He was talking to another student, who asked him about travel to Eastern Europe. Dundes pointed to his nose, and said such travel made him anxious – surely Eastern Europeans would see that he was Jewish and do him harm. I squirmed. On another occasion, when a student did not understand his point in class, he suggested that the student's slowness might be explained by Polish ancestry.

I made no threats. I wrote no protest letters. I recognized Dundes' great stature as a scholar and his value to me as a teacher. I met with Dundes one-on-one, told him how these comments hurt me and other Bohunks like me, and, I think, he came to see and respect my point of view. He was very supportive of my work on stereotypes of Poles, encouraging me to publish.

No threats. Just talk. Two people respecting each other and growing from the experience. Couldn't CAIR have taken that approach with Juan Williams?

As for NPR? Here's a snip from my book "Bieganski" discussing an NPR commentary about Eastern Europeans:

On the NPR program "All Things Considered," Andrei Codrescu reviled the "drunken ditties," alternately, the "nasty ditties," the "morbid fairy tales, and musty chronicles" that constitute the identity of the peoples of Eastern Europe. He condemned their "deep-seated and emotionally unassailable stupidity." He referred to their "stink;" their "muddy ravines" called home, their "smoke-darkened icons."

These are direct quotes from an NPR broadcast. NPR sees fit to describe people like me as stinky, nasty, morbid drunks. I leave the reader to decide the suitability of NPR personnel to preach to others about what constitutes Politically Correct speech.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mark Zuckerberg as Shylock: "The Social Network"

"The Social Network" is supposed to be a very new film about very new themes. Those familiar with stereotyeps of Jews will recognize one very old theme, though, mentioned in my review, below.

In "Social Network," Jesse Eisenberg blossoms into an Academy-Award-worthy actor. His performance as Facebook-founder Mark Zuckerberg is, by turns, clammy, cold, vacant, snarky, and mean, as it should be. If this were a better film, I'd watch it again just to savor Eisenberg's performance.

Zuckerberg's/Eisenberg's perfect foils, Cameron and Tyler, the Winklevoss twins, are both played by Armie Hammer, and his performance is also noteworthy. The Winklevoss twins were Harvard students and Olympic athletes from old, WASP money. Actor Armie Hammer is himself from old money. He plays the Winklevoss twins without irony – just, here I am, tall, gorgeous, blond, athletic, brilliant, rich, a superman product of WASP breeding. Given how the politically correct cultural elite of the US has demonized its WASP founders, it's amazing that the twins are not portrayed as bad guys here. They're not good guys, they're just really lucky genetic freaks / Aryan Gods. They are also shown to value old fashioned concepts like honor in business.

That a nerdy, super-smart, manipulative, romantically unsuccessful Jewish kid, Zuckerberg, requires establishment WASP princes and ubermenschen like the Winklevosses to sponsor him, and that the Jewish kid eventually manages, through his triumphant sneakiness and cleverness and litigation, to screw the WASP princes over, is a timeworn tale treated many times before, significantly in Lion Feuchtwanger's "Jud Suss." Given how many times storytellers have gone to this well, given the explosive and indeed deadly stereotypes at play, I wish that director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin had ventured anything probing or original here, but they do not.

"The Social Network" is every bit like the subjects it treats. The film is desperately needy, and it works too hard. The film is very loud. Characters often exchange key dialogue in clubs with loud music in the background. The dialogue features, every few seconds, a sarcastic retort.

Every scene shouts at the viewer: SOME PEOPLE IN THE WORLD ARE MUCH SMARTER THAN YOU AND THEY ATTEND EXCLUSIVE PARTIES AND MAKE MONEY YOU CAN'T EVEN DREAM OF. And snort coke off hard-bellied coeds and bungee jump into built-in swimming pools and are serviced by crazed groupies in the stalls of men's rooms. Then they betray each other, and their lives are not always fully emotionally satisfying. You know, I got all that the first time the movie told me, and I really didn't need it repeated over and over and over and over again. The final scene of "The Social Network" is unbelievably cheap. If anyone tells you he was moved by that final scene, that person needs to get out more. It's a blatant, failed, attempt at a "rosebud" scene.

I liked the film at first, but it really doesn't have anything new to say that I didn't know before I went in, and I was really eager for it to finish up. What, besides Dutch angles and noir cinematography, separates a film like "The Social Network" from a masterpiece, also about ambition, its rewards and costs, like "Sweet Smell of Success" or "Citizen Kane"? I think those who made those classics managed distance between themselves and their subjects. Orson Welles did not fall under Hearst's spell.

Fincher and Sorkin appear to be very much in thrall to the smarts, power, and money they want to skewer, but never really do. "Look at this man! He's much smarter than you! He's much richer than you! And pity him because his social life is not as good as yours!" They shout.

But then they don't give you any reason to care about this film except its zombie dedication to money and power. "The Social Network" says nothing about the power of facebook, or how it's changing society, or even if it is. Scenes exploring those questions would not be as cool as scenes of snorting coke off a blond teenager's belly, or watching one rich man screw over another.

Finally, there's a miracle story here that no one making the film is interested in pursuing, but that shines through, in spite of the film's lust for decadent wealth. Mark Zuckerberg really is smarter than you or I. That's a very wonderful thing. It's also a wonderful thing that he managed to find his way to 21st century Harvard. Had Zuckerberg been born in a mud hut in any number of locales and centuries, his abundant gift at manipulating zeros and ones would have been wasted, or even a curse. That Zuckerberg's gift was allowed to flower in capitalist America is a much bigger story than the pettiness, excess and spite the filmmakers insist on focusing on. Zuckerberg's gift, like Gates' and Jobs', etc, will live on long after he and his cofounders and fellow travelers and everyone who envied these guys or wished them dead is forgotten.  

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Peasants. Darwin. Nazis.

I spoke recently to the UU congregation of the Palisades, pictured above. It was wonderful. I talked about peasants, Darwin, and Nazism. More about the talk, below.

Russian peasants.

Charles Darwin

Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazi SS, organizer of the Holocaust, quoted below.

On Sunday, October 3, I spoke about "Stereotypes and Immigrants" at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Palisades. It was wonderful, one of the best experiences I've had in relation to my book "Bieganski."

Afterward, congregants gave me the kind of feedback a speaker usually only dreams of. "You had us on the edge of our seats … we were gasping … your talk was explosive … you should give this talk as part of a nationwide tour."

A very beautiful African American woman, with touches of gray at the temples of her abundant dreadlocks, told me that my talk had helped her with a lifelong question she'd had about hate and prejudice. My eyes did well up. One of those moments that makes it all worthwhile.

After the talk, one congregant told me that another congregant was not satisfied. She said that he said that I said that the concept of human inequality had begun with Darwin.

But I didn't say that.

I told her to tell him that he could e-mail me. I haven't heard, so I will address what I was told was his point here.

Between, roughly, 1880 and 1929, a massive influx of peasant immigrants overwhelmed American consciousness. Note the word "consciousness" – I'm not talking about what happened in the streets or in the mines or in the tenements – I'm talking about what happened in human minds.

Americans had electricity, indoor plumbing, democracy, literacy. These new peasant immigrants from East Asia and Eastern and Southern Europe included recent serfs who had little to no experience of money, writing, shoes, self-government, bathing.

The numbers were overwhelming. Here's a vivid description from H. G. Wells. A visitor to Ellis Island

"is taken through vast barracks littered with people of every European race, every type of low-class European costume, and every degree of dirtiness, to a central hall in which the gist of the examining goes on …

day after day, incessantly, the immigrants go, wild-eyed Gipsies, Armenians, Greeks, Italians, Ruthenians, Cossacks, German peasants, Scandinavians, a few Irish still, impoverished English, occasional Dutch; they halt for a moment at little desks to exhibit papers, at other little desks to show their money and prove they are not paupers, to have their eyes scanned by this doctor and their general bearing by that. Their thumb-marks are taken, their names and heights and weights and so forth are recorded for the card index; and so, slowly, they pass along towards America, and at last reach a little wicket, the gate of the New World.

Through this metal wicket drips the immigration stream – all day long, every two or three seconds, an immigrant with a valise or a bundle, passes the little desk and goes on past the well-managed money-changing place, past the carefully organised separating ways that go to this railway or that, past the guiding, protecting officials – into a new world.

They stand in a long string, waiting to go through that wicket, with bundles, with little tin boxes, with cheap portmanteaus with odd packages, in pairs, in families, alone, women with children, men with strings of dependents, young couples. All day that string of human beads waits there, jerks forward, waits again; all day and every day, constantly replenished, constantly dropping the end beads through the wicket, till the units mount to hundreds and the hundreds to thousands ..."

The differences between peasant immigrants and Americans were overwhelming. Here, from a House Executive Document, is a horrified description of Slovak peasants

"Their homes are often nothing but scanty huts, of one room, wherein the whole family lives and sleeps promiscuously. The furniture and outfit is very primitive, mostly homemade, and has to last for generations ...

The body clothes of the men are made of coarse linen, their summer clothing of the same material, only coarser, and in winter their clothing consists of suits made from a coarse and thick woolen felting, in the natural color of the wool; an everlasting cap of the sheepskin and a pair of sandals about complete an outfit which has been in vogue with them for generations and which may be an heirloom, since the style hardly ever changes. An important part of their outfit is the roomy and long mantle without sleeves, made up from half a dozen sheepskins which are tanned, the wool being left on ... when the men are away from home these mantles form their complete bed. What these patriarchal cloaks may lack in style is generally made up for by some gaudy embroidery or even painting on the leather side of it…In all, it will be seen that the tastes of these people are anything but refined, are low, in fact."

This peasant is wearing the sheepskin described with such distaste, above.

Americans didn't know how to understand these peasants who were invading their "new and clean country," as Labor Secretary James J Davis, in an anti-immigrant article, put it.

Science stepped in. Science would explain the peasant immigrants to America. In an address before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Albert Edward Jenks announced, "The greatest problem before America today is the immigration problem ... This great problem is at base anthropological ... as out of these different physical characteristics of the different breeds of people come the psychic characteristics of the different breeds of people"

Science, at that time, was informed by Darwin, who had published "Origin of Species" in 1859.

Myth is the foundational narrative of a culture. The great folklore scholar Bronislaw Malinowski described myth as a people's charter for belief. A people's myth can be compared to the US Constitution. It prescribes what people can do and can't do, what they should and should not do.

Before Darwin, the dominant myth in the West was the Judeo-Christian myth. In this myth, one omnipotent, unique, creator God, in an act of love, created the universe, one time.

I tell my students over and over, "A fish doesn't know it is in water." A Westerner who has never lived under any other myths probably doesn't realize the uniqueness of the Judeo-Christian myth. Many of my students just assume that every religion is about a unique, omnipotent God who creates one universe one time in an act of love, and that everybody believes that "all men are created equal."

That's just not so, of course. Just one example, of many possible examples: Hinduism's Rig Veda describes the creation of the world as the sacrifice of the primal man, Parusha. Parusha's mouth becomes the Brahmans, high caste people. His arms become the princes, or kshatriya, those ranked second in caste hierarchy. The rest of Parusha's body is similarly allotted to various castes. This myth justifies the caste system. In Hindu myth, people are very much NOT created equal. This myth is thousands of years old. With it as justification, as charter, low caste and untouchable Hindus are condemned to hellish lives. They are not equal. They are inferior. Their inferiority is sealed by myth.

Compare this Vedic myth to Talmudic commentary on Genesis, as retold by Nathan Ausubel:

"Why did God create only one Adam and not many at a time? He did this to demonstrate that one man in himself is an entire universe. Also He wished to teach mankind that he who kills one human being is as guilty as if he had destroyed the entire world. Similarly, he who saves the life of one single human being is as worthy as if he had saved all of humanity.

God created only one man so that people should not try to feel superior to one another and boast of their lineage in this wise: 'I am descended from a more distinguished Adam than you.'

He also did this so that the heathen should not be able to say that since many men had been created at the same time, it was conclusive proof that there was more than one God. Lastly, He did this in order to establish His own power and glory. When a maker of coins does his work he uses only one mould and all the coins emerge alike. But the Kings of Kings, blessed be His name, has created all mankind in the mould of Adam, and even so no man is identical to another. For this reason each person must respect himself and say with dignity, 'God created the world on my account. Therefore let me not lose eternal life because of some vain passion!'"

This myth encountered challenges, for example after Columbus discovered America. Were the Indians human? Yes, insisted heroes like Father Bartolome de las Casas. De las Casas said that in the Indians persecuted by conquistadors he saw "Jesus Christ, our God, scourged and afflicted and beaten and crucified, not once, but thousands of times." That is a remarkable statement. No Greek follower of Zeus saw Zeus in the barbarians or helots he conquered. It would be anathema for a Muslim to see Allah in an infidel he decapitated. This myth is, simply, different from other myths. With Sublimus Dei, the Vatican agreed: Indians are human beings. Just like us.

Nazism was a challenge. Catholicism insistently, stubbornly, stuck to the idea that we are all equal children of God, as in this 1943 quote from Vatican Radio: "Every man bears the stamp of God." Some Catholics did buy into Scientific Racism. But, compared to other institutions, the Catholic Church was more significant as a resistor of Scientific Racism than as an adopter. As one SS critic put it, "The Pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order. His speech is one long attack on everything we stand for. God, he says, regards all peoples and races as worthy of the same consideration. Here he is clearly speaking in behalf of the Jews and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals." Similar statements can be found here.

No one argues that all Jews and Christians, all the time, have perfectly adhered to the implications of this myth. Atrocity happens: slavery, conquest, war. The point is, rather, that this was the guiding myth, the narrative that a culture's heroes, famous and obscure, strove to live their lives by, the North Star they struggled to follow, the ideal they hoped to live up to, the still small voice that kept them awake at night, the legacy they worked to pass on.

As Richard Dawkins put it, "Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist"

Jettisoning the Judeo-Christian myth, and putting Darwinism in its place, was followed by self-identified Darwinists who deduced that, since there is no loving, creator God who made people of other races your brother, since there was no eternal consequence for harming another, since there was no real equality, well, you could put human beings in zoos and put human beings in ovens. And so you did. And you very much did cite your understanding of Darwinism as your guiding myth And you very much did cite the Judeo-Christian myth as an outdated superstition, that weakened you and that you needed to erase ASAP.

The Judeo-Christian myth of human equality relied on faith. It relied on believing what you could plainly see was not true. People aren't equal. Some are better looking. Some are smarter. Some are healthier. Some are more useful. Science relies on evidence, not faith. Evidence. The evidence is right there in front of your eyes. And so Karl Pearson, who gave us statistics, and Carl Brigham, who gave us the SAT, and Margaret Sanger, who gave us Planned Parenthood, all went to work on proving that peasant immigrants were as inferior as they seemed, and worthy of restriction, or outright elimination.

Everyone was on board. All American presidents during this era. The Ivy League schools. Right wingers. Left wingers. (Pearson changed his name from Carl to Karl to honor Marx.) The mainstream press, the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, the Museum of Natural History. The Bronx Zoo. Everyone could plainly see that these peasant immigrants were specimens of an inferior race.

Madison Grant was a great American. Good friend of Teddy Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover. Concerned scientist. Contributed to preservation of the redwood and the bison. Cofounded the Bronx Zoo. His "Passing of the Great Race" contains echoes of Darwin, and foreshadows Hitler, who would write to Grant to tell him that "Passing" was his "bible."

"The laws of nature require the obliteration of the unfit, and human life is valuable only when it is of use to the community or race. It is highly unjust that a minute minority should be called upon to supply brains for the unthinking mass … The church assumes a serious responsibility toward the future of the race whenever it steps in and preserves a defective strain ... A great injury is done to the community by the perpetuation of worthless types. These strains are apt to be meek and lowly, and as such make a strong appeal to the sympathies of the successful. Before eugenics were understood much could be said from a Christian … view-point in favor of indiscriminate charity … [now we know charity does] more injury to the race than black death or smallpox … A rigid system of selection through the elimination of those who are weak or unfit – in other words, social failures – would solve the whole question in one hundred years, as well as enable us to get rid of the undesirables who crowd our jails, hospitals, and insane asylums."

And there you have it. I don't make this stuff up. Christianity is the enemy because Christianity insists on seeing a worthy humanity where there is no scientific evidence of any worthy humanity. It insists on faith, on seeing what is unseen, on seeing invisible value in apparently worthless human specimens.

Grant did put a human being in the Bronx Zoo, by the way: Ota Benga. The New York Times approved. "he belongs to a race that 'scientists do not rate high in the human scale…The idea that men are all much alike … is now far out of date.'"

Let's jump, without any attempt at a segue, without any attempt at creating comfortable distance, from immigrant-overrun, scientific America to the funeral of Reinhard Heydrich, Nazi "protector" – that really was what the Nazis called him – of what is now the Czech Republic. Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik, a Czech and a Slovak, assassinated Heydrich; the Nazis, in retaliation, wiped out the village of Lidice. 

SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, coordinator of the Holocaust, eulogized Heydrich:

"We will have to deal with Christianity in a tougher way than hitherto. We must settle accounts with this Christianity, this greatest of plagues that could have happened to us in our history, which has weakened us in every conflict. If our generation does not do it then it would I think drag on for a long time. We must overcome it within ourselves … We shall once again have to find a new scale of values for our people: the scale of the macrocosm and the microcosm, the starry sky above us and the world in us, the world that we see in the microscope.

Man is nothing special at all…He has no idea how a fly is constructed—however unpleasant, it is a miracle—or how a blossom is constructed. He must once again look with deep reverence into this world. Then he will acquire the right sense of proportion about what is above us, about how we are woven into this cycle.

Then, on a different plane, something else must happen: we must once again be rooted in our ancestors and grandchildren, in this eternal chain and eternal sequence … By rooting our people in a deep ideological awareness of ancestors and grandchildren we must once more persuade them that they must have sons … everything that we do must be justifiable vis-à-vis the clan, our ancestors. If we do not secure this moral foundation which is the deepest and best because the most natural, we will not be able to overcome Christianity on this plane and create the Germanic Reich which will be a blessing for the earth. That is our mission as a nation on this earth. For thousands of years it has been the mission of this blond race to rule the earth and again and again to bring it happiness and culture."

In another speech, delivered a year later, Himmler spoke to his fellow SS officers. These were the men who committed the most notorious crimes of the twentieth century.

"One basic principle must be the absolute rule for the S.S. men. We must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to members of our own blood and nobody else. What happens to a Russian and a Czech does not interest me in the least. What the nations can offer in the way of good blood of our type we will take, if necessary by kidnapping their children and raising them here with us.

Whether nations live in prosperity or starve to death interests me only in so far as we need them as slaves for our culture: otherwise it is of no interest to me. Whether ten thousand Russian females fall down from exhaustion while digging an anti-tank ditch interests me only in so far as the anti-tank ditch for Germany is finished. We shall never be tough and heartless where it is not necessary, that is clear.

We, Germans, who are the only people in the world who have a decent attitude towards animals, will also assume a decent attitude towards these human animals. But it is a crime against our blood to worry about them and give them ideals, thus causing our sons and grandsons to have a more difficult time with them. When somebody comes up to me and says: 'I cannot dig the anti-tank ditch with women and children, it is inhuman, for it would kill them,' then I have to say: 'You are the murderer of your own blood, because if the anti-tank ditch is not dug German soldiers will die, and they are the sons of German mothers. They are our own blood....' Our concern, our duty, is our people and our blood. We can be indifferent to everything else. I wish the S.S. to adopt this attitude towards the problem of all foreign, non-Germanic peoples, especially Russians....

Most of you will know what it means when 100 bodies lie together, when there are 500, or when there are 1000. And to have seen this through, and to have remained decent, has made us hard and is a page of glory.

We have the moral right, we had the duty to our people to do it, to kill … we exterminated the bacillus, we don't want to become sick and die from the same bacillus.

I will never see it happen, that even one bit of putrefaction comes in contact with us, or takes root in us. On the contrary, where it might try to take root, we will burn it out together. But altogether we can say: We have carried out this most difficult task for the love of our people. And we have taken on no defect within us, in our soul, or in our character."

I ended my UU talk abruptly with that quote. What can one say after that?

Let's review:

Sophisticated people had a forced encounter with peasant immigrants in the US c. 1880-1929.

Newly Darwinized Scientists volunteered to explain everything to Americans.

That explanation was typified by Madison Grant's "Passing of the Great Race." Jettison the Judeo-Christian myth; believe the evidence of your eyes: these peasants – and lots of Eastern Europeans among them – are inferior. Nordics are superior.

Ten years after this immigration was ended by the US Quota Acts that sealed the immigrants as racially inferior, Hitler invaded Poland, and Nazis like Himmler justified Nazi crimes with a call to jettison Christianity, to put faith in blood and genes, as manifested in sons.

All kinds of misstatements of this message are possible: am I saying that all Christians are good and that if you believe in evolution you have to become a Nazi? No. We're all aware of horrors self-identified Christians have committed. I believe in evolution. So does prominent Christian Francis S. Collins. I'm saying, rather, that that is, indeed, what happened, and the historical record certainly supports it, though for many this whole tale has gone down the memory hole.

In 2009, students at my school hosted a panel discussion cum 200th birthday party for Charles Darwin. I truly admired their initiative and social engagement. I begged to be allowed to speak. I wanted to say just this: any caricature of those who have reservations about previous applications of Darwinism as simple-minded, backward "rednecks" does a grievous disservice to the truth. I was told I would not be allowed to speak. And, at this celebration, anyone who has any reservations about previous applications of Darwinism was caricatured as a buffoon – the evening began with a joke mocking non-believers. Darwinism, according to this panel, has had only a positive impact on humanity; it was all sunshine and lollypops.

Again, self-identified Christians have done some pretty awful things. I include myself in that census. Christians and Jews have engaged in that timeworn Judeo-Christian ritual – confession. We have torn our garments, fasted and prayed, we've made amends, we've tried to figure out where we screwed up, we planned how to get it right next time.

I've seen no such acknowledgement, reassessment, reparation or reconciliation among atheists or Darwinists or leftists or neo-Pagans, who left us the biggest piles of corpses in history. Often, they did not commit atrocities in rebellion against the central tenets of their faith; as in the Himmler quote, above, they often committed atrocities in obedience to the central tenets of their faith. And then they have, as in the case of the Darwin panel, declined to speak any narrative that contradicts their myth. Their myth says that religion is the source of all the trouble; Madison Grant compared Christianity, and Richard Dawkins compared faith, to smallpox. Their myth insists that the human mind is the solution. Alas, the human mind has lead us down some pretty crooked roads.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Rick Sanchez Plays the Victim, Blames the Jews

Rick Sanchez, a CNN afternoon anchorman, in a September 30 radio interview, on the "Stand Up with Pete Dominick" program, whined about being an oppressed Cuban American, claimed that his oppression as a Cuban American trumps anyone else's oppression, and blamed the Jews for his oppression. Transcript.

Rick Sanchez makes me want to puke.

How to say, "Rick Sanchez makes me want to puke" in a socially appropriate way?

Best effort: identity politics is a cultivated lie, involving cultivated resentment, a cultivated insistence on one's own innocence and helplessness and others' omnipotence and total evil. Identity politics destroys human life. That destruction isn't an abstraction. It looks like the on-camera torture of Reginald Denny by a group of African Americans who felt that their oppression justified their dragging a random white man out of a truck and smashing him in the head with a claw hammer, and then doing even worse things to his unconscious body. It looks like the anti-Chinese pogroms in Jakarta, Indonesia in the 1998. Google it – you'll find photos that will make your skin crawl. Men post on the web their tortures of Chinese women. Identity politics looks like the Kielce pogrom and the Holocaust and the murder of an innocent little girl, Anastasia.

Humans tell themselves all kinds of lies. Identity politics is among the most deadly and inexcusable.

Rick Sanchez is nobody's victim, and neither are Cuban Americans. Rick Sanchez was a CNN news anchor, for crying out loud. And yet he played the homeless hobo shut out in the cold by the "white folks" who "don't see" how oppressed he is. Cuban Americans have a higher median income than those "white folks" who allegedly oppress poor Rick Sanchez. Wikipedia: "US-born Cuban Americans have a higher median income than even non-Hispanic whites, $50,000 as compared to $48,000 for non-Hispanic whites." Though Cuban Americans are wealthier than others, they benefit from Affirmative Action hiring practices that favor Hispanics. Cuban Americans are likely to get jobs slotted for Hispanic Americans rather than non-Cuban Hispanics, like Mexicans.

Cuban Americans are kingmakers. Both Democrat and Republican politicians kowtow to Cuban Americans and several questions of US domestic and foreign policy hinge on whether or not they please very politically active Cuban Americans.

After identifying himself as a Cuban American victim of white American oppression, Rick Sanchez made quite the leap: "Jon Stewart's a bigot."

Why is Stewart a bigot? Identity Politics' cultivated sense of resentment, and imaging of the hated others' goodies, bleeds out of Sanchez's comments: "Great, I'm so happy that he [Stewart] grew up in a suburban middle class New Jersey home with everything that you could ever imagine." Um, no. Stewart didn't have a father. Not quite everything.

Sanchez isn't just imaging Stewart's past. He's imagining his present: Stewart shuts out of his show "everybody else who's not like him. Look at his show! What does he surround himself with?" A coded reference to Jews. The problem is that Stewart has plenty of non-Jews on his show. That doesn't matter. What matters is the imagination of the one playing identity politics.

Imagine Stewart grew up with everything. Imagine that he surrounds himself with Jews. Imagine that he spends his every waking moment oppressing you, poor Rick Sanchez: "That's what happens when you watch yourself on his show every day and all they ever do is call you stupid." I've seen the Daily Show. I've never seen Jon Stewart call Hispanics stupid. Can Sanchez provide one, just one, concrete example?

Pete Dominick, the radio show's host, would have none of Sanchez's pity-me, identity-politics imaginings. He broke in: "Well if he's bigoted against the ignorant fine! If he's bigoted against the apathetic and he's being elitist saying that others are stupid, but what group specifically … calling somebody a bigot, but against who?" Dominick pressed, "You're not giving me a specific example."

Rick pulled one of the anti-Semite's favorite cards: WE – non-Jews – labor. THEY – Jews – don't. This is a classic anti-Semitic trope. Good people, non-Jews, earn their bread by the sweat of their brow. Jews earn their living by thinking. Thinking doesn't count as labor. So we can hate them. (And eventually kill them, but Sanchez doesn't take it that far. He's satisfied with just imagining and hating – merely the prep work for killing.)

Pete Dominick will have none of this. "I'm a standup comedian. I've been a standup comedian for 15 years. It's a really, really difficult job. It's filled with failure, it's filled with travel, it's filled with hard work. We might not be out there doing you know physical labor like your dad did, but I don't think it's fair to define necessarily… He (Stewart) worked very hard and I'm telling you he puts in twelve hours a day on that show, and his staff respects him, and I don't agree with anything. I don't know his parents, but I've worked for him."

But Sanchez isn't really interested in arguing the point about work. Maybe because an anchorman arguing that Jon Stewart, a fake anchorman, doesn't work as hard as he, the real anchorman does, could only look ridiculous. Sanchez wants to go after an easier target: The Jews. Who run the world, doncha know: "I'm telling you that everybody who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart, and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart, and to imply that somehow they, the people in this country who are Jewish, are an oppressed minority? Yeah."

Again, I'm stuck on this sentiment: Rick Sanchez makes me want to puke.

Because how do you have a rational conversation with anyone who thinks that Jews run the world?

You don't. You can't. Identity politics is an evil lie, and so is anti-Semitism. Those who invest in these positions have already exempted themselves from rational discourse.

But, just for the heck of it, let's take a whack at rational discourse.

CNN was founded by Ted Turner. Ted Turner is a white, Southern male who was raised in an Episcopalian home. For God's sake, he has kids named "Rhett" and "Beauregard." (Which, if you have a Rick Sanchez secret decoder ring, turns out to be "Shlomo" and "Moishe"!!!) Turner labeled Christianity a "religion for losers," and identified his wife's, Jane Fonda's conversion to Christianity as playing a role in their divorce, but that doesn't make him Jewish, it makes him a Christophobe.

In any case. Saying "Jews run the media" or "Jews run the world," in addition to being an inflammatory, hatemongering statement, is an attempt by the Rick Sanchezes of this world to avoid personal or group responsibility.

What are the stats on Hispanic book purchasing?

Look – every time you buy a book, *you* run the media. Every time you turn on a TV station, *you* run the media. Every time you buy a newspaper, *you* run the media. Every time you buy a ticket for a movie, *you* run the media. Ditto song downloads, radio tuning, news article emailing. If Jews do any of these things more than Hispanics do, why blame Jews? Why not blame Hispanics?

I've been doing some publicity for my own book, "Bieganski." Two – and it really has been only two – Polish-American men promised me that they would never purchase "Bieganski," because they never purchase books. Books are too expensive to purchase. And not worth it. And then these two Polish-American men (and, thank God, it has been only two) went on to rant to me that JEWS CONTROL THE MEDIA.

These two Polish-American men who refuse to buy books and who insisted that Jews control the media – make me want to puke.

Sanchez insisted that he is victimized, because he is Cuban American, one of the wealthiest and most politically powerful ethnic groups in the US today, and he insisted, further, that no Jew can claim any victimization: "to imply that somehow they, the people in this country who are Jewish, are an oppressed minority? Yeah," he said, derisively.

The political game board in America today is an identity politics game board. Students applying for college admission, for scholarships, young people applying for jobs, politicians running for office: all these people gain or lose points depending on their ethnicity and gender. Victimization is a commodity. It brings in big bucks. At Indiana University, a mover and shaker on campus, an African American man, told me that he worked hard to silence any claim by women and homosexuals that they suffered discrimination. He did so, he openly admitted, because dollars accrued to those who could claim to be oppressed, and he wanted those dollars going to blacks. Any dollar spent on programs for gay students or women was a dollar, in his limited-good worldview, not spent on blacks.

He, too, made me want to puke.