Unholy Alliances and the Monolith

April 11, 2006

Edit: Hello hello, visitors from Pharyngula! Take your shoes off, make yourselves comfortable, take a look around. We just vacuumed, so try not to spill.

A significant chunk of the recent debate among Democrats (or, more accurately, among non-Republicans) has been about how exactly we should be dealing with religion—specifically evangelical Christianity—from a political standpoint, which is to say from a public relations standpoint. With midterm elections rapidly approaching and campaigning for 2008 off to an early start, questions of policy and principle are, as is usually the case, taking a back seat to political maneuvering to satisfy the religious majority. Amy Sullivan’s Washington Monthly article a while ago about the interaction between evangelicals and the Democratic party was the catalyst for the most recent round of debates on this subject. Professor Myers and others came down hard on Sullivan (justifiably so) for what they saw as her willingness to abandon the principles of secular government for strategic purposes that almost completely miss the point. In particular, Sullivan and others have left the impression that atheists and agnostics ought to sit down and shut up for the sake of the team, a suggestion to which a number of us don’t take kindly. With little to no concern for self-preservation, I’d like to dive into this little debate.

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Update on “Clooney” Blog Post

March 23, 2006

I don’t like lying to readers, and as our friend filthy_habit pointed out, the Huffington Post article allegedly by George Clooney was not in fact written by him. Yesterday, Arianna Huffington apologized to the public for the misleading blog post which was, in fact, composed from compiled Clooney interviews. Just thought you all should know.


No One Expects the [fill in the blank] Inquisition

March 16, 2006

Dave Neiwert has another gem in a long series of posts about pseudo-fascism and political religion. In the most recent installment, he responds to a question about the connection between pseudo-fascism and “the real article,” i.e. genuine Mussolini-style totalitarian autocracy. His conclusion as I read it is that pseudo-fascism is more appropriately thought of as proto-fascism, and that the sort of pseudo-fascist rhetoric we’re seeing so much of these days isn’t fundamentally distinct from fascism proper, but is rather an “earlier” form of the same impulse. The distinction to be made, then, is between the fascist mindset and fascism itself, the latter being a product of the fascist mindset + certain circumstances and actions:

The correct analogy regarding pseudo-fascism and real fascism, I think, is not to compare them to a king snake and a cobra, but rather to a cobra in different states: before it strikes, as it still slithers into range and raises its cowl; and after it has bitten. In the former, we can keep it at bay and even corral it. In the latter, we’re calling the ambulance.

This is right on the money, I think; the one thing I’d like to add/emphasize is that this sort of thing is a process, one that is relevant long before it reaches its conclusion. We’ve all heard the “first they came for [x], and I didn’t say anything because […]” maxim, but I don’t think most of us have really internalized the reality of how fragile peace and freedom are, and how insidious the forces that seek to undermine them are. The strength of liberal democracy, aside from its respect for principles of individual autonomy, is that it is designed to be self-correcting, i.e. to respond to changes in our understanding of the world. This is the sort of thing that is anathema to neo-fascist groups and to the far right in general (though it’s not difficult to find ideological ties even to less extreme conservative ideologies—this being one reason, perhaps, why rightist hatred has taken such a significant role in modern mainstream “conservatism”), because for these groups, what’s important is a predefined orthodoxy—and there’s no room for challenging that orthodoxy.

What we have to acknowledge, then, is that this pseudo-fascist/fascist mindset is attacking government and society on the most fundamental level, which is, counterintuitively, also the most vulnerable level. Conservative ideology in its most basic form is marked by a certain natural skepticism towards unorthodox ideas, towards anything that deviates in policy or principle from the status quo. The fascist mindset, it seems to me, is a combination of two impulses: an extreme version of this death grip on the status quo, and an irrational and reductive division of the world into “us” and “them.” These two impulses justify and enhance each other, to the point of full-fledged eliminationism. This is dangerous not only in that it has the potential to develop into fascism proper (or at least “isolated” incidents of violence and persecution)—it also threatens the responsiveness of democracy and the fundamental respect for freedom, autonomy, and the intrinsic worth of human beings (regardless of political/philosophical/theological belief). Fascist tendencies and eliminationist rhetoric shouldn’t only worry us because they might result in real violence, though the threat of violence is real. We should also be wary of such mindsets because of the damage they do to the foundations of our society, a society that (like it or not) is designed to function according to a rational morality, not irrational and impenetrable orthodoxy.

Neiwert’s post concludes thusly:

But if we fall down on the job, and the American body politic under the influence of the extremist right gives rise to real fascism, and we do start seeing loyalty oaths and official suppression of free speech, mass arrests and street violence … well, by then, I’m afraid, it will be too late.

He is of course right to suggest that we need to worry about fascist mentalities now, rather than waiting until it’s too late. This is all the more reason for us to think about how such mentalities have been absorbed into mainstream politics, and to come up with ways to keep fascism and eliminationism from playing such a central role in public discourse. For a disturbingly large number of people, hatred and violent invective have taken the place of reasoned debate. This is not something we can afford to wait to deal with; for the sake of our society and everyone in it, we must embrace reason and civil discourse over neo-/proto-/pseudo-fascist impulses, or we can kiss the most wonderful and important principles of our world goodbye.

Urizen


Clooney on dissent

March 14, 2006

Just a quickie:

George Clooney (whose Oscar acceptance speech was phenomenal in brevity, poignancy and relevance) has a post up on the Huffington Post entitled: “I’m a Liberal. There, I said it!” It’s a really quick read, but it says interesting things, mostly things I’ve always believed about our duty to dissent, and the requirement for it from both sides of the aisle.

My only complaint is that I don’t really grant that acknowledgement “that Saddam Hussein had no ties to al-Qaeda and had nothing to do with 9/11” is a liberal idea. Hopefully that one has traction in many camps. It’s not liberal in the progressive or bigger government senses, only in the sense that it’s opposed to the standing administration.

Other than that, I say good job, Mr. Clooney. (Everybody go out and see Good Night and Good Luck. It’s worth it.)


The Holocaust History Project

March 8, 2006

Apologies for the excessively long gap between posts. We will return to your regularly scheduled programming soon. In the meantime, some important news.

Early Monday morning, the building that’s listed as the mailing address of the Holocaust History Project (one of the best and most comprehensive resources in the fight against Holocaust denial) and that also houses the private business of THHP’s director was burned to the ground. Though there isn’t direct evidence that the building was targeted because of THHP, it is a fairly safe assumption, given that the fire was deliberately set and THHP has been a target before. From the press release:

Media Contact:

Sara Salzman
303-617-9412
media@holocaust-history.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Trial By Fire: Holocaust History Project Won’t Be Silenced

In the early hours of March 6, 2006, a fire broke out at a warehouse complex near San Antonio International Airport, causing extensive damage to the offices of The Holocaust History Project (THHP), an organization that has been, for the last ten years, in the forefront of confronting Holocaust denial online, in addition to providing educational materials to students throughout the world. Arson investigators now have confirmed that the fire was intentionally set and are continuing their investigation.

It was just the latest in a series of attacks with the apparent intent to silence THHP. For the past 18 months, the THHP website has been under an unprecedented Distributed Denial of Service attack. This cyber attack began on September 11, 2004, and is being carried out by a specially modified version of the MyDoom computer worm, programmed to target the THHP web server. See the THHP statement:
http://www.holocaust-history.org/denial/denial-of-service.shtml

Harry Mazal, the Director of THHP said, “We have been able to defend our work against these cyber attackers. They tried, but couldn’t shut us down. We have strong indications that this arson is the next step in a series of attacks against our educational and scholarly work. Although the fire caused significant damage to our offices, there is no way we will be silenced. Our web site has not been affected, and our work will continue.”

While an arson attack such as this cannot be specifically anticipated, THHP has long ago taken steps to minimize the impact of any attacks, physical or virtual. Several mirror sites ensure that even as serious an attack as occurred Monday morning will be unsuccessful in forcing THHP to go offline.

Background:

THHP is one of the largest repositories of information relating to the Holocaust on the Web. For the last ten years, an international staff of volunteers has worked tirelessly to make information on the Holocaust, and on those who would deny it, easily accessible to students, scholars, and anyone who has an interest in the truth.

Among the material on the site are essays about various events and people, scientific and legal analyses, original Nazi documents, expert witness testimony, transcripts of many of the Nuremberg trials, and the complete texts of two seminal works, Jean-Claude Pressac’s “Auschwitz” and Robert Jay Lifton’s “The Nazi Doctors.” In addition, THHP volunteers personally answer emails from thousands of students each year who are looking for information to further their studies.

The site has registered more than 50 million hits in a year. “Traffic to our site increases every year,” said Mr. Mazal, “we intend to keep adding new content to the site. Right now we are preparing the Belsen trial transcripts, and the transcript of Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Israel.”

Media questions should be addressed to:
Sara Salzman, 303-617-9412, media@holocaust-history.org

To Holocaust deniers and others who choose to devalue and ignore objective reality, facts are secondary to ideology. When the facts aren’t on their side, they blindly attack the opposition. Usually this is confined to the realm of rhetoric and policy, which would be bad enough, but sometimes it gets more serious.

If you can afford it, now wouldn’t be a bad time to help out. And if you’re a blogger, please spread the word, both to increase awareness of the thing itself and to give some more exposure to THHP‘s very worthy project.

Edit: Orac has a list of blogs mentioning the attack here.

Edit again: For the sake of clarification, the building that was burned down did not house any of THHP’s servers or materials. It’s fortunate that the perpetrators of this vile act were foolish enough to target a building with only a peripheral connection to THHP (though undoubtedly attacking the private business of THHP’s director has its merits, in their eyes), but that doesn’t make the act or the ideology behind it any less vile.

Urizen


Enlightenment, Not Obscurantism

March 1, 2006

Via Ed Brayton: Jyllands-Posten, of recent cartoon-related infamy, has published a manifesto entitled “Together facing the new totalitarianism” and co-authored by a dozen “writers, journalists, [and] intellectuals,” including such notables as Salman Rushdie, Ibn Warraq, and Bernard-Henri Lévy. It is a powerful and succinct statement about the global relevance of Islamism (as distinct from Islam, insofar as such a distinction can be made—Islamism being basically the projection of the Islamic belief system into the political and social arenas, i.e. the imposition of Sharia as governmental policy) as the latest in a series of totalitarian threats to human rights and freedoms, and the necessity of defeating that totalitarianism. I endorse the manifesto with as much enthusiasm as I can possibly muster. Full text below the fold.

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Livejournal Feed

February 27, 2006

Looking at our referral logs, I noticed that somebody has been kind enough to set up a Livejournal syndicated feed for IP (and, I am told, one for comments). So for those readers who hail from Livejournal, you can get your fix there.

(N.B.: Please don’t comment on the Livejournal feed. We won’t see it if you do, and the comments will disappear if the feed updates and removes the posting. Follow the link and make comments on the IP site.)