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Fallout from the Salon Piece

May 13, 2014

Wow. I’ve never had Infowars write a whole piece about one of my articles before. And then there’s another article-length post at a blog called Cannonfire that says that, impoverished, simple-minded thinker that I am, I “stipulated” that conspiracists like Alex Jones and Glenn Beck and even the woman that channeled the prophecies to Festinger’s flying saucer cult  operate in good faith–that I use cognitive dissonance to excuse demagogues and charlatans rather than to understand their followers.

I’m used to commenters not reading my pieces before they trash them, but this is the first time my non-readers are writing article-length critiques of its headline.

I write for such a small audience–and only a very small percentage of the people who have an opinion about me have actually read me. It’s bizarre.

Penn State New Kensington and a New Post at Salon

May 13, 2014

I have a new piece up at Salon, called Benghazi nuts, anti-vaxxers, birthers — Do they really believe their own Nonsense?” It’s a much shorter version of a lecture I delivered at Penn State New Kensington a couple of weeks ago, under a wonkier title (“How Conspiracy Theorists are Like Canaries in the Mineshaft of the State”).

Professor John Craig Hammond, who had assigned THE NEW HATE to his honors seminar on “Conspiracy Theories in American Life,” very graciously invited me to come to the campus, meet his students, and deliver a public lecture. He also invited me to write an essay for his students to critique while it was still in progress, which provided the genesis of the lecture. Perhaps I’ll post its full text some day.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, he arranged for me to be interviewed on Essential Pittsburgh on the NPR affiliate WESA. Here’s the link to the podcast (unfortunately when you click on it, there’s a woman talking about a new hospital wing in Pittsburgh or something, not me. I’m still holding out hope that they’ll fix it in due course). It was a good interview though.

I loved meeting his students, most of whom were studying STEM subjects. They were a fascinating mix of former soldiers using their GI Bill benefits, foreign students (a Saudi student asked me if I’d heard the theory that 911 was orchestrated by Mossad; I told him that I had), and locals who will transfer to Penn’s main campus after two years. Penn State still takes its land grant mission seriously, to create schools that, “without excluding scientific and classical studies … teach agriculture and the mechanic arts [engineering] … in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in all the pursuits and professions of life.”

Learning to think critically about conspiracy theories, one could very truly argue, is an important tool for every citizen to acquire, whether they belong to the industrial classes or the elite. I was honored to do my part.

Max Blumenthal’s GOLIATH

May 12, 2014

Last week I ventured to the Quaker Meeting House in downtown Brooklyn to see Max Blumenthal speak. I learned a lot from his book REPUBLICAN GOMORRAH and GOLIATH made an enormous impression on me.

Like GOLIATH, his talk was long, powerful, persuasive, a little disjointed, and both galvanizing and depressing. My two favorite lines weren’t in the book. First, when someone asked him what it would take for there to be peace in Israel, he said, “I’m tired of hearing that the Palestinians need a Mandela. There are thousands of Palestinian Mandelas–in prisons, in Nablus, under the ground. What’s needed is an Israeli de Klerk. Mandela said that he would only negotiate with the South African government if it was to talk about bringing the system of apartheid to an end. No Israeli has put anything remotely equivalent on the table.” The other really memorable thing he said was this: “Misusing the Holocaust for propaganda purposes is the moral equivalent of Holocaust denial.”

Blumenthal talked about his own process of “de-Zionization,” which he said was easier for him than it’s been for many others because of his age (he’s still in his thirties).

I’m in my mid-fifties. I wasn’t raised in a religious or a particularly Zionist household, but for most of my life I’ve felt guilty and disloyal because of my discomfort with my own Jewishness and the idea of a Jewish state. I can’t say that GOLIATH burst my bubble, because I had already come around to the BDS stance, but it did clarify my thinking and in a weird way reassured me that Zionism’s problems are Zionism’s problems, not a reflection of my own self-loathing and bad faith.

Peter Beinart worries a lot about the choices that young Jews will make when they have to choose between Zionism and the left. I don’t worry about it myself, because I am committed to the left and I don’t feel any personal stake in the Jewish state (I am as opposed to state religion as every American should be).

I do wonder what will happen to Jewish identity when Israel openly sheds its democratic trappings. In a way, it’s already happening. The only people who believe I have anything in common with the Haredim or Sheldon Adelson are anti-Semites and I suppose the Haredim and the Sheldon Adelsons of the world themselves. A couple of posts back, an Israeli commented about the “stink” emanating from my website, so I guess I can already see the writing on the wall. I think it was Bernard Malamud who said that whenever you forget that you’re Jewish, a goy comes along and reminds you. Of course I run into plenty of anti-Semites doing what I do, but now I’ve got to watch out for Zionists too.

Blumenthal’s detractors hold David Duke’s high opinion of GOLIATH against Blumenthal. Maybe they should hold it against themselves–or against Israel. I’ve heard Jared Taylor praise the Hasids for their success in creating ethnically exclusive enclaves in upstate NY. He imagines white Protestants creating similar refuges for themselves as the US continues to brown and he holds up Israel as a model for the kind of ethno-State that he wishes we’d had over here. You need a much higher tolerance for cognitive dissonance than I have not to squirm.


The Biology of Hate

May 5, 2014

I’ve shared a few posts from Robert Haston here before. This one is right up my alley:

The Biology of Hate

News about white supremacists like Clive Bundy makes me think about how such claims of supremacy bubble up from our pre-human genetic drives. This casting fellow Homo sapiens as less fit and therefore less deserving could be labeled as “Neanderthought”. It is important for us to understand how racism itself is far more than skin deep and more ancient than the dinosaurs. Therein lies the light of its undoing.

Sometimes the best way to understand people is to study animals. It certainly scrapes away all the complicated obfuscating bullshit we generate to cover our animal motives. When it comes to how groups struggle for power (aka politics) we could better avail ourselves of the wealth of behavioral knowledge we so freely apply elsewhere. Sadly, our confused fear of appearing racist prevents us from exposing the deepest darkest nature of racism.

What is hate? We may say we hate spinach; but we admit this is an insincere idiom. Real hate isn’t a what but a whom question. Real hate is reserved for one’s own species. A lion doesn’t hate the water buffalo he kills any more than a fisherman hates fish, but he sincerely hates competing lions. The struggle between herds of wildebeest and zebras is nothing compared to the violence within a herd. When a new alpha male takes over a herd, tribe, or troop; he often kills the offspring of the earlier alpha.

The origins of the drive to kill or otherwise disadvantage members of your own species is well known. Those who oppress the other expand their own “selfish genes” at the expense of more distant relatives. It is a simple matter of genetic math. Those who don’t play a rough game will send fewer offspring on to the next round.

Animals don’t keep birth records or have paternity tests; so they rely on external phenotypes of appearance and behavior. Scientists have long witnessed aggression against dissimilar members. Birds of a feather flock together and attack others among their own species. Simply marking animals for study marks them as targets for aggression(1). Put simply, animals are flaming, unrepentant, violent, often murderous racists.

Now consider human racism. The real irony is that when a racist claims the right to supremacy of those who share his pigmentation, he is expressing billion year old instincts born in bacteria.

He also denounces the single behavior that separates man from beast. The fossil record shows that around 100,000 years ago, we turned away from the genocidal genes that divide us and towards the human culture (like art and trade) that unites us. After millions of years of genetic evolution, a few thousand really smart hominids came up with advanced social software and conquered the planet in the last 1% of their history.

We did this by beginning to reject genetic birthright, hierarchy, and conformity; we turned to embrace culture, equality, and diversity. Survival of the fittest gene has been replaced by survival of the fittest cultural meme (say for example gunpowder, steel, or germ theory). It is obvious by now which sort of cultures will thrive in the future, and which will struggle.

As one would expect, racism is most exhibited by the lowest ranking members of a race. In other words, if all you have going for you is the color of your skin, you are more likely to make a big deal about it.

Clive Bundy’s material success has come from a different play in this same game. If you declare the larger culture (the federal government in this case) as illegitimate, then stealing grazing rights isn’t a crime, it is an act of patriotism. The Boston Tea Party members would have called this the false patriotism of scoundrels, because they didn’t steal an ounce of tea and even cleaned up the decks afterward.

This gets to the heart of another facet of this schism; namely the difference between “focus on the family” conservatism and “it takes a village” or nowadays “we are the world” liberalism.

These personality traits written eons ago for troops around a campfire are now acted out on TV in front of millions. Getting the man out of the cave has proven far easier than getting the cave out of the man. The language used on the opposing news channels differs just like the songs of birds. At its simplest, the liberal sees the government as us, the conservative sees the government as them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson observed this decades before Darwin. Here is the introduction to “The Conservative”; a lecture delivered December 9, 1841:

“The two parties which divide the state, the party of Conservatism and that of Innovation, are very old, and have disputed the possession of the world ever since it was made. This quarrel is the subject of civil history. The conservative party established the reverend hierarchies and monarchies of the most ancient world. The battle of patrician and plebeian, of parent state and colony, of old usage and accommodation to new facts, of the rich and the poor, reappears in all countries and times. The war rages not only in battle-fields, in national councils, and ecclesiastical synods, but agitates every man’s bosom with opposing advantages every hour. On rolls the old world meantime, and now one, now the other gets the day, and still the fight renews itself as if for the first time, under new names and hot personalities.

Such an irreconcilable antagonism, of course, must have a correspondent depth of seat in the human constitution. It is the opposition of Past and Future, of Memory and Hope, of the Understanding and the Reason. It is the primal antagonism, the appearance in trifles of the two poles of nature.”

While modern science has yet to find “the gay gene” or “the God gene”, the first genes found related to behavior were linked to the “genopolitcs” of political interest and political orientation.

So when Bundy opens his mouth to say “Let me tell you something I know about the Negro” his words belie the actions of things scientists have long known about amoebas, slime molds, and other self-declared genetic heroes of their narrow subspecies.


(1) Appearance matters: artificial marking alters aggression and stress.


The very definition of ‘cognitive dissonance’

April 28, 2014


John Kerry used the word “apartheid” in reference to Israel, according to a story in The Daily Beast. “The secretary of state said that if Israel doesn’t make peace soon, it could become ‘an apartheid state,’ like the old South Africa. Jewish leaders are fuming over the comparison.”

The “Jewish state” “might” “become” an “apartheid state” in time?

Future historians will have trouble believing that denial runs as deep as it does. But it does. Here’s the Telegraph from a couple of months ago, reporting on the reaction when Kerry, who was still at the table, warned that people might start boycotting Israel someday.

“Might.” “Someday.”

Yuval Steinitz, the intelligence and strategic affairs minister and a close ally of Mr Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said America’s top diplomat was ‘holding a gun to [Israel's] head.’

‘The things Kerry said are hurtful, they are unfair and they are intolerable,’ Mr Steinitz told reporters…..

Naftali Bennett, the industry minister and leader of the far-Right Jewish Home party, said: ‘We expect of our friends in the world to stand by our side against the attempts to impose an anti-Semitic boycott on Israel, and not to be their mouthpiece.’ His comments were echoed by Adi Mintz, a senior official in the Settler’s Council, who accused Mr Kerry of ‘an anti-Semitic initiative.’

You’d expect far right Zionists to say things like this; the fact that as many liberal Jews believe it as they do defies belief. It is the very definition of ‘cognitive dissonance.’

Thanks, Mr. Bundy

April 27, 2014

You might have noticed that I got a nice e mail message from someone after I posted about Cliven Bundy yesterday (I shared it after the post). The follow-up message I received pretty much made my day–and reminded me of the wonderful serendipity of the Internet, which can still, I think, be as much a force for bringing people together as it is for spreading hatred and nastiness. I owe Cliven Bundy a debt of thanks for the introduction.

“I am an 80 year old African American United Methodist Church retired clergyman,” Reverend Gil Caldwell told me, “who was active in the Civil Rights Movement. I was intrigued when I saw on your website, KABBALAH, Beliefnet Guide to Kabbalah. You are the author? Wow!…I don’t have the book near me, but I beieve it was Rabbi Kushner’s definition of Mysticism that I resonated to, and have shared with others.”

His “wow” is very much reciprocated. My little Kabbalah book came and went without making too many waves, but it’s so nice to find out that it made an impression on someone.

And not just anyone.

Reverend Caldwell is a partner at the Truth in Progress website and is the co-author of a book it published, Truth in Progress: Letters in Mixed Company.  He was featured a few days ago on the Erasing 76 Crimes blog, where he endorsed and amplified South African Justice Edwin Cameron’s plea for an end to LGBT discrimination in Africa. I quote his words below:

I respond with appreciation for Justice Cameron’s words for the following reasons:

1. I am a veteran “foot soldier” in the American Civil Rights Movement that Martin Luther King led. He and I are graduates of Boston University School of Theology where I met him in 1958.

2. I attended the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, participated in “Mississippi Freedom Summer” when three young civil rights volunteers were killed, and I marched in the Selma to Montgomery March after the infamous “Bloody Sunday.”

3. I am an African-American who made my first trip to Africa in 1971 believing that Africa was the “Motherland” of those of us who represented the African Diaspora in America.

4. East Africa is viewed as the “Motherland” of all human beings and because of that I have said over and over again, all human beings are “An African People.”

It is with a sense of deep agony that I read of the mistreatment of LGBT persons in some of the nations of Africa. And, my prayer is that what Justice Cameron describes as a “groundswell of hate” will soon be ended. My reasons:

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress)

1. Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” How strange, peculiar and tragic it is that African nations that have known the injustices of colonialism that prompted successful independence struggles are now engaging in acts of injustice directed at persons because of their homosexual orientation and practice. This contradicts the words that were spoken to justify the struggles for African Independence.

2. We who are Christians have just completed our observances and celebrations of Easter. We celebrated the life, mission and ministry of Jesus Christ who lived and died on behalf of ALL of God’s children. The Scriptures tell us of how Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Today, Jesus must be weeping over those nations in Africa where God-created and loved people are being persecuted because of their sexual orientation. Christians who engage in this persecution, or who are silent as it takes place, diminish the power of the Resurrection that we celebrated on Easter!

3. My wife and I are the grandparents of one grandchild, who is 9 years old. We do not know what her sexual orientation will be, but regardless of what it might be, how can we explain to her the wave of hatred that Justice Cameron describes?

4. When I first traveled to Africa in 1971 (Tanzania), I rejoiced in the sense of respect, community, togetherness and family that I experienced there. I realized that the poverty that exists in the USA represented plenty when compared to the poverty that exists in Africa. I came back to the USA and shared with my Black congregation that I saw hope and love and commitment in Africa, despite the poverty, that should inspire us amidst the poverty of our inner cities. But, what can I say to African-American Churches about the legally sanctioned hatred against gays in some African nations that is taking place today?

5. We in the African-American community in the USA sing a song that is titled; “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Some describe it as our National Anthem because it describes the journey of African-Americans in the USA with these words: “We have come over a way that with tears has been watered; we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.”

The journey of Africans in Africa or Africans in America has not been an easy journey. Why then would Africans in Africa, or African-Americans, mistreat persons because of their sexual orientation in some of the ways we were once treated because of our race?

– The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell
Retired United Methodist Minister
Co-Partner in Truth in Progress and
A Board Member of PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)
One of the African-American clergymen in the film “Love Heals Homophobia”
Asbury Park, New Jersey, U.S.A.

Bundy piece at Salon

April 26, 2014

For Goldwag completists: the Bundy piece at Salon.


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