Long live negativity! We must learn again to think negatively. Negations may be emancipations. Negations may operate in the service of affirmations. But happy talk, the uplift of pure positivity, is the rhetoric of the status quo. - Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic
Why is reason important? Leon Wieseltier explains: “We need not be a nation of intellectuals, but we must not be a nation of idiots.”
Reason and the Republic of Opinion
Leon Wieseltier The New Republic USA November 11, 2014
“At this period … of wreck and ruin, the one power that can save, can heal, can fortify, is clear and intelligent thought,” the editors of The New Republic wrote in 1915, in a promotional letter to its first subscribers “to state again the general purposes of the paper.” The statement is not as banal as it may seem. There are people who prefer ardent thought to clear thought, and loyal thought to strict thought. There are people who mistrust thought altogether and prefer the unarguable authenticities of the heart—the individual heart and the collective heart. There are people who regard thought, at least as the editors of The New Republic conceived it, and as the “public reason” of which philosophers now speak, as an activity of an elite; and there is some sociological truth to their misgiving, though the social provenance of an idea says nothing about its value. (Hardship may make one wise, but it does not make one smart.) Yet the ideal of “clear and intelligent thought,” stripped of its condescension and its indifference to the non-rational dimensions of human life, deserves to be defended. We need not be a nation of intellectuals, but we must not be a nation of idiots.
The task is not to intellectualize humanity. It is to humanize intellectuality. To this end, the cultural reputation of reason needs to be revised. Reason is an intensely romantic pursuit, especially if one finds romance in struggle. Reason’s victories are almost never final. It is always surrounded by unreason, which is always more popular. Reason is the stout resistance, the flickering lamp in the darkness, the perpetual underdog, the stoic connoisseur of defeat, the loser that dusts itself off and fights another day. If, as some of its enemies claim, reason aspires to control, it is a futile aspiration. The anti-rationalist mob in contemporary thought can relax: reason will never come to rule. Not a chance. Thomas Mann once remarked, against Nietzsche, that the world never suffers from a surfeit of reason. And he never went online!
If the world were rational, there would be no need for rationalism.
Feeling may be a relief from reason, but where is the relief from feeling?
One of the most absurd charges against reason is that it is authoritarian. The postwar Marxist intellectuals who conflated reason with “instrumental reason” and “instrumental reason” with authoritarianism helped to perpetuate this canard. There is nothing rational about tyranny: it is stupid and it is mad. Its “rationality,” which is to say, its internal coherence and its capacity to function, is not the same as reason. Quite the contrary: it is reason that exposes this rationality for what it really is. More importantly, reason is essentially anti-authoritarian because a rational discussion is never closed. (Whereas nothing shuts down a conversation more brusquely than an emotion.) That is why modern thinkers still engage with ancient thinkers. That is why science never ends. New objections and new findings are always welcome. In the war against reason in much of contemporary philosophy, one of the cleverest tricks is to present reason’s rigor, its insistence upon the importance of the inquiry into truth and falsehood, as discouraging to thought. But the contrary is the case. What could be more encouraging to thought than the belief in the possibility of intellectual progress? This is a gathering to which all minds are invited. They have merely to agree to behave like minds. But then minds are not supposed to behave like hearts.
Reason frightens some people, but reason is never as frightening as its opposite.
Here is Mill’s version of the dream: “to enable average human beings to attain the mental stature which they are capable of.” The egalitarianism of the intellect! The aim of freedom of thought, Mill contended, is not “solely, or chiefly, to form great thinkers,” but to create “an intellectually active people.”
“An intellectually active people”—is this idealism, or is it a hallucination?
A democracy imposes an extraordinary intellectual responsibility upon ordinary people. Our system is finally determined by what our citizenry thinks. This is thrilling and this is terrifying.
A thoughtless member of a democracy is a delinquent member of a democracy. Anti-intellectualism has been one of the regular features of populism, but in this respect populism is an offense against the people, because it denies their mental capability and scants their mental agency. Anti-intellectualism is always pseudo-democratic. In enshrining prejudices and dogmas, it robs the citizen of his exacting and proper role.
Social vindication can be attained only by means of ideas, by representing (or misrepresenting) one’s interests as a social good. But to claim a social good is to hold a concept of society and a concept of goodness. There is no other way, in a society that determines its course by persuasion, to convince you that my advantage is also your advantage, if I seek your support for my advantage. That is why avarice and aggression are outfitted with ideologies, and hatreds spawn philosophies of history.
Dictators employ intellectuals, but finally they fear intellectuals. They live in dread that their liars will one day decide to tell the truth. Sooner or later, therefore, they destroy them.
A just order is an order in which truth has no need of courage.
Do not look down on nonsense. Nonsense comes to power. Nonsense murders millions. It prospers if we are too exquisite, too intellectually respectable, to bother with it.
Related: Below: Luke Brinker is Salon’s deputy politics editor.
Glenn Greenwald: U.S. manufactured militant threat as pretext to bomb Syria
Luke Brinker Salon USA September 29, 2014
Visit this page for its embedded links and video (Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman’s interview with Murtaza Hussain).
Until the Obama administration announced last week that it was launching air strikes in Syria to target the Islamic State (ISIS) and an al-Qaida affiliate called the Khorasan Group, most Americans had never heard of the latter organization.
That’s because the U.S. government invented the threat, the Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain charge. In an extensive new report, the journalists document a carefully orchestrated campaign by U.S. officials to depict an imminent threat of terror attacks by Khorasan against U.S. targets. Media outlets suddenly zeroed in on Khorasan, hyping the alleged threat the group could pose, Greenwald and Hussain write.
Claims that Khorasan planned to launch attacks on the U.S. came from anonymous officials who provided thin evidence that any such plans were at risk of being carried out. But, Greenwald and Hussain contend, “American media outlets – eager, as always, to justify Americans wars – spewed all of this with very little skepticism.”
However, mere days after anonymous officials were telling journalists of the sophisticated, far-reaching plots hacked by Khorasan, officials are backtracking. A new AP story – written by a journalist who’d previously spoken with officials hyping the Khorasan threat – notes that FBI director James Comey and Pentagon spokesman Adm. James Kirby have said they don’t have “precise intelligence about where or when the cell … would attempt to strike a Western target.”
Meanwhile, sources on the ground have told NBC’s Richard Engel that they’ve “never heard of Khorasan or its leader,” while former CIA official Aki Peritz and former federal terror prosecutor Andrew McCarthy have also cast doubt on Khorasan’s existence. Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford has also stated that while government officials used “Khorasan” to describe some militants, “they don’t call themselves that.”
Lacking congressional authorization for the Syrian strikes – and hobbled by assessments that ISIS has no designs on attacking the U.S. – the Obama administration manufactured the Khorasan threat to justify its Syrian air war, Greenwald and Hussain conclude.
“But, as always with these government/media propaganda campaigns, the truth emerges only when it’s impotent,” the pair write.
Below: Michael Barker is a doctoral candidate at Griffith University, Australia. He concludes his argument
However, at the end of the day it is vital that all people, with even a passing interest in the foreign affairs of their elected governments, work to create a media that can support democratic principles, not undermine them. This can be done in a number of ways but of course providing financial support for independent media outlets is a must. This is because as Robert McChesney (1997) points out: “regardless of what a progressive group’s first issue of importance is, its second issue should be media and communication, because so long as the media are in corporate hands, the task of social change will be vastly more difficult, if not impossible, across the board.”
Manufacturing consent for World War III
Michael Barker Global Research Canada November 22, 2014
Visit this page for its embedded and appended links.
“When President Bush used an October 17  White House press conference to threaten that the escalating US confrontation with Iran posed a danger of ‘World War III’ his remark was passed over in silence by most of the media. Those that did report it seemed, for the most part, to accept the White House claim that the president was engaging in hyperbole and merely making a ‘rhetorical point.’” Bill Van Auken (2007).
The key role the mainstream media plays in manufacturing public consent for elite decision makers has a long and inglorious history that has wreaked havoc on progressive aspirations for the development a truly democratic globa l p olity. While the antidemocratic implications of Manufacturing Consent were first popularized in the late 1980s by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’s (1988) classic book of the same title, the methods of manufacturing public consent were honed much earlier by communications researchers participating in the seminal (Rockefeller Foundation funded) Communications Group, and many of the founding fathers of mass communication research. Given the high level of involvement of mass communications researchers in refining the means by which to manufacture consent, it is little wonder that recent studies provide ample evidence illustrating the US government’s ability to exploit the system-supportive tendencies of the mainstream media to justify overt wars and cover-up covert wars, distract attention from their support (throughout the Cold War) of right-wing terrorist armies in every European country, legitimize controversial ‘humanitarian’ interventions, play down genocides in which their government is implicated, and manufacture public consent for economic sanctions that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. More recent events (post 9/11) also demonstrate how a relentless propaganda campaign waged through the American media was able to persuade a significant proportion of the domestic population that the destruction of Afghanistan and Iraq was both necessary and justified.
Thus considering the historical willingness of the US media to propound antidemocratic elite propaganda, it is entirely predicable that the media would play an integral role in manufacturing the next perceived threat to international stability, that is, the Iranian ‘threat’. As Marjorie Cohn (2007) notes: “It’s déja vu. This time the Bush gang wants war with Iran. Following a carefully orchestrated strategy, they have ratcheted up the ‘threat’ from Iran, designed to mislead us into a new war four years after they misled us into Iraq.” John Pilger (2007) adds that this ‘threat’ is “entirely manufactured, aided and abetted by familiar, compliant media language that refers to Iran’s ‘nuclear ambitions’, just as the vocabulary of Saddam’s non-existent WMD arsenal became common usage.”
It is then unfortunate to note that international attention is now firmly fixated on the Iranian ‘threat.’ Furthermore, given the success of the Bush administration’s most recent propaganda offensives, which have led to the destruction and ongoing occupation of both Afghanistan and Iraq, there is little reason to doubt that the American government does not have similar plans for Iran. In an earlier study I documented how the ostensibly democratic US-based National Endowment of Democracy has funnelled money to Iranian groups and media projects in an attempt to overthrow the Iranian government from within. However, in an attempt to counter the US government’s ongoing propaganda initiatives, this article will review how the mass media is manufacturing public consent for yet another illegal war by examining the work of radical mass media critics.
Noted today: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is arriving in Vienna on Sunday for talks concerning the future of Iran’s nuclear program, according to a government source speaking to Itar-Tass. The tense negotiations involving US and Iranian delegates will go on until a consensus is reached. Iran says the deal on its nuclear program with six world powers “will be impossible” to reach by the previously agreed deadline, November 24, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported, citing an unnamed member of Iran’s negotiating team in Vienna. “The issue of extension of the talks is an option on the table and we will start discussing it if no deal is reached by Sunday night,” the person added. The talks, which have lasted for more than a year between Iran and the US, Russia, the UK, France, Germany and China, focus on Iran’s nuclear ambitions – the country’s uranium enrichment capacity and the lifting of the sanctions pressed against Tehran over its nuclear program.