Friday, June 24, 2011

Managers Excepted

“Der Jude Kann nur judisch denken. Screibt er Deutsch… aber judisch denkt, is ein Verrater” - Heidegger, 1938 Recktorship Address cited from Emmanuel Faye, p. 332. “Emmanuel Faye incontestably shows that Heidegger’s Nazism was not fleeting, casual, or accidental but central to his philosophical enterprise. Faye’s book challenges us to recognize the ethical consequences of this fact.” - Robert Norton, Notre Dame.

I wonder about Heidegger’s teacher, the Jewish phenomenologist, Edmund Husserl. Was he, like my Lutheran, to discover that he was a Jew and that this fact was far more important than he had ever imagined? And what possible value could that have had to him sitting in his study at home, watching Germany being transformed by Nazis antisemitism and denied the use of the university library by his own prize student.

We, like the moon, are caught in the gravitational field of something much larger than we are. The moon might like to travel in a straight line, but the fabric of space-time is warped and it cannot escape. Antisemitism is a huge gravitational force. It is like a black hole that we would rather not think about. Yet we see all around us evidence of it’s power to influence minds, great and small. There is already a global coalition of groups representing the widest and most irreconcilable contradictions of ideology, theology and philosophy from the politically progressive evolutionary biologist, Steve Rose to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. From Russia, Eastern Europe, the European Union countries, the progressive left and reactionary right. One thing only they can all agree on - Israel is a racist apartheid state that has no right to exist. Fundamentalist Christians love us so much they want to save us from our Judaism, not realizing that most Jews have nothing to do with “Judaism.” Yes, there are still Jews, like myself who get up each morning and put on tefillin but the majority of Jews do not pray. Most Jews in the United States are assiduously working to shed themselves of their Jewish identity.

I do not see myself as an American. It just doesn’t mean anything to me. I study American history, the way I study Holocaust history. What is there to be proud of, the Tower of Babel? Walter Benjamin noted that as historians we must never identify with the oppressors of the past. “Empathy with the victor invariably benefits the rulers” and do we want to be a benefit to the emergency manager? The ruler who can dismiss the will of the people, usually, by the way, black people. The emergency manager system is as racist as the Drug War, which has also disenfranchised black voters. We have always known they weren’t smart enough for democracy. They need managers to handle their financial affairs, to steal what still can be stolen with impunity. No impoverished ghetto is too poor to steal from. Everyone has to pay their fair share for global war, managers excepted, of course.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Catching a glimpse of history

Walter Benjamin wrote that the “past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again.” I imagine a Lutheran who was arrested by the Nazis and put into a holding cell with a bunch of Jews headed for Auschwitz. The man protested that he was not a Jew, he hated Jews, in fact. He was a Lutheran. He was born a Lutheran. The Nazis replied that his mother was a Jew and so he was a Jew. No, he replied with passion, my mother converted to Christianity long before I was born and she married a Lutheran and she raised me a Lutheran and she was a Lutheran. No, the Nazis replied, she was a Jew. And so the man found himself in a chamber load of Jews as the gas was being dropped. As he drew his last breath it finally dawned on him, "oh, my God, I'm a Jew!" All his life he thought that he knew who he was. He was a German and a Lutheran and he hated Jews. At the very last moment of his life he discovers that he is a Jew. He realizes that on some level this fact was fundamental to who he was and what his destiny was to be, but what purpose does his final insight serve?

Philosophy of History

I have no philosophy of history. I have only the tattered remnants of an ancient theology and a guardian angel - the Angel of Death - who protects me from illusions. At the age of three, I was diagnosed with Bright’s disease. My kidneys were going to fail and when that happened, I was going to die. From the age of three to the age of thirteen, the Angel of Death pursued me. Waking in the middle of the night in intense pain, going down the hall to my parent’s bedroom, I would wake my mother. The terror on her face left me with little hope and protected me from illusions.
- Quoted from "Dead Last," Dr. Mehler's 2010 Merit Promotion Essay.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Guilt and Shame

Sometimes the guilt and shame over what we have done, what I have done, is overwhelming. They did not do this to us. We did it to ourselves.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Job as Professor of History

Dr. Mehler, the host of the Barry Mehler Show, never tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth because there is no truth to tell any longer. Simply put, the problem is that in the modern world political, technological and scientific jargons, inaccessible to the non-specialist, have created a situation in which language is receding exponentially from the grasp of ordinary people. Worse still, propaganda, advertising and mass communications are making truthful speech impossible. Modern speech is nothing more than an eroded jargon. Even when we talk to ourselves it is nothing more than a string of clichés.

We are engaged in historical analysis. Nothing is understood outside of the tightly woven fabric of what we “know” as facts, for example, that cigarette smoking relaxes the throat. Don’t believe me, take the Camels challenge - smoke Camels for thirty days and see for yourself if your throat doesn’t feel more relaxed. Remember, more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.

We once knew the earth was flat, we were the center of the universe and the apple of God’s eye. Then we knew that matter and energy and time were all separate things. Now we know that everything we knew was mistaken, ergo, everything we now know is probably also mistaken. Where does that leave us?

An object, like a pack of cigarettes, is understood by how it fits into our tightly woven fabric of reality. We, like the moon, are caught in the gravitational field of something much larger than we are. The moon might like to travel in a straight line, but the fabric of space-time is warped and it cannot escape. Our thoughts are like that. We see a pack of Camels and our thoughts are filled with all the cliché’s we have heard over and over. All around us adults smoke. From the movies we learn of the pleasures of mixing tobacco and sex. After a fine dinner we light up a cigar. Everyone knows that tobacco is good for the digestion.

I am not interested in historical chronology or “wie es eigentlich gewesen war.” My focus is on the metaphysical contours of history. For example, democracy was an unintended consequence of the American Revolution. Furthermore, unintended consequences are the rule, not the exception in history. We never know what will come from our efforts, individual or communal.

So, what is the shape of history? Are we moving forward, making progress, going in circles? Or, are we, like everything else in the universe subject to entropy?

This is a radically new way of thinking about historical reality. Clearly, understanding reality is more difficult than at first imagined. You have to make a conscious effort to focus on the hocus pocus. And that is my job as professor of history, to provide the hocus pocus. Your job is to figure it out. I don’t have the answer.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Holocaust

I once had a nightmare about the Holocaust and when I woke I realised the Holocaust was still going on. It was after my family was threatened with death that I realised, I think for the first time, that they really do want me dead. They want to kill me and my family.

The Holocaust gave us a glimpse into what awaits us. It was a taste of olam haba'ah - the world to come.