Ideology from the 60s to the 90s (fwd)
Fri, 3 May 1996 10:14:53 -0400

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Date: Thu, 2 May 1996 12:17:44 -0400
Subject: Ideology from the 60s to the 90s

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Subject: Ideology from the 60s to the 90s

This posting is mostly about something much discussed here--ideology. I sh= ould=20 start by pointing out that, unlike a good number of people in this group, I= do=20 not share a fundamentally =93left=94 view of the world, whatever that means= in this=20 day and age. I didn=92t in the sixties, either, something that may have b= een=20 inferred from my last posting. Yes, I subscribed to Ramparts and demonstra= ted=20 and read Soul on Ice. But this interest was almost purely a romantic one. = It=20 stopped short when I had read enough economics to conclude that the rubber = of=20 romance had hit the road of centralized planning with a terrible thud. So = I was=20 not and I am not a true believer as far as the left is concerned, although = I=20 still find parts aesthetically appealing. =20

What the hell, I ought to put my cards on the table. I figure if Grover ca= n be=20 gutsy enough to come out as a communist at a time when the hard left has be= en=20 almost totally discredited in the public mind, it should hardly be an act o= f=20 courage for me to state I do not share that view.

I don=92t think I am unusual in my orientation, even as a =93sixties person= =94. Most=20 of my cohorts can be classified as having belonged to a sort-of Aquarian Si= lent=20 Majority. We were not street people, we were not committed radicals, we we= re=20 not full-time freaks or hippies. Today, some of my friends I grew up with = in=20 that era are lawyers in legal aid, others are bond lawyers; some are govern= ment=20 types of a liberal persuasion, others investment bankers. We were nonethel= ess=20 touched at some deep level by the era--this depth of affiliation being one = of=20 the reasons I hang out here, despite the fact that I am straight,=20 non-drug-ingesting, politically moderate and broadly speaking anti-utopian.= =20

In a Foucaultian sense, the sixties was about us, too, not just the leaders= and=20 the elites. In fact, the =93mass=94 element that makes the social movement= s of the=20 late sixties so distinctive owe much to the effective mobilization of this= =20 Silent Majority, even if this mobilization was highly temporary. In my vie= w,=20 the PLP *not* viewed against a background of mass social upheaval would be = a=20 pretty sorry sight.

So, anyway, ideology. In reading some postings here, I am reminded of the = adage=20 about revenue collecting: =93don=92t tax me, don=92t tax thee, tax that man= under the=20 tree.=94 I=92d adapt that to read : =93I believe in you, you believe in me= , but=20 *that* man=92s got ideology!=94 Now, I am not a scholar--fairly well read = for a=20 layman, maybe, but not a scholar--but when I read Grover state that he came= =20 suddenly to recognize that the existence of classes means the existence of = class=20 oppression and that this leads to the need for class struggle and the right= ness=20 of communism. . . I wonder if he has any idea how ideological *that* sounds= to=20 someone like me? =20

I mean, it=92s standard issue left analysis in this group to just up and di= scount=20 conservative (moderate? mainstream?) voices as by-products of right-wing=20 corporatist ideology, usually with a reference to Chomsky and the word=20 =93hegemonic=94 thrown in somewhere. But by Grover=92s own narrative, his = insight=20 seems as much a conversion one as a purely intellectual one.

I do not say this to disparage or doubt the sincerity of the insight. But = the=20 sixties taught me--sad to say in many ways--that the fiery flash of insigh= t can=20 be fickle. So I would ask those who categorize different viewpoints as sim= ply=20 ideological to at least recognize that turnabout is fair play.

Let me go further. Take the Chomskian view (as Henny Youngman might say,= =20 please!). Ted Morgan recently wrote of Chomskian censorship notions that h= e =20 =93find(s) this literature completely persuasive, though explaining HOW the= =20 'censorship' occurs is sometimes problematic.=94 I agree that it is proble= matic.

At Ted Morgan=92s suggestion, I went to the library and took out the video = version=20 of Manufacturing Consent to bone up on my Chomsky. (Funny thing, too, it= =92s=20 always available at the library. People for some strange reason seem to pr= efer=20 feature films or even old Bill Moyers PBS shows.) =20

When I get into this kind of analysis, I am reminded of that old article=20 assigned in anthropology classes, =93The Body Rituals of the Nacirema=94. = The=20 article purports to be an ethnographic study of the strange body rituals of= an=20 exotic tribe, the Nacirema. =93Nacirema=94 is, of course, =93American=94 s= pelled=20 backwards. All the behaviors described are =93normal American=94, but, div= orced=20 from a common framework of meaning, they appear quite odd. The insight the= =20 article provides comes from the recognition that the same set of social fac= ts or=20 behaviors can appear quite different depending on one=92s point of view and= in=20 particular if one is part of or not part of the shared belief system of the= =20 culture in question. =20

I think of this article because it reminds me of some media-conspiratorial= =20 analyses. Chomsky=92s work can be documented, as are the rituals of the Na= cirema.=20 But is there anything missing? I think so. I think what=92s missing, bro= adly=20 speaking, is that this style of analysis elevates politics and ignores cult= ure.=20 More narrowly, I think Chomsky is simply analyzing how parts of the Americ= an=20 cultural system operate. Are there elites, in some sense of the word? Yes= . Do=20 some people have more access to the means of production in informational te= rms=20 than others? Yes. Do some consumers of that information make some judgmen= ts on=20 the basis of the value system embedded in that information system? Yes. N= ow=20 what? Well, if you are into class analysis, you=92re off and running on th= at=20 track, dropping that =93hegemony=94 word again. If not, you may conclude y= ou are=20 simply watching the means by which consensus and conflict are adjudicated a= nd=20 resolved in modern mass culture.

This is painting with a broad brush, I admit, so let me try to make my poin= t=20 more concrete and specific. Much has been made this campaign season of Pat= =20 Buchanan=92s populist appeal. Whether or not he *really* represents the mo= nied=20 corporate interests despite his rhetoric is beside the point--his rhetoric = at=20 least was populist and anti-corporate and those who wanted to listen to it = had a=20 venue. But I read that in some states, like South Carolina, he failed to p= ick=20 up expected support because, as the focus groups tell it, blue-collar voter= s=20 said that, while they didn=92t rightly like job loss, they recognized that = there=20 were offsetting job gains made possible by the kind of internationalization= =20 Buchanan derided. =20

You can say this represents the triumph of corporatist ideology (=93false= =20 consciousness=94 among the Nacirema.) But I think it is more plausible to= =20 conclude that these folks were simply making a rational assessment of their= =20 situation and that it was an assessment based on a pretty good read of the = world=20 as it is. If you want to put a Frankfurt School gloss on this, concluding = that=20 =93capitalism has created the conditions under which its alternatives canno= t be=20 conceived=94--that sort of thing--be my guest. But you=92ll have a hard ti= me=20 convincing me that there=92s not heavy duty ideologizing going on. And I t= hink=20 you=92d have less luck convincing that guy in South Carolina. =20

Jeff Apfel