Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Dictionary of American Political Bullshit by Stephen L. Goldstein.

Dr Stephen Goldstein is a politically progressive op-ed columnist, writing for the conservative audience of Florida’s “Sun Sentinel.” He does not shy away from a fight. Each week, his editorials are met with a flurry of reactionary anger and personal attack from the newspaper’s readership. Not all of the responses are articulate, but almost all are hostile. So when he decided to write The Dictionary of American Political Bullshit, no one should have expected him to be coy or evasive. Goldstein takes sides. While the format of the “dictionary” is sardonically arranged to mimic its more objective counterpart, complete with phonetic spelling, it rants polemically in favor of economic and social justice through a liberal-progressive bullhorn. For example:

(  noun  [phonetic spelling] ßmy program cannot do justice to phonetic spelling
The Democratic Republic of the United States of America is dead…what masquerades as the American system of government today is a cynical perversion of its Constitution: a plutocratic, aristocratic, oligarchic mongrel” (Goldstein, p. 61). This is a fragment of a two-page definition, but you get the idea.

Dr Goldstein does raise social issues. “States’ Rights…is bullshit for bigotry, misogyny, racism, homophobia, miscegenation, and every other imaginable form of neo-Neanderthal hate” (Goldstein, p. 191). However, his main targets are corporate spokespeople, politicians and apologists for the wealthy. It is, after all, a book about the use of subterfuge and misdirection through language. These three forces are seen by the author as designers of a lexis for their own gain and power. “Globalization is the economic equivalent of having unprotected sex, a worldwide economic orgy pimped by a coalition of mega-money interests and their government enablers at the expense of ‘you and me brothers and sisters’” (Goldstein, p. 105). The author’s purpose is to expose the techniques of lying to the public that are used by these three agencies. He hopes to educate the public. In service to this aim, he is not squeamish about holding the feet of US citizens to the fire. “The Fourth of July should become a national day of penance for modern Americans’ indifference and inertia…It’s a gift to have a Declaration of Independence, an ingratitude not to live by it” (Goldstein, p. 94).

Yes it’s a rant, and it’s frequently funny. But it’s a funny rant with a goal: to enlighten the public about how they are snowed and to activate them to participate. The reader will enjoy agreeing, disagreeing, laughing with and rolling her eyes at, Goldstein’s many heated pronouncements. In the end, she will be a little wiser, a little less trusting and armed to take on the liars.

Goldstein, Stephen L. The Dictionary of American Political Bullshit. Ashland: Grid Press, 2014.

For a political novel by Stephen Goldstein, satirizing Ayn Rand, see:

Monday, May 5, 2014

Why Can't We All Just Get Along? Political Cooperation vs Biology.

In the 1840s it was called Internationalism. In the 1970s it was called Collective Consciousness. Today we call it Global Community or World Peace. Over the last two centuries, an attractive notion that humans might be able to put aside cultural and national differences to work in concert towards unity and the betterment of all, has flitted across the political imagination and eluded us.

During the last 100 years, political actors across the spectrum from Right, to Center, to Left, conceptualized that communist nations would work together to overthrow capitalist ones. Fearful capitalists called it “The Domino Theory.” Hopeful communists called it the universal brotherhood of the proletariat. Yet, when communist nations were established in Russia, China and Vietnam, the results were far less fraternal. Russia and China continued their perpetual border disputes and opposed each other’s doctrinaire versions of communism. Vietnam fought both Russian influence and Chinese naval vessels seizing its fishing boats. Today, Vietnam has a closer diplomatic relationship with Washington than Beijing.

The difficulty of our coming together, even when it appears to be in our best interest and under noble umbrellas like “world peace” or “political solidarity” is puzzling. Perhaps there are elements of our nature that are beyond social interpretations. Activists and politicians resist the determinism of biology. A force that cannot be altered through education and progress is hard for them to accept. Nonetheless, we are a species that rose to the top of the food chain, continually putting the seed of its most selfish, opportunistic and ruthless specimens, into the next generation. Cooperation occurred only when it enhanced individual survival. From before the time that our primate ancestors drove other primates away from an isolated watering hole or productive hunting area, we have passed-on the genetic material of selfishness and tribalism. There is no way that such ingrained biological tendencies  could keep from influencing our relationships with modern groups and tribes.

Certainly, both politics and relationship are more complex than I can elucidate in a two page essay. There are learned social factors, as well as biological ones, that determine outcomes. But politically-motivated people are largely social beings. They are more likely to understand our social tendencies. Additionally, if their goals are along the lines of beautiful concepts like cooperation, peace and world society, they are likely to ignore the uglier aspects of humanity. Unfortunately, the biology is our stumbling block. A psychiatrist would tell you that if a tendency remains unconscious, it will have more control over you. Unless political individuals can begin to address our biological nature, that Woodstock Nation Mind Meld so many seek will remain unattained. The first step is to recognize the problem. Only then can we go on to the next step of finding a solution.