ASSETS PROTESTED IN WASHINGTON DC
May Raucous Laughter prevail
Extra-Long Journalism by David Arthur Walters
January 9, 2020
Paul Schwartzman, a reporter for the Washington Post, admired what he called the “raucous” or shameless laughter of one Elizabeth Calomiris, 66, in his 19 December 2019 coverage of a small group of wealthy Kalorama neighbors protesting an old “gentlemen’s” strip club, newly named “Assets” by Jeffrey Schaeffer, 55, the son of taxicab king and real estate investor Jerry Schaeffer, 74. Ms. Calomiris referred the article to me and I engaged in some raucous laughter myself at his stereotypical treatment.
The well-mannered demonstration of the neighborhood notables was staged in front of the elder Schaeffer’s magnificent mansion in Kalorama instead of in front of the strip club itself, which is four blocks northwest of Dupont Circle at the intersection of Florida and Connecticut Avenues, a lower corner of the classy neighborhood named Kalorama, adjacent to the Sheridan Circle neighborhood. Mr. Schwartzman noted that it was unusual for Kalorama neighbors to take exception to one of their own.
Kalorama is a relatively elevated area that looks down on Washington and lies north of the original city boundaries. It fondly embraces elegant mansions, fine apartment buildings, embassies, chanceries, churches and private schools. It became a social and political center after Joel Barlow bought an estate there in 1807 and gave it the Greek name for all-around goodness or broad beauty. Residents proudly note that Thomas Jefferson frequently visited Kalorama back in the day, and Robert Fulton demonstrated his torpedoes and steamship designs to members of Congress on the estate’s millpond. The current neighbors are mostly liberal hence showed their disaffection for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner when they moved into the hood. The Obamas were more than welcome.
Besides Ms. Calomiris, the protestors named by Mr. Schwartzman included one Marie Drissel, identified as a woman who lives in a “townhouse” at the “far end of a long block” away from Assets, Donald Friedman, 74, a prominent lawyer and president of the Sheridan-Kalorama Neighborhood Council, and Jim Groninger, 74, a recently arrived resident who runs a biotech company and recommended Amsterdam as an ideal location for Assets.
Mr. Schwartzman, who did not disclose his own age despite repeated requests, is a political columnist who was well known at the New York Daily News for his celebration of the rise of Rudy Giuliani, 75, as mayor of New York, 396. In fact, he carefully included in his piece the ages of all but one of the protestors, Marie Drissel, 73, whose age he took care to ascertain but for some reason failed to report. He mentioned that Mr. Friedman was accompanied by two Shih Tzu spaniels, but he did not provide their names and ages: “Two of the demonstrators arrived in a Cadillac. Friedman stopped by with his two dogs, a Shih Tzu and a Shih Tzu spaniel.” (sic)
His angle on the story was that a few wealthy old white fuddy duddies, horrified by the new sign on the club, were making an ass of “Assets” in front of their neighbor’s house in an attempt to shame him into closing it down. Ms. Drissel, the master organizer of the protest, provided her assessment of word Assets on the sign: She said it was “crass” and said she knew what it meant the minute she saw it.
Formerly the Royal Palace, the Assets strip club has been an insult to the neighborhood for decades. The neighborhood forged a Settlement Agreement with it back in 2001, signed by Vinh Quy Nguyen for Fabwill Inc. dba Royal Palace. He promised to keep the sidewalks in front of the place clean and unobstructed, not to display advertisements of any kind referring to dancing or anything related to sexual activity, not allow any noise from individuals to disturb residents, not to change the hours of operation with obtaining prior approval from the city, and not to lease or use any part of the entire building for sex-oriented business.
Ms. Drissel, as Washingtonians well know, is the famous DC finance watchdog and dog lover sometimes referred to in the District as “Ms. Rottweiler” and “Ms. Pittbull,” compliments Marion Barry yelled down the hall at her one day when he was with reporters at City Hall—she reserves other, far more saucy details of her battles with Mr. Barry for inclusion in her memoirs.
She sports a masters in Finance with honors, studied up to her comprehensive exams for a Ph.D. in Public Administration, and took a year of law school at George Washington University before taking up a career in budgeting and finance. She served as a liquidator in the S&L debacle, and was the CFO/HR Director of World Links, an NGO spun out of the World Bank to establish computer education in underfunded schools. She has been a civil rights activist since she was a teen. Liberal minded as well as a proponent of law and order, she opposed, for example, legalizing online gambling in the District.
More recently, Ms. Drissel opposed legalization of prostitution, although she said arguments on both sides of the question were persuasive. The defeated ‘Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019’ was advanced in the District of Columbia to increase public health and safety in the District by removing criminal penalties associated with sex exchange. The bill would have repealed statutes that criminalized adults consensually engaging in sexual exchange while upholding existing laws prohibiting sex trafficking.
Strippers are not necessarily prostitutes, yet prostitution is naturally prevalent around strip clubs if not within them, at least before prostitution went underground with the Internet. Closing strip clubs on Chicago’s Rush Street in the 80s, for example, allegedly reduced prostitution arrests in their vicinity by 80%. On the other hand, legalizing prostitution may eliminate as many arrests.
It is even offered that prostitution should be legalized because it is healthy. The notion is hardly novel. Prostitution was sacred and ritually practiced in caves and temples, and primitive religions were rooted in sexual conjugation prior to the advent of Protestant protest of natural or diabolical urges; nevertheless, Catholic licensing of brothels financed many churches. Prostitution was once legal in most of the United States. Its proponents argued that it is a necessary evil that protects unmarried women from being ravaged and lessens violence and terror by providing a release for basic urges. Feminists claimed that its aggressive women led the rise of female power. Courtesans were once the mostly highly educated members of society, and they, in turn, civilized brutal men. Lenin declared marriage to be legalized prostitution while Marx thought labor was mass prostitution.
Moriah McSharry McGrath, in her 2013 feminist thesis, ‘Neighboring in Strip City: A Situational Analysis of Strip Clubs, Land Use Conflict, and Occupational Health in Portland, Oregon’, said that strippers have a hard job and they need to be protected. They are, she pointed out, unorganized independent contractors with no benefits, entirely at the mercy of businessmen, and looked down upon by society. She interviewed strippers and officials and residents in her home town. The bottom line for her is alcohol causes misbehavior and not the sex business. She said there is no conclusive research associating strip clubs per se with crime, so regulation is driven by public perception not empirical data. Further, police enforcement helps curb all crime. Some well-kept clubs are accepted in some neighborhoods while others are not, so residents’ opinions are divided wherever they happen to be.
Katherine Frank, a Washington, D.C., anthropologist who claimed she is a feminist, stripped in clubs for six years to research the Ph.D. dissertation that became her book, G-Strings and Sympathy: Strip Club Regulars and Male Desire (2002) — She did not say she financed her education with the proceeds, a practice I discovered when I stayed in a San Francisco hotel with a lobby in between the strip club and dressing room. She concluded that men desire different kinds of bodies, not some standard ideal body, and that the clubs actually save many marriages because they can be at one with their fantasies, although she would not want her husband in one because of the expense.
Nevertheless, Ms. Drissel wants Assets shut down for good. “I do not believe there are long term careers for women nor men in the world of strip bars,” she told me. “Further, there is a lot of information about labor law violations, no health benefits, only cash received for services, without being able to establish financial histories, and also for the trafficking of young children in the world of strip bars.” Furthermore, she said she does not believe a strip club let alone a bar or nightclub is economically viable along that commercial strip at the foot of the Sheridan-Kalorama neighborhood — Sheridan Circle with General Sheridan’s statue is at one corner of the area.
Jerry Schaeffer bought the corner of Florida and Connecticut Avenues in early 2019 for considerably more than the assessed value. Ms. Drissel believes a tax free exchange may have been at play to make the transaction more attractive. Apparently the adult entertainment license came with the building, which was then inhabited by the old strip club, the Royal Palace, which was not known to do much business, and the Fab Lounge upstairs, closed since 2016, which has an interesting history including being a meeting place for a sex-workers trade organization.
“So many people do not know the history of the Royal Palace and Fab Lounge,” she told me. “They have not been good neighbors. The Royal Palace hardly had any clients after Fab Lounge closed in 2016. Many of us have lived in the neighborhood long before it was a strip club. We met with the owners and they ended up hiring off duty police officers to sit at the bottom of our streets to keep the drunks from tearing up our cars and properties and awakening us at night with their noisy fights.”There have been few liquor license applications in the immediate area.
The strip club and the “sports bar” now being built above it do not seem to be the highest and best use of the property. Jerry Schaeffer said back in March 2019 that he had considered leasing it to Wawa, the expanding convenience store chain, but there was no demand for anything but a strip club. That may be because his son Jeffrey, listed as an officer of the company operating the strip club, wanted the place for his wife along with its cash income.
Mr. Schwartzman’s prejudicial narrative jibed with the race card played by that wife, the nightclub’s purported owner, Saxton Gabrielle Miller, 26, a beautiful black woman whom the reporter engaged in conversation while she threw stacks of dollar bills around as scantily clad dancers wiggled around. The club has been advertised as woman owned, yet her name had yet to appear on the official documents.
Unfortunately, the lack of information provided by the esteemed political reporter on the taxi companies, strip clubs, and a brothel called Sky Spa or Spa Sky closed by the attorney general for the District has led to unnecessary speculation that there may be some sort of vertical integration involving Asian immigrants working in the taxicab industry, nightclubs, and brothels, perhaps with ties with Asian organized crime groups. I was, however, unable to find any known mob ties to Jerry Schaeffer and his interests or any relationships to an outfit of loose associations such as that enjoyed by New York taxi king Gene Friedman, taxi medallion speculator Michael Cohen, limousine king William Fugazy, automobile executive Lee Iacocca, gambling casino entrepreneur Donald Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and so on. Mr. Schaeffer was scandalized by the press for doing what kingpins normally do —put politicians in their pocket — when he unsuccessfully tried to get a medallion system of licensing legislated in free-wheeling Washington, but his reputation is not nearly as tarnished as members of the clan associated with today’s legal outfit in the White House.
Ms. Miller told Mr. Schwartzman that protestors against her strip club were just saying what she expected 75-year-old white people to say after seeing black faces come out of the door manned by bouncers. He was evidently more than willing to play that race and age card. A Kalorama neighbor scoffed, in turn, at the notion that race was a factor in the objection to the strip club.
Prejudice is real and sells papers, but the facial protest of Assets was against the word “Assets” as advertising that would increase an already established public nuisance. That is, the protest was not against purported immorality but against the “secondary effects” of whatever was going on in and around the club. After all, the mores of a community, especially of a “swamp” occupied by so many transients, politicians, and lobbyists are subject to change as is more than evident in the current demoralization of America. Washington is said to be the U.S. capitol of corruption, but that does not preclude reform for better or worse depending on one’s definition of progress, the current progress being relatively regressive as far as progressives are concerned.
What we have in this Washington Post report with its heading, ‘A D.C. strip club had been there for years, but a new name is sparking protest,’ is an occasion of something our nation’s great leader would call “fake news,” albeit unfairly, for something new is there but it is merely superficial. It is balanced in some respects, but seeks stereotypical answers to a very serious fault in our society. The article is composed in the style of the New York papers Mr. Schwartzman served well, the Daily News and Post, to please a populist base with foreshortened brains further shrunk by the rise of the internet and small screens.
Washington does not have the population of New York but it has Mr. Bezos, who saved its Post from folding. Mr. Bezos, by the way, has been quoted by Motley Fool, much to the dismay of Amazon investors who observed him unloading stock, as saying his innovative Amazonian enterprise will be out-innovated and bankrupted someday due to rapidly advancing technology. We may suppose that, instead of thinking, people will be thought by the Supermachine. The President will no longer have to mechanically cite his speeches from a monitor because his unstable mind cannot grasp long reads. His addresses will be broadcast directly to the monitodal devices implanted in brains shortly after birth.
Although Mr. Bezos saved the Washington Post and proceeded to build an “embassy” in liberal Kalorama, it is difficult to divine just what his “ideology” is from his donations, unless we define ‘ideology’ according to its original meaning, scientific thinking, which we know is objective as it observes bits and pieces of nature. One might expect a wealthy businessman to contribute to the two ideological sides just in case, as if there are only two sides although they reverse themselves every so often, yet thus far his most noted contributions have been somewhat neutral and rather paltry in comparison to his vast fortune. For instance, he contributed to an apparently non-partisan committee advancing the causes of veterans. That naturally drew criticism because its contributors are allegedly gun happy. He has also contributed to education, anti-homelessness, and journalism programs. He has not bragged about giving by taking the Giving Pledge. Instead, he has asked for ideas on what to do with his amassed fortune.
Mr. Bezos would be wise to stick with scientific endeavors helpful to humanity regardless of the “ideological” prejudices of its constituents. After all, he is a technocrat in the Comptean sense, that of Auguste Compte, a “positive” or scientific thinker who foresaw human progress achieved by technical collaboration and cooperation of all sorts of workers in contradistinction to uncooperative, parasitic individuals. Most of our developed economy is devoted to the production of wants and not needs, a process fraught with the destruction of the very nature we need for life. Even then, there is no good reason for unemployment for everyone who would participate, and now that we have a relatively free virtual world to participate in, there is no limit to what artful people can do without polluting the physical world given friendly energy to power the grid.
Compte’s sociology, as Mr. Bezos must know, was influenced by Henri de Saint-Simon, a French businessman and veteran of the American Revolution who envisioned society led to utopia by an industrial elite. Science is not, however, the highest good without motivation. Comte fell madly in unconsummated love with one Clotilde de Vaux, a married Catholic woman, and subverted his rational system into a humanist religion after she died. He was assisted in that project by John Stuart Mill, the practical philosopher who thought men and women could resolve their sexual differences and be united in loving friendship, enjoyed a purportedly sexless marriage with Mrs. Harriet Taylor after her husband died. The new “science of ideas” and social sciences evolving from the physical sciences was elaborated as “Ideologie” by Pierre Cabanis and adopted by Thomas Jefferson at his university, replacing theology —John Adams referred to ideology as “idiotology.” The political bias of this line of positive thinking was generally republican-democratic, ‘republican’ being a political state led by highly qualified individuals, ‘democratic’ meaning the best among the highly qualified are elected by its liberated citizens. The conceptual regime was conserved with constitutions written and unwritten as verbal bulwarks against the tyranny of vain, egotistical despots.
Setting that digression aside, our long journalism having lost almost all our readers by now, we or our computers know the racial divide in the area ran deep even before rented slaves helped build the White House, and much can be said about the difference between the sexes and generations. So Mr. Schwartzman was right to quote what the young black lady said to about white fear of black faces of the salt-and-pepper clientele at the Assets strip club. The reader should still know, however, regardless of his or her gender, age, and income, that, generally speaking, strip clubs are unwelcome near any residential neighborhood, despite what a student may say in her thesis for a university degree or the attempt of jurists to split pubic hairs. The combination of alcohol and public displays of genitalia in strip clubs, absent relaxing orgies, fuels violence, prostitution, drugs, and racketeering in same, not to mention traffic and parking issues, and the usual nightclub racket that keeps working folk up at night.
Mr. Schwartzman did not have time or space to disclose that, among taxi king Schaeffer’s real estate holdings was a property nearby, at 1215 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., scandalized by allegations that it was being used by an Asian massage parlor tenant, S&S LLC dba Spa Sky, presided over by Hak Jae Lee of Flushing, New York, a person previously arrested for provision of illegal sexual services. The facility was owned by Sun Hwa-Lee Lim of Falls Church, Virginia, was suspected of trafficking in immigrant girls, and allegedly operated as a house of prostitution employing unlicensed massage therapists offering services not permitted in the District of Columbia.
The District has a long reputation for prostitution: in 2005, more than 40 Asian massage parlors operated as fronts for brothels, claimed Derek Ellerman, co-executive director of the Polaris Project. Each earned an average of $1.2 million a year, he said. At Spa Sky or Sky Spa, undercover police officers arrested prostitutes providing the well-advertised “Perfect Hot And Beautiful Massage.” The attorney general of the District filed civil suit 0001450-11 on 24 February 2011 against the operators and Mr. Schaeffer’s real estate company, and the operation, whatever it was, shut down. According to Ms. Drissel, it was only after a vigorous clamor from neighbors that decisive action was taken against the health spa.
Mr. Schwartzman also failed to solicit and include in his article the opinion of Mr. Bezos on the club despite the fact that he is one of the wealthiest men in the world even after his divorce, a prominent member of the neighborhood, and the savior of the newspaper the political journalist writes for. Furthermore, Mr. Bezos, like Ms. Calomiris, is celebrated for having a raucous laugh, the vestige of the ancient Greek roar or howling laughter of relief from tyranny after democracy was invented. That is perhaps one of the several reasons President Donald Trump, 73, who loves strippers and prefers caustic humor, hates Mr. Bezos. Mr. Bezos laughs raucously all the way to the bank, and his wad is evidently larger than the President’s, at least according to stripper Stormy Daniels.
Washingtonian insiders are disinclined to warmly embrace outsiders, but the affluent residents of Kalorama, the District’s knobbiest neighborhood, are glad Mr. Bezos is making the old Textile Museum into a 27,000 square-foot home with 25 bathrooms and 11 bedrooms, thus saving them from the horror of conversion of the structures into carpetbagger apartments. Speaking of George Washington, it is to the internet prophet’s credit that his primary home is in a state named after George Washington, in the city of Medina, so named after the holy city on the Arabian Peninsula where Mohammad changed the direction of prayer towards Mecca.
Mr. Schwartzman sniffed around the group of protestors and kept coming back to Ms. Calomiris, dogging her for information including her telephone number. She happens to be an attractive and gregarious blonde, something she has in common with Ms. Drissel, accustomed to being the cynosure of gentlemen’s attention at social functions where she has had occasion as guest speaker to raise funds to help abused women and children. She told the newshound that she believed in profitable free trade after he prompted her to do so when he discovered she was somebody, but she added that the sort of trade that Assets engaged in belonged in Las Vegas and not in Kalorama because the times had changed with #Metoo and Jeffrey Epstein.
She made the mistake of responding with persiflage as the reporter persisted with his flirtations, coming back around to her time and again, yet not inviting her to Assets for a drink. She is old school, hailing back to the days when the likes of Marilyn Monroe knew that they could joke around without editors using every detail volunteered, like what she said to a reporter when she dismounted from an airplane to marry Joe DiMaggio in 1954, so she did not expect every scintilla of her banter to be used as if it were news by the prestigious Washington Post, particularly her shameless brag, followed by a “raucous laugh,” that she has a young Brazilian boyfriend in Miami.
The “flurry of personal details” Ms. Calomiris “volunteered” included the fact she is a member of a prominent Washington family, had never demonstrated before, had attended finishing school in the ’60s, had never smoked, and had been married “several” times. The last, unnecessarily reported detail was perhaps printed to imply that women who protest strip clubs and have been married more than twice but not many times are hypocritical strippers themselves. That being said, it is true that Elizabeth Calomiris, nee Betty Jane Houser, is the matriarch of the Calomiris family, landholding Washingtonians of Greek heritage. She brought to the Greeks her noble German heritage. Her own forbears settled in Tennessee, where her grandmother was the land purchasing agent for the Tennessee Valley Authority. Her late father served the nation as a nuclear warfare intelligence consultant.
If the biased political reporter had been more interested in people instead of the sensationalist angle on his story, that rich old white residents were making a fuss in front of a strip club owner’s house in their neighborhood, he would have questioned Ms. Calomiris properly and discovered that, after attending finishing school, which comes highly recommended for good girls along with ballet or gymnastics, she served National Geographic as an illustrator. Not only does she not smoke, the mere scent of marijuana tempts her to call the police, and, she is responsible for the conviction and rehabilitation of a former husband, a major stock swindler, in Clinton prison, notorious among cons for its tight security although several people then escaped with the help of a guard, a married woman enamored by a prisoner. Although she refuses to speak of politics in polite society, she is a staunch conservative who goes to work rather than protest on the street as liberals are wont to do.
A precise division into conservative or liberal is a false dichotomy depending on what some people want to preserve and from what they would be liberated. Many women who believe they are conservative do not know that they are conserving themselves as wage slaves and sex slaves who dare not protest patriarchy. The subordination of females is prehistoric despite the rumors of a matriarchal society. Women had to succumb to the stronger sex in order to survive, and suicide ran rife in some cultures. Their complaints were necessarily limited to pouting and sulking, as described in the Vedas. And upon the death of their husbands they were considered worthless and were thrown onto the funeral pyre and burned with their husbands. Fathers loved their daughters but moaned their birth, for they were treated like cattle, and even of late are raped and butchered. The only cultured and sophisticated women in the “good old days” some conservatives would conserve were concubines and prostitutes in harems. That is why historians have said the progress of civilization may be measured by the way women are treated. And that includes the manner in which they are respected, and that does not mean being placed romantically upon a pedestal and idolized and then taken down and debased including put in showers nude and be ogled at pruriently as so much brainlessly wiggling meat
Despite her conservative tendency, Ms. Calomiris is no prude. She knows what all too many females have suffered in order to survive since time immemorial. Yet here, in the Washington Post Political section, politics being about who has power and why, including in the great battle between men and men and women in general, she was cast as one of twenty wealthy old white prudes making a big deal about a sign that might as well have been a pornographic illustration of a giant derriere for all they were concerned by the vision of ASSETS. If he had conducted a thorough investigation, he would know that young people have protested the renewal of the license because of disturbances of the peace and parking issues, and they have made videos of noisy incidents.
I suggested that, if the neighbors are interested in making a case against the renewal of Assets’ liquor license, they should call the police about every disturbance and make sure their complaints become reported by the police department for future reference. And they should obtain the police record of complaints over the last ten years and examine the possibility that there is some concealed connection between the old and new operations of the club.
It seems that only one serious police incident so far at the newly named club, which got its certificate of occupancy in June 2019 and applied to renew the license that Mr. Schaeffer’s limited liability front, Voyager 888 LLC, had obtained thanks to the real estate deal. The nightclub was investigated in December by George M. Garcia of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), Investigation Number 19-251-00157, Case Report signed 4 December 2019.
A complaint of Robbery and Assault at Assets was made to the police department on 19 October 2019 by a man who had fled the scene to a place nearby to call the police. The victim of the alleged assault and robbery was accused of stealing money from the strippers. He was evicted from the club, beaten up, knocked down and kicked until he bled on the ground, by four of seven security guards present at the club after he tried to retrieve seized property he had taken from his person and placed on the hood of a vehicle to be searched.
A member of the security staff said the victim hit him in the face and grabbed his necklace when he tried to return the phone the man had dropped. A security guard said the man had tried to enter the club with a knife on him, but was then allowed to enter after he hid the knife at the Rite Aid across the street.
Jeffrey Schaeffer was identified as the owner and interviewed by the ABRA investigator. He was found to have scant knowledge of proper security procedures. He was not present at the time of the incident and was unaware that the club’s surveillance cameras were inadequate. None of the guards were employed by Assets, Mr. Schaeffer said. They were employed by “American Protection Professional.”
The victim was arrested later on in an unrelated matter yet was not available for an interview. Curiously, neither was the policeman who responded to the complaint at the club.
Mr. Garcia found no violation of the 2001 Settlement Agreement, but he concluded that the club was in violation of their approved Security Plan because the manager was not notified of the incident immediately; the violence was not immediately reported to the police department; several surveillance cameras were inoperable; the incident involving injury was not logged into an Incident Report Log along with contact information of the persons involved; and no such log was being kept in the office as required. Furthermore, an investigator determined that security staff lied about details of the event.
The ABRA report appears deficient enough to call for a further investigation into the possibility of a most troubling violation of the section of the District of Columbia Official Code, requiring the licensee or a manager licensed by ABRA to be present and responsible at the establishment during the hours liquor is being served. The outside security company was apparently running the club, so it should be thoroughly investigated.
Mr. Schaeffer was not present when the incident occurred 19 October, and, when interviewed on 17 November, he was found ignorant of the details of what had happened. The report does not include an interview with a licensed manager. A form dated 2 November requesting the surveillance camera record names one Tracy Kirby, ABRA License #115580, Exp. 28 January 2020, as the licensed manager, yet that name does not appear on the original police report nor was she interviewed by ABRA although a licensed manager is required by law to have been present in the absence of Mr. Schaeffer. The signature on that form is redacted, blacked out, leaving only two high loops in the hand of the person that signed. Those loops suggest that Mr. Schaeffer, who was not present on that date, but was interviewed on a later date, may have signed the form on the later date, rather than Tracy Kirby. If that is the case, it would arouse suspicion of impropriety.
Ms. Miller, when interviewed by the Washington Post, claimed to be the wife of the owner and the “proprietor” of the establishment, according to the reporter, and for all intents and purposes, the manager, yet her name does not appear as a licensed manager or owner. Neither was she reportedly interviewed by the police or the ABRA investigator, so it is fair to conclude that she was not present at the event either. All that if true would be cause to suspend or revoke the establishment’s license.
The District Code provides a procedure for parties to protest liquor licenses. A protest dated 24 November was made by St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, which is located across the street from the strip club. Conceived in 1892 in what was then an affluent suburb, the church’s patron is Saint Margaret of Wessex (1045-1093), an English princess and a queen of Scotland known for bringing the practices of the Scottish church in line with those in Rome and on the Continent. She was canonized in 1250 by Pope Innocent IV for her piety, charitable projects, and ministry to disadvantaged people. St. Margaret’s and its Priest-in-Charge, Rev. Weinberg, who is fluent in Spanish and has served God in Costa Rica and El Salvador, are well regarded for ministering to Hispanic immigrants, the homeless, the poor, LGBTQ, and other underprivileged persons in accordance with Christian precepts and their fundamental mission, to realize the full potential of humans as beings created in God’s image.
Rev. Weinberg opined in his protest letter that stripping does not support “vibrant all-inclusive family friendly worship.” He said the church’s opposition started in 1986, when a former rector of St. Margaret’s voiced formal opposition to the Royal Palace operating there since 1975, presenting evidence to the liquor control board that parishioners and staff had been attacked by drunken clients of the strip club and the church property had been littered. Considerable expenditures were made since to improve the church property, he said, and damage to the property was feared.
“Now we are confronted with the name of the operation changed from an innocuous name — the Royal Palace — to a signage in pink and purple with the name Assets. We believe this is sexually suggestive and not in keeping with the residential character of our changed neighborhood.” At least the name should be changed, he wrote, and hours of operation limited.
I thought confession booths, an important element of the Catholic Church, should be recommended for Assets’ customers, but confession of sins to priests is not practiced in the Episcopal Church.
The protest from the church was dismissed by the Board because a representative did not appear for the hearing and because a non-profit church does not have legal standing before the Board. Official neighborhood councils do have standing, and other protests against the renewal of the license are scheduled to be heard in March and April of 2020.
A protest to ABRA was also made by Mr. Friedman, president of the Sheridan-Kalorama Neighborhood Council. He is a prominent Washington litigator who in his 43-years of practice thus far has litigated almost every kind of commercial dispute. He happens to also be a pilot, someone very interested in getting to a destination as directly and quickly a possible. He advocated efficient case management for early dispute resolution long before arbitration and mediation became the ethical thing for lawyers to do instead of fighting for the sake of fighting to run up fees. Given his penchant for mediation, he may attempt to arrive at some sort of settlement agreement with the club, whereas Ms. Drissel wants it gone.
Assets disturbs the peace, Mr. Friedman wrote, interfering with the residents’ quiet enjoyment of their neighborhood with noise, litter, and at least one instance of violence thus far. It has an adverse impact on the parking needs in the area, interferes with traffic flow including access by emergency vehicles, has only two parking spots on Florida Avenue, and the sidewalk in front of the club is inadequate for the crowds attracted, endangering pedestrians and persons getting in and out of cars. Nude dancing “is like to depress property values” in the area. Finally, the sign “Assets” does not comply with applicable laws and the settlement agreement because the word “Assets,” according to the Urban Dictionary, denotes “boobs, bett, hips” and the root word of the noun is “ass.” So the neighborhood looks forward to settlement discussions on the issues with Assets, and a hearing of their protest if settlement is not obtained.
The actual root words involved are the Latin ‘ad satis’ or ‘to enough,’ in French ‘asez’ or ‘enough’, meaning asset, sufficient estate to allow for the discharge of a will. That was done in England, as Mr. Friedman would know, in a session of a law court called an assize where cases are assessed and settled. Neither of the terms are directly related to our ‘ass’, derived from the Latin asinus, in Old English ‘assen’ or ‘she-ass’, meaning, first of all, a horse-like animal, applied to a stupid person often said to be a horse’s ass, and, more vulgarly, the buttocks, or the ass-end of anything.
An ass is an ass is an ass by no other name. Ms. Miller said that the name “Assets” could be changed to “church” and the stodgy white people would still complain.
Obviously the sign is not the main issue nor is it race. The problem seems to be the unwanted crowd public nudity attracts. The advertisement is protested because it might add to that crowd, all to the detriment of the neighborhood. As for the District itself, there is a moratorium on establishments which permit nude dancing. A licensee who regularly provided entertainment by nude dancers before December 15, 1993, may continue to do so at its establishment. Nine of twelve transferable licenses are presently in use, and here are zoning limitations to transferability. Since nobody wants strip clubs in or near their neighborhood except a limited number of clientele, perhaps the majority of them transient, it may behoove the government to zone them out without grandfathering any of the existing clubs.
Several cities have banned nude exhibitions in public places from city precincts altogether or have exiled them to boondocks on the city limits.
In 1976, Detroit became one of the first cities in the US to introduce zoning laws that were designed to counter the clustering together of adult businesses into a red light district. The law banned strip clubs from locating within 1,000 feet of any two existing adult businesses or within 500 feet of any residential area. Eagerness to follow the Detroit zoning method quickly spread to other cities.
>New York City’s former Mayor Rudy Giuliani famously abhorred New York City’s adult establishments, calling them a “corrosive institution.” It was during his reign in 1995 that New York City Council amended certain zoning laws to ban adult entertainment in commercial districts like Times Square and barred them from operating within 500 feet of residences, schools, or places of worship. These restrictive zoning laws are what forced strip clubs to sprout in neighborhoods on the peripheries of the outer boroughs, like the South Bronx, an industrial zone.
In 2015 an effort was made to wipe out strip clubs in the Bronx. Politicians led what was called a “witch hunt” in the Hunts Point neighborhood to shut down the clubs by revoking their liquor licenses. A club called Platinum Pleasures was closed down in the South Bronx during the crackdown. Their tactic was been simple and effective, particularly in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the South Bronx: Instead of going after the clubs themselves, they went after their liquor licenses, considered to be a faulty approach by defensive lawyers.
In 2017 the Reno City Council voted to require adult businesses like strip clubs to move out of the downtown area to industrial zones closer to the edges of town. Indeed, that approach, to put their adult uses in industrial zones and not in urban mixed-use residential and commercial zoning districts, is typical. Votes as well as money counts, and politicians are wont to heed bigger numbers of both. Wealthier neighborhood lead the way, so perhaps politicians and the residents and attorneys for the Sheridan-Kalorama neighborhood will expand their crusade to the entire district, doing away with the moratorium on new licenses as well as getting rid of existing licenses.
Specific city ordinances funnel strip clubs and sex shops into specific areas downtown, virtually spot zoning those areas. Perhaps the District of Columbia will keep them of Connecticut running northwest from Dupont Circle.
As of 2018 in Minneapolis it was legal to open a strip club downtown as long as it was not within 500 feet of a church or within 1,000 feet of a residential zone, or on Nicollet Mall, or if another strip club is already on the same side of the block. I visited a museum converted into a strip club in Minneapolis, at the turn of the century when I was a jazz dancer. I liked the bartender, a young lady studying to become a mortician. I was not interested in strip dancing unless it was artfully choreographed, so I offered some choreographic advice along the lines of striptease dancing.
Back in New York, a federal judge in 2019 blocked the city from enforcing the controversial strip club rules. The case worked its way through the courts for 17 years while the clubs remained open. Judge Pauley ruled that the city’s zoning regulations infringed on freedom of speech rights and left them without viable alternatives, that is, places where they could move their business to comply with zoning law.
In another 2019 case, two strip clubs will keep operating in downtown Augusta while they challenge the city’s zoning laws. The Augusta Chronicle reported that the heirs of James “Whitey” Lester sued the city in May of that year, saying city zoning laws violate constitutional guarantees of free speech and equal protection. A 1997 city ordinance had decreed that businesses in heavy industrial zones could host nude dancing or serve alcohol, but not do both. While four other strip bars closed, Lester’s two businesses were grandfathered and continued to operate. Earlier in 2019, Lester, Augusta commissioners denied his request to allow him to transfer licenses to operate the Discotheque Lounge and Joker’s Lounge to a relative.
The constitutional right to free speech is not a right to inflict harm on the public, and the constituted police power including the courts have an immediate governmental interest in protecting the public from harmful behavior. There is, for instance, no absolute right to incite riots or advocate the violent overthrow of the government. In the case of Assets the jurists would consider the a city’s substantial interest in protecting the public from the so-called negative secondary effects of strip clubs: an atmosphere conducive to violence, sexual harassment, public intoxication, prostitution, human trafficking, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and other deleterious effects such as the demoralization of children.
The Assets nightclub might prevail in court given the current demoralization of the nation and the stacking of the court with justices favored by a President fond of strippers. The U.S. Supreme Court has not been enthusiastic about banning strip clubs on the basis of nudity. Challenges have indeed reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where the usual hairsplitting was conducted in accordance with the inherently irrational casuistry or case-by-case law typical of the Anglo-American judicial system, which supports the political-economic dominance of the legal profession over all walks of life via the speciously divided three branches of government. So we have “the O’Brien test” for evaluating restrictions on symbolic speech; to wit, the government generally has a freer hand in restricting expressive conduct than it has in restricting the written or spoken word. We should not be surprised, however, if so-called pussy-whistling is considered to be free speech; there was a popular place on Oahu frequently by men and women to get a laugh, and a free drink if they retrieved a flashing dildo a woman on a swing emitted from between her legs, and then she played the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth.
The decisions made in a particular case are not, on the one hand, supposed to apply to all similar cases because each case is unique, yet, on the other hand, the rationalizations arrived at in a “leading” case may be used as doctrine to guide to decisions in other cases. The casuistry may become so obviously absurd from time to time that precedents must be overturned and new ones fabricated. Judges, despite their dissents, which are supposed to be ignored after rendered, prefer to remain steadfast in their biases for long enough to give their interpretative law a semblance of permanence or legitimacy. Yet there is almost inevitably a time for the overturning of everything man made, including leading cases, maxims, and doctrines, given the presumed moral progress of the race.
In the end, the people rule, if need be, by revolution: the judges will be hanged if they do not abide with the Rousseauian “general will.”
In any case, if Assets winds up in the courts, we cannot be certain of the outcome except that that it may have no assets left after payment of the legal fees. I have suggested that the wealthy residents of Kalorama arrange for the purchase of the property to put it to what they perceive to be its highest and best use instead of wasting time and money on protesting its present use and trying to get its license revoked. After all, $10 million is chump change to the likes of Bezos. Or they could prevail on their neighbor to please not only the neighbors but other tenants to convert the usage of the corner to something decent, like a Turkish restaurant with belly dancing and a dance school upstairs, and to enforce residential parking with immediate towing and $1,000 fines.
“What differs? Who differs? What is difference?”
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
“Napoleon was better at canvassing support for himself in between times. He was especially successful with the sheep. Of late the sheep have taken to bleating “four legs good, two legs bad” both in and out of season and they often interrupted the meeting with this.” Orwell, Animal Farm
The bizarre appearance of Donald J. Trump as the President of the United States has been attributed to the postmodern musings of the late French rock star philosopher Jacques Derrida, an allegation roundly denied in liberal American newspapers. Derrida, an intellectual-stock-market conman, along with postmodernist allies such as Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard, allegedly perverted academia and corrupted naturally rebellious youth with nonsensical ethical relativism, which motivated students to do their own things no matter how ridiculous and foul. The cult of unreason with its fake reality was spread by media and has been enormously profitable to publishers and their advertisers. Americans, wallowing in relative luxury, were especially prone to becoming untethered from reality, mistaking media simulations for the real thing. Animal Farm came true at the White House with the election of the unreality show star The Donald.
It is with that in mind that I recovered ‘Derridadaism,’ notes I had taken on the University of Hawaii Manoa Campus decades ago, where I interviewed students enthused by Derrida. At that time it seemed the student body had been polluted by postmodernism, that it had infected the minds of many students, turning them into idiots. Now that I have reread my notes, Derrida actually seemed to make sense. I realized that it was my interpretation that made sense, because when I turned to translations of his work, what he had said was utter nonsense. Of course, and he would no doubt agree, a great deal was lost in the translation of French unpolluted by English words.
Derrida is most famous for his critical method dubbed ‘deconstruction.’ When asked to define deconstruction, he said, “It is impossible to respond. I can only do something which will leave me unsatisfied. The questioning subject might not even exist, or at least it is impossible to know it.”
Jacques Derrida advocated the critical deconstruction of structuralism that left radical thinkers with so-called postmodern post-structuralism, wherefore he was obliged to explain the conception he was demolishing.
Exclusive, dogmatic constructions are repressive creations doomed because they depend for their structure on excluded content hence the repressed content is always implied in the creation a structure and shall invariably return with destructive consequences. Structuralism smacks of brittle metaphysical rigidity, of the nebulous permanencies of ontology. Structure is just another name for the outcome or production of a presiding being in itself unmoved but is at once the motivating principle from which systems are supposedly derived; such as, figuratively speaking, the principle of the line, which is a non-dimensional point, somehow present throughout the extent of the line. The history of an idea or object of thought is a series of such points or imagined being differently named.
“The entire history of the concept of structure,” posited Derrida in Writing and Difference (1967), “must be thought of as a series of substitutions of centre for centre, as a linked chain of determinations of the centre. Successively, and in a regulated fashion, the centre received different forms or names. The history of metaphysics, like the history of the West, is the history of metaphors and metonymies. Its matrix … is the determination of Being as presence in all senses of this word. It could be shown that all the names related to fundamentals, to principles, of to the centre have always designated an invariable presence – eidos, archê, telos, energia, ousia, essence, existence, substance, subject, alêtheia, transcendentality, consciousness, God, man, and so forth.”
As for the hidden essence of his Deconstruction, it was necessarily ambiguous, an eternally elusive eel, impossible to grasp barehanded or to mentally pin down. When asked to define it, Derrida evaded the question with his famous answer: “It is impossible to respond. I can only do something which will leave me unsatisfied. The questioning subject might not even exist, or at least it is impossible to know it.”
Nevertheless, he suffered the mystic’s desire to get immediately to the things themselves, to intuit the things-in-themselves, and ultimately the Thingie; i.e. the Thing-in-Itself or the X or Being or God and the like names for the same presumed subject of spiritual discourse. That coincides with the phenomenological project of getting rid of or destroying such concepts as ‘being’ with critical analysis because all such efforts are bound to fail: ontology, or the science of being, is a false science because it is impossible to know its subject, namely, being. But this begs the question by asserting the existence of being while denying its explanations. Since phenomenology is the science of experience, and we do have an experience of being ourselves, one might say a religious experience of the presence of some sort of absolute being, a phenomenalist true to his phenomena would describe that subjective experience without affirming or denying the objective existence of being-in-itself. Of course there may be no such thing in reality regardless of the experiential implications. Judging from his pursuit of the Impossible Being, Derrida obviously had faith in the existence of that absolute something or rather nothing that ontology failed to grasp intellectually. Apprehension of the impossible, absolute Thingishness of things is delayed or deferred (difference) by their differences. It is impossible to know the thing-in-itself, although one can try to grasp the slippery subject, and always fail because of its lack of qualities. The command inscribed on the temple at Delphi, Know Thyself, is an impossible task. The names we have for things, for instance, ‘self,’ fail to capture them; things in themselves, as Kant reiterated, are inapprehensible and inconceivable. The difference between things is in their relation to one another, the meaning of which is always deferred: as in the ethical relation, the sexual relation, the relation to the other, whom Derrida places in every self and to whom one owes a responsibility for everything, namely, oneself, the self that can never be known because knowledge is an ongoing, endless project. Although skeptical of metaphysical absolutes, criticism can be constructive, analyzing or breaking down things to find out how they work through the internal contradicting, and reconstructing or synthesizing another system to obtain a better result; this is where the deconstructionists have allegedly failed, degenerating into cynical and popular dogmatic skepticism.
Theologians were naturally interested in Derrida’s blathering to the effect that the irrational Logos cannot be approached by reason but only by a leap of faith. Professor John D. Caputo remarked that Derrida had religion without religion. Indeed, in his maturity Derrida spoke of something “undestructible” and the undestructibility of democracy, hospitality, friendship, justice, democracy, etc. His criticism of conventional concepts was iconoclastic, the destruction of idols to clear the way for indestructible Being, a yearning for the independent absolute, the omnipotent Other. He was a sort of atheistic rabbi for whom God’s name was important because it was a way of naming the unconditional indestructible. His pursuit of the Undestructible betrayed his atheism and revealed that he loved the Absolute so much that he could not cease and desist from destroying the conceptions besmirching it immaculateness.
Traditional religions certainly give atheists cause for uncertainty, to doubt the things of this world and what is said about the Supreme Being, never fully known or adequate represented, although they may still believe that the universe has a hypostasis. The ultimate standard, whether it is God’s law, the law of Nature, or the correlation of the two, forever eludes our grasp. Simply calling the social mores natural or divine does not prove their moral worth. Love and kindness may come naturally by divine order, but so does hatred, despite the fact that we would absolve God of evil by blaming it on ourselves, or call evil good. Theodicy cannot turn evil into good: we may rationalize evil until doomsday, but it is impossible to rationally vindicate anyone for the pain and sin of this world. The beginning and end of the reasoning process that draws the ratio between good and evil is doubt, and that is as it should be if we are to survive our errors.
Indeed, the original sin of humankind is in the imperfection of the part in comparison to whole; if it were not for the individuality that naturally inclines it to error, the newborn baby would be innocent of such sin. Goodness is not merely knowing what one does best and doing it as one’s career, or in suiting one’s purpose in all honesty; we have an honest-to-goodness devil that suits the purpose of his career very well. God’s creation may be perfect, but we should not presume to fully understand its creator, if there is one, or to explain the divine plan. Wisdom is in knowing that we are in fact ignorant of some things, that we do not know ultimate things, thus leaving the future open for change. It is the true believers who make war on the world, and not the skeptics. The low tolerance for uncertainty in certainty certainly has motivated a great deal of violence in our world.
People of faith, who are faithful because everything is uncertain, have nothing to prove to themselves or to others; their faith is expressed in deeds. Religious bigots are people of little faith or bad faith. More often than not we find the pious at war with the world and each other. Their hypocrisy is unsurprising: we are seldom surprised when the do-gooder is caught with his pants down in unseemly places. As for atheists, the world’s greatest atheists are hardly infamous for iniquity. Incredulous and skeptical people are not as well know for evil deeds as credulous, superstitious people, who are more than willing to destroy lives for unseen things, for arbitrary causes, unaware of their ambiguity and repressed ambivalence.
Derrida had little faith in logical structures. He pointed out that the concept of structure was, up to a certain point, as old as the hills of Western thought, a notion he calls the ‘Epistêmê’ (Thought). Both the concept and our name for structure have, like a venerable old tree with a sign on it, roots “thrust deep into the soil of ordinary language.” The Epistêmê plunges deep into the fertile linguistic soil to incorporate the structural concepts below and elaborate figures of speech above:
“The structure of structure –although it has always been at work, has always been neutralized or reduced… by a process of giving it a center or of referring it to a point of presence, a fixed origin… to orient, balance, and organize the structure… to make sure that the organizing principle of the structure would limit what we might call play of the structure… play of the elements inside the total form. And even today the notion of a structure lacking any center represents the unthinkable itself… (T)he center also closes off the play which it opens up and makes possible. As a center, it is the point at which the substitution of contents, elements, or terms is no longer possible… At the center, the permutation or transformation of elements… is forbidden…. (T)he center, while governing the structure, escapes structurality. This is why classical thought concerning structure could say that the center is, paradoxically, within the structure and outside of it. The center is at the center of the totality, and yet, since the center does not belong to the totality… the totality is elsewhere. The center is not the center. The concept of centered structure –although it represents coherence itself, the condition of epistêmê as philosophy or science, is contradictorily coherent. And as always, coherence in contradiction expresses the force of a desire.”
The notion of a contradictory coherence, illogical as it might seem, is standard fare for Hegelian dialecticians. Static logicians who believe A cannot be A and not-A have logical cause to deny the self-contradictory existence of a center or point or principle of a structure or system or organization that is not in itself a structure. Yet a dynamic logician, who is willing to admit to the absurd reality of a continuity between extremes or coincidence or union of apparent opposites, might point out that the non-dimensionality of the principle of a line, namely the point continuously present in the line and referred to in its particular infinitudes by pointing howsoever clumsily to one small place along the line or another, does not disprove the ideal being of an entity whose concrete existence as a unit is denied; in fact, the concept of the invisible point derived from pointing at points is imminently practical. Likewise the principle of an arch in a bridge is invisible but may be imagined and idealized by the drawing of a line through a series of points. A catenary arch, say, the illusionary form of which we witness in the St. Louis Arch, which can be mathematically expressed, although invisible or “merely” ideal, practically sustains the weight of the structure and persons who rely upon it to traverse the impediments. Can the metaphysical beings of ontology do the same, at least metaphorically speaking? Must a human being, who must have faith in the ground under him in order to walk, have faith in the arche of nature, the archon of humanity, or the universal being, perchance to fly, so to speak, to transcend material reality?
Sociologists borrowed paradigms from the field of linguistics in their search for the underlying structures of a variety of sociological phenomena. Given the elements of speech, a virtually infinite variety of sentences can be produced from definite rules of syntax and grammar hence it follows that other forms of behavior might have, respectively, a fundamental structure from which their apparent diversity is derived. Nothing and only nothing is absolute, and even then the notion of nothing is only relatively absolute inasmuch as the negative or the nonexistent is dependent on positive existence. Chaos might be the origin of all things; but order somehow emerges out of chaos and is elaborates itself, giving form to all sorts of stuff. Yet Derrida challenged the notion that any particular order is necessary or final.
We observe that order is a relational quality and not a thing in itself; the term names a verb, the ordering process or way of doing things. We use a set keyboard, the QWERTY keyboard, for the fixed mechanical order of its letters, to mechanically produce the linguistic order of our language, but another typewriter system might do as well; in fact there is a more efficient keyboard-lettering system, one that apparently matches the natural law of our physiology, yet who wants to change now given the cost of the changeover in time and money, especially since the gain in efficiency is rather minor? But the human brain is much more complex than a typewriter. The god in the thinking machine, when unhindered by orthodoxy, loves to play and to experiment; this god when hindered for long shall revolt and be called Satan for whispering in the ear of the tyrant in us all.
Youth naturally tends to rebellion against received authority. A young man wants to be an authority in his own right; that is, to do his own research and arrive at his own conclusions. He would reinvent the wheel, in other words. His conclusions will resemble the ones discovered long before, because research invariably leads to what others have said on the same subject, and one becomes trapped in history, in mental culture, which is, after all, our collective memory, without which we would perish as human beings. Alas, by the time we find out what is really going on it is almost too late. Thus a great deal of time is seemingly wasted, but sometimes new and useful ground is covered when the wheel is rebuilt and the axle greased. When push comes to shove, bad habits might be broken and the behavior of those who have been doing wrong so long that they think wrong is right changes for the better. Hence the wheel must be challenged and retarded at every revolution lest the race be crushed.
Derrida was necessarily familiar with the classical turns of humanism, which are very difficult to master; and within that liberating narrative he found a sort of impossible center or crisis critical of every angle and arc as history rolled merrily along, presumably forward, that everyone might be freed of divisive differences. He heard the irrational screams from the rubble of wrecked Europe. She had careened towards the light at the end of the historical tunnel; not realizing that she was in reverse, she lost her bearings and crashed. Reason was not really at the wheel; at most reason is derived from passion or is a passion itself or part of a passion. Faith in reasoning alone can lead one astray, particularly when Reason is affixed as an idol to the dashboard, and the Heart no longer encompasses the course. Surely there must be some other course than the seemingly rational one that led to the great calamity where havoc and panic and murder and mayhem ran amok, as if the world could not turn without bloody contradictions.
For Derrida, Reason was a historical construction. Intuited truth is illogical and not a historically concocted, reasonable story. The attempt to understand reason tries to be reasonable about reasoning, but reasoning cannot be understood and more than can the man who reasons, or his other passions for that matter. In fact it is Unreason that leads to the One, and Reason to the Many.
Johann Georg Hamann, a Christian mystic, confessed that he was “close to suspecting that the whole of philosophy consists more of language than of reason, and the misunderstanding of countless words, the personification of arbitrary abstractions.” And, “The light is in my heart but as soon as I seek to carry it in my head it goes out.” The Christian is skeptical of all but God, the ultimate source of arbitrary abstractions.
And Derrida, conditioned to skepticism and cynicism by a philosophical discourse that never seemed to arrive at the absolute truth because it is a creature of humankind and therefore fashioned by the historical circumstances at points in continuous time, was familiar with ambivalences, antinomies, ambiguities, absurdities, the so-called opposites or seeming contradiction which in continuous coincidence work the machines. He was fascinated by the alternatives to everything; the more incoherently expressed the better. Surrealism for him was not surrealistic enough. At bottom reality was logically absurd: it was impossible for reason to get to the bottom of it. The notion of the Absurd, keenly felt by Gustav Flaubert, the frustrated romantic turned realist, and developed by Albert Camus, frustrated philosopher turned novelist, both of whom were well versed in the classics, was really nothing new, notwithstanding the German pool table and the English put on the French cue ball.
Derrida saw his opportunity in the Absurd, the Land of Opportunity, slapped together his texts, hustled the intellectual market, overturned the big trick and came out on top. For that he is denounced by the losers as an enemy of Western civilization, and even a terrorist, but what he did is at the basis of that civilization; that is, if proper European civilization is, as Pope Benedict thinks, founded mainly on Greek culture and the critical and skeptical philosophy that demonstrated that only the wise know they are ignorant of the alpha and omega of ultimate things. The Greek philosophers might as well be charged, like Derrida, for playing “mere” language games; they certainly loved their riddles.
Of course Derrida’s detractors were offended most of all by his style, which they called “postmodern” to his dismay; he should not have been offended, for there is some truth to the term. Yes, postmodernism is such a hodgepodge of intellectual rubbish left from the deconstruction of structuralism that it is impossible to define, yet when applied to architecture, the label implies a classical restoration, albeit somewhat disheveled under modern guise.
Derrida’s freestyle clouded the fact that he was offering up the same old dishes but differently sauced and garnished. Some things never change, like the bay leaves, which the Pythias at the oracle of Delphi chewed ad they inhaled the natural gas emitted from the earth with hysterical effect; the priests translated their ravings into ambiguous, bad poetry. Derrida’s allegedly unreasonable, anti-Enlightenment approach, however, was tethered to traditional standards, employing well the tried and proven methods of the ancient skeptical masters. As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the Sun. By all means one must avoid saying the same thing in the same way to avoid seeming platitudinous. If we bear with Derrida long enough, he makes sense because he is referring us to something we already know but cannot express.
Derrida certainly had his detractors. He was a skeptic who did not merely suspend judgement in his search for something but apparently believed in nothing verbal except nothing exists. The person who apparently believes in nothing is hated as an infidel. A most caustic, the October 21, 2004, obituary in ‘The Economist’ declared:
“The inventor of ‘deconstruction’ – an ill-defined habit of dismantling texts by revealing their assumptions and contradictions – was indeed, and unfortunately, one of the most cited modern scholars in the humanities…. It is not that Mr. Derrida’s views, or his arguments form them, were unusually contentious. There were no arguments or really any views either. He would have been the first to admit this. He not only contradicted himself, over and over again, but vehemently resisted any attempt to clarify his ideas. ‘A critique of what I do,’ he said, ‘is indeed impossible’….“The playful evasiveness of deconstruction masked its moral and intellectual bankruptcy.”
Playful deconstruction, then, is a rite of passage for rebellious children, maintained by adults who never mature. Since wordplay is multi-vocal and vents a plurality of unique interests despite a universal mode of expression, nothing is final: There is no such thing as absolute truth, nor is there a singular meaning of a complete sentence; everything metaphysically said may be misinterpreted and reinterpreted. One way to rid the society of the linguistic domination of its high priests is to make a joke out of it, to not take it serious, to play with it, to philosophize freely with it hence denying that philosophy is scientific, something reasonable and prior to language that must therefore be separated from the play of language in order to represent truth in some concise, terse, formulaic manner. It is talk about talk and that is all it is. The logo-centric deconstructionists do not want to take life seriously; they want to play with things, they would rather talk about everything than fight for the right; thus in their intellectually intolerant tolerance they leave the dominant oppressive power intact; they want to talk about talk instead of doing something useful; they are conservative in the sense of regression to babbling childhood. Their talk about personal identity in multicultural diversity is vain and subjective, deludes people into thinking their own lifestyle is righteous, and leads to ethnocentrism when challenged. Socrates’ declamation against the followers of Heraclitus may be recalled in our context: “If you ask one of them a question, they draw out enigmatic little expressions from their quiver, so to speak, and shoot one off; and if you try to get hold of an account of what that one meant, you’re transfixed by another novel set of metaphors. You’ll never get anywhere with any of them.”
Having faith in nothing, claiming that everything was defined by inherently indefinite differentiation, Derrida is said to have denied his responsibility for the irresponsible behavior of his followers. Literature teachers corrupted by his pernicious nonsense, were allegedly “armed with a new impenetrable vocabulary, and, without having to master any rigorous thought, they could masquerade as social, political, and philosophical critics,” and corrupt the youth and demolish classical culture.
Maurice Blanchot was one of Derrida’s heroes. Blanchot supported Petain during the decline of democracy, advocated terrorism and anti-Jewism. Another hero was Georges Bataille, averse to reason and an advocate of fascism as a charismatic martial means of glory and unity. Derrida’s concept of the Other was influenced by Bataille’s view, that otherness transcends the political and economic considerations of the money-loving, utilitarian, bulging-belly bourgeoisie. Furthermore, he used his deconstructionist technique to defend Nazi Party members Martin Heidegger and Paul de Mann.
Derrida’s radical skepticism promises reconstruction after deconstruction but never delivers, hence is by no means creative destruction or constructive criticism, but is in reality dogmatic skepticism, hence nihilistic. The deconstructionists therefore would not compromise or contribute to compromise or mutual give and take, that is, engage in a democratic process. Quite to the contrary, Derrida himself condoned irrational Nazism by not condemning his dead friend, Paul de Man, who had in his youth had written anti-Jew articles in Belgium for the Nazis, one of which articles seemed to advocate a final solution to the so-called Jewish Question: “A solution to the Jewish problem that aimed at the creation of a Jewish colony isolated from Europe would entail no deplorable consequences for the literary life of the West.” Professor De Man, by the way, had lied at Yale, where he was a member of the literature department: he claimed he was a refugee from Europe, and insinuated that he had been a member of the Belgian resistance. Derrida deconstructed his friend’s articles in such a way that led him to conclude they were not anti-Jewish, leading one critic to say that deconstruction could prove Hitler was not anti-Jewish.
Derrida wrote fondly of friendship, the affection people have for each other despite or because of the differences between the one and its others. Loyalty is the prime virtue of friendship, a favorite stance of neoconservatives until they are indicted and offered a deal. Still, personal integrity demands that we admit the faults of our friends when defending them, rather than deceiving ourselves and others because we believe we are always right in love no matter the defects of its object. He believed that the death of a friend one loses the significant other who opens up the world for us. “There come moments,” he said, “when, as mourning demands, one feels obligated to declare one’s debts. We feel it our duty to say what we owe to friends.” In ‘The Work of Mourning’, as a writer who writes because he reads, he recognizes his debt to other writers by way of mourning them with his words
Derrida defended Martin Heidegger, who had been exposed as a member of the Nazi party, and he stooped to describing Nazism, which is opportunistic and has no set philosophy, as a rational philosophy, admonishing his friend merely for his faint adherence to liberal humanism. Wherefore Derrida was accused of fostering racism and fascism and for being influenced by Heidegger’s philosophy of Being and Time. To add insult to injury, although he denied he was a “postmodernist,” he was accused of being a postmodernist associated with terrorism, guilty by association because postmodernist Jean Baudrillard had remarked that the destruction of the World Trade Center, the binary symbol of the military-industrial complex, fulfilled in fact the wishful thinking of people fed up with the arrogance of the sole superpower.
For Baudrillard, the external violence was the visible counterpart to the violence of internal security forces. Derrida himself rejected the description of the September 11 attacks as an act of “international terrorism” because the concept labeled “international terrorism” was too vague to identify the specific nature of the subject of discourse. Yet a propensity to terrifying physical violence was imputed to Derrida from his conceptual deconstruction of metaphysical notions; i.e., his radical criticism of dogmatic positions by using opposition to turn them upside down and inside out. Indeed, he was derided by his intellectual foes as a violent man for restating platitudes attributing progress from revolution and justice under the law, to violent enforcement. His deconstruction of grand traditional narratives is intellectual terrorism, it was said, was tantamount to the Nazi book-burnings. His champions, however, claim that his skepticism and active disintegration of the concepts embraced by warmongers made him an apostle of peace.
Derrida was purportedly a diabolical French agent of the German Romantic corruption of the democratic principles of the French Revolution, and an anti-humanist ally of Germany’s neoconservative anti-intellectuals of the 30s. His celebration of cultural differences undermines universality and thus constitutes a threat to imperial democracy, presumably the only reasonable and therefore valid universal form of civilization capable of the toleration of differences. The United States of America, the sole superpower and epitome of high civilization, is the epitome of representative democracy incorporated. So notwithstanding his pronounced repudiation of postmodernism, Derrida was classed with the postmodernists, who were themselves wont to praising his works.
Derrida’s detractors said that he, like the flotsam-and-jetsam postmodernists, hated America’s guts and wished all along for the fall of the military-industrial complex’s Twin Towers of Either-Or reasoning: One is either good and therefore for Us, or evil and therefore against Us; one must either buy this or buy that, by all means must buy into our consumer democracy; all those who do not lead productive lives as consumers are defined by the surgeon general as mentally ill and therefore need the subsidized drug industry. In fact, Derrida was faulted for not drawing Either-Or differences to raise one difference over the other, say Right over Left, except to reverse or subvert stated hierarchies in order to demonstrate that what can be raised high in a text can be set low, and vice versa, to demonstrate that no meaning is final, no concept is absolute, no value is permanent or eternal. He emphasized change over permanence, a sort of dynamic differentialism that struggles to know perfect, the impossible – Nothing is perfect. You see, binary oppositions such as Good/Evil are arbitrary, happenstance coincidences.
His admirers claimed his ultimate political target in celebrating difference or pluralism was totalitarianism of any kind. His detractors, however, insist that he, like Socrates, the greatest Sophist of them all, and other sophisticates and dialectical devils down to this very day, used reason to raise the worst thing as the best, to make the weaker argument the stronger, and the like; or at best, they cultivate a dangerous ethical relativism that tends to topple all gods and social goods, leading to the demoralization and degeneration of civilization, especially when one of the plural factions, say a racist or ethnocentric party, reverts to the barbarian tribal principle, that might is right, to terrorize all, suspend civil constitution, and establish arbitrary tyranny in defiance of the tolerant pluralism that allowed it to seize power.
Wherefore humanists, for whom the rational human being is the alpha and omega of discourse, worked to constitute rational safeguards that would prohibit, for the sake of the universal, any particular faction from seizing power and holding permanent sway over the body politic. A democratic constitution would ideally afford all parties in opposition to any party holding power a chance to take seats in legislative bodies, and, if the majority of the people so will or tolerate it, to preside over the state from time to time.
The authors of relatively democratic institutions warned against the emergence of particular factions and parties lest they stray from the common good and overthrow the constitution. Two major parties ordinarily emerge in a relatively free atmosphere, the left and right wings of the political bird, and both extremities are affixed to the central body. All too often the two major parties, who find it necessary to compromise somewhere in the middle to preserve their relative interests in keeping the body in flight, wind up playing musical chairs, simply rotating in and out of power in order to share the spoils of powerful offices.
Coincident to the population explosion of the industrial-scientific revolution, big political parties dominated by bosses became necessary to organize the masses and to educate them to the issues; needless to say, the education was simplistic and often exploitative, suiting the motives of power brokers rather than the needs of the people. The major U.S. parties, both of which recognize the same founding father, are essentially the same in their “neo-liberal” principle or organized greed; voters are given virtually the same candidate with different names and party affiliations; true, differing ideological campaign stances are taken, but radical reform is rendered impossible when the candidate takes the oath of hypocrisy, stating he will do the will of the so-called People instead of following his prejudice—but the general will is so diverse and in itself incomprehensible that the elected official can and will do pretty much what he wants whether it be in the public interest or not, and most people will not be any the wiser until someone gets caught with their hands in the cookie jar or in other inappropriate places.
Derrida’s deriders liked to associate him with the counter-Enlightenment, anti-Kantian, anti-philosophe, anti-humanist mode of thought with its right-wing authoritarian antipathy to liberal democracy, inherited by the New Conservative movement in Germany, a conservatism rooted in the line of thinking of the likes of Joseph de Maistre, J.D. Herder and his friend Johann George Hamann, culminating in the Nazi Party in Germany and the neoconservative movement in the United States. The neoconservative or pseudo-conservative ideology defends particular interests against the universalizing tendency of humanism, which liberates people only to totally enslave them after the final analysis. European conservatives went so far to insist that there is no such being as humanity, that the generalized Man humanists abstract from human beings and idolize simply does not exist except as a figment of their liberal imagination.
Humanism, as far as so-called neoconservatives were concerned, was responsible for the revolutionary violence that eventually resulted in massive crimes against humanity and the threat of nuclear annihilation. From their neoconservative perspective, the cult of reason with its obsession with liberating everyone in the world by spreading democracy throughout the world whether the spheres of interests like it or not is really sophisticated violence and oppression. The light of the Enlightenment, idolized Reason, has been overheated and is bound to set the world ablaze and scorch the earth, incinerating the natural environment and social organisms, each of which had its own, individual or cultural center of life – so much for the relativistic notion that one outfit is as good as another. Public reason claimed as the common good rejects the differences of others, disrespects otherness. Humankind must be liberated from the tyranny of reason and its oppressive either-or mechanic; given the native hypocrisy of the human race, every individual is at odds with itself and the others in the war of all against all; the doctrine of individualism, which would universalize all individuals under the rubric, category-of-one, is a collective farce.
One may resort to myth, magic, martinis, madness and religion to restore the person to exalted status, but there is no better agent for dissolving the nefarious leveling influence of unitary reason than the analytic acid of critical reason liberally applied to the perverse perfusions of so-called liberals – every person, conservative or liberal, would be liberated from his limitations. Of course to use Reason against itself and to set dogma against dogma is blasphemy, but Man seems originally bound and determined to contradict himself ad infinitum – columnists on both sides of every division feed on human ambiguity, hypocrisy, contradiction. Language, given its relation to reason, is in itself violent, a war by abstract means; philosophical writing is virtual suicide in advance of the fact: a philosophical book is bomb and its author a suicide-bomber. May the best or worst man win, for one is as good as another, and likewise his relative ethic and culture. Finally, might is right; hence rightists lash themselves together as a Total under chimerical central authority and are this time called fascists, patriots under Pater instead of liberal democrats led by a Caesar or communists by a revamped Tsar. Ideological lines may be drawn between the political organizations, but in the final critical analysis – that of the battlefield where man degenerates to brute and reduces civilization to rubble – all are the same in violence, devastation, death. Once the ground is leveled, the messiah may appear to compensate for violent, competitive patriarchy; then and only then shall a feminine center of attention hold, dispelling dystopia and giving birth to the New Man in Utopia. Yes, something must be coming from all of this, something much better than presently recalled from past presents, but it cannot appear until the slate is wiped cleaned – expectant Nothing is pregnant with meaning because we are used to waking up.
In any case, Derrida personified the politically divisive French school wont to undermine traditional standards. His followers allied themselves with gay rights, feminism, and Third World causes. People who knew him said he had the devil in his eyes and deliberately pursued a program he knew would madden everyone. As founder of the diabolically difficult school of the impossible philosophical project labeled deconstructionism, he deliberately used dense, complex, and circular language. He infuriated intellectuals with his insistence that the meaning of a set of words is never fixed and clear, for pointing out language is inherently ambiguous, and that the meaning of a term is never present with the word since its meaning depends on a the contextual complexity of innumerable other words. In other words, Meaning is not in the words themselves but in their relations. Those relations change, words are added and subtracted, their meanings change, and those meanings fluctuate by interpretation. Not even the author knows his meaning.
He was accused of corrupting the youth with nihilism, which he repeatedly denied. Arguably, to honestly confess that we do not really know who we are, or what the true nature of the universe is, or what, if anything, god is, proves a man or woman to be of sounder mind than other people whose ideological certainly renders them idiots inclined to destructiveness. After all, the presumably omnipotent Supreme Being, the absolutely self-motivated or uncaused cause, does not have to have a reason for anything at all, for it precedes all things, hence has no cause to think. Yet human beings like other mobile and mortal creatures have good cause to doubt at length in an ever-changing world; it doubt that moves them to exercise their reasoning power to extend their lives. We depend on our want of life for its pursuit by availing means. The human being stands upright with head in the heavens to survey the world in general. The individual shares that perspective with others and is accordingly a social person; the very I or unity of self-conscious processes is a social process. The absence of clarity and certainty of language for the communication of causes (reasons) moves us to reason and communicate all the more. The fact that there is no perfect system of self-help does not stop us from doing our best to help, and to fill the bookshelves with our findings.
An author’s style may be disparaged by critics who do not like an author’s ideas or do not understand them. Anglo-American professors of English who preferred plain English and wanted everything spelled out for them in short sentences did not like the way Derrida wrote, finding his style repugnant to their sensibilities. Human life is inherently ambiguous hence speech is fraught with internal contradictions that, when carefully examined, layers of multiple meanings, but pointing that out will tend to confuse people. His explanations of his philosophy were murky. Deconstruction, if there is such a thing, is an experience of the impossible, so he should not have said anything at all. His prose is turgid and baffling, with single sentences running into three pages, and footnotes even longer. His obsession with making much of difference by drawing differences is irrational, divisive, and destructive of consensus and social harmony, therefore unethical. Never mind that to recognize, account for and analyze differences of opinion is a rational process and one of the pillars of democracy.
Literary professors with scant wisdom tried to imitate his style and philosophical approach and establish themselves as philosophers with profound insight into human issues. Derrida was especially derided by the finalists, the academic lords who wanted traditional finality in their respective English departments, and he was duly praised by the critical climbers who wanted to play musical chairs with the high chairs, because he allegedly preferred to elevate the many over the few if not the one, the multiple interpretation of meaning over the singular, the one and only meaning of literature and life. After all, if literature and its texts have multiple meanings capable of virtually infinite interpretation, every innovative literary critic has an opportunity to become a noteworthy critic as well as a philosopher of note, and might even preside over his or her own English department some day. What could be more democratic, in the sense of equal opportunity, and rational, in the sense that everyone might have his and her ration or fair share, than the celebration of multiplicity? Did not the eternal rationalist and cockeyed optimist, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz do the same? Did he not reconcile the interests of the many individuals, each standing alone, with their common interest in individuality, in the category of one? Ah, but the lords of English at Cambridge adhered to the absolute, unmitigated truth, and militated against the perverse proposal that Derrida be awarded an honorary degree in 1992.
Derrida died at age 74 of pancreatic cancer. It is very bad manners to curse a man at his funeral, to drop deconstructive bombs on his wake. After all, who is “destructive” in distinction to “deconstructive”? Every human being has its faults in the eyes of others if not in its own, and great beings have more defects than others. Jacques Derrida was the Representative or Great Man of Philosophy ala Victor Cousin, the French eclectic who stole Hegel’s soup, the same soup copiously imbibed by Derrida. Cousin was well aware of the flaws in the great men he studied, yet he said that we must emphasize their positive features to posterity. That being said, we offer this obituary:
Derrida was postmodern philosophy’s rock star; postmodern in this sense, that he was a classical philosopher in neoteric garb, a dandy who dazzled and corrupted the youth with skepticism for the authority we necessarily receive at birth whether we like it or not, doubting dogmatic authors who thought they knew everything in truth, but in truth knew absolutely nothing at all, least of all themselves and their gods; wherefore he continued the Socratic project of putting absolute authority to death, picking its metaphysical corpus apart and laying its authors to rest while mourning their passing into the Impossible—Comte’s Great Being, if you prefer—for the disciples of genuine masters must cut the cord and do their own thing, put their own twists and turns and spins on the same old thing; yea, the disciple devours his yogi and sits on his mat, and for Jacques Derrida that was not a hateful project but a painstaking, loving endeavor that would in time reconcile its unwholesomeness with its holy end, the death that seems impossible after waking up time and time again, hence Jackie had the dreams of a boy, of “dreaming of making love, or being a resistance fighter in the last war blowing up bridges or trains,” until Jacques, in his maturity, wanted “one thing only, and that is to lose myself in the orchestra I would form with my sons, heal, bless and seduce the whole world by playing divinely with my sons, produce with them the world’s ecstasy, their creation – I shall accept dying if dying is to sink slowly, yes, into this beloved music.”
Self Portrait par Moi
PROFESSOR MICHEL ONFRAY v PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON
By David Arthur Walters
It’s up to me to make the souls of my parishioners live, to make them happy and dream that they are immortal, not to kill them. (Miguel de Unamuno, San Manuel Bueno, Martir
I had not heard of Michel Onfray before France became troubled by the Yellow Vest movement. He is reputedly the foremost intellectual of France; that is, outside of its center in Paris, where jealous critics scorn him for the popularity of his enormous production, referring to the university professor as a high school philosopher, which he actually was for many years in Caen before he founded his own anti-Platonic Academy.
First of all, Monsieur Onfray is reputedly an intellectual giant as opposed to a mean member of the intelligentsia. That is, he is an independent, unruly thinker. No, genuine intellectuals would not prostitute their very souls in institutional brothels, or so they might think until the devil offers them great jobs. And they shall read lots of books because they know that, as Onfray says, “words kill,” and they would like to do some killing themselves. That is why we find them whispering into the ears of kings, emperors, dictators, and presidents so that their will may be done as it is in heaven by the immortal god of death at the risk of becoming intelligent lackeys.
Eric Hoffer, an intellectual longshoreman and social critic, pointed out in The Ordeal of Change (1963) that intellectuals have been traditionally aligned with the powers-that-be; they seldom take up the interest of the masses unless they become frustrated or lose their status. Their love for the People is soon lost when irrational people get in the way of their rational plans. Where the exercise of power is concerned, they differ little from their former bosses: pharaohs, kings, presidents, generals, directors, executives, and so on. He observed that, although radical changes are pioneered by intellectuals, they in turn are eventually elbowed out by practical men because action takes precedence over words when something must be done. Nonetheless, men of words can win the battle for souls: “Only they can get around the roadblock which bars our way to the dispirited millions everywhere. There must be general awareness of the vital role the intellectuals have to play in our struggle for survival. And they must be given a limited share in the shaping and execution of policies which they will be called upon to expound and defend.” Enter the parade of poets, philosophers, writers, artists, scientists and professors to make the new policies “heard.”
Everyone scholiast knows that the philosopher’s Sisyphean task was inscribed on a temple at Delphi: Know Thyself. Onfray says to be a philosopher one must psychoanalyze one’s existential self (do not waste money on interminable Freudian analysis).
But one must know what his being is before puzzling his existence into pieces. That is impossible without the perception of someone else who reflects the self that one is besides one’s physical deeds, that is to say, his habit of thinking, the pattern of his symbolic action. Until then, the so-called ‘I’ or Category of One is an abstract universal, nothing but a myth, and a vain, empty one at that, making of every damned fool a god or colossal ego. Mind you that Onfray is careful to deny that his philosophy and self-spelunking psychology is egotistical.
Onfray’s perspective reminded me of Albert Camus, whose language is plainer, seemingly parched by the Algerian sun as if he were suffering from shellshock and inebriated incredulity. Nevertheless, I was not surprised to learn that both were cultivated in humble circumstances, both had suffered Catholicism, and that Onfray eventually wrote a book about Camus’ philosophy, a book that I have yet to obtain in English much to my disappointment because I want to know if Camus, who insisted he was not a so-called Existentialist, was more of a Gironde than a Jacobin, as some internationalists who claim to know the difference say. As far as I am concerned, the many interpretations of Camus’ works are far more pleasing to read than the works themselves. Yet what little I have read of Professor Onfray diverts me from boredom in its subtle attempts to evade the religious trappings of the prevailing death culture or structure of evil vainly designed to avoid evil by denying death. Google translations of his Romanic French into Germanic English preserves a tasty postmodern mélange that is often much ado about nothing in particular, or art for the sake of art conducted with greater ease than romantic Flaubert’s painstaking effort to be realistic in Leon while Colet was with other lovers in Paris.
Onfray’s wordiness would be tedious absent his rhetorical flourishes, his refreshing restatements of old platitudes, his neologisms, and his incisive if not caustic observations of a human nature that he ironically shares with the race and thus constitutes his self-portrait. There is apparently no such thing as writer’s block for him. Like Jean-Paul Sartre, he would not say exactly the same thing twice or quote his past work at great length, yet he still churns out hundreds if not thousands of words daily.
Indeed, he seems to be a “writing machine,” a label my own worst critic flattered me with after I commented at book length on the pictures she had posted on the Internet of herself and her girlfriend embracing nude under a running shower. On the other hand, my best critic, a public official and former activist journalist, flattered me by telling me I was qualified for subsidized “artist housing” because I was a “bullshit artist.” Of course that category of housing was promotional bullshit, and the darling artist featured by the local newspaper, a man who said he had trouble making ends meet, was graced by an inheritance and had an income of over $200,000 per year.
Onfray’s prolixity, in any case, is far greater than mine, perhaps because he has bigger ears than mine. I tried to listen twice as long as I speak after I learned I have two ears and one mouth. That may be a great waste of time because absolutely truth, unlike, for example, the relative voice and face of my fair lady, cannot be recognized if one does not already know it, and much of what we know of truth is premised on nonsense. Still, thinking and writing machines are machines. I opine that our machines fly from death in patterns describing structures of evil erected by society in its denials of death, wherefore Ernest Becker’s books should be made available at airline hubs so that we know where we are going faster than we think.
So independent intellectuals love the genuine wisdom of which the foolish crowd has very little despite a fool’s bestselling book to the contrary. We would be philosophers, and to that end plain language suffices better than fancy talk. Socrates said a philosopher lives to die, preparing for death instead of avoiding it, so that he may welcome it when it comes. The final cause of life is death, yet I am beginning to believe as I near the blankest wall that the purpose is in the interim, in the propagation of life as an end in itself. In other words, and no number of words shall do, the purpose of life is to take the most pleasure in life that can be had without hurting others, to perpetuate life on Earth instead of dwelling on The End that is really nothing. I believe Onfray agrees.
Monsieur Onfray perceives, perhaps with the “I told you so” pleasure of foreknowledge, what appears to be the application of a biblical structure of evil threatening France today, as if it were prophecy because history repeats itself. That awful machine, dubbed the Borg in science fiction, is the European Union, the proverbial leviathan that would twist the independent lives out of European nations. It has the poor souls of France in its stranglehold, and President Emmanuel Macron, whom he suggests is a brutal monster if not Satan himself, would be its great dragon king in the form of a bronze oven called Moloch, an oven idolized to preside over the sacrificial holocaust of untold millions of souls. Horror of horrors, for Cronus could do no worse with his children in time, devouring them en masse on suitable occasions.
Of course we might think there is no such thing as metaphysical entities in themselves, or gods for that matter, nor that there is there a universal god, the one-god expected to save chosen members of mankind; that is, the omnipotent hence masculine God religious atheists deny although they, as Camus noted, pray to Him in dire emergencies. Western culture is Judeo-Christian, nevertheless, so we forgive atheists for their references to God, who would not be good without Satan, the angel who loves him the most.
In fact, Onfray advises us in A Hedonist Manifesto – The Power to Exist, to take an inventory of what is left of the Judeo-Christian in our daily lives. He correctly says that it is an illusion that Christianity, a punitive religion of redemption through endless guilt and suffering, is waning. In fact he says its immorality has crowded our prisons and mental hospitals with inmates, filled the cemeteries with corpses, and has cursed humankind with Nazi death camps, Stalinist Gulags, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, terrorism, Western fascism, and Eastern communism. So let us do the virtually impossible: eschew the fictions and fables, the ethics of heroes and saints of false religions; let us adopt the true philosophy, an atheism that denies the Torah, New Testament, and Koran in favor of the revolutionary enlightenment of scientific reason. Let’s abandon the ethics of heroes and saints and follow the ethics of the superlative Western sage. Well said, Monsieur, yet you know why that will never happen, because man may be wise but happens to be an animal at heart.
The sage would no doubt be the author who, like Onfray, wisely follows in the footsteps of his atheistic, materialist, existentialist predecessors. The true philosopher must put individual existence before the “being” of essential social constructs, so that the individual is rendered responsible for knowing that it is a body with a thinking brain, and, furthermore, that what we call the “I” is neuronal.
Monsieur Onfray recently made much of President Emmanuel Macron’s statement that he, Macron, is the product of a brutish history, and we could do the same by elaborating at length on Onfray’s reference to the idealist notion that his philosophy is pig philosophy, but that would be rude. He describes his liberal project, apparently unable to rid himself entirely of Judeo-Christian philosophy because, after all, the first existentialists were Jews to whom the unknown deity was so unknown it was anathema to even pronounce the name.
Atheists, we are informed, would give bodily existence priority over destructive abstract universals:
“They refuse to turn pain and suffering into paths to knowledge and personal redemption. They propose pleasure, enjoyment, the common good, and gladly accepted contracts. They take control of their bodies and don’t hate them. They master their passions and impulses, desires and emotions, instead of brutally extirpating them. What is the aspiration of the Epicurean project? The pure pleasure of existing: a project that is always welcome.”
We may imagine therefore that we are mental fields with identities determined by various circumstances and the rather mystical power of self-determination called Will. Indeed, our sage declares that I have the power to fashion myself. My attempts to exercise that power have given me considerable pain, and I feel guilty for reclining instead. One trainer tells me, “No pain, no gain,” and the other says, “Don’t do it if it hurts.”
“What should we endeavor to produce?” Onfray asks, and answers, “An I, a Me, a radical Subjectivity, a singular identity, an individual reality, a proper person, a noteworthy style, a unique force, an impressive strength, a comet tracing an untraveled path, an energy making its way down a luminous passage though the chaos of the cosmos, a beautiful individuality, a temperament, a character. We don’t have to aspire to a masterpiece or aim for perfection—of the genius, the hero, or the saint; we should just reach out for an insight that will give us a sovereignty we did not previously know.”
Of course we should use the Reason of the Enlightenment as our guide to the happiness of the greatest number. Is that the Reason idolized in churches during the Revolution? That Reason is an Ideal, a Being, the very sort of nonsensical nothing that Onfray would evade for our own good, wherefore his argument is beheaded, first of all, by the Absurd. What we naturally love the most is power, and politics is the distribution of that power. Political reasoning justifies the beastly drives. The concept of Reason is a social construct; according to whose reasons or causes, and what school of reasoning should I act? Should I read books on logic after abandoning Christian Logos, and remake myself according to Onfray’s reasoning or President Macron’s reasoning?
The problem with reason is human nature. Reasoning is all too often the rationalization of the irrational urges of the beast within. We want to do something, so we do it in the name of reason, and say our conduct is logical. Logic exposes faults in the process, the story, but what is logical is not necessarily true to factual reality, so the effect we want from the cause does not follow. Scientific reason or ideology, the science of ideas, may be helpful in that regard, but politics, the distribution of the absolute power everyone would like to have alone in order to live forever without resistance, is ultimately destructive hence logically absurd.
No doubt Onfray believes that the ‘Reason’ of the Enlightenment, the Light of Reason, has served humankind well inasmuch as it has purportedly liberated the duly educated man from irrational superstitions and prejudices and autocrats. Conservatives may disagree, and some independent intellectuals believe our scientific ideology is idiotology, a philosophy that has replaced theology, that we are plagued by the same daemons within as always, given different names. Onfray may not escape the daemons however fervently he denies their existence, so he might as well refer to such mythical entities and Moloch, Satan, God and the like, and excuse himself by saying the names are merely metaphorical. He probably has perused Antonio Rosmini’s reasoning on this subject and appreciates his declarations that:
“It is clear that the essence of being cannot be known through any other knowledge but through itself. The essence of being, therefore, is knowable in and through itself, and is the means whereby we know all other things. It is, therefore, the Light of Reason. From this point of view we say that the idea of being is innate, and that it is the form of intelligence.” And. “Human reason has only one Form, which I call the Form of Truth. Ideology is the science of ideas. Ideas are illuminated in the Light of Reason. That reason is Being.” So methinks the Reason of the Enlightenment is really the Supreme Being when idealism is realism.
A man enlightened by reason is supposedly not a brute. President Macron, presently confronted by the Yellow Vests, a mass protest of workers wearing yellow traffic emergency vests, purportedly implied that he is a brute when he told the press on 13 February 2018 that he is the fruit of a brutal form of history, a literary faux pas our Gaulish philosophe, Monsieur Onfray, pointed out in a polemical brief entitled ‘The Brute,’ now being romantically hailed as one of the most eloquent tracts ever written in the French language. That is in addition to other remarkable pronouncements he has made casting the president as a Molochian monster. To be fair, President Macron, well educated by his fair lady, Brigitte, was probably referring to another great principle of the Enlightenment, namely Progress, and meant to say his enlightenment is historical, something every Marxist would understand.
Never mind. Onfray claims that Macron, a student of Machiavelli, does not seek to maintain order but to repress liberal reforms. Wherefore ‘Monstrous’ Macron is virtually a devil incarnate although not as smart as Satan because he made snide remarks, sneered at the poor, and failed to corrupt them up front for appeasements that would soon be wiped out with inflation.
You see, animals are not stupid. The brutish, ‘Jupiter’ Macron, is both lion and fox, in keeping with Machiavelli’s formula for becoming a successful prince.
“The thought of Macron, too complex to be really understood, will enter the minds of citizens faster with the help of flash balls. At the behest of Jupiter’s reason, power breaks teeth, breaks bones, lets out eyes from their sockets, shatters jaws, tears out hands, handicaps, invalidates, fractures, hurts. Eleven people died so far. This armed response illustrates the lion’s share that Machiavelli tells us that with that of the fox, they share the political cake.”
He refers to Machiavelli’s recommendation that, “A prince being thus obliged to know well how to act as a beast must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from snares, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize snares, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those that wish to be only lions do not understand this. Therefore a prudent ruler ought not to keep faith when by doing so it would be against his interest, and when the reasons which made him bind himself no longer exist. If men were all good, this precept would not be a good one; but as they are bad, and would not observe their faith with you, so you are not bound to keep faith with them…. Those that have been best able to imitate the fox have succeeded best. But it is necessary to be able to disguise this character well, and to be a great feigner and dissembler.”
Monsieur Onfray attended a Catholic boarding school he did not like yet he obviously learned to sympathize with the poor and oppressed; he does not like seeing the common people brutalized by the power elite, now represented by The Brute. His listing of the victims of the brutish government is heartrending; we wonder why the United Nations did not intervene with troops after its human rights experts denounced the oppressive police tactics employed against the Yellow Vests; to wit: “Since the start of the yellow vest protest movement in November 2018, we have received serious allegations of excessive use of force. More than 1,700 people have been injured as a result of the protests across the country,” the experts said. “The restrictions on rights have also resulted in a high number of arrests and detentions, searches and confiscations of demonstrators’ possessions, and serious injuries have been caused by a disproportionate use of so-called ‘non-lethal’ weapons like grenades and defensive bullets or ‘flash-balls’.”
Onfray himself deplores “the violence of this Maastrichtian [EU] state against single women, single mothers, widows with amputated retirement pensions, women forced to rent their uterus for a mercenary sperm, victims of conjugal violence arising from poverty, young boys or girls who prostitute themselves to pay for their studies; the violence of this Maastrichtian state over the rural private day after day of the public service that their indirect taxes finance yet; the violence of this Maastrichtian state over the peasants who hang themselves every day because the ecologist profession of faith of the urban Maastrichtians does not clutter with ecology when it comes to the plate of the French that they fill with meat damaged, toxic products, carcinogenic chemistry, food from the end of the planet without caring for the trace carbon and which can even be organic; the violence of this Maastrichtian state on the generations of children cretinized by a school that has ceased to be republican and which leaves to the girls and sons of the possibility to get out not thanks to their talents, but with the help from the piston of their well-born families; the violence of this Maastrichtian state which has proletarianized young people whose only hope is the security of employment of the police, the gendarme, the soldier or the prison guard and whose job is to manage through legal violence the waste from the liberal system; the violence of this Maastrichtian state on the small bosses, the tradesmen, the craftsmen who ignore the holidays, the leisure, the weekends, the outings – the violence there, yes, was the first violence. These are the ones that did not generate violence, but just a first protest against the increase of fuel.”
Fuel costs around $5.50 gallon in France. That is very expensive for low paid workers who have been pushed out of the expensive metropolitan centers into outlying areas and who must therefore drive to work if public transportation is unavailable, not to mention the high freight cost to distribute products, high cost of utilities and so on. That and more, including taxes associated with membership in the European Union have made it difficult for hundreds of thousands of people to make ends meet. It is so bad according to press reports that some families have to huddle for warmth in one room under a single light bulb. Yes, small farmers are reportedly committing suicide. Meanwhile the government is doling out money to emigrants, some of whom are living high off the hog in nice quarters. So people are madder than hell.
The proximate cause of the Yellow Vest mass movement was an increase in the gas tax intended to fund climate change mitigation programs, wherefore Monsieur Onfray argues that Articles 13 and 14 of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen now embedded in the current Constitution specifically provide citizens with a right to determine for themselves whether taxes are needed, to consent to them, and to make sure the burden is distributed according to their ability to pay them. Some members of the economic class concerned here, mostly white, lower middle class workers, are angry with the elected representatives and therefore want to exercise their right for themselves, that is, directly. They have no power to initiate referendums under the Constitution, wherefore they would have the president or parliament amend the Constitution to provide the right of initiative.
Monsieur Onfray has apparently forgotten to mention Article 12, a provision that certainly appertains to the police brutality he claims is employed by the President of the Rich to suppress the poor:
“The guarantee of the rights of man and citizen requires a public force; this force then is instituted for the advantage of all and not for the personal benefit of those to whom it is entrusted.”
President Macron suggests that he may be amenable to the provision of limited direct democracy, but claims the crowd is not wise enough to, for example, manage the national budget. He has called what may be a sort of constitutional convention in a series of national debates around the country to determine what measures might be put forward for referendum. Monsieur Onfray, however, claims the national debates are just perfume for the monster’s campaign to lead the European Union. The representative of evil, of capitalism run rampant, is merely exploiting the crisis for his own personal good and that of the “Masstrichtian camp,” a communistic allusion to the 1992 Maastricht Treaty signed by members of the European Community to further European economic cooperation into a political confederation.
From Monsieur Onfray’s perspective as an indoctrinated materialist, the idealistic president of France is a reactionary phony and a liar. The debate is no debate at all because it terms are preconceived to arrive at foregone conclusions. Monster Macron, although a brute, is well versed in the methodology of the Greek sophists, and he is using empty rhetoric to pull the wool over the eyes of the ignorant, credulous masses in need of a thorough indoctrination in historical materialism, in anti-idealistic atheism, so the poor will not be deluded like Jesus into suffering the rich in the name of a non-existent god. Instead they shall take pleasure in self-serving hedonism. They shall be governed by epicures who shall determine what is most tasty.
As for the billions of Euros in concessions made to labor by the so-called President of the Rich aka King of the Bourgeoisie, they are mere “crumbs,” a favorite term of communist polemicists. And never mind the mainstream media. Its journalists are the power elite’s running dogs. What you see on television is really fake news, propaganda to perpetuate the ruling order it is beholden to. The audience is so untethered from reality that it perceives whatever appears in fabricated virtual reality as truth. President Trump over in America does not even bother to read much because he can please his fawning base by feeding Fox news with outrageous lies and taking the advice of his favorite conservative talk show host.
Monsieur Onfray claims that the President and his ministers fed mainstream media with false propaganda, casting the Yellow Vests as a motley crowd of racists, homophobes, anti-Semites, anarchists, not to mention the Anonymous. Brown shirts, black shirts, yellow vests: it makes no difference. As a matter of fact, they were there in small numbers to take advantage of the situation, just as political ideologues, philosophes, armchair journalists, professors, and other intellectual people flocked to the media outlets to hover over the movement. The Yellow Vest movement, we know, is not tightly organized and lacks a charismatic Mussolini, wherefore it is destined to peter out with modest gains to the cause. Some of its members tried to police the demonstrations, but gave way to the “wreckers,” who use tried and proven techniques of rioting to provoke the police, into overreacting and appearing as brutes.
Violence breeds violence: the brute in almost everyone becomes inflamed; nice people assault gendarmes, the insult is returned, and someone trying to get to work to make a living gets mad and drives his car into the crowd. Fortunately, few people have thus far been hurt in comparison to the thousands lost in China during the Tiananmen demonstration. Even so, pots like to call kettles black, and the rhetoric of Monsieur Onfray, who professes non-violence, projecting all the blame for the violence on the government, and particularly on President Macron, may serve, in the minds of the participants, to justify further outrages, for, as he says, “Words kill.” After all, what is going on here, he says, is “populicide,” the slaughter or massacre of innocents, so presumably righteous people have the right to take up arms in self-defense. The president, then, is a murderer, in a manner of speaking, and it shall be an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. At least he has, with the help of the infernal Masstrichtian press that amplified his vilifications, murdered the souls of hundreds of thousands of poor working people, has rendered them zombies, wage slaves, that is, if they are lucky to have work instead of welfare.
Words from Monster Macron’s mouth are not merely bullshit. They are, of course, “symbolic violence” in the ears of people who disagree with him, opines Monsieur Onfray, and, what’s more, they are warmongering slaps in the face! Imagine being told that you do not know what is going on, and your ideas of reform are worthless because true reform is not a child’s play! And, he suggests without any evidence that agent provocateurs were at work for the government to provoke the crowd so gendarmes could beat the hell out of people, engage in murderous populicide, and terrorize the survivors into not coming back the next weekend. This is enough to cause some people to reach for their weapons in self-defense, to say that the best defense is an offense. But of course he does not recommend violence. It is best for a hedonist to refrain from violence if he would please himself for long, or for an epicure to retire to a utopian commune to appreciate the finest things of life instead of gorging oneself with red meat, or, better yet, to escape from reality by writing philosophical books because the best thing to do about something is nothing when the conclusion is ordained from the beginning: Never mind the brutal state: it will wither away one day, and people will live happily ever after, at least until a comet destroys Earth before humankind inhabits other planets.
Our philosophy professor is correct when he says the police overreacted, that its means were brutal in comparison to the method taken to quell violent rioters in 2005, and that the “child king” failed to immediately take appropriate action when the movement began. But he is incorrect when he says the President is a liar if he says he is not personally responsible for injuries and deaths, because, in fact, he is the head of state, and as such he is a murderer. The brute is him, sayeth Onfray. Do not blame his ministers entirely for the decisions made, for he chose the repression; each wound inflicted is his fault. He is a perfect scapegoat.
My first thought when I saw the videos of the demonstrations was, “Why are the gendarmes tear gassing demonstrators and shooting at them with flash balls and trapping them in side streets to beat them up when they were just standing still or walking peacefully on the Champs-Élysee? The way this is going pleases the anarchists.”
There did not seem to be any rules of engagement except to engage the protestors in one way or another just to be doing something. Why so much tear gas? Tear gas can seriously damage the lungs, and is outlawed in war. Why the flash balls? There are other devices that disintegrate on impact, and there are water cannon. Why are they shooting people in the head with flash balls?
Not that I am a “bleeding heart liberal.” In fact, I was in Chicago with my family during the great blizzard, and when Mayor Daly said “Shoot looters to kill,” I agreed that shooting criminals after warning them was good policy. And I would not have cried out loud except for the loss to relatives if the French police shot wreckers engaged in destruction of property, looting of shops, and endangering the public. Of course that may be bad policy since that may enrage a crowd to overwhelm the police, but I am not a politician.
My personal opinion was not that some monster named Macron, in collusion with the EU government, had ordered his minister to have the police terrorize the peaceful demonstrators in order to boost his aristocratic ego, perhaps become a virtual president of a United States of Europe, and cause dissidents to cringe and go home with tails between the legs. Imagine, what was going on behind the scenes? Was a communist plot detected and a coup feared?
More likely, what we saw was the result of inexperience, bad training of the rank and file, and outmoded police methodology. More likely, the government learned from the experience. More likely, Monsieur Macron is not as arrogant as he looked in the beginning, and that he and his cabinet and Brigitte loved the French in French people well enough to listen to people and provide billions in relief to everyone concerned. That relief is not as crummy as the power-hungry leftists would have it. The whole thing is a blow to the economy at the wrong time, just as the UK, which contracted nationalism measles, might exit the EU.
On the one hand, Onfray, whom we hope is a not a classic cynic or someone who has little faith in the value in the salvational value of the artificial or idealized cultures of man hence would presumably take pleasure in living like a dog under the porch and fornicating at will in public, portrays the President as being as clever as Satan. But on the other hand he mocks him for not being clever, that is, for not being as cynical as Pompidou back in May ’68.
He credits Pompidou with ending the disturbance by employing intermediate bodies with a political cynicism should have inspired Monsieur Macron: union and government officials colluded in meetings culminating in the Grenelle Accords with spectacular salary increase, increase of the unprecedented minimum wage, reduction of the weekly working time, expansion of the right to organize, a boost to family allowances, an increase in the benefits offered to the elderly, payment of strike days, lower user fees for social security, knowing very well that inflation would offset these gains a few years later.
Well, yes, it would behoove the President of France, that is, if he would be a great man instead of a diacritical mark over a vowel in French history, to promote the provision of such relief as can be had within reason, and that is what he is doing albeit he was late in the uptake. Yes, he knows that inflation might wipe out those gains, especially if more money is printed to foster socialism. As an investment banker he knows that inflation tends to reduce the value of debt, which can be a very bad thing for investors. So I suppose he is cynical enough about the competitive nature of man to try to strike a compromise that might keep the people on the Middle Way, namely, the wisest path, perhaps a yellow or gold path that will widen the middle economic class and keep people fat enough to stay off the warpath.
As for May ’68, I must attend Monsieur Onfray’s class, because I thought it was actually Charles de Gaulle who saved France from revolution and not Pompidou’s “cynicism.” The great general was unpopular at the time, but when he disappeared to a military compound in German and his wife secured the family jewels, he gave the people the classic choice between order and chaos: the overwhelming number of people chose order and went back to work.
I expect the French people will most likely choose order today. Reforms are needed. People have their liberties and they are indeed suffering liberally. But they are not eating grass and rotten bread filled with sawdust and ground up bones of people starved to death. Would be leaders of the Yellow Vest movement are at odds with one another, and the gentler ones, the ladies, are being insulted and threatened as the movement is boiled down to its diehards. The movement does not have the students and the unions. It does not have a Mussolini and philosophers to fashion a popular political platform.
May revolution and war be forgone although militants advocate it, reasoning that a conflict is needed to keep the wheel of progress rolling forward. It would annihilate everyone in its path until total destruction is accomplished. May heaven forbid—the atheists would have their heaven on Earth. Herr Hegel the idealist was so shocked by the horrors of the Terror on French soil that he withdrew into the logical absurdity of dialectics. I prefer Madame Beauvoir’s ambiguities, but dialectic will do provided it is limited to pacific argument and constitutes rolling compromises.
The tendency of the progress of social organization is to growth and consolidation into a highly organized federal world or international global order tolerant of diverse cultures, states, and nations. That order is socialist, not the corporate board socialism of the few but the socialism of the many. Einstein was correct when he characterized nationalism as virus, a contagious disease. The West is suffering an outbreak of this disease. The EU may collapse. The United States of America, an indissoluble union of states forged in civil war with the help of French libertarians, has lost its bearing in truth. Lacking a vaccine, billions may die of the plague, but we think not because a socialist backlash is mounting.
The vaccine is the right balance of freedom in order. Yes, man must have matter, the ground or hypostasis, not to crawl upon but to stand erect upon with his head in heaven. If Monsieur Onfray were correct in his perception that the government of France is repressing people so they may not stand up for their rights, forcing them to crawl on their knees for crumbs or be imprisoned or liquidated, I would congratulate the intellectual giant for his eloquence. I refrain from doing so for now to see the effect of his words, whether they incite violence or motivate peaceful reform.
Shorn of its rhetorical ornaments and sophistries, his philosophy appears to be molded by communist propaganda of the pacifist sort. We might say, to please the French, that it is a secularized French version of resentment, namely, ressentiment, a silent resentment that frustrated peoples have towards superiors whom they blame for their predicament yet do nothing about it whine, remaining submissive while feigning moral superiority.
I agree with the man on many things, for he is like me whether we like each other or not. I agree the most with his pronouncement that:
“The self must have a healthy relationship to itself if it is going to relate well with others. An identity that is either missing or weak prohibits any kind of ethics. Only the force of an I authorizes the mobilization of morality.”
Whom do we hate the most when we hate the others, and whom do we love the most when we love the others? Hypocrisy is the underlying crisis between our ideals and realities. We hate because we love something better. Confess and forgive the beast, have faith in your higher self, hope for the best, and you shall have charity.
Miami Beach February 2019
IS FRANCE DOOMED?
By David Arthur Walters
18 December 2018
Once upon a time, when ‘France’ stood for ‘freedom’, France enlightened the world, but Lady Liberty, who led peoples from rule by few towards rule by many, has lost her luster of late. In fact she is despondent and at times hysterical.
A mere year ago we expected France to lead a Europe out of the darkness into enlightened unity, but now the Frankish masses complain they are being smothered by immigrants and strangled by taxes. This has been going on for some time, and they cannot stand it anymore. They just want to be French, again, and they would burn their house down rather than suffer another day in the vices of a soi disant union. One thing they do not want is the alienating advice of the predatory capitalist elite represented by the current government.
Britain, who once ruled the seas, still prefers the more conservative English Enlightenment to the liberal French Enlightenment, wherefore she would exit the European Union, ungracefully if necessary. She is not the only one. Nationalist dissonance resounds in every state today, even across the pond in the United States. Disunion, disintegration, dissolution is the tendency of the populaces unwilling to pay the purportedly temporary price of consolidation for long-term benefits in the Promised Land.
We once beheld France for the sake of Progress. Now we behold her regression. Let it be a warning to the world. She is dispirited, depressed, her countenance has a deathly pallor. It is as if she lives just to die, weary of the productive span between birth and death. Indeed, the metaphysical substance of France is decaying like the nearly spoiled, discounted meat the poor housewife brings home from the market to keep frozen until she cooks it over a trash fire to save electricity and serves it to her family, who wear several layers of clothes or are wrapped in blankets under a single light bulb at the dinner table.
No, the bread of life is not yet blackened and filled with sawdust, but it is moldy enough for hallucinations. We see thousands of people milling in the streets with yellow traffic vests, provoked to madness by anarchists and police.
The globalists have a rational argument that the human race would stabilize and prosper economically if only it were singularly incorporated. Yet we have good reason to suspect that Totalitaria is bound to fail. Everyone has a rebel within, a fact that advances and protects the race from total disaster. We are identified by how we passively and actively react to circumstances. We need our differences and mutual identifications to sustain life. Variety is so dearly wanted because it is the spice of life.
Fortunately for our palates, the French are good with spices. Various spices were offered to the gods in prehistoric times. Today many French households cannot afford meat, let alone spices. Such luxuries are commonplace, however, in the palaces, mansions, and restaurants of the neo-nobility, the effete snobs who believe their net worth measures their virtue.
Of course that phenomenon is not peculiar to the French elite. An economic class is not an ethical class. We all know high class people who are no better than low class people. We know members of the ruling class who have risen like scum to the top of the pond yet are snobs who think they are better than everyone else. They are most despised in France, and not only by communists.
Times are certainly tough for many French people. Still things are not as bad as they seem, and the definition of bad is relative. Camille, a highly educated, attractive woman in her forties, suffers because she has to pay $6 or more for a gallon of gas. She is a good woman, kind at heart, a conservative woman in the sense that she does not think like a man. She has studied and worked hard for decades, winding up single. The garage at her home outside of Paris has no electric outlet. She also suffers property taxes and maintenance fees. She cannot afford to go out and socialize. No, she cannot make ends meet and has to borrow from her parents although she earns slightly above the national median income. She might have to sell the home and move in with her parents. France is so depressing lately given the killer taxes and its black mood that she thinks of death. Yes, she is very wealthy compared to a Cro-Magnon woman, but human wants have become needs, so a cave and fire will not do. Of course those of us who pay $2.50 a gallon of gas certainly sympathize with her. On the other hand, there are many of us in the United States, the greatest superpower and wealthiest nation in the world, who think she is lucky to even have a car, a home, a garage, parents who can afford to take her in if need be, a responsible job, and her good looks. An ambitious single American woman might even scoff at her, and tell her she does not need a husband, that she should strive to become CEO of Google instead of crying in her champagne, but she would not scoff if she understood the traditionally misogynist politics of France.
Hundreds of thousands of people in France below the median income are even worse off, and they do not want to take it anymore, so they took to the streets and the highways, and they are damaging the economy. The concessions made by the government to quell the unrest will cost billions, but pessimist pundits who lust for blood call them “crumbs,” “empty talk,” “mere words.” Many members of the upper middle class honk their horns approvingly, and even a few members of the elite are sympathetic. That is a good sign for reform. However, all too many people would rather have a revolution than billions in concessions and decades of muddling; they would fain die in the revolutionary process rather than continue with a material life they have learned to hate because there is never enough stuff to consume. Mind you that it is not the stuff they really want. The material concessions given are bound to be insufficient. They want so many different things that it is hard to say what they want. Some do not even know. That was a phenomenon recorded by historians in previous revolutions: people were rioting, unsure of what they wanted except blood, perhaps to see the severed head of a rich man on a pike or in a bucket at the guillotine.
The catholic spirit seems to be lacking today. Religion used to take care of that. Not anymore. It is unfair, however, to lay the blame on a dearth of spirit, for the anarchic spirit of rebellion is alive and well. That much is instinctive. So law and order, or what we call freedom in order, must prevail or many shall die. But whose law and order? Whose freedom? Are we to have primitive equality or predatory hierarchy? The French police called out to keep order during the riots are weary and emotionally disturbed. They contributed to the rioting by abusing people with baton charges, tear gas, water cannon, and hard rubber balls. The demonstrators were just milling around aimlessly. It may have been better to let them demonstrate, hand out marijuana, pipe in some music, yet use lethal force on vandals and looters.
But never mind, the police were just following orders, and now they want their fair share of the Yellow Vest spoils in the form of a bonus, but a bonus might not be enough. You see, they have causes in common with the Yellow Vests, and at this juncture nothing is enough, or only nothing is enough if the death instinct is in play to prove that the purpose of life is death of the individual to preserve the species. If this irrational movement ran the usual French course, the gendarmes and National Guard would ultimately side with their own people, that is, the working masses who lack the means of production, as opposed to the bourgeoisie who are eating from fine plates. In that event, the government would fall and not be replaced until a new constitution is written, perchance for the National Socialist Democracy of France. So France, which the Polish minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, mocked as the “sick man of Europe,” is indeed leading Europe, and perhaps not in a direction wanted by the investment bankers, but to another round of revolution and war, perhaps even a world war between rich and poor instead of between the rich and rich.
An apocalypse, an uncovering of the horrors of human nature, is possible. The “division” being experienced among peoples of several nations is between Love and Strife, Eros and Thanatos, Life and Death. Prophecies of doom are made so that people can make sure everything possible is done to forestall doom, for doom is the judgement of Dom, and surely the unrighteous will be damned to hell unless they mend their ways.
CRITICAL MASS AND THE YELLOW VEST UNREST
by David Arthur Walters
France is in the grips of a sort of mass hysteria, a contagion spread by mass media, the factions of which accuse one another of engaging in false and fake news, the cause of which is really the confusion of opinions, a confusion that can only be cleared up by a perspicacious master who can get out ahead of the issues and lead instead of be led.
It is with that in mind that I consulted Richard Wilhelm’s translation of the Book of Changes (I Ching) as to the fate of the Yellow Vest Unrest, a social episode in France of tremendous import for the world since France is the source of many of its leading political ideas, not to mention the soft culture that is still ranked as most influential.
I left sorting the yarrow stalks to Chinese sages and tossed the coins in the easy Western fashion, which returned the 28th hexagram, Critical Mass (Ta Kuo), Preponderance of the Great, with lines changing in the third and fourth places. I sent along this reference to President Emmanuel Macron late last evening in hopes that he would consider it during the preparation of his widely anticipated speech today.
We see that the hexagram represents a sagging ridgepole that is so heavy in the middle and weak on the ends that it is about to break and bring the structure down.
Revolution, however, is not to be feared because the weight is on the center of gravity.
A great person can brace the ridgepole so the roof does not collapse. He can do so by taking responsibility and befriending people of the lower ranks, and acting quickly.
On the other hand, if a leader misuses his connections to obtain power and income, accepts no advice from others, and insists on plowing ahead instead of rescuing the whole people, his program will surely fail and he will be duly humiliated.
The Commentaries on this hexagram indicate that there is a want of nourishment without which the people cannot get ahead,
Now some pundits in France see a similarity in the French Revolution of 1789 to the Yellow Vest Unrest of 2018 because the middle class, particularly the lower middle class, are purportedly being starved by high taxes and benefit cuts.
One must nonetheless consult history to discover that the starvation was far less metaphorical in the years of drought and deprivation before the 1789 revolt led by the Middle Class and dissident nobles. The dearth then was such that people were eating bread spoiled black, bread often filled with bone meal from bones dug up at the cemeteries.
Today, although we do not deny that many people are squeezed by inappropriate economic policies based on the natural greed of the bulging belly bourgeoisie (BBB). we cannot help noticing that many people who have taken off work, or who are supported by unemployment benefits to wear yellow vests, are overweight.
One advantage, and it has it drawbacks, of the parliamentary system is that the government can be changed when confidence is lost in it. The structure itself would remain.
President Macron’s party has the strength between right and left ends, the strength referred to in the Book of Changes. Yet he and his government is vulnerable. He may even choose to resign.
Mister President is cast as the devil already. But who will replace him? Would you replace him? What would you do? Would you again vote for other representatives and a president with high hopes that things would change, when they have not changed before?
The ridgepole has been sagging for decades, so now we have a crisis. Should we burn down our own house? Should we write a new constitution, and call our country the Sixth Republic? Or should it be the First Democracy of France?
History provides us with some guidelines. The commentary to the Ta Kuo hexagram puts it into context with this Sequence:
“Without provision of nourishment one cannot move; hence there follows the hexagram of Preponderance of the Great.”
Here we have the main issue the lack of nourishment. But bread is not the only kind of food, although we might consecrate it so that it embodies the spirit of humankind associated with love and the ability to reason on experience and pass wisdom down through the generations.
No, we may be down to using one light bulb to save on electricity, but our bread is not black, we are not grinding the bones of our ancestors up or using sawdust to make our bread fill our bellies. What we may want in this predicament is spiritual sustenance, and the French do have a romantic reputation for spiritual progress. Where are they?
Hexagram 28 represents wood under the lake, gentleness under joy. The Commentary speculates on the ancient source of the symbolic meaning of the wood.
People used to cover up the dead with brush and leave them to decompose. Eventually they used the wood to build coffins for the dead, and they created definite rituals honoring ancestors, including leaving food out for them. This is the beginning of what we call history, and our history if nothing else is the history of the spiritual progress of civilization. Feed the hungry spirit and you shall have plenty of food for the stomach.
We must engage in the great conversation, sort out the confusion of ideas, and select the best ones to approach the realization of our highest ideals, those which are inclusive of the best possible outcomes. They will not be achieved overnight. Yet immediate steps must be taken or we shall get nowhere.
The changing lines of Hexagram 28 leave us with Hexagram 29, K’an. That is the future. Think upon it
Miami Beach 9 December 2018
IS A MACRON A GREAT MAN OR A DIACRITICAL MARK?
By David Arthur Walters
30 November 2018
President Emmanuel Macron of France has been characterized by mainstream media, on the one hand, as charismatic, handsome, and articulate, and, on the other hand, as arrogant, imperious, and condescending. Is he a great man or a mere diacritical mark over a vowel in French history?
Charisma is the key to transformative leadership, and charisma, like prestige, depends on virtually miraculous deeds, not on good looks and sophistry, and it may be appreciated all the more when the man is arrogant, imperious and condescending as people bask in the reflected glory of his deeds. When success turns to failure, charisma is lost forthwith, and the man had better retire before he is utterly disgraced.
The fact that Macron was an investment banker and bureaucrat and is now an elected politician tends to disqualify him from punctuating world history with marvelous deeds although not necessarily so. Thus far he has wasted public money on expensive dishware and talked the liberal talk of the upper bourgeoisie, casting himself as a president of the rich and a wannabe king. He condemns welfare fraud and labor unions, makes snide remarks to workers who complain of unemployment, and proposes tax cuts for the wealthy and refers to their tax evasions as “fiscal optimizations.”
Yet the debonair French president has been quite charming on the international stage. He certainly used his charm to make a fool out of President Trump, the epitome of vulgar populism in America, going so far as to pat him on the knee, and the intellectual world is grateful for that.
Macron was never popular in France, where he was portrayed as leading a grand march to victory over populist foes. Elected as the least of several evils on the left-right political spectrum, he was so out of touch with the travails of labor that riots were incited by his gas tax hike to save the climate. Eighty-percent of the population, almost everyone who works or wants work, sympathized with the hordes of demonstrators wearing emergency yellow jackets. Wherefore the suave gentleman in his fine suit and shiny shoes has lately been dubbed “toxic.”
That does not mean Macron will never be a great man. He is naïve and may yet prove blessed by the gods. Great men, like gods, make big mistakes, and are accordingly defamed, but their goods exceed their evils in the final analysis, when the universe implodes to expand yet again from nothing, for nothing and only nothing is perfect.
Victor Cousin, the French philosopher who laid the foundation for the French and American education systems, developed a great man theory from his studies of history, which convinced him that there were more great men among philosophers than elsewhere.
“The fundamental rule of philosophy,” declared Cousin, “in regard to great men is to do as humanity does… to neglect the description of weaknesses inherent in their individuality and which have perished with it… to fasten itself upon the great things which they have done, which have served humanity, and which still endure in the memories of men… to search out what has given them power and glory, namely, the idea they represent, and their intimate relation with the spirit of their times and their nation….”
Macron’s big mistake has been his treatment of ordinary workers, the concrete foundation that upholds his elitist regime on the top floors.
Gaulish workers have not forgotten the socialist Principles of ’89 the aristocracy would monopolize for themselves. Gauls have real revolution in their blood, and are not inclined to bend over as far their reformist cousins in America do in hopes of getting rich quick themselves. Macron sympathized with the wage slaves after the Yellow Jacket protests, but they require more than fancy talk, and soon. Although they are not yet forced to buy sawdust flour or rotting bread, they are not prepared to wait for scraps to trickle down from the dinner table Macron has laid out for capitalists eager to cheapen labor until workers are desperate enough to work for a pittance.
The liberal conservatives, in the interest of conserving the lion’s share of the world’s wealth, persuaded themselves that France was impeding progress with its mixed economy. A highly regulated labor market with generous social benefits supported by high taxes simply would not suffice for global prosperity.
One might imagine that the typical French worker was rendered lazy and incompetent, fat, dumb and happy by short working hours, long holidays, extended vacations, free medical care, cheap bread, discounted fine wine and cheese. That would be the ideal state as far as lazy Chinese emperors of yore were concerned as they changed palaces every month, for then they could rule by doing nothing except collect taxes. Such is not the case in France, where many thousands of honest workers have been taxed into the red, and are beginning to thirst for blood.
The same thing said about the French market was once said about the German mixed market, which was expected to collapse after the Wall came down, absorbing millions of poor people into the democratic federal republic, yet it has prospered, wages are high, and the generous social benefits persist. Is that because Germany is a hog, or are the Germans more efficient? Could it be a question of mental attitude? Should the French language become more guttural and less slurred, impressionistic and romantic?
Perhaps France needs an upgraded Napoleon I or Napoleon III or Charles de Gaulle to prosper the economy and restore prestige to France. The quest for glory and the hubris of great men toppled their empires, so it is a wonder that the charisma of the first Napoleon still persists while that of the third was lost with the German victory. The third deserves celebration because Napoleon III recognized the worth of labor and advanced the industrial revolution.
Hail Caesar! France loves strong military leaders. General de Gaulle was not an imperialist although he expected France, made great again, to be the European leader as a nation state, not as a member of a European union. He rejected U.S. domination. Roosevelt feared de Gaulle would become a dictator if not an emperor. Thanks in part to the U.S. Marshall Plan, France enjoyed thirty prosperous years from 1945 to 1975, dubbed Les Trente Glorieuses, ou la révolution invisible de 1946 à 1975, by demographer Jean Fourastié.
Macron’s poses has caused him to be disparagingly compared to Caesar and Louis XIV. The satire reveals a certain truth, to wit, the great expectation that a savior will appear to save France from its predicaments whatever they might be. The French have yet to be advised, “Ask not what the government can do for you, ask what you can do for France, and then get it done.” We deserve our leaders, even absent a republic or democracy, therefore everyone should strive to be a better leader in order to press the best leaders forward and remove the worst ones from office by the best means available for the change or overthrow of governments.
It is said that Russians love to obey strong men. Yet a great Russian author noted that great men are made men. “A king is history’s slave,” Tolstoy penned in War and Peace. “Man lives consciously for himself, but is an unconscious instrument in the attainment of the historic, universal, aims of humanity. A deed done is irrevocable, and its result coinciding in time with the actions of millions of other men assumes an historic significance. The higher a man stands on the social ladder, the more people he is connected with and the more power he has over others, the more evidence is the predestination and inevitability of his every action.”
Macron is the man of the moment, and he can be a great man for France and Europe if persuaded to be history’s slave, that is, if history is, as Victor Cousin averred, the history of progress, and progress is the history of liberty.
The People are ready to act, and want positive inspiration and a great plan that is in accord with the survival and progress of the race.
Macron wants to save the planet, for example, from the ravages of climate change caused by man, so let him come up with a business plan to finance and implement a salvation plan immediately, and include in the budget for that program and other public works ample funding for the training and employment of a well paid, massive workforce, including women standing on a equal footing with men, and immigrants as well, so that migrants will want to stay in France and work instead of pile up trying to get to England. Engage that workforce to perfect a rapid, distributed public transportation system that runs like clockwork, and to invent and manufacture French alternative energy folk cars. Take advantage of technology to build a vast virtual workplace in the cloud for telecommuters. Convert land from the production of livestock protein to plant protein. Make sure livestock feed is supplanted with Gas-X to reduce methane pollution for the production of great cheeses. That is not all. Review science fiction for ideas.
“But where is the money going to come from? Certainly the economy will fail if we embark on such quixotic endeavors.”
Macron, if he personifies progress, knows well the trade secret of money, and he is fully aware that much of the medium of exchange goes for the purchase of wanted things instead of necessities. Today a great deal of the gross product is immaterial! And much of the material product is trash, at least in the eyes of the well to do who can afford fine plates and silver at the dinner table.
A great man with a glib tongue, great ideas, and budgeting skills can make France great again if he gives full faith and credit to the workforce. Then he shall have the prestige of a great man, an elite man, a member of the great man aristocracy.
THE PEOPLE’S FOOL
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
“Truly, a fine catch of fish has Zarathustra made to-day! It is not a man he has caught, but a corpse. Uncanny is human existence and as yet without meaning: a buffoon can become a man’s fate and fatality.” (1)
The late United States of America was gradually recovering from the Great Recession brought on by the pandering of its regressive administrations to the principle of freedom rooted in unmitigated greed, evaluating individuals solely in material terms, when the people got so bored again with the progressive swing to an equalitarian global order that they wanted to make America great again.
Yes, the American people, who had not suffered much lately, had been saved from an economic disaster, and they had grown exceedingly bored again, mostly for want of political entertainments such as revolution and war. So the fools found a “fool,” a ‘bag of wind’ or ‘bellows,’ a “buffoon” or entertainer who ‘puffs out his cheeks,’ among their own worst enemies, and declared him king.
The king was a natural fool whose crudeness and guileless infatuation with his monumental ego appealed to the vanity of millions upon millions of sycophants who were as blind to his defects as to their own faults. His critics including members of his own court called him a fool a moron, a clown, or even worse, yet he was still deemed to be closer to the ultimate truth of everyone, that everyone is inherently a fool no matter what is said, and this fool is so foolish that he is closest to the god in each and everyone one of them.
The people are king in a democracy, and this king was their fool, their political jester and jouster, their Anglo-Saxon Till Eulenspiegel. He turned America into a travelling carnival or political affair, changing his tune daily and mocking politicians and public figures along the way. The jester’s hat on his head emitted a golden aura, a charismatic light that enchanted roughly thirty percent of the population subjected to him, like it or not. Americans, you see, were insane, un-whole, and he was the divisive mirror of their time.
It was said that the King of America was stupid. Mind you, however, that he was wise enough to play the fool. His first great triumph for his criminal court was convincing the masses that they were being enriched while being robbed. It was for fear of losing even more that his dear ones wanted to erect a wall on the southern border of his castle. And he stacked his court with fools.
Fools all, but never mind, for there is wisdom in stupidity. As the fool praised by Erasmus said, “The more foolish anything is, the more tis admired, the greater number being ever tickled at the worst things, because most men are so subject to folly. And If the more foolish a man is, the more he pleases himself and is admired by others, to what purpose should he beat his brains about true knowledge, which first will cost him dear, and next render him the more troublesome and less confident, and lastly, please only a few?”
No, the King of America was not the first egotistical fool to head a great state nor shall he be the last. Erasmus once remarked on the proverb, that one may lawfully praise himself that lives far from neighbors. Now democracy permits all to flatter their own selves to no end, undaunted Self-love or Philautia is enshrined. Wherefore worship this American Fool, for Folly provides the greatest wealth, namely, unbounded self-love.
It was foolishly said that Folly readily and indifferently bestows benefits on all.
“I do not care to be entreated,” sayeth Folly, “nor am I subject to take offense, and I require an expiatory sacrifice if some ceremony be omitted. For why should I require incense, wafers, a goat, or sow when all men pay me that worship everywhere?” And Folly promises riches to all. “I am, as you see, that true and only giver of wealth whom the Greeks call Moria, the Latin Stultitia, and our plain English Folly.”
Unfortunately for the late King of America, he was merely a fool, a great fool, indeed, but not Folly herself. He over-reached and insulted too many influential people, and was duly dethroned. Still many aspire to his greatness. His book, full of crude jokes about his opponents, has been a best seller for some time.
Secular charisma, as Weber knew very well from his own circumstances in Germany, is indifferent to ethical, aesthetic, and moral considerations. It is perceived as divinely-originating “gift,” and the leader is seen as infallible. Action against him will be seen as a crime against the state. A cult of personality is developed. He is irrational, a narcissist, violating protocol and traditional norms. He displays an extraordinary amount of energy and is unhindered by anxieties and guilt.
The most that can be said of the fool is that he is no hypocrite if he loves himself alone. Alas for the leading fool, however, because his charisma wanes as greedy fools gorge themselves on ill-gotten gains, and then egomaniacal foolishness finally is exposed. High hopes are unrealized, and great expectations are dashed by pestilence, depression, war, and death. The King of America was abandoned soon enough to make America great again.
(1) Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche