Category Archives: Uncategorized

Gareth Porter – Robert S. McNamara and the Real Tonkin Gulf Deception

Link to an article by investigative historian Gareth Porter:

“Robert S. McNamara and the Real Tonkin Gulf Deception: Pushing LBJ Into War”

It is interesting to consider Porter’s perspectives on this in light of the late sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of the “bureaucratic field”.  That is, Porter does not view the “state” as a monolithic entity, but a field established by and through its agents (and groups of agents) struggling amongst each other for authority.

Lexus Drivers

Something I realized long ago is that when walking or riding my bike around town, there is a very strong correlation between drivers who carelessly–or knowingly–endanger my life through reckless driving and those driving luxury vehicles like Lexus and BMW luxury sedans and fancy sport utility vehicles.  That is not to say that those are the only reckless drivers on the road.  I also noticed a strong correlation between aggressively reckless driving and driving extremely low-cost dilapidated cars or having carloads of many young men in any type of vehicle.  What always seems to stand out the most, though, were the luxury cars that were routinely driven in a way that put my life in danger only to save a fraction of a second travel time for the driver.  It gave the impression that my life was not worth the seconds saved by the driver.

As it turns out, Paul Piff, a social psychology researcher at the University of California Berkeley, has recently studied this very issue.  Not surprisingly, his data backs up what was already quite clear.  The affluent tend to have a feeling of entitlement over others.  They do feel that they are better and more worthy than others, particularly when driving.

“The Age of Entitlement: How Wealth Breeds Narcissism”

“The Money-Empathy Gap: New Research Suggests That More Money Makes People Act Less Human. Or at Least Less Humane.”

“Does Money Make You Mean”

The connection here is pretty clear if you view “money” as a unit of measure of “power” (arising from a milieu of credit and moral debts), and then consider the age-old saying often attributed to Lord Acton, “power corrupts.”  That ties this, by only an slight degree of separation, to psychology research like Philip Zimbardo’s “Standford Prison Experiement” (see also Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil).

There is also the question of so-called “Lexus lanes” that allow drivers to pay a premium for access to special, uncongested traffic lanes.  These more or less reinforce feelings of entitlement.  But that’s also a whole other issue.

It is good to see research like this being done.  It furthers efforts like The Spirit Level that show how inequality produces worse outcomes for everyone.

Loïc Wacquant – Crafting the Neoliberal State

Link to an article on the substitution of prisons for social welfare programs in the USA by Loïc Wacquant, author of Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity (2009), which came out around the same time as Michelle Alexander’s similar (but more well-known) The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010).

“Crafting the Neoliberal State: Workfare, Prisonfare, and Social Insecurity”

On “The Appearance of Impropriety”

Many organizations stress the supposed importance of reducing or eliminating entirely the “appearance of impropriety”.  These policies should be viewed for what they really are:  attempts to reduce transparency, encourage misinformation, and concentrate power.  Shouldn’t the real goal be to reduce or eliminate actual impropriety?  And should an organization that is engaged in actual impropriety not visibly reflect that actual impropriety to the public?  This latter question gets to the heart of the matter.  These “appearance of impropriety” policies are all about manipulating public confidences to maintain power within a small group, to the exclusion of others.  Organizational leaders attempt to control the flow of information.  They only reveal to the outside world selected facts.  Any that tend to portray the organization as corrupt, inept, malicious, etc. are suppressed, as best as possible.  The public is thereby cajoled and misled to form an opinion of the organization, and of individuals within it, that is not based on all available facts, but rather only those that portray the organization in a positive light.  This ideological “filtering” is a form of coercion, albeit one that does not rely directly on the use of physical force.  Robert Lee Hale noted this long ago.  For that matter, so did Leo Tolstoy in The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894).  They argued against a very old concept though.  Plato’s endorsement in The Republic (380 BC) of a “noble lie” used by elites to maintain social harmony within a system of their design is one of the earliest recorded examples.  The question of the “appearance of impropriety” comes up extensively when dealing with the lawyers and the judiciary (see the Judge Kopf affair), but also with other governmental branches, businesses, churches, journalistic publications, or any other organization.  These sorts of policies, at worst, protect the social status of the relevant organization–especially the leaders of those organizations–while suppressing actual impropriety involving particular individuals.  Quite hypocritically, many calls for reducing of the appearance of impropriety simultaneously call for increased transparency, without noting that these are contradictory objectives in the end, when viewed from the standpoint of public welfare rather than from a self-interested viewpoint of the organization (and its leaders) involved.  With these ideas in mind, it is actually quite brazen that organizations publish any guidelines seeking to limit the “appearance of impropriety”.  Such rules speak in condescending, anti-democratic tones.  They imply that the public cannot properly assess facts. Nonsense.