Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What Do Your Assumptions Fuel?

It's a mixed bag.

Nowadays, Estabrook is critiquing Obama.  At the beginning of the month, he wrote a satirical column ("Advance Text of Obama's Big Speech,") with Obama addressing the Congress:

"I come before you tonight in a spirit of remorse -- which, I find, requires more audacity than hope does."

That Obama's famed bailouts are a farce, I can agree. But what worldview is guiding Estabrook's denunciations?

The link next to his name on the Tea Party site is a 2003 article entitled "Republic of Fear."  In the article, he agrees with the Constitution only when it agrees with him.  Toward the beginning, he correctly points out that judicial review is unconstitutional.  But in the latter part of the article, he pointedly dismisses the electoral college on charges that it is "pre-cooked," and unpopular in opinion polls.

Also tellingly, while some have called Saddam's Iraq a "Republic of Fear," Eastabrook says that that phrase actually applies to -- surprise! -- the U.S. under Bush.  In his estimation, Saddam really wasn't that bad.  It was just politically expedient (for unexplained reasons) to portray him as such!

"[T]he true 'republic of fear,' it was clear by then, is the United States of America. Only in America was government propaganda able to make citizens personally afraid of Saddam Hussein, sufficiently to promote a war for non-existent 'weapons of mass destruction.' 911 was a godsend to the Bush administration, for in all the world only Americans could be made to fear Saddam Hussein because of his supposed link to 'terrorism.'"

Estabrook subscribes to the common fallacy that one nation and one nation alone is capable of true evil: the United States.  All other nations or leaders are capable only of semi-evil, and this only from direct contact with the U.S.  

As if this wasn't bad enough, he goes on to say this:

"At the end of the Second World War in Europe, the US and its allies tried and executed the German leadership for launching aggressive war, on the basis of international law formulated as the Nuremberg Principles. If those principles were applied to recent American presidents in the same way, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush pere et fils would have to be hanged. Remember, mental incompetence does not preclude execution in the US."

He is not simply a Democrat apologist, because he includes Clinton in this list of Presidents to be hanged.  Has he, like Chomsky, have decided that no war is justifiable, and that anyone engaging in war is a war criminal?  This would be a simple formula, yes.  But selectivity and specificity are different concepts which must both be taken into consideration.

He must still believe what he wrote in his 2003 article.  Why else would this link be publicized on the Tea Party website?    

In 2005, he wrote "The Subversive Commandments," which states: 

"Conservatives defend the postings in Kentucky and Texas on the grounds that the Ten Commandments 'formed the foundation of American legal tradition.' Liberals on the other hand insist that the posting is an 'establishment of religion,' contrary to the first amendment to the Constitution. In fact, both are wrong:..."

So conservatives are wrong, and liberals are wrong.  Who is right?  Estabrook.  He believes that:

"The Ten Commandments in their historical setting are a revolutionary manifesto, dedicated to the overthrow of traditional authority and religion... The Ten Commandments in their proper historical context commend atheism in regard to the religion of the gods and anarchism in respect to the laws of the kings.  Arising from a revolutionary people, they support the overthrow of authoritarian structures in the name of human community.  That sounds pretty good to me."

In Estabrook's beliefs, the Ten Commandments are not absolute truth handed down by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to guide His people to a right relationship with Him.  They are an instigation to anarchy.  

Who is this guy, anyway?  Moonbat Central ("Hunting the Radical Snark") critiqued his deconstruction of the Ten Commandments.  It also looked into his background.

"Estabrook has been a long-term visiting professor of sociology at the University of Illinois, although not in their department of sociology, but rather in some sort of arms control unit there, and before that he was at Notre Dame.  Searchign high and low in the computerized bibliographies of academic research, we just could not find a single academic publication by Estabrook in sociology, religion or history (which he also claims to be expert in. Please do not confuse this Carl Estabrook with another one, at Dartmouth, the latter being a serious scholar and historian.)
"So, rather than doing any academic research, what does our Estabrook do with himself?  Well, he tries to lobby the University of Illinois to oppose the US invasion of Iraq, he lobbies on behalf of Fidel, he justitifies bin Laden's 9-11 attacks on the US, he compares Bush and his people to German Nazis while praising Norman Finkelstein, he prepares leftists agitprop, bashes Israel and Jews, teams up with Fisk to bash America, sucks up to Noam Chomsky, denounces Americans Ward-Churchill style as terrorists, and gets creamed trying to run for Congress as a Green Party rep."

I question the phrase "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."  This assumes that there are only two sides to join.  As Estabrook demonstrates, there are nearly always more than two political camps.  At some points, his political views and mine intersect.  But that certainly doesn't mean that we share a united worldview!

The Tea Party description says that political activists from across the spectrum are invited.  Being something more than a Republican or Democratic apologist, Estabrook can probably offer a unique view of political events.  But what is his view based upon, and are his undergirding assumptions of such a nature that they consistently reflect reality?

Based on his other writings, I would have to conclude that Estabrooks assumptions often do not reflect reality. 

Many people define themselves but what they are not.  I think Estabrook is an example.  He's vocal about what he is not.  But what is he?  He's rejected the Biblical God, an unpopular but legally-binding element of the Constitution, and Republican and Democratic presidents who have engaged in wars he disagrees with.  He is left with a devotion to his own beliefs, but what absolute reference point does he have?  What rock is he standing on that he can offer to others?

It's an interesting question: how is a political movement organized?  How do you decide who to partner with, and to what extent?  Take the anti-slavery movement in the UK under Wilberforce, as an example.  The abolitionists agreed that slavery was wrong, but many had different ways of coming to that conclusion.  They could work together to end slavery, but they had different worldviews that described why they should do this.  Wilberforce wanted to end slavery because he was convinced that God wanted to end slavery.  But he had no sympathy for the French Revolution, and its absolutizing of man.  Some of his supporters were on fire for ending slavery, but were equally on fire for supporting the French Revolution ("Jacobins").  Wilberforce was willing to work with those who had different motivations, but he did not allow their underlying assumptions to dictate his.  (Sometimes, however, their political ties still sullied his).  

And when they broke off to follow other pursuits, he did not feel beholden to break off with them.  So, this seems to produce a core-and-haze structure.  The core is made up of people who share a worldview, and the haze is produced by a fringe of people with a different worldview that sometimes coincides with the worldview of the core and sometimes doesn't.  If you had two axes for a movement, for example, x = individual liberty and y = God's authority, you would get quite a distribution.  In the case of English abolition, Biblical Christians would tend to coincide more often if you plotted their beliefs about individual liberty and God's authority, but those who were abolitionists but were not Biblical Christians would have a very different distribution.  Thus, the plot would be a bell curve.  If you had an aerial view of it, you'd see a circle with a hazy outer border -- a core-and-haze.  The inner circle of Wilberforce's movement was made up of people with the same worldview -- Biblical Christians.  Which makes sense: when two people's motivation is springing from the same source, it's more likely that you'll be harmonized in your course of action.  Plus, it's easier to remind one another of why they're doing this in the first place!  That's why the core, or heart, of any movement (Marxist, etc.) -- from what I've seen -- will always be people of like-mind, who share a worldview.  Others may join you or desert you (William Pitt, etc.) as your views coincide or diverge from theirs, but those with like-mind will continue most constantly.  It's not as if formal boundaries are set between supporters with different motivations.  The process is self-selecting.)

And to be clear, my descriptions of "core" and "haze" does not mean that only those in the core will be involved in important decisions and actions.  By no means.

In the U.S., there was definitely a mixed-bag when it came to abolition, as well.  Again, Biblical Christianity was the core worldview that gave rise to abolition, and fueled many Americans' opposition to the dehumanizing trade and use of slaves.  There were also many non-Christians involved in the struggle.  The issue is, just because there are some shared characteristics does not mean that a movement is homogeneous.  What's shared is a motivation.  What's different are the assumptions that fuel that motivation.  Some fuels will burn more consistently than others. Some fuels will provide one big boom, and then fizzle into nothing.  Others provide an even, predictable burn.  Some fuels haven't been properly ignited, so even though they could produce a fine blaze, they simply smolder and discourage the one trying to ignite it.  Finally, others are given a specially increased allottment of fuel, so that its output is much more enhanced than those using the same fuel in smaller quantities.

Another factor to consider is free will.  People do not always act consistently with their worlview.

One more point, and then I'll have done.  Because of this heterogeneity in a movement, it's incredibly important to be clear when critiquing or praising them.  John Brown was an abolitionist, but it certainly doesn't mean that every abolitionist was a crazy-eyed, white-maned anarchist.  At the same time, your actions often do reflect back on the movement you've espoused, rightly or wrongly!

So, unite on what you can, but recognize that sometimes motivations come from entirely distinct fuels.

On Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 9:34 AM, I wrote:
A dissenter???

On Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 12:10 AM, Mom wrote:
Dr. Carl Estabrook (Visiting Professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Dear _____________:
The above professor is named as one of the speakers at a big Tea Party like gathering being planned for several states:


Folks from Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Kansas, Iowa, etc. are invited and encouraged to attend.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.


CGE said...

[PART 1 OF 2] Eve seems particularly concerned about "what worldview is guiding Estabrook's denunciations": she seems anxious to find an appropriate label for me.

I'd suggest that that's generally the wrong way to proceed. The important thing is to get matters right, not to fit them into a world-view. Without the slightest invidious reflection on Eve's mind, I think we should listen to Emerson's warning that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." If we do get things right, and the answers seem inconsistent, it probably means that we need to understand them at a less trivial level, not throw them out. She's quite right to insist (twice) that views "reflect reality."

So what follows are some possibly inconsistent comments on Eve's comments on me. (The excellent people at have been willing to publish my articles for some time -- even ones they might disagree with, such as those on abortion -- and those pieces can be searched There for my views.)

[1] "Estabrook is critiquing Obama." Yes, as I've done since he ran for the Senate, threatening war against Iran. For a recent summary, see "Minion of the Long War" on CounterPunch.

[2] "He correctly points out that judicial review is unconstitutional." Actually, I correctly point out that it's not in the Constitution; that's different from its being unconstitutional.

[3] "In the latter part of the article, he pointedly dismisses the electoral college." In fact, I don't mention the electoral college; I point out instead that I along with 70% of Americans say that US election campaigns "seem more like theater or entertainment than something to be taken seriously." Can you have watched Gore/Bush, Bush/Kerry, and/or Obama/McCain and doubt that?

[4] "In his estimation, Saddam really wasn't that bad." In fact I refer to the "horrors of Saddam Hussein's government," but Eve doesn't seem to notice that, perhaps because I note that "they were accomplished with US aid and support."

[5] Eve seems to object my calling the US "the true 'republic of fear'," but she graciously quotes my specific reason for doing so: "Only in America was government propaganda able to make citizens personally afraid of Saddam Hussein, sufficiently to promote a war for non-existent 'weapons of mass destruction.' 9/11 was a godsend to the Bush administration, for in all the world only Americans could be made to fear Saddam Hussein because of his supposed link to 'terrorism.'" The point generalizes -- a history of Europeans in America could be written in terms of fear -- fear of native Americans, fear of slaves, fear of immigrants, fear of the working class -- even fear of witches and of women. The Latin maxim is "proprium humani ingenii est odisse quem laeseris" (it is human nature to hate the one you have injured).

[6] "Estabrook subscribes to the common fallacy that one nation and one nation alone is capable of true evil: the United States." By nation she seems to mean government, but the statement as it stands is obvious nonsense. All governments are "capable of true evil," but in my lifetime (i.e., since the Second World War) one government has had the unparalleled ability to carry it out. Furthermore, we're US citizens, members of an at least formal democracy, and therefore responsible for what one government does. For both reasons, evil committed by Estonia is a lesser concern of ours. [TO BE CONT'D]

CGE said...

[7] "He is not simply a Democrat apologist." I'm not a Democrat apologist at all. And I think their actions have been particularly reprehensible in regard to the current war in the Middle East.

[8] "Has he, like Chomsky, decided that no war is justifiable, and that anyone engaging in war is a war criminal?" That's not Chomsky's view nor mine. Neither of us is an absolute pacifist, although we both may admire some -- e.g. Quakers and Catholic Workers -- who are, even when we disagree with them.

[9] "So conservatives are wrong, and liberals are wrong. Who is right?" That is a question that can't be decided in the abstract. Surely Eve knows conservatives who are wrong on occasion and liberals who are wrong as well. It depends on what the question is.

[10] "In Estabrook's beliefs, the Ten Commandments are not absolute truth handed down by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to guide His people to a right relationship with Him. They are an instigation to anarchy." In fact, as a (Catholic) Christian, I think the ten commandments "reveal God to us. In Exodus the revelation of the ten commandments occurs in the context of of a theophany, a manifestation of God, and they are essentially concerned with the difference between Yahweh and the other gods. The decalogue is part of the general demystifying of the divine that lies at the centre of the Jewish-christian tradition. The other gods, the ones that Israel has beyond everything else to shun, make their demands in terms of special religious cults, but the demand of Yahweh is that people should have a certain kind of relationship with each other in the secular world." That's from the late theologian Herbert McCabe, OP, and my article is an attempt to spell it out a bit.

[11] "Moonbat Central [David Horowitz' website, which closed down four years ago, after publishing a misrepresentation of Noam Chomsky that the Guardian/UK apologized for] ... looked into his background." It was actually a nasty piece of work called Steven Plaut, who says I justify the 9/11 attacks (I don't) but amidst his sneers manages to get some things right: (a) I have distant cousin with the same first and last names on the Dartmouth faculty: (b) I opposed the US invasion of Iraq and two generations of terrorism against Cuba; (c) I value the work of Norman Finkelstein, Robert Fisk, Noam Chomsky, and Ward Churchill (without agreeing completely with any one of them); and (d) I lost when I ran for Congress as a Green party candidate (although I'm no longer a member of the Green party).

[12] "Many people define themselves by what they are not. I think Estabrook is an example. He's vocal about what he is not. But what is he?" Answer: in religion a Catholic, in politics an anarchist, in arts an Oxfordian. (I realize that list risks being as anticlimactic as "For God, for Country, and for Yale!")

[13] "What rock is he standing on that he can offer to others?" The question has echoes of both Archimedes and Matthew 16:18, but with regard to the latter I remind you that Jesus like Shakespeare was enamored of puns: he nicknamed his principal follower -- the impetuous and inconstant Simon -- "Rocky" (Cephas, Petrus)! So in that spirit (and I hope Spirit) I suggest that the rocks we stand on are the proverbial slippery slope that will send us on to perhaps uncomfortable truth, will we or nill we...

[14] Eve ends -- perhaps in celebration of today's 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China -- with an implicit quotation of Mao Zedong's "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People" (1957) and its common-sense but important distinction between antagonistic and non-antagonistic contradictions. She admirably rejects the assumption that "there are only two sides to join ... there are nearly always more than two political camps. At some points, his political views and mine intersect." Amen.

Regards, C. G. Estabrook