Posts Tagged ‘news media’

H.L. Mencken in Tahir Square: Democracy or Destruction?

Friday, February 25th, 2011

As I said in my last post, a lot has happened over the past six months, and I’ve been sorely remiss in blogging about it.  The developments in the Middle East are particularly fascinating.  They bring to mind the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, et al might become Arabic versions of post-Communist Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.  They could just as easily turn into killing fields like Bosnia and Kosovo, or decadent, weak Weimar Republics, teetering on the edge of oblivion.

Watching the videos of the vast, truculent crowds, I wondered what H.L. Menckenwould’ve made of it.  When imaging what HLM might’ve felt about something, it’s essential to remember his cynicism and misanthropy.  Yes, he wrote “I know of no other man who believes in liberty more than I do,” but he maintained that freedom was something that only a select few could endure.  He loathed the common man and democracy. 

Mencken would wonder, as I do, whether there’d be uprisings if countries like Egypt were well-run and prosperous.  Notice that I didn’t say democratic.  Most people would happily live under authoritarian regimes if there was plenty of work, cheap food, and public services.  I’m not casting judgment.  Freedom doesn’t count for much when you can’t afford coffee and a donut.  “All the revolutions in history have been started by hungry city mobs,” Mencken observes in Notes on Democracy.  “When the city mob fights it is not for liberty, but for ham and cabbage.”  Although I don’t think the crowds in Cairo, Tunis, and Tripoli have a taste for the former.

My thoughts became a lot clearer after reading of CBS correspondent Lara Logan’s sexual assault.  As most of you already know, while covering the February 11 celebrations over Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Logan was separated from her crew by a mob of more than 200.  According to a statement four days later by her network, Logan “was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.”
Disgusting stuff, but also quite a story.  You’ve got to wonder why CBS sat on it for so long.  Gawker pointed out that the multiple typos in the original release (since corrected) suggest the news was about to break.  The Jewish Week and have their own thoughts why the story was held.  Although it’s very intriguing to contemplate, that question isn’t my focus.

Richard Cohen of The Washington Post wrote

As I’m sure even Logan would admit, the sexual assault of woman by a mob in the middle of a public square is a story. It is particularly a story because the crowd in Tahir Square was almost invariably characterized as friendly and out for nothing but democracy. In fact, some of the television correspondents acted as if they were reporting from Times Square on New Year’s Eve, stopping only at putting on a party hat. In those circumstances, a mass the sexual assault in what amounted to the nighttime version of broad daylight is certainly worth reporting.

We’d like to believe the Middle Eastern crowds are driven by the noblest impulses.  But are they?  Probably not.  From from the Coliseum to the Reign of Terror, from the Deep South lynchings to the L.A. Riots, the mob is idiotic and sadistic.  As Mencken explains in Notes

What does the mob think?  It thinks, obviously, what its individual members think.  And what is that?  It is, in brief, what somewhat sharp-nosed and unpleasant children think.  The mob, being composed, in the overwhelming main, of men and women who have not got beyond the ideas and emotions of childhood, hovers, in the mental age, around the time of puberty, and chiefly below it.

And what is the crux of those “ideas and emotions”?  Fear.  Fear of the unknown, of strange people, of new ideas.  “The process of education is largely a process of getting rid of such fears,” Mencken writes.  But sadly, the fact is “that the vast majority of men are congenitally incapable of any such intellectual progress.  They cannot take in new ideas, and they cannot get rid of old fears.  They lack the logical sense; they are unable to reason from a set of facts before them, free from emotional distraction.”

The men who assaulted Logan didn’t have liberte, egalite, fraternite on their minds.  They were driven by hatred, a hatred born of fear; hatred of Logan as a Westerner, an infidel, a woman, and—in their imagination—a Jew.

According to the New York Post, her assailants chanted “Jew, Jew” as they beat her.  (For the record, Logan is not Jewish.)  The attack may have been fueled by Egyptian state media reports of Israeli spies disguised as overseas news teams.  Or it could’ve been driven just by the will for destruction.

Mencken would’ve read of Logan’s attack and shook his head.  “There’s ‘your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,'” he’d mutter.

No, I’m not saying that everyone in the crowd that night was a hateful moron.  But I dare say there were a lot more troglodytes than one might care to imagine, and that there are a lot more troglodytes wordwide than we dare to dream.  They’re not just among the poor and downtrodden, although don’t kid yourself with the Christian/Marxist myth that “poverty” is a synonym for “enlightenment.”  As Mencken explained,

Thus the plutocracy, in a democratic state, tends to take the place of the missing aristocracy, and even to be mistaken for it.  It is, of course, something quite different.  It lacks all the essential characters of a true aristocracy: a clean tradition, culture, public spirit, honesty, honour, courage—above all courage. . .  Its most puissant dignitaries of to-day came out of the mob only yesterday—and from the mob they bring all its peculiar ignobilities.

I’ll come out and say it: Most people—black, white, rich, poor, powerful, weak—are stupid, and quite dangerous if given the opportunity.

And that’s why Mencken wouldn’t have high hopes for the current Mideast upheaval.  It’s possible some good will come of it.  Even Niccolo Machiavelli, the godfather of amoral analysis, thought republics were preferable to principalities.  Under a republic people feel more invested in the fruits of their labors, and consequently have more reason to work hard and innovate.  But there’s no point in pretending that mobs are comprised of Pericleses, Joan of Arcs, and Patrick Henrys. 

Do you honestly think Average Joes and Janes concern themselves over ideas like fair representation, consensus, and the free exchange of ideas?  Do you really believe people behave more honorably and wisely in democracies than in other societies?  Hardly.  I’m reminded of Luis Bunuel’s classic film, Viridiana.  A novitiate takes in a group of beggars and dedicates herself to feeding and uplifting them.  They repay her kindness by breaking into her home, and later attempting to rape her.


Uploaded by tagnuevo. – Independent web videos.

Go to a bar, a football game, or a shopping mall and see what comprises the crowd.  Morlocks, as far as the eye can see.

Sometimes fairly articulate people make it unintentionally clear how they, and most others, dwell in an Egyptian Night.  “Spruce Panther of Kemet” offers a sterling example.

In a February 16 YouTube video entitled “Lara Logan Raped: But Was She?” she urges viewers to ask themselves

was she indeed raped.  I’m just now hearing about this story on the Internet now but apparently this happened almost a week ago.  And we need to put this in context: she is a white South African, therefore she is directly implicated in the oppression [and in the perpetration] of atrocities against the black population of South Africa.  Indeed, the white population used rape against black women as means of intimidation, violence, control, oppression to keep the black population in line.  So is this an act of karmic retribution?  These questions should be asked and analyzed.


At the bottom of the video in red lettering runs “The real rape is Kemet’s Black African cultural treasures being plundered right before our eyes by barbarians” and later “Lara Logan’s ‘rape’ a false flag attack?”
Spruce Panther is a capable speaker, but her worldview is on the level of a superstitious, illiterate peasant.  What she says is on a par with medieval blood-libel and witch-hunting.  She’d fit right in with the nice folks in Tahir Square.  And quite possibly so would you.

California Dreamin’ turns to Nightmares! Myth, Sex, and Violence in Bakersfield

Thursday, July 9th, 2009
I recently finished Lords: Part One by Nick Belardes.  Although a novel, it chronicles an actual cabal of the elite of Bakersfield, a Southern Californian city not far from Los Angeles, that preyed on local boys beginning in the 1970s.  For “the Lords” sex wasn’t a diversion; it was an essential part of their black magic. 
Lords: Part One chronicles the entry of Minstrel, a barely teenage male-prostitute, journey into the Lords’ world.   Although picked up in Hollywood by one of the cabal, Minstrel is a Bakersfield native.  He’s the side of city that the citizenry and its leaders—the Lords—would rather you ignored: he’s desperate, hungry, and motherless.  Bakersfield, as Belardes paints it, is a conservative, all-American, and a superficially Christian town.  The Lords, through the press, the police, and the church, delivers to it what it wants: a wholesome identity, a sense of existing as a tranquil island surrounded a sea of ruin and doom.  But reality is something very different…
Lordsis clearly an occult book.  It’s imbued with local Native mythology, Biblical dust-storms, pouring rain, rituals, and initiations.  Toward the book’s end, a character walks the local collage holding an incriminating videotape.  This is an example of the “Revelation of the Method” practiced by cryptocracies.  (For more about this, read the works of James Shelby Downard and Michael A. Hoffman II.)

That’s not only allusion to cryptocracy.  Another Lord, the cabal’s chief, tells his fellow mind-manipulators:

The media controls behavior.  Do you know what that means?  We control how people act.  If we want the masses excited about something, all we have to do is tell stories.  These stories feed into popular beliefs.  You know, if people believe the end of the world is near, then we can help them to continue to believe that, for years to come.  If we want to preserve our way of life, it is simple.  We must retain control.  Symbolically, we test our control methods now and then in sacred acts.  And through such acts, we remind those around us that to be sacred is to be secret.  Let this tape be a symbol of our power, that we are truly to be feared, and that we are truly untouched, and that the minds of this city are easily and forever broken.

Elsewhere, the same Lord says:

The people always have great fear!  We just remind them of it.  We must always find ways to keep the Southern Valley simpletons on the edge of hysteria, Stevens.  And always, we must mythologize and demonize.

I’m reminded of this passage from Mencken’s Notes on Democracy: “Public Opinion, in its raw state, gushes out in the immemorial form of the mob’s fears.  It is piped to central factories, and there it is flavoured and coloured, and put into cans.”

There’s something interesting about Lords’ locale.  When it’s not subjected to torrential rain, Bakersfield is a dusty, dry place.  Civilization began in a desert, or more accurately, near one.  It might be a stretch to say that it was there the divisions of lord/slave, powerful/weak, leader/follower began, but they must’ve deepen there, became more rigid, more insurmountable.  And while myths and demons weren’t born in Mesopotamia and subsequent desert settlements, it’s there they were recorded and canonized, and where their fascination and fear drove the construction of temples and the rise of priest classes.

And the Lords’ predilection for boys and sadistic sex is no less primeval.  I read somewhere that the act of circumcision was an ancient reminder to young males of who the boss is.  What more effective and intimate channel to intimidate and co-opt potential rivals than sex?  Sex plays can play another role in powerful cults.  It binds the members together.  The bonds can be intimate, and also darker: photographs of debauchery can yield material for keeping the brethren in line and unified.  Consider Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

I’m looking forward to reading Lords: Part Two and learning more about the Lords of Bakersfield from Nick Belardes.




What I Found at BEA! Part III

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Libertarian Nation: The Call for a New Agenda by James Walsh, Silver Lake Publishing, $19.95

I’m really looking forward to reading this.  I like this extract from the book featured on the front flap:

The current political debate that you see on TV and online is not a real exchange of ideas. [Emphasis mine]  It’s bread and circuses.  They say that generals are always fighting the last war…   well, the same is true for TV producers and newspapers editors.  This nation has spent and borrowed its way to a crisis point.  We’re losing our position as a world leader.  And we need to get back to the philosophical roots on which the nation was founded.  This won’t be good news for the smirking neo-cons… or self-righteous liberals.  They’re both yesterday’s partisans.”

Six years ago I organized a talk co-sponsored by the New York alumni clubs of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.  It was entitled “Monotone Media and Voices on the Margins,” and it examined the lack of true diversity and vigorous political discourse in the mass news media.  Rather than bringing the usual talking heads, I invited journalists from “fringe” backgrounds: a neo-pagan, a conspiracy researcher, and a Marxist.  There was also a business reporter and an analyst from the media watch group FAIR.  I wish I knew Jim back then so he could’ve sat on the panel. 

It’s interesting that Jim mentions “bread and circuses”:  Mencken repeatedly uses that phrase throughout Notes on Democracy.  According to HLM, the masses don’t want real freedom: they want a safe, secure prison, with regular servings of Wonder Bread and “Gilligan’s Island.”  Or Sour Dough and “Lost,” if you prefer.  Jim also talks about the “philosophical roots” upon which America was founded.  I don’t know his position, but Mencken argues that the founders were not at all in favor of universal suffrage, and had a real fear of the mob.  I’ll be curious to know what Libertarian Nation says on this. 

One last thing…  Why should it be surprising that the people Jim condemns as “yesterday’s partisans” be TV producers and newspaper editors?  They’re men and women knee-deep in technology and modes of communication from the last century, indeed, in the case of newspapers, the 19th century.  If the media is the message, then what else could their message be except for yesterday’s news?