The Black-Cat Analogy


“The Black Cat” by Aubrey Beardsley, 1894-1895. Illustrations of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

A distinction between figurative and literal analogies is sometimes made by teachers of rhetoric, but we are better served to think of analogy as an intersection of the figurative and literal from which a healing insight might emerge.  The telling of a fanciful story can help to refigure a perilous reality to which we have become inured.  Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” is just such a story when it is read as a figurative analogy to a troubled actuality. (more…)

The Tautology of War

Graf Krokodil best

Yuliy Graf in Krokodil, 1953 no. 4, p. 8.

War culture is an insidious presence in the ordinary life of the imperial citizenry. The subtle entrapment in its daily rituals is a treacherous seduction of political will that sacrifices democracy on the altar of militarism.  The profane is endemic to politics as usual, the self-indulgence of a public alienated from its founding ideals.  Mundanity is a spiritual death knell just below the threshold of critical awareness.

The war mentality is a self-sustaining redundancy that renders critical reflection tiresome and seemingly futile.  The apparent inevitability of war induces acceptance and rationalization.  The public refuses to see its imperial reflection in the mirror.  The face of war is too ugly to unmask.  Better to suppress it.  Repression and projection are the psychological alternatives to critical reflection.  (more…)

Curving History


Image UGC 12158 of a galaxy, taken by the Hubble Telescope, 20 December 2010. (Credit: NASA)

The contemporary world is accustomed to the language of progress, a linear sense of ongoing change, a process of betterment that moves upward and onward. It presumes that what went before was primitive, or at least less advanced, than what followed. We advance step by step toward the future and eventual perfection.

Progress—as the commonsense discourse of development (of upward, onward, linear change from ancient primitiveness through advancement to future perfection)—clusters with terms such as making headway, forging ahead, forward-looking, evolution, growth, maturation, expansion, improvement, efficiency, and enrichment. Thus, no lesser light than Benjamin Franklin is widely credited with saying, “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

The language of progress inevitably extends to politics, economics, and technology. As a function of language, consistent with Kenneth Burke’s theory of symbolic action, “progress” seeks its own terministic perfection to the point of overemphasizing profit, individualism, and power by underemphasizing society, community, and cooperation. (more…)

Language and Empire


Mosaic depicting theatrical masks of Tragedy and Comedy, 2nd century AD, from Rome Thermae Decianae (?), Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums. (Credit: Carole Raddato)

Whether one denies, embraces, or laments American imperialism, there is a motive for empire that typically goes unnoticed—the propensity of language for expansion and dominion. I don’t mean simply the globalization of English as the language of enterprise. I mean there is an underlying characteristic of language as a medium of thought and motivation that Kenneth Burke calls the principle of perfection.

The language we use to make sense of the world—to articulate a guiding perspective on reality—has its own dynamic and directionality. It prompts us to track down and round out the implications of its preferred terminology, to actualize its full potential to assign meaning and impose order on the world. (more…)

Land of the Dollar

"The Adoration of the Golden Calf," oil on canvas, by Nicolas Poussin, circa 1634. (Credit:  Wikimedia Commons)

“The Adoration of the Golden Calf,” oil on canvas, by Nicolas Poussin, circa 1634. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

When Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, he saw the people of Israel dancing and worshipping the golden calf. “Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.” (Exodus 32:9) During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24)

And yet in the land of the free we have created the “Land of the Dollar,” and we worship Mammon and build temples to the Golden Calf. (more…)

The Intelligent Woman’s Guide

Cover of "The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism," 1927. (Credit:  Eric Ravilious / Wikimedia Commons)

Cover of “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism,” 1927. (Credit: Eric Ravilious / Wikimedia Commons)

I have been getting my mind improved by examining, after many years of reading George Bernard Shaw, his Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism.[1]

The book is Shaw’s political and economic testament after decades of proselytizing for Socialism. It is written for women because in America and England, men are supposed “to understand politics and economics and finance and diplomacy and all the rest of a democratic voter’s business on the strength of a Fundamentalist education that excites the public scorn of … Sioux chiefs.” In reality, the male citizen is “ashamed to expose the depths of his ignorance by asking elementary questions; and I dare not insult him by volunteering the missing information.” (xi)

First written in 1928, Shaw gives a lucid definition of Socialism: “an elaborate arrangement of our production and distribution of wealth in such a manner that all our incomes shall be equal.” (377) He was fully aware of the traditional charitable justification for his economic ideas: “The Communism of Christ, of Plato, and of the great religious orders, all take equality in material subsistence for granted as the first condition of establishing the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.” (94) As a believer in Creative Evolution, he perceived Socialism as necessary for the survival of the race: “No civilization can finally stand out against the bane of inequality.” (298) (more…)

Democracy or Empire

11 August 1900 Judge magazine cover cartoon. "A POWERFUL DEMOCRATIC ARGUMENT AGAINST IMPERIALISM". “Bryan- ‘Everybody is against imperialism. Now, here’s Me and the Boxer and the Filipino. What more do youse want?” (Credit:  Victor Gillam / Wikimedia Commons)

11 August 1900 Judge magazine cover cartoon. “A POWERFUL DEMOCRATIC ARGUMENT AGAINST IMPERIALISM”. “Bryan- ‘Everybody is against imperialism. Now, here’s Me and the Boxer and the Filipino. What more do youse want?” (Credit: Victor Gillam / Wikimedia Commons)

We can’t have it both ways. “Imperialism and democracy are incompatible,” argues social critic Chris Hedges in his Empire of Illusion (Nation Books, 2009, 147). We don’t like to acknowledge that the US is an empire perhaps because there is no place for a democratic citizen or for democratic participation in imperial politics. The resources devoted to advancing an imperialist agenda bankrupt democracy.

Unfettered capitalism opposes democracy. Capitalist imperialism tends toward oligarchy and authoritarian rule. The interests of economic elites do not conform to the interests of the people as a whole. As Hedges observes, “Democracy and capitalism are antagonistic entities. Democracy . . . is based not on personal gain but on self-sacrifice. A functioning democracy must often defy the economic interests of elites on behalf of citizens.” Democracy promotes the values of community and equality. Accordingly, Hedges asks whether we will “transform our system to one that protects the ordinary citizen and fosters the common good, that defies the corporate state” (185-86, 145).

Democracy is at grave risk. “At no period in American history has our democracy been in such peril,” Hedges insists, “or the possibility of totalitarianism as real” (145). The US is in economic and moral decline: (more…)