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March 08, 2017


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Bernie Burk

A thoughtful and beautifully written post, Eric. Thank you.



As usual, an ideologue tells only part of the story, here, the disturbing and pessimistic part, and refuses to see any good anywhere anytime if the good might conflict with the ideologue's Manichean view of things.

This reminds me of AL Brophy, whom I truly respect. A black man is wrongly convicted by an all white jury. His appeal goes to an all white appeals court in a prejudiced state at a prejudiced time, and he is granted a new trial. He is again convicted by an all white jury. this time, his case goes all the way to the SCOTUS. ANd, at this very early time, not so long after the war, his conviction was AGAIN reversed, based on the selection of the jury. He was convicted again.

In debating the good and true nature of the all white appellate courts, Brophy REFUSED to acknowledge anything but the injustice of the all white juries. He repeatedly and stubbornly could not see the good that honest men did to try to afford a possibly (probably?) guilty man justice.

Obama and Carson weren't talking about people on the ships! Can't you see that? When you write your value signaling pieces about how dear you are to justice, how about writing a piece about the "all white" armies that clashed, with so much blood, to free the people who you say never had any hope in America? Write a piece about the years of tears that so many white people have poured out, and their constant efforts to try to see some sort of better conditions for those descended from persons so brutally seized who came here in slavery. And on and on.

Nah. When you see the graves of the dead, you think only of the ships that brought their ancestors here.

How sad.

Al Brophy

anon, thank you for the kind words. I really appreciate them. And Eric, thanks for this terrific post. I'm sorry I have been so quiet of late.

anon is referring to at Jess Hollins debate that began some years ago when I posted a picture of the courthouse where he pled guilty in Oklahoma. (Little aside here, I had an awesome time on that trip. Hope to get back to Oklahoma some time.). The most recent round in that debate appears here:

As a quick reminder of the case, Hollins pled guilty to assaulting a white woman, then that plea was overturned by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, then he was tried before an all white jury and that conviction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, then tried again and convicted but sentenced to life in prison and he refused to appeal this because he feared that on retrial he might be given a death sentence again. He died in prison some years later.

One very positive result of that debate was that I investigated the case further and came across Karl Llewellyn's lost forward to an NAACP brief opposing lynching:

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Having read Eric Muller’s posts since he started blogging, I’m quite surprised to see him described as an “ideologue,” a characterization that could only be made by someone unclear about the meaning of the term or in the habit of misusing it when confronted with information, knowledge or wisdom that they find politically and psychologically unsettling for one reason or another, perhaps because it challenges presuppositions, assumptions, or explicit beliefs of their worldview. The endeavor to understand the nature, history, and consequences of slavery in this country and elsewhere is not burdened with the unrealistic if not absurd obligation to seek out “feel good” material for people unable or unwilling to confront the extent or depths of evil, structural violence, or the systematic racism and inhuman exploitation intrinsic to slavery. And it is absolutely ludicrous to make a grandiose generalization (a conspicuously small sample size, is it not?) to the effect that this post is somehow emblematic or representative of a “refus[al]to see any good anywhere anytime if the good might conflict with the ideologue’s Manichean view of things.”

To appreciate the ideologically rhetorical employment of “the American Dream” in this case is important if only because we live in a time and place when so many Americans are steeped in a debilitating but consoling psychology of self-deception, wishful thinking, and states of denial, evidenced, for example, in the fact that so many of these people who should, as we say, “know better,” recently voted against their true (or ‘enlightened’) self-interests insofar as they favored a presidential candidate who believes populist economic nationalism and protectionist (or mercantilist) trade policies will perform an economic miracle, bringing about socio-economic security and the realization of middle-class dreams, thereby reviving the “Golden Age” of Keynesian and neo-Keynesian “economic nationalism” (as the term is used by the economist Meghnad Desai) that has long been buried (since the late 1970s and early 1980s) by the latest iteration of capitalist globalization. It is further evidenced in the fact that they voted for a political party wedded to and chock full of members identifying with the regnant political and economic plutocracy (as are not a few members of the other major political party), one conspicuously marked by kleptocratic pretensions. Furthermore, they voted for a President afflicted with narcissistic megalomania (and a Midas complex), pubescent character traits and authoritarian propensities in conjunction with a dispositional aversion to truth (quickened by a paranoid penchant for conspiracy theories), which only serves to amplify the already alarming degree and scope of danger that suffuses a political climate of irrationality and unpredictability and a cultural ethos saturated with apocalyptic-like apprehensions. Indeed, this is ample prima facie evidence of the sociological mechanisms associated with an authoritarian character structure and a population narcotized by ideologies that either directly or indirectly promote or permit the regressive and aggressive socio-cultural and political materials found in this country’s history: conformism, homophobia, (white and ‘Christian’) ethno-nationalism, militarism, parochialism, racism, sexism, conspicuous consumption and acquisitiveness, unbridled ambition, celebrity worship and fame-seeking, the will to dominate others, in short, the “false consciousness” well-captured in Erich Fromm’s clever locution, “the pathology of normalcy.” That so many from the working and middle-classes voted against their enlightened self-interests suggests the power of ideologies that preclude the ability to properly conceptualize and understand the nature of capitalism, including its endemic “[c]ycles, with their mania, crashes, and panics.” It reveals a failure to appreciate a fundamental fact of this economic system in our world:

“The influence of capital—either as portfolio finance or as direct investment—the hegemony of financial markets, the increasing penetration of trade, have been experienced by all the worlds: First, Second, and Third. Indeed, this numerical categorization is now otiose. The benefits and costs of capitalism fall symmetrically—though not equally—on all parts of the world. For the first time in two hundred years, the cradle of capitalism—the metropolis, the core—has as much to fear from the rapidity of change as does the periphery.”

The working and middle classes in the U.S. voted as if punch-drunk on a cocktail that could assuage if not soother their fears, anxieties and anger, voted, in other words, for candidates devoted to the privatization of public goods, the deregulation of the finance sector, and the evisceration of remnant unionized workers, a policy prescription that will only deepen their misery, prolong their suffering, and increase their vulnerability.

In short, Professor Muller has shown us how people from both sides of the political aisle can be adept at ideological manipulation of “American Dream” rhetoric, a rhetoric increasingly belied by the social and economic reality on the ground for all but the very wealthy or fortunate few outside their ranks. When “anon” writes that “Obama and Carson weren’t talking about people on the ships! Can’t you see that?,” it’s clear that not even the most generous or indulgent form of hermeneutic charity will not help us, for Carson explicitly cited “immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships,” and when Obama spoke of “those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily and yet in their own way were immigrants,” how does anon think most of these slaves arrived on our shores (not forgetting those who died during the journey), by walking on water? And until emancipation, most of their descendants were no less slaves, a condition and status that is the topic at hand, so it is emphatically the case that the words of both Carson and Obama before him were indeed “obscene,” yet another illustration of ideological deployment that obscures far more than it reveals, hence their “audacity to plant optimism and patriotism in those people’s minds,” hence their avoidance of “the actual things that a malnourished, possibly sick person, ripped from home and family for a miserable voyage to auction in an unknown place across the sea, might reasonably be imagined to think and feel,” hence the impropriety of placing yet “a second yoke on those people, hitching them to a sunny story of American progress and opportunity that we love to tell ourselves about ourselves but has nothing to do with them.” The “American dream” for slaves was a nightmare, the obverse of the “sunny story of American progress and opportunity that we love to tell ourselves about ourselves.” It seems ideological obfuscation can also be blinding in its effects, for how else can we account for anon’s repugnant attempt to tar and feather Professor Muller with a vulgar and fallacious ad hominem argument, for a maddening and pathetic failure to appreciate what was indeed a “thoughtful and beautifully written post.”

Patrick S. O'Donnell

erratum (4th para.): "...soothe their fears...."

Patrick S. O'Donnell

sorry, another typo (last para.): "it’s clear that not even the most generous or indulgent form of hermeneutic charity will help us"


Where's the reading list?

Eric Muller

I make it my practice not to respond to anonymous commenters, but I'm glad Patrick O'Donnell has a different practice.


Incidentally, there is no doubt that main post above is sprung from an "integrated [set] assertions, theories and aims ...." i.e., an ideology. "[T]hey had the audacity to plant optimism and patriotism in those people’s minds." Hmmm ... care to bet whether this author has condemned his political enemies' "dark vision" of America?

The rambling diatribe below the main post in the comments section reflects an even deeper commitment to a self acknowledged, more radical ideology.

What is strange is the notion that this observation is inaccurate or demeaning. Wear that ideologue label proudly, I say! It fits!

Patrick S. O'Donnell

There is no one "reading list" in this case, although I do have several bibliographies (all found on my Academia page, which I'm permitted despite the fact that I am not an academic) that should provide sufficient background material and knowledge to those genuinely interested in a few of the topics broached in the original post and my comment:
• After Slavery & Reconstruction: The Black Struggle for Civil Rights, Freedom, and Equality in the U.S.
• Toward an Understanding of Liberalism
• Marxism
• Marxism and Freudian Psychology
• Slavery
• The World of Work and Labor Law
[This is my last comment on this thread.]

Marilyn Elkins

False equivalency yet again. Obama's statement qualifies appropriately; Carson's does not. That a huuuge difference.


The former: "Life in America wasn’t always easy for new immigrants ... [certainly] those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily and yet in their own way were immigrants themselves."

The latter: "immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships ..."

Yes, I can see the HUUUUGE difference in the way the term "immigrants" was applied. In the former case, it was by one who is always right. In the latter case, by one who must, by definition, always be wrong.


Oh, yes, we are better than those others, are we not?

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