The Cable News Heroism of Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes)

Chris Hayes

In the past few days, GE/Comcast liberal Chris Hayes has done a couple of laudable things:

1. Devoted a lengthy segment of his show, Up With Chris, to a uniquely informative, well-moderated discussion of the situation in Gaza.  Hayes’ panel – which included a Palestinian and a Palestinian-American –  had 75% fewer assholes than is normal for discussions of this kind.

2. In an otherwise empty and pointless discussion of drone policy with his empty and pointless colleague, Melissa Harris-Perry, Hayes remarked upon the official lack of accounting for the murder-by-drone of 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi. He also concisely illuminated the differences and similarities between young Al-Aulaqi and  ‘a kid in the Bronx…killed by the NYPD’  when Harris-Perry invoked the callous, fallacious ‘what about dead African American kids?’ trope.

Weighed against what is widely available online from independent and foreign sources, nothing in the above is particularly remarkable, especially when you closely inspect Hayes’ remarks in the segments. But since Hayes works for an American cable news network, his double whammy of genuine probity made something of a splash.

Investigative advocacy journalist, Jeremy Scahill, who is both Hayes’ friend and a sometime guest on his program tweeted -

Because of the bankrupt state of US corporate media, what [Chris Hayes] does is a remarkable public service.

I thought this was a bit excessive and tweeted as much. ‘Bullshit’, specifically. I added that I thought Hayes’ good works had to be considered against a number of bad ones. Scahill, who is creditably very accessible to his Twitter followers, took the matter up with a certain amount of irritation. ‘You can be very reactionary’ he wrote. Various annoyingly splainy people weighed in for close to an hour, to the effect that Hayes was as good as it gets on cable news and that I was, therefore,  a ‘preening’, purist ingrate or at the very least, ‘misplacing blame’.

The first part of this verdict is true. Hayes is as intelligent and as far left as prominent mainstream commentators get. By way of articles for The Nation, where he is an Editor at large, and his recent book Twilight of the Elites, he has been an articulate observer of American meritocracy and the extent to which an increasingly corrupt, unaccountable elite is wreaking havoc.

That’s all fine, but there’s a catch, which Freddie DeBoer beautifully described in a New Inquiry review of  Twilight:

Hayes looks out at a burning house and with true moral conviction and unsparing vision, describes it. He then proposes solutions that amount to washing the windows while the building is engulfed in flames…his prescriptions for solving the massive problems he identifies in the book are the typical incrementalism that has constrained the American left for over 30 years.

Regular readers of this blog will know instantly that what DeBoer is describing here is what I call ‘heat vampire’ liberalism. Rather than quote myself again on what that is, I’ll borrow a nicely concise phrase DeBoer uses for Hayes: “all Karl Marx in description, all Tom Daschle in prescription.”

Though DeBoer sees this counterintuitive duality everywhere in liberalism, he is less skeptical than I am on where it originates, crediting it to ‘spectres’ of failed radicalism haunting liberals who ‘forever fear a new Reagan revolution.’  With apparently little interest in how the patronage of outfits like GE, Comcast and big advertisers might shape liberal conventions, DeBoer is unsurprisingly more sanguine about their merits: “That [Hayes] has a nationally televised news show is something of a miracle, in the best sense” he writes.

Well, sorry, there are no miracles on cable news networks co-owned by defense contractors and cable monopolists; there aren’t even happy accidents. This should be obvious — especially when you factor in MSNBC’s frequent capitulation and firing rituals — so it’s depressing to have to argue otherwise. Somehow lefts that would, on a rainy day,  apply the Chomsky/Herman lens to a bag of Doritos are incapable of applying it to establishment lefts at the margins, even when these people are on commercial television. Understandable, really,  since I don’t think Chomsky gets how Chomsky applies to Chomsky either.

Let me spell it out: Someone in some high place finds Hayes useful.  If and when he’s no longer useful, he’ll be purged.  There was a very public reminder to this effect in May when, on a Memorial Day program, Hayes expressed ambivalence about the word “hero”, because it is “so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war.” Even though Hayes offered this tepid remark in a segment rich with militarist schmaltz, right wing pundits and veterans groups pounced. The next day, Hayes issued a revolting apology which went above and beyond the normal requirements of atonement, complete with the far right-wing suggestion that civilians can’t really speak with authority on military matters:

…in seeking to discuss the civilian-military divide and the social distance between those who fight and those who don’t, I ended up reinforcing it, conforming to a stereotype of a removed pundit whose views are not anchored in the very real and very wrenching experience of this long decade of war. And for that I am truly sorry.

Public capitulation rituals of this kind aren’t just a part of  heat vampire liberalism;  they are, in fact,  its very essence.  This is basically what DeBoer’s Marx/Daschle formulation describes: a clear eyed, even radical, assessment of all that’s wrong in the world coexisting with acquiescence in oligarch-approved methods for putting things right, no matter how often and resoundingly these methods fail.  So constituted, heat vampire liberals act as role models for the rest of us, reconciling things that aren’t logically reconcilable,  successfully wrestling themselves into compliance with status quo fundamentals while bemoaning the particulars.

Taking parts one and two of the Hayes ‘heroes’ dust-up at face value, one sees him publicly reconciling a skepticism toward militarist manipulation of language with cringing deference toward military authority. For those reading between the lines, not least other careerists, Hayes is also helpfully demarcating the boundaries of permissible skepticism. It’s certainly easy to see how useful this ritual is to GE, the military contractor footing half the Hayes bill. It’s somewhat harder to suss out what it usefully contributes to anyone else.

This is why I part company with Hayes’ many admirers and why I consider most  establishment lefts fundamentally toxic: their principled, analytical moments are inseparable from the ways in which they more frequently and potently subvert them.  Nowhere is this more dramatically evident than in the crucial role heat vampires like Hayes play in presidential elections, which is where they really shine.

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of presidential elections, not, certainly, to policy-making and social progress — where they are, in aggregate terms, largely irrelevant — but to mass indoctrination, mass distraction, and movement killing, where they accomplish a great deal.  A full-throated bullshit call on these long, costly, and destructive spectacles is clearly warranted but obviously not something the ruling class would be wise to entertain.

Hence, the price all widely known public lefts from Rachel Maddow to Chomsky must pay to sit at the grownups’ table is agreement that a quadrennial, unconditional allegiance to whomever happens to be the Democratic presidential candidate is both tactically sound and socially responsible. Nothing attests quite as strongly to how homogenous and well-disciplined is the U.S. establishment left than the consensus on this profoundly non-obvious point, despite wide dissensus in the public at large.

As each successive edition of  The Most Important Election Ever™ provides fewer reasons than the last for even the most anguished liberal/left participation, heat vampires, as exemplars of irrational compliance, are ever more critical to converting the increasing number of ambivalent, wary shoppers into sales. Compelled this time around to argue for the reelection of the disastrous Obama, heat vampires obligingly offered embarrassingly clownish levels of irrationality, bullying and outright lying. My personal favorite is Daniel Ellsberg’s Impeach Obama/Re-Elect Obama two-step.

This stuff isn’t easy, so Hayes must have felt lucky to be among a few who actually got talking points straight from Obama himself, via a strategy meeting at the White House last December. As reported by Jake Tapper -

An all-star list of progressive and liberal media folks came to the White House today to chat with President Obama over coffee in the Roosevelt Room.

The group chatted with the president about economic messaging, his agenda for 2012, the various campaign arguments against different GOP candidates, the desire among some Democrats for him to highlight his foreign policy accomplishments, fighting corporate influence and the “crappiness” of the Senate filibuster , as one attendee put it.

Those there included the Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein and Greg Sargent, MSNBC anchors Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow, and Chris Hayes, the Nation’s editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, the New York Times‘ Frank Bruni, and stars of the interwebs Arianna Huffington, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, Faiz Shakir of ThinkProgress and Joy Reid of The Reid Report.

Armed with the Kill List President’s ‘various campaign arguments’, Hayes obligingly leveraged his bestselling credibility on elites toward the quaint campaign theme that there was only one deeply corrupt, above-the-law elite running, even though his book clearly shows he knows better.  The cynical marriage of Hayes’ yappy valedictorian earnestness with this glaringly dishonest proposition is as funny as it sounds and I strongly recommend you see for yourself, as this transcript – remarkable though it is – doesn’t do it justice:

Hayes:  I thought the moment of the oil drilling gaffe, that debate to me was a key moment. The reason was this. Mitt Romney asked the president a direct question numerous times, kept interrupting him, “Isn’t it true? Isn’t it true? Didn’t it go down?” Now the rules for the debate, that we all got leaked, number five, subsection E: “The candidates may not ask each other direct questions during any of the four debates.”

Now, at a certain level, who cares, right? Who cares? Here’s why I care. The theme of the last ten years of this country is the people at the top have felt the rules don’t apply to them. And you send your people to sit down and negotiate a set of rules, and 20 minutes into it you throw it out the window. And everything we’ve seen, from the financial crisis to everything else that’s happened in this country, has been about the oligarchs and the ruling class and the people at the top feeling that they are not a party to the social contract. So some stupid little contract that was negotiated by your people, you don’t worry about.

Rachel Maddow: And you think Romney threw out that rule before Obama…I mean both of them broke the rule…

Hayes: [Romney] broke it first

What can you say about an esteemed commentator on havoc-wreaking elites, who   tweezes out the extremely consequential difference between the candidate who breaks a debate rule first and the one who breaks it second? Who passionately laments the corruption of the past ten years,  helpfully putting aside distracting trifles like the four out of ten years in which Obama was president and not a single Bush crime was addressed, not a single bankster went to jail and all Americans became potential targets of assassination?

What can you say? It’s a remarkable public service! Nay, it’s something of a miracle!

Recommended Reading

Keepers of the Gatekeepers

Warning: Meanness Ahead – Arther Silber

The Toxically Useful Idiocy of Amy Goodman

The Fraudulent Dissent of Lawrence  O’Donnell

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44 Responses to The Cable News Heroism of Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes)

  1. anon says:

    excellent work here, really made my day. I also appreciated blogger Bob Somerby’s critique of Hayes’ book’s chapter on the media, in which the skilled career climber author whitewashes the media’s role in selling all of this crap to the public

  2. Thanks for this intervention.

    I’d like to offer an observation—a prime example of why I cannot share in Scahill’s enthusiasm—but with the disclosure I don’t watch the show on the regular (for many of the reasons cogently discussed here). I made sure to watch the episode in question, and at least twice.

    Hayes’ opening monologue ( was astonishing in its predictability. His optics of equivalence is very familiar: he does not use the word blockade (even though it has crippled every sector of Gazan society for at least five years), occupation (never mind settler-colonialism), or even mention that upwards of 70% of Gazans are refugees. Instead, he frames Operation Pillar of Cloud as a ‘back and forth.’ What is the difference between Hayes and the pervasive ‘endless cycle of violence’ discourse? The only time he points to structural power at all is pointing out an ‘asymmetry in death toll’—the same day the episode had aired, by the way, an Israeli air strike had already eviscerated the apartment building housing three generations of the same family, al-Dallou.

    Hayes: ‘As Americans watching this, the conflict seems impenetrable and interminable and constant so then every once in a while rockets start flying or there’s a bombing strike and I think Americans look and go, what happened, why now.’ The Americocentrism aside (inexcusable due to Israel’s military funding source and political super-ally), the faux-naïveté masks a duty toward an informed position regarding facts.

    It is indeed admirable that Hayes’ influential platform made room for not only two Palestinian commentators, but two that know what they’re talking about. But that is all that he has done in this instance: made some room. To attribute that to a public service when his optics are nearly indistinguishable from every other corporate mainstream source of its ilk doesn’t fly.

    (By way of comparison: Fox News employed the same optics in discussing the ceasefire. The host: ‘Ceasefires in that region of the world… don’t last very long.’ The only major difference was the guest choice.

  3. ohtarzie says:

    Thanks MMG. I completely agree and greatly appreciate your observations which make a wonderful post by themselves. The Gaza roundtable presents the overall problem in microcosm: you have a vastly better panel than usual – featuring real Palestinians!!! – generating credibility for Hayes, who then, once again, puts that credibility in service to official doctrine. I don’t find this at all laudable in the end.

  4. Rob says:

    OK. Several things to add.
    A very grandiloquent and ornate discussion of something which might be encapsulated into the idea that someone like Hayes is a cog in a vast corporate machine, and therefore is a placeholder representing certain limits and bounds outside of which one can’t stray if one wants to keep his job and the privileges attached to it – which, by the way, is exactly a core idea of, well, the Herman-Chomsky so-called propaganda model:

    This is right, but I think it’s problematic to focus too much attention on Hayes, as he really isn’t the subject here, it’s a wider critique of the corporate media. If you believe that Hayes’ intimate convictions are radical, or at least somewhat radical, and it truly is impossible for a real, left radical journalist to thrive in the corporate media environment (this is debatable), then it makes little sense to constantly hammer away at people like Hayes and Maddow, because if they weren’t doing what they were doing, they wouldn’t be there in the first place – i.e. they can’t act any differently, so it makes no sense to ask them to do so.
    However, if it IS possible for radical positions and ideas to emerge in a corporate media environment, and the various factions which exert power over employees have no say in what is reported, then it would make sense to criticize Hayes, as the supposition is that he isn’t following orders, but that his positions are heartfelt and genuine.

    The real question for me is the dilemma of whether or not it’s wise to work inside the “system”, believing that it’s truly possible to implement radical change in an incremental way, while staying within certain bounds – and what tactics are most effective. If Hayes believes this, and your conclusion is that it’s impossible (to implement radical change while serving interests bound to the status quo), then his worst sin, if I understand you, is to effectively be a useful idiot. Remember that people like Greenwald and Scahill also work for corporate entities (though obviously not on the level of GE and the other behemoths behind the large media corps) and still manage to produce good, honest journalism. If a goal in politics is to maximize the positive effects of your actions, and not simply to feel good about oneself, then it does logical make sense for a journalist to compromise certain positions in order reach the largest number possible with his/her work by using a vehicle with a large audience rather than a small one. Whether or not it’s morally or ethically sound is a different question, but on a purely rational level, you can’t hold the position that such a compromise makes no sense, because it does. Ultimately, this distinction rests on how you define “politics”.

    As for Chomsky’s position on voting, it’s being slightly misrepresented here – although I don’t necessarily agree with it either. I wouldn’t put him in the same category as the other lukewarm liberals expounded upon here. Stoller’s opinion on this matter over at Salon seems more honest – i.e., short term goals vs. long-term goals. Voting does not represent any kind of “allegiance”, and to call it that is to give it far too much importance – it’s a purely tactical issue, not a principled one, along the lines of making an alliance with the Ron Paul / pseudo-libertarian faction for its more honest positions on civil liberties and war. Such an alliance doesn’t mean one agrees with all of their positions, and it would be the same in the instance of a voting tactic. Not voting, if one follows the argument of an Arthur Silber, for example, while a convincing argument, can be seen as unethical as well – that is, if you aren’t engaged somehow in changing the status quo, simply abstaining is not a moral position, as it has no concrete effects on changing policy, unless a mass movement is built up. Those kids will still be droned, whether you vote Obama or not – I myself didn’t vote, but I don’t hold myself up as a moral paragon, as not voting took very little energy.

    Another problematic notion raised by this essay is guilt by association – the idea that one’s journalism doesn’t exist as an individual entity, but is represented and to be judged by whatever conglomeration or group of people making up the corporation or newspaper. If we take this logic to its extreme, we wouldn’t read some of the excellent Op-Eds in Al-Jazeera either, as it’s partly a tool of the Qatari monarchy, aligned with the same imperial interests which ushered in the Libyan rebels, etc. So we need to ask ourselves to what extent it’s possible for individuals to retain their individuality while working for a major news corporation, and to what extent they are pressured by the prevailing ethos and environment around them – this seems to be a continuum, and not a clear-cut distinction, and depends on the organization, I suppose.

  5. ohtarzie says:


    Yes I am aware that the Propaganda Model applies to the left and said as much. My point is that leftist enthusiasm for riff raff like Hayes suggests that it’s too rarely applied there. Speaking of Chomsky, I have absolutely zero interest in tweezing out, meaninglessly — for the 100th time — the pube of difference between his quadrennial agonized endorsements and more enthusiastic ones. It all leads to the same place. It’s simply tailored to Chomsky’s much too uncritical fans, who are flattered by the skepticism that goes with it.

    This piece very obviously didn’t focus on Hayes to the exclusion of the system of which he is a part. I am not hammering away at him. He’s clearly a jumping off point for discussing the function of ostensible ‘extreme’ liberals in public discourse. I don’t think it hurts to observe, unflatteringly, the kind of person who thrives in this system, so not at all sorry for the points where I do. I don’t think we need to give Hayes any more reasons to hold his head high. He has his fat GE/Comcast paycheck for that.

    As for Scahill and Greenwald, they are anomalies. Greenwald built up a huge fanbase as a more partisan, Hayes-like figure; his Road to Damascus moment happened after he was well established as an eyeball grabber and after he had developed a number of useful connections. I should also point out that he works for a British nonprofit now and my piece is clearly about the American corporate media. Scahill is also evolving. His excellent journalism was at one time bundled with a far less scathing critique than one gets from him now. That he is a specialist in a dangerous, difficult field gives him a great deal more leverage than less intrepid journalists have.

    To the question of working inside or outside the system: the quandaries of careerist lefts don’t interest me. I approach this as a consumer of media. I think the Hayes product – like most commercial left product – is toxic and best left alone, or consumed with a great deal of skepticism. The idea that reaching massive numbers of people with some newsy tidbit is inherently good, regardless of how that tidbit is analysed, spun and twisted seems very foolish. For instance, Hayes handwringing over young al-Aulaqi is in the end just more compliance role play: Oh how terrible is this murder! How wonderful is the murderer! Generally I think the idea of liberating people by inundating them with information is accepted too much on faith, so inundating them with info filtered through doctrine is not something I am a fan of either.

    Your comments on voting don’t interest me much. This shit’s been fought about over and over. People who find it interesting have many resources besides this blog. I do think Zinn’s idiotic ‘two minutes in a voting booth’ thing that you are borrowing here needs to be examined in light of all the time, money and energy that goes into getting you there. It seems to me rejecting these charades altogether for a while would build up more leverage. The ‘moral paragon’ cliche is just insulting and stupid and as ever, it’s paradoxically invoked in a vain display of superiority. I am not a moralist about voting. My objections to left engagement in presidential elections are entirely tactical. This should be obvious.

    As for guilt by association, people can do whatever they like. I don’t much care whether people reject Hayes or MSNBC altogether, though I think they probably should. If they are going to engage, they should at least see them clearly for what they are. Buyer beware and all that.

    • Rob says:


      We’re addressing slightly different subjects, and I don’t question at all hammering away at Hayes (as a matter of fact, I don’t watch him, don’t own a TV and don’t care much about him), but rather to where the emphasis is placed, which is more ad hominem. You seem to be addressing more establishment liberalism as an institution, whereas I was addressing more the media as an institution. As far as for Hayes supplying a springboard for a more broad and structural analysis of the media, I agree – which is why I would have liked this post to go there, and it ultimately didn’t in my opinion, which was the main point of my comment. To ascertain to what degree Hayes and Maddow are more the symptoms of the illness, or rather the illness itself. That is, such a structural critique of the corporate media is hinted at, but never really fleshed out – and the tools to analyze it, which are offered by the “propaganda model” (however valid they may or may not be), aren’t really offered or discussed here, apart from some references to funding. Fine. You seem to possess the intellectual and literary capacities to do this, which is what puzzled me – or the subject doesn’t interest you, which is fine.

      The question I was asking was essentially: to what degree do such individuals have freedom to act in the context in which they operate, and to what extent are their actions personal choices and not simply products of indoctrination, education and other pressures? If they are products of education, indoctrination and organizational pressure, then a more structural critique is warranted – if not, then they deserve any criticism they receive, and much more so, as their actions are voluntary, willful, personal choices. For example, the reference to the vague gesture towards Palestinian opinion cited by M. Gharavi above, positive though it is, is framed by the usual Western, pervasive (and misleading) underlying assumptions, she correctly states – who is responsible, Hayes himself, institutional pressures, culture, education, all of the above?

      As far as “borrowing” from Zinn (I suppose it’s Howard Zinn you mean), I’ve never read that, but it’s rather strange to insinuate that such a common sense notion would need to be imparted by some sort of wise elder “guru”, it’s a rather simple idea. We all can think, and hero worship is unseemly, whether that be known public intellectuals, or unknown ones. I brought it up because it’s in the very post you wrote… My point was that simply abstaining is not enough, and agree that a wider divestment campaign would be in order, rather than simply “washing one’s hands” of it, because we are implicated to some degree whether we vote or not – abstention without some kind of organization and education is a facile solution. The option of “not participating in evil” is somewhat illusory, as we already are to some extent, whether we like it or not. Enough on that.

      As far as being “a consumer of media”, I’m not sure I understand this notion, as I don’t see news itself as a product. The product news organizations are selling is mostly the audience, not the information itself – the information is a combination of indoctrination and unfiltered data. It’s a problematic notion, as it implies that, as a “product”, like any other, we can simply refuse to “consume” it for a choice of a better product. So why do so many choose to consume an inferior product? People tend to listen to and read those sources which confirm already-held beliefs – are you saying that any corporate media are ultimately entertainment, and that a truly honest window on the world is impossible on the part of any corporate structure?

      • ohtarzie says:


        Perhaps you should write the piece I didn’t, since you are interested in such a piece and I am not.

        You are right. I am concerned with the liberal establishment as an institution and how it is shaped by and shapes media and how it then serves its historical purpose of tempering dissent. A structural critique of the media is beyond the scope of a blog post. It’s also been done many times. I raised the issue of the propaganda model simply to contrast the left skepticism toward the ‘mainstream’ and its wide-eyed enthusiasm for the likes of Hayes. I have toyed with the idea of applying the model to the left but didn’t consider it necessary for this particular post, and so invited people to apply it themselves.

        Color me simplistic, but I think that one, knowing the ownership of msnbc and two, watching how its employees behave, and three seeing how its employees are disciplined (‘Hero’ dustup) /prepped (Coffee with the Prez) is sufficient to my purposes, which is to disabuse people of hero worshipping illusions they have about it and to invite the same skepticism toward the liberal establishment as they already apply to the ‘mainstream’ at large. To maybe consider how it might look if it operated under different constraints.

        I don’t see most of this piece as ad hom. There is quite a lot of factual information here and lots of quotes. It’s more like, here’s an idea about how this works, kick it around. Does it resonate? I don’t pretend to be doing social science here.

        As to Zinn, I think narrowing down the whole presidential election charade to two minutes in the voting booth is a preposterously stupid and reckless thing to do. I don’t think seeing voting that way has any commonsense to it at all, certainly not for an empirical left; hence I blame all Manchurian Candidate-like variations of this nostrum on him. If you come by this ridiculously trivializing assessment on your own, more’s the pity. I think the monolithic unwillingness of the establishment left to be even reasonably intelligent or tactical about electoral politics is the best reason for regarding it with suspicion and contempt.

        As to individuals vs. structure: I don’t see it as either/or. There are structural constraints that foster some individuals and not others. That we have a media system that generously rewards a dissident-cum-shill like Hayes, and a left culture that applauds him as one of the ‘good ones’, doesn’t make Hayes less of a careerist operator, or make his ardent fans something other than rubes.

        Yes, Professor, I am aware that the audience is what’s being sold. But the audience is receiving something too – in exchange for its payment of attention – and it’s fair for communication purposes to refer to this as a product rather than to call it, say, news or journalism. It is analogous to a product in that we can choose from an array of possibilities, or stop consuming it altogether. Is there any reason to split hairs over this other than to remind yourself and me what a splainy smart media crit dude you are?

        In answer to your question: I think corporate media has its good points and bad points. As a whole, I think it works very deliberately against any major alterations to the status quo. I don’t know that an ‘honest window on the world’ is possible for anyone, but a step in the right direction is skepticism in all things.

      • Rob says:

        ohtarzie :
        Thanks for engaging, and sorry for taking up far too much room on your blog than was warranted by my remarks – I simply thought the article brought up lots of ideas worth taking up, didn’t know how to condense it all…

      • ohtarzie says:

        I have no objection to lengthy discussions. Glad you found it worthwhile. Was not obvious.

  6. Popping in kinda quickly to say that I agree in full with the post — and, of course, to wish you all Happy Thanksgiving, say a few Yay America!s (is this the greatest fucking country or what?!?!?!), and similar kinds of shit.
    But mainly to say, a propos of the excerpt about the burning house, that it is strikingly similar to a passage from Alice Miller I recently quoted (again). She too makes the comparison to fighting a fire at the very end of these two paragraphs (which are not short, but contain numerous cogent and important points — “poisonous pedagogy” is her term for education and parenting directed toward breaking a child’s will and making her/him into an obedient servant):

    There is a good deal else that would not exist without “poisonous pedagogy.” It would be inconceivable, for example, for politicians mouthing empty cliches to attain the highest positions of power by democratic means. But since voters, who as children would normally have been capable of seeing through these cliches with the aid of their feelings, were specifically forbidden to do so in their early years, they lose this ability as adults. The capacity to experience the strong feelings of childhood and puberty (which are so often stifled by child-rearing methods, beatings, or even drugs) could provide the individual with an important means of orientation with which he or she could easily determine whether politicians are speaking from genuine experience or are merely parroting time-worn platitudes for the sake of manipulating voters. Our whole system of raising and educating children provides the power-hungry with a ready-made railway network they can use to reach the destination of their choice. They need only push the buttons that parents and educators have already installed.

    Crippling ties to certain norms, terminology, and labels can also be clearly observed in the case of many thoroughly honorable people who become passionately engaged in political struggle. For them, political struggle is inseparably associated with party, organization, or ideology. Since the ominous threat child-rearing practices pose to peace and survival has always remained hidden, ideologies have not yet been able to perceive this situation or, if they do perceive it, to develop intellectual weapons against this knowledge. As far as I know, not a single ideology has “appropriated” the truth of the overriding importance of our early conditioning to be obedient and dependent and to suppress our feelings, along with the consequences of this conditioning. That is understandable, for it probably would mean the end of the ideology in question and the beginning of awareness. Accordingly, many ideologues who consider themselves politically active are like people who, if a fire breaks out, would open the windows to try to let out the billowing smoke (perhaps contenting themselves with abstract theories about the fire’s origin) and blithely ignore the flames leaping up nearby.

    Powerful insights, I think you might agree. Not so by the way, I quoted that in a recent post titled “Letting Evil Set the Terms,” which is the theme of your post in a central way. All most interesting.

    Catch all of youse soon.

    • ohtarzie says:

      Hi Arthur:

      Thanks for dropping by. I rarely think of how our childhood training prepares us for tyranny. It’s all very interesting. Also sobering.

      I like to think that a large number of people – if not most – have the cognitive skills to think their way out, but that’s more an article of faith than anything else.

  7. Walter says:

    I’m loving the all-star comment section – at this rate Greenwald and Chomsky will turn up any minute.

    Speaking of Greenwald, I’m now officially fantasizing about you writing 2,000 critical words about him. Oh god, what a beautiful dream.

    • Kratoklastes says:

      I reckon writing 2000 critical words about GG would be pretty hard – “He doesn’t use enough profanity, which makes his stuff less outright-entertaining than Chris Floyd, Arthur Silber, or Matt Taibbi. He doesn’t get angry enough, either.”

      That’s 26, and it’s seriously all I can come up with – even though GG’s not anti-State (which is the logical conclusion of any sensible and thorough study of the economics of the State, especially in terms of the dynamics – i.e., its predictable and inevitable capture by parasitic megalomaniac sociopaths).

      Also I don’t think GG’s an atheist, so maybe I oculd rustle up a couple hundred words about believing in stupid primitive Sky Fairy myths and so forth… but that is only relevant to his professional oeuvre to the extent that the gullibility required to believe such drivel casts all other critical faculties into doubt.

      • Walter says:

        I don’t want to pull too far off topic, but I did find GG’s overall attitude towards the 2012 election somewhat disappointing. In 2008 he shilled fairly hard for voting Obama (although he did criticize Obama plenty leading up to the election), even chastising third party or non-voters. In 2012 he seemed to be playing more the impartial observer – occasionally referencing the fact that voting Obama validates his policies but not seeming to proclaim it as firmly as his “must stop radical right” pitch in 2008, which obviously turned out to be bad advice on multiple levels.

        But that’s pretty thin gruel for an essay and I may be pressing my thumb on the scale a bit even within that mild critique, whereas Hayes will no doubt provide increasing amounts of material as his star continues to rise.

      • ohtarzie says:

        You are just dying to put a wedge between me and Gigi.

        I wish he had come out stronger against Obama but as long as he doesn’t outright stump for him I can’t really object. His consistent, harsh criticism speaks for itself. I don’t expect these people to be perfect. I understand there are constraints, one of which is not fucking with the cultish faith in elections. Really, who in public life does it? Nader, that’s it, and look what happened to him. TBH I wish people would just come out against Presidential elections rather than for or against particular candidates. I am a little weary of the Obama obsession on both sides.

        As long as the balance sheet remains overwhelmingly on the side of good, I have no objections to political maneuvering here and there to avoid a smear bath and unemployment. Greenwald takes all kinds of flack as it is so I don’t fault him for not going further out on a limb. If I were going to write about him, it would likely analyze how he manages to stay in the game without any heat vampirism. I don’t think anyone else comes close in that regard.

    • Mark Kackstetter says:

      This comment exchange is fascinating to read 15 months later, especially given all that’s occurred in the interim.

      (I wasn’t looking for anything like this, mind you. I just happened to read this blog entry after finally reading the Tarzie FAQ.)

      Walter, I do hope that Tarzie’s criticism of Greenwald lived up to your fantasies.

      • Tarzie says:

        I know, it’s hilarious isn’t it? Especially where I say I can’t see the dustup ever happening. I think everyone saw it coming but me.

        Pretty sure Walter got sick of it long before it wound down, btw.

      • walterglass4 says:

        lol, just went hunting for this exchange and found that someone else beat me to it by a month.

        Honestly if I had known how ugly the other side was going to get about it I wouldn’t have been so glib in encouraging this – if I ever did get sick of it, it was primarily because GG and his idiot followers got so unhinged. Whatever else is true about it, the rift opened up and clarified many issues, issues that go way beyond Greenwald or Hayes or Goodman or any of these personalities.

      • Tarzie says:

        I wouldn’t have been so glib in encouraging this

        It wouldn’t have made any difference.

        I have no regrets about doing it. I regret that people are shitty and dumb.

  8. ohtarzie says:

    “Speaking of Greenwald, I’m now officially fantasizing about you writing 2,000 critical words about him. ”

    I can’t see that happening. We have our differences but he is an example of someone who keeps a high profile without any heat vampire nonsense.

    • Walter says:

      I know, I know, I just like when you go after people I respect – the Goodman piece especially was pretty challenging. Greenwald really keeps a clean nose though.

  9. Well done, Cher Tarzie. Hayes’ liberalism’s a daydream that preserves all the rotten machinery and hopes, through tinkering that’d never dare discomfit the lords of machinery, for a better product. This Liberal Utopianism rides delusion “past infinite dimension”.

    This piece merits everyone’s attention.


    G.W. Tailismo, Pilgrim, Gehenna.

  10. bilejones says:

    “Public capitulation rituals of this kind aren’t just a part of heat vampire liberalism; they are, in fact, its very essence. ”

    It’s all a part of the cog and pawl mechanism that forms the ratchet of the ever strangling state.

    Hayes’ performance locks in place the boundary of acceptable discourse, always and ever more restricted.

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  12. Justin says:

    I wonder if people like you or Freddie (or Chomsky) realize you are to Chris Hayes what he is to the establishment. You provide a pretty fierce condemnation of what’s wrong with the situation, but the basic premise of your writing is trying to apply more of the same. Hayes thinks more window washing will save the burning house, you seem to think stripping the whitewash off the fence is what will do the trick.

  13. ohtarzie says:

    “you seem to think stripping the whitewash off the fence is what will do the trick.”

    Huh? deBoer’s window remark is about Hayes’ recommendations for how to fix things. Both he and I are radicals, so our recommendations are different. Also the things we do about them IRL.

    As I feel that people like Hayes have a pacifying effect on the left, I think calling out their fraudulence amounts to more than stripping the fence.

    Keep commenting! Maybe something meatier next time? Actual idea, a fact…stuff like that.

    • Anton J. says:

      What the poster is saying is: You’re shitting on them hard for failing to speak truth to power (accurately) but ultimately framing it in the same vein; i.e. speaking truth to the est. left’s power.

      What needs to happen more than anything is for these leftists to see just how off the pulse they all are.

      All commentary is vampirism on the actual movement to abolish capital (but this is anti-intellectual, no?) in this framework.

      So maybe a better frame would be, What intellectual work is permissible right now? Something prescriptive might help, unless of course you don’t care to offer, and wish to remain negative. I don’t know what line of work you’re involved in besides criticism. I share your skepticism of rock-stardom, though. Blegh.

      • Tarzie says:

        What the poster is saying is: You’re shitting on them hard for failing to speak truth to power (accurately) but ultimately framing it in the same vein; i.e. speaking truth to the est. left’s power.

        That’s actually not what I’m doing. My attack on the establishment left is more akin to exposure of a fraud. My appeal is to people falling for the scam, not the scammers.

        All commentary is vampirism on the actual movement to abolish capital (but this is anti-intellectual, no?) in this framework

        No, I don’t agree. That’s like saying any activity you dedicate to something other than abolishing capital is vampirism in this framework. I am using vampirism to mean a strategy of siphoning off authentic left energy (for lack of a better word) by fake lefts doing their bit to sustain neoliberalism.

        And what, exactly, qualifies as a capital abolishing activity? I know that this commenter is part of a gaggle of smug middle class anarchists that coalesced around the now defunct IOZ blog, a number of whom now weirdly troll people for being concerned about anything. My question each time I encounter one of these guys is where do their comments like this one fit into whatever it is we are supposed to be concerned with? And where does your comment fit? I find these hydraulic theories of revolutionary resource management that people are always doing highly amusing. In this guy’s case I think what he and some of his ilk do is more like talking themselves into their own little religion, whatever the fuck it is. I think I am rather incidental.

        So maybe a better frame would be, What intellectual work is permissible right now?

        I tend to be kind of permissive where ‘intellectual work’ is concerned and think anything is up for grabs, so long as it’s honest, though that doesn’t mean I’ll take an interest. But here’s the thing: I’m not looking to abolish anything, as much in need of abolishing as so many things are. I think we’re all pretty much fucked. I’d just rather be surrounded by people who know the score somewhat while we all go to hell. I want more mockery in the world that comes from genuinely knowing what’s what and fewer starry eyed vulgarians everywhere.

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