Monday, June 25, 2007

Progressive Humanitarianism

Something about baggage from the past.

GOOD OLD CARL. It's just a silly story about an unintentional celebrity gaffe:

US actress Cameron Diaz has apologised for wearing a bag with a political slogan that evoked painful memories in Peru.

[Diaz] visited the Incan city of Machu Picchu in Peru's Andes wearing an olive green bag emblazoned with a red star and the words "Serve the People", perhaps Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong's most famous political slogan, printed in Chinese.

The bags are marketed as fashion accessories in some cities around the world, but in Peru the slogan evokes memories of the Maoist Shining Path insurgency that fought the government in the 1980s and early 1990s in a bloody conflict that left nearly 70,000 people dead.

"I sincerely apologise to anyone I may have inadvertently offended," Diaz said in a statement. "The bag was a purchase I made as a tourist in China and I did not realise the potentially hurtful nature of the slogan printed on it."

Okay. Give Diaz a pass. She got caught up in a Chinese fashion trend. But we've talked here before about the influences fashion can exert in transforming a culture, and the truth is that the personality cult of Mao is thriving in this country as well as China. You don't have to be a movie star to accessorize like Carmen. You can order these little gems right on the Internet:

You know. Just for fun. Or, if your taste in revolutionaries runs closer to home, you can plop yourself down at the keyboard and order this:

Many other Che Guevara accessories here.

Or you can skip Che and adorn yourself with the memory of his boss, like so:

And, of course, much much more here.

I suppose we could all squint a bit and claim that this is nothing but a sort of nostalgia for the lost Baby Boomer "idealism" of youth. Nostalgia is what the Germans are calling this odd new development in their nation's hospitality industry:

Check in here.

The four clocks behind the reception desk of Berlin's new budget hotel Ostel show the hour in Moscow, Berlin, Havana, and Beijing. Time, however, appears to have stopped here sometime before 1989, when communism was still entrenched in all four capitals.

The Ostel offers a renewed whiff of life in the former German Democratic Republic, welcoming travelers with portraits of communist leaders adorning the walls...

There are rooms that replicate bedrooms from typical East German apartments, from about $50. At the other end of the scale, $12-per-bed Pioneer Camp dorm rooms feature two bunk beds and spartan living conditions evocative of the summer camps of the Free German Youth, the party youth organization.

Socialist Unity Party functionaries such as party General Secretary Erich Honecker and Prime Minister Horst Sindermann peer down from portraits in most rooms, giving the impression that one is under constant surveillance.

Helbig and Sand plan on expanding their East German hotel project with a series of eight East German-style vacation apartments near the Ostel.

Sleep here.

One hotel. No big deal, right? Right? The really good news is that if you think the old Soviet Union was kind of cool in a retro sort of way, you don't have to go to Germany. You can go here and buy things like this:

Time and familiarity render all these images harmless. We begin to associate them with comfortable events in our own experience, and the ideas and facts they reference are gradually reduced to abstractions from which we can deliberately exclude unwelcome complications. Like all contemporary progressive icons, they are more important for the good original intentions we impute to them than for any inconvenient excesses that may lurk underneath.

Finally, we tell ourselves that associating ourselves with these symbols doesn't mean that we're endorsing communism or oppression of any sort. We're actually turning them into the opposite of that. Somehow.

If you suggest to the progressives who think like this that what they're really endorsing is communism, they are truly astonished and scornful. One of the (anonymous) commenters at InstaPunk exemplified this doublethink in his response to a quote he reproduced from one of my Global Warming posts:

"Never let it be said that the morons who believed in Marxism and defended the slaughters of Stalin are stupid."

Oh my, the commies are back? I thought the Gipper wiped them out in Grenada or something, didn't he? Let me guess, they were hiding under our beds all this time.

Yet the commenter undoubtedly would defend the imposition of a 'Dictatorship of the Scientific Consensus' in order to save the world from Global Warming by edict. Any historical parallels with the disastrous managed economies of the USSR and, say, North Korea don't apply now because the actual history has been peeled away from the rationalist model of absolutist social engineering for the common good. They simply wouldn't repeat any of the worst mistakes of the past, which were probably exaggerated anyway because look at the crazed John Birchers who opposed the communists. They were nuts. They had a blacklist. And what about Vietnam and Iraq and Florida in 2000? You call that freedom and democracy?

Think I'm overstating the degree of self-deluded rationalization involved? Perhaps you haven't seen this item in today's Drudge Report?

THE history of the Soviet Union had fewer black pages in its history than certain other countries, not least the US, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said in a speech.

"Regarding the problematic pages in our history, yes, we do have them, as does any state,'' Putin said at a social sciences conference, citing Stalin's purges during the 1930s.

"But other countries have also known their bleak and terrible moments,'' he said in comments published on the official Kremlin website.

"In any event, we never used nuclear weapons against civilians, and we never dumped chemicals on thousands of kilometres of land or dropped more bombs on a tiny country than were dropped during the entire Second World War, as was the case in Vietnam,'' he said.

I'm betting Putin will find some progressives in this country who think he's scored some major points with this idiotic statement. I can name at least one who thinks that way, and he certainly has a bunch of devoted fans. Here's an excerpt of a review of his latest cinematic demonstration of progressive thought:

In the Cuba section of "Sicko," so many guys in white coats (don't look at the camera, guys!) scurry around Moore’s patients listening to symptoms, peering at X-rays and firing up high-tech medical equipment that the scene seems to have been co-written by Groucho and Karl Marx. If Fidel himself gets this level of care, it’s no wonder the guy has outlasted nine presidents.

You can’t film anywhere in Castro’s Alcatraz without government say-so, meaning the whole scene was as phony as what happens when Frank Bruni walks into a four-star restaurant, and if there is a Michael Moore of Cuba, he is in jail right now. Reporters without Borders calls Cuba the world’s second biggest prison for journalists after China. But Moore solemnly reports Cuba’s official health statistics, which are of course a fiction dreamed up by El Presidente, because Moore's motto is to trust no authority figure from cringing corporate spokesman on up to Washington windbags. Except dictators. Dictators, he’ll take your word for it. I expected Moore to protect himself with a thin coat of disclaimer, just a line to say, "Look, I know Cuba is actually a prison nation where nobody’s gotten a new car since Fredo betrayed Michael, but I’m just using this as an extreme example for ironic purposes." Instead, his irony runs the other way: He plays scare music over an image of Castro to get a laugh. I say that again: he thinks the idea that Castro is evil is so obviously ridiculous that he says it sarcastically and expects you to giggle along. Moore calls Cuban health care among the best in the world. Nonsense. Cuba is short on everything from clean drinking water and aspirin on up. [Emphasis added]

Conservatives who write about this kind of disconnects between progressives and reality call it 'moral relativism.' They're right, but in giving it a label that can be easily referenced and repeated, I think they're overlooking the reality they assume we understand. 'Moral relativism' is, in plainer words, a double standard, and a double standard is a comparison test that unfairly values one thing at the expense of another thing.

We can legitimately ask the question, what is it that progressives are valuing too highly and what is it they're not valuing highly enough? The answer to the first part of the question is that they are assigning a ridiculously high value to the 'good' intention of egalitarianism. The rational ideal of a society that does not let any person or group receive more of society's resources than any other outweighs all the costs it might entail. The common good is best served when all men and women are so common that no individual head sticks out of the crowd (unless one brilliant leader is needed to keep it that way.) This is why they lionize Castro despite the universal economic misery his kind of egalitarianism has produced. The fairness of absolutely equal want and deprivation trumps any prosperity that might produce winners and losers.

The answer to the second part of the question is that such a rigid ideal automatically under-values individual liberty and individual human life. In the utterly rational model, people are indistinguishable units. Only the sum of units matters. Individual units are expendable, the more so when they attempt to act as individuals.

Note that any definition of humanitarianism which is prepared to nullify individual worth without counting the individual human cost of "serving the greater good" is, in fact, anti-humanitarian. Progressives of this ilk find it easy to forget or overlook the massive death tolls of left-wing despots because what they care about is not people, but The People, the abstract symbol they create for every community, political faction, ethnic type, regional population, or nation-state they can identify by an umbrella name of some sort. If the equilibrium they define as egalitarianism is absent, all possible means are justified to attain it, including beheadings, mass murder, and absolute suppression of freedom. Egalitarianism is so important, indeed, that it drives them even to identify with populations who disagree completely with everything else they believe in. They can champion the cause of woman-hating, Jew-hating Islamists because the western world prospers while the Islamic haters do not. They can simultaneously despise Hitler -- and compare all their enemies to him -- even as they tacitly espouse Hitlerian anti-semitism, because they're both guilty of anti-egalitarian behavior. Hitler wanted a hierarchical society. The Jews have acquired too much influence, money, and power. The progressives don't even see the contradictions.

That's also how they can look under every mattress and see a threat to vital civil liberties of The People and yet work in dozens of different ways to reduce or eliminate the individual freedoms they find so inconveniently conducive to inequity in the Constitution. They'll fight to the death for the 'common' right of every man, woman, and child to have unrestricted access to any and every kind of pornography. Yet they'll dismiss the Constitution's emphasis on political speech as the single most important kind of speech that must be protected from government infringement.

That's why they'll be outraged today that the McCain-Feingold statute limiting free political speech was watered down by the Supreme Court. And it's why progressive Senator Diane Feinstein over the weekend declared herself on the side of limiting another kind of political speech:

 WASHINGTON, June 24 (UPI) -- U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said Sunday she is "looking at" the possibility of reviving the fairness doctrine for U.S. broadcasters.

Feinstein, speaking on "Fox News Sunday" with Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said talk radio in particular has presented a one-sided view of immigration reform legislation being considered by the Senate.

U.S. talk radio is dominated by conservative voices...

 Asked if she would revive the fairness doctrine, which used to require broadcasters to present competing sides of controversial issues, Feinstein said she was "looking at it."

"I remember when there was a fairness doctrine," she said, "and I think there was much more serious correct reporting to people."

Key word, of course "correct" reporting. Mao would understand. So would Che and Fidel and 'Uncle Joe' Stalin. That's why they're so willing to return the favor and 'forget' the savageries summarized below the fold of this post. Maybe Cameron should give Diane her Mao bag as a gesture of solidarity. She can always get another one via the Internet.

The rest of us should maybe order one of these cool "Cultural Revolution Alarm Clocks." I think it's already ringing. I wonder if it has a snooze button.

More on Che Guevara here.

We get an idea of the scale of Guevara’s crimes from Daniel James’ Che Guevara: A Biography. James wrote that Guevara admitted to ordering thousands of executions... [emphasis added]

Mr. San Martin... a reluctant guest in early days of Castro’s Gulag.. recounted that on one occasion Guevara’s thugs dragged a 14-year-old boy out his cell and into the prison court yard where the heroic Guevara was waiting for him. He bellowed at the boy to kneel in front of him...

[T]he lad eye-balled Guevara and shouted in his face: “If you're going to kill me you’ll have to do it while I'm standing! Men die standing!” Guevara then put his pistol to the boy’s head and blew out his brains.

Compare this boy’s courage with Guevara’s last few seconds on this earth. When he was cornered by Bolivian troops this swaggering sadist blubbered and begged for his life. Demonstrating that there really is such a thing as justice, his captors did humanity an enormous favour and gave this child-killing thug a well-deserved lead injection.

More on Castro here...

The Cuba Archive project ( has already begun the heavy lifting by attempting to document the loss of life attributable to revolutionary zealotry. The project, based in Chatham, N.J., covers the period from May 1952 -- when the constitutional government fell to Gen. Fulgencio Batista -- to the present. It has so far verified the names of 9,240 victims of the Castro regime and the circumstances of their deaths...

One example:

On May 27, [1966,] 166 Cubans -- civilians and members of the military -- were executed and submitted to medical procedures of blood extraction of an average of seven pints per person. This blood is sold to Communist Vietnam at a rate of $50 per pint with the dual purpose of obtaining hard currency and contributing to the Vietcong...

More on Mao and Stalin here...

As bad as he was, Hitler ruled Germany for only 12 years. Josef Stalin, whose victims number in the tens of millions, was top man in the Soviet Union for a quarter century. Mao Tse-tung, who ruled Communist China with an iron fist and reckless will for 27 years, left behind a tally of dead that is greater even than Stalin's.

"Hitler is really a distant third when you compare these three horrible dictators of the 20th century," Yeshiva University history professor Albert Marrin tells Insight...

Why all this slaughter? Part of the reason can be found in Marxism. "Both men were ideologues," says Marrin. Both men (as far as we can tell) were convinced -- as genuine Marxists must be -- that they were in possession of all the knowledge necessary to form the perfect society. All that was lacking was the will -- what Danton called the audacity -- to create that society.

Maybe if they'd known how much money they could have made from T-shirts and handbags, they'd have lightened up a little.

Nah. But they'd have squeezed the last ounce of blood out of Global Warming. You could bet the farm on that.

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