What Fresh Hell Is This?

April 20, 2008

Jack Kelly Sunday

This week's column by Jack Kelly begins with the now nearly ubiquitous "bitter" quotation of Senator Obama and quickly morphs into one of Jack's occasional book reports.

And of course, he slips (without knowing it) into a bizarre circular self-erasing logic. I'll explain.

Jack Begins:
If Barack Obama read Karl Marx less, and Arthur Brooks more, he might not be in such hot water.
So you can see where this is going. The book is "Gross National Happiness" by Syracuse University professor Arthur Brooks. We'll get to him in a minute.

Here's Jack's quotation from the now infamous "bitter" answer from April 6:
"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them ... it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who are not like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations," Sen. Obama famously told fat cats at a fund raiser in San Francisco.
Note the not-so-subtle cut at the "fat cats" in San Francisco. I'm surprised he didn't note how the number of miles it takes to drive from San Francisco to Berkeley, Ca (via google maps, it's a skosh over 15).

By the way the complete transcript of that quotation can be found here (just scroll down a bit).

Now this is where it gets fun. Jack writes:
Mr. Obama's comments reek of the watered down Marxism that passes for thought on college campuses these days. "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of a soulless condition. It is the opium of the people," Marx wrote.
Actually there's more to that sentence, much more (it's from Marx's "Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right"):
Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man—state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people [Emphasis added]

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.
But I want you to notice something about Jack's rhetoric. here He connects Obama's line to Karl Marx. The connection being that what Obama said sounds (to Jack's "many commentators" at least) like it agrees with Marx and because since anything that Marx wrote, by virtue of its source, was just plain dumb if not dangerous, then what Obama said was just plain dumb, if not dangerous.

It's the "by virtue of its source" part that interests me here.

Who is Arthur Brooks? Jack labels him "a professor at Syracuse University" and that's true. He is. In fact he's the Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government Policy there as well as a Professor of Public Administration and a Senior Research Associate, Alan K. Campbell Public Affairs Institute among many other things. How did I know that?

Because it's on his bio page at the American Enterprise Institute, where Brooks is also a visiting scholar. Without knowing that, though, you might be left with the impression that Professor Brooks is a neutral party in our on-going political discussions and not a scholar at one of the Nation's important conservative think tanks.

Something Jack doesn't tell you.

If you're still unconvinced about things, take a look at the description of the book at AEI:

Who are the happiest Americans? Surveys show that religious people think they are happier than secularists, and secularists think they are happier than religious people. Liberals believe they are happier than conservatives, and conservatives disagree. In fact, almost every group thinks it is happier than everyone else.

In this provocative new book, Arthur C. Brooks explodes the myths about happiness in America. As he did in the controversial Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism, Brooks examines vast amounts of evidence and empirical research to uncover the truth about who is happy in America, who is not, and--most important--why.

He finds that there is a real "happiness gap" in America today, and it lies disconcertingly close to America's cultural and political fault lines. The great divide between the happy and the unhappy in America, Brooks shows, is largely due to differences in social and cultural values. The values that bring happiness are faith, charity, hard work, optimism, and individual liberty. Secularism, excessive reliance on the state to solve problems, and an addiction to security all promote unhappiness.

And now look at the sets of "values" set in opposition to each other. Does that look like a fair and balanced opposition or does it look skewed to the conservative right from the onset?

But let's get back to the Marx/opiate/religion stuff. What does it mean? Austin Cline over at about.com writes:
In the above quotation Marx is saying that religion’s purpose is to create illusory fantasies for the poor. Economic realities prevent them from finding true happiness in this life, so religion tells them that this is OK because they will find true happiness in the next life. Although this is a criticism of religion, Marx is not without sympathy: people are in distress and religion provides solace, just as people who are physically injured receive relief from opiate-based drugs.
So right or wrong, Marx's position on religion is that it offers an illusory fantasy about finding true happiness in the next life if economic realities make it difficult to find happiness in this one.

And what does Jack Kelly say about Arthur Brooks' book? Take a look:
Religious people are happier than secular people in part because we think we're going to go to a nice place when we die.
Uh, I'm sorry, but doesn't that sound dangerously close to something Karl Marx wrote?


infinonymous said...

Brooks' "scholarship" can't withstand a flyswatter.

He counts donations to churches as "charitable donations."

If I go to a movie on Friday evening, it is an entertainment expense. If my neighbor spends the evening watching a movie at his church . . . that's a "charitable donation" that makes him more charitable than I am.

If I buy a self-help book, that just an everyday expense. If my neighbor pursues his interest in fairy tales by purchasing a religious text at the church . . . another "charitable donation."

If I pay $5 a beer to go see Joe Grushecky sing, that's squandering money on demon rum. If my neighbor buys his kids $30 tickets to go see a "Christian Rock" show at Orchard Hill Church . . . "charitable donation."

If I engage a daycare center, that's a personal expense. If my neighbor donates a few hundred bucks to his church, and shows up once a month for the sermon, so that he can get daycare in the church basement . . . that makes him a philanthropist in Brooks' world.

Brooks can't teach us much of anything, but he clearly has learned that flattering wealthy conservatives can do wonders for an obscure college instructor's station in life.

Anonymous said...

John K. says: Tried to spin it and failed. Obama ment exactly what he said. Just like Kerry who was going to "get me a hunting license". Then walks out of the woods with two geese. The left thinks the people who make America work are typical white people who need to be reformed. Try again.

Anonymous said...

John K. also says: How do you know you are a lefty. When at 2:00AM in a Parking Garage in Pittsburgh you run into a group of teenagers returning home from a Christian meeting and you get scared and would rather see a group of bloods or crips.

Anonymous said...

John K. has obviously forgotten that Senator Obama does attend Church. Oh yes, the ridiculous Republican attack machine labels that Church as "boogeyman" religion. Nonsense.

Speaking of the Republican attack machine, the godfather of that machine endorsed Senator Clinton today and she accepted the endorsement. There go my hopes of seeing Richard Mellon Scaiffe on trial for his attempt to subvert the American democracy while President Bill Clinton was President....


I still cannot believe Senator Clinton sat down with this man.


Anonymous said...

John K. says: Yah that is a heck of a church Obama attends. LOL LOL LOL Yah buddy, nothing like going to church and having white people along with your country bashed. LMAO Obama goes to church. I am on the floor with that response. LOL

Anonymous said...

Which good (white man's) church do you prefer, John?

One that conducted the largest systematic facilitation andconcealment of child sex abuse in American history, using lawyers and bankruptcies and blackmail to afflict many victims a second or third time?

One built on polygamy, or one that gets 13-year-olds pregnant by men three and four times their age?

One of those that wouldn't permit black Christians to worship equally until the law crammed it down their throats?

One that handles snakes, or speaks in tongues?

One that has conducted an inquisition or two, and killed scientists for questioning dogma?

One that sponsored a segregated college?

One whose leaders live in mansions and while the poor are still among us?

One that said 9/11 was God's vengeance on America, and blamed it on gays?

One with plenty of Iraqi blood on its hands (for supporting the Bush administration even after the immorality of the invasion was apparent)?

Be sure to let us know which church appeals to right-wing half-wits.

Anonymous said...

I have been thinking about this since I read it this morning.

Here are some of my thoughts.
There is nothing more American than grass-roots efforts to achieve transformational change in our Country. Our Country began with a grass-roots effort, women gained the vote with a grass-roots effort, slavery was abolished beginning with a grass-roots effort and labor organized at the grass-roots level first. I could continue endlessly, but I think everyone gets my point.

There is nothing alien about grass-roots efforts to Americans; indeed, these efforts are about as American as apple pie and baseball.

Before Senator Obama's efforts, we, (us ordinary Americans) weren't very organized. But corporations and special interests were (and are) very organized. Senator Obama seeks to give us the tools to lobby for ourselves -- to lobby government for a Country that provides for the good of this entire Country instead of simply opening up the treasury to Corporate America and special interests.

It does not matter how we come together to begin representing ourselves in the halls of government -- what is important is the realization that once we do come together, what we can achieve is absolutely endless. To claim such grass-roots efforts are "Marxist" discredits both our birth as a nation and the major progress forward we have made since our beginning.

There is, in fact, everything American about such grass-roots organization. Our government was set up to be "by the people, of the people and for the people." There is nothing "marxist" about the notion that we want to take back our government. Instead, this is a uniquely American effort.

Indeed, I would hope that everyone (no matter who they support for President) can see that such organization by all of us is important to our future.

I would also hope that this desperate gasp by the Republican attack machine will be thoroughly excoriated by all.


Anonymous said...

John K. says: So compare the recent visit of the Pope to that of Rev Wright. And then ask yourself which church Obama goes to? LOL LOL I win again. Like I said, you are a lefty if a group of teenagers returning from church scares you more than a Homewood street gang. And to which group does Obama try to court. I win again! LMAO

infinonymous said...

You wouldn't invite that comparison had you a functioning cortex, John.

Did Wright's church actively facilitate and conceal the molestation of thousands of children for decades? Which church, from the pulpit, berated victims who spoke out? Which church unleashed hordes of lawyers on the victims, using the discovery process and public humilitation to abuse those who sought justice and to deter others who might be considering coming forward? Which church twisted bankruptcy and corporate law to avoid financial responsibility for its crimes?

That's enough comparison for me, John. How about you?

Next chapters, if you are dense enough to request them (and I have little doubt on that score): The Inquisition, Galileo, and World War II.

P.S. Why am I not surprised, John, that you are an ardent defender of child abusers?