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March 26, 1985 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 1985-03-26

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PINI

Page 4

Tuesday, March 26, 1985

The Michigan Daily

4

Edited and managed by students at The University of Michigan

Lessons of a decadent age

WI. XCV, No. 138

420 Maynard St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Editorials represent a majority opinion of the Daily's Editorial Board

Money talks

R ELYING heavily on the language
of the First Amendment, which
guarantees free speech, the Supreme
Court has confirmed that money talks
most.
Last week's .Court' decision not to
impose a $1,000 cap on Political Action
Committee (PAC) contributions to
Presidential candidates in the general
elections is tantamount to a judicial
vote against the private citizen; and a
fairly ominous warning of the sort of
narrow interpretation of the Corf-
stitution a Reagan-packed Court is
likely to yield in the years to come.
PAC spending last year totalled $15.3,
million for President Reagan and
$621,000 for Democratic hopeful Walter
Mondale. While both Reagan and Mon-
dale received $40.4 million in public
funds and another $6.9 million from
their respective party's national com-
mittees to conduct their campaigns,
PAC contributions bought Reagan
costly and politically valuable media
exposure which Mondale simply
couldn't afford. The National Conser-
vative Political Action Committee
alone kicked-in $5.5 million to back
Reagan, while the Fund for a Conser-
vative Majority spent $2.5 million on
Reagan's behalf. These two powerful,
PAC's were only the two highest con-
tributors, several hundred smaller
PAC's supplied many millions of
dollars more.

In his opinion for the majority,
Justice William Rehnquist argued that
to cap PAC contributions at $1,000
(which is the legal limit for individual
contributions to a presidential can-
didate in a general election, as opposed
to the $5,000 PAC limit), "is much like
allowing a speaker in a public hall to
express his views while denying'him
the use of an amplifying system". Cer-
tainly, PAC s present the paradox of
America's brand of democratic
pluralism: rich in both dollars and in
the diverse capabilities and clout of its
members, PACs act as vehicles for
citizen participation and
simultaneously shut down the power of
the single constituent to effectively in-
fluence the election or actions of public
officials.
The Court's unjust over-extension of
First Amendment doctrine in this case
only lends legitimacy to the gross
distortion of democracy which occurs
when the private citizen's voice is
drowned out by the louder, collective
voices of business and ideological
PAC s. PACs offer dollars, perks, and
power maintainence that only
economically super-elite or politically
important individuals can compete
with. The Court's decision preserves
the PAC's unfair advantage.
The Court has confirmed that money
talks - and more money talks even
louder.

By Brian Leiter
Who among us can really estimate the
educational value and interest of living at the
bottom end of Western culture? From
Pericles and Sophocles to Reagan and
"Dallas": what vast distances have been
covered! If we ever escape the stunning
"chauvinism of the moment" that charac-
terizes our age, we shall have quite a story to
tell. Old men shall sit amidst groups of
children and muse, "Oh, I remember those
days well: the continuing decline of intellec-
tual standards, the triviaization of culture,
the undermining of the value and sense of
language-back then we young boys thought
we'd truly seen the worst of it...and then came
Reagan!" The children shall gasp, or titter,
as is the habit with children, and then quickly
demand, "Tell us more, tell us about this
Reagan person!"
Oh, yes, one would very much like to
reassure oneself with images of such distant
exchanges between young and old: for therein
would lie the educational value and interest of
our decadent age. But here, as well, the
peculiar character of our epoch rears its
head: for it seems that education-as the
critical assessment and communicationof
culture through language-is itself
dramatically endangered. As we move more
and more toward becoming a mass "pop"
culture of obedient herd animals, a culture in
which the appointed "substantive matters"
have no substance, a culture in which those
who use "sensible and meaningful language"
say nothing with sense or meaning, one
begins to wonder whether anything like
"education," like "critical assessment," will
have any place; indeed, whether it will have
any means left! Standing atop this vast
morass into which we as a culture are
gradually sinking, standing not as cause, but
as symbol, is Ronald Reagan.
Reagan, too, without a doubt, is doing his
part to chip away at the boundaries that stand
between culture and anti-culture. Consider
the problem of "inference," the classic
logical tool of millenia. Students of the history
of philosophy will recall the problem Hume
raised for inference. If one sees 800 white
swans, one would like to infer that "All swans
are white." But, as Hume is quick to observe,
there is no logical reason why the 801st could
not be black. In this respect, the inferential
process-the move from the particular to the
general-is forever troubled.
Now along comes Ronald Reagan. It is ap-
parent- that most of Reagan's statements
related to matters of the mind could have
been made as easily in the tenth century as in
the twentieth: that is, Ronald Reagan is a
man upon whom the thrust of the intellectual
history of the post-Renaissance West has not
made its mark.
When it comes to Reagan's approach to the
problem of "inference", his strategy is quite
novel. Reagan can be credited as the inventor
of the "anecdotal inference", which works as
follows. If one can tell a good anecdote about
Leiter is a graduate student in law and
philosophy.

any matter of substantive national importan-
ce, one can infer from that anecdote the
general state of affairs and form national
policy accordingly. Thus, if one can tell a
good story about someone freeloading at a
soup kitchen, one may conclude that soup kit-
chens are refuge of freeloaders, and one may
disparage and dismiss them promptly. Or, in
Humean terms: if one hears a third-hand
story that someone saw a- swan that was
white, one may logically conclude that "All
swans are white."
And now a brief pause for a tangential ex-"
cursion into American history. Abraham Lin-
coln was also fond of anecdotes, though unlike
Reagan's, Lincoln's frequently had a "sub-
tle" point. (Essence of Reaganism: it is un-
subtle.) Here is my favorite Lincoln story:
Lincoln said to a man, "If I call a dog's tail a
'leg', how many legs does the dog have?"
"Why, five," said the man. "No," said Lin-
coln. "It has four; calling the dog's tail a 'leg'
doesn't make it one." Surely with this skep-
tical tool in hand, one could dispose of almost
everything Reagan says.
But to return to the point at hand: the fun-
damental tension between Ronald Reagan
and Western culture is that Reagan is not a
part of the latter. Consider, for example, his
remark last week that liberals are
irreverent" and that it is "abnormal"to
support abortion and oppose prayer in
schools. Now it is at moments like these that I
have my greatest sympathy for the man. For
surely it is apparent what we are witnessing:
here is a man of mediocre intellect and dulled
sensibilities, existing in the late twentieth
century,and confronted with the fact that the
bulk of the post-Renaissance West (culture
and science) has been a systematic disman-
tling of Christianity, deism, morality, Truth,
etc.'This is not to suggest that Reagan has any
idea what Einstein's theory of relativity
means or what Freud's theory of personality
is-but at the same time, these matters do
"trickle down" (to borrow from the
Republican vocabulary) to the sensibilities of
the culture at large and it is to this that
Reagan is reacting. Bouncing around in the
caverns of his head are the notions that
"These people don't believe in God" and
"They are skeptical about the truth, beauty
and goodness of Christianity, the U.S., the
free marketetc." and the like.
"Now wait a minute," you say. "Listen
here Mr. snot-nosed radical intellectual know-
it-all, if you are so damn dissatisfied with
things here, why don't you go live somewhere
else!" This certainly tops my list of "Favorite
Non-Responses to Societal Criticisms" for it
amounts to saying, "Yes, everything you say
is true, but look how stinky everything else is,
too." Of course, everything else is not quite so
stinky. Consider France, with the political
programs aside. When the great French
philosopher Michel Foucault (a forceful critic
of contemporary society) died this past sum-
mer, the prime minister of France made a
public statement assessing the greet loss for
France and French culture. Now can one
imagine, let us say George Shultz-who has
spent the past several months rationalizing
funding for general rape and pillage in Cen-
tral America-making a public statement of
loss concerning the death of, say, the political
philosopher John Rawls or the linguist Noam
Chomsky? I doubt it. Though one can cer-

tainly imagine the endless flow of public
eulogies that will follow the passing on of, say,
Frank Sinatra. Such is the powerful, yet
almost underhanded role public officials play
in the creation of cultural auras.
Anyway, to get finally to the event, that
triggered all these remarks. Buried on page
ten of last Wednesday's New York Times was
a brief piece reporting that Clarence Pen-
dleton, Jr., the Reagan-appointed chairman
of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, had ac-
cused black leaders and civil rights suppor-
ters of being the "new racists."
Now one of the disadvantages of main-
taining the pretense of an objective press is
that one must treat- seriously individuals who
are only parodies of serious people. Hence,
Mr. Pendleton (and William Bennett and
George Bush and...) .
Pendleton is a white black person. This a
special type of black person. In a more honest
day, these people were called "Uncle Tom."
Such people are much sought after by conser-
vative groups: conservatives scour the coun-
try searching them out. For white black
people are of immense value to conser-
vatives. Anytime one has something blatantly
racist, transparently racist, substantively
racist, or effectually racist to say, one hands
it over to the white black person and has him
say it: this immediately disarms the "critical
liberal journalists. "Gee," they say, "if a
black person said it then it, can't be
prejudicialsto blacks" (such is the "probing"
liberal mind).
What Pendleton said was, in essence, that
affirmative action programs are
discriminatory-hence his use of the label
"racist." Now the philosopher Thomas
Nagel-hardly a radical type-has pointed
out that there is a very clear difference bet-
ween affirmative ┬░action and the
discrimination of, say, the Ku Klux Klan: the
latter makes racial distinctions through the
stigmatization of one race as inferior, less
werth etc.; by contrast,. affirmative action
makes racial distinctions by focusing on an
historically excluded group in order to in-
clude it, rather than by stigmatizing that
group as inferior in order to exclude it. This is
a very simple distinction. One might object
that affirmative action's social goal (coun-
teracting the effects of a racist social history)
is unrealistic or its costs too great, but one
should not equate affirmative action with the
stigmatizing discrimination of the Klan. To do
so is merely to broadcast to the world one's
stupidity.
So why bring this up? Because Pendleton's
accusation of "racism", like Reagan's
"anecdotal inferences", are symptomatic of
the general decline of standards for the use of
language and rational processes. One can say
anything at all and precede it by the words "I
think that..." One can, in short, call a dog's
tail "a leg" and be taken seriously; be elec-
ted, no less!
I recall vividly when at the end of .the vice-
presidential debates, George Bush said, "Let
me tell you. honestly...". I almost choked.
Here is a man who smells of his own super-
ficiality using the word "honestly" with
reference to himself. It typifies an age in
which critical sensibilities are in disfavor;
one may hope only that such sensibilities are
not forever disabled.

Think twice

F RESHMEN who are considering
moving out of the dorm into apar-
tments next fall would do well to
carefully evaluate their 'reasons for
doing so. While many students com-
plain that one year in the dorm is more
than enough, there are many advan-
tages' to dorm life that should not be
overlooked when making a decision.
At a school the size of the University,
it is easy for students to feel bypassed,
isolated, and, alone. Separated from
family and long-time friends, students
need to develop a new support system
at college. In the dorm, there is a built-
in structure of Resident Advisors,
Resident Directors, and a diversity of
students with whom to discuss in-
dividual concerns that are inap-
propriate in the classroom. Interaction
with other students on this level is an
important aspect of dorm living and
cannot be underestimated. By sharing
a hallway, bathroom, meals, and mid-
night conversation students expose
themselves to others in ways that are
impossible in the classroom. There are

few situations more representative of
the University's incredible diversity or'
more conducive to the enhancement
of social maturity than the dorms.
Dorms also house extras that are
easily undervalued, like libraries with
records, magazines, and newspapers.
Dorms promote educational
programs, ice cream parties, and
athletic teams. There are study
lounges, pool tables, pianos, laundry
facilities, and meals. Students who
want to experience "the joy of
cooking" tend to exist on pizza seven
days a week instead of just one when
they move out of the dorm.
Finally, it's important to remember
that university living is for a limited
time period. Beyond these four years,
apartment renting is always an option.
But for dorm living, now is the time.
Just as freshmen and sophomores try
out courses in various fields of study,
so should they extend that diversity to
their living situation. Why not take ad-
vantage of the opportunity while the
choice exists?

Wasserman
Y/OU WER ~AMFR Y490 WERE ' LEEING THE k'4
I &\ANw6 SANCTUARY To .ar - MI~LTARY/ FORCE.S oUR WHAT iS T44E
CETALM I~tGOVERNM'ENT I5 CHARGE, YOUR
(ZF6E5\ RMNG & HONOR?'
r~n~nn

MAE QZCY 'NIT "d
INTENT To
EMBARASS I

Letters
Why should we eed the Eth
-__uL-sIca12 11 in no aun ld┬▒

To the Daily:
During "the last few months,
many people have been raising
money to feed the starving people
of Ethiopia. Their fundraisers
have included asking people for
donations on streetcorners and
selling records, activities which
have led me to wonder, "Why are
we feeding the Ethiopians?" I
have come to believe that we
should not feed them.
Today, the world is over-
populated. If it were not, there
' would be no laws in China that
limit the number of children; and
there would be no , Zero
Population Growth movement in
the United States. Famine is
nature's way of limiting a
population - of any species -
that is too large. If we feed the
Ethiopians, some people will live
that would have died. Each per-
son that survives long enough to
reproduce, due to foreign aid, will
create more people to feed. If the
population grows without a
simultaneous growth of the

the objection may be true, the
population's needs have
definitely exceeded man's ability
to produce food. The existence of
a famine proves this to be true.
If man could produce enough
food, there would not be a large
starving population in any
region. The existence of groups
that are trying to end "world
hunger" also prove this to be
true. If man could provide food
for everybody, then there would
BLOOM COUNTY

be no sucn thing as woi
hunger".
My second reply 'deals with the
possibility that the objection is
true. If the world can support all
of its population, then we should
start by feeding the- starving
people in our own nation. There
are starving people in
Washington D.C., New York, Los
Angeles, - in every major
American city. 'These

iopians.?
people even exist here in Ann Ar-
bor. They spend their entire day
looking fortdiscarded bottles and
cans so that they can buy
something to eat. If we want to
end starvation, then we should
start by feeding these people. On-
ce we have accomplished that,
then we can start feeding the
people of other nations.
- Tom Leete
March 18
by Benkc Breath1d

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