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An American Cultural Revolution

Published by marco on

“I’m not a conspiracy theorist − I’m a conspiracy analyst.”
Gore Vidal

On this episode of Useless Idiots with Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper, they interviewed Mark Crispin Miller, a professor at NYU who’s teaches media literacy, where he teaches students to examine what the facts are before calling something a “conspiracy” or accepting “unimpeachable truth”.

Stimulus Checks, Larry Summers, plus Mark Crispin Miller on Academic Freedom (YouTube)

The NDAA

Before the interview, at about 9:00 in, Matt and Katie discuss Bernie’s filibuster of the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act).

Matt Taibbi: When it finally comes time to vote … as Durbin puts it … magically, they never seem to have problems getting that $740B defense bill passed.

Katie Halper: It’s also so out of touch. I guess in a way it’s like a useful – or logical – strategic thing to do because there is so much rah-rah imperialism in this country or “patriotism”? But there is also fatigue. I think people more and more are getting sick of the idea of spending more money fighting wars than doing things here.

Matt Taibbi: Oh, absolutely–on both sides of the aisle. That was a big talking point for Trump in 2016, which is that we gotta spend more money building bridges at home – he didn’t do it.

Katie Halper: But they’re really showing that there’s bipartisan consensus around funding the military-industrial complex and not bipartisan consensus for helping people survive.

Matt Taibbi: Specifically, people. There is a bipartisan consensus for a massive, open-ended, Fed-fueled bond-buying program. You know, because who could possibly dispute the wisdom of making sure that all of our national treasure is committed to propping up the financial markets and not even all the essential ones, you know, like, junk bonds included.

“But the significant number of people who are looking at eviction and who are going to food banks right now. It’s an emergency. I’m not an expert; I don’t know what the best course of action is, but it’s just so glaring that some people seem more concerned about that than others.”

Since this episode, Congress has overridden Trump’s veto of the military spending bill—I think the first time a president’s actually done that—and so has the Senate, so it’s been approved without changes for the 60th time in a row.

The Death of Irony

The interview is also very interesting: Mark Crispin Miller is a tenured professor at NYU. He teaches a course about interpreting media and detecting propaganda. Students are taking his class about interpreting media critically, uncritically interpreting it, ascribing every viewpoint espoused in every piece of media they examine to the professor and then complaining on Twitter that the professor should be fired for those views.

This would be par for the course in 2020 (now 2021), but the administration—and his peers and colleagues—are also now uncritically trying to get him to cancel his course and trying to find a loophole in his tenure in order to fire him for his racist/extreme/triggering views. As a film plot, it would be too ludicrous and unbelievable, overwrought and obvious. It’s this man’s real life.

The students are there to learn. That some of them are terrible at it and don’t think they have anything to learn or that they learn the wrong things is nothing new.

What is new is a university staffed by people so stupid that they don’t even understand what the courses are about on a basic level. They no longer believe in academic freedom or in the pursuit of knowledge. They don’t understand that they are blind, unquestioning idolators of an official truth that is nearly completely propaganda—and agree with the students that anyone who points this out (even in a course designed expressly to help people overcome their blindness) should be fired and, above all, silenced.

It’s gobsmacking. One barely even knows where to begin. It’s deliberate ignorance.

Here’s Miller:

“They say in their letter that I promote non-evidence-based claims, which, in a letter filled with non-evidence-based claims, is pretty rich. So that’s an example of what I take to be their sincere discomfiture with my engaging precisely the sort of subject that most academics and journalists and others are trained to avoid—because you get in trouble if you talk about them.

“The course, as your question implies Matt, is sort of about that. We can always, easily spot the propaganda that we don’t agree with. Ask any liberal: what’s propaganda? They’ll say, ‘Oh, FOX … FOX News’. Ask any conservative, they’ll say ‘MSNBC’. Ok, they’re both right, both are propagandistic. But what they can’t see is the propaganda that they agree with, because they think it’s just information, they think it’s the truth.

The real reason for this concerted campaign comes at about 50:00 into the video, where Miller says that “[he’s] been a thorn in the corporate side of NYU for years”. It is not at all unlikely that this is a hit job using credulous and deluded and easily manipulated “hitpersons”.

“That didn’t endear me to board of trustees certainly. And I’m a named plaintiff in a class-action suit over NYU’s mismanagement of faculty retirement funds. So you could say I’m a whistleblower…a troublemaker.”

They accuse him, of course, of reading the wrong things and writing about the wrong things. And, even worse, encouraging his students to read articles that question official cant—if only to figure out if maybe there’s a kernel of truth, or its complete hogwash, whether it omits information, whether it seems to be promoting an agenda, whether it mixes opinion and fact, or whether it’s truthy because of the context in which it presents provable facts. He teaches a media literacy course. This is bog standard.

He’s ended up being more critical of COVID simply because he’s read so much hogwash on both sides. He encouraged his students to read some articles—that he told them he didn’t necessarily agree with—to hone their own opinions, to see what other points of view they were and determine whether there was useful information that they didn’t already know.

Being students, they quickly decided that there was not—and very quickly—because they didn’t read any of the articles. Why bother? They already knew they were wrong? Being modern students, social-justice–aware and social-media–savvy, they instead took to the “airwaves” to get him fires for promoting ideas about COVID antithetical to those promulgated by the university.

You would think was just a giant misunderstanding, but it’s deliberate—and the stupid party acknowledges no ability on their part for misunderstanding because they already know everything.

“I have done what I encourage my students to do: cast a wide net. […] And NYU is very heavily invested in the vaccine industry—in the medical-industrial complex—and they’r e very deeply invested in the whole COVID narrative. I think the idea that someone like me is odious to them, so that if there is a university connection—if this is not just cancel culture run amuck at the academic grass-roots level—I think it would have more to do with that, with my heresy on this subject, than on those earlier sins of mine against the corporation.”

He is referring here as someone who doesn’t just knee-jerk believe everything that the university and its sponsors have to say.

To call it a ‘school of thought’ is being overly generous. It’s not thought at all. It’s thoughtlessness, the ‘school of thoughtlessness’. And that’s not a school because you’re not teaching anybody anything except groupthink. And that’s what’s happening. It’s very oppressive. It sounds hyperbolic, but it’s like going to school during the cultural revolution.

“It’s like Gleichschaltung. It’s a Nazi term for streamlining. They made all the cultural institutions—they Nazified them all. So of course there was stuff you couldn’t read. It would be a crime to read it…over even bring it up. it’s kind of like that now.”

And this is a tenured professor accustomed to dealing with exactly these kinds of issues, with the confidence and experience to navigate these issues and fight back. He’s actually suing his colleagues at NYU for libel now. But what about adjuncts? Non-tenured teachers? Students?

Anyone without a firm grasp of propaganda—and without a means to support themselves that cannot be stolen from them—will be easily cowed into not rocking the boat. They will keep their heads down in order to keep paying rent.

As is often the case with those who speak out, this issue isn’t about the specific person (Mark Crispin Miller) because he’s going to be just fine. It’s about what this culture does to people in general, how it trains them not to question holy cant. It’s about a culture that traps people into lives of desperation, then makes sure that they don’t talk about the trap—or it will be sprung on them for good.

“The left today is not … your grandfather’s left. It’s not the left that I remember, the left I’ve long considered myself to be part of, which is anti-war, which is about rectifying grotesque income inequality, strengthening the working class, certainly civil rights, there’s a whole range … I see them as ‘left’ issues; many of them are also libertarian issues.

What the left has now become is a pro-censorship army. It wants censorship. The left has changed immensely.

There is a portion of ideology led by corporations and other power centers that has adopted the label “left” and is perverting traditionally left issues by pretending to support them, but only in ways that benefit themselves rather than the ostensible targets of the policies.

“Why would corporate universities like NYU be so adamant and militant in enforcing social-justice ideology institutionally? Why do they hire still more bureaucrats to oversee this kind of policing? Why is there a sort of bureaucratic apparatus? And not just in universities, but in corporations and in the government…that’s very interesting, that’s very telling.”

Miller makes an interesting point about the recent push to vaccinate black people first in America, in order to be “fair”, as a form of “justice”. However, the vaccination was developed very quickly—it seems to be fine, but it was still very quick—and black people in the U.S. have been used as guinea pigs for many other medical experiments, just in the 20th century alone. It’s an interesting point that the loudest voices for social justice are calling for exactly the same thing as the loudest voices for a racist distribution are: give it to the blacks first.

“It isn’t just my students. We are all obliged to make some effort to withstand the emotional pull of propaganda that pushes our buttons. Not our enemies’ buttons, our buttons … and resist that pull and try to keep your head and think clearly about what’s being offered to you, and who’s offering it, and what kind of appeals they’re using, and understand that there’s a tremendous amount of contrary information and data that we are simply not getting in a country like this one, at the moment, with a press such as we have now. I’ve never seen anything like this.

Miller goes on to discuss how he used to write op-eds for the New York Times and was a guest on NPR until he wrote his book about how the 2004 election had been stolen[1]. At that point, he was re-branded as a conspiracy theorist and has been erased. This important book is not available in the New York Public Library, which no longer surprises me at all.

Matt Taibbi: I hear that constantly from newsrooms. That’s a thing that I hear all the time from journalists, which is that ‘man, I’m not even thinking about pitching this story any more, because I don’t want to deal with what’s going to come back if I talk about this’. Which is just as bad as being told that you can’t write about it.

Mark Crispin Miller: That’s been in play for decades, of course. In order to rise within the world of journalism, as in academia, you have to develop an instinct for what not to touch.

Matt Taibbi: I think that universe is just expanding a lot, though…

Mark Crispin Miller: It’s expanding and the pressure has become more explicit. The sort of brutality of the suppression is more clearly manifest. It’s in our face more now. People feel much more vulnerable now. If the purpose is to make me an example, they’ve already managed to do that pretty well.”

A bit later in the show:

Katie Halper: Making certain things taboo and naming them conspiracy theories, that does have real life impact on the lives and deaths of people. Especially when you look at something like Syria and Bolivia and Venezuela, which you mentioned, right? The sanctions of those countries are killing people […] when people are deemed crackpot conspiracy theorists for talking about Syria, […] that is a way of letting the U.S. government off the hook for impoverishing—and, really, killing—people through sanctions.”

Miller again, on propaganda:

“It has never really changed. It is that playbook: making people fear that they are under attack, so that anyone who demurs or dissents is posing a mortal threat to them. That’s what it was throughout the Red Scare—the Communists, they’re attacking us, they’re undermining us—the War on Terror, after 9-11 […]

Just discussing this cannot be grounds for termination. Because if it is, we’re not living in a free society—we’re living in a kind of cult.

Katie Halper: The problem with […] the “toxifying” of alleged conspiracy theorists is that it really sanctions other theories. So, like, [say someone is] a 9-11 truther and I don’t agree with that, I don’t think that they make a convincing case—but the fact that that makes [that person] a crackpot while believing that there were WMDs in Iraq doesn’t make you … problematic. It makes you MSNBC material. There’s a real inherent value-judgment that is not at all principled or consistent.”

Conspiracies do exist; it’s silly to call things “conspiracy theories”. Many of them actually pan out (e.g. Watergate, Iran-Contra, the NSA, etc.). We should instead call them for what they are: unsubstantiated or insufficiently substantiated claims or theories.

Katie Halper: The right-wing-ification of things. Yes, I think it’s an outrage that Tucker Carlson entertains the serious stuff and MSNBC and CNN don’t. But, instead, what people say is: that is clearly a fringe, right-wing conspiracy theory because Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingram are the only people who talk about it. No. The outrage is that no-one else does.

Matt Taibbi: Right. Tucker Carlson does a series on the impact of private equity and hedge funds on small-town America and all of a sudden it’s like … that’s a right-wing trope … no! It should be on 60 Minutes, but it’s not.”


[1] See the article None Dare Call it Stolen: Ohio, the election, and America’s servile press by Mark Crispin Miller (Harper's Magazine) for a good introduction of his information and thesis. The article discusses the 2004 election results in Ohio; he draws almost exclusively from an official Congressional report written/submitted by John Conyers. This is not conspiracy theory; this is the official record. Miller was shunned for mentioning it.