The Secret!

by John Holbo on April 3, 2014

I can’t say I find much to agree with in this Charles Koch op-ed, in the WSJ. Although I do second Kevin Drum’s amazement that the best emblem they could find of the sort of spirit no leftist could possibly endorse was … an old Daily Kos logo? Really?

But I do think it’s a good sign that the right is branching out from Alinksy to Schopenhauer.

Instead of encouraging free and open debate, collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents. They engage in character assassination. (I should know, as the almost daily target of their attacks.) This is the approach that Arthur Schopenhauer described in the 19th century, that Saul Alinsky famously advocated in the 20th, and that so many despots have infamously practiced. Such tactics are the antithesis of what is required for a free society—and a telltale sign that the collectivists do not have good answers.

I knew it! (I had long suspected, but this is the smoking gun!) The Kochtopus is a crypto-Schopenhauerian cult! It is all a subtle plot to deny Americans their freedom – as Schopenhauer denied human freedom! The Kochs seek to get all good Americans to see the World As Representation, thereby inducing ethical denial of the World As Will. (As we know, welfare just encourages people to go on living. That’s why we must cut programs for the poor, to bring about an ideal, Schopenhauerian rapture of ethical nihilism!)

On the other hand, perhaps Koch is a Schopenhauerian in a less metaphysical, more practical sense. He practices The Art of Always Being Right: The 38 Subtle Ways of Persuasion [Amazon].

Could it be?

(Seriously. It’s a good book. Schopenhauer wrote a fine little treatise on motivated reasoning, tracking the beast to its lair, the den of desire to be right.)

{ 70 comments }

1

reason 04.03.14 at 10:03 am

Did he really write:
“Instead of encouraging free and open debate, collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents. They engage in character assassination.”

That is a bit rich coming from the right. And I would have thought that Charles Koch didn’t have a character to assassinate. Just saying what he does is enough (an heir to a fossil fuel fortune financing global warming denialists).

2

reason 04.03.14 at 10:04 am

P.S. (It is a bit rich coming from the right because their normal operating procedure to to condemn people by calling them socialists.)

3

Zamfir 04.03.14 at 10:37 am

I found his defense list interesting. Most of it is can be replaced by ‘Koch industries is a very large company’

4

Main Street Muse 04.03.14 at 10:51 am

I live in a state where libertarian policies have focused on social issues, like abortion, covering women’s nipples, consideration of a state religion, etc. The policies have cut taxes for the wealthy, increased sales tax that hit poor hardest.

The result of these Tea Party policies is an increase in poverty, a decrease in the number of those who are looking for work (resulting in a numerical decline in the unemployment rate), an increase in homeless students.

In my state, the Koch brothers heavily finance opposition ads against the Democratic senator running for re-election (Kay Hagan.) They are oppressive in their approach, use the power of their purse to create censorship when it suits them (PBS/Citizen Koch – so much for independent, publicly funded programming! Sponsored content funds ALL of our media.)

The Koch Brothers are opposed to free speech (they realize how all of our public speech is bought and sold as commodities and thus invest accordingly.) WHO outside of academia has read Saul Alinsky? The only reason he is mentioned in modern discourse is as a curse by the Koch-financed GOP fanatics.

To Reason @1, what has been fascinating about landing in a Tea Party state (from Illinois, a corrupt blue state) is to see how eager the far right is to use its own tactics (discredit and intimidate opponents, engage in character assassination) as a tool to bash their opponents. It’s the implementation of the Swift Boat approach – vividly paint the candidate with your own flaws, moving attention from your flaws to your opponent – which they discovered was incredibly successful.

5

Main Street Muse 04.03.14 at 11:12 am

More on the Koch Brothers – they not only bash opponents in op-ed pieces in the Murdoch-owned WSJ, defund public television in a way to obstruct programming they don’t want aired, they heavily fund advertising campaigns in states not their own – like North Carolina, where their organization, AFP, has thrown more than $8.2 million against Kay Hagan.

The Koch brothers own vast industries; they want to own the nation as well. It is a terrifying prospect for Americans. And yesterday’s SCOTUS decision gives the appearance that they own SCOTUS as well.

6

mattski 04.03.14 at 12:34 pm

Shorter Charles Koch:

“How dare those commie-collectivists imply we have any obligation to our fellow human beings.”

7

PGD 04.03.14 at 1:28 pm

What was Schopenhauer’s short treatise on motivated reasoning? Definitely not ‘the world as will and idea’.

8

John Holbo 04.03.14 at 1:50 pm

“Definitely not ‘the world as will and idea’.”

That one, too. The World As Motivated Reasoning. That’s actually his philosophy, pretty much.

9

CJColucci 04.03.14 at 2:08 pm

“collectivists”? Really?

10

Ronan(rf) 04.03.14 at 2:13 pm

I thought this post was going to be about *the book* The Secret. Which, tangentially, Hulk Hogan recommends forcefully in one of the later seasons of Hogan knows best.
Has this book found it’s way into the academy yet ?
Has Hulk Hogan ?

11

DrDick 04.03.14 at 2:40 pm

I do love how he immediately begins using the exact same tactics he accuses the left of. Projection has always been a central feature of the conservative personality,

12

Bruce Wilder 04.03.14 at 2:41 pm

Vanity always outweighs truth.

13

William Timberman 04.03.14 at 2:59 pm

In the original (non-Schopenhauerian) German: Einbildung is auch eine Bildung.

14

marcel 04.03.14 at 3:18 pm

15

Anderson 04.03.14 at 3:20 pm

Schopenhauer, the original libertarian.

16

Lee A. Arnold 04.03.14 at 3:24 pm

Charles Koch stands against an attempt to provide universal healthcare, i.e. healthcare available to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. He pays money to defeat it.

You better believe that IS character assassination — character self-assassination — and it will stand against him, until the end of time.

All the phony crap in the world about how the free market can do it better, despite massive evidence AND theory disproving it, will not wash away this sin.

17

Map Maker 04.03.14 at 3:41 pm

Meh …it is much easier to just label and dismiss rather than engage. The US ethanol policy is a national disgrace and it isn’t a republican vs. democrat issue. I agree with him and you should too. Other issues? May be less so.

18

Trader Joe 04.03.14 at 3:41 pm

I find it all but impossible to defend Koch and he has no credibility from which to make the points that he does. That said, if his point is that there are some elements of government that have gone too far and have become too obtrusive in the lives of most people I have to find that I agree with him in spirit while I doubt I’d agree with him in the particulars.

This isn’t a liberal-conservative or D vs. R spectrum observation, its simply a thought that one ought to be able to live without having their phone calls monitored, or bring tweezers onto an airplane or drive without a seat belt etc. without the government being involved in all that minutae…..if that’s his point, then maybe he has one.

But I doubt that’s his actual point (its certainly not his agenda).

19

roger gathman 04.03.14 at 3:53 pm

I love Saul Alinsky. It is funny that the right has fastened upon him, at this late date, as a devil figure. And it is also funny that liberals will distance themselves from him, as though he were the spawn of Stalin and Mao. Well, maybe from their perspective, the liberals are right – if, in this era, we identify liberals with, say, Obama democrats. Alinsky is pretty clear about what he was doing in Rules for Radicals:
“What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.”
An excellent statement. One contrary to all our politics at the moment. But I like to think that the Koches are right to fear it, even though it has zero traction at present.

20

GiT 04.03.14 at 4:05 pm

“Schopenhauer, the original libertarian.”

Or is it Stirner?

21

GiT 04.03.14 at 4:09 pm

I think Alinsky has some currency. Organizers I’ve known certainly tended to know his work.

22

William Timberman 04.03.14 at 4:17 pm

marcel @ 14

It’s a proverb/pun, that rings variations on the root word Bildung (education, culture, etc.) In English translation — to the extent that a translation is possible — the flavor is ironic, the sense somewhere between What a conceited asshole! and vanity is the least strenuous form of acculturation, even if it’s rarely the one which wins the most friends, or influences the greatest number of people.

23

Main Street Muse 04.03.14 at 4:44 pm

To GiT @21 – organizers may know Alinsky. The rank and file voter the Tea Party is trying to reach hears only of Alinsky from conservative voices – and his name is hurled as a curse. And the Tea Party base has been conditioned to hate organizers. Think of how Obama’s community organization work has been characterized by his opponents (you know, the ones who abhor those tactics that discredit and intimidate opponents and engage in character assassination.)

24

Alex 04.03.14 at 4:50 pm

25

Bruce Wilder 04.03.14 at 5:03 pm

The Koch’s get a lot of political mileage out of opposing mediocre, pre-compromised “progressive” policy. That crappy Nashville bus lane proposal is classic. I wish they really were up against Alinsky or a bob mcmanus option.

26

The Temporary Name 04.03.14 at 5:09 pm

Not that I think the guy walks down streets overmuch, but can he really think Wichita is the ideal place to live?

27

Lasker 04.03.14 at 5:12 pm

At least one branch of the Tea Party seems to have used Alinsky as a textbook for how to organize, not simply to “know thine enemy”:

http://inthesetimes.com/article/6439/tea_party_confidential

28

Eskimo 04.03.14 at 5:18 pm

Koch is right on one item: the ethanol in fuel requirement is bogus.

29

The Kochs 04.03.14 at 5:27 pm

The campaign the left has waged against the Kochs (decades after others opposed them) has helped the Kochs to a good degree. Now, any criticism of the Kochs can be tamped down as akin to that of Harry Reid and Maddow.

If you want to oppose the Kochs where they’re weakest, make the points at my link to their supporters. Because the way the left does things now isn’t working too well.

30

The Temporary Name 04.03.14 at 6:36 pm

Koch is right on one item: the ethanol in fuel requirement is bogus.

It’d mean less money in and around Wichita if ethanol died, so it’s GOTTA be good. What’s the use in being rich if you can’t see the poor?

31

DBW 04.03.14 at 6:47 pm

This is the best part:
“Koch employees have earned well over 700 awards for environmental, health and safety excellence since 2009, many of them from the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration. EPA officials have commended us for our “commitment to a cleaner environment” and called us “a model for other companies.”

Our refineries have consistently ranked among the best in the nation for low per-barrel emissions. In 2012, our Total Case Incident Rate (an important safety measure) was 67% better than a Bureau of Labor Statistics average for peer industries.”

He manages to cite EPA, OSHA, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics in defense of his “freedom,” as if these entities simply record and recognize the accomplishments of free industry and don’t have anything to do with producing results through regulation.

32

js. 04.03.14 at 7:04 pm

The truly genius implication of the Koch quote—which strangely no one seems to have noted—is that the real crime of Schopenhauer- and Alinsky-inspired despots is, wait for it, character assassination!

33

Jerry Vinokurov 04.03.14 at 8:12 pm

Ah yes, ye olde “criticizing a conservative is the real intolerance” gambit. It never goes out of fashion.

34

herr doktor bimler 04.03.14 at 8:22 pm

Is he alluding to that fabricated quote about “All truth passes through three stages”?

35

Anderson 04.03.14 at 8:26 pm

” the real crime of Schopenhauer- and Alinsky-inspired despots is, wait for it, character assassination”

Yes, very silly. He meant to say George R.R. Martin.

36

P O'Neill 04.03.14 at 8:38 pm

It shows just how bad value for money billionaire wingerism actually is. Someone way back probably just e-mailed him that 38 ways to win an argument list ( my guess is his occasional lawyer, John “Hindrocket” Hinderaker) and so now it pops up with Saul Alinsky in his demonology.

37

Collin Street 04.03.14 at 8:46 pm

“How dare those commie-collectivists imply we have any obligation to our fellow human beings.”

Apart from the obligation to recognise their claims to control scarce natural resources, of course.

[the man's whole asset base is a result of direct government intervention -- all property rights are -- but he doesn't recognise it because he has his head up his arse. This is a medical problem, however you dice it.]

38

roy belmont 04.03.14 at 9:41 pm

He “has his head up his arse”, but he’s winning. So at least for now having your head up there is not an obstacle to winning.
Maybe it’s not enough to dismiss someone as “stupid” or “mean” or having “their head up their arse”, in order to overcome their efforts to fuck the world.
Because in my view that is the ultimate goal here. These people are anti-life. Anti-life-on-earth, anyway. Sauron’s chubby-cheeked enablers.

39

Straightwood 04.03.14 at 10:08 pm

In view of the “conservative” control of the US Supreme Court, there is nothing stopping American oligarchs, like the Koch boys, from running this country. The best we can hope for is that some struggles among the ruling billionaires may result in benefits for the general public. In a way, the Supreme Court originalists are correct. The American founders wanted the wealthy to control the country. They just didn’t know how concentrated that wealth would become and how much mischief a small group of billionaires could do.

40

Nine 04.03.14 at 10:28 pm

The great man seems to have strong opinions on very many matters other than climate change & energy policy ? Amazingly selfless !

41

marcel 04.03.14 at 10:49 pm

roy belmont wrote:

Maybe it’s not enough to dismiss someone as “stupid” or “mean” or having “their head up their arse”, in order to overcome their efforts to fuck the world.

In the immortal wordsu of Tom Lehrer,

Remember the war against Franco?
That’s the kind where each of us belongs.
Though he may have won all the battles,
We had all the good songs!

Straightwood wrote:

In view of the “conservative” control of the US Supreme Court, there is nothing stopping American oligarchs, like the Koch boys, from running this country. The best we can hope for is that some struggles among the ruling billionaires may result in benefits for the general public.

For a slightly different take, see this.

42

Bruce Wilder 04.03.14 at 11:06 pm

Straightwood: The American founders wanted the wealthy to control the country. They just didn’t know how concentrated that wealth would become and how much mischief a small group of billionaires could do.

Oh, I don’t know, I think they suspected that the slave-owning-sector, of which a number of founders were members, might get out of hand, as well as the banks, of course.

And, I do seem to remember the mischief of the slave-owning-sector causing a small bit of a Constitutional crisis somewhere along the line.

I get the sense, as we see a series of whiny billionaires opining in the WSJ about their political oppression, that they expect some kind of rebellion. I don’t know why, when 80% of the U.S. population can expect to experience poverty, and an increasing number of large business enterprises are diversifying into predatory activities to keep up return on investment.

I’m confident that what passes for the left will content itself with the conceit that they, at least, understand why it is all hopeless. And, racism!

43

Harold 04.04.14 at 12:41 am

“Let ‘em all go to hell except Cave 64″ — Tuli Kupferberg (with a nod to Mel Brooks).

44

mattski 04.04.14 at 1:52 am

I’m confident that what passes for the left will content itself with the conceit that they, at least, understand why it is all hopeless.

Hey, Bruce, that’s you!

45

js. 04.04.14 at 2:10 am

And racism!

What does that mean, even? Genuine question. My best, semi-speculative guess is that you mean to say something like, the left—or sorry, what passes for it—lobs accusations of racism where they’re irrelevant/misplaced/besides the point/flat out false. Which, really? Seems bizarre. Or again, what else could that mean?

46

john c. halasz 04.04.14 at 2:27 am

@ 45:

Or maybe rather than relying on superficial “identity politics” or PC jargon, one should consider the underlying socio-structural conditions and mechanisms that would generate social-psychological forms of racism or racial identifications, that just reify and reproduce the status quo in distracting forms.

47

Brett 04.04.14 at 4:16 am

I liked his defense of his companies’ safety records, although the “collectivists” bit made me laugh. When I first read that, my immediate thought was “The Parasite Hates Three Things: Free Markets, Free Will, and Free Men” (cookie for the reference).

Koch Industries is an odd set of firms. You don’t see a lot of those sprawling, multi-product privately owned conglomerates anymore in the US – most of them went public years ago and became giant holding companies.

48

SN 04.04.14 at 4:53 am

It’s very interesting how terribly hurt he is. Is he doing everything out of hurt? If I give him a big, big hug will he stop?

49

godoggo 04.04.14 at 5:52 am

Were there really “Alinsky-inspired despots?”

50

SoU 04.04.14 at 6:09 am

you mean other than Obama?

51

godoggo 04.04.14 at 6:15 am

I mean, speaking of what does that mean, even. I have a vague sense that it it might have been intended as a joke of some sort.

52

Nine 04.04.14 at 6:25 am

Nothing in that op-ed suggests a man with a sense of humour.

53

Nine 04.04.14 at 6:40 am

Well, the Schopenhauer bit is funny – and it would be even funnier as a rant performed by a tycoon in a Tom Wolfe novel – but it’s pretty obvious that this guy and his ghost-writer are using a talking point that some exorbitantly paid consultant said would work.

54

Nine 04.04.14 at 6:40 am

Well, the Schopenhauer bit is funny – and it would be even funnier as a rant performed by a tycoon in a Tom Wolfe novel – but it’s pretty obvious that this guy and his ghost-writer are using a talking point that some exorbitantly paid consultant said would work.

55

reason 04.04.14 at 8:21 am

Eskimo @28
“Koch is right on one item: the ethanol in fuel requirement is bogus.”

Well no it isn’t bogus, it is poor policy.

56

reason 04.04.14 at 8:30 am

SN @48
Yes, that is interesting isn’t it. These ruthless business predators really just want to be loved? That is why he trumpets his companies (forced, probably) compliance with safety and environmental regulations (there are probably exemptions for smaller companies that his companies can’t use).

57

Katherine 04.04.14 at 9:02 am

@46 “Or maybe rather than relying on superficial “identity politics” or PC jargon, one should consider the underlying socio-structural conditions and mechanisms that would generate social-psychological forms of racism or racial identifications, that just reify and reproduce the status quo in distracting forms.”

Because no campaigner on racism has ever had this idea, thought about this, written about this or campaigned about this!

Seriously fella, do you think you are being brilliantly imaginative and original here?

58

JPL 04.04.14 at 11:15 am

Lee Arnold @16

The Kochs, like a lot of very powerful people, are delusional about the rightness and praiseworthiness of their actions. It’s only when the judgment has been passed against them and they are being led away that a different view might begin to hit them.

59

Collin Street 04.04.14 at 12:01 pm

> Maybe it’s not enough to dismiss someone as “stupid” or “mean” or having “their head up their arse”, in order to overcome their efforts to fuck the world.

I’m not dismissing. I’m describing: we have fairly well-established processes for people whose mental-health problems mean they present a threat to the health/wellbeing of others, and these are what we should use.

60

Katherine 04.04.14 at 1:44 pm

Collin, arseholery and greed are not mental health problems. Both the diagnosis and treatment are entirely different.

In fact, it lets such people off the hook to ascribe their anal millinery to mental illness – since such illness suggests diminished responsibility.

61

john c. halasz 04.04.14 at 4:03 pm

@57:

‘Cause it was a comment directed at another commenter’s puzzlement at the what might have been meant by another commenter’s side remark.

Some campaigners against racism, sexism, etc. might have a more complex understanding of what sort of “intentional object” they’re up against and what they might expect to achieve. Other campaigns might be quite superficial and amount to little more than another manipulative version of “bourgeois managerial ideology”.

(Since the firsr commenter is well-known here for his anti-Obama attitude, you might read the “Black Agenda Reporter”, and their take on whether Obama is “good for the blacks”, despite ostensibly overwhelming black support).

Thank you for the snark though. Now please, may I have another?

62

Daniel Nexon 04.04.14 at 6:31 pm

#47 been playing Burial at Sea, part 2?

63

Bruce Wilder 04.04.14 at 6:51 pm

Katherine @ 60

“anal millinery”

!

64

Roy Belmont 04.04.14 at 8:19 pm

Harold anybody who quotes Tuli Kupferberg can’t be all bad.
Katherine!
Collin Street: existing methods seem to be a little under-deployed in these areas, is what I meant.

65

Collin Street 04.04.14 at 10:04 pm

> In fact, it lets such people off the hook to ascribe their anal millinery to mental illness – since such illness suggests diminished responsibility.

Do you apply this logic to poor people, too?

But yes. That’s kind of the point: I want to “let people off the hook”, because if I can find a way that gets me the outcomes I want without having people suffering — even if it’s “deserved” suffering, punishment — then… well, having other people suffering doesn’t actually give me a benefit I recognise, see. Not as such, not directly.

66

Katherine 04.04.14 at 10:13 pm

Bruce Wilder – anal millinery = being an asshat.

67

Katherine 04.04.14 at 10:16 pm

Do you apply this logic to poor people, too?

What? I think we must be talking past each other, because I haven’t the faintest idea what you mean.

68

William Timberman 04.04.14 at 10:53 pm

Honestly, Katherine, at first blink I thought, Ah, so THAT’S who’s responsible for the Ascot dress code…. The Royal Company of Anal Milliners. Both ancient and honourable, don’t you know — chartered in the same year as the first Lifting of Swans…..

69

js. 04.05.14 at 9:31 pm

anal millinery

is my new favorite phrase. I just need to start working it into random conversations now.

70

Davis X. Machina 04.06.14 at 3:24 pm

@ SN:

It’s very interesting how terribly hurt he is. Is he doing everything out of hurt? If I give him a big, big hug will he stop?

No. Because some day — some day soon, given his age — he will die. And that’s terribly unfair. And there’s nothing you, or I, or his money, can do about it.

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