New Essay for The Daily Beast on Noam Chomsky

In a new essay for the Daily Beast, I use the release of a new retrospective of Chomsky’s work as an opportunity to appraise his intellectual contributions and political activism. It is impossible to overstate the importance of Chomsky as a public intellectual, and his importance in my own development. The few criticisms I have of his analysis fall under the sizable shadow of his brilliance and bravery.

Read the essay here.

New Essay for The Daily Beast: The Unsung Heroism of Jesse Jackson

I recently had the pleasure and privilege of enjoying a two hour conversation with a hero of mine, Jesse Jackson.

I told Jackson that the work he did, along with Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, and others, not only freed black people in the United States from a brutal system of apartheid, oppression, and exploitation (work that continues), but also saved me – a white man born in 1985 – from inheriting the role of occupier, oppressor, and executioner. Albert Camus wrote that people must aspire to live as “neither victims or executioners.” The “Parks-King-Jackson” injection of freedom and justice into American democracy empowered all people to enjoy such aspiration.

In my new essay for the Daily Beast, however, I do not write about the civil rights movement, but the electoral extension of the civil rights movement – the Presidential Campaigns of Jesse Jackson in 1984 and ’88.

Important and liberating, Jackson’s campaigns deserve much more attention and celebration than the Democratic Party – often ungrateful – and the mainline media – often stupid and destructive – gives them.

In my new essay, I’m happy to, I hope, begin the reversal of such an ignorant trend.

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New Essay at the Federalist: The Patchetic Provincialism of American Feminists

In my latest essay for the Federalist, I indict American feminists for their obsession with petty, frivolous issues, and their indifference in the face of real women’s suffering in America, and around the world.

One of the few insights from Karl Marx still relevant is the need for international solidarity among oppressed people. If American women truly believed they were oppressed, they would have all the more reason to zealously advocate for the liberation of their African and Asian sisters, but instead they will obliviously protest that the existence of suffering elsewhere is no reason not to focus on making improvements here, no matter how marginal those improvements seem. The defense proves hollow when American feminists refuse to even come to the aid of fellow Americans, whether they are the impoverished immigrants suffering under the cruelty of Islamic insanity, or the working-class women of the military, who too often encounter an institution more worried about public relations than justice for rape victims. In an irony invisible to the Left, American feminism has become an elitist expression of upper-class concerns. Highly educated and paid women endlessly describe their own inconveniences, while ignoring the legitimate suffering of the poor, in foreign countries and their own cities.

Read the rest at the Federalist.

New Essay at the Federalist – War Stories: An Interview with David Mamet

It is nearly impossible for me to measure the influence that the work of David Mamet – one of America’s greatest writers – has had on my thinking, my ideas, and, I hope, my writing.

Needless to say, I was thrilled and honored to spend 90 minutes with the literary genius and giant on the phone. The Federalist has published the result of that conversation – an essay that ranks among my best work, and one that I am very proud to have written.

The essay, because of Mamet’s brilliance and wit, contains so many gems of insight that it really becomes required reading.

I am particularly happy with the essay, because it truly gets to the essence of Mamet’s philosophy and personality. We spend time discussing his greatest work – Glengarry Glen Ross, American Buffalo, Edmond, The Verdict – along with his newest book, Three War Stories.

We also spend time on his political conversion from liberalism to libertarianism, which is similar and influential on my own same ideological travel route, and on his early life on the streets and in the theaters of Chicago.

It is my hope that the large swath of people who will continually find Mamet’s work worthy of study will use my interview and profile as a source of knowledge for many years.

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New Essay at The Daily Beast: Richard Hofstadter and America’s New Wave of Anti-Intellectualism

Twenty-first century philistines, suffering from a lack of imagination and curiosity, have seized upon understandable economic anxieties since the financial crash of 2008, to shepherd an increasingly large flock of American sheep into the livestock freight carrier Pulitzer prize winning historian, Richard Hofstadter, called “anti-intellectualism.

Anti-Intellectualism in American Life—one of Hofstadter’s best, among many great books – was a pile of dynamite in 1963, when it was first published and blew a sizable hole in the house of America’s self-comforting delusions of intellectual superiority. In 2014, one can only hope that some of its initial blast still reverberates, as media commentators, university administrators, and even the President, have exposed themselves as adherents to what Hofstadter indicted as the “lowest common denominator criterion” of thought and “technician conformity” of lifestyle. Suspicion, and often outright hatred, of ideas is making American culture as riveting as oatmeal. By reading Hofstadter, one learns that the resurgence of a new anti-intellectualism isn’t new, at all. In fact, Hofstadter identified the particularly poisonous strain of the virus that now infects the American mind and kills the imagination.

Read the rest at the Daily Beast.

New Column for The Indianapolis Star: Marijuana Legalization Makes Sense for Indiana

I don’t like marijuana, and I don’t enjoy socializing with people under its influence. But what separates me from most elected officials is that I am not so arrogant as to believe that my personal preferences function as divine mandates. Just because I don’t enjoy something, does not mean that you should not have the option of trying it, and if you do try it, you should face the risk of criminal penalty.

There are many practical reasons to legalize marijuana…

Read the rest of my column on legalizing marijuana at the Indianapolis Star.

New Essay at The Daily Beast: Books to Transform Your Sad Life

In my new essay for the Daily Beast, I offer a syllabus for self-transformation. From my introduction to the book list:

As the New Year dawns, let’s admit that the American psyche is a dilapidated maze of funhouse mirrors that leads nowhere. It should not shock even the most credulous patriot that many people who spend their internal lives within this maze of narcissism and dysfunction have major problems. One in five Americans suffers from some kind of mental illness, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The New York Times recently reported that suicide rates are rising so rapidly and steadily that more Americans now die of suicide than in car accidents. In a turn that vindicates Aldous Huxley, one in ten Americans ingests their daily Soma supplement in the form of antidepressants.

Many Americans are like Soren Kierkegaard’s allegorical corpse who did not realize he was alive until the morning he woke up dead—aimlessly wandering around in a drug addled haze, indulging smart phone addiction, disconnected from reality and community, while wondering why they feel unhappy and unfulfilled.

To worsen their condition of alienation and dejection, many Americans, in an attempt to feel better, read books that manipulatively sell mindless optimism and pathological hope. The cult of positive thinking turns out one hit after another, both secular—The Secret—and Christian—Joel Osteen’s prosperity gospel. The delusion that changing a life is as simple as believing it will change, and the poison that pretends God wants people who pray early and often to win the lottery, only raise expectations to unrealistic heights, and set desperate people up for a crushing fall with a crash landing.

Since Americans seem to love making New Years resolutions, now might be a sensible time for many to resolve to gain maturity and perspective in 2014. Such a process of self-education can and should begin with the close reading of books containing wisdom that will alleviate their anxiety, provide edifying purpose, and begin to transform their minds from circuses to cathedrals.

Check out my ten book recommendations, including Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway, Gore Vidal, American history books, sexual advice, and a “loafer’s manifesto”, at the Daily Beast.

New Column for Indianapolis Star: State Has No Business Banning Gay Marriage

State Has No Business Banning Gay Marriage

Indianapolis Star: December 5, 2013

The Indiana State Constitution is based on the United States Constitution – perhaps the most important document in the history of humanity’s fight for freedom. Considering the legal brilliance, political empowerment, and spiritual hope that the Constitution embodies, it would set a dangerous precedent, and betray the meaning of America to amend the constitution – at the state or federal level – to limit liberty, rather than enlarge it.

The ink that the American founders used to write the Constitution doubled as the concrete that provided the foundation for Republican Democracy around the world. An essential part of its vision is the separation of church and state. While that actual phrase might not appear in the Constitution, the founders, especially Thomas Jefferson, made it clear in letters that they intended to keep bureaucrats out of the business of religion, and keep clerical bullies from imposing their dogmas on the duties of governance. The Supreme Court has upheld and validated the separation interpretation of the Establishment Clause in dozens of cases dating back hundreds of years.

It is for these reasons that any thoughtful, reasonable, and moral person must vehemently oppose the proposal to change the Indiana State Constitution to include an amendment banning gay marriage.

It is not the State’s role to make judgments on the consensual sex lives of adults. If America is to remain a friendly home for freedom, it must extend that freedom, and the equality of opportunity and dignity that goes along with it, to gay Americans – the majority of whom are law abiding, taxpaying citizens who conduct themselves with decency and responsibility.

Homosexuality is not only a form of sex. It is also a form of love. All Americans, but especially those who wear the label of “family values conservative,” should seek to honor that love in the maintenance of a society that values romantic commitment and familial care.

The entire debate surrounding gay marriage is cartoonishly absurd, given that there is no credible argument against it. One side uses legal precedent, philosophical argumentation in keeping with the American tradition of individual liberty, and simple kindness, while the other recites passages from a book written thousands of years ago.

The Bible, along with any other religious text, is to have no influence on the laws of our secular government. Any religious doctrine can influence the way people think and behave in a free country, but the Constitution clearly prohibits the exercise of religion during legislative activity or judicial decision-making.

When gay marriage opponents claim that their argument is The Bible, they are confessing that they have no argument.

American opinion is reaching a favorable consensus on gay marriage, and when legalization does inevitably occur, no church will have to marry a gay couple. The beauty of the separation of church and state is that it is mutually protective of religion and governmental autonomy and interest.

That being said, on the issue of religion, gay marriage opponents have yet to answer important questions.

The Bible prohibits adultery, divorce, eating shellfish, working on the Sabbath, wearing clothing of mixed fabrics, wearing gold, and touching a woman experiencing her period. For most of these crimes – including working on Sundays – the penalty is death.

Why are the loudest defenders of Biblical law, who so eagerly denounce gay marriage, not insisting that these injunctions also influence government legislation?

Might it be that they are not truly motivated by religion, but that they are using religion as a cover story for the exclusion and hurtful treatment of people they just don’t like?

David Masciotra is the author of All That We Learned About Living: The Art and Legacy of John Mellencamp (forthcoming, The University Press of Kentucky) and Against Traffic: Essays on Politics and Identity. For more information visit http://www.davidmasciotra.com.