November 23, 2012

Warning: Meanness Ahead

Let me give you my bottom line right here at the beginning. If you're a person who writes or speaks regularly about politics at this particular moment in the lamentable history of the lamentable United States, and if you are not "mad, bad and dangerous to know," you aren't worth shit. All you are is another prop holding up a constantly expanding, ever worsening system of colossal brutality, oppression, dehumanization and murder.

Yes, murder. The United States government has a Kill List. It's proud of the Kill List. It tells the whole goddamned world about its Kill List all the fucking time. The U.S. government regularly and systematically murders innocent human beings. It claims to do this in a profoundly, thoroughly admirable, moral and conscientious way. A lot of people believe this shit. They believe you can murder innocent human beings in a moral, conscientious way.

Most people don't have any problem swallowing this unbelievable load of crap. No dissonance, no questioning, no problem at all. There isn't even one cell in their body that is dangerous in any respect.

You can describe Chris Hayes in lots of ways. Dangerous is not one of them. I was reminded of this entirely obvious fact while reading this excellent post. I completely agree with the argument it presents; I find it hard to believe that smart, savvy people find it remotely controversial. (I know these folks view themselves as smart and savvy, just as you do; they certainly tell us often enough.) Some key parts of the presentation are the description of the all too familiar phenomenon of "a clear eyed, even radical, assessment of all that’s wrong in the world coexisting with acquiescence in oligarch-approved methods for putting things right, no matter how often and resoundingly these methods fail"; the discussion of how "Hayes is also helpfully demarcating the boundaries of permissible skepticism"; and this:
This is why I part company with Hayes’ many admirers and why I consider most establishment lefts fundamentally toxic: their principled, analytical moments are inseparable from the ways in which they more frequently and potently subvert them. Nowhere is this more dramatically evident than in the crucial role heat vampires like Hayes play in presidential elections, which is where they really shine.
Some people objected to the post because they thought it was mean. (Lots of that going around right now.) And/or they thought it was pompous and condescending, pointing to lines like this one: "I don’t think Chomsky gets how Chomsky applies to Chomsky either." Well, you know, that's a funny thing. (And setting the content aside, it's a lovely line. Certain critics might have mentioned that before they got all high and dudgeony about it.) Because with regard to the issue being discussed, the statement is true. If you think the truth is mean, perhaps you need to rethink where you're drawing the foul lines and adjust them accordingly.

I mean, Jesus Christ on a stick, folks: Chomsky has spent decades writing scathing critiques of the fundamental, grotesque structural defects of the United States, and of Western late capitalism generally (and much of those critiques is of great value, as I freely and gratefully acknowledge). He describes in painful detail how that basic structure results in unending human suffering, and even death. But somehow, every four years, he finds the time to remind us to vote for the Democratic candidate for president, because...hell, you know how it goes. (If you forgot, see Part II here.) Chomsky also emphasizes that the "real work" has nothing to do with elections, and we must do the "real work" all the rest of the time. Still, he always manages to tell us to vote for the Democrat,, fuck it. So why doesn't Chomsky listen to Chomsky? Which is what I understood the post to be saying. Seems like a legitimate question to me. (Or to put it another way, which might be less upsetting to some: the suggestion is that Chomsky is being inconsistent. The horror!)

That post also discusses the entirely false controversy that followed Hayes' expression of a teensy bit of reluctance to embrace the term "hero" as applied to members of the U.S. military. Hayes' barely detectable doubt concerning the validity of "hero" was predictably followed by what this writer calls " a revolting apology." Which, again, it was. Yeah, the truth sounds mean to a lot of people. Go do that readjusting, baby.

I made some notes about the "hero" controversy when it happened and had intended to write about it. I never got around to it. Reading the post at The Rancid Sector, I thought: Great! Now I don't need to. But as I thought about it a bit more, I realized I had a few observations to add. Look at what Hayes said in his original remarks:
Why do I feel so uncomfortable about the word 'hero'? I feel uncomfortable about the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect the memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.
I'm gonna be mean now. This is the bland voice of institutional "dissent." Hayes feels "uncomfortable." He doesn't want to "desecrate or disrespect" anyone who was killed. But maybe the word "hero" is "problematic."

And "maybe" he's "wrong about that." That is, the argument he's just made may be totally, completely off-base.

This is "dangerous"? Fuck me. (No, not you. The guy behind you. He is hot.) And look at what Hayes said just a few minutes after these comments -- again, in his original remarks:
We don't have a draft, this is voluntary, this is someone making a decision to take on a certain risk of that, and they're taking it on because they're bound to all of us through this social contract, through this democratic process … If the word hero is not right, there is something about that that is noble.
Joining the military is "noble"! Wow, that is, like, terrible, man! It's unAmerican!! And "they're bound to all of us through this social contract, through this democratic process..." Jesus fuck. Was that rude? Sorry. Not really. I'll come back to this in a minute.

But about this "noble" malarkey: No, a thousand times, No:
Please note that this [U.S.] goal of worldwide control has nothing whatsoever to do with self-defense in any meaningful way. It is a policy of offensive aggression, unceasing and with an unending list of possible targets. Thus, the primary purpose for which "the troops" are utilized is not defensive in nature, but offensive, against countries that have never threatened the U.S. and that most often could not threaten the U.S. in any serious manner. A person who joins the military is obliged to understand this, on the general principle that an adult ought to know what he is doing. This is especially true when a person seeks to become an instrumentality of death, either firsthand and directly, or indirectly, by offering support in any one of numerous ways for those who commit the murders.
In the years since I wrote that essay, and especially given the actions of the U.S. government during that time -- and because of the Kill List -- my view has become even more severe:
At present and for the foreseeable future, there is no legitimate, healthy reason for any individual to join the United States military.

See this recent post for my argument.

Don't get all hysterical now. This does not mean that everyone who joins the military is an unredeemable monster. To make a judgment in a particular case, we may need a lot of information. I discussed this in considerable detail in the earlier article. However, I still went on to write:
Even though I will not offer moral judgments across the board, I will make judgments in certain categories of cases. Two major categories deserve condemnation in the strongest terms: those who torture other human beings, and those who diligently train to murder individuals who have never threatened them or their country and who, all too often, then do murder them. We correctly condemn those who offer the defense made -- and subsequently rejected -- on behalf of the war criminals of World War II, that they were only "following orders." But those war criminals were not soldiers for the Great and Good United States. For the sake of the latter, most Americans of all political persuasions will enthusiastically accept the Nazi defense. Our national denial is fully comprehensive, and contemptible in the extreme.
Jesus, Silber, you're comparing our soldiers to Nazis! Please. Grow up. I'm talking about the principle involved. Although we supposedly are encouraged to discuss everything under the sun, the one thing we may never do is discuss underlying principles or what they mean. I emphasize that if you genuinely wish to stop the horrors, you have to be willing to identify them as horrors and judge those who commit them, even if those who commit them are "noble" members of the U.S. military.

Is it asking too much to require that those who join the U.S. military know what they're doing? That they know what they're doing when they murder innocent people in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Libya, or or or ... For most people, it is too much to ask. But you see, I respect human beings much more than that. I expect them to act like human beings.

So let's get back to Hayes' drivel about "this social contract, this democratic process." Hayes truly loves this shit. I was poking around the site for his show, and I came upon this: "A toast to the organizers." It's mainly about his brother Luke, who -- for 64 months -- "has spent every single day working for the Obama campaign and its sister organization Organizing for America." Hayes goes on:
Luke and the thousands like him: organizers of every hue and background and creed, in states across the union working preposterously long hours doing the grueling, sometimes comically mundane labor of making democracy work: calling people, knocking on doors, sending emails, sitting through endless meetings and conference calls and sorting columns on spread sheets, and buying office supplies (in bulk, or slightly used so as to come in under budget), negotiating leases for field offices, getting yelled at by disgruntled volunteers, getting yelled at by stressed-out bosses, getting yelled at by diva-esque local officials.
Aw, that is sweet. The entire commentary is sweet -- so sweet that it would make Walt Disney throw up.

But c'mon. The work of these thousands of people is great, just like Hayes' commentary about it is great: "making democracy work," so that we can elect as president a murderer with a Kill List.

Maybe everyone in Hayes' family does work like this. And some people claim that only the Religious Right has family values. Not true!

In connection with Hayes' apology for his earth-shattering condemnation of the U.S. military, The Rancid Sector notes that Hayes even included "the far right-wing suggestion that civilians can’t really speak with authority on military matters." Hayes pulls out this trick again in the Luke commentary, at the very end:
Unless you’ve done the work that the people in that room have done, you can’t know how that feels.

So to all the people in that room, and around the country and all the unsung thousands who toiled in the trenches of democracy, [!!!] a toast. Thank you for what you did, thank you for what you do.

Especially you, Luke. I’m proud of you.
Aw, you're crying. Also sweet. (And let's not get bogged down in secondary issues. You can work for marriage equality and marijuana legalization without also working for the reelection of a murderer with a Kill List.)

I wonder if Hayes applies the "you can't understand this unless you actually do it yourself" standard across the board. If he did, it seems to me that he'd have to shut up about a whole lot of things. But maybe that isn't the point. Maybe the point is that we should shut up about a whole lot of things.

Sorry, Chris. No can do.

"Dissent" like this is indispensable to the brutal, crushing system that is killing people around the world, and killing more and more of us here at home. The system allows for "dissent" of this kind and counts on it. It helps to foster the illusion of choice, and the illusion that the system can be "reformed from within." It makes people believe in the legitimacy of Hayes' sacred "democracy." And it represents no threat whatsoever to those in power.

The ruling class loves dissent like this. It's not "dangerous" in the smallest detail. If "dissenters" like Hayes didn't exist, the ruling class would have to invent them.

Bah and phooey. Enough of this.