February 24, 2009


[PROFUSE APOLOGIES: Another update, on Saturday, March 28. I find it difficult to credit that almost a month has passed since my last update. I've been going through one of those odd periods, where each day and many nights seem endless, while I simultaneously discover that another week has suddenly gone by, then another one...and now a month. Yet in certain ways, it still seems only yesterday that I got out of the hospital.

It's been a very difficult time. For about a month -- roughly two and a half weeks before the episode that put me in the hospital, and another few weeks afterwards -- it was exceptionally hard to get a good night's sleep. As I would get into bed, I would think there was a serious possibility I would never wake up. It's more than slightly unnerving. The worst of that seems to be gone, although I still have those feelings fairly regularly, especially since I have no idea exactly how badly damaged my heart is.

I only realized after I'd gotten home that no one ever told me the results of all the tests they did, although one nurse mentioned as an aside that there was some thickening of the heart walls in some areas. She added that my heart wasn't enlarged, however, which is good. But they took x-rays, did a lot of blood tests, etc., and I don't know what those results were. They knew that I had no insurance and no money, so once my heart returned to a normal rhythm, they were only too delighted to get rid of me.

I've now received what I think are all the bills for this business. I say, "I think," because I only received the Fire Department bill for emergency medical services yesterday. The grand total is a little over $14,000, for a day of medical attention (and, obviously, no operations or anything that major). Since I can't possibly pay any of it, I felt bad about it for a little while -- but then I reminded myself of the untold hundreds of billions and trillions of dollars that our government is currently throwing around, on wars of conquest and as gifts from taxpayers to the criminal members of the financial class (who are already vastly wealthier than most of us). After thinking about that for a moment or two, I concluded: "Aw, fuck them." Thus ends our lesson in philosophy for today. (That lesson is strongly reinforced for me when I consider that, for the last several years, I've sometimes managed to survive on $14,000 for eight or nine months at a time. No, you didn't misread that. I live on about $22,000 a year.)

I'm terribly sorry I haven't been able to do any writing during this period, but I honestly haven't been able to do much of anything. In addition, over the last two or three years, I've even found it increasingly difficult to read, a problem which has worsened over the last few months. I often get very bad headaches after spending several hours on the computer or reading a book. It's been almost ten years since my last eye exam, and if I ever have an extra several hundred dollars, I'll get my eyes checked again and get a new prescription for my glasses. At the moment, I have to spend a lot of time constantly adjusting the distance between my head and whatever I'm trying to read.

Nonetheless, I've started pulling together material for several new essays, some in the Tribalism series as well as some standalone pieces (although more and more, almost everything I think about writing appears to be connected to the tribalism themes in one way or another). I hope to start publishing them in the next week. Meanwhile, I have to pay another month's rent by the end of this coming week. Pathetic to say, but I'm about $600 short of the rent and just enough money for food for another week or two. (I did get my major heart medication refilled again yesterday, so at least that's taken care of for another month.)

I'm also very sorry to have to make another plea for donations, especially since I've been completely out of commission. But it's been a truly rotten time. I hope the worst is over, at least for the time being. And I very much want to write more of the Tribalism series, for which I have notes and material for at least another ten to fifteen installments. That series doesn't appear to have much interest for a sizable audience, but I expected that; any other result would have surprised me considerably. But the lack of interest in those subjects has been apparent to me for as long as I've been writing about them, which is now more than five years. Perhaps more people will find those ideas as important and full of explanatory power as I do at some point, but I honestly don't expect that to happen until long after I'm gone. But I would like my own contribution in that area to be more extensive than it is now.

The cats are fine, and they've been wonderful company through all this. Cyrano and Wendy have both always been very affectionate, but they've been noticeably more affectionate over the last month -- always taking turns in my lap or sitting right next to me, and we always sleep together, at night and when I take naps during the day (not an infrequent occurrence now).

Many thanks still another time to all of you who are so thoughtful and generous. Without you, I'd have been out on the street a long time ago. And I deeply hope I'll be back with some new essays very soon now.]

[UPDATE, Monday, March 2: A multitude of thanks to all those who have been so kind and generous. Bless you all. I've paid the March rent and gotten my prescriptions filled. So I'm all right for the moment, at least in financial terms.

But I'm finding the aftermath of this emergency much more unsettling and difficult than I had expected. Among many other things, I have to adjust to the reality I was warned about by one of the doctors: that I may go in and out of these episodes. To try to lessen the possibility of a recurrence, I'm having to make major adjustments to my diet: no caffeine, no alcohol, as low salt as possible, etc. Most of it is fine with me and hasn't been a problem -- except that I used to take in lots of caffeine all day long. How on earth do people wake up without two or three large cups of strong, strong coffee? I'm learning how.

And it may be true, as one of the cardiologists told me, that the glorious LA County Health System "can't turn me away." But that's only true in the narrowest sense: they can't turn me away because I don't have insurance or money. Obviously, however, the fact that I don't have insurance or money means that there are many procedures and preventive measures that they simply won't offer to me. To put it simply: I will never get anything remotely like the treatment Dick Cheney gets for his heart condition. So I'll basically be restricted to calling for help when emergencies strike. Ironically and somewhat horribly, the cardiologist who trumpeted the wondrous nature of LA's public health system (to which I was "entitled") proceeded himself to prove how empty such claims can be for those with no resources. After delivering his encouraging platitudes and examining me for about 15 minutes, he said he was going to look at my test results. And, he stated emphatically, "I'll be back in 10 to 15 minutes at the most to discuss all this in more detail with you." I never saw him again. I even told one of the ER doctors what he had said, and indicated that I very much wanted to have that followup talk with the cardiologist. They tried to locate him and said they couldn't. A "shift change" or some such, they thought. Oh, well.

All of it is deeply unsettling. There is a lot of writing I want to do, and developments every day suggest at least two or three posts I'd like to put together, in addition to all the pieces I've already planned (including many more in the Tribalism series). But I still find it very difficult to focus on that for more than a few minutes at a time. I hope and trust it will pass in another several days. So please bear with me in the meantime. For my own sake, I want to get back to writing as soon as I can.

Many, many thanks again for your kindness and support. I'm deeply grateful.]

I won't keep you in suspense, as I myself was for a little over two weeks. Among other things, I have been suffering from atrial fibrillation (an irregular, rapid heartbeat, as many of you undoubtedly know from the teevee). Through some unknown combination of factors, my heart resumed normal function sometime early Tuesday morning, although my heart is damaged (exactly how damaged isn't at all clear to me).

I was only in the hospital for a little more than a day. Over the last two weeks plus a few days, I went through five or six episodes when I felt variously very dizzy, nauseous, incredibly weak, and had odd pains here and there (but no major chest pains). I found it much more difficult than usual just to walk around my apartment (and it is somewhat difficult almost all the time now). On Monday, I wasn't feeling well by any means, but not too terrible. So I thought I'd go to the bank, which I only do twice a month now in connection with getting ready to pay the rent. But my most pressing reason for getting some cash was that I only had four dollars in my wallet. I was fairly certain I'd need money for cabs to and from hospitals in the very near future. The bank is only three blocks away, but walking even that far takes a lot out of me these days; I only make the effort when I absolutely have to.

I got to the bank, took out some cash, crossed Wilshire Boulevard to walk home -- and I couldn't do it. I sat down for a few minutes, thinking the feelings of dizziness, weakness and nausea would pass. They didn't. I waited still longer. The feelings didn't lessen even a little. I thought about the writing I still want to do, that I desperately wanted to see my cats again, and about the people I wanted to talk to at least a few more times. In effect, I said to myself: "Well, Christ. Fuck all the bastards running this country. I may have dropped out of the system almost completely, but I need some help now. They can give it to me. I'll never be able to pay for it, but screw that too. I deserve the best goddamned medical treatment available!" Or words to that effect, but that's pretty close to what I was thinking.

I've never had a cell phone, so I asked a woman who was very helpful if she'd call 911 for me, which she did. The Fire Department emergency personnel arrived 10 to 15 minutes later. Two very attractive young men, which was wonderfully distracting. They took basic information, asked a bunch of questions, did a few tasks, and called some more "official" paramedics to the scene. I didn't get the distinction between the Fire Department guys and the two other paramedics who then showed up, and didn't feel much like inquiring about it. But oh, my friends. Paul the Paramedic. Wonderfully competent and kind.

And hot. So, so hot. These emergency personnel must be hired direct from Chippendale's or some damned thing. I am incredibly proud to have learned that, even when "the big one" might be about to hurl me into the dark void of nothingness, I am so deeply perverse and unredeemable that I will still be noticing hot men and thinking how we might entertain each other, in rather different circumstances. Hooray for me!

So Paul the Paramedic and the other paramedic (sorry, I didn't ask everyone's name, I was, you know, trying to focus on business to the extent required) did some more stuff, asked a bunch of the same and additional questions, and after ascertaining that I had no insurance and no money, took me to a nearby hospital's ER.

I was in the ER from about 1 PM until midnight, when I was admitted to the hospital itself. I got a bed in the ER immediately because of my overall state and symptoms. While I was in the ER, they did a lot of tests -- several electrocardiograms, an Echo exam (they called it an Echo exam, although it wasn't a stress test, I was lying down through all this), lots of blood tests, etc., etc., etc. I have to give the ER personnel pretty high marks, although there were several points in the proceedings when I almost lost it totally, mostly when people said such and such would be happening within 10 minutes, and then it didn't happen for an hour or two. Or three. And I had to tell the doctor who first told me about the atrial fibrillation in very dire terms that he had scared me to death, before he explained in more detail what was involved in my condition and that, since I was in the hospital, I wasn't going to die that day. So I calmed down a little. (Oh, that reminds me: I suggested in the late afternoon that perhaps an anti-anxiety drug might be a good idea, since I sometimes felt in the midst of the ER madness that the anxiety itself might kill me. I finally got one -- at 10 PM. They had kept saying they couldn't give me an anti-anxiety drug until the heart, blood and other test results were back, which I readily understood. But they had all those results long before 10 o'clock.)

From what several doctors and nurses told me -- and I could never have imagined such a parade of different doctors and nurses, even after being admitted to the hospital, I rarely saw the same person more than once -- I gather that in some cases drugs (two of which they gave me after formal admittance) will cause the heart to resume normal function. But it usually takes the drugs a couple of days at a minimum to do that, in those cases when they work that way. Other times, some zaps will be used to get the heart back to normal. (Zaps like from those paddles you see on, you know, teevee again.)

In still other cases, the heart will resume normal functioning, seemingly fixing this part of its mechanism itself. That's what happened in my case sometime early Tuesday morning, much to the doctors' own surprise. So I was discharged late this afternoon (using some of the cash I had gotten to pay for the cab home!), with some pills and prescriptions, and orders to go to various doctors in the LA County Hospital system (they can't turn you away!) to follow up on the heart problems, as well as on several other problems that surfaced during the tests (including one that I was already fully aware of, since it's incredibly painful, but apparently not terribly serious...well, except for the pain).

So, yeah, I'm now one of those worthless moochers who want medical care for nothing, and who will never be able to pay for it. To which I say: tough shit. When I was still part of the system, the government took a fortune in taxes from me. In that sense, I'm only getting some of my own back. Beyond that, if our government -- which is bankrupt, I remind you, and in debt for trillions of dollars -- is going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars it doesn't have, I would much prefer that those pretend billions of dollars be spent on health care instead of on killing people around the world. So sure, I'm happy to be part of that rearrangement of our rulers' spending priorities. Patient power, baby!

And after all this, yep, I've gotta hit you up for donations once again. As I said above, the writing I still want to do was one of the major reasons I decided to enter into the morass of our health system in the first place. I still expect I'll only do so again when I feel it's truly necessary (although not desperate in a final sense, if you will). But I do have to get those prescriptions filled in a few days; the hospital only gave me pills of each of the three drugs for three days, since I'm such a deadbeat and all. So that will cost money.

And I have a little less than half what I need for March rent. But it appears I'll be around for a little while yet, and there are essays to be written! Need to keep the lights on and so forth while our endeavors proceed. And Cyrano and Wendy can always use a new catnip toy. Or four. (Where do they go? This apartment isn't big at all, and I know there are at least 50 toys around here somewhere. But exactly where they are, I have absolutely no idea. Crafty little folks. I was so happy to see them again, I can't tell you. In just a little while, we will all curl up in bed together. That's the kind of medicine I like.)

As always, I'm deeply grateful for the kindness, support and generosity of many of you. My profound gratitude, still one more time.

I hope to be back with some new posts in a day or two at the most. But first, I think some rest is indicated.

February 22, 2009

The Ravages of Tribalism (IV): The Unknown Country: The World of the Uninjured Child

Part I: Introduction

Part II: Creating the Next Generation

Part III: Learning to Hate "The Other"

Reading the earlier parts of this series will be very helpful to what follows. In particular, a reader will need to be familiar with the true story I analyzed in detail in Parts II and III. With regard to that story, I must repeat again that I did not choose it because it is an example of unusual and especially horrifying cruelty to a young child. I chose it for precisely the opposite reason: because this kind of incident is so common, because incidents like it occur many millions of times a day, in families across the world. We learn these mechanisms of obedience and denial as very young children. As we grow up, we internalize them. Finally, and this is where the great future danger lies, most of us come to believe that these methods of child rearing are right, and that our parents (or other primary caregivers) acted as they did "for our own good." Then we are ready to repeat the pattern with the next generation.

Keep in mind what I consider the critical essence of that story: by means of emotional intimidation and blackmail, the mother forces her young son to agree with her own judgments about matters the child cannot possibly understand. The mother hasn't presented any sort of argument, or encouraged the child to analyze her argument independently to determine whether he agrees. The story makes it clear that this kind of incident involving the same specifics has occurred before. Remember the end of the story:
Of course I realized that this could be an excellent "teachable moment" about impulse control, so I knelt down and spoke to him. I told him that I was very disappointed, that I really didn't like what he did. I asked him again why he did it, and he still didn't answer. Then I asked him "Do you know what we call people who know what they are doing is bad, but do the bad thing anyway?"

He replied, "Democrats."
In the original story, the despised "Others" are labelled Republicans; I altered the designation to emphasize the fact that the label is of no significance at all. What is of crucial importance is the method being taught to the child. The young boy knows his mother is furious with him, and he is terrified that her love and approval might be withheld or withdrawn. Although he cannot understand these issues as an adult would, the child is aware that he cannot survive without that love and approval. As a result, he will say whatever his mother demands: what he is learning, above all else, is the primary importance of obedience. The boy joins in his mother's denunciation of "The Other" of the moment. In this manner, the child's basic tribal identity is forged. Our tribe is good, their tribe is bad. But the child will not be able to provide a reasoned explanation as to why this is true (and as I discuss in Part III, it is not true in that form). The child embraces these judgments because he is forced to -- and he is forced to by means of his mother's emotional manipulation.

I offered one example of the results this leads to in adult behavior in Part II, the emailer who praised a post of mine and wanted to write one like it, but didn't do so because of his fear that he would be "regarded as having lost [his] mind." The prospect of his tribe's disapproval meant more to him than what he himself considered to be the truth. In a general sense, you see this behavior many times a day in our political commentary; most writing by bloggers falls exclusively into this category. Rarely will you find a carefully presented argument as to why one particular policy is better than another. For the most part, our political writers start with the assumption that their political affiliation and its associated views are unquestionably correct. Their writing consists of emotional signifiers to other members of their political tribe. Persuasion is not the goal; instead, the purpose is the reinforcement and reaffirmation of tribal identity, and reinforcement of the view that one's own tribe is "good," while all opposing tribes are "bad" in various ways and degrees. Future essays will offer further examples of this phenomenon.

Two aspects of the psychological dynamics I am discussing are of critical importance; both of them have many effects on adult behavior. I've already discussed the first aspect to some extent: the manner in which those ideas that the child comes to embrace are not "ideas" in any genuine sense. The child is not encouraged to explore a subject at his own speed and on his own terms (with guidance from adults, to be sure, but without subjecting the child to fear and intimidation should he show interest in the "wrong" ideas); instead, the child is offered slogans and labels devoid of content, and pressured into accepting the views his primary caregivers consider to be the "correct" ones.

The other aspect is just as crucial, and it concerns the child's sense of personal identity. All of us need this sense of personal identity in at least two respects: we require a fundamental sense of self-worth, and we need a belief in our ability to function in the world. We need to believe that we are both worthy and capable of living successfully. To the extent our sense of personal identity is not founded in our functioning as autonomous, independent, genuine individuals, our personal identity will be replaced by another kind of identity. We must have some kind of identity; the only question is what kind it will be. We might think of the issue this way: to the extent we don't have a truly independent identity, we will have a tribal identity. This is what the mother is teaching her son in our story; this is the lesson taught by the vast majority of parents, with only the specific labels changing from one instance to another.

In The Truth Will Set You Free, Alice Miller offers this description of the prevailing methods of child rearing:
Poisonous pedagogy is a phrase I use to refer to the kind of parenting and education aimed at breaking a child's will and making that child into an obedient subject by means of overt or covert coercion, manipulation, and emotional blackmail.

In my books For Your Own Good and Thou Shalt Not Be Aware, I have explained the concept using concrete examples. In my other books I have repeatedly stressed how the mendacious mentality behind this approach to dealing with children can leave long-lasting imprints on the way we think and relate to one another in our adult lives.
This series, and the story I analyzed, show some of the implications of "poisonous pedagogy" with regard to political questions. Alice Miller also speaks of the broader issues involved. In Thou Shalt Not Be Aware, Miller writes:
There is a good deal else that would not exist without "poisonous pedagogy." It would be inconceivable, for example, for politicians mouthing empty cliches to attain the highest positions of power by democratic means. But since voters, who as children would normally have been capable of seeing through these cliches with the aid of their feelings, were specifically forbidden to do so in their early years, they lose this ability as adults. The capacity to experience the strong feelings of childhood and puberty (which are so often stifled by child-rearing methods, beatings, or even drugs) could provide the individual with an important means of orientation with which he or she could easily determine whether politicians are speaking from genuine experience or are merely parroting time-worn platitudes for the sake of manipulating voters. Our whole system of raising and educating children provides the power-hungry with a ready-made railway network they can use to reach the destination of their choice. They need only push the buttons that parents and educators have already installed.
I offered my own formulation of this dynamic in one of the first essays I wrote based on Miller's work, a consideration of a tragic and very public example of these obedience-denial mechanisms, the case of Mel Gibson. In that article, I wrote:
By demanding obedience above all from a child (whether by physical punishment, by psychological means, or through some combination of both), parents forbid the child from fostering an authentic sense of self. Because children are completely dependent on their parents, they dare not question their parents' goodness, or their "good intentions." As a result, when children are punished, even if they are punished for no reason or for a reason that makes no sense, they blame themselves and believe that the fault lies within them. In this way, the idealization of the authority figure is allowed to continue. In addition, the child cannot allow himself to experience fully his own pain, because that, too, might lead to questioning of his parents.

In this manner, the child is prevented from developing a genuine, authentic sense of self. As he grows older, this deadening of his soul desensitizes the child to the pain of others. Eventually, the maturing adult will seek to express his repressed anger on external targets, since he has never been allowed to experience and express it in ways that would not be destructive. By such means, the cycle of violence is continued into another generation (using "violence" in the broadest sense). One of the additional consequences is that the adult, who has never developed an authentic self, can easily transfer his idealization of his parents to a new authority figure.
In the Gibson piece, I examined this pattern in detail, and I discussed Gibson's reverence for his own father, despite his father's horrifying beliefs (including a comprehensive denial of the historic reality of the Holocaust). On that point, I wrote:
Gibson ... clearly conveyed that his father, his father's goodness, the fact that his father was worthy of deep admiration, and -- above all -- his father's authority were not to be questioned; all of these were immutable facts, absolutes beyond all debate or questioning. It is this mindset, and this refusal to allow even the smallest possibility that his father might be mistaken -- even with regard to a supremely significant issue such as the Holocaust -- that lead Gibson to equivocate unforgivably in his own statements about whether the Holocaust actually occurred. Whatever else is open to discussion, the worth, the authority and the inherent goodness of his father cannot be broached.
What I urge readers to consider is that reverence for authority of this kind -- and this sense of tribal identity that was first forced on us when we were defenseless children -- is not restricted to the specifics involved in Gibson's case. We see the same kind of unquestioning obedience to the demands of tribal identity in almost all writers and bloggers who deal with political questions.

When I introduced the story of the mother and her young son in Part II, I encouraged readers to try to understand the story from the child's perspective. As I noted, it is impossible for most adults to do this. I was only able to appreciate the child's point of view after many years of study and contemplation of this general subject. In Part II, I offered an excerpt from an essay I wrote several years ago. That essay is now republished below. It was originally dated December 1, 2004.

I recommend that you read this essay together with another article written at the same time, "The Indifference and Denial that Kill." The latter piece deals with the deeply tragic suicide of Iris Chang. The essay about Chang primarily focuses on the relationship between an adult of unusual sensitivity and awareness and the culture of denial that surrounds her. On the basis of certain evidence concerning Chang's life and work, I offer my own theory of what may have contributed to her suicide, at least in part.

The essay that follows focuses on the very young child himself. If you take away only one point from the following, perhaps it should be this one from Miller:
It is only from a child who was never injured that we can learn entirely new, honest, and truly humane behavior. Such a child does not accept without question the pedagogic reasoning to which we were susceptible. He feels he is entitled to ask questions, to demand explanations, to stand up for himself, and to articulate his needs.
There is one other point that I also consider crucial. In the essay below, I write:
[B]y the time we learn to think conceptually, a functioning emotional mechanism is already in place. The nature of that emotional mechanism will determine in many respects precisely how we think, when we finally do.
I will be offering examples of this mechanism in future installments. But we've already seen how it operates in the story of the young boy and his mother. Given the lessons being taught to this young child, lessons taught by means of fear, intimidation and emotional manipulation, how do you imagine this boy will "think" about political issues when he is old enough to do so on his own? You can see the results in most of the adults you know, and in most of the writing about politics that you read. As I say, I will have much more on this subject.

I have made some very minor editorial changes to this essay, primarily to add links or correct them (if they've changed). I had thought of omitting the concluding paragraphs about my own perspective and how it had changed. But I finally decided to leave them as they were. In the event, my specific plans have been overtaken by events, in particular by health problems that became far too real shortly after I wrote this earlier essay. But you might want to ask a general question: Isn't it true, Arthur, that you are in your current situation, that you are very sick and unable to get any medical assistance, in part because of the damage you suffered as a child? To which my answer is: Yes, of course. That's exactly the point. That is why I will continue writing about these issues as long as I can. This is not at all to say that the damages inflicted on me are the only cause or the only explanation for the course of my life, a general issue I mentioned in Part I. Obviously, many complex factors are involved, including certain significant choices I have made as a fully independent adult (see here). But certainly that much earlier damage is one of the major explanations for why my life generally developed as it did.

With the passage of time, I want to clarify my view about the nature of my experience of how I felt as a child, as described below. I am very suspicious of the "recovered memory" phenomenon in general, because of the lack of evidence for the accuracy and reality of such memories and also because of the abuse with which such memories have often been utilized (among other reasons). Therefore, I would not describe what I experienced as a "recovered memory." Instead, I regard it as what I learned to do as an actor: how would I feel if I were in a particular situation? To do this in a way that is especially powerful requires that one be very specific about the imagined situation. I had thought about these issues, and about my own childhood, for a long time. Thus, it is not at all surprising to me that I would finally be able to recapture in a significant way what I had felt as a very young child. And I note that this ability is not restricted to actors or other performers: this is what empathy means, the ability to experience the feelings and perspective of others as if they were our own. It is a goal toward which we all should strive.

And even though certain of my hopes for the future had to be set aside after I wrote this, the feeling of freedom that I describe as the result of what I re-experienced (or re-imagined) has stayed with me. In other essays, I've described the depressions and even thoughts of suicide that have haunted me throughout my life. Since the time of the experience described below and the further thinking I've done about it, those feelings have never returned in the same way. For the most part, they have never returned at all. Certainly, I often feel profound frustration that the issues I write about seem to concern very few other people. With the exception of a few treasured friends and readers, I frequently feel immensely lonely. But the sense of ultimate despair, despair without a spark of hope anywhere, generalized despair so profound that there seems to be no reason at all to go on -- no, those feelings don't come to me any longer.

Here is the earlier essay.


December 1, 2004


I sometimes bury my major point too far down in my essays, so let me immediately state the overriding message that I hope this article will convey: the immense cruelty that is inflicted on children by adults who are supposedly devoted to caring for and nurturing them has enormous consequences. In most cases, the results of that cruelty remain unrecognized by the child when he grows up and becomes an adult, even as the damage continues to distort and cripple his life in countless ways. In addition to what most people would now consider obvious cruelty (vicious beatings, sexual molestation and the like), much of the torture that children must endure comes in forms that far too many people continue to find perfectly acceptable. As just two examples: many adults and parents still believe that spanking and "milder" forms of corporal punishment are beneficial to the child (see this post and this one, for a discussion of why they are wrong); and "hot saucing" is now viewed as a "good" form of discipline by many adults, including many deeply religious ones (see this post about that and related issues).

But beyond these examples, which still involve physical abuse of one degree or another, much of the cruelty that adults inflict comes in a non-physical form: it is delivered by means of words and psychological manipulation. By these means, the child is subjected to emotional abuse. And often that abuse comes in forms that almost everyone considers completely "normal." Moreover, most adults consider such abuse "necessary": it is, they believe, required to "socialize" the child and teach him to conform to social convention.

In her books, Alice Miller often comments on the fact that it is close to impossible for most adults to recapture the full reality of what any form of abuse felt like to the child. The important part of that sentence is the end: what the experience of the cruelty was like for the child. If we do not understand that -- which means that we must fully experience as adults what it was like (or come as close to that experience as we can) -- we cannot fully heal the wounds from which we suffer. Beyond that, it is the inability of adults to remember fully what the experience of abuse was like for them when they were children that permits them to continue to inflict the same kind of abuse on their own children. Most families continue the cycle of cruelty from one generation to the next, and it is never broken.

Another significant part of the explanation for why most adults do not understand the full impact and the immense destructiveness of what children endure is mentioned by Miller in the opening paragraphs of her article, "Concerning Forgiveness: The Liberating Experience of Painful Truth." Here is the beginning:
The mistreated and neglected child is completely alone in the darkness of confusion and fear. Surrounded by arrogance and hatred, robbed of its rights and its speech, deceived in its love and its trust, disregarded, humiliated, mocked in its pain, such a child is blind, lost, and pitilessly exposed to the power of ignorant adults. It is without orientation and completely defenseless.

Its whole being would like to shout out its anger, give voice to its feeling of outrage, call for help. But that is exactly what it may not do. All its normal reactions, the reactions with which nature has endowed it to help it survive, remain blocked. If no witness comes to its aid, these natural reactions would enlarge and prolong the child's sufferings. Ultimately, the child could die of them.

Thus, the healthy impulse to protest against inhumanity has to be suppressed. The child attempts to extinguish and erase from memory everything that has happened to it, in order to banish from consciousness the burning outrage, fury, fear, and the unbearable pain - as it hopes, forever. What remains is a feeling of its own guilt, rather than outrage that it is forced to kiss the hand that beats it and beg for forgiveness - something that unfortunately happens more than one imagines.

The abused child goes on living within those who have survived such torture, a torture that ended with total repression. They live with the darkness of fear, oppression, and threats. When all its attempts to move the adult to heed its story have failed, it resorts to the language of symptoms to make itself heard. Enter addiction, psychosis, criminality.

If, as adults, we nevertheless begin to have an inkling of why we are suffering and ask a specialist whether these sufferings could have a connection with our childhood, we will usually be told that this is very unlikely to be the case. And if it were, that we should learn forgiveness. It is the resentment at the past, we are told, that is making us ill.
For Miller's lengthy discussion of the enormously destructive effects of our society's demand for forgiveness above all, I strongly recommend that you read the entire article. As Miller points out, the demand for forgiveness undercuts our ability to face the truth and to heal our wounds at the most fundamental level, and it helps in no way at all. It is yet another mechanism by which adults seek to deny the reality of what happened to them in childhood, and the truth of what they may continue to inflict upon their own children.

In her book, Banished Knowledge, Miller relates a story sent to her by a reader that is very instructive about our inability to recognize cruelty to children for what it is. I will tell you in advance that I'm certain most of you will react to this story exactly the way I did at first, and my reaction only changed over a period of several years. When I first read the following, I thought: "Well, honestly, what's the big deal? Things like that happen all the time. It's not that destructive. Many children have to deal with things that are infinitely worse, and they still manage to become functioning adults."

My own reaction reveals yet another means by which the truth of childhood is buried and denied: as we grow up, we identify with the authority figures in our lives. We dare not question them, or their "goodness," or their "good intentions." We dare not, because we depend on them for life itself. Since the child cannot question them, he must question himself, and he must believe that the fault lies within. And that leads him to believe that if he alters his own behavior (and even his very being) in some unidentified manner, then he will win his parents' complete love. The child cannot grasp that his parents' behavior has nothing to do with him at all; it arises out of their childhoods, and the abuses they themselves suffered. In this way, the child is left feeling that he himself is wrong, in some fundamental way.

Because most of us identify to varying extents with authority (and most adults identify with authority almost completely), it is impossible for us to understand the child's experience. Miller's title for the chapter containing this story is significant: "The Child Sets Limits." Most adults are unaware of what a fully healthy child's reactions are like, because most children are "disciplined" -- that is, their authentic, spontaneous reactions are silenced -- in their very first years of life. So when we see a healthy child's reactions, we are most likely to be enormously puzzled, and we completely fail to grasp what the child's reactions convey. Hence, my own failure to see the meaning of this story for many years.

At the opening of this chapter, Miller says: "It is only from a child who was never injured that we can learn entirely new, honest, and truly humane behavior. Such a child does not accept without question the pedagogic reasoning to which we were susceptible. He feels he is entitled to ask questions, to demand explanations, to stand up for himself, and to articulate his needs."

A woman told Miller about the time she took her three-year-old Daniel to stay with her mother. The woman had "some misgivings for [she] knew that [her] mother had been a great one for discipline and attached great importance to good manners." I note that this of course remains true of the great majority of parents today. When the mother picked Daniel up after the two-day visit, Daniel announced: "I don't want to stay with Grandma anymore." When asked why, he said: "She hurt me."

The woman's mother, when questioned, said that she had only been trying to explain to Daniel that a well-mannered boy must not just help himself at meals, but he must say "please" and "thank you." Daniel had become upset and begun to cry. The woman writes to Miller about her mother: "She didn't realize that she was threatening the child with a withdrawal of love if he didn't obey. And above all she didn't realize, as she hadn't in my own case, that she was sacrificing the child's soul to empty conventions just as had been done to her sixty years earlier."

The mother goes on -- and this is the crucial part of the story:
But Daniel realized it. He couldn't have put it into words, not in the way I do now, but he expressed it in the way that was possible to him, as I found out from the exact description of the facts that gradually evolved from my mother's account. The story was perfectly simple: The dessert was Daniel's favorite, cottage-cheese souffle. When he had finished the helping he had been given, he picked up the serving spoon and reached out to help himself to some more. He always does this at home, taking great pride in his independence. But now my mother held him back, gently placing her hand, as she told me, on his and saying: "You must first ask whether you may have some and whether there is enough for others."

"Where are the others?" asked Daniel, and began to cry. He threw down the spoon and refused to eat any more, although my mother urged him to: he said he wasn't hungry anymore and wanted to go home. My mother tried to calm him, but he threw a real tantrum. After a few minutes his rage was spent, and he said: "You hurt me. I don't like you. I want to go to Mommy." After a while he asked: "Why did you do that? I know how to help myself." "Yes," said my mother, "but you must first ask whether you may."

"Why?" asked Daniel. "Because you must learn good manners." "What for?" asked Daniel. "Because one needs them," replied my mother. Daniel then said quite calmly: " I don't need them. With Mommy I can eat when I'm hungry."
I want to mention one critical aspect of this story immediately, because of the frequency with which this phenomenon occurs. One of the major justifications given by many adults for various forms of discipline is the contention that a child is badly behaved and that, for example, he has "temper tantrums." The frustrated parent will say: "Well, sometimes I just have to spank him. There's no other way to get him to stop." But as this story shows very clearly, when a child has a temper tantrum or "acts out" in some other manner, there is almost always a preceding cause (I am tempted to say always, which is probably the truth) -- and that earlier cause is usually the arbitrary demand of the adult. The child's tantrum is his only way of expressing his frustration when faced with a demand which makes no sense to him at all -- and in fact, it doesn't make sense, period.

Here is Miller commenting on this story:
That is the reaction of a healthy three-year-old if he had learned at home that it is all right to stand up for himself, that he is entitled to be given food by his parents because they obviously owe it to him, since they decided to have a child. This child is allowed to defend himself, to show his anger, when his natural gesture is impeded and he is given a reason that he doesn't understand, can't understand, and shouldn't understand, because it is senseless and really only comprehensible in terms of his grandmother's history. When a small child observes that the grown-ups at table say Please and Thank you, he will automatically do the same without having to be taught. That such an attempt to train him made Daniel furious is easy enough to understand. He had a chance to voice his anger because he could compare his grandmother's attempt at training him with the happy experience he had with his parents.
And these comments are also of immense importance:
Had [Daniel] not known positive experiences with his parents, the lightest touch of his grandmother's hand to prevent him from serving himself would presumably have made him feel ashamed. He would have been ashamed of having done something wrong, of not having good manners; he might even have been ashamed of his pride in his independence. For apparently this was the very thing that was not acceptable--at least not at the moment when he wanted to help himself to some food, in other words, to do something of immense importance to himself.
Because Daniel was enormously fortunate to have the mother he did rather than someone like his grandmother, this incident "presumably will leave no mark" on him, as Miller says. Daniel "was able to stand up for himself."

Now consider another story, where the child was not able to stand up for himself. Imagine a child who is told, from the time he is perhaps two or three, that if he doesn't "keep quiet," or "stop making noise," or do exactly as he is told -- even though what he is told constantly changes and is never clear to him, or clear at all -- that his mother "will murder" him. He is told this repeatedly, in an endless number of situations. His mother's anger and rage are felt completely by the child -- and he believes her. He believes that if he displeases her sufficiently, she will kill him. He lives in constant terror, but he learns very early to repress most of those feelings. The terror is so great that if he experienced it fully, it would probably kill him. So he numbs himself to it; it's the only way he can survive.

As he grows older, he continues to hear the same message, over and over. If he doesn't "shut up," if he "doesn't behave," his mother will murder him. He believes it, because his mother keeps saying it many, many times. Because he still must continue to function, but because he has no idea which actions might result in his destruction, he becomes increasingly paralyzed. He doesn't know what to do -- and he doesn't know what he can do without incurring his mother's deadly rage. Finally, at about the age of ten, he becomes ill, with mysterious ailments that are never diagnosed. Sometimes his sickness keeps him home from school for up to two weeks at a time. The family doctor comes to see him and does various tests, but no one ever inquires into what might be going on in that household, or what messages the mother might be conveying to her son.

And that household is considered a very good one. It is upper middle class, and all the children appear to have all of their needs met, and more. And the parents are fully "respectable" people. How could they possibly be doing anything wrong? To entertain such an idea would have been inconceivable to everyone.

When the boy gets older, he begins to have sexual feelings for other boys. But he knows -- just by osmosis, by absorbing all the ideas in the world around him -- that such feelings make him "different" in some awful, unnameable way. Those feelings make him a "pervert," and a "fairy" (a name which he is often called at school, and even by "friends"). So he never tells anyone about his feelings, until he finally goes to a psychiatrist when he drops out of high school.

The psychiatrist wants to "cure" him by means of electroshock therapy. The now teenage boy declines, even though he continues to see the psychiatrist for a couple of years. The boy finally takes the high school equivalency exam and goes to college. Later on, in an entirely predictable development, he becomes a follower of a philosophy which conveys the same message that his mother had [Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism]: if he follows the rules precisely, if he has the "right" thoughts -- which even include the "right" emotional reactions to movies, books and music -- then he will be permitted to continue as a member of the circle of the philosophy's adherents. But if he doesn't...well, then he will be "excommunicated," just as any number of people were when they failed to follow the rules.

As regular readers here will have recognized by now, I don't need to imagine any of this. This is my story, and those are the messages my mother conveyed to me, the message given to me by our culture about being gay, and the message relayed to me by Objectivism. I want to emphasize that it was the same message all the time: if you do exactly as we say -- even if our demands are arbitrary, or make no sense, or are contradictory -- then you will be permitted to live (or remain in our circle). If you don't, you will die (or become dead to that circle, at least).

I have been aware of a number of aspects of my history for many years, and I also understood the underlying meaning in certain ways. But here is what I had not grasped: what it felt like for me, as a very young child, when I heard my mother tell me over and over that, if I didn't do exactly as she demanded, she would murder me. Finally, in mid-October, I relived what that was like.

I felt as if the experience would kill me. Obviously it didn't, but I was not at all prepared for just how terrifying it was. I felt as if I were literally three or four years old again. I sat on my bed with my mouth open, barely able to breathe I was so scared, with tears streaming down my face. I sat like that for close to an hour. All that time, the adult part of my mind was simply disbelieving. I kept thinking: "My God. This is what it felt like, and this is what I must have begun to repress almost immediately. No child could survive this, not if he experienced it fully and for more than a few minutes." Remember: the child depends on his mother (or the primary caretaker) for life itself. The thought that the person on whom you depend for life itself might kill you is unendurable. When you add that your mother might kill you for a reason you cannot possibly predict or understand, the result is incommunicable terror. (I know a number of additional details which confirm all of this, and more. I will not discuss them here, however, out of respect for the privacy of other family members.)

There is much, much more I could say about this, and perhaps I will go into further aspects of it at some point. For now, I want to mention just a few additional things. It's now becoming clear to me, in a way it never was before, why my life has taken the course it has. I see now why I have not learned how to take much better care of myself, emotionally, financially and in other ways. Because the child identifies with the authority figures in his life, and because he internalizes the messages they send him, I internalized on a very deep level what my mother taught me. And what I came to believe, on that deepest level, was that I was only entitled to life provisionally. No matter what my conscious convictions might have been, I did not think I had an unconditional right to exist. A significant part of the reason why I never planned or made provision for the future was simply that I didn't believe I would have a future. I thought my life could and would end at any moment. That is what my mother told me repeatedly -- beginning at the time I was two or three.

I also want to note a related issue that I will discuss in more detail in the future. Many people believe that if, as adults, we have the "right" ideas, we can in essence go back and "fix" whatever might be troubling us, simply by "thinking" our way to health. (Ayn Rand and many Objectivists excel in this regard.) This is wrong in any number of ways, and here I will mention just one of them. It is crucial to remember that a child develops generally in just the manner that our ability to think conceptually develops: that is, we first are "pure sensation" -- what we are aware of by means of our senses; then we have feelings and emotions; and finally, but only after several years, we begin to think and to use concepts ("table," "book," etc.). I don't have the time or space here to go into the full argument on these complex issues, but what concerns me at the moment is a simple but critical point: by the time we learn to think conceptually, a functioning emotional mechanism is already in place. The nature of that emotional mechanism will determine in many respects precisely how we think, when we finally do.

None of this is to deny volition or free will. It is simply to acknowledge that "thinking" alone cannot cure many wounds that may have been inflicted on us in early childhood. To do that, we often must re-experience what the child did, from the child's perspective, in order to understand fully our own history. That is the process I finally went through in October.

And it is that process that has finally begun to free me, once and for all, of certain forms of the paralysis that I first learned in response to my mother's unbearably cruel messages. I cannot begin to convey fully the extent to which I feel that an immense weight has been lifted off me. But I must mention one more thing this experience has taught me. Miller sometimes mentions that people may sometimes choose not to go through this process. Jean Jenson, a therapist whose book Reclaiming Your Life has a foreword by Miller (and I recommend Jenson's book very highly), makes the same point. Sometimes, for some people, this experience is simply too painful, and they don't think there is a compelling reason to go through it.

In the past, I had little patience with that attitude. As a result of what I've been through myself recently, I now understand it. As I noted above, I literally felt that experiencing again what I had felt as a very young child would kill me. The pain was truly that unendurable. Because I was not fully prepared for it, it left me profoundly unnerved for several weeks afterward. In one of my earlier entries alluding to this longer explanation, I said that I have been in the midst of a paralyzing depression. Depression was certainly part of what I felt, but it's not exact, or complete. What I felt was another part of what Miller and Jenson both discuss as being necessary for the healing process: I was grieving -- for my lost childhood, for the love I never received, for the immense pain and terror that innocent child suffered all those years ago. But part of the healing process is realizing and accepting that if we were not genuinely loved as children, that opportunity is forever lost to us. We can never be children again -- and we can never receive the love we should have received, and the love to which we were entitled, as children. (I should note that if a person decides that he does not consider it worth it to go through this process given the totality of his life, that decision has certain costs. But in certain circumstances, I can now well understand why someone would make that choice.)

For me, reliving those feelings was indispensable, and absolutely necessary. I can go on now, and begin to rebuild my life. As I also said earlier, I still have a very large struggle ahead of me, and many huge practical problems to face. But I am now confident, in a way I never was before, that I know why I am the person I am today, what brought me here, and how to heal the wounds that remain. And in one sense, and even though they are very daunting, the practical problems I have to deal with aren't all that bad. When you believed that your mother wanted to kill you -- when you believed it all the way down and thought she might actually do it -- finding work or a new place to live doesn't seem like all that much by comparison.

I want to end this essay where I began. I will simply repeat what I said at the opening, since I know of no better way to say it: the immense cruelty that is inflicted on children by adults who are supposedly devoted to caring for and nurturing them has enormous consequences. In most cases, the results of that cruelty remain unrecognized by the child when he grows up and becomes an adult, even as the damage continues to distort and cripple his life in countless ways.

If you doubt the truth of those statements, consider what I've said above -- and think about the trajectory of my own life. I hope it will be helpful to some of you, and that even just a few people might learn something of value from it. No child should have to experience what I did, but far too many children continue to suffer in much the same way. And many children suffer even worse fates.

I've had occasion to remark in many posts recently that, at some point, enough people will want to end the perpetual cycle of abuse and denial that causes such profound damage in the world. The amount of pain and suffering, and of death, that results from the everyday cruelties of our world is incalculable. As I said at the conclusion of my discussion of Iris Chang's suicide: Someday, it has to stop.

Someday soon, I hope. Very, very soon. And I fully intend to be around to see at least the first signs of the end of it throughout our culture. You can count on that. In the meantime, I will continue writing about these issues wherever I can, until the day finally arrives when it isn't necessary any longer.

And what a glorious day that will be. I can hardly wait.

February 19, 2009

Fear! Panic! War! Again, Still, Forever...

I suppose I'll have to go through this at least once a week in the current season of still gathering madness. From a prominently featured New York Times story -- which as I write this is, of course, linked by a huge red headline on Drudge:
Inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency have concluded that Iran appears to have solved most of its technological problems and is now beginning to enrich uranium on a far larger scale than before, according to the agency's top officials.

The findings may change the calculus of diplomacy in Europe and in Washington, which aimed to force a suspension of Iran's enrichment activities in large part to prevent it from learning how to produce weapons-grade material.
Several paragraphs later, we begin to get the qualifications to this recycled doomsday scenario, in a neverending succession of virtually identical doomsday scenarios ...
Those aren't the opening paragraphs of a post I wrote today. Those are the opening paragraphs of a post published on May 14, 2007, closing in on two years ago.

The title of that earlier post is: "So Iran Gets Nukes. So What?"

Change the specific details as required -- although even that is barely necessary -- and you can apply all the arguments I made then to this story from the Financial Times.

Which as I write this is, of course, linked by a huge red headline on Drudge.

Isn't this the keenest fun? The truly amazing aspect of this shit and about lies of this kind is that they work every damned time. If our rulers are determined to go to war, they will go to war. It may take them years or even a decade, but if the war is important enough to them, they'll get to the war eventually. As needed to prevent significant protest from a docile, easily manipulated public, they will lie about every significant aspect of the alleged threat we face and about what we "must" do. And what we "must" do is always to kill lots and lots of people, most of whom have never even thought of harming us. Here are other notable examples of this specialty of the United States government.

Criminal murder including genocide, destruction on a vast scale, establishing dominion and control, making others behave in exactly the manner demanded by our rulers -- that's what the U.S. government does.

Makes you feel all proud and tingly, doesn't it?

Fucking Raping You to Death: The Real Fun Begins

[Update added at the end.]

Part I, sisters and brothers.

Now, we get to serious payback time for the ruling class. You don't know what real pain is yet. It's almost certain we'll all find out very, very soon. Michael Hudson:
The Obama bank bailout is arranged much like an IMF loan to support the exchange rate of foreign currency, but with the Treasury supporting financial asset prices for U.S. banks and other financial institutions. Instead of banks and oligarchs abandoning the dollar, the aim is to enable them to dump their bad mortgages and CDOs and get domestic Treasury bonds. Private-sector debt will be moved onto the U.S. Government balance sheet, where “taxpayers” will bear losses – mainly labor not Wall Street, inasmuch as the financial sector has been freed of income-tax liability by the “small print” in last fall’s Paulson-Bush bailout package. But at least the U.S. Government is handling the situation entirely in domestic dollars.

As in Third World austerity programs, the effect of keeping the debts in place at the “real” economy’s expense will be to shrink the domestic U.S. market – while providing opportunities for hedge funds to pick up depreciated assets cheaply as the federal government, states and cities sell them off. This is called letting the banks “earn their way out of debt.” It’s strangling the “real” economy, because not a dollar of the government’s response has been devoted to reducing the overall debt volume.

Take the much-vaunted $50 billion program designed to renegotiate mortgages downward for “troubled homeowners.” Upon closer examination it turns out that the real beneficiaries are the giant leading banks such as Citibank and Bank of America that have made the bad loans. The Treasury will take on the bad debt that banks are stuck with, and will permit mortgagees to renegotiate their monthly payment down to 38 per cent of their income. But rather than the banks taking the loss as they should do for over-lending, the Treasury itself will make up the difference – and pay it to the banks so that they will be able to get what they hoped to get. The hapless mortgage-burdened family stuck in their negative-equity home turns out to be merely a passive vehicle for the Treasury to pass debt relief on to the commercial banks.

Few news stories have made this clear, but the Financial Times spelled the details buried in small print. It added that the Treasury has not yet decided whether to write down the debt principal for the estimated 15 million families with negative equity (and perhaps 30 million by this time next year as property prices continue to plunge). No doubt a similar deal will be made: For every $100,000 of write-down in debt owed by over-mortgaged homeowners, the bank will receive $100,000 from the Treasury. Government debt will rise by $100,000, and the process will continue until the Treasury has transferred $50,000,000 to the banks that made the reckless loans.

There is enough for just 500,000 of these renegotiations of $100,000 each. It may seem like a big amount, but it’s only about 1/30th of the properties underwater. Hardly enough to make much of a dent, but the principle has been put in place for many further bailouts. It will take almost an infinity of them, as long as the Treasury tries to support the fiction that “the miracle of compound interest” can be sustained for long. The economy may be dead by the time saner economic understanding penetrates the public consciousness.

In the mean time, bad private-sector debt will be shifted onto the government’s balance sheet. Interest and amortization currently owed to the banks will be replaced by obligations to the U.S. Treasury. Taxes will be levied to make up the bad debts with which the government is stuck. The “real” economy will pay Wall Street – and will be paying for decades!

Calling the $12 trillion giveaway to bankers a “subprime crisis” makes it appear that bleeding-heart liberals got Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into trouble by insisting that these public-private institutions make irresponsible loans to the poor. The party line is, “Blame the victim.” But we know this is false. The bulk of bad loans are concentrated in the largest banks. It was Countrywide and other banksters that led the irresponsible lending and brought heavy-handed pressure on Fannie Mae. Most of the nation’s smaller, local banks didn’t make such reckless loans. The big mortgage shops didn’t care about loan quality, because they were run by salesmen. The Treasury is paying off the gamblers and billionaires by supporting the value of bank loans, investments and derivative gambles, leaving the Treasury in debt.
Mike Whitney:
In truth, Geithner did us all a big favor on Tuesday by exposing himself as a stooge of the banking industry. Now everyone can see that the banks are working the deal from the inside. Geithner has assembled a phalanx of Wall Street flim-flam men to fill out the roster at Treasury. His chief-of-staff is lobbyist from Goldman Sachs. The new deputy secretary of state is a former CEO of Citigroup. Another CFO from Citigroup is now assistant to the president, and deputy national security adviser for International Economic Affairs. And one of his deputies also came from Citigroup. One new member of the president's Economic Recovery Advisory Board comes from UBS, which is currently being investigated for helping rich clients evade taxes. The Obama White House is a beehive of big money guys and Wall Street speculators.

The banking lobby has already set the agenda. All the hooplah about "financial rescue" is just a smokescreen to hide the fact that the same scofflaws who ripped off investors for zillions of dollars are back for their next big sting; a quick vacuuming of the public till to save themselves from bankruptcy. It's a joke. Obama floated into office on a wave of Wall Street campaign contributions and now it's payback time. Prepare to get fleeced. Geithner is fine-tuning a "public-private" partnership for his buddies so they can keep their fiefdom intact while shifting trillions of dollars of toxic assets onto the people's balance sheet. They've affixed themselves to Treasury like scabs on a leper. Geithner is "their guy", a Trojan Horse for the banking oligarchs. He's already admitted that his main goal is to, "keep the banks in private hands". That says it all, doesn't it?

Of course, the administration is not alone in its support for the banks and Wall Street. Congress has its fair share of bank-loyalists, too.


This is how the financial system really works--something which seems to be completely beyond the grasp of congress. A shadow banking system has grown up around the process of securitization, which packages pools of debt (mortgages, commercial real estate, student loans, car loans and credit card debt) and sells them as securities to foreign banks, hedge funds, insurance companies etc. Wall Street has muscled into an area of finance that used to be the domain of the commercial banks. According to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, "40 percent of consumer lending" depends on this shadow system for credit. That's why he is determined to resurrect securitization whatever the cost. The Fed has already expanded its balance sheet to $2.2 trillion while providing loan guarantees for over $9.3 trillion dollars. The entire financial system is now backstopped by loans from the Fed without which the global financial system would collapse. The present Fed funding of financial markets forces us to rethink our outdated ideas of the "free market" which now exists only in theory.

A 40 per cent decline in consumer credit is more than sufficient to push the world into another Great Depression.


Geithner believes that the function of government is to serve the interests of the big banks not the public. The lip-service to democracy is just rhetorical claptrap. It's meaningless. The government's role is to facilitate the exploitation of its people to fatten the bottom line of the top-hat capitalists. ...

But don't think that the slippery Mr. Geithner doesn't have a solution for our present economic malaise. He does! He would like to see Congress appoint an Uber-regulator that has the authority to monitor market activity and decide whether individual players pose a threat to the overall system.

Sounds great. And to whom should these sweeping new powers be entrusted?

You guessed it; the Federal Reserve, the wealth-shifting, price-fixing, social-engineering scamsters who preside over the bankers cartel which just blew up the financial system. Is there any doubt where Geithner's loyalties really lie?
Needless to say, none of our leading commentators (or leading bloggers) will spell this out for you in the way Hudson and Whitney do. That's because all such "authorities" are propagandists for this corporatist system, or what Gabriel Kolko calls "political capitalism." They do very well for themselves in the existing system; obviously, it's in their interests to see it continue.

So who are you going to believe? The ignorant and/or lying voices of the system that's killing you (at this late date, you can place primary emphasis on the "lying" part of that description), or your own lying eyes?

Most Americans have never chosen to credit their own eyes, since that would require independence and courage unknown to them. So they willingly blind themselves and enthusiastically embrace what they regard as their own stupidity. "Oh, it's so complicated!," they whine. "We have to trust the experts!" (More on this particular issue soon. Added: and see the brief note in the Update.) I shouldn't judge such people too harshly. After all, this approach has worked so well in other areas:
Those people who have followed the foreign policy catastrophes of recent years are repeatedly struck by this phenomenon: all the "experts" who are supposedly so knowledgeable in this area -- that is, all the "experts" who led us into the catastrophes and who were grievously, bloodily, murderously wrong about every significant matter -- remain entrenched in the foreign policy establishment. Moreover, they are precisely the people to whom everyone turns for the "solution" to the disasters that engulf us, both now and the disasters likely to come. This is what it means to have a ruling class. As I have said, the ruling class rules. The ruling class exercises a lethal monopoly on the terms of public debate, just as it exercises a lethal monopoly on the uses of state power.

What you have seen over the last six months and more, and what you will see in the coming months and years, is the same phenomenon in the realm of economic policy. All of the solons who led us into this abyss of mounting debt, worthless securities, failing financial institutions, economic contraction and collapse, rising taxation, and all the rest, will now instruct us as to how we should "solve" the crisis that they have created. The crisis may be ameliorated to a degree, and the worst of the consequences may be postponed for a while. But whatever "solutions" are implemented, whatever reorganization and reregulation is imposed, it will all be done in accordance with the ruling class's desires and goals. It will all be to protect their own wealth and power to whatever extent is possible, and to expand their wealth and power still more, if that remains at all feasible.
Thus we slide further into the inferno. It will probably be a slow burn for all us "ordinary" folk. I mean, it's our money and our lives that provide the ruling class with their immense wealth, comfort and power. Don't want to kill the golden goose too soon and all that, not that millions of deaths matter to the ruling class much at all, should they be required for perceived short-term benefits. At this point, you can either drop out of the system as fully as possible, get the hell out of the country -- or lie back and try to enjoy it.

I suppose brutal, years- or decades-long rape isn't the worst thing that can happen. Anyway, we can keep telling ourselves that. And self-delusion is all too familiar to most of us.

UPDATE: Already, I have received a couple of emails delightedly pointing out my own alleged contradiction. "You criticize others for relying on experts, after you quote at length your own experts! Hahaha!"

I always make the mistake of thinking I can rely on the intelligence of my audience. My bad. (I can rely on it with regard to a couple of hundred people, but not much more than that. You think I sound arrogant and irritated? You bet your ass, as some upcoming posts will explain in more detail.) I had thought the context would make my point clear. In this particular context, I was referring to reliance on "experts" recognized and approved by the ruling class, and no others at all. Hudson and Whitney resoundingly fall into the category of "others." In their own terms, they condemn the ruling class in scathing and comprehensive terms. These are hardly the kind of experts to whom the ruling class will appeal for justification.

A further point, which I will be amplifying in the Tribalism series: I don't look to Hudson, Whitney and the other writers I quote or positively reference to find out what I myself think, or to discover what the "authorities" recommend that I should think (if I wish to be regarded as a "serious" person, among other things). I've arrived at my own perspective through years of painstaking reading and thought, more reading and more thought, and endlessly challenging and refining my own views. I quote Hudson and Whitney here because they agree with me (in the sense that my own analysis and theirs reach the same general conclusions), not the other way around.

Yes, arrogant, if you wish to describe it that way. I recommend you try it at the earliest opportunity. As I say, the Tribalism series will have much more on these issues.

February 16, 2009

Of Lives Lost Far Too Soon, and of the State's Priorities

It has been deemed news deserving of almost no notice in the wider world, but this is immensely sad:
Various reports have indicated the sad news that American conductor and musical theatre archivist John McGlinn passed away today, Saturday February 14th, 2009.

There [are] not at present any other details regarding his death, but we will update as more information becomes available.

He was one of the principal proponents of making authentic studio cast recordings of classic musical theatre works.

McGlinn was the music director for the off-Broadway productions of Jerome Kern's SITTING PRETTY (1989) and THE CAT AND THE FIDDLE (1990). John McGlinn was active in the recording studio in the 1980's and his complete recordings of Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein's SHOW BOAT and Cole Porter's ANYTHING GOES are considered to be the definitive representations of those productions.
From the already updated Wikipedia entry, it appears that McGlinn, who was only 55, may not have died on February 14:
He was found dead in his apartment on Feb. 14, 2009, and it was estimated that he had been dead for three or four days. It's believed the cause of death was a heart attack, but close acquaintances suspect possible suicide.
I find it impossible to express how profoundly sad this makes me. If McGlinn's death was a suicide, we need not search far for the possible reasons, as we will see in a moment.

The Wikipedia entry also notes this:
The three-disc, three-and-a-half hour Show Boat album, and the one disc Brigadoon album, have been especially acclaimed. The New Yorker magazine called McGlinn's Show Boat "the show album of the past" and "a show album for the future. It unites the possibilities of reproduction and reinvestigation."
A New York Times story from 2001 tells us more about McGlinn's life and work, and about the perspective that made him unique and very special:
Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, George and Ira Gershwin: there have been memorable collaborations in the history of the American musical. A new one -- call it Packard and McGlinn -- has landed here with ambitions that rival those of the most starry-eyed Broadway show.

John McGlinn, 47, is an American conductor and music historian known for his painstaking restorations and performances of shows like Jerome Kern's ''Show Boat.'' David Packard, 60, is a classics scholar and chairman of Packard Humanities Institute, a foundation in Los Altos, Calif., that sponsors research into subjects as varied as archaeology, Bach, Greek papyri and silent films.

Financed by Mr. Packard's charity and inspired by its commitment to cultural treasure hunting, Mr. McGlinn has embarked on a mission of researching and recording all the shows and songs of both Kern and Victor Herbert, two composers of the early 20th century whose prodigious output will require an estimated 15 years to assemble and preserve.


Mr. McGlinn is known for his ferocious tenacity as an historical scavenger. But he met his match in Mr. Packard. Mr. McGlinn said he first called him to ask if he would support a $100,000 project to restore some Kern orchestrations. "Then, with trembling voice, I said, 'And maybe we could even record one or two?'" Mr. McGlinn recalled.

"David said: 'What's the point of that? Why not record them all?'"

In a telephone interview from Italy, where he was vacationing, Mr. Packard explained: "I thought it was an astonishing gap. With Mozart, Beethoven and Bach we have serious scholarly editions." With much of Kern and Herbert, "all you have are some 78's from the time the shows were produced and some sheet music."

A Harvard classics Ph.D. who taught at the University of North Carolina and the University of California at Los Angeles, Mr. Packard likes to fill gaps.

"David's fundamental philosophy seems to be to acquire all human knowledge and give it away free," Mr. McGlinn said in a voice set somewhere in the key of wonder.
I truly love this from later in the Times story:
The theater music of Kern (composer of songs like like "Ol' Man River," "The Way You Look Tonight" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes") and Herbert ("Sweethearts," "Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!") was aimed at Tin Pan Alley as well as Broadway.

It was the popular music of the time, and these composers knew they were writing for dance bands and radio broadcasts as well as for the stage. Their lyricists -- one of whom was the British humorist P. G. Wodehouse -- had a grand time with frivolous language, internal rhymes and groaner puns. They invoked a world of cafe society mishaps, porch romances and summer nights scented with honeysuckle and filled with fireflies.

"It would be fashionable to say that it was a better world back then," Mr. McGlinn said. "Well, it probably wasn't, but at least more people were willing to dream of one."
If you aren't familiar with the Show Boat recording, I recommend in the strongest terms that you get it immediately. All of it is wonderful, and to hear my beloved Teresa Stratas as Julie is transcendent. I use words such as "transcendent" to describe Stratas's great artistry, because no others will do. I described Stratas's Salome as "shattering and sublime" in "Kill That Woman!"; if you haven't yet discovered why I say that, I can't imagine what you're waiting for.

All of this is by way of background. Although it can be infuriating and trivial far too often, my opera discussion list sometimes offers irreplaceable and deeply moving moments. One such moment arrived in my email today, in the form of an appreciation and remembrance of McGlinn written by Albert Innaurato. Messages to the Opera-L list are available on the internet, so I have no hesitation about reproducing Albert's message here. While I know a fair amount about opera and music in general, Albert knows ten or twenty encyclopedias' worth more than I can ever hope to master.

All of Albert's message deserves your attention, but perhaps you should especially note his concluding paragraphs. In theory, I am not in favor of state support of the arts -- but that is because I am not in favor of the State at all. And I am always aware of how the State will try to utilize artists and their work for its own deplorable ends, an issue I discussed in a consideration of Leon Fleisher and the dilemma he faced when he was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors. Given the realities of our world, and given the fact that the State will tragically not wither away in our lifetimes, the State's particular priorities reveal a hideous truth about what we value as a culture. We spend untold billions of dollars on the instruments of death and destruction, more than the rest of the world combined -- and our government then proceeds to use those instruments to murder millions of innocent people -- yet we spend next to nothing on the arts, and on work such as that to which McGlinn devoted his life. And now McGlinn is gone, much earlier than might have been the case in a different world.

Here is Albert's message, and although he does not make this point himself, his observations at the end suggest to me why McGlinn's death may not have been the result of a heart attack. Or perhaps it was a heart attack, but one brought on because McGlinn had run out of resources to continue to fight these battles:
John was wonderful. What he did took vision, dedication, endless patience, great talent, and an active sixth sense. He discovered more or less with a dowsing rod that hidden warehouse in New Jersey, which was a treasure trove of original scores, arrangements, charts and lead sheets from music theater works of the twenties and thirties (all thought lost). He was the one who found the ancient Hans Spialek, the great arranger and orchestrator of the thirties -- no one believed he was alive -- and got from him tempos, metronomes, phrasings, and alternative scorings, as well as a host of stories about the great composers and personalities of that period. I kept telling him to publish the store of wisdom he had not only from Spialek and others, but from his own wonderful, intuitive as well as intellectual grasp of these scores, their complexity, their wit, their audacity.

I met him in standing room, he was just enough younger than me to have missed the great days of the Philly Lyric and Grand -- though he saw what he could of that era (we were both from Philadelphia, though of very different classes). We talked of a great opera dj named Robert White and how much he knew -- we were both listeners to his broadcasts. Occasionally we got together for a late lunch, the purpose of which was to line up the important CDs and receding LPs that were essential to life. We would hit Academy downtown, then Tower downtown, Padelsons (for scores, LPs and rare CDs) and finally end up at Tower uptown combing through everything they had in a once enormous classical section.

John was such a charmer that the staff let us in the back room to look at Met pirates and other rarities they were not going to put out or were waiting on. He and I indulged on an effort to get our favorite Flying Dutchman on a CD pressing (this was the DG Fricsay with Metternich and one of our favorites, Analies Kupper -- I told him not only that I AM Analies Kupper but I had seen a few of her performances in her last season in Munich -- he was GREEN with envy).

The Show Boat, carried off splendidly against the odds, and despite expected and unexpected last minute problems is fantastic. But really all of his sets are wonderful -- he was always working from authentic materials and always worked from tempos and emphases he had researched so the distortions one can get used to in so much great music are gone and Porter, for example, emerges clean, clear and better than ever.

His great passion later was the American Kurt Weill. I asked him about the value of that music -- I had been involved in a tricky production of One Touch of Venus and aside from the famous numbers and one adroit ballet hadn't thought it much. I was rebuked by someone with an encyclopedic knowledge of ALL the material Weill composed here, and ALL the ways it was usually done wrong and misunderstood. One of the last times I saw him he had mapped out a series of recordings he hoped to make of the Weill works -- I think the marketplace stopped him.

His passion for 'serious' music was as great as anyone's I've ever met. He loved Elgar and was determined to conduct Gerontius as well as both completed symphonies and the arrangement of sketches for the Third and he had an enormous amount of information about those sketches -- he told me he had engagements lined up for Gerontius but I don't know what happened to that.

Though he loved voices and singers, he loved music more. His passion for Wagner was for the elaborate weave of a very particular counterpoint that provides cohesion -- he knew all the scores, chapter and verse and all the words too.

He was a terrific talent and a wonderful person with so much to give; the indifference of America to what he could do, the lack of any funding here for a huge part of this country's artistic and social heritage (for what else were the great musicals doing but reflecting the realities of life lived then right here?), the brutal 'classical' market place especially of the 'new century', the timidity of managements who dread 'novelty' -- all these were things not even John with his inexhaustible tenacity, charm and great talent could overcome. But what he left is considerable, wonderful.

I hadn't seen him in five years, so I don't know whether he was sick for much of that time, or was suddenly carried off. His death reminds me that we throw people away in "Fecund America today" (Emerson)-- but I do think he had the opportunity to realize many of his dreams at the highest level, and you can't ask more than that from real life.

Albert Innaurato
The world may barely note John McGlinn's passing, and it may place far too little value on the extraordinary work he did and what he accomplished against tremendous odds.

We should not be so unmindful, or so uncaring. We should do our utmost to follow McGlinn's own advice, and to be among those people who are "willing to dream" of a better world, just as he did. And in his life and work, McGlinn made that better world real.

That should be, that must be, our aspiration and our dedication, too.

February 14, 2009

Who Are the War Criminals?

[Update at the end.]

I've answered that question with regard to two notable personages. Precious few people care what I think, so I will call in reinforcements. Apply the following observations as you deem appropriate and just; you might also consider how these thoughts connect to the issues I'm discussing in the Tribalism series.
In his own country (Mussolini) was the antidote to a deadly poison. For the rest of Europe he has been a tonic which has done to all incalculable good. I can claim with sincere satisfaction to have been the first man in a position of public influence to put Mussolini's splendid achievement in its right light. ... He is the greatest figure of our age. -- Lord Rothermere, 1928
If I had been an Italian I am sure I should have been whole-heartedly with you in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism... (Italy) has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter no great nation will be unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism. -- Winston Churchill, 1927

When one thinks of the lies and betrayals of those years, the cynical abandonment of one ally after another, the imbecile optimism of the Tory press, the flat refusal to believe that the dictators meant war, even when they shouted it from the house-tops, the inability of the moneyed class to see anything wrong whatever in concentration camps, ghettos, massacres and undeclared wars, one is driven to feel that moral decadence played its part as well as mere stupidity. By 1937 or thereabouts it was not possible to be in doubt about the nature of the Fascist régimes. But the lords of property had decided that Fascism was on their side and they were willing to swallow the most stinking evils so long as their property remained secure. In their clumsy way they were playing the game of Machiavelli, of ‘political realism’, of ‘ anything is right which advances the cause of the Party’ — the Party in this case, of course, being the Conservative Party.

All this ‘Cassius’ brings out, but he does shirk its corollary. Throughout his book it is implied that only Tories are immoral. ‘Yet there is still another England,’ he says. ‘This other England detested Fascism from the day of its birth... this was the England of the Left, the England of Labour.’ True, but only part of the truth. The actual behaviour of the Left has been more honourable than its theories. It has fought against Fascism, but its representative thinkers have entered just as deeply as their opponents into the evil world of ‘realism’ and power politics.

‘Realism’ (it used to be called dishonesty) is part of the general political atmosphere of our time. It is a sign of the weakness of ‘Cassius's position that one could compile a quite similar book entitled The Trial of Winston Churchill, or The Trial of Chiang Kai-shek, or even The Trial of Ramsay MacDonald. In each case you would find the leaders of the Left contradicting themselves almost as grossly as the Tory leader quoted by ‘Cassius’. For the Left has also been willing to shut its eyes to a great deal and to accept some very doubtful allies. We laugh now to hear the Tories abusing Mussolini when they were flattering him five years ago, but who would have foretold in 1927 that the Left would one day take Chiang Kai-shek to its bosom? Who would have foretold just after the General Strike that ten years later Winston Churchill would be the darling of the Daily Worker? In the years 1935-9, when almost any ally against Fascism seemed acceptable, left-wingers found themselves praising Mustapha Kemal and then developing tenderness for Carol of Rumania.

Although it was in every way more pardonable, the attitude of the Left towards the Russian régime has been distinctly similar to the attitude of the Tories towards Fascism. There has been the same tendency to excuse almost anything ‘because they're on our side’. It is all very well to talk about Lady Chamberlain photographed shaking hands with Mussolini; the photograph of Stalin shaking hands with Ribbentrop is much more recent. On the whole, the intellectuals of the Left defended the Russo-German Pact. It was ‘realistic’, like Chamberlain's appeasement policy, and with similar consequences. If there is a way out of the moral pigsty we are living in, the first step towards it is probably to grasp that ‘realism’ does not pay, and that to sell out your friends and sit rubbing your hands while they are destroyed is not the last word in political wisdom.

This fact is demonstrable in any city between Cardiff and Stalingrad, but not many people can see it. Meanwhile it is a pamphleteer's duty to attack the Right, but not to flatter the Left. It is partly because the Left have been too easily satisfied with themselves that they are where they are now. -- George Orwell, "Who Are the War Criminals?," 1943
You will find much more about the deeply disgusting Winston Churchill here and, in still further detail, here. It is only with great difficulty that you will find another famous figure who is so universally revered, when knowledge of the operative and relevant facts reveals him to be a thoroughly revolting human being.

Among the detestable achievements of the just begun Obama administration, none is more detestable than its already incessant, lie-infested fear- and panic-mongering about the alleged threat represented by Iran. I will have more on this subject soon. I remind you that I have been saying for a very long time that the great danger of an unprovoked, monstrously criminal attack on Iran by the United States would not pass away with a change of administrations; see here and here, and follow the numerous links.

In connection with the Obama administration's despicable propaganda on Iran (and in connection with any other country it decides to put in its crosshairs), you would do well to reflect on the following. Keep in mind my words in "Even Churchill Wasn't Churchill":
The endless, interminable comparisons of the world situation today to the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s are noxious and almost entirely wrong. ... And the perpetual mythologizing of Churchill -- joined in by conservatives and liberals alike, with almost everyone else thrown in -- is tiresome in the extreme. Even a cursory examination of the actual historical record reveals most of it to be untrue. But people absolutely refuse to give up their myths.

Fine. Let's set all the facts and the real history aside. Let's embrace the myth completely.

None of us wants to be Chamberlain. We all want to be Churchill. Cool.

And now for some additional background:
[T]here is a vision of the Second World War that plays a major role in legitimizing war. The general idea is that the West, by cowardice or indifference, waited too long to launch a preventive war against Hitler that would have saved the Jews. ...

New wars are repeatedly justified by analogy with that situation: we must save the Albano-Kosovars, the Kurds (in Iraq, but not in Turkey), Afghan women, etc. During the Kosovo war, I constantly ran up against that argument -- but shouldn't we have declared war on Hitler in 1936? -- even from political militants whose supposedly "Marxist" background should have led to more lucidity. The Kosovo example is an illustration of how the use of analogy often enables people to dispense with informing themselves seriously about the realities of a given situation.

We may observe in passing that in the view of classic political liberalism, war strengthens the powers of the state and should be avoided except in cases of extreme necessity. Trade negotiations and cultural exchanges are far preferable to war or to embargoes. The whole ideology of the "new Hitlers" goes against these liberal ideas, and thus is more often adopted by ex-revolutionaries who have renounced their past, retaining only a certain anti-liberal sympathy for violent change. This ideology gives intellectuals a role to play, mobilizing public opinion "before it's too late."

There are two answers to this argument, one conceptual, the other historic. The conceptual aspect, that is, the defense of international law in the face of legitimization of preventive war, which constitutes the principal aspect of the response, has already been mentioned. The historic aspect has to do with what really happened before and during the Second World War. It deserves to be recalled, inasmuch as the reference to those events to justify military intervention is symptomatic of a widespread ignorance, or a radical revision, of history. Here we shall be brief, since a treatise on history is beyond the scope of this book.

"Better Hitler than the Popular Front" was a slogan that expressed the attitude not only of the defeatist segment of the French bourgeoisie, frightened by the success of the left in the mid-1930s, but also, each in its own way, of a good part of the British aristocracy, of the American capitalist class and of the dominant social classes throughout Europe. If there was no war against Hitler, it was, among other things, because the "social achievements" of fascism -- eliminating left-wing parties and disciplining the workers thanks to corporatism and nationalism -- won the admiration of the dominant social classes everywhere, the very counterparts of those who today call for preventive wars against new Hitlers. This being the case, a defensive alliance against Hitler -- such as the one that fought in 1914-18, but with the Soviet Union replacing tsarist Russia -- capable of preventing World War II altogether by dissuading aggression, was out of the question precisely because of the anticommunism of the ruling circles in the West. Moreover, avoiding war is what would have made it possible to save most of the Jews, since it was only after the war was well under way that they were massively killed. Western government aid to the Spanish Republic, whose victory, had it taken place, might well have seved to dampen the ambitions of fascism, was impossible for the same reasons. It should be emphasized that neither a defensive alliance nor aid to a legal government violates international law, in contrast to a preventive attack. Moreover, the Munich Agreement that allowed Hitler to seize the Sudetenland was not merely a matter of cowardice, but was also due to hostility toward Czechoslovakia, the European country most favorable to an alliance with the Soviet Union.

The discourse on the "new Hitlers" is inevitably accompanied by the more or less explicit identification of today's pacifists with Daladier and Chamberlain. But apart from misrepresentation of the motivations of the "appeasers," the logical lesson from Munich is not that we should plunge madly into war on all sides to defend minorities, which was precisely what Hitler claimed he was doing. Hitler legitimized his wars as the necessary way to protect minorities, first the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia and then the Germans in Danzig. Note also that at the end of the Second World War, the United Nations was set up precisely to ban "preventive war," a notion that Eisenhower, for example, viewed as essentially Nazi.

The logical lesson of Munich is that the great power gambit of using the discontents of minorities to destabilize weaker countries is extremely dangerous, at least for world peace, even when the minorities in question welcome such great power intervention, as the Sudeten Germans welcomed Nazi Germany in 1938 and the Kosovo Albanians welcomed NATO in 1999. The fact is that "liberating" the Sudeten Germans encouraged Hitler just as "saving" Kosovo gave American imperialism a huge bonus in legitimacy.

The catastrophe of Hitler's victory over France in 1940 finally led part of Europe's leading circles to fall back on an alliance with the Soviet Union, though too late to avoid the war, too late to avoid the suffering it inflicted on the victims of aggression, and too late to avoid paying the political price that inevitably resulted from the victory over fascism that was primarily due to the Red Army and the sacrifices of the Soviet people. The visionaries who attack "pacifists" by harping on the 1930s would do well to study those years a bit more thoroughly.

Defenders of humanitarian war in Iraq stress the inconsistency of those who oppose such a war in Iraq when they agreed to it in Yugoslovia. They are obviously right on this point, and therefore one of the main reasons to oppose the 1999 war was precisely that, by agreeing to it, we were de facto legitimizing an indefinite number of other wars. The endless war in which we are involved today is in part the consequence of the euphoria brought about by the easy victory over Yugoslovia in 1999.

Finally, if playing the little game that consists in saying, once it is known how history turned out, "Ah, if only at such and such a time one had done this or that" (for instance, launch a war against Hitler in 1936), one might as well ask whether it wouldn't have been a good idea to avoid the First World War. In those days, there was neither Hitler, nor Stalin, nor Milosevic, nor Saddam Hussein. The world was dominated, as it still is today, by governments that are imperialist in their foreign policy but relatively liberal in domestic policy. Nevertheless, this liberalism in no way prevented an accumulation of weaponry on all sides, secret treaties, colonial wars. A spark in Sarajevo and Europe was plunged into a war that dragged the world after it, and whose unexpected results included the emergence of both Bolshevism and fascism. Those who ceaselessly decry the "tragedies of the twentieth century" would do well to reflect on their origins and on the similarity between the interventionist policies and the search for hegemony that they advocate today and the policies that led to the catastrophe of the summer of 1914.

It can be suggested that if World War I is largely forgotten, this is not only because it took place further back in time than World War II. ... The fundamental reason is no doubt that the First World War was the epitome of a totally absurd war. There was no valid reason to wage it in the first place, and the "victory" only gave birth to new problems. ... In contrast, thanks to Hitler's unilateral aggression, the Second World War remains the most justifiable of all wars, at least for the countries he attacked. As a result, constant reference to the Second World War is used to strengthen the case for war, whereas lucid reflection on the First World War would rather be an incitement to pacifism. This partly explains the difference between the way the two are treated. -- Jean Bricmont, Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War, pp. 108-112
These are among the reasons for my locating many of the sources of the nightmare that still threatens to engulf us today in the First World War -- and why I used World War I as an unusually significant example of "The Folly of Intervention" (written over three years ago). I therefore repeat the essence of the pattern I identified, the pattern that still holds destruction over our heads:
Intervention always leads to more intervention: the first intervention leads to unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences, which are then used as the justification for still further intervention. That intervention in turn leads to still more unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences, which are then used as yet another justification for still further intervention. The process can go on indefinitely, and the ultimate consequences are always disastrous in the extreme.
And if you are thinking that this pattern holds true in domestic as well as in foreign affairs, you are entirely correct, as events continue to prove and as many of my essays discuss.

UPDATE: I will have much more on these issues when I get further into my Tribalism series. For the moment, I will note that this first comment is a vicious goddamned lie or, more accurately, it is a series of vicious goddamned lies. Very sadly to me, it is also utterly typical of a certain kind of reaction to my writing. To begin to understand why this kind of comment is so grossly wrong and unjust, you can start by reading the first three installments of the Tribalism series. As I say, I will soon have a lot more to say on this general subject. I also note that to begin by saying that my writing is "great" only makes the lies that much more vicious, and that much more unjust.

... and to add a critical point: I am one of a very few writers who has, in fact, proposed a detailed series of practical steps to deal with one of the greatest dangers that still faces us, and which is referenced above: an attack by the U.S. on Iran. See "Building an Effective Resistance," and see this follow-up essay as well. Not one -- not one -- liberal or progressive writer or blogger with a readership larger than my very small one managed to get up off his or her fat ass to urge people to follow even one of the steps I discussed, or to offer his own series of steps (which I repeatedly encouraged readers to think about). And if they couldn't be bothered when The Great Evil known as Bush was president, do you think for even a second they will do a damned thing when a Democrat is in the White House, and when Democrats control Congress? If you do think so, I'd offer to sell you a bridge together with some extraordinarily valuable land I have. I say I would offer to sell them, but all the liberal and progressive writers and bloggers have already bought them. Now that is depressing. It is also contemptibly unforgivable.