June 18, 2010

Memo to the Victims: You Yourselves Will Pay for the Crimes of the Ruling Class

As more and more people are now acknowledging -- and I think they are entirely correct and, if anything, still underestimating what will be the ultimate costs of this calamity -- the damage caused by the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico will most likely be felt for several decades at least. The economic costs forbid accurate projection at this point; that might not be an altogether regrettable result, for a fuller version of the truth might well be so horrifying that it would induce paralysis of both thought and action. The human costs -- the livelihoods destroyed, the families subjected to unendurable stress and most probably similarly destroyed in very large numbers, the hopes and dreams put on indefinite hold, only to be surrendered in their totality in time -- prohibit contemplation.

One aspect of the profoundly evil system that has been destroying us for over a hundred years -- and make no mistake, it is deeply evil in design, intent and effect, if by evil we designate those actions which destroy the very possibility of thriving life -- is especially awful. The authoritarian-corporatist-militarist system victimizes untold millions of individual human beings, as well as many other forms of life as we see again today, both here and abroad. That would be a momentous evil in itself, but this particular evil is unsatisfied with only this first form of destruction.

Thus, the victims are targeted a second time, and they are forced to become collaborators in their own destruction. It is crucial to understand that these two forms of destruction are not separate manifestations of separate evils. They are the consequences of the same evil, and the two forms of lingering torture and death (psychologically at a minimum, and frequently existentially as well) are part of one overall design. I've discussed certain cultural-psychological manifestations of this dynamic in a number of essays. For an introduction to this analytic approach, I would recommend one article in particular: "Let the Victims Speak." As I stated at the outset of that essay, the nature and operation of this dynamic are very complex; it took me a few decades to appreciate its character. If the subject interests you, I therefore suggest a reading of the earlier article in its entirety.

These passages will provide a sense of the dynamic that concerns me, one that is so commonplace that most people don't even notice it:
Focus on the critical sentence: "Yet, when a victim explodes or acts out in unacceptable ways, these same officials are shocked and indignant."

What exactly are these "unacceptable ways" of exploding or acting out? Who decided they were "unacceptable"? Why is it that "reluctant school officials" will not "take definitive action" against the bullies -- thus tacitly conceding that the bullying itself is not all that "unacceptable" -- while the same officials are "shocked and indignant" when the victim protests too strongly?

This pattern, and certain of its origins, will be found throughout history, in every culture around the world. The pattern is a simple and deadly one: the oppressor -- that is, those who are in the superior position, whether they are parents, school officials, or the government, or in a superior position merely by virtue of physical strength -- may inflict bodily harm and/or grievous, lifelong emotional and psychological injury, but the victim may only protest within the limits set by the oppressor himself. The oppressor will determine those forms of protest by the victim that are "acceptable."

You see this pattern with regard to many helpless, lonely children in addition to Billy Wolfe...


Think about this very carefully for a moment. The oppressor may inflict unimaginable cruelties on innocent victims -- but the victims may only protest in ways which the oppressor deems "acceptable." The profound injustice is obvious, but not in itself remarkable or unexpected: this is how oppression operates. But ask yourself about the deeper reason for the prohibition. This is of the greatest importance: the victims may only protest within a constricted range of "permissible" behavior because, when they exceed the prescribed limits, they make the oppressors too uncomfortable. They force the oppressors to confront the nature of what they, the oppressors, have done in ways that the oppressors do not choose to face.

The fifth grader in the story would have been fully justified in screaming at his teachers for minutes, even hours. He would have been fully justified in demanding to know why his teachers humiliated him so mercilessly in front of his classmates, and why they exposed him to cruel scrutiny and mockery in this way. He had every right to ask why his teachers -- his teachers, who are supposed to protect him from gratuitous cruelty and who are supposed to be devoted to his well-being -- would so deeply betray their role. But what do you suppose would have happened to him if he had reacted in this way? As in the case of Billy Wolfe, his teachers would have been "shocked and indignant." The boy with Stahl's ear would almost certainly have been punished again -- for identifying the nature of the cruelty perpetrated against him and protesting against it.
Take some time to appreciate the unfathomable cruelty of this pattern. You may be grievously harmed and even permanently damaged by the actions of those who hold unanswerable power -- but you may only speak about this evil and its effects within the very narrow limits set by those who would destroy you. If you are killed, the identical prohibitions apply to those who still manage to survive and who would protest the unforgivable crime committed against you. In this manner, the complacency and comfort of those who possess immense power and wealth are underwritten by the silence forced upon their victims. The victims may speak and even protest, but only within severely circumscribed limits, and only so long as their rulers are not made to feel too uncomfortable, or too guilty. Anything which approaches too close to the truth is strictly forbidden.

This is the system of government carefully erected and fortified in the United States over the last century. In the last several decades, it has been made impregnable and unassailable. If you tell the full truth or even approach it, you are consigned to the void beyond the most distant borders of permissible debate.

I consider this only a start at the task of understanding this pattern and its operations; time and health permitting, I will address these complicated matters in more detail in the future. But I now want you to consider another aspect of this collaboration in their own destruction forced upon the victims.

The pattern is the same: the victims are forced to participate in their own destruction. If you participate in our authoritarian-corporatist-militarist system in any significant way, there is no way of escaping this dilemma. I repeat the point for emphasis: this is the way the system was designed. The events of the last decade in particular and the events of today -- the acceptance of torture as a "normal" method of state- and warcraft, endless criminal wars of aggression, genocide, the funneling of vast amounts of wealth from defenseless "ordinary" citizens to the already engorged ruling class, the destruction of the Gulf and a huge additional number of lives -- are not aberrations, the result of the system having gone awry. This is what the system is designed to do. Most people recoil from evil of this magnitude; they refuse to identify and accept the system for what it is. They still seek to "reform" or "save" it. In other words: they themselves seek rationalizations and justification for their continuing collaboration. The ruling class is many things: avaricious, consumed by lust for power and control, heedless and uncaring of the immense destruction they cause, provided the destruction never touches their lives. But the ruling class is emphatically not stupid. To state what would be painfully obvious, if only so many people were not so wedded to denial: they constitute the ruling class, and you do not. And they counted on your reluctance or outright refusal to identify their evil. They knew they could depend on your continued collaboration in your own drawn-out torture and death.

And they were entirely, completely right. This is hardly the first time history has proven this particular truth.

You can avoid the demand that you support your own destruction, but it is not an approach many people will choose: you can withdraw your support, in every way possible to you. Neither I nor anyone else can tell you how to effect that choice, should you wish to do so. The particulars of each person's life are unique, and the choice of non-cooperation presents itself in many forms. If you view the system as profoundly, irrevocably evil, and if you do not choose to support it any longer, only your own conscience can provide the necessary guidance. Only you can decide how much of your soul you are willing to surrender.

It may be somewhat easier to grasp and understand the nature of the further aspect of the enforced collaboration to which I refer. You will find the example set forth in appalling detail by Nick Turse: "Kick Ass or Buy Gas?" The relevance of the discussion above is made clear by the article's subtitle: "How Taxpayers Are Subsidizing BP's Disaster Through the Pentagon."

Here are several key passages:
Residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida are livid with BP in the wake of the massive, never-ending oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico -- and Barack Obama says they ought to be. But there’s one aspect of the BP story that most of those angry residents of the Gulf states aren’t aware of. And the president hasn’t had a thing to say about it.

Even as the tar balls hit Gulf beaches, their tax dollars are subsidizing BP and so far, President Obama has not shown the slightest indication that he plans to stop their flow into BP coffers, despite the recent call of Public Citizen, a watchdog group, to end the nation’s business dealings with company. In fact, the Department of Defense, which has a longstanding, multi-billion dollar business relationship with BP, tells TomDispatch that it has no plans to sever current business ties or curtail future contracts with the oil giant.


The Pentagon’s foreign wars have left it particularly heavily dependent on oil services, energy, and petroleum companies. An analysis published at Foreign Policy in Focus found that, in 2005, 145 such companies had contracts with the Pentagon. That year, the Department of Defense paid out more than $1.5 billion to BP alone and a total of $8 billion taxpayer dollars, in total, to energy-related firms on what is a far-from-complete list of companies.

In 2009, according to the Defense Energy Support Center, the military awarded $22.5 billion in energy contracts. More than $16 billion of that went to purchasing bulk fuel. Some 10 top petroleum suppliers got the lion’s share, more than $11.5 billion, among them big names like Shell, Exxon Mobil and Valero. The largest contractor, however, was BP, which received more than $2.2 billion -- almost 12% of all petroleum-contract dollars awarded by the Pentagon for the year.

While one exceptionally powerful department of the federal government has been feeding money into BP (and other oil giants) with abandon, BP has consistently run afoul of U.S. government regulators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). According to the Center for Public Integrity, “BP account[ed] for 97 percent of all flagrant violations found in the [oil] refining industry by government safety inspectors over the past three years.” Records obtained by the Center demonstrate that between June 2007 and February 2010, BP received a total of 862 citations...


Over those same years, BP received around $5.7 billion in federal contracts, according to official government data. In fact, the $2.2 billion the Pentagon paid to the oil giant in 2009 accounted for almost 16% of the company’s nearly $14 billion in annual profits.

This fiscal year, the U.S. military has already awarded the company more than $837 million, inking its latest deal with BP in March.
Turse later notes that, "[i]n a June 5th email message to supporters, paid for by Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic National Committee," Obama states the government has "ordered BP to pay economic injury claims, and this week, the federal government sent BP a preliminary bill for $69 million to pay back American taxpayers for some of the costs of the response so far.” The amount of $69 million is a small fraction of the $837 million awarded by the U.S. military to BP just this fiscal year -- and that is not to even mention the huge amounts paid to BP in the past, or that will be paid to it in the future:
"I am not aware at this moment of any plans to curtail or cancel any DoD contracts that may exist at this time,” Department of Defense spokesperson Cheryl Irwin told TomDispatch. Irwin also stated that she knew of no plans to restrict the awarding of future contracts to BP.

The president has remained silent on the issue.
I'm forced to admit that, if one were to consider this system from the perspective of its greatest beneficiaries, it is a goddamned beautiful thing. It is elegant. The government takes gobs of money from taxpayers, it shovels huge amounts of that money to already enormously powerful companies, those companies then provide services essential to the government's unending campaigns of widespread destruction and death -- and in the necessary course of providing those services, the companies themselves commit numerous "egregious" and "willful" violations of health and safety requirements (all documented by Turse), and the companies thus inflict enormous suffering on some of the same taxpayers.

Then, in a display of our rulers' magnificently bountiful kindness and thoughtfulness, some of those injuries -- just some of them, for how can many of the victims ever be made close to whole again in any meaningful way? -- will be compensated, using a small portion of the huge wealth made possible by the taxpayers in the first instance.

As I say: elegant.

And this is merely one example, if an especially heinous one, from one industry. How many times in how many industries is this identical pattern repeated every single bloody and blood-filled day? Countless times, in countless industries.

This is what the system is designed to do. It does it with astonishing efficiency. Short of civil disobedience on a huge, unrelenting scale, that is, short of widespread, unceasing non-cooperation, the system will continue for the foreseeable future, probably in roughly its current form for the rest of your life. There is no sign that non-cooperation on the required scale will occur or is even being contemplated, except by a few outliers like me. And, possibly, like a few of you.

So what are you going to do? Scream at the injustice? Yell about the monstrous evil being committed every hour of every day? Write another blog post? I do not exempt myself from the all-encompassing irony which now consumes us, amidst the rising torrent of blood.

But: Withdraw your support, if you choose to. Disobey. Break the goddamned rules. Do not cooperate. If a sufficient number of people chose that course, change might begin.

Consider it. I suppose not all that much is at stake -- only your soul, and your happiness.