January 17, 2011

A Note to Those Who Will Name Evil

The ferocious insistence of America on its national catechism -- that the United States is "unique in all of history, that our form of government is the greatest and best possible to mankind, toward which all others should and must strive, and that our national character is predisposed toward compassion and peace" -- today provides us with yet another holiday drained of every vestige of concern for the sanctity of life and turned into the occasion for onanistic preening and self-congratulation. And, of course, sales.

I wonder if a man who said the following would be so "honored" (and I sincerely apologize to Dr. King for the minor alterations indicated in brackets, but I dare to think that he would be sympathetic to the spirit in which these changes have been made):
Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of [Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Pakistan, and Yemen, and Somalia, and ...]. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak ... for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in [these places]. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.


If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in [these places.] If we do not stop our war against the[se] people[s] ... immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy, and deadly game we have decided to play. The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure ..., that we have been detrimental to the life of the[se] people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways. In order to atone for our sins and errors ... we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war.
That is a short passage from "A Time to Break Silence," Dr. King's address given on April 4, 1967, at the Riverside Church in New York City. If you wish to offer genuine tribute to Dr. King, you might set some time aside to read the speech in its entirety.

The war in Vietnam and its broader significance was Dr. King's concern. The principles to which Dr. King appealed and which he insisted must guide our actions apply with equal force to the abominable wars the United States today wages in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Pakistan, and Yemen, and Somalia, and ...

But a person will not be honored in any manner whatsover for pointing this out. Instead, he will be called "cynical" (and by our first African-American president no less, a fact which I doubt would bring much joy to Dr. King were he alive to witness this awful moment), "negative," "extreme," "bitter" and so on. Such a person will also be accused of the most heinous sin of all: that he hates America.

Yet you should not be discouraged if you speak what ought to be obvious truths and are condemned for it. Once those who guard the flame of America's self-delusions and endless lies have reduced you to a tenth-rate Bill Cosby appearing in an interminable series of pudding commercials, you too will be celebrated.

They'll only do that after they've killed you, of course.

America. One fucking great country.

January 14, 2011

Aw, It's All So Fucking Sweet!

Democrats and Republicans might all sit together during the State of the Union. And they might all go on an Outward Bound retreat together! Christ, I'm all choked up. I can barely see through my tears as I blindly peck at the keyboard.

Unity! Isn't it just superduperfabbywabulous?!?!?! Yeah, the ruling class will be even more united in crushing you and any other pissant "ordinary" human being who fails to obey their every order, make them even more wealthy and more powerful and is any kind of serious troublemaker. And not just here in these glorious UUUUUnited States, but all around the world! They're going to crush millions of people together! (Uh, and this is supposed to be a new development?, the clever reader here interjects.)

This is such a fucking great country. Gee, I'm using lots of four-letter words these days. But honestly, how do you respond to shit like this? This is empty and meaningless symbolism designed to temporarily placate severely damaged children and make them keep quiet. In other words: to make them shut the fuck up. (Another one! But as I said, well, fuck.) Since most American adults are severely damaged children who have never managed to grow up in a healthy and meaningful way, it should be wildly popular.

It reminds me of this earlier passage of mine, written in a different context but apt nonetheless:
Not only is truth the enemy, but we live in a world of the most superficial of appearances. Completely empty symbolism -- symbolism stripped of all meaning and of every connection to fact -- is what motivates such people. Rigorous thought and analysis and seriousness of purpose can find no place in this view of the world. These people live only on the surfaces of things, and they are not living or thinking to any measurable extent. The surfaces where they barely exist are those determined by others who came before, and they are entirely covered with lies. The images constantly flicker and are gone, to be replaced by other lies, which will also disappear almost immediately. There is no past and no future, and the present is stripped of all those elements that give life meaning and purpose.
Fuck that, baby.

The United States as Jared Loughner: How the State Sanctifies Murder

I'm not going to write an essay with the above title. I don't need to. Published on April 25, 2007:

The United States as Cho Seung-Hui: How the State Sanctifies Murder

Alter the specific referents as required, and the major arguments remain exactly the same. They are fully applicable today.

Two excerpts:
The similarities between Cho's psychology and the forces that drive United States foreign policy ought to be startling, and profoundly disturbing: the feelings of vulnerability, victimization, humiliation and rage are the same -- as is the determination to restore one's own dominance through violence and murder. But be sure you appreciate the chronology and the causal chain that Lifton correctly identifies: just as Cho did not suddenly become a murderer on the morning of April 16, but only reached that awful destination after years of inexorable psychological development along one particular path, so too the United States was not instantaneously transformed into an unfocused, rage-filled international murderer after 9/11. As Lifton states, "The war on terrorism, then, took amorphous impulses toward combating terror and used them as a pretext for realizing a prior mission aimed at American global hegemony."


Iraq has not altered the fundamentals of our foreign policy in any significant way. Our ruling class continues to believe the United States is "the indispensable power," and that we have the "right" to direct events across the globe, and intervene whenever we deem it necessary for the protection of our "national interests." But those "interests" have long been defined in a manner which can justify almost any intervention, anywhere, any time. What we would vehemently condemn others for doing, including the invasion and occupation of a country that did not threaten them, is permitted to us, and to us alone. No action is prohibited to us, while only those actions are available to others that we choose to permit. At the end, Cho was enraged, megalomaniacal, and probably insane. What are we to say of the United States government?

But our nation's crimes are filtered through the State, which dissolves guilt and responsibility, as it sanctifies our sins. Cho is a monster. Our governing class and its unparalleled military commit crimes on a much vaster scale -- and our strongest criticisms are that the crimes were "incompetently managed," or that they represented "poor policy choices." If Cho had survived his massacre, our justice system would likely have killed him. Our State has done infinitely worse, and it has done so repeatedly over more than century.

Yet we do nothing. Our sleep is untroubled. Life goes on.

But not for everyone. No. Not for everyone.
That essay is one of my better efforts. I will unqualifiedly state that it is a damned fine piece of work.

January 13, 2011

You Can't Think, and You're Goddamned Liars

In the aftermath of the horror in Arizona, all major public voices are united in their absolute, vehement condemnation of violence. Almost all minor voices, including every blogger known and unknown, join in the chorus. It seems that everyone, from the most famous and powerful personages to lowly bloggers offering their thoughts to a world which cares nothing whatsoever about what they say, profoundly opposes violence. If all such people -- which would appear to include all people -- were genuinely sincere in their proclamations (and they may well be sincere, in the manner that people are sincere in their announcement of deeply-held beliefs reflecting the intellectual and moral rigor of sayings blazoned on greeting cards or found in fortune cookies), and, of much greater significance, if they matched their actions to any measurable extent to what they insist is a profound opposition to violence, we would certainly inhabit a paradise on Earth.

You may have observed that we do not. In making this statement, I assume you have not been asleep or unconscious for the entirety of your lifetime. You need have been awake and observant for only a few brief moments to appreciate the charnel house that humanity has made of this planet for most of its presence on this cloud of dust.

As is true with regard to every subject of importance, and as is always true when a subject becomes the focus of our "national discourse," almost everyone who repeatedly and passionately denounces violence is, as my title has it, a goddamned liar. On this occasion, the lies are all-encompassing, and they extend over the entirety of the political spectrum, from craven conservatives to peabrained progressives.

It is only proper to begin with the Liar-in-Chief, the chief executive of the Death State -- who is, he reminds us, a public servant and who therefore must be "good and important," as he instructed us last evening. Pause to appreciate the hideousness of that moment, for it captures the House of Horror quality of this sickening business. In speaking of the awful death of a nine-year-old child, Obama presumes to read the dead girl's mind:
She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.
Thus does the murdering leader of the Death State use a dead child to burnish the image of the State itself and, which is undoubtedly more critical from Obama's perspective, to burnish the image of those who direct the Death State's operations. If you dare to think that those who lead the Death State and implement its policies engage in murder, conquest, plunder, and brutalization without end, that is only because you are "cynical" and engaging in "vitriol." Our leaders are "good and important": do you want to disagree with a murdered child?

This alone should establish beyond all question the depth and breadth of Obama's loathsomeness. But, my friends, there is more, so much more. Consider:
[A]t a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, "when I looked for light, then came darkness." Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath. For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man's mind.

So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.

But what we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.


The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives – to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let's remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud.
It is almost impossible to describe accurately the distance between these statements and the relevant facts of Obama's record. Just this moment, as I was wondering how I might capture the enormous scope of the lies involved, I remembered a passage I wrote on the occasion of Obama's acclaimed speech on race. Very few people agreed with my assessment then; I suspect a few more people might agree now, but not many more.

In "Obama's Whitewash," published close to three years ago, I wrote:
Almost every politician lies, and most politicians lie repeatedly. Yet in one sense, Obama's speech is exceptional, rare and unique -- but not for any of the reasons offered by Obama's uncritical, mindless adulators. It is exceptional for this reason: it is rare that a candidate will announce in such stark, comprehensive terms that he will lie about every fact of moment, about every aspect of our history that affects the crises of today and that has led to them, about everything that might challenge the mythological view of America. But that is what Obama achieved with this speech. It may be a remarkable achievement -- a remarkable and detestable one, and one that promises endless destruction in the future, both here and abroad.
In brief: when he was a candidate, Obama announced (on multiple occasions to be sure, but this was an especially notable one) that he would lie about everything. And so he does.

Obama tells us that we must "make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds," and that "only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation." Despite the fact that most of us are taught early in life that "actions speak louder than words," the majority of adults have more deeply internalized a lesson directly opposed to that maxim: when you judge an authority figure, you must give special weight to his words and what he says his intentions are. If his actions profoundly contradict what he "talks" about, it is the actions you must disregard. There is a direct line between forcing a child to believe that physical and/or emotional abuse is inflicted by his parents (or other caregivers) "for his own good" and arguing that the United States must invade and destroy a village, or an entire country, for its own good. Most adults spend their lives refusing to see the connection.

In fact, how a person acts is of infinitely greater significance than what he says. And toward the conclusion of his remarks, Obama conceded as much: "We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us."

Is it "civil and honest" to ask how Obama is treating us, those poor, lost souls who are not "good and important"? I dare to proceed in the belief that it is. In answering that question, one fact above all must be mentioned first. That it is not -- and this fact has almost never been mentioned in all the interminable debates about the violence in Arizona -- reveals a great deal about the moral and intellectual rot that suffocates these wretched United States.

Here is that fact:
Obama and his administration claim the "right" to murder anyone in the world, wherever he or she may be, for whatever reason they choose -- or for no reason at all. Obama and his administration recognize no upper limit to the number of people they can murder in this manner: they can murder as many people as they wish. And they claim there is nothing at all that may impede their exercise of this "right."

This is the game entire. Understand this: once Obama and his administration have claimed this, there is nothing left to argue about. They can murder you -- and they can murder anyone else at all. What in the name of anything you hold holy remains to be "debated" once a vile, damnable "right" of this kind has been claimed?

This is a war crime [under the Nuremberg Principles]: "murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave-labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory..."

It is also a crime against humanity: "Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population..."

Under Principle VII, all those who are complicit in these crimes are also guilty.
From The New York Times, December 7, 2010:
A federal judge on Tuesday threw out a lawsuit that had sought to block the American government from trying to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, a United States citizen and Muslim cleric in hiding overseas who is accused of helping to plan attacks by Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen.

The ruling, which clears the way for the Obama administration to continue to try to kill Mr. Awlaki, represents a victory in its efforts to shield from judicial review so-called targeted killings, one of its most striking counterterrorism policies.

In an 83-page opinion, Judge John D. Bates said Mr. Awlaki’s father, the plaintiff, had no standing to file the lawsuit on behalf of his son. He also said decisions about targeted killings in such circumstances were a “political question” for executive branch officials to make — not judges.


Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the decision “a profound mistake” that would dangerously expand presidential power. The A.C.L.U. and the Center for Constitutional Rights represented Mr. Awlaki’s father, Nasser al-Awlaki, in the matter without compensation.

“If the court’s ruling is correct, the government has unreviewable authority to carry out the targeted killing of any American, anywhere, whom the president deems to be a threat to the nation,” Mr. Jaffer said. “It would be difficult to conceive of a proposition more inconsistent with the Constitution, or more dangerous to American liberty.”
Mr. Jaffer is a master of understatement. This policy, and it appears it shall remain the policy of the United States government in the future, places the executive branch beyond all law, beyond all challenge, and represents the triumph of absolute power.

It is literally the claim of the power to dispense life and death. Thus, it is the claim of ultimate power -- and the claim of ultimate violence.

Obama claims the power to murder you, your entire family, everyone you know, and anyone else he chooses.

Last night, Obama said: "We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future." But Obama will not renounce his claim to the "right" of ultimate violence. Who will be next on his kill list? Who else is on it now? With the dutiful acquiescence of the courts -- so much for your vaunted "rule of law" -- we will never know. But wait: you may know to some extent, when the "disappearances" can no longer be explained by coincidence, or you see the corpses pile up.

Oh, that could never happen here!, you exclaim in a petulant whine. This is America! That, too, is a critical part of the mythology Obama burnished for you last night. Consult history: all peoples in all places always believe it can't happen here.

Last evening, Obama also said: "Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world." He should know.

There is much more that needs to be said about this hideous business, hideous in every respect. To be continued.