November 25, 2012

The Bloody Black Comedy of the State

Only yesterday, I mentioned one of my exercises in black comedy: my imagining of a show called "Down with Doug!," loosely modeled after that show called "Up with..." some dope with a different name. "Loosely modeled" isn't actually correct; many of the arguments, and even some of the details (the host's unhappy comments about the use of an unpleasant word like "murder," for example), come straight from that other dope's on-air mutterings. The problem with my fevered imaginings, and it is a very terrible problem, is that they are overtaken by events within weeks, sometimes within days, of my writing them.

And now we have this example from what we ridiculously term "real life." We are told that the Obama administration "accelerated work in the weeks before the election to develop explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones, so that a new president would inherit clear standards and procedures, according to two administration officials." The story repeats several times how urgent and gravely serious the administration considered this particular problem to be.

You want me to translate this into more straightforward language, don't you? Yes, I knew you did. Allow me:
Oh, my God! We have to have rules telling everyone exactly how to kill people. If we don't, they're going to go nuts and murder lots of completely innocent human beings! Everyone isn't good and pure the way we are, especially those maniacal Republicans and that monster Romney, so we have to spell out exactly how to do the killing.
No. No, that's not quite it. Let's see. Imagine Jack the Ripper saying the following:
I slash and hack women into bloody strips of meat, rip out their guts and organs, and commit many additional horrific acts intended to desecrate their bodies as fully as possible. But I am a noble and virtuous person. Thus, I do all this in an entirely admirable and moral way. Most of you loathsome creatures cannot even conceive of my goodness. I have therefore written a little book intended for your improvement: Jack's Rules for the Slashing, Disemboweling, Murder and Desecration of Women. If you follow those rules -- follow them to the letter, mind you -- you will still not approach my perfection, but at least your actions will comport with the principles of morally informed, virtuous behavior.
That's better.

The NYT story is a vile exercise in fantasy, and a lie from beginning to end. As we know from numerous reports -- and as we know from what the Obama administration itself has acknowledged -- the Murder Program murders innocent human beings. This isn't a possibility, something that the administration fears might happen. It has happened in an unforgivable number of cases. Moreover, the NYT story tells us this with stark clarity. Here's the most obvious example:
[F]or several years, first in Pakistan and later in Yemen, in addition to “personality strikes” against named terrorists, the C.I.A. and the military have carried out “signature strikes” against groups of suspected, unknown militants.

Originally that term was used to suggest the specific “signature” of a known high-level terrorist, such as his vehicle parked at a meeting place. But the word evolved to mean the “signature” of militants in general — for instance, young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups. Such strikes have prompted the greatest conflict inside the Obama administration, with some officials questioning whether killing unidentified fighters is legally justified or worth the local backlash.
The State and its invaluable subsidiaries, such as the NYT, will never spell out the full meaning of passages like this one, and most people will not permit themselves to understand it.

Obama and his fellow murderers kill people about whom they have no specific information at all. That's what this phrase means: "young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups." We know from other accounts that they don't even need to be "toting arms." Their mere presence "in an area controlled by extremist groups" can be sufficient for the State to kill them. This logically and necessarily means that the State kills people who are completely innocent. Obama and the other criminals have no information whatsoever to even suggest otherwise.

But killing innocent people is the fundamental, intractable problem with the entirety of the Murder Program. The story describes how the Murder Program was initially "aimed at ranking leaders of Al Qaeda thought to be plotting to attack the United States" -- "thought to be," that is, they were suspected terrorists. Later on, "most strikes have been directed at militants whose main battle is with the Pakistani authorities or who fight with the Taliban against American troops in Afghanistan." In other words, these victims of the Murder Program are no threat at all to the United States, or if they are a threat, they are solely because U.S. forces are in Afghanistan -- where they have no right to be. I hesitate to mention this, since I realize most people won't understand what the hell I'm talking about. Nonetheless: if you break into someone's house brandishing weapons and the owner kills you, that doesn't give your pals the right to kill the owner, everyone in his family, and a bunch of people who happen to live in the neighborhood.

And then we are told the targets of the Murder Program changed again, to include still more people: "In Yemen, some strikes apparently launched by the United States killed militants who were preparing to attack Yemeni military forces." They weren't planning to attack the United States, or even U.S. military forces. What they were doing had nothing at all to do with the United States. So as far as the U.S. is concerned, they were completely innocent.

Therefore, in every aspect of the Murder Program, the Program targets innocent human beings, and murders them. The Murder Program is a program designed to murder innocent human beings. That is its purpose and its reason for being. This is the program that the Obama administration constantly expands, and the program that it seeks to institutionalize so that it is a fundamental, critical part of U.S. policy going forward. This is exactly what I discussed several days ago.

The NYT story also makes horribly clear that the debate about whether it is a good idea to murder innocent people is over. Worse than that, such a debate never took place. That's what we're told right near the beginning of the story:
Mr. Obama and his advisers are still debating whether remote-control killing should be a measure of last resort against imminent threats to the United States, or a more flexible tool, available to help allied governments attack their enemies or to prevent militants from controlling territory.
They're "still debating" whether they should murder innocent people only as a "last resort," or murder innocent people as "a more flexible tool." Whether they should murder innocent people at all never occurred to them. It was never even a question.

Think about that for a minute. It was never even a question for them.

The NYT lays out what can only be regarded as a program that is evil in the means it employs, as well as evil in all its purposes -- but the story carefully observes all the "rules" concerning "polite" and "respectable" discussion of such matters, so that the full meaning of these acts is systematically avoided. The story further informs us that the Obama administration is committed to developing a comprehensive system of rules to make certain that evil is committed in just the right way.

Yes, you should be shaking your head right now, because that makes absolutely no sense. It doesn't make any sense, yet this is the nature of the evil that steadily spreads across our national landscape. And as I have often noted before, every system of government has laws and rules, even dictatorships and even totalitarian governments. Appeals to the "sanctity of the law" and the crucial importance of "rules" play directly into the hands of the State and those who direct its lethal operations. The law and the rules are the means by which they implement and direct their power. When a corrupt and deadly system passes beyond a certain point, the law and the rules do not prevent the commission of evil: they make it possible. Moreover, and this makes all such discussions entirely absurd, the ruling class will disregard the law and the rules whenever they wish, for whatever purpose they choose. Surely the last decade has taught us that much, if nothing else at all.

Yet most people have accepted the myths in every detail. They believe the lies. (For detailed discussions of these issues, see this, this and this; follow the links for still more.)

There is one further, deeply awful aspect to the NYT story, which comes toward the end:
Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistan-born analyst now at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said the United States should start making public a detailed account of the results of each strike, including any collateral deaths, in part to counter propaganda from jihadist groups. “This is a grand opportunity for the Obama administration to take the drones out of the shadows and to be open about their objectives,” he said.
The story immediately goes on to state that "the administration appears to be a long way from embracing such openness."

But suppose it did. One way that would play out comes at the end of my black comedy, "Down with Doug!" The host exults: "I want to emphasize that all of this has been done in a completely open manner. You've seen all of it." What he's talking about is murder, presented on live television. Would that make you feel better?

And do I have to remind people that this is exactly what certain people said during the heated debates about the State's embrace of torture seven or eight years ago? I remember it because I wrote about it at the time. (For a single essay summarizing the key arguments from my lengthy series about torture, see "Lies in the Service of Evil." The articles in the series are listed and briefly described at the end of that piece.) I was appalled and sickened then, and I am appalled and sickened now. Evil does not become less evil because people are "open" about it. It is not miraculously transformed into good through some mysterious process of alchemy. Evil becomes only worse, infinitely worse. And not a single aspect of those debates changed what the State had already decided to do: utilize torture as a standard method of State practice. Yes, yes, I know Obama told us all that he "ended" torture. Surely people, at least a few people, understand now that he lies about everything. He was lying about that, too. (Note: the second part of that essay describes how even the ACLU enthusiastically fell for this particular Obama lie. Not only that, they demanded that we all thank Obama for lying to us so brazenly. It was a thoroughly disgusting display.)

So if certain "critics" of the Murder Program get what they want, the State will be blessedly open about its programs devoted to evil. It will torture and murder regularly, perhaps every day, but in broad daylight, with all of us watching.

And a lot of people will be very pleased indeed. Pleased, hell. They'll be goddamned thrilled.

Never Enough

Yesterday, I sent the email that follows to a very dear friend. I've omitted only a few more intimate comments. I decided to share it with you, because there is a related point about this that I want to discuss:
A revolting person on my opera e-list sent a message recently decrying the influence of gays, lesbians, transgenders, etc. on opera in recent years. He got appropriately pummeled by many followup emails.

This one, from a man who isn't gay himself and who is a fairly well-known opera personage (he's written books about opera, and had a radio show for years on which he interviewed many famous singers), really got to me:
AIDS killed off the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic part of the opera audience, and the opera scene since has been but a shadow of what it was 30 years ago. Instead of asserting that there are too many gays in opera, one could argue with greater justice that there are too few.
And that is true, at least based on my knowledge of opera and its recent trajectory. And it's not simply the audience: the list of AIDS deaths includes many conductors, singers, managers, coaches, critics and on and on and on.

Moreover, this phenomenon is not limited only to opera, of course. The same is true in theater generally, as well as in some other arts. (I think it may be less true in film, and the reasons for that might be an interesting subject of inquiry.)

I find that whenever I think about these issues, even when writing this email, I immediately have to distance myself from it emotionally to a significant degree. If I don't, I collapse into a helpless mass of grief and loss.

It's an awful, terrible business, in every respect. And I think many (probably most) people have little if any understanding of what the costs have been. The AIDS epidemic, particularly in all of its hideous effects and ramifications, is already fading into distant memory. And most young gays of today don't know that much about this, either.

So it's not just war, murder and the other brutalizations of the vicious system that's killing us that most people ignore and seem to be blithely unaware of -- it's all these additional catastrophes as well.

It never ends...well. Far from happy thoughts. Sorry about that.
About my comment concerning young gay men today (by which I mean men roughly 25 and younger), I would briefly add that any lack of awareness of this still recent catastrophe is, in one sense, a tremendous blessing; I'm deeply happy they can live their lives outside the dark shadows this history casts on some of us. Yet in another way, I think it also carries certain dangers (and not only medical ones).

Here's a quick fact about my own life. I moved to Los Angeles from New York in 1978. I came out shortly afterward. By 1980-81, I had a very active social life, and an exceedingly active sex life. In this, I followed my usual pattern of choosing the worst possible timing. But that's somewhat repellently narcissistic: many other gay men were on the same schedule, of course, for a variety of reasons. People began getting sick in noticeable numbers less than a year later. I said this would be a quick fact: by the mid-1990s, only 12 or 13 years later, the great majority of the gay men I had gotten to know during my first five or six years in Los Angeles -- and that was a lot of men -- were dead.

And here's one anecdote from that time. There are countless stories like this, told by many people. This is one of mine. I was very fortunate to have a wonderful doctor, one of the two best-known gay doctors in West Hollywood and environs. (By gay doctor, I mean both that they were gay themselves and that most of their patients were gay men.) I referred a number of friends and acquaintances to him, and it was one of the best things I ever did. All of them were profoundly grateful for the compassion and understanding that he always displayed. Even if you saw him in the evening, at the end of what was for him an exhausting, terrible day (almost all of his patients were HIV-positive by the mid to late 1980s), he made you feel that you were the only person he had seen that day, the only person in the world who existed for him. He was a genuinely extraordinary man.

I recall one night when I saw him in, oh, it must have been 1993. After the examination and consultation, we were chatting about this and that, as we often did. I had been seeing him for over ten years, so we knew each other very well. At one point, I asked him: "I was many times has your practice turned over in the last ten years? If you tried to figure it out that way, how many times have you started over, with an almost entirely new roster of patients?" He agreed with my estimate that it was at least two or three times. Then he thought a few moments longer. He got up and said, "Come with me."

Except for us, the office was almost entirely empty by this time. It was 8 or 8:30; most days ended for him around that time or later, sometimes much later. I followed him into a hallway that was lined with file cabinets -- the kind with wide drawers, from the floor almost to the ceiling. He began pulling out file drawers. He pulled out six or seven before he stopped. Each drawer was filled with patient folders, hundreds and hundreds of them. I don't know how many there were altogether; there must have been well over a thousand, perhaps more than two thousand.

He stood at one end of the hallway; I was at the other. He looked at me over all the drawers he had pulled out, over all those patient folders. After a few moments, he said, in the manner of simply stating a fact, but with a tone tinged with disbelief that such a thing was possible, as if he could barely make his mind absorb it, "They're all dead."

They're all dead. I couldn't speak. What could I say, what could anyone say, that would begin to express the limitless tragedy represented by those folders? I know we were both thinking of all the funerals and memorial services we had attended, all the friends and loved ones we had watched as they died, often in agonizing, grisly ways, with symptoms and ailments I wouldn't wish to describe to anyone. And he had witnessed all of that, in excruciating, horrifying detail, with all those men whose medical histories were contained in those folders, always doing the very best he could to alleviate their suffering, and to provide them with the great gift of a deeply compassionate caregiver. We stood with the piles of paper between us -- just paper after all, with names, notes and numbers on it, test results, drugs administered, descriptions of the endless ways we try to buy a little more time, until we fail at last. Just paper containing marks and symbols, neutral in themselves, meaningless to someone who didn't know what they signified, with names of persons unknown to most of the world. But he had known and cared for all of them. I knew some of the names on those folders, too. I knew what had happened in those lives, and how they had ended. Paper and folders, in a hallway steadily filling up with death.

After a minute or two during which we both remained silent, he slowly closed the drawers. I don't remember us saying anything else that evening, except good night. I do remember that we hugged each other before I left, probably a little longer and harder than we usually did.

Living through years of horror like that changes you. It can change you in profound ways. So I write about the horrors we face today. But most of the horrors I write about now are entirely man-made, that is, they are entirely avoidable. (Many of the AIDS deaths were also avoidable, if only those in power had chosen to recognize and address the calamity as it unfolded in its earlier years. But if I start writing about that, I'll begin screaming. I did scream a lot while it was happening; many of us did. And the AIDS crisis continues today, especially among African Americans and other disfavored groups.)

I remember those ghastly, soul-scorching years, and I think about the avoidable horrors of today. I am always wondering: How can people let this happen? How in the name of anything they hold sacred can they permit these horrors to continue, and to grow still worse? I think I know some important parts of the answer, but I still wonder about it.

How can people let it happen?

I shouldn't have written this. I'm crying now. Again. Always, it sometimes seems.

All those lives destroyed, all those irreplaceable possibilities for joy and happiness wiped out of existence forever, then and now. And people watch, and they do nothing. They let it happen.

I will never understand it, not completely. So I write about it. It's what I do. It's all I can do now. Does it make any difference? Perhaps in an almost undetectable, very small way, here and there, once in a while. But it can never be enough, not nearly enough.

Never, ever enough.

November 24, 2012

Because I'm an Idiot Sometimes

Now, now. You don't want to go thinking things like, "Yeah, like that's news." That would be mean. We know how awful and unforgivable it is to be mean. We are civilized and respectable. Always. Fuck, yeah!

Okay, here's the thing. I had intended to mention that I actually did discuss Chris Hayes and related stuff before -- before, that is, this post yesterday. And then I completely forgot about it, until a few minutes ago. I didn't actually discuss those issues, as much as I tried to distill what I consider to be the essence of how "dissent" of this kind works. And I presented the whole thing in the form of black comedy (or perhaps red, but you'll see why I say that).

It may actually be more effective following my discussion and this one about these dynamics. And it has some nice touches, I think. I do like Sandra Goalong from CLIBUGER (Civil Liberties But Get Real). I like Johnny Mebbenuts, too. A pity what happens to him. Well, he brought it on himself. I think I captured pretty accurately how certain arguments from "dissenters" work.

If you wonder about Doug's last name, just spell it backwards. That's what I did. A frightfully common word nowadays.

So come along, and enjoy an episode of: Down with Doug!

November 23, 2012

Warning: Meanness Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See this recent post for my argument.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, Chris. No can do.

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

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

Bah and phooey. Enough of this.

November 22, 2012

When the Murder of the Innocent No Longer Matters

Yesterday, I discussed the pathetically unconvincing reasons offered by some liberals and progressives to explain their silence about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general, and about the terror inflicted on Gaza in particular. Here I want to address two issues I omitted from my previous discussion of those who proclaim themselves to be "politically engaged" and who write about every subject in the world, but retreat into silence when the topic is Israeli brutality and sadism.

Those who delete Gaza from the seemingly limitless subjects they otherwise willingly address claim, among other things, that it's just too difficult, and that if they are seriously critical of Israel, some people will accuse them of being anti-Semitic. I already discussed what a shabby reason this is for choosing to say nothing about grave injustice, and remaining silent when innocent people are slaughtered. In the previous post, I offered the profound, inspiring courage of Robert La Follette, a man who was fiercely denounced by virtually everyone and almost driven from office, as an example of how the most momentous of battles can be fought, if only we are brave enough.

With regard to the explanations offered for the silence of the writers in question, we should remember an additional factor. Keep in mind that those who offer these arguments to justify their silence are comparatively well-known, successful writers and bloggers; they also style themselves as political activists. We know that such people view their connections and contacts as life itself; without the favored treatment bestowed on them by the ruling class, they would lose what they regard as their "influence" and "importance." Without those precious gifts given by the rulers to their favorite subjects, which are essentially identical to similar gifts bestowed by royalty in past eras, they would sink into what they view as the undifferentiated mass of writers to be found on the internet. That is what they are afraid of, and that is the reason for their silence on especially "difficult" subjects.

What are the gifts to which I refer? Numerous reports tell us about the conference calls various administration officials hold with bloggers whom the administration views as helpful in maintaining the support it enjoys. On rare occasions, especially favored bloggers will go to White House meetings with the actual, honest to God President himself. And there are still other meaningless charades arranged by the ruling class for the specific purpose of keeping those who might otherwise criticize them in a stuporous state of smug, self-satisfied, undisturbed contentment. There may well be additional gifts similar in kind of which we are unaware.

To state the above is not to engage in unwarranted speculation. Most of these people have declared, sometimes frequently, that what they seek is "influence" over events. The ruling class is enormously skillful in satisfying such desires; much of their time is devoted to such tasks, both among themselves and in their dealings with the underlings who help to prop up their rule. The ruling class knows that when you make someone feel "important," it is then far easier to make him shut up. He will shut up because he wants the favors to continue. As I noted, the favors are life itself for those who seek to inflate their sense of self-worth in this manner. This is a commonplace of how power operates.

The second issue I failed to include in my earlier discussion is one of immense significance. This particular omission on my part was a notable oversight. In the previous post and in this one, we are speaking of liberals and progressives who choose to be silent about selected subjects that arouse deeply felt passions. Of course, it is precisely such issues that are among the most critical of our time; that is why they arouse such strong feelings. But all of the liberals and progressives in question (I am not aware of any exceptions to this) supported Obama's reelection; in some cases, they wrote lengthy justifications for voting for Obama despite what they themselves regard as Obama's grievous failings.

I have addressed the choice to support Obama despite what a voter herself views as terrible policy decisions at length: in Parts II and III of "Accomplices to Murder," and in "To Honor the Value of a Single Life," and in other articles as well. Please consult the earlier essays for the detailed argument. Here I will summarize the critical point.

With the adoption of the Murder Program, a program which the Obama administration seeks to make permanent policy for the United States going into the future, the Obama administration has chosen as the fundamental policy of its governing philosophy the principle of mass murder. I'll say that again: the Obama administration has adopted the principle of mass murder as the fundamental foundation for its governing philosophy. The Obama administration has taken great pains to publicize this principle in the nation's leading newspapers. Almost no one gives a damn.

The Obama administration claims it has the "right" to murder anyone in the world, any time it wishes, for any reason it chooses or invents, and that it need never tell anyone about its actions or the reasoning behind them. The Obama administration claims absolute power, the power of life and death itself. If the Obama administration has the "right" to murder anyone at all, even someone who is entirely innocent of any crime whatsoever, then it has the "right" to murder 20 or 50 people in the same manner. It has already done that. This also means that the Obama administration claims the "right" to murder hundreds of people in this way, or thousands, or even millions of innocent human beings.

But, some will object, they would never do that! They're only targeting people who have harmed or seek to harm the United States and its citizens. But those who wield absolute power always offer such arguments; that is how they make the claim of absolute power "acceptable" to their docile subjects. And the alleged justification is patently not true: they have murdered innocent human beings, and their methodology makes certain they will continue to murder innocent human beings. This monumental fact is no deterrence to their commitment to the Murder Program. They view it as simply a problem of public relations. Thus far, it is not a problem they need be concerned about. As I said: they have adopted the principle of mass murder, they have repeatedly announced this fact publicly -- and almost no one gives a damn.

And the liberals and progressives who stay silent about Gaza all voted for Obama. They support the Murder Program. To vote for Obama, is to support what he does; this is emphatically true when a particular policy has been publicly disclosed on repeated occasions, as is true of the Murder Program. This is not a difficult fact to grasp. It is remarkably simple to understand. But when we are confronted by horrors of this kind, most people will expend enormous energy and engage in endless stratagems to prevent themselves from understanding the meaning of what they do, and the meaning of what their rulers do.

When we keep the fact of their support for Obama in mind, and when we understand the awful significance of that support, why do we wonder that the same people have nothing to say about particular murders in one particular conflict? They aren't bothered by the prospect of mass murder. Why would the murders of a few hundred, or a few thousand, human beings trouble them?

And, in fact, those murders do not trouble them, not in any important way, not in a way that causes them to wonder about the crimes they have chosen to endorse, or the future crimes to which they have given their blessing.

From this perspective, the entire debate about the silence of these particular writers with regard to the horrors of Gaza is nonsensical and ludicrous. Of course they have nothing to say about those horrors. They have nothing to say about mass murder, except that they have managed to make mass murder "acceptable" to themselves. In so doing, they have placed themselves outside the bounds of civilization altogether, and they merit no further attention at all.

That is what I should have said when I first addressed this issue. I've said it now.

And that, as they say, is that.

November 21, 2012

To All the Mewling, Itty-Bitty Pissants

Except for a few rare individuals who recall, if only vaguely, the meaning of a phrase such as "the honor of being human," the behavior of liberals and progressives even before Obama begins his second term is something to behold -- something to behold, that is, in the lower reaches of a museum that exhibits hideous deformities of the human mind and spirit. It would be an error to describe such people as monsters, for that would grant them a stature they are incapable of attaining. Their sole motive and purpose is to forbid themselves from taking on even one of the qualities we associate with human beings, to the extent we regard the human animal as evincing a minimal degree of conscience and awareness. If we regard thinking as the distinguishing characteristic of human existence, their only commandment is to prevent, under any and all circumstances, the merest possibility of even a faint glimmer of an actual thought from coming into existence.

Obama and his fellow criminals in Washington doubtless will enjoy a festive holiday season, secure in the knowledge that whatever future brutalization and depredation of the lives of "ordinary" Americans they plan -- the large-scale destruction of Social Security, Medicare, and every other remnant of a safety net that still exists, the vast expansion of the surveillance and police state, the enlargement of the Murder Program abroad -- the liberals and progressives will offer no resistance beyond brief, muted murmurs of mild displeasure. "Oh, dear," they will say and write, "is this really the best we can do?" Then Obama and other leading Democrats will tell them once more that they must remember to be "practical," that times are tough and difficult choices must be made. Besides, remember how awful those obstructionist Republicans are! Reassured that none of it can be helped -- it's not as if anyone they care about, anyone on their side, can actually be blamed or held responsible -- the liberals and progressives will go along with the dismantling and eventual destruction of everything that makes a decent mode of living possible.

All this is nauseatingly familiar by now. It could be described in the following way -- in fact, this is exactly how I described it more than five years ago:
I almost admire the Democrats' defenders in a certain way. The Democrats stab them deep in the gut and, while the knife is disemboweling them, the Democrats continue to lie in their agony-ridden faces -- and the victims still tell these bastards they will continue to support them. This collection of subhumans give sado-masochists a bad name. The commitment to cruelty, self-abasement and self-humiliation is all but perfect. It's no wonder they can regard one genocide after another with equanimity. It appears none of these people has a conscience any longer to be troubled in the smallest degree.
If you have an appetite for more along the same lines, you'll find it here.

Thus we come to the immense tragedy of Gaza. In the last week, I've written about it here, here and here. I will state as an absolute, without qualification, that any individual who writes about politics regularly, and who is writing at this particular moment, and who is at all decent has to write about it. How can you contemplate the horrifying spectacle of innocent people being slaughtered, entire families being murdered, lives laid waste, each day turned into a hellish nightmare, and not write something? Even if all you can think to say is, "Stop!" -- which is, in fact, damned good advice -- can't you at least write that? No, many people could not be troubled even to write that. Chris Floyd, who always writes about such tragedies with remarkable compassion and understanding, addressed some of those who choose to remain silent. One of the people he addressed responded. Because this person who otherwise remained silent about this vast calamity is an individual of superior character, of rare and sensitive refinement, it was out of the question for him to acknowledge that he was responding to Floyd, who is merely a human being who gives a damn. No, he responded to the world at large, and he responded only because he had been criticized. For liberals and progressives in the Age of Obama, to be criticized -- for someone to dare to point to them and accuse them of failure -- is the ultimate horror. Never mind the children whose guts have been ripped out, the lives that have been destroyed forever, the survivors who may never again know what it is to be happy. None of that matters in the least. But to accuse a progressive of failing to speak out on an issue of immense significance, when speaking out on every other issue is what they do all the time, every day ... that is intolerable.

And Floyd responded to the response. The progressive who responded to Floyd, this man of such exquisite sensitivity, offered three "reasons" for his silence. Reading similar explanations reveals that these "reasons" are those of many others who have so remarkably been deprived of speech, but only at this particular moment. Floyd summarized those three reasons, with full accuracy, as follows: "We are scared." "We are childish." "We are helpless."

Now that is truly remarkable. I emphasize again that these reasons are the ones this superbly refined progressive actually offered. If you are an adult, and here I mean if you are over the age of approximately 14, if you regularly engage in political discussion, and if you respect yourself to any extent at all, would you proclaim to the entire world that you act as you do because you are scared, childish and helpless? But then, I described such people as "hideous deformities of the human mind and spirit." I wasn't kidding, and I wasn't exaggerating. This is a human being determined to eradicate every vestige of his own humanity. In that endeavor, he is successful to an altogether astonishing degree.

To take just the first of the reasons offered for silence on this subject, consider what these progressives are so afraid of. They're afraid that some people might say mean things about them. It is almost impossible for a healthy human being to make real to himself the inner state of someone for whom this is a determinative matter. Most of us realize by the time we're five that life is hard. Bad things happen. People say mean things about us, and about many others, all the time. It's part of living. I say to David Atkins (for that is the blob's name) and all others of the same kind: You should be eternally ashamed for allowing yourselves to become such mewling, itty-bitty pissants. They probably think that's mean. It is also true.

Let us take a needed respite from this consideration of such miserable examples of arrested, self-eradicated humanity. In place of this minor exhibit of what would be unimaginable deformities in a saner, healthier world, I offer you an example of a human being who realized his own capacity for greatness, for resistance, and for honor in a manner that is deeply inspirational. We need to remember such people in the battles we face today, and those we will face tomorrow.

As you read the following, keep in mind the nature of the battle he fought, and the kind of opposition he provoked. People who claim to be "politically engaged" today worry about the possibility that others might say mean things about them; they worry so much that they say nothing at all, thus doing their part to ensure the triumph of death and destruction, and the triumph of evil. This man was vilified throughout the United States; he was denounced as a traitor. For a while, it appeared that he might be expelled from the Senate.

It happened at the moment the United States stood ready to take the momentous, tragic step that would change the course of the twentieth century. It was a step that was entirely unnecessary: the entrance of the United States into World War I. The entrance of the U.S. into that conflict set off a calamitous series of events, the effects of which stretch into our lives today. It prolonged the war, it helped lead to the Russian Revolution and the formation of Soviet Russia, and the peace that followed led to the rise of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. If the United States had chosen to stay out of The Great War, our history would have been different in countless ways. Tens of millions of deaths might have been avoided altogether. (See "The Folly of Intervention" for more on this.)

Robert La Follette saw what many of the consequences would be. He knew that to remain silent was impossible, at least impossible for him. He knew he had to oppose Wilson's drive to war with every ounce of strength he possessed. And that is precisely what he did:
By the time he was elevated to the U.S. Senate in 1906, La Follette was already a national figure. He soon emerged as a leader of the Senate's burgeoning progressive camp and by 1912 was a serious contender for the Republican Party's Presidential nomination. The fight for the nomination exposed divisions within the progressive camp, however, as La Follette's more radical followers battled supporters of a more centrist reformer who also claimed the progressive mantle: former President Teddy Roosevelt.

The Roosevelt/La Follette split grew more pronounced five years later, as the nation prepared to enter World War I. While Roosevelt urged U.S. participation in the war--the position supported by the nation's political establishment--La Follette emerged as the leading foe of a war he described as a scheme to line the pockets of the corporations he had fought so bitterly as a governor and Senator.

La Follette personally held up the declaration of war for twenty-four hours by refusing unanimous consent to Senate resolutions. From the Senate floor, La Follette argued: "We should not seek [to] inflame the mind of our people by half truths into the frenzy of war." He painted the impending conflict as a war that would benefit the wealthy of the world but not the workers, who would have to fight it. And he warned: "The poor . . . who are always the ones called upon to rot in the trenches have no organized power. . . . But oh, Mr. President, at some time they will be heard. . . . There will come an awakening. They will have their day, and they will be heard."

Those words sounded treasonous to some, and La Follette's constant efforts to expose war profiteers only heightened the attacks upon him. He was targeted for censure by the Senate, portrayed in Life magazine as a stooge of the German Kaiser, and denounced by virtually the entire media establishment of the nation--including the Boston Evening Transcript, which announced, "Henceforth he is the Man without a Country."

As mounting domestic oppression sent more and more anti-war activists to jail, La Follette emerged as their defender, berating his colleagues with the charge that "Never in all my many years' experience in the House and in the Senate have I heard so much democracy preached and so little practiced as during the last few months."

His critics declared that La Follette would never again be a viable contender for public office.
The Espionage Act, signed by the President on June 15, made it a crime to say anything that would discourage enlistment in the armed forces and also set penalties for those who disclosed information on ship movements or other actions affecting mobilization. Senator La Follette of Wisconsin, one of the six Senators who voted against the war resolution, also opposed the draft and argued that wealthy individuals and corporations should pay the costs of a war that he contended was mainly for their benefit. Pro-war newspapers and groups supported resolutions introduced in the Senate to expel him for treason, but La Follette eloquently defended the right to dissent in a famous speech delivered on the Senate floor in October.
La Follette lost the battle, as he certainly knew he would, but he fought gloriously. We can only marvel at the profound courage and dedication he displayed, as he fought for what he knew to be right. And history tragically proved that he was right, in every respect.

Many claimed that La Follette's actions meant that he would never again be reelected. He had many reasons to conclude that he was choosing to end his career in politics. He fought the battle anyway.

And those who attacked La Follette without mercy, who vilified him as a traitor, who sought to destroy him utterly and completely, were as wrong as they could be:
ON March 25, 1921, at the age of sixty-five, Robert M. La Follette Sr. took the greatest risk of his long political career. Four years after he chose to lead the Congressional opposition to World War I, La Follette was still condemned in Washington and in his native state of Wisconsin as a traitor or--at best--an old man whose political instincts had finally failed him. But La Follette was not ready to surrender the U.S. Senate seat he had held since leaving Wisconsin's governorship in 1906. He wanted to return to Washington to do battle once more against what he perceived to be the twin evils of the still young century: corporate monopoly at home and imperialism abroad.

The reelection campaign that loomed just a year off would be difficult, he was told, perhaps even impossible. Old alliances had been strained by La Follette's lonely refusal to join in the war cries of 1917 and 1918. To rebuild them, the Senator's aides warned, he would have to abandon his continued calls for investigations of war profiteers and his passionate defense of socialist Eugene Victor Debs and others who had been jailed in the postwar Red Scare.

The place to backpedal, La Follette was told, would be in a speech before the crowded Wisconsin Assembly chamber in Madison. Moments before the white-haired Senator climbed to the podium on that cold March day, he was warned one last time by his aides to deliver a moderate address, to apply balm to the still-open wounds of the previous years, and, above all, to avoid mention of the war and his opposition to it.

La Follette began his speech with the formalities of the day, acknowledging old supporters and recognizing that this was a pivotal moment for him politically. Then, suddenly, La Follette pounded the lectern. "I am going to be a candidate for reelection to the United States Senate," he declared, as the room shook with the thunder of a mighty orator reaching full force. Stretching a clenched fist into the air, La Follette bellowed: "I do not want the vote of a single citizen under any misapprehension of where I stand: I would not change my record on the war for that of any man, living or dead."

The crowd sat in stunned silence for a moment before erupting into thunderous applause. Even his critics could not resist the courage of the man; indeed, one of his bitterest foes stood at the back of the hall, with tears running down his cheeks, and told a reporter: "I hate the son of a bitch. But, my God, what guts he's got."

This was the La Follette that his friend Emma Goldman referred to lovingly as "the finest, most inconsistent anarchist" of his time. This was the man so fierce in his convictions that he would risk consignment to political oblivion rather than abandon an unpopular position. The antithesis of the elected officials whose compromises characterize our contemporary condition, La Follette genuinely believed that the inheritors of America's revolutionary tradition would, if given the truth, opt not for moderation but for the most radical of solutions.
What happened in that election? This is what happened:
La Follette won reelection with more than 70 percent of the vote in Wisconsin. And two years later, he earned one out of every six votes cast for the Presidency of the United States.
Let it also be noted that in 2000, long after this particular battle had ended, La Follette was recognized as one of the seven greatest senators in American history by a U.S. Senate resolution.

As I said in a post from years ago about this great man: "La Follette died in 1925. Nonetheless, I'm certain the belated recognition was a great comfort to him, after having been so unjustly vilified while he lived."

You will take those lessons from this true story that you think appropriate. For me, Robert La Follette is the blazing embodiment of what is possible. He demonstrated throughout his public life the grandeur and courage that can be reached when we fight for what we know to be true, for what is right. This is "the honor of being human" in the highest and best sense.

Especially when we understand the supreme value of a single life, we must try to fight the way La Follette did. We will certainly fail sometimes, and we may fail completely. The forces arrayed against us may be too powerful for us to overcome. We still must try. And in that effort, a man like La Follette shows us what we can do, if only we have the courage.

Always remember: in ways we may never know, through the complex interactions of many factors and countless people we may affect only indirectly and through complicated and circuitous routes, we may help to save the life of even one brutalized woman, or one oppressed man, or a single terrified child. Isn't that possibility, however remote it may seem to us in this moment, worth the battle? I think it is. I think it must be.

Many people may call you a son of a bitch, and much worse. So I say: when you fight for that one life, be a son of a bitch. Be the most glorious son of a bitch you can.

November 19, 2012

Toward the World Where "Everything Is Possible," and About the Honor of Being Human

[M]en determined to commit crimes will find it expedient to organize them on the vastest, most improbable scale. Not only because this renders all punishments provided by the legal system inadequate and absurd; but because the very immensity of the crimes guarantees that the murderers who proclaim their innocence with all manner of lies will be more readily believed than the victims who tell the truth. The Nazis did not even consider it necessary to keep this discovery to themselves. Hitler circulated millions of copies of his book in which he stated that to be successful, a lie must be enormous—which did not prevent people from believing him as, similarly, the Nazis' proclamations, repeated ad nauseam, that the Jews would be exterminated like bedbugs (i.e., with poison gas), prevented anybody from not believing them. There is a great temptation to explain away the intrinsically incredible by means of liberal rationalizations. In each one of us, there lurks such a liberal, wheedling us with the voice of common sense. The road to totalitarian domination leads through many intermediate stages for which we can find numerous analogies and precedents.


Many things that nowadays have become the specialty of totalitarian government are only too well known from the study of history. There have almost always been wars of aggression; the massacre of hostile populations after a victory went unchecked until the Romans mitigated it by introducing the parcere subjectis; through centuries the extermination of native peoples went hand in hand with the colonization of the Americas, Australia and Africa; slavery is one of the oldest institutions of mankind and all empires of antiquity were based on the labor of state-owned slaves who erected their public buildings. Not even concentration camps are an invention of totalitarian movements. They emerge for the first time during the Boer War, at the beginning of the century, and continued to be used in South Africa as well as India for "undesirable elements"; here, too, we first find the term "protective custody" which was later adopted by the Third Reich. These camps correspond in many respects to the concentration camps at the beginning of totalitarian rule; they were used for "suspects" whose offenses could not be proved and who could not be sentenced by ordinary process of law. All this clearly points to totalitarian methods of domination; all these are elements they utilize, develop and crystallize on the basis of the nihilistic principle that "everything is permitted," which they inherited and already take for granted.

But wherever these new forms of domination assume their authentically totalitarian structure they transcend this principle, which is still tied to the utilitarian motives and self-interest of the rulers, and try their hand in a realm that up to now has been completely unknown to us: the realm where "everything is possible." And, characteristically enough, this is precisely the realm that cannot be limited by either utilitarian motives or self-interest, regardless of the latter's content. What runs counter to common sense is not the nihilistic principle that "everything is permitted," which was already contained in the nineteenth-century utilitarian conception of common sense.

What common sense and "normal people" refuse to believe is that everything is possible. We attempt to understand elements in present or recollected experience that simply surpass our powers of understanding. We attempt to classify as criminal a thing which, as we all feel, no such category was ever intended to cover. What meaning has the concept of murder when we are confronted with the mass production of corpses? We attempt to understand the behavior of concentration-camp inmates and SS-men psychologically, when the very thing that must be realized is that the psyche can be destroyed even without the destruction of the physical man; that, indeed, psyche, character, and individuality seem under certain circumstances to express themselves only through the rapidity or slowness with which they disintegrate. The end result in any case is inanimate men, i.e., men who can no longer be psychologically understood, whose return to the psychologically or otherwise intelligibly human world closely resembles the resurrection of Lazarus.
Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism: Part Three of The Origins of Totalitarianism (footnotes omitted)

I offer this excerpt from Arendt's monumental work for two reasons. The first, narrower reason is my recognition that most people will reject, and frequently find objectionable in the extreme, my characterization of Gaza as a concentration camp. In most significant part, this is undoubtedly because most people associate concentration camps with the horrors of the Nazi regime. While that may be (understandably) the first association that comes to mind, the Nazi concentration camps hardly exhaust the historic or analytic meaning and significance of the term. Arendt provides an admirably succinct summary of the phenomenon in recent history. Certainly, the idea of a confined space (regardless of size) for the detainment of "undesirable elements" applies to Gaza; those who are confined in Gaza and may leave (and reenter, should they wish) only by permission, are "undesirable" in the eyes of those who so confine them.

A closely related application of the term is one that many people also resist: the idea of holding "suspects" when, as Arendt notes, their "offenses could not be proved and who could not be sentenced by ordinary process of law," directly implicates the U.S. prison at Guantanamo, as well as all the other sites (known and unknown) where the U.S. government imprisons people outside the "process of law" altogether. Understanding the term "concentration camps" in this manner -- which is fully supported by both history and the plain, uncontroverted meaning of words -- leads to the conclusion that the United States government maintains concentration camps, and has done so for years. Moreover, there are further examples in U.S. history: the Japanese internment camps during World War II, and "reservations" for Native Americans, and there are still more. To make statements of this kind is not to engage in polemics only for effect or rhetorical tricks: the words designate a particular phenomenon. This is what the words mean; this is what Israel does in Gaza, this is what the U.S. does today and has done in the past. Nonetheless, as Arendt states, "the murderers who proclaim their innocence with all manner of lies will be more readily believed than the victims who tell the truth." This, too, is a profound tragedy repeated throughout history, including our own.

The second, broader reason for the excerpt concerns Arendt's discussion of the destruction of the human psyche, the destruction of the essence of what it means to be human at all. This is an issue to which I shall soon return.

I continue to raise these subjects because of what is perhaps my overriding, most urgent concern at the moment. I discussed it in "Against Voting" at length, and it comes up in other recent essays in different ways. My concern is the one that Arendt addresses over and over: the desperate need to withdraw one's support in every way possible from a system which is primarily devoted to suffering, destruction and death. This was the very point that so concerned the German engineer who failed to withdraw his support from the Nazi regime, when it was still possible to do so and when such withdrawal might have altered the course of events. I set out the details in the third part of "Accomplices to Murder." I titled that last section "The Lesson of History." It is the lesson most people refuse to learn.

The engineer's argument was not that his refusal alone would have changed anything, when it obviously would not have. His argument was a very different one:
"There I was, in 1935, a perfect example of the kind of person who, with all his advantages in birth, in education, and in position, rules (or might easily rule) in any country. If I had refused to take the oath in 1935, it would have meant that thousands and thousands like me, all over Germany, were refusing to take it. Their refusal would have heartened millions. Thus the regime would have been overthrown, or, indeed, would never have come to power in the first place. The fact that I was not prepared to resist, in 1935, meant that all the thousands, hundreds of thousands, like me in Germany were also unprepared, and each one of these hundreds of thousands was, like me, a man of great influence or of great potential influence. Thus the world was lost."

"You are serious?" I said.

"Completely," he said. "These hundred lives I saved--or a thousand or ten as you will--what do they represent? A little something out of the whole terrible evil, when, if my faith had been strong enough in 1935, I could have prevented the whole evil."
So here we are in America today -- ruled by a government which tells us many, many times, that it has the "right" to murder any innocent human being anywhere in the world, whenever it wishes -- and most people will not believe that the declaration of evil is precisely that: a declaration of evil. The lie is so "vast" and "improbable" that people will not permit themselves to grasp it: "the murderers who proclaim their innocence with all manner of lies will be more readily believed than the victims who tell the truth."

And most Americans are like the German engineer and all the other hundreds of thousands in Germany in 1935. Hundreds of thousands of Americans, tens of millions of Americans are "not prepared to resist," they are "unprepared." So those who are devoted to evil, who proclaim their dedication to evil every day, continue with their plans, and evil continually expands its reach.

The failure to withdraw to the fullest extent one can means that one continues to support a system that murders, that unleashes destruction around the globe, that causes limitless suffering and pain. In this way, the world may well be lost once more.

I do not contend that withdrawing one's support is easy. It is never easy under any circumstances, and the costs of many kinds and in many forms may be enormous. In individual cases, the costs may ultimately include the greatest one of all. But if we recognize the stakes involved, if we understand the nature of the system we are supporting, we at least should ask ourselves, especially whenever we are tempted to think, "But what can I do? I don't have a choice, not in any meaningful way" -- especially at those moments, we should ask ourselves: But is that true? Do I need to vote at all? What is the meaning of the act of voting itself, particularly in the system as it exists today? Should I pay taxes? Should I work for this corporation, or that branch of the government?

We should ask ourselves these questions and many related ones. We should ask them all the time. Before we can resist, we must be aware. The purpose of such questions is to know and understand the full meaning of our own choices and actions. This is what Arendt means by "the honor of being human":
Hence the question addressed to those who participated and obeyed orders should never be, "Why did you obey?" but "Why did you support?" This change of words is no semantic irrelevancy for those who know the strange and powerful influence mere "words" have over the minds of men who, first of all, are speaking animals. Much would be gained if we could eliminate this pernicious word "obedience" from our vocabulary of moral and political thought. If we think these matters through, we might regain some measure of self-confidence and even pride, that is, regain what former times called the dignity or the honor of man: not perhaps of mankind but of the status of being human.
With regard to these issues, perhaps the worst fate of all would be to realize one day that the world has been tragically lost still another time, with all the attendant, immeasurable, endless pain and suffering -- and not to understand how it happened.

November 18, 2012

The Infinite Human Capacity to Deny the Obvious

I'm working on some new articles concerning aspects of U.S. foreign and domestic policy that I haven't addressed in detail before. In the course of that work, I looked over a few earlier essays. I was curious about whether and to what extent I'd discussed certain analytic points. Since I've been at this for over ten years, I've written a lot, and I sometimes can't recall specific earlier arguments with great particularity. (There are also occasions when I discover posts I'd completely forgotten, usually when a reader has twigged to them for some reason.)

Especially after our last episode of national nausea, more commonly described as a presidential election, and even more especially because we've been regaled with endless tales of the unfathomable evil of Republicans -- which is unquestionably and irrevocably worse than anything the Democrats could possibly do, and this despite the fact that Democrats do everything Republicans have ever done, but a few years later and with better public relations -- I was quite struck by the following passages. I probably should note that Democrats frequently do more than Republicans have ever done, and worse. That's the great utility of effective PR, and of using front men (and women) who appear to be "good," "attractive" and "intelligent"; usually, the liberals and progressives who continue to peddle the "lesser evil" lie will forbear to add, "good, attractive and intelligent like us," but we all know that's what they mean, don't we? Yes, we do, if we're honest.

First, there's this:
[M]ost Democrats and their dedicated partisans (and I regretfully include almost all liberal-progressive bloggers in this category) remain absolute in their determined refusal to see the continuity of our foreign policy, from the annexation of Hawaii, through the Spanish-American War and the occupation of the Philippines, through Woodrow Wilson and the Open Door doctrine of global hegemony, to global interventionism, and all the other issues I've discussed in my "Dominion Over the World" series.

The Democrats don't object and they completely fail to mount serious opposition to our inevitable course toward widening war and an attack on Iran, not because they are cowards, not because they're afraid of being portrayed as "weak" in the fight against terrorism, and not because of any of the other excuses that are regularly offered by their defenders. They don't object because -- they don't object. That is: they agree -- they agree that the United States is the "indispensable" nation, that we have the "right" to tell every other country how it is "permitted" to act, that we must pursue a policy of aggressive interventionism supported by an empire of military bases. They agree about all of it; moreover, in most critical respects, they devised these policies in the first instance, and they implemented and defended them more vigorously and more consistently than Republicans, with the exception of the criminal now residing in the White House.

They agree. Try to wrap your head around it. Try to absorb the indisputable fact, which has been proven over and over and over again in the last century, and particularly in the last 60 years.
That's from "The Worsening Nightmare," published in August 2007.

Since I wrote that, a number of people have finally recognized the truth of these observations. Better late than never, I suppose. But the same cannot be said about the following. Even many of those who now strongly criticize the Democrats for the identical reasons they have long criticized Republicans (even many "dissenters") still profess bafflement about what is, in fact, a derivative point which necessarily follows from the preceding argument.

Here's the second passage, from a different article. After excerpting an enormously valuable article by Robert Higgs, I wrote:
This is the general policy that Obama continues, and that he will continue into the foreseeable future. He made his intentions clear from the beginning of his campaign, and nothing has changed. Nor will it, certainly not insofar as Obama is concerned:
Any individual who rises to the national political level is, of necessity and by definition, committed to the authoritarian-corporatist state. The current system will not allow anyone to be elected from either of the two major parties who is determined to dismantle even one part of that system.
So all of the feigned bafflement and incessant caterwauling about the supposedly indecipherable actions of the United States -- Why, oh why, did we invade Iraq?, and Why, dear God, are we in Afghanistan? -- represent only the capitulation of the purported critics to precisely those arguments U.S. leaders hope you will engage. They want you to spend all your time on those arguments, because they're only marketing ploys having nothing at all to do with their actual goals. As I said the other day, if you want to stop this murderous madness -- and I dearly hope you do -- forget about what they say their goals are (fostering "democratic" governments, “regional stability,” “security,” and all the associated claptrap), and focus on the real problem: the carefully chosen policy of U.S. geopolitical dominance over the entire globe. On the day Obama announces the scheduled closure of at least one-third of the U.S.'s worldwide empire of bases, I'll believe he's serious about altering any of this, and not a moment before. He never will, and you know he won't. (I myself would prefer the closure within three to six months of three-quarters of them at a minimum. But contrary to some of my critics, I actually do reside in this world, and not the one I would prefer.)

Higgs' argument and those I consistently make explain the U.S. presence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in countless other places around the world.
That's from an article published in October 2009.

Three years later, I continue to see writers wailing about the fact that no one has ever provided an explanation for the U.S. presence in Afghanistan; I've even seen this criticism offered by "dissenters" I had once thought more perceptive and intelligent about questions of this kind. The simple, incontrovertible fact is that the ruling class has announced over and over and over again what their actual aims are. The information is freely available and has been for many decades; just follow some of the links provided in the above excerpts to see the evidence. And that's only a small part of the available evidence; to provide anything close to a full account would require volumes, and thick ones at that. Most people refuse to credit those statements, because they find them far too upsetting. So they accept the "softer" part of the public explanation and treat it as the totality of the argument (even as they grant that the "softer" explanation fails to explain the policy in question).

The second excerpt in particular ties into another theme I'm developing at the moment. I began the discussion here, and I'll continue it in the next installment of that series. I said that the next article on that subject would be titled: "Believing the Lie." That's the problem: the lie is omnipresent, and it affects almost every political argument we attempt to analyze. But a great many people continue to believe the lie, and to believe what politicians say their goals are, as opposed to what their actions consistently reveal.

The willingness to believe voices of "authority," the enthusiasm for believing the "softer" part of the public fiction and disregarding those elements that might profoundly disturb us, affects nearly everyone; it certainly affected me very strongly in various ways long after I had become an adult. But at this late date, it surely should not be controversial to acknowledge that political leaders lie, and that they lie all the time. But the full implications of that fact still escape many people.

Before I leave you for the moment, there is one more point to be made. From one perspective, it is the most important point of all. We must always remember what I call The Higgs Principle. This was identified by the same Robert Higgs mentioned above, and I consider it indispensable to understanding political events. Tragically, this excerpt has special relevance given what now unfolds again in Gaza. But the great value in Higgs' identification is its broader meaning. This applies to any public policy you care to consider; it applies to U.S. foreign policy in spades, across the board. This is what Higgs said:
As a general rule for understanding public policies, I insist that there are no persistent "failed" policies. Policies that do not achieve their desired outcomes for the actual powers-that-be are quickly changed. If you want to know why the U.S. policies have been what they have been for the past sixty years, you need only comply with that invaluable rule of inquiry in politics: follow the money.

When you do so, I believe you will find U.S. policies in the Middle East to have been wildly successful, so successful that the gains they have produced for the movers and shakers in the petrochemical, financial, and weapons industries (which is approximately to say, for those who have the greatest influence in determining U.S. foreign policies) must surely be counted in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

So U.S. soldiers get killed, so Palestinians get insulted, robbed, and confined to a set of squalid concentration areas, so the "peace process" never gets far from square one, etc., etc. – none of this makes the policies failures; these things are all surface froth, costs not borne by the policy makers themselves but by the cannon-fodder masses, the bovine taxpayers at large, and foreigners who count for nothing.
I've been quoting this Higgs passage since at least September 2007.

And with that ... to be continued.

November 17, 2012

The World as Slaughterhouse

Thank God we're all so damned "civilized":
Israel bombarded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with nearly 200 airstrikes early Saturday, the military said, widening a blistering assault on Gaza rocket operations to include the prime minister's headquarters, a police compound and a vast network of smuggling tunnels. ...

A massive explosion rocked the Gaza City soccer stadium this morning and speculation was that the target was a rocket launching site. The Israeli bombing campaign expanded into other areas and included the government infrastructure. The cabinet headquarters was flattened.

There were reports of civilians among the casualties. At least half of the Palestinians killed in the conflict so far have been civilians, including at least eight children and a pregnant woman.
Dead children are now a commonplace of the ceaseless death campaigns conducted by the United States and Israel. That alone reveals a great deal, more than anyone decent cares to know, about the nature of the "civilization" involved. But ... a pregnant woman. That's a new and creative touch. Does someone in Israel get extra points for that? A special medal for extraordinary heroism? I suspect so.

As to the "blistering assault" on "a vast network of smuggling tunnels," see my earlier post about the critical significance of those tunnels to Gaza's economy, and to the Gazans' ability to survive in anything close to a recognizably human mode of existence. Israel appears determined to deliver the "knockout blow" that I discussed.

The story also has this:
President Obama spoke with Israeli leaders on Friday night reiterating Israel has a right to defend itself.
Israel's "right to defend itself" -- to defend itself from what exactly? The prisoners of a concentration camp? This is reality and morality turned upside down and inside out. This is the reality and morality of a serial murderer, who ceaselessly and repeatedly kills innocent human beings and who is proud of what he does.

But, Arthur, some people object, why do you call it a concentration camp? Why do you exaggerate in this ridiculous way, thus destroying your own credibility? As I explained, the central question is: under what conditions are the inhabitants of Gaza permitted to live? As I also explained, the logical and inevitable final result of Israel's policy is the deaths of roughly a million and a half Gazans. From that perspective, I could have described Gaza, with complete justification, as an extermination camp. That is exactly what Israel, with the fervent, enthusiastic support of the U.S. government and the Obama administration, seems intent on turning Gaza into.

These events bring back to me, with a horror that is overwhelming, a passage I wrote almost four years ago:
The general pattern described above, and more particularly the devastation visited on Gaza, remind me of an especially harrowing sequence from a fine film, Hud. The story concerns a cattle rancher and his family. It is discovered that some of the cattle have contracted hoof and mouth disease. To prevent the spread of the disease, and because he can think of no other means to control it, the head of the family decides that all the cattle must be destroyed.

A large pit is dug, deep enough to prevent the cattle from getting out. The cattle are driven into the pit, with all means of escape closed off. The men stand around the edges of the pit, and they lift their rifles. They begin to shoot -- and they shoot, and shoot, and shoot, and shoot.

Finally, after endless, terrifying minutes, all the cattle are dead.

Cattle, the inhabitants of Gaza ... what's the difference? They're all animals and subhumans, diseased or possibly diseased, incapable of being saved, beyond redemption. Kill them all.
As deeply terrifying as this is, it is not the end of the horror. If anything, it is only the beginning of a large scale death campaign for the new century. I described that in the concluding section of this essay.

Gaza sets the pattern; expect to see it repeated in the years and decades to come. And most people still refuse to see what is happening.

More and more areas of the world will be turned into a charnel house. It happened twice in the twentieth century on an ungraspable scale, and it occurred many additional times in a more limited manner, which was no less horrifying for the victims. It seems the only lessons we learned from all these catastrophes are how to do it more efficiently and effectively, and with less resistance from the world at large. The victims change; the pattern does not. So for us at this moment in history, the slogan is not, "Never again!" The slogan is: "Always again!"

And again. And again. And again. Until time runs out.

November 15, 2012

Let Us Now Speak Plainly

The most striking and significant quality of our national conversation "is one of overwhelming, oppressive and suffocating unreality. It is as if everyone knows, but will never acknowledge, that we may speak only in code, and that we may only utilize the safe, empty phrases that we have agreed are 'acceptable' -- phrases and language that are safe precisely because they have been drained of all correspondence to facts. It is as if everyone realizes, but will never state, that we are engaged in an elaborate charade, a pageant of gesture and indication, where substance and specific meaning have been banned. ... [T]he truth is not merely unpleasant, an uninvited guest who makes conversation difficult and awkward. Truth is the enemy; truth is to be destroyed."

Gaza is a concentration camp. It is not like a concentration camp. It is not a metaphorical or figurative concentration camp. It is a concentration camp. Our culture, our political leaders, and the cacophony of voices in the media have all agreed that this truth must never be spoken. If one wanted to be momentarily charitable about people's absolute refusal to recognize the obvious, one might argue that a land area of approximately 140 square miles, containing a population of roughly 1.7 million people, could not possibly be a concentration camp. But size and the number of prisoners are not the distinguishing characteristics of a concentration camp. The most essential characteristic of a concentration camp is what is permitted, and what is not. Only one question matters: Under what conditions are the people within its borders permitted to live?

Israel controls most of Gaza's land borders, just as Israel controls the air space above it and the waters that border Gaza on the west. The sole exception is the small border with Egypt, and Israel subjects that border to attacks whenever it chooses. In essence, nothing is permitted in or out of Gaza without Israel's permission. When Israel imposes severe restrictions on what and who is allowed to enter and leave Gaza, the consequences are catastrophic, as Uri Avnery explained a few years ago:
The blockade on land, on sea and in the air against a million and a half human beings is an act of war, as much as any dropping of bombs or launching of rockets. It paralyzes life in the Gaza Strip: eliminating most sources of employment, pushing hundreds of thousands to the brink of starvation, stopping most hospitals from functioning, disrupting the supply of electricity and water.
Israel imposes conditions on Gaza and its inhabitants that necessarily result in a slow, long, lingering death. Unjustified but quick murder, murder which occurs in an instant, is a terrible crime. How are we to describe the crime that sentences a huge number of people to death, but does so in a manner that ensures the unendurable pain will last for years, that pain and deprivation can never be forgotten, that agony becomes the increasingly overwhelming component of a human being's existence?

I speak here of the necessary, inevitable final consequence of the policy Israel has chosen with deliberation and great care. Yes, people in Gaza still go about their lives to the extent they can. They still enjoy the company of family and friends; they continue to celebrate birthdays and holidays. They seize those rare, precious moments of happiness that circumstances allow. That they have moments of reprieve from the horror that ultimately awaits them does not make the horror imposed on them better. It makes it worse, infinitely, unimaginably worse. Israel's policy is that of a monstrous sadist, a sadist who finds hideous pleasure in subjecting its victims to pain that lasts a lifetime.

We are forbidden to say this.

Because we may never say this, some of those determined to remain in a state of almost perfect ignorance will be heard to complain: "But surely nothing justifies the violence of the Palestinians themselves, or their firing rockets into Israel!" Gaza is a concentration camp. The inhabitants of Gaza act in defense of their lives, to the extent the hell to which they are condemned can be called "life" at all. That is: "When you leave people no choice but to engage in violence, they'll engage in violence." This, too, must never be acknowledged.

The torture that Israel inflicts on Gaza is of a rare, uncommon refinement; this is torture that is endlessly inventive, forever finding new ways of prolonging the suffering of its victims. Consider:
In 2010, Israel relaxed its economic siege following an international outcry over its deadly raid of a Turkish-flagged humanitarian flotilla, allowing Gazans to legally import more consumer goods. Hamas took the opportunity to transform the tunnels, which were previously used for only basic consumer goods, into a government-sanctioned trade route for raw construction materials and cheap Egyptian petrol, fueling the economic boom of 2011 and 2012.

The rapid, subterranean inflow through the tunnels spurred a bustling construction sector that accounted for 27 percent of job growth in the Gaza Strip in 2011, private sector groups say.

The economy improved so much that, according to a September poll released by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, just 9 percent of Palestinians believe the blockade on Gaza is the most serious problem facing Palestinian society today. ...

Devastated by the economic siege, during which 30 percent of Gaza’s businesses closed, the economy grew a staggering 20 percent in 2011, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Per capita gross domestic product also increased by 19 percent in 2011.

“The role the [Hamas] government is playing is a positive one. It facilitated the entrance of construction materials, and allowed them to be delivered at reasonable prices,” Nasser Al Helow, a Gazan business mogul with real estate investments and an import business, said in July.

“This affected unemployment and stimulated other economic sectors,” he said.
Live!, said Israel, at least a little bit, at least for a little while. As in the case of a man dying of thirst, the Gazans eagerly drank the water they so desperately needed. They fiercely seized the brief opportunity they were provided. They lived to the degree they could, and some conditions temporarily improved in significant ways.

But Gaza was still a concentration camp:
Since that initial boom, Egypt closed many of the commercial tunnels in reaction to a deadly militant attack on Egyptian soldiers near the Gaza border. The closures curbed some of the freewheeling economic activity.

Construction imports are now down 45 percent and food imports 30 percent, according to October data released by the Portland Trust, a private sector group in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Forty-four percent of Gazan refugees are still reliant on food aid, while 60 percent of households are either food-insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity, according to the United Nations Relief Works Agency.

This poverty is likely to deepen in the wake of the ongoing Israeli military offensive. Gaza is still closed to exports through Israeli crossings, which hampers efforts to build a full-fledged economy free from foreign aid.

But a surplus of raw materials already in Gaza because of the boom, an uptick in trade through the Israeli crossings and the ease with which fuel is transported through the tunnels — in thin hoses requiring little solid infrastructure — means the economy has not yet received a knockout blow, economists say.
That "knockout blow" is all too likely to be delivered in the near future.

It is close to impossible to describe sadism of this kind in the required terms. To subject a vast number of human beings to unimaginable suffering, then to hold out the brief promise of life and perhaps even a measurable degree of happiness -- only to snatch all of it away once more ... The scope of this particular evil seeks to protect itself from judgment and condemnation by making itself ungraspable to anyone who is still recognizably human.

As has happened every time before, the world watches -- and the world does nothing. More horrifying is the fact that the most powerful nation on earth, the United States, supports this evil and guarantees that it will not only continue, but very probably get still worse. Any individual who expected a different response from the United States in any respect at all has blinded himself to the nature of the United States generally, and to the significance of the Obama administration more particularly. For the Obama administration has engaged in a worldwide campaign of death for four years, and promises to continue the campaign into the indefinite future. And Obama and his fellow murderers repeatedly proclaim their "right" to murder any innocent human being wherever he may be in the world, for any reason they invent and even for no reason at all. A nation led by a group of serial murderers will hardly object to another country's program of sadism. That Israel's practice of sadism is so remarkably creative -- that it inflicts pain and suffering in an endless variety of ways, over a prolonged period of time -- is likely only to provoke envy on the part of Obama and his fellow murderers, and perhaps the thought that Israel might have some very useful ideas worthy of adoption.

This is evil of an unusual kind, evil that delights in its own cruelty, evil that seeks no end other than the satisfaction of watching its victims suffer for years on end, with a glimmer of hope offered now and then -- but solely for the purpose of making the suffering to come even more painful.

And there is no end in sight.