November 07, 2012

To Honor the Value of a Single Life: The First Murder

We live in a culture drenched with cruelty, violence and blood. From our earliest days as children, we are taught to hate those who are not like us. We learn that compassion and empathy are signs of weakness, and failings to be viewed with contempt. By the time we are adults, most people have internalized these lessons completely. They refuse even to question them. They will despise you, or simply ignore you, if you dare to challenge these beliefs.

We are also taught that the fundamental virtue is obedience to authority. Whatever else we may question -- and, in truth, there is no longer much at all that may be questioned -- the inherent goodness of the primary authority figures we are taught to revere is an absolute that we must accept. The authority figures we are told we must obey, if, that is, we wish to be civilized and decent, are our parents in the first instance; as we grow older, and when the roots of obedience are left to grow and strengthen, as they are in almost every case, the same mechanism encompasses additional authority figures: political leaders, and the military and police, are among the prime examples.

We will occasionally acknowledge, but only hesitantly and with great reluctance, that our honored authority figures make mistakes. But even when they make mistakes, we always insist that they "meant well," that they had "good intentions." Their inherent, axiomatic goodness may not be questioned.

You see the results of these patterns of thought and behavior in the world around you, a world of savage and increasing brutality, a world where murder is no longer even noticed or commented upon, a world soaked with blood.

Given the results of the election, there cannot be any doubt that all of this is about to get significantly worse. It may happen very quickly, or more slowly; there is no way to be certain at this point, for there are many factors in play. But it will certainly get much, much worse. This is a harsh and frightening truth, but it is not one that should surprise us. This is what the ruling class has intended for some time.

If there is to be any hope for us -- any hope for a future containing a measurable degree of peace and compassion -- we must remember one thing above all: we must remember the first murder. But we can't remember it, for we never allowed ourselves to understand its significance when it occurred.

I wrote the following over six years ago:
There is one final point to be made about all this -- and that has to do with the supreme value of a single human life. In our desensitized, dehumanized age, most people have almost no appreciation for what I'm talking about, and our political establishment and media only make this grievous failing worse. Each of us is unique; not one of us can be replaced. Each of us has a family, loved ones, friends and a life that is a web of caring, interdependence, and joy. When even one of us is killed or horribly injured for no justifiable reason, the damage affects countless people in addition to the primary victim. Sometimes, the survivors are irreparably damaged as well. Even the survivors' wounds can last a lifetime.

This is of the greatest significance. There is nothing more important or meaningful in the world. No moral principle legitimizes our invasion and occupation of Iraq, just as it will not justify an attack on Iran. Therefore, when the first person was killed in Iraq as the result of our actions, the immorality was complete. The crime had been committed, and no amends could ever suffice or would even be possible. That many additional tens or hundreds of thousands of people have subsequently been killed or injured does not add to the original immorality with regard to first principles. It increases its scope, which is an additional and terrible horror -- but the principle is not altered in the smallest degree.

So think of the five-year-old Iraqi girl who is no more, or think of any one of the countless other victims of this criminal war and occupation. Think of their families and friends. Think of the lives that have been altered forever, and of the wounds that will never heal. Think about all of that.

Contemplate the devastation and the horror. Make it real to yourself. And ask yourself if forgiveness is possible.
We refused to understand the significance of the first murder. We refused to acknowledge its immense horror -- and so the horror grew.

In the years since that murder, the United States government has murdered vast numbers of people in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Libya, in Somalia, in Yemen, and in still more countries. The murders go on today, they will continue tomorrow, they will stretch into a devastated and increasingly barren future, lit by the fires of desperation, with screams of agony as the accompaniment to the growing nightmare.

Here, we speak of the United States. When we consider the first murder, we must therefore acknowledge that it occurred as part of an immense campaign of death: the slaughter over several centuries of almost every single Native American. One death campaign on a scale that defies comprehension was not sufficient: a second campaign of slaughter and servitude was conducted against a huge slave population, and that too lasted for centuries. Thus, the first murder took place before the United States itself was formed: the country was born in murder, and the practice of murder has been its constant companion throughout its existence. (See this article, especially the second part, "Torture and the American Project": "when one considers the genocide of Native Americans and the centuries-long practice of slavery, one appreciates that systematized, institutional torture is as American as sickeningly rancid, fatally poisoned apple pie.")

Although systematic, deliberate murder on a vast scale -- murder of an ungraspable number of innocent victims -- is woven into the very fabric of America, we have managed to convince ourselves that it was "necessary" and "justified," that we represent "civilization" and have no choice but to eradicate those "barbarian," "subhuman" forces that threaten us. We have managed to avoid the fact that, with comparatively very rare exceptions, no threat has ever existed until we intentionally provoked it. We learned these strategies of avoidance and self-deception from the beginning; today, they are central to our national mythology, a mythology that is false in every significant respect. This system of lies now operates with staggering effectiveness, blanketing the country and most of its population in a fog of unreality.

One result is what we have seen in the months leading up to the election. Two of the nation's most prominent newspapers -- the New York Times and the Washington Post -- offered detailed stories about the State's Murder Program. The Program targets innocent human beings anywhere and everywhere in the world. The State claims that it can murder anyone it chooses, for any reason it wishes. The State also claims that it need not ever disclose the identities of those it chooses to kill, just as it need not reveal the reasons (if any) for issuance of a death sentence. In short: the State can do whatever it wants, and there isn't a damned thing anyone can do to stop it. The State took great care to make certain that the newspaper stories of which it was the primary author included the fact that the persons to be murdered can be American citizens, in addition to the now-familiar cast of dreaded, strange "others."

Except for a small number of commentators who objected to or questioned the legitimacy of the Murder Program, these stories -- prominently displayed in the most well-known of newspapers -- caused almost no reaction at all on the part of Americans. It was as if nothing of any significance had been said. Even those commentators who condemned the State's explicitly announced program of unrestricted, unbounded murder of anyone, anywhere, anytime, regarded the Murder Program as no reason at all to refuse to vote for Obama. The stories had repeatedly made clear, doubtless at the urgent prompting of the government officials who provided most of the information to the newspapers, that Obama was and is a key figure directing the Murder Program. But almost everyone who spoke of the Program, even those who condemned it, insisted that it was still entirely "legitimate" and "reasonable" to vote for him. (See the discussion in Part II of "Accomplices to Murder" for several examples.) Not to be outdone in supporting the American nightmare of death, Romney stated his full and enthusiastic support for the Murder Program.

And yesterday, approximately 120 million Americans voted for Obama and Romney -- and for the Murder Program.

It is certainly true that many Americans, including many of those who voted for Obama or Romney and many who didn't vote at all, aren't aware of the Murder Program. Is that supposed to be better? The State has taken great pains to make detailed information about the Murder Program available to the American public. The information is widely accessible and easy to find. Especially with regard to those who voted for Obama and Romney, is it better that they voted for president without having any idea of the monstrousness and horror they are thereby supporting? If anything, the willingness of so many to act without knowing what they are doing -- even when the systematic, daily murder of innocent human beings lies at the heart of what they are supporting -- makes it far worse. And you can be certain that many, probably most, of those Americans who don't know about the Murder Program would support it once they were told about it. Like almost all Americans, they have absorbed the entire intricate system of lies. They will tell themselves that the targets are only those who are terrorists, those who are "bad," those who threaten us. They have learned obedience to authority thoroughly, just as they have learned to idealize their major authority figures. The President and his fellow murderers have the best of intentions, they mean well, and they act "for our own good."

And thus we arrive here: the State and the ruling class have told all Americans, repeatedly and with great care, that they systematically, regularly and routinely murder innocent human beings, including American citizens. Except for a vanishingly small number of people, no one cares. No one cares about the unimaginable suffering, about the bodies torn apart, about the growing number of lives to be endured in unbearable pain. No one cares about the horror, the blood, and the agony.

The State and the ruling class were interested to know if anyone cared about these matters. They now have their answer: No. Almost no one cares. The full truth is still worse. To the extent they are aware of these horrors -- or easily could be aware of them, if only they chose to be -- most Americans support them.

It was important to the State and the ruling class to have this information -- because of what's coming. I wrote about this at length just over a year ago, largely because of the reaction to the riots in England in the summer of 2011. I titled the essay, "Caught Up in Nightmare." It grieves me to repeat this passage here, but I am convinced it is better to know what is likely to happen, if only to make such preparations as are possible. I wrote:
Although it is perilous to make such judgments as events continue to unfold, the evidence strongly compels the conclusion that we have entered the death spiral for the West's ruling class. The disfavored members of society have less and less economic resources of their own to be extracted, and fewer (and often non-existent) opportunities for improving them. Simultaneously (and inextricably connected to this point), the same disfavored members are increasingly unable to defend themselves in any area of their lives. The growing surveillance State watches over them day and night, privacy approaches the point of complete eradication, and the State continually adds to the weapons it uses to harass, intimidate, brutalize and imprison them. The State's methods of control are increasingly, brazenly explicit and crueler by the day.

As the society's resources continue to dwindle, the problem of the "surplus population" becomes more acute for the ruling class. The State now controls a population which is far larger than the ruling class finds useful for its purposes. What do States do in such situations? As much as we understandably resist stating the obvious conclusion, we would be well-advised to face it now: the State kills the especially disfavored parts of its population -- those who cannot work, those who are old and/or sick, those who produce nothing the ruling class finds of value.

If we broaden our perspective, and if we look beyond particular developments and attempt to grasp what is happening over a longer period of time, the nature of the horror that awaits us takes on a clearer shape: The West's ruling class is embarked on a program of killing and elimination. A general caution should be kept in mind. I'm not suggesting that this program is one that the ruling class has explicitly identified, even to itself, at least not necessarily. The ruling class is intent upon increasing its own power and wealth; in one sense, that is its only concern. I suppose, in some fantasy world, the ruling class would be content to enjoy its immense power and wealth while "ordinary" people pursue their own lives of contentment. This, of course, is the goal which the ruling class announces, and which it desperately tries to convince both itself and us is true.

But we don't live in that fantasy world. In this world -- and, I would argue, in any world where brute power is the final means of settling every dispute, especially when that power is consolidated in the State -- the ruling class seeks power and wealth by dominating and controlling the weaker segments of society. The ruling class may not set out to kill those people it finds unnecessary for its aims, but if the ruling class can maintain and increase its power and wealth only by eliminating them, it will eventually eliminate them. This is the logic of the ruling class's desires. It is certainly true that the ruling class could change much of this if it wished to: the productive capacity of both England and the United States could be reinvigorated, and much new wealth could be created and enjoyed by many more members of society. But the ruling class believes that would necessitate the diminishment of its power and wealth, so they will not consider the possibility seriously.

The ruling class dreamed a nightmare, and made it real. We are now caught up in it. For many of us -- certainly for me, and very possibly for you -- the end result is clear: the ruling class intends to kill us. Not today or tomorrow, the ruling class hasn't reached that point of desperation quite yet, but they'll kill us soon enough. We have no value to them; we're superfluous; we're not needed.
This is the meaning of this particular moment; this is the meaning of yesterday's election. At present, there is no opposition to this program of any significance.

We have steadfastly refused to acknowledge the meaning and the horror of the first murder. We thus rendered ourselves unable to resist all the subsequent murders. We never understood, we never honored the irreplaceable, supreme value of a single human life. And now the horror lies in wait for us.

As was true the last time I spoke of such things, I am overcome with grief. So I will stop here.

LATER: What is in effect an addendum to this essay, discussing a further critical aspect of my argument, will be found in the second half of this post.