January 08, 2013

Taking It Personally

It is very odd indeed that one truth about Barack Obama's presidency thus far is widely accepted by both the right and left (using those terms broadly, and as they are commonly used to describe American political affiliations). The truth I refer to is the fact that what had once been controversial policies when first implemented by George W. Bush -- indefinite detention without charges and warrantless, virtually unlimited surveillance, to name just two obvious examples -- have been continued by Obama, despite the fact that Obama as candidate sometimes protested against them. Most observers also agree that Obama has not only continued these policies, but normalized and institutionalized them (and sometimes expanded their reach), thus seeking to make them a permanent part of the State apparatus going into the future.

Since those on the right (with rare exceptions) supported these policies when Bush pursued them, they are relieved and happy that Obama has chosen this course. Such people can therefore be granted recognition for demonstrating consistency with regard to their professed beliefs. The same cannot be said for those on the left (again, with rare exceptions). They vehemently denounced the policies when a Republican adopted them; when Obama continued, institutionalized and occasionally expanded them, they rationalized his actions (always seeking to divest Obama of moral agency and responsibility in one way or another), or chose to remain silent. Those on the left continue this approach today. We can therefore say, speaking generally, that those on the right believe something -- that is, they believe that power should be used to pursue certain ends, and not others -- while those on the left believe in nothing but power, power for its own sake, power as an end in itself.

I've made this argument for many years. And even though one might be tempted to say that those on the right are marginally better, insofar as they believe in something beyond power for its own sake and thereby remain somewhat recognizably human, while those on the left who choose to engage in perpetual Obama apologetics have rendered themselves into formless, unthinking blobs of meaningless matter, I think that conclusion is an error. We cannot forget what those on the right believe -- and since what they believe requires the brutalization, suffering and death of innocent human beings, they are finally as thoroughly detestable as those on the left. Nonetheless, I think this observation from that long-ago post is also true: "But in a psychological sense, I probably would have to say the Democrats (and certain of their apologists) are worse: to say you recognize evil to any extent at all, yet to fail to oppose it or, which is still more reprehensible, to act for its furtherance, consigns one to the lowest rung of Hell."

Distinctions of this kind may be a subject of great interest (I myself find it fascinating), but we are speaking here of the potentials of human life, of the possibilities for joy and happiness, and of their destruction. At this juncture, both right and left are committed to the destruction of life, and of joy and happiness, and there is finally nothing to choose between them.

What is so extraordinarily peculiar about the widespread agreement on Obama's continuation and institutionalization of Bush's policies is that the attitude of agreement on this point is not agreement alone: it is acceptance. It is as if most commentators (and most Americans) have said: "All our leaders of every political persuasion support these policies. I guess that will be the way of the world for us now. And they are our leaders, after all. I suppose they know best." Even if a particular observer is unwilling to grant that "they know best," his attitude is likely to be: "Yes, it's terrible. It's ghastly. But what can we do?" Such an observer might content himself with tinkering around the edges while registering his protest, and he may vaguely hope that an alternative to the current system will somehow appear somewhere at an indeterminate future date, but his life will essentially go on as before. He will go to work, he will spend time with family and friends, he will faithfully pay his taxes and file his tax returns.

Yet some people choose a different path. Certain individuals -- Thoreau was one -- do not pay their taxes when they conclude that doing so would support an evil that they find absolutely unacceptable. Some people refuse to pay taxes, and their refusal sometimes stretches over decades. I regularly ask, "Why do you support?" I have asked that question for over five years. My query -- which, as I hope is obvious, encompasses much more than paying taxes -- is not an empty rhetorical exercise, at least it is not for me.

But I recognize that the costs of disobedience of this kind can be very high, sometimes prohibitively so. (I am very painfully and personally aware of this fact, and need no reminders of it.) Moreover, I am in full agreement with Thoreau's observation in Civil Disobedience that: "I came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad.” The ultimate purpose of any individual's life is to live it, not to reform the world. And honorable people may loathe their government and nonetheless choose to obey what they consider deeply unjust laws, because they know too well what the consequences of refusal might be -- and this is especially true when they fear the consequences not for themselves, but for their families and particularly for their children (for whom, of course, the adult is responsible until the children themselves are adults). Yet I will also offer this observation, one based on reading a great deal of political commentary over the last decade: to the extent one remains a participant in the affairs of the State, to the extent one complies with the State's requirements in their multitude of forms, to that extent one's criticisms of the State will necessarily be diluted and weakened. I would say that one's criticisms and one's dissent will necessarily be compromised, but that conveys a negative moral judgment which may not always be merited (although it frequently is). But actively supporting the State -- obeying the laws, paying taxes, etc. -- must certainly dilute and weaken one's criticisms. How could it possibly be otherwise?

If one views the State as vile, even evil, at its foundation and in many of its effects, one will recoil from any and all involvement in its activities, which is the conclusion Thoreau reached through the logic of his argument. A simple, stark example suffices to make the point: one does not effectively protest a gratuitous murder by proclaiming that the murder is unjustified and evil, while simultaneously handing the murderer the knife with which he will stab his victim to death. Even if you repeatedly say the State commits evil, your participation in its acts, however attenuated, means that you think the evil is one that can still be countenanced, that it can somehow be accommodated. If you did not think that, you would say, "No," and you would mean it.

A further aspect of the attitude of acceptance of the Bush-Obama policies should be noted. It is no accident that such acceptance is guided and shaped by those who themselves are for the most part (and often entirely) immune from the worst consequences. This is obviously true of political leaders (as well as members of the ruling class in general), who are secure in the knowledge that the laws they devise for others will rarely, if ever, be applied to them. And the same is true of "opinion leaders," in which category I include newspaper writers, television commentators and hosts, and the more prominent bloggers. There is an inverse correlation between such individuals' success within the existing system and the threat they represent to that system: the more successful they are, the less of a threat they constitute. Those who represent the least threat will be very successful; those who are a serious threat will be known to very few -- or, if they do become widely known, it will be as a person who is persecuted and/or imprisoned, as in the case of Bradley Manning. These observations also apply to those who style themselves "dissenters" (see here for a recent example, and here for an earlier one).

You can see a related category of these same dynamics in momentary controversies like the one that erupted over the genuinely offensive comments offered by an idiot who goes by the name Erik Loomis; some sensible commentary about that will be found here and here. Loomis is a made man in the current system; he will do very well (and far better than most) regardless of whether he keeps one particular job. This is not to say that he should be fired for making idiotic comments, the first amendment, blahblahblah (although why any university would want to hire such an idiot remains an open question, along with why anyone would wish to attend a university that does) -- but honestly, all the talk about eternal Constitutional verities with regard to Loomis is asinine and even obscene, when you consider the plight of Manning, as just one example. (And I confess that I have more than a sneaking suspicion that Loomis is most annoyed by the fact that he hasn't been fired. That book would have been a bestseller, and maybe even a movie. It still might be, just on the basis of his "persecution." Oy.) But the Loomis controversy, and all the similar controversies that arise with sickening regularity, demonstrate the perverse priorities of this moment: people scream and yell about supposedly horrifying threats to liberty and the sacred "American way of life" with regard to people who are in no danger at all -- when actual horrors go entirely unremarked and, still worse, when actual horrors are accepted.

This brings us to the greatest horror of all. It is not enough that Obama has continued, institutionalized and even broadened what so many people proclaimed to be unacceptable evils when adopted by Bush. America has proven steadfast in its determination to be "exceptional," so its lauded president has publicly proclaimed his assertion of absolute power -- and almost no one notices, and almost no one cares:
As I have written before: "the claim of a 'right' to dispense death arbitrarily -- the claim that the State may murder anyone it chooses, whenever it desires -- constitutes a separate category altogether, a category of which this particular claim is the sole unit. When death is unleashed, all possibility of action is ended forever." For this reason -- and it is the only reason required -- it is not "perfectly rational and reasonable" to decide that "the evils of their candidate [Obama] are outweighed by the evils of the GOP candidate."

There is no evil beyond the claimed "right" to murder by arbitrary edict, to murder anyone, anywhere, anytime. If you support this particular evil -- and if you vote for Obama, you support it -- then you will support anything.
As I explained in "Accomplices to Murder," all those who voted for Romney support evil in the same manner. In the last election, 120 million Americans voted for evil. This particular evil -- which is of necessity the greatest evil possible, since death forever precludes all other possibilities of every kind -- is fine with them. They accept it, and they support it. Most other Americans appear to have chosen to remain unaware of the State's assertion of absolute power and what it means. It is not that the information is unavailable to them, for the State proclaims its adoption of evil regularly in the nation's most prominent newspapers. Evil has arisen in the manner of a gargantuan statue in the largest public gathering place in America -- and almost all Americans walk by it every day, carefully averting their gaze, refusing to see the massive edifice that has been erected directly in front of their unseeing eyes.

Obama regularly and systematically orders the murders of innocent human beings -- human beings he knows to be innocent. The president of the United States is a serial murderer. The president of the United States boastfully proclaims his status as a serial murderer to all the world. This monumental fact -- and it is a fact, one which Obama and his fellow criminals repeat to us over and over, to make certain we hear it, even if we refuse to understand it -- matters only to a vanishingly small number of Americans.

This is the point where you and every person desperately needs to take it personally. This is not a charade or a carefree patriotic parade with colorful floats and banners, although that is exactly how almost every public voice speaks about it, if they bother to speak about it at all This is, all too literally, a matter of life and death. I made a similar point many years ago, when I was attempting yet again to reach those who refused to acknowledge the significance of Bush's policies:
To put the point the other way, which will hopefully penetrate the wall of resistance erected by so many people: the only reason you aren't in a concentration camp right now is because Bush hasn't decided to send you to one -- yet. But he claims he has the power to do so -- and there are almost no voices of any prominence to dispute the contention. What is even worse than the loss of liberty is the fact that most Americans aren't even aware that the loss has occurred.
We can now edit that passage, but only slightly, to bring us into accord with the precepts of the Glorious Age of Obama:
The only reason you aren't dead right now is because Obama hasn't decided to kill you -- yet. But he claims he has the power to do so -- and there are almost no voices of any prominence to dispute the contention.
You need to think of Obama ordering a drone strike on your wife or husband, or your lover, or your children -- or you. Imagine it in every detail. Then tell me how "accepting" you are of this monster. Then tell me how you justify having voted for him, if you did. As I indicated, the same is true for all those who voted for Romney, and for all those millions who think it doesn't matter.

I have highlighted these issues again for two reasons. First and most importantly, these are the matters of greatest significance for our present, as well as for our future, which is almost certain to be bleak and horrifying beyond anything we can now imagine. These are the matters that must always be kept in mind when analyzing and evaluating any and every political issue of national significance.

Second, as I indicated yesterday, I want to discuss the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense. Keeping in mind the full meaning of Obama's assertion of absolute power, that is, Obama's claim that he has the "right" to murder anyone he chooses, for any reason he wishes or invents, or merely because he feels like it, we must first restate the obvious: Hagel has been selected for this post by Obama. He has been nominated as Defense Secretary by a serial murderer, who regularly and systematically orders the murder of innocent human beings. Would you want to work for a serial murderer? If you hesitate for even a moment, please go away and don't ever come back. I have no idea why you're here in the first place. Any person of decency and integrity, any individual who possesses a minimal amount of human feeling and compassion would immediately refuse. It should be inconceivable for any remotely healthy human being to consider working for a serial murderer even for an instant.

And that leads to an equally obvious, closely related point: Hagel affirmatively wants the job. Hagel wants to work for a serial murderer -- and not only that, he wants to work for him in one of the most critical positions in the administration. As Secretary of Defense, he will take orders from a serial murderer.

He wants to do it. If you trust such a man, if you believe he may do "good" in some vague, unspecified way, if you think he may mitigate the evil which Obama has so enthusiastically embraced, you're a fool. I will not apologize for using the word "fool," for no other word will do. The situation would be vastly different if Hagel had offered even some halfhearted criticism of Obama's Murder Program, and of the loathsome "disposition matrix." I'm not aware of any such statements. To the contrary, Hagel believes and accepts every central principle guiding Obama's national defense policy, as we shall shortly see.*

But even before we examine Hagel's own stated beliefs, we can conclude that either of these already known facts is dispositive: that it is Obama who selected him for the job, and that Hagel wants it. In a sane, healthy country, Obama would be in jail. If Hagel is confirmed, he will deserve to join him there after a single day as Secretary of Defense.

As matters stand at present, we are unable to change our course because we refuse to recognize the truth of our condition. Once before, I quoted Sven Lindqvist:
You already know enough. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions.
Next time, we will draw some further conclusions, when we consider Hagel's beliefs concerning Iran. There is far, far less there than some of Hagel's defenders want to believe. In fact, Hagel fully adopts every idea that may well lead us directly to catastrophe.

Until then.

* Hagel's confirmation hearings might provide a few moments of interest if someone dares to ask him what he thinks of Obama's Murder Program. If the past election is any guide -- when Obama's adoration of drones was mentioned only once to my knowledge, and then only so that everyone could agree how fantastically wonderful they are -- it won't even come up. But if it does, does anyone seriously think that Hagel will even question it in any meaningful manner, let alone denounce it as the monstrous evil that it is? Please. I expect most of Hagel's hearings to be devoted to fervent declarations of how specially special Israel is, how we should try diplomacy first with Iran -- but only diplomacy and talks on our terms, of course, and so long as our goals are fully realized, and if diplomacy doesn't result in everything that we want, well ... Oh, yes: there will also be many statements about how specially special all us queers are. And then: confirmation! Now you can skip the news for the next month.