May 24, 2013

The Ruling Class as Full-Time Sadistic Torturers

Should I start with Angelina Jolie? Or perhaps Dick Wolf and the Law & Order franchise? Or maybe baseball? I'll get to all of them, but I'll begin with a word about my title. To speak of "sadistic torturers" is to be obviously redundant: to torture is, by definition, to be a sadist. I offered the following description of torture in 2005, and I'm happy to say that I still consider it accurate and useful:
Torture is the deliberate infliction of unbearable agony on a human being -- a human being who is intentionally kept alive precisely so that he will suffer still more and for a longer period of time -- for no justifiable reason. This is the embrace of sadism and cruelty for their own sake, and for no other end whatsoever.
I find it interesting that I don't refer to "unbearable physical agony," although the context in which I wrote that made it clear that I was discussing physical torture.

Here, though, I'm referring to psychological and emotional torture. The mechanisms are startlingly similar. I often think that it is the most obvious points that are the most difficult to see, and I've discussed this phenomenon in various contexts. Since I live in this world along with the rest of you, the problem afflicts me as well. It is one of the primary reasons that it has sometimes taken me several years to understand issues that are particularly complex. (A good example is my argument regarding the farce that goes by the name "intelligence," as discussed here. I noted in some of my articles about "intelligence" -- I wrote a lot of them -- that it required two or three years for me to eradicate the erroneous ways of thinking about this subject from my own analysis.) What should be obvious is almost completely insulated from detection because of the innumerable layers of wrong thinking in which simple truths are embedded. The ruling class has fundamentally distorted critical concepts, and frequently even the meaning of basic words -- turning "democracy" into a tool for ruling class domination, for instance -- yet it is the ruling class's concepts and language that most people adopt.

And we adopt them for a very simple reason: the ruling class dominates the discussion of every topic, almost to the total exclusion of opposing points of view. Again, this is obvious -- but I think we often lose sight of how pervasive it is. I know that I myself sometimes lose track of it. I'll be thinking about or discussing a subject with a friend, and I'll suddenly think (and might blurt out): "Wait a minute. Why are we talking about it this way? Where on earth did that idea come from?" In every case, it came from the framework established by the ruling class. And they establish that framework because it furthers their own interests. I insert my usual caution here: I do not suggest that most members of the ruling class do this consciously. For the most part, it is automatic. As members of the ruling class, certain attitudes and values are as natural to them as breathing. They don't need to lie and manipulate with regard to most of their views. They regard those views as true, and since most of the people they interact with are also members of the ruling class, no one will tell them otherwise.

Having said this, it is also true that the ruling class will lie about specific topics, when they are of special importance and when lying carries benefits that are valuable to them. Yesterday, in his widely-heralded speech (another one, God help us), Obama said:"We unequivocally banned torture..." This is flatly, unequivocally not true. It is a lie. Yes, Obama knows he is lying. There is no way in hell he cannot know he's lying. But I expect serial murderers to lie. What is equally disgusting -- and even more disgusting, from one point of view -- is that almost everyone, including almost all "dissenting" writers, are willing to accede to the lie. The near-universal embrace of this lie has conferred numerous benefits on Obama and the ruling class in general. Most critically, acquiescence in the lie encourages people to view Obama as humane, decent, even enlightened; because people have willingly surrendered not only what ought to be perpetual skepticism about power but their most basic analytic abilities, the lie has allowed Obama literally to get away with murder. This is the very rare occasion where "literally" means literally.

The New York Times is perhaps the primary journalistic organ of the ruling class. It is written by and for the benefit of the ruling class. They don't write it for you and me, bub, not in any positive sense. They write it to manipulate us, to keep us in our place, to make sure we mind our betters, to make sure we follow orders. When you're regularly reminded of how utterly worthless you are if you are not blessed by power and wealth, you won't protest too much. You're merely a piece of shit. The ruling class doesn't listen to shit, and it certainly doesn't try to educate it. It gets rid of shit. You see this dynamic at work in the Times in matters large and small, in ways that are laughable and in ways that are horrifying.

Today, in a regular feature of its real estate section, the Times offers: "What You Get For ... $1,995,000." I repeat: articles of this kind are a regular feature. The "You" in the headline doesn't mean you, unless you're a member of the ruling class who made a wrong turn and ended up here by mistake. It means "friends of the Times," those few people who can afford such a home. If memory serves, the "cheapest" home I've seen mentioned in this endless series cost seven or eight hundred thousand dollars. People who buy homes that "only" cost that much may not yet be full-fledged members of the ruling class, but they're ruling class-adjacent. They want to be full members, and they're happy to play the game. What is the effect of such articles on everyone else? And the Times carries articles like this in many areas: about restaurants, about cultural events that most people can no longer afford, about people most of us will never know or ever have any connection with.

About cultural events, I interject a personal note. I attended the Metropolitan Opera a lot in the mid-1960s. I could buy a standing room ticket to performances with the greatest stars of that era -- Birgit Nilsson, Franco Corelli, Renata Tebaldi, and many more -- for $1.50. Actually, I could and did frequently get in for a buck: that's what I slipped the doorman as he let the regulars in without a ticket. When the Met moved to Lincoln Center, they made sure to close that loophole. We may have been petty criminals, but we were also the most fervent and dedicated operagoers. We were no longer wanted. Today, the cheapest seats at the Met are around $30; the most expensive cost many hundreds of dollars (as do Broadway shows these days). There are a very limited number of comparatively inexpensive, rush tickets, and they still have standing room (which costs far more than it once did), but many, probably most, people are unable to be at the box office at the required times to get them. In short, activities that once were well within the means of "ordinary" people are no longer. To attend theater or opera in New York City requires much more money than most people have.

So all the "ordinary" people who read the Times are pummeled with articles about places they can never go, performances that can never attend, goods of all kinds they can never buy. The message is: "This is our world, and you have no place in it. You should be thankful we permit you to exist at all. And you should shut the fuck up." This is not an aspect of the Times that most people think about; I certainly was largely oblivious to it for a long time. But it's critical to be aware of it, because it is the general context in which "straight" news stories and opinion articles appear. All of those articles are similarly presented to us by the ruling class, and they are written from their perspective. When the Times tells us that Obama regularly selects people to be murdered -- including people he knows to be fully innocent of any wrongdoing, since he has no evidence of any kind to the contrary -- it also tells us that Obama is anguished and agonized by the choices forced on him by circumstances beyond his control. He's a good man doing his best. He kills people every day; he can't help it; he does it in the "fairest" way he or anyone could. You should credit this view, because it's the view of those who are far better than you. They're smarter, they know a lot, and many of them are "experts"; they understand far, far more than you do. You are compelled to believe them, and you must think and act as they tell you. And the next time they tell you that a threat can no longer be "tolerated" -- Iran is probably the most likely candidate here -- you should believe that, too. When the Times tells you "we" have no choice but to go to war, it's those who are far superior to you in every way that matters who deliver the message. You are to obey, just as you have in the past.

So we come to Angelina Jolie and her widely-read, widely-praised article, "My Medical Choice." It is an article written by an unimaginably privileged person, about procedures available only to those who are enormously privileged. Those who can afford to do what Jolie did (even if it's only being tested in the way she was) almost certainly already have all the information she offers. As for everyone else -- which is most people -- well, it's just another meal or ticket they will never be able to afford, another trip they can never take, another home they can only look at and gape in wonder that people live in such splendor. This is how the people who matter live, you worthless, putrid thing; gaze in wonder on your betters. Of course, in this case she's talking about people's lives, so the contrast is much starker. Jolie's article is an exercise in narcissistic self-congratulation; it is immensely sadistic and cruel.

Oh, Arthur, some will wail. She's sharing, she's trying to educate. How can anyone be angry about that? If it is impossible for most people to take any of the actions Jolie recommends, what's the point -- except to remind them that they will never be able to avail themselves of procedures that might save their lives? To remind people of matters of this kind is cruel, unforgivably so in my view. Here's Ruth Fowler:
What exactly has she done that deserves praise? She wrote about an invasive, often brutal medically (un?)necessary procedure which 56% of women with breast cancer in the US choose to undergo. Hands up everyone in the US who hasn’t heard of breast cancer and mastectomy! Anyone? Umm, anyone….

OK. So now, thanks to Jolie, we’re MORE aware. And guess what? There are really, really expensive tests you can get which tell you beforehand how likely you are to get cancer and die! Hands up who knew about that one? Oh, quite a few of you? Mainly the ones who can afford it, am I right? The ones who can’t afford it – well what good is knowing that there’s a test out there only privileged rich people can get? ...

Really, Angelina? You honestly think that the 27 million (20%) of women in the US who don’t have health care, and the 77% who apparently have it, but still have to forego care because they can't afford it even with insurance — you think that your Op Ed is actually going to do anything for these women except remind them that they don’t have access to the expensive screening tests you seem to think people don’t undertake simply because they haven’t read your article?

Do you think even if these women know they have the BRAC1 gene, that they can go to the extremely expensive Pink Lotus Breast Center for not one, but three “preventive” procedures, including nipple delay, mastectomy and expert breast reconstruction, which while some women who have had mastectomies have found to be absolutely essential for their recovery and self esteem, are rarely available on any kind of insurance because it's deemed unnecessary plastic surgery?

You know what, Angelina. It sounds like you’ve had a hard time recently. I guess I can forgive the complete absence of awareness in your privilege-denying Op-Ed, because after all, it’s hard to understand that some Americans – yes, not only black and brown Americans, but white ones too! – can be just as deprived as those brown people in foreign countries you’re so invested in “saving”. When the fuss has died down about your elaborately reconstructed chest and your incredible bravery in submitting to top-end, essential preventive treatments in order to avoid a painful and abhorrent death, perhaps you’ll do the decent thing and spend some of your vast resources on addressing some of the issues you seem pretty ignorant about right now.
In an entirely unsurprising development, Fowler was savaged for these views in certain quarters. A writer at took Fowler to task for general offensiveness and "sexism," in part because the headline of Fowler's article included the word "tits." Enter Julian Vigo:
I recalled reading Fowler’s piece with total agreement as this article highlights the way in which celebrity such as Jolie seems to be performing the benefit of ‘public service’ while in truth these enunciations tend to be condescending and hurtful to many. And for those who really sit down and think about the consequences of such an ‘announcement’ by a celebrity, as Fowler clearly did, this seemingly generous and confessional act is not one that will help other women and men with cancer deal with their illness–to the contrary: it merely dangles a carrot at millions whose reach falls short financially. So, I read Sharon Smith’s article and in turn I reread Fowler’s piece.

To be fair, I found Fowler’s piece quite tame for I would have been far harsher. ...

Indeed, when Fowler questions what Jolie has done to deserve praise, she is spot on to point out that cancer is in the vernacular of most everyone in the United States. Simply put, Jolie brought critique on herself by mentioning that she wanted to “bring awareness” to breast cancer without acknowledging her privilege whilst elaborating a choice she made that most people could never afford.

However there is an poignant issue of sexism which Smith elides and which certainly is not to be found within Fowler’s piece. Sexism is rife within Jolie’s op-ed piece as she equates “femininity” to womanhood. Since when is being a woman about “femininity”? As if women who cannot have reconstructive surgery are somehow less women? Clearly, if anyone made this matter about “tits,” it was Jolie who in her own words equates womanhood with femininity, with the ability to recuperate the “lost breasts” through a reconstruction to which so many women can never have access for purely financial and/or somatic reasons. It seems that Smith missed this glaringly obvious point in her misplaced rage over sexism.

What is it about Jolie’s op-ed that necessitates that we speak about cancer at all? If it is stardom then we have had slews of celebrities in the past twenty years who have struggled with cancer from Audrey Hepburn to Farrah Fawcett. Perhaps appendiceal and anal cancers are not as appealing to the public? Regardless, what Jolie’s op-ed piece does signal is the need to question our ethos as a society if indeed our only motivation to speak about cancer is spurred when a Hollywood star tells us to, or when we discover that we have joined the ranks of millions of cancer patients. For the real problem here is not Fowler’s mention of the word “tit”, but rather it is our inability as a society to embrace the reality of this and other body parts which remain categorically unprotected in a country whose class system decides who can and who cannot have proper screening, treatment and “preservation” of their femininity.
I strongly recommend that you read the Fowler and Vigo articles in their entirety. You should also read this article, about the reaction to Jolie's article by an "ordinary" woman:
A New Jersey kindergarten teacher with a strong family history of breast cancer blasted Angelina Jolie for giving everyday working women false hope that they, too, can prevent cancer by removing their breasts.

“It upset me,” Debbie Gentile-Abbood said of her reaction to the movie star’s announcement that she underwent a preventative double mastectomy.

“That’s good for her; she’s got the best health care and she’s got money. She doesn’t have to worry about taking off of work. She doesn’t have to worry about taking care of her family, cooking or cleaning — the things that the normal woman would have to do.”...

Gentile-Abbood, who teaches in the Paterson school district, has been the breadwinner for her family since last September, when her husband, Jim, a pipestone fitter, was laid off. She said she’s scared to even get tested because she can’t do anything about the results.

“I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to open that can of worms,” she said.

“If I found out, I couldn’t take care of the situation. What am I supposed to do? Sit around every day and worry that I’m going to get cancer?”
Thus, Jolie's article is another exercise in ruling class propaganda, a demonstration of immense privilege while remaining oblivious to the central importance of privilege. Because it concerns an issue of life and death importance, Jolie's article is an exercise in sadism and cruelty. As I said, this is precisely what the Times offers all those readers who are not members of the club of privilege repeatedly, many times a day. And if you're just one of those "ordinary" people for whom Jolie's course of action is an impossible dream, a reminder of how constricted your lack of choices is -- and how deadly it can be -- well, as Chris Floyd recently expressed the point, you can fuck off and die.

(In the next article in this series, we'll turn to far more minor matters, Dick Wolf and baseball. Even though they carry far less significance, they are also instructive with regard to our general theme.)