July 31, 2010

A Moment of Reprieve

By 2173, only a few very small groups of human beings remained. The rest had vanished, taken in the devastating waves of the Great Dying. War, disease, flooding, famine ... these and other calamities had all killed off vast numbers.

Somewhere in the blasted, bleak plains of what had been called North America, a tiny tribe sat huddled around a small fire. The fire was so weak that it threatened to go out at any moment. They had no more wood to add to it. Almost no trees survived by this time. Great fires had consumed them, along with much else.

"Paper!" rasped one of the creatures. "Put the paper on fire!" His dirty, scarred fingers jabbed toward the stack of crumpled, crumbling pieces of paper clutched in the hands of the acknowledged tribal leader, the only one of their small group who seemed to have any answers. Not that they knew what the questions were any longer. That would have been quite remarkable under the circumstances, as I'm sure you'll agree.

"Never!" rumbled Owblep (don't ask). "They will save us! These are the only papers found in the Great City. The only ones kept in the Safe Place. This information must be the most important of all!"

Clukt dropped two black bugs that had been crawling up her arm onto the fire, where they gave off a soft, sizzling sound. "Then tell what they mean," she demanded. "You've had them since the great storm. You keep looking and looking, but you can't tell what they mean. So why keep them?"

"We will figure out," Owblep said in his most hopeful tone. He could see they weren't buying it. He needed to give them all a task to perform, give them a purpose. "Let's try to figure it out together." Clukt flicked another black bug (on her other arm) at Owblep. A few of the others sneered and spit on the ground.

"Okay, okay," Owblep muttered. "This will be the last time. If we still can't tell what they mean, we'll burn them. Just one last time?" He understood he'd better leave the decision up to them, or he might be what got burned. "Yeah." "Get it over with." "This is it, Owblep." In the darkness, in the bitter cold, the voices reluctantly indicated agreement one by one. The youngest of their group waited until everyone else had answered or grunted, and he finally said, making sure he sounded as if he couldn't have cared less (which wasn't hard, since he couldn't have), "Whatevs."

They'd found that word in an earlier stack of papers in another Safe Place. After three great storms and four great floods, they'd realized it didn't seem to mean anything at all, which is why the youngest liked it. So he said it again. "Whatevs." They'd burned those other papers long ago.

"Let's go over the explanations we've come up with," Owblep announced in his serious voice. "C'mon, Blowt, don't say 'crap' like that. This will be the last time. Let's make sure we don't forget anything." Owblep waited until the muttering faded away, as three or four more black bugs sizzled on the fire.

"Maybe it's the name of one of the diseases from the time of the Great Dying. Or maybe it's a cure for one of the diseases."

"I remember another," said Clukt. "Maybe a secret weapon!"

The youngest sat up. Well, he scrunched himself up a little bit. He didn't want to seem like he actually cared. "Or maybe the name of one of their gods!" He'd said that with a little too much interest. So he lowered his voice and muttered a followup. "Not that we know what gods are." Which they didn't, so that was actually true, which made his contempt more effective.

Owblep nodded as each of the possibilities was identified. "And remember," Owblep said, adding a little grunt to each word to emphasize just how important this might be. "They asked their tribal leader about it and then wrote all these stories about what he said. So it might even be the Answer of Answers. Maybe the key to everything."

Silence descended on the groveling group of lost souls. The key to everything. What was a "key"? It didn't matter. It sounded awfully important.

"Yeah," Clukt finally acknowledged. "The key to everything. Wow."

The youngest slumped back down. He wasn't about to be taken in. "Uh-huh. Wha--"

"DON'T!" shouted Owblep. The youngest suddenly sat up all the way. Owblep almost never shouted. Maybe it really was important. Maybe it mattered. The youngest felt a strange feeling in his stomach. Could it be ... a small flicker of hope? "That's a bunch of crap," he thought. "I'm just hungry. Again. Still." But he knew not to say it out loud. Owblep had shouted.

"And 'key' is part of the word they kept repeating. Look!" And with great reverence, Owblep slowly smoothed out the wrinkled papers in the light of the fire. After a few minutes, when all the papers were spread out so they could examine them, they saw that what Owblep said was true.

"Is that how you say it?" asked Blowt. "The last part is 'key'?"

"That's what we finally decided," Owblep said very softly. "See, the first part means something new. 'Snew...' And the last part of the word is 'key.' 'Snew ... ki.'* The new key ... maybe the new key to everything. Their leader said he didn't know what it was, but we know that leaders lie."

The dirty heads gathered around the dimming fire slowly turned to Owblep, suspicion gathering in their narrowed eyes. "Well, not me," Owblep declared. "You all know that I don't lie. Not anymore, anyway. What the hell's the point now? There's nothing to lie for. But then, leaders lied all the time, about everything. So he must have known what it meant, but he didn't want anyone else to know."

"Yeah, I see," Clukt agreed. "It must have been really important."

"Exactly!" Owblep exulted. "Now we just have to figure out what it actually---"

They heard a sudden great noise in the sky above them. The heads turned upward, and their mouths fell open in astonishment. Even the youngest gasped. He began to ask, "What the fu--," when the world turned black.

A huge roar thundered over hundreds of miles, and an enormous cloud of dust and dirt rose up from the battered earth and began to spread across the world.

Finally, silence descended. It was complete, unbroken by even the gentlest of sounds. Blessed, peaceful silence. It went on for a long time.


"I think that was the last of them," the First Being Above said. "I surely hope so. What a horrible mistake."

"Maybe your worst. Well, live and learn. Practice makes perfect, and all that jazz. Whatevs." The Second Being Above chuckled merrily.

"Please. Please don't. I'm a little sensitive right now. There were moments, just a few here and there, when they seemed to have such promise. But it's over now." The First Being Above gravely looked upon the silent, still globe. Although the great cloud already covered much of North America, the First B.A. still could see the other land masses, and the enormous seas.

"It's such a beautiful world. The world itself was one of my best."

"Oh, it was great. And it will be again. As long as there aren't any more of them."

"I don't think we need to worry about that. I haven't picked up any human vibrations in the last few minutes, have you?"

"Nope. Very peaceful now."

Unfortunately, the Beings Above were wrong. No, they weren't gods. C'mon. They were Beings who just happened to be Above. That's all. And they may have had a lot more powers than humans, but that isn't saying all that much, is it? And even the powers of the Beings Above were limited. The gambit with the meteorite was a very hard one to pull off. The First B.A. had only done it once before, and then only because the Second B.A. had tricked him into it. The Second B.A. had dared the First B.A. to do something genuinely impressive, and suggested the First B.A. make a meteorite smash into the earth. So the First B.A. did it. Aside from the obvious local destruction, he hadn't understood what would happen exactly. Boy, was the First B.A. pissed. He had liked the dinosaurs. A lot.

But back to where we were. The Beings Above didn't know that somewhere in the middle of Asia, a struggling little band of humans had just come upon a Secret Valley. For some odd reason of geography (and maybe the first tendrils of that great cloud), their vibrations didn't reach into the sky above.

And the Secret Valley was a wonderful place: full of vibrant forests, creatures of all kinds, fertile land, refreshing rivers. The small group of humans would do very well there. In no time at all, there would be hundreds of them, and then many thousands.

And these humans would come to believe they were very, very special. They had to be. After all, it was they who had found the Secret Valley, and no one else. It might even be that they were specially favored by the gods. Oh, yes, they'd remember what those were soon enough, particularly when they realized how extra special the gods' favor made them.

In time, they would conclude that it was their obligation, their mission to spread their civilization across the world. But they didn't know -- and neither did the Beings Above (geography and that cloud again) -- that another little band of humans was going through a similar experience somewhere in Africa, with their own wonderful valley. This other group would also thrive. But they wouldn't come to believe they were special, or favored by the gods. They would find great joy in the simple fact of being alive, and they would desire nothing more than to be left alone. That was not to be.

So before you knew it, before the Beings Above knew it, the trouble would be starting all over again.

But right now, neither group of humans knew about the other one. And the Beings Above didn't know about either of them. At this particular moment, everything was very peaceful. Quiet. Uneventful, dull even, but in a good way.

As things turned out, it was just a moment. A very lovely one.

July 30, 2010

Concerning Those Who Manufacture and Eat Shit

We're talking about Paul Krugman, so we're also talking about those who seek to coerce lots of other people to eat shit, too.

There's far too much shit in this column to unpack all of it (ew), so let me mention just three points. First:
And Mr. Obama has delivered in important ways. Above all, he managed (with a lot of help from Nancy Pelosi) to enact a health reform that, imperfect as it is, will greatly improve Americans’ lives — unless a Republican Congress manages to sabotage its implementation.
This is a partisan hack with lots of practice. Notice how he preemptively establishes a foolproof excuse (in his view) for the day when this bill that "will greatly improve Americans' lives" turns to, well, shit. Any and all failures will be the fault of "a Republican Congress" that "manages to sabotage its implementation."

Under the Krugman Plan for Democratic Immunity, no fault whatsoever will accrue to the Democrats for a deeply loathsome piece of legislation. Sure, Krugman says the bill is "imperfect," but that's only to establish that he's fair-minded, therefore serious. By careful design, it's exceedingly and undeservedly mild. There's another major error in Krugman's characterization of the health "reform" bill that I may discuss in more detail in the future. (It's a very common error.) I'll mention it here comparatively briefly. I would not argue and, in fact, I haven't argued that this bill won't help anyone. I've seen lots of analyses that force me to conclude that the bill will help far less people than its supporters claim, but time will tell as they say. I think it's going to be very ugly, and I also think partisans like Krugman will never acknowledge just how ugly it is.

But the fact that this bill will help some people is a ridiculous, completely asinine standard. It is utterly illegitimate as a matter of analysis, as well as being vile in moral terms, to use the fact that it will help some people as justification for its passage. Think about it for a moment. Any bill in any political system will help some people. This is true even in a dictatorship, and even under totalitarian rule. As I feel compelled to remind people when they appeal to the "sanctity" of "the law" (which I noted only yesterday I myself shit on insofar as what most people mean by such vacuous blather is concerned), even dictatorships have laws. Hey, I'll make it easy for you to ignore this argument by violating a singularly idiotic prohibition. They had laws in Nazi Germany. And guess what? All of those laws helped some people. In some instances, perhaps it was only sadists who enjoyed torturing and murdering other human beings -- but some of Germany's laws certainly helped them do that.

Or to pick a less confrontational example: many laws in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia indisputably helped those who were members of the ruling clique or well-connected to same accumulate wealth and/or power, or benefited them in any number of other ways. So the laws helped some people. Take a more obvious aspect of the same issue: in any corporatist system (such as ours), legislators receive all sorts of payoffs for enacting legislation that benefits certain interested parties. When the legislation is passed, it's passed because it helps those interested parties. That's true of any major piece of legislation you care to name (and almost all minor ones as well). You need only trace back the effects of the legislation far enough, and you'll find an interested party that sought to have it passed. And the payoffs help the legislators themselves. So some people are always helped.

That cannot ever be the standard for judgment. The standard must focus on the primary or major effect of the legislation: on what lies at the heart of the bill. What lies at the heart of the health "reform" bill is a massive transfer of wealth from "ordinary" Americans to an already hugely wealthy and powerful insurance industry via the mandate system, which is made still worse by being a subsidized mandate system (which means that taxpayers are robbed at gunpoint twice). As a result, the legislation in its totality is, right, a piece of shit.

Point two from Krugman's column:
But progressive disillusionment isn’t just a matter of sky-high expectations meeting prosaic reality. Threatened filibusters didn’t force Mr. Obama to waffle on torture; to escalate in Afghanistan; to choose, with exquisitely bad timing, to loosen the rules on offshore drilling early this year.
The well-practiced partisan hack continues his shitty work. Krugman criticizes Obama! Some of the shit is actually Obama's own fault! Again, this means Krugman is being fair and serious. We should therefore take his advice seriously.

Note what Krugman doesn't mention. He doesn't discuss any of the issues analyzed here in the required detail (hey, how about that worldwide assassination-by-presidential-decree program, Paul? cool, huh?) -- and most critically, he doesn't draw the necessary conclusion, in fact, the only conclusion impelled by the evidence: that Obama is a war criminal. Well, Krugman has lots of company on that one. Almost no one will acknowledge that Obama is a war criminal. Certainly, almost no Democrat (or liberal or progressive) will acknowledge it. War criminals are Republicans, doncha know. It's, like, a tautology.

But now that Krugman's established what a serious fellow he is (he criticized Obama!), he can move on to the most important item. He places that at the end of his column (all those years of practice in the partisan shit fields pay off!):
Just to be clear, progressives would be foolish to sit out this election: Mr. Obama may not be the politician of their dreams, but his enemies are definitely the stuff of their nightmares. But Mr. Obama has a responsibility, too. He can’t expect strong support from people his administration keeps ignoring and insulting.
Clever Paul. You don't actually have to offer "strong support" for Obama, and you can even criticize lots of his actions and policies. But you still have to vote for the Democrats! Not because the Democrats are all that good, and maybe not because they're good at all -- but because those people are even worse.

All of which demonstrates what has been entirely obvious for a long while now. There is absolutely nothing the Democrats could do which would cause dedicated partisan hacks like Krugman, or the major liberal and progressive voices in the media and on blogs, to abandon them. The Democrats could launch a nuclear attack and invasion of Iran, establish detention camps in the United States and start populating them with allegedly "dangerous" U.S. citizens, restrict internet access to "approved" sites, proudly announce a system of rewards for friends and family members who denounce "dissidents" with possible ties to terrorism, and pursue a host of other despicable and vile policies, and Krugman, et al. would still say you have to vote for Democrats.

Because the Republicans are still more evil -- and they're crazy!

Face it: some people just love the taste of shit. It's their favorite food.

This topic reminds me of a post I wrote in February 2008. Its title: "Most of You Will Eat Shit Until the Day You Die." One excerpt:
You can call it Republican shit. You can call it Democratic shit. You can call it progressive shit. It's still shit. It's still murder, and torture, and criminal war, and a growing surveillance state. If you vote for the Democratic or the Republican candidate for president -- and if you vote for almost any of the candidates for national office -- you're voting for murder. You're voting for torture. You're voting for criminal war. You're voting for the growing surveillance state.

Is that what you choose to do? Is that what you choose to support? Is it?


[M]ost Americans are perfectly willing to be fooled (hell, they're enthusiastic about it) until the Empire begins to crumble around them -- that is, in ways that directly affect them in their lives. That day may be coming, perhaps sooner than we might prefer to think.

Some of them won't be fooled at that point. But then it will be too late. A lot of you will eat shit until the day you die.
A few days after that was published, I wrote a followup: "And They Want You to Eat It, Too." That entry discussed an especially wretched post from Atrios concerning surveillance and FISA. I wrote:
As I discussed yesterday, I'm not aware that any progressive has suggested that the FISA regime should be eliminated completely. Now the reasons are clearer. As Atrios's approving post setting forth Reyes' letter makes obvious: It is absolutely fine with the Democrats and with the progressive online community that the government has these fully comprehensive -- indeed, omnipotent -- spying powers.

It's fine with them. Ponder the fact. Ponder my argument that both parties have long desired and worked toward the complete, unchallengeable establishment of an authoritarian-corporatist state. If we have both a Democratic president and Congress next year, you will never hear another word about this subject -- except possibly for calls to expand the government's powers still more. I can't imagine exactly how they could be further expanded, but I'm certain the Democrats will find a way -- just as the Republicans do at every opportunity.
On that last point, see this story from just the other day.

I think I may change my name on this here blog. From now on, perhaps I'll sign my posts: Nostradamus Silber.

But you can call me Nosty.

July 29, 2010

Wikileaks, Resistance, Genuine Heroes, and Breaking the Goddamned Rules (II)

[Part I]


Life and Death in the Obedience Culture

I have sometimes described America today as an "obedience culture." The phrase refers to the fact that, beneath the specifics of the largely pointless debates on any topic you care to name, those who purport to speak on behalf of the values of "civilization" and "order" -- that is, those who contend they and only they are the true defenders of Western civilization generally -- insist on the primacy of one virtue above all others: obedience to authority.

What is probably the most significant root of this belief lies in the patterns of thought and feeling that are beaten into all of us in the earliest years of life. In far too many cases, the axiomatic necessity of deference to authority is literally beaten into very young children, through physical violence. More often and with a frequency that should also be horrifying to every decent human being, this belief is instilled in very young children through emotional coercion, pressure and manipulation. I've written about these issues in detail in many essays. If the subject concerns you -- and I will arrogantly contend that no single subject is of greater moment if we are genuinely concerned with challenging and finally stopping the endless destructions that threaten to engulf the world once again -- you can begin with "Meaningful Connections." That entry contains many links which will take you to several books' worth of essays on these topics. (On the subject of emotional coercion and manipulation more particularly, I recommend two essays: "Creating the Next Generation," and "Learning to Hate 'The Other.'")

I've described the manner in which this unquestioning belief in the necessity of obedience is implanted as follows (from "Let the Victims Speak"):
There are several interlocking parts of the mechanisms that [Alice] Miller describes that must be kept in mind -- and these parts help to explain what is missing from our political debates. The first part is obedience to the demands of the parent and/or other authority figure -- the second part is denial of the pain experienced by the child himself, when he is made to "conform" to arbitrary edicts and to suppress his own spontaneous, genuine emotions -- the third part is idealization of the parent and/or additional authority figure, since the child depends on the parent for life itself and dares not challenge the parent or the parent's "good intentions" -- and the final, inevitable part is the denial of the pain experienced by others. If we fully acknowledge the injuries sustained by others and the pain they experience, it will call up our own injuries. Because this would call into question our most fundamental sense of ourselves, this cannot be permitted. In this manner, the deadening of the soul -- which began with our own souls -- must expand to deaden us to the full reality of the selves of others.
When this mechanism of obedience, denial and idealization is instilled deeply enough, as it is for most people, the mechanism will be transferred to additional authority figures when the child becomes an adult. In the political realm, the additional authority figures may include the State or country, the most powerful political figures, and those agencies of government charged with enforcing obedience (the military and the police being the most obvious examples).

Many of my previous essays trace the operations of this mechanism across a wide variety of examples. Recently, I wrote about "The Blood-Drenched Darkness of American Exceptionalism." If you keep in mind the underlying pattern described above, you can see that the quasi-religious belief in American Exceptionalism, which effectively operates as a form of secular fundamentalism, represents the transfer of the identical mechanism to the nation itself as an ultimate figure of authority.

I'm reminded of a passage I wrote six years ago, in "When the Demons Come." I was discussing the nature and extent of the denial engaged in by those who defend American Exceptionalism with special vehemence, and this may help to clarify the point:
With no effort at all, you could multiply examples such as these a thousandfold, every single day. In this manner, defenders of our current foreign policy wipe out of existence all the facts, all the costs, all the deaths, and anything else that might bring into question what is an absolute of their faith: the United States is right, what we have done and are doing in Iraq is right, our military is right, we are inherently unable to make mistakes, and the authorities must not be questioned.

These are the victims described by Miller -- now grown into adulthood, continuing their denial, with additional authority figures added to the ones they first had. Besides the original parent, they now revere our government and our military and, beyond a certain point, nothing they do is to be challenged. As I have discussed, to do so would bring into question these individuals' entire false sense of self, it would undermine their worldview completely, and it represents a threat that cannot be allowed to come too close. As always, what is dispensable in all this are facts ... and above all, the lives of human beings.
The particulars of our debates may have altered to some extent in the years that have passed since I wrote that -- although what is most notable is the degree to which the particulars have not altered -- but the basic mechanism has not changed at all. As just one example, an especially grisly one, consider my discussion of the torture inflicted by tasering in "Obey or Die."

Additional Means of Enforcement: The Law and the Rules

Many, and perhaps even most, political commentators and bloggers today agree that the United States is an increasingly authoritarian State. Depending on where they fall on the political spectrum, they will disagree about who shoulders the greatest responsibility and blame and about the preferred solution, but the majority of writers no longer question that the metastasizing authoritarian-surveillance State swallows up and obliterates more of our liberties, freedom and privacy with almost every day that passes. I will not reargue the point here; a quick trip through my archives will turn up many articles on the subject.

What is important to this discussion are certain of the means by which the authoritarian-corporatist-militarist State enforces obedience. Two of those means are especially critical: the law, and "the rules." Again, I've written extensively on these subjects. What follows is a very brief overview, to highlight those issues relevant to our consideration of the nature of resistance.

Even many of those people who vigorously challenge the tenets of American Exceptionalism will still speak in hushed, reverent tones of the "sanctity" of "the law." This testifies to the enduring strength and reach of the obedience-denial-idealization mechanism. People sometimes prefer to believe they escape the mechanism's operation and ramifications; most often, they do not.

To arrest your perhaps wandering attention, I announce my own perspective on this issue. With regard to what most people mean when they talk of the "sanctity" of "the law," I shit on it.

I shit on it repeatedly. This is not the first time I've been extremely rude on this subject. But, to console the faint of heart, I can be "civilized," too. I can be dispassionate and, horrors, even "respectable": "Concerning the State, the Law, and Show Trials." From that essay:
The law is not some Platonic Form plucked from the skies by the Pure in Heart. Laws are written by men, men who have particular interests, particular constituencies, particular donors, and particular friends. ... Laws are the particular means by which the state implements and executes its vast powers. When an increasingly authoritarian state passes a certain critical point in its development, the law is no longer the protector of individual rights and individual liberty. The law becomes the weapon of the state itself -- to protect, not you, but the state from threats to its own powers. We passed that critical point some decades ago. The law is the means by which the state corrals its subjects, keeps them under control, and forbids them from acting in ways that the overlords might perceive as threatening. In brief, today, in these glorious United States, the law is not your friend.
"The law" has a mongrel child, which goes by the name, "the rules." From "It's not the sex. It's never the sex.":
With regard to these issues -- that is to say, with regard to every issue that matters in political terms -- the ruling class (or the elites) and the State are not different things: they are the same thing. As Christopher Layne observes: "Dominant elites do not hijack the state; they are the state." Rules, also known as "laws," are to control and direct the work and lives of those ruled by the elites. They are intentionally designed to protect the elites and to control everyone else. The elites may and will disregard them as they choose.

In exceptionally rare circumstances, a member of the ruling class may set aside the rules in a way that draws just a bit too much attention. As a result, all those "ordinary" people may become a trifle unruly; they might begin to wonder if the system is rigged against them in some basic way. Obviously, it is, but it would hardly do for the filthy masses to begin to grasp this central fact. In these situations, the ruling class will have to make some minor adjustments.
I offer you one further excerpt about "the rules." This is from an article published in October 2007, and it dealt in large part with the tasering of Andrew Meyer, as John Kerry placidly watched torture take place only a few feet away and did absolutely nothing. From "Break the Goddamned Rules":
The law is not the only method by which the state controls us, and strips our national discussion of all meaning. There is another, less formal but no less constricting means, which is commonly identified by the phrase, "the rules." We must all follow "the rules." You cannot ever break "the rules." Be very, very clear on this point: the only way you can speak the truth on any subject of importance in this country today is BY BREAKING THE RULES.

That is what Andrew Meyer did in Florida. He broke the goddamned rules. He did not do so in any way that merited his being arrested -- but HE BROKE THE RULES. This cannot be permitted, not if our meaningless, pointless national discussion devoid of all substance is to continue in its meaningless, pointless way. Breaking the rules cannot be allowed if the lies are to continue. So he was arrested.

And he was charged with a third-degree felony for resisting arrest with violence and a second-degree misdemeanor for disturbing the peace -- for asking the most urgent question of our time, the question that almost no one will ask. He was charged with resisting an arrest that should never have occurred -- and with "disturbing the peace."

Friends, if this country -- and if you individually -- are to have any kind of human future at all, and by "human," I mean a life with any genuine meaning and joy, a life not fatally compromised by ongoing murder, torture, and brutality -- you had better fucking disturb the peace every second of every day.
Understanding the Nature of the Demand for Obedience

Before returning to the subject of Wikileaks in particular and considering the nature of resistance, there is one final aspect of the obedience-denial-idealization mechanism that we need to appreciate.

I consider this issue of crucial significance, so I set it off by itself:
In any society or political system which relies primarily or in significant part on obedience for its continuing operation, the importance of the demand for obedience does not lie in the particular content of a given demand. The importance is in the demand itself: not that you act or speak in a certain way (or forbear to act or speak in a certain way), but that you obey. Compliance with a given demand may carry certain benefits to the ruling regime, but that is not its primary purpose and value. The primary purpose, that which makes everything else possible, is that you obey. From the perspective of the rulers, that is what matters, and it is the only thing that matters.

Once the principle of obedience is accepted sufficiently broadly, the regime may do whatever it wishes. Once a critical number of people have accepted that they must obey, the regime's power is absolute. The regime may continue to allow individuals to act "freely" within delimited areas of its choosing (and those areas may expand, shrink, alter or vanish altogether, depending on circumstances), but the primacy of obedience has been established. The regime can order its subjects to act in any manner it decides, and a sufficient number of people will comply, thus ensuring that the regime's operations continue unimpeded. Power of this kind is absolute, for there is nothing more to seek. The regime can order anything, and enough people will obey so that the order will be carried out.
In "The Honor of Being Human: Why Do You Support?," I offered a description of obedience. As I explained: "I wanted this description to encompass at least three fundamentally different kinds of relationships, but to isolate the dynamics of obedience that are common to all of them. Those three relationships are: parent to child; one adult to another adult; and the adult to the state." I repeat the earlier description here, to reinforce the argument:
Obedience is the term used to describe the demand by a person in a superior position (superior psychologically, legally and/or in terms of the power he possesses in some other form) that a person in an inferior position conduct himself in a particular manner. The essence of obedience is the demand without more: a reason may be provided, but a reason is unnecessary. Moreover, the reason may be unconvincing or incoherent, and it may contradict other reasons provided for other demands. Most importantly, the reason need not be one that the person in the inferior position agrees with. Informed, voluntary agreement occurs when a person is presented with a reason(s) to act in a certain manner; he understands and is ultimately convinced of the validity of the reason(s), and therefore acts in the manner suggested.

Obedience is the opposite of voluntary, uncoerced agreement: the understanding and agreement of the person in the inferior position are not required, and are often not sought at all. The person in the inferior position may profoundly disagree with the reason(s) offered for the demand, if any. When the person in the inferior position obeys, he does so because of his certain knowledge that if he does not, he will be punished in some form: psychologically, legally, socially, or in some other way. Thus, the primary (although not the sole) motivation that ensures obedience is negative in nature: it is not the promise of a reward (even though certain rewards may be offered), but the assurance that he will not suffer consequences that are painful in varying degrees, i.e., that he will not be punished.
In that same essay, I excerpted a Hannah Arendt essay (found in Responsibility and Judgment). Arendt argues that what we call "obedience" is not obedience at all in a political context, even under a dictatorship: rather, it is support.

Here is part of what Arendt said:
If I obey the laws of the land, I actually support its constitution, as becomes glaringly obvious in the case of revolutionaries and rebels who disobey because they have withdrawn this tacit consent.

In these terms, the nonparticipators in public life under a dictatorship are those who have refused their support by shunning those places of "responsibility" where such support, under the name of obedience, is required. And we have only for a moment to imagine what would happen to any of these forms of government if enough people would act "irresponsibly" and refuse support, even without active resistance and rebellion, to see how effective a weapon this could be. It is in fact one of the many variations of nonviolent action and resistance -- for instance the power that is potential in civil disobedience -- which are being discovered in our century. The reason, however, that we can hold these new criminals, who never committed a crime out of their own initiative, nevertheless responsible for what they did is that there is no such thing as obedience in political and moral matters. The only domain where the word could possibly apply to adults who are not slaves is the domain of religion, in which people say that they obey the word or the command of God because the relationship between God and man can rightly be seen in terms similar to the relation between adult and child.

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 this general argument in mind, together with Arendt's observations, we can analyze the role of Wikileaks more particularly.

The Profound Threat of Non-Cooperation

The most alarming indicator of America's likely course in the coming years is the extent to which the primacy of obedience has been accepted by a majority of the population. I could offer many examples, but one of the worst was the reaction to the tasering of Andrew Meyer. As noted above, I wrote about that incident in "Obey or Die."

In that article, I offered several examples of commentary about the torture inflicted on Meyer, a defenseless young man who had committed the unspeakable crime of asking a disapproved question, and doing so in a manner that some people considered rude. I repeat, to emphasize the horror: for the crime of (perhaps rudely) asking a question, Meyer was tortured. He might have been killed. With only a very few exceptions, commentators condemned, not the torturers, but Meyer. This was true even of liberal and progressive observers. As I summarized the reaction:
Note the common themes: the authorities are almost always right and they must always be obeyed, even on those supposedly infrequent occasions when they are not. Being rude and disruptive and not "following the rules" is impermissible, and is even criminal -- and it is a crime that deserves swift and harsh punishment. Above all, there is one central, axiomatic, unquestionable virtue that we are all to embody at all times: obedience.

But for reasons I have discussed, in a culture like ours today and at a time of great historic peril such as the present, to "Break the Goddamned Rules" is our only hope. Yet very few people agree with this view; certainly none of the commentators described above does.
I will examine the particulars of the Wikileaks Afghanistan story in the next part of this series. Here, I want to focus on the role of Wikileaks itself in the context of this discussion.

Consider what the United States government stands for at the moment. I will summarize very briefly. The U.S. government is engaged in the occupation of Iraq, while it wages a war in Afghanistan. The U.S. intentionally seeks to broaden the war into Pakistan (and has already done so to a significant extent), and it continues to threaten Iran militarily. Simultaneously, the U.S. has launched operations in at least 75 countries, and made "[p]lans ... for preemptive or retaliatory strikes in numerous places around the world."

The U.S. government also continues and even expands the Bush administration's policies with regard to torture as a "legitimate" State instrument, as it continues and even expands the Bush administration's comprehensive assault on civil liberties at home. And the U.S. government ceaselessly works to impoverish and brutalize the majority of Americans in countless other ways, as it forcibly transfers countless billions of dollars from "ordinary" Americans to the already massively wealthy ruling elite.

The United States government does all of this "legally." All of this monstrous behavior is approved by the "sanctity" of "the law" and by "the rules." Some of us argue that most or all of these actions are in fact criminal; indeed, under legal provisions that the U.S. government employs to condemn others, certain of these actions are criminal. But that is not the story told by our rulers. They consistently maintain that all of these actions are legal, moral, and entirely just.

That isn't all. The State seeks to protect itself from all criticism and challenge by surrounding itself with an intricate and almost impenetrable web of laws, rules and regulations. The State arrives at its decisions on the basis of alleged "secret" information, which is not to be shared with the likes of us. It fashions and implements its policies on the basis of special, superior expertise, which "ordinary" Americans cannot hope to share or understand. All of this is a lie, of course; see the second part of this recent article, concerning "The Claim to 'Special' Knowledge and Expertise."

If you seek to challenge the death grip of the authoritarian-corporatist-militarist State in a serious way, you will necessarily have to break the goddamned rules. As I have argued, the point of "the law" and "the rules" is to protect the ruling class and to restrict your range of action so severely that it approaches the vanishing point. If we challenge the State only within the bounds of what is permitted by the State itself, the challenge will be trivial and utterly insignificant. The State allows such challenges so that "the people" can delude themselves, again, that their "voices" are being heard.

This is not the route followed by Wikileaks. Wikileaks steps outside the boundaries established by the State altogether: it dispenses with the restrictions of "secrecy" and access limited to the already powerful. Wikileaks' approach is the embodiment of justice. It takes the repeated proclamations that the United States is a "representative democracy" and that its government is "our" government, and says in effect: You contend that you act in the name of the people. Then the people surely have the right to know what you're doing. This is what you're doing.

And the loathsome sham is revealed. The government doesn't want you to know the truth, or anything even approaching the truth. The government wants you to know only the story the State itself chooses to tell. Note that Wikileaks is not unmindful of the possibility of putting people's lives in danger; see my first post about this story. That is an important issue, and Wikileaks is to be admired for considering it in deciding what to release and what to withhold.

Given the realities of the authoritarian State that continues on its hideous campaign of death and destruction, "the law" and "the rules" constitute a crucial part of the means by which the State maintains its prerogatives. To the extent you follow them, you obey. The State could not ask for more. Most people comply. Most people believe they should comply.

The most basic purpose of Wikileaks is to challenge this structure at its foundation. To hell with your laws and rules, Wikileaks trumpets to the world. They are what enable you to continue in your evil and murderous actions. The laws and the rules are invaluable to the continuation of these horrors. Without the laws and rules that you use solely for your benefit and protection, the horrors might be stopped.

In this way, Wikileaks seeks to stop the horrors. These are noble actions, undertaken at great personal risk. They demand profound admiration.

If you doubt at all the fundamental nature of the challenge to the existing system that Wikileaks represents, I offer you a further proof. Tunku Varadarajan is a thoroughly vile human being. I am completely confident in making that judgment on the basis of a single article of his I've previously discussed: see, "Nauseating, Unforgivable and Potentially Lethal Racism." In my earlier post, I refused to publish the two words in the title of Varadarajan's article. In this context, I will. The title of his article, and the alleged momentous "threat" which gave rise to his disgustingly racist condemnation of a huge number of people, was: "Going Muslim." I repeat: a thoroughly vile human being.

And you may not think that Wikileaks is a serious threat to our corrupt, evil Death State, but Varadarajan certainly does. Consider the opening sentence of his recent article:
If Hollywood were ever to make a film about a nihilistic leaker-hacker dude, a rootless subverter of international public order, they couldn’t do better than to cast Julian Assange as himself.
If you've followed my argument, you understand why I highlighted "a rootless subverter of international public order."

Order depends on laws, rules and regulations. The establishment of order is the rallying cry of authoritarians, and often of the most despicable and bloodthirsty of dictators and totalitarian leaders. Order requires that people obey. Varadarajan sees the threat to "order" that Assange represents, and he's entirely correct.

The very next sentence tells us how unnerved Varadarajan is by the threat:
With his bloodless, sallow face, his lank hair drained of all color, his languorous, very un-Australian limbs, and his aura of blinding pallor that appears to admit no nuance, Assange looks every inch the amoral, uber-nerd villain, icily detached from the real world of moral choices in which the rest of us saps live.
This fixation on what Varadarajan views as Assange's repellent physical appearance sets off historical echoes which one might have thought would cause Varadarajan to reconsider his focus and his language. (And what, pray tell, are "very un-Australian limbs"?) This is bizarre in the extreme. It offers further testimony to the seriousness of the threat Assange embodies to those who value "order" and obedience above all else.

Varadarajan describes Assange as "amoral," but Varadarajan only means that Assange refuses to obey and follow the rules that Varadarajan himself believes must never be broken. Varadarajan goes on to condemn Assange for a number of statements: his "almost catechistic condemnations of American 'war crimes'” (which they are); and for this:
“I enjoy crushing bastards,” he crowed to Der Spiegel, one of the publications favored with the right to publish his dubiously acquired material. “The most dangerous men are those who are in charge of war,” he harrumphed. “And they need to be stopped.”
Varadarajan says this reveals Assange's "strut, his hubris, his palpable vainglory." Never mind that what Assange says is true.

Despite his own vicious racist condemnation of Muslims as an undifferentiated mass of human beings to be corraled and perhaps even eliminated as required, and his own support for America's ongoing wars of conquest and murder, Varadarajan is such a colossal bastard that he will still pull out this card: "For the security of the numerous Afghan informants who work with U.S. troops, he cares not a jot." Not true as I've noted, and I am not prepared to take the word of Varadarajan or the U.K. Times to the contrary.

Moreover, if one is so deeply concerned about the lives of innocent Afghans, I would suggest to Varadarajan that he urge the United States to pull every single goddamned American out of Afghanistan in a matter of one or two months, and immediately stop all aspects of military operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and everywhere else. Oh, but we can't do that, of course. Our national security is at stake!

The rest of Varadarajan's column is too distasteful to analyze. He is a perfect example of the self-willed, complete blindness I described in my recent article on American Exceptionalism. Facts simply don't matter to him. The myth is everything, and nothing can be permitted to challenge even one aspect of it. I will only note that, in conjunction with some of his language (he refers to Assange's actions as "a sort of self-righteous, self-congratulatory onanism") and his focus on Assange's physical appearance, his final sentence is equally bizarre: "WikiLeaks is a brothel of self-promotion, Assange its puffed-up pimp." This is deeply disturbed, and disturbing.

But it demonstrates how powerful a threat Wikileaks is. Varadarajan correctly perceives that Wikileaks is assaulting not just the rules and restrictions designed to protect the ruling class, thus allowing it to increase its power and reach still further, but attacking the entire system itself, together with all the beliefs that support it. And Varadarajan's reaction is further evidence of Assange's brilliance as I've discussed: what truly undoes Varadarajan is that he sees no way to stop Assange, other than "to shower him with our most basic contempt." At least, Varadarajan isn't advocating that Assange be murdered -- although I'm certain Varadarajan is well aware that Obama has arrogated that power and "right" to himself, should Obama deem it "necessary." Necessary to "national security," that is.

This analysis has focused on the significance of Wikileaks in largely political terms. There remains a very personal aspect of resistance that I want to discuss, along with some further observations about resistance in general. I'll turn to that next time.

July 27, 2010

Wikileaks, Resistance, Genuine Heroes, and Breaking the Goddamned Rules (I)

The other day, I offered some observations about the Wikileaks story and the latest release of a huge number of documents. My comments were focused very narrowly: I wanted to highlight the great heroism of those who run Wikileaks and are otherwise involved in these continuing leaks and offer my thanks for their invaluable work, while contrasting their immense courage with the loathsome, murderous behavior of the rulers of the American imperial state.

Oh, the emails I've received! Oh, the posts I've seen! Among other charming critiques, I was informed that I've proven to be a witless dupe. Don't you see, my detractors inquired with iron fist delicately wrapped in, well, iron fist, oh, Arthur, don't you see that this is yet another subterfuge by the endlessly duplicitous ruling class? Don't you see how all the talk about Iran and Pakistan aiding the resistance in Afghanistan only helps the warmongers in their quest for another chapter (or two, or five) in the neverending war? Don't you see that the U.S. government has been incredibly clever in using Wikileaks itself for its latest propaganda campaign? Oh, oh, oh, Arthur, don't you see? [Added in response to inquiries and some pushback: later in this extended essay, I'll explain in detail why I find this theory extremely problematic and unsatisfactory.]

Although I've had a little fun in presenting this counterargument (I note, however, that some of the emails I received had a very similar tone but were regrettably not half as enjoyable, and considerably ruder as well), I took the point itself seriously. I was prepared to admit that my critics were right, and that I had made a bad mistake. So I thought about it. A lot. I also did further reading.

I realized several things. There are two perspectives we can utilize in analyzing this latest Wikileaks story, as well as in analyzing the Wikileaks phenomenon itself. (We could undoubtedly identify additional perspectives as well; these are the two that seem to me most relevant and fruitful in this case.) The first, comparatively superficial perspective concerns the contents of the Wikileaks documents themselves: the details about civilian deaths and casualties, operations gone bad, speculations of all kinds, reflecting a variety of interests and agendas, concerning who's behind the resistance, and so on.

The second perspective, which inquires more deeply, focuses on the leak itself, entirely apart from the specifics of what is leaked. This inquiry examines the system in which leaks of this kind occur. What is the nature of that system? How does it work? What are the rules upon which the system is based, and upon which the system insists? How do those who direct the system's operations react when those rules are broken? Why do they react that way?

As I reflected on these matters, and as I considered the criticisms of my own initial comments on this story, I realized that the second perspective is of much greater significance. And I came to understand a further point: if you analyze this story (or any similar story) by using only the first perspective, that is, by focusing solely on the specific content of the leak, you are very likely to go astray, sometimes very badly. I finally concluded that this is what happened to some of my critics.

But it took me quite a while to see that, and the argument is not a simple one. It is hardly self-explanatory. (Obviously.) So what follows is not short. For me, the most critical questions concern the nature and the personal source of resistance to power, what I sometimes refer to as "the power of 'No.'" (See "You're Either with the Resistance -- or with the Murderers" for more on that.) But I need to cover some preliminary matters before I get to that.

Come along with me on my journey, if you wish. We need to begin with some of the details I learned about Wikileaks, its founder, Julian Assange, and Bradley Manning as I read further about these matters.

Concerning Wikileaks and Genuine Heroes

Several statements from Julian Assange are especially noteworthy:
[Wikileaks'] highest-impact leak came this year, with a 2007 video – dubbed “collateral murder” by Wikileaks – which appears to show a US helicopter firing on a group in Baghdad, killing two Reuters employees. A US army intelligence analyst has been charged in connection with the video leak and Mr Assange has not visited the US since, fearing arrest.

“We believe that transparency in government activities leads to reduced corruption, better government and stronger democracies,” Wikileaks says on its site. Holding governments to account requires information, which has historically been “costly – in terms of human life and human rights”, it says. “But with technological advances – the internet, and cryptography – the risks of conveying important information can be lowered.”


[Wikileaks'] ethos is rooted in hacker culture; the “wiki” of its name refers to the same open-access publishing technology used by Wikipedia.

But Wikileaks’ emphasis on fact-checking, verification and protection of its sources has a longer journalistic lineage. Its rise to prominence has come as newspapers’ capacity to invest in investigative journalism has been impaired by falling circulation and difficulties in making money from the web.


Speaking at the TED conference in Oxford this month, Mr Assange, 39, described the gathering of hard facts as the only true form of journalism. “Capable, generous men do not create victims, they nurture them,” he said of his motivation.

Mr Assange recently told the Guardian that he lived a nomadic lifestyle, carrying a computer in one rucksack and his clothes in another. After keeping a low profile for several years, Mr Assange’s public appearances have recently become more frequent. He has often criticised traditional media outlets for distorting the truth in their stories, telling an audience at London’s City University in July that he hoped the publication of primary source material online would reduce “lying opportunities”.

In joining up with the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel to release the Afghan war logs, Wikileaks has sought to combine the impact of front-page news and analytic skills of specialist reporters with the radical transparency of publishing thousands of original documents.

“This archive shows the vast range of small tragedies that are almost never reported by the press but which account for the overwhelming majority of deaths and injuries,” Wikileaks wrote on its site as it published the 91,000 documents. Its servers struggled under the weight of traffic on Monday.

Even as governments and authorities round the world seek to plug the leaks and their latest outlet, Mr Assange has said that there are plenty more controversial documents in the pipeline.
Several points deserve emphasis. With regard to the particular role he seeks for Wikileaks and, relatedly, in connection with the mechanics of how that role can be made to function with astonishing effectiveness, Assange is nothing less than brilliant. This is a man who understands the system he's up against, and he knows how to jam the gears of that system. You'll find this issue explored further in this valuable piece from Jay Rosen. Note these passages, for example:
4. If you go to the Wikileaks Twitter profile, next to “location” it says: Everywhere. Which is one of the most striking things about it: the world’s first stateless news organization. I can’t think of any prior examples of that. (Dave Winer in the comments: “The blogosphere is a stateless news organization.”) Wikileaks is organized so that if the crackdown comes in one country, the servers can be switched on in another. This is meant to put it beyond the reach of any government or legal system. That’s what so odd about the White House crying, “They didn’t even contact us!”

Appealing to national traditions of fair play in the conduct of news reporting misunderstands what Wikileaks is about: the release of information without regard for national interest. In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But Wikileaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new. Just as the Internet has no terrestrial address or central office, neither does Wikileaks.

5. And just as government doesn’t know what to make of Wikileaks (“we’re gonna hunt you down/hey, you didn’t contact us!”) the traditional press isn’t used to this, either. As Glenn Thrush noted on Politico.com:
The WikiLeaks report presented a unique dilemma to the three papers given advance copies of the 92,000 reports included in the Afghan war logs — the New York Times, Germany’s Der Speigel and the UK’s Guardian.

The editors couldn’t verify the source of the reports — as they would have done if their own staffers had obtained them — and they couldn’t stop WikiLeaks from posting it, whether they wrote about it or not.

So they were basically left with proving veracity through official sources and picking through the pile for the bits that seemed to be the most truthful.
Notice how effective this combination is. The information is released in two forms: vetted and narrated to gain old media cred, and released online in full text, Internet-style, which corrects for any timidity or blind spot the editors at Der Spiegel, The Times or the Guardian may show.
As I said: brilliant. Jay Rosen has much more, and his commentary is well worth your time.

These facts about the operations of Wikileaks tell us a great deal about the kind of man Assange is, and I find all of it profoundly admirable. On a more personal, even intimate level, we have this kind of comment: "'Capable, generous men do not create victims, they nurture them,' he said of his motivation." And Assange speaks of "the vast range of small tragedies" that account for the horrors of U.S. policy overseas. Our culture today is suffused with cynicism, distancing irony, cheap sarcasm, and many other devices which insulate us from confronting and acknowledging the reverence we should feel for the irreplaceable value of a single human life. Assange's actions and the consistency of his statements about his work speak in direct opposition to a culture of death of this kind. Most of us have made ourselves unable or unwilling to see the heroes in our midst. If you are one of those people, you should ask yourself which individuals you help with your actions, and which individuals you harm.

And never forget the grave personal risk undertaken by Assange and those who work with him. As noted in the story above: "A US army intelligence analyst has been charged in connection with the video leak and Mr Assange has not visited the US since, fearing arrest." If you were to tell me that you could demonstrate that Assange is nothing more than an opportunistic seeker after glory, I would not believe you. I don't believe that mere opportunists run risks of this particular kind. And in another sense, I wouldn't care even if you could prove such a contention. Just as I will be demonstrating the importance of the leaks entirely apart from their specific content, Assange's repeated actions take on their own significance apart from his particular motivation. My evaluation of Assange's personal character might alter; my evaluation of the value and immense worth of his actions themselves would not.

Speaking of grave risks brings us to Bradley Manning. I urge you to read this story at Wired. As the direct result of Manning's (alleged) leaks of videos and documents to Wikileaks, Manning has been charged with eight violations of federal criminal law. If he is convicted on all eight charges, he faces up to 52 years in jail. Even now, Manning is under "pretrial confinement."

Bradley Manning is 22 years old. His life has barely begun. Due to the actions of our endlessly destructive and murderous Death State, his life may effectively already be over. Words that are far more damning than "evil" and "monstrous" are required to identify accurately the nature of the goddamned bastards who would condemn this young man to such a fate.

The Wired story reveals some of the factors that led Manning to act as he did:
Other classified leaks [Manning] claimed credit for included an Army document evaluating Wikileaks as a security threat and a detailed Army chronology of events in the Iraq war. But the most startling revelation was a claim that he gave Wikileaks a database of 260,000 classified U.S. diplomatic cables, which Manning said exposed “almost-criminal political back dealings.” [Wikileaks denies that it has received these 260,000 cables.]

“Hillary Clinton and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning, and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public,” Manning told Lamo in an online chat session.

Manning anticipated watching from the sidelines as his action bared the secret history of U.S. diplomacy around the world.

“Everywhere there’s a U.S. post, there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed,” Manning wrote of the cables. “It’s open diplomacy. Worldwide anarchy in CSV format. It’s Climategate with a global scope, and breathtaking depth. It’s beautiful, and horrifying.”


In January, while on leave in the United States, Manning visited a close friend in Boston and confessed he’d gotten his hands on unspecified sensitive information, and was weighing leaking it, according to the friend. “He wanted to do the right thing,” 20-year-old Tyler Watkins told Wired.com. “That was something I think he was struggling with.”

Manning passed the video to Wikileaks in February, he told Lamo. After April 5 when the video was released and made headlines, Manning contacted Watkins from Iraq asking him about the reaction in the United States.

“He would message me, ‘Are people talking about it?… Are the media saying anything?’” Watkins said. “That was one of his major concerns, that once he had done this, was it really going to make a difference?… He didn’t want to do this just to cause a stir…. He wanted people held accountable and wanted to see this didn’t happen again.”
At the age of 22, Bradley Manning has attained a moral stature most people never reach in an entire lifetime. He came to understand the unforgivable brutality and horror of what the U.S. government is doing, and he sought to stop it in any way he could. He wanted to do the right thing, he "wanted people held accountable," and he wanted to make sure "this didn't happen again."

This is the man the U.S. government now seeks to destroy. Bradley Manning is a remarkable hero, but most of us will not acknowledge the heroes who appear in our lives. The deeply admirable Mike Gogulski is not "most of us." He has set up a site for donations to Bradley Manning's legal defense fund, and for support of other kinds.

Please go there right now. Donate as much as you can, as often as you can. Some of us write about these issues. Perhaps that's all we can do. Bradley Manning has put his life on the line to expose the atrocities committed by his government -- and the U.S. government is therefore determined to cut him down.

With this background, we can now turn to a more general consideration of the nature of resistance itself, and to some especially critical questions. I said this wouldn't be short. I'm just getting started.

July 25, 2010

Let Us All Solemnly Praise Wikileaks


We properly should offer recognition and honor to the great heroism of the people at Wikileaks:
A huge cache of secret US military files today provides a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and Nato commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.

The disclosures come from more than 90,000 records of incidents and intelligence reports about the conflict obtained by the whistleblowers' website Wikileaks in one of the biggest leaks in US military history. The files, which were made available to the Guardian, the New York Times and the German weekly Der Spiegel, give a blow-by-blow account of the fighting over the last six years, which has so far cost the lives of more than 320 British and more than 1,000 US troops.
The leaders of America's Death State reacted in the manner typical of imperial murderers:
In a statement, the White House said the chaotic picture painted by the logs was the result of "under-resourcing" under Obama's predecessor, saying: "It is important to note that the time period reflected in the documents is January 2004 to December 2009."

The White House also criticised the publication of the files by Wikileaks: "We strongly condemn the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organisations, which puts the lives of the US and partner service members at risk and threatens our national security. Wikileaks made no effort to contact the US government about these documents, which may contain information that endanger the lives of Americans, our partners, and local populations who co-operate with us."
On the first point -- the White House contention that these failures were "the result of 'under-resourcing'" and that everything is different now, under the wise leadership of Obama: this is complete, and completely evil, bullshit.

It is bullshit because, to begin with, Obama's "new" strategy is not "new" in any significant respect at all. See two articles for the details: "A Deadly Liar and Manipulator," and "Wherein We Gaze Into Our Inerrant Crystal Ball and Espy A Deadly Rat."

It is also bullshit because Obama's "surge" strategy in Afghanistan is intentionally patterned after the "surge" strategy in Iraq, which allegedly led to great success -- or, as Obama himself expressed it, to an "extraordinary achievement." This, too, is a monstrous and sickening lie. See "The Blood-Drenched Darkness of American Exceptionalism" for the excessively bloody details. The White House's contention that the "new" strategy in Afghanistan, which is not new, will lead to any kind of "success" as recognized by sane, healthy human beings is thus a complete and evil lie. More may be more in terms of numbers of American troops alone. More is not "new" or "better." It certainly may be even deadlier -- especially insofar as innocent civilians are concerned -- and this is the only germ of truth such arguments might contain. Perhaps this is, in fact, precisely the meaning Obama intends.

On the White House's second point -- where the White House "strongly condemn[s]" the leak -- let us keep squarely in the front of our minds the actual nature of U.S. foreign policy, and the actual nature of what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan. As I expressed it recently:
To put the actual point very bluntly: the Russians, along with the Iranians, along with everyone else in the world, are entirely justified in thinking that, if they are not on their guard and if they do not take all possible precautions, the United States will fuck up their shit. This is what it means to be devoted to a policy of American worldwide hegemony, enabled by, among other elements, a global empire of bases. The United States is intent, to the fullest extent it can, on fucking up everyone's shit. That's what the U.S. has been doing for more than a century.
Given that the U.S. today continues to follow the course upon which it embarked over a century ago, i.e., that it intends to fuck up everyone's shit in the name of American global hegemony, leaks such as these embody a singularly great allegiance to the value of innocent human life, and to the pursuit of genuine peace. The U.S. government cares about neither. Oh, it says that it does, with the compulsive, nauseating repetitiveness of the most vicious murderer -- and when exactly are murderers notably open and honest about their true motives and goals, especially when they are so devotionally intent upon viewing themselves and making certain that all others view them as noble fighters on behalf of the liberation of all mankind? Do not ever credit in even the smallest degree what is the most obvious and most obviously sickening propaganda and public relations.

The Guardian story provides evidence from the Wikileaks material concerning the U.S.'s (and other coalition troops') utter disregard for innocent human life:
The logs detail, in sometimes harrowing vignettes, the toll on civilians exacted by coalition forces: events termed "blue on white" in military jargon. The logs reveal 144 such incidents.

Some of these casualties come from the controversial air strikes that have led to Afghan government protests, but a large number of previously unknown incidents also appear to be the result of troops shooting unarmed drivers or motorcyclists out of a determination to protect themselves from suicide bombers.

At least 195 civilians are admitted to have been killed and 174 wounded in total, but this is likely to be an underestimate as many disputed incidents are omitted from the daily snapshots reported by troops on the ground and then collated, sometimes erratically, by military intelligence analysts.

Bloody errors at civilians' expense, as recorded in the logs, include the day French troops strafed a bus full of children in 2008, wounding eight. A US patrol similarly machine-gunned a bus, wounding or killing 15 of its passengers, and in 2007 Polish troops mortared a village, killing a wedding party including a pregnant woman, in an apparent revenge attack.
See the Guardian report for many additional details.

And with regard to Wikileaks' actions which the U.S. government strongly condemns, you may be certain that neither the government nor the many others who will rush to condemn Wikileaks will note the following, also from the Guardian story:
Most of the material, though classified "secret" at the time, is no longer militarily sensitive. A small amount of information has been withheld from publication because it might endanger local informants or give away genuine military secrets. Wikileaks, whose founder, Julian Assange, obtained the material in circumstances he will not discuss, said it would redact harmful material before posting the bulk of the data on its "uncensorable" servers.
When you face a genocidal serial murderer, a murderer without conscience or soul, it is your obligation as a minimally decent human being to oppose him in any way you can. Through its leak of material such as that now made public, Wikileaks seeks to fulfill this solemn responsibility.

Long may it thrive, until the blessed day when its services are no longer required.

UPDATE: Much more about Wikileaks is in my latest post: "Wikileaks, Resistance, Genuine Heroes, and Breaking the Goddamned Rules."

July 22, 2010

You Go, Ms. Sherrod!

[Update added.]

One particular kind of observation I've made about a certain Barack Obama over the last several years has repeatedly been greeted with a near-universal reaction along the lines of: "Wuhhhh??" I have been led to believe that this indicates a) bafflement, b) a faltering familiarity with the English language, c) a judgment that, whatever I might mean, it can't possibly have even the remotest relevance to any of the burning issues that demand our attention, d) all of the foregoing.

What kind of observation am I referring to? (Thus do I translate the, "Huh?," which I assume was the typical reaction to the preceding paragraph.) This kind:
Very interestingly, however, [Uri] Avnery neglects to mention a further critical reason for Obama's identification with "American whites," although he hints at it. That reason is one I discussed in the first part of my "Triumph" series, and it must never be forgotten. It's a simple and terrible reason: Obama wants power. This is not a secondary or related, tangential issue: we are talking about politics here, so it is the reason. He wants power. In America, if you want power, you must be white -- or you must adopt all the trappings of the white rulers. That's it, that's the whole thing. Power accrues to the white, male ruling class. Period.
And this kind:
[I]t is Obama himself who has adopted the white racist framework. Yes, I repeat that: Obama has adopted the white racist framework with regard to every issue of importance.
And this kind:
I confess I find it immensely difficult to describe accurately or completely the surreal quality of the Obama campaign. Everyone comments on the historic significance of a Black American who may be the next president. On the most superficial level, it is certainly historic, and I would not argue that it is entirely unimportant. At the same time, it is astonishing that almost no one notes the myriad ways in which Obama has transformed himself into a white candidate in everything but skin color. Yet on a deeper level, none of this is surprising: it is only another of thousands of examples of the superficiality and triviality of what passes for our national discussion, a subject I've discussed here and here. Still, I had not expected to see "passing for white" dramatized in exactly this manner, or on this scale.
Many more observations in the same category will be found in this post, and in the numerous articles linked there.

I know, I know: "Wuhhhh??"

But I see that at least one other person has put forth a perspective strikingly similar to mine on this point. Enter Shirley Sherrod:
Shirley Sherrod, the woman at the center of the racism storm that has consumed Washington the past few days, told me she doesn’t know if President Obama supports her, but she welcomes the opportunity to talk to him about it, and to offer a few lessons of her own.

“I can’t say that the president is fully behind me, I would hope that he is…I would love to talk to him,” Sherrod said on "GMA."

“He is not someone who has experienced what I have experienced through life, being a person of color. He might need to hear some of what I could say to him,” she told me. “I don’t know if that would guide him in a way that he deals with others like me, but I at least would like to have the opportunity to talk to him about it.”

No word yet from the White House on whether the President will call Sherrod.


Vilsack spoke to Sherrod yesterday and offered her a job at the USDA. But as of this morning Sherrod said she still didn’t know if she will accept it.

“I haven’t had a chance yet to look at just what that offer is. As I said earlier, I really, I know that he talked about discrimination in the agency and after all of these years that is still happening…And I would not want to be the one person in the agency that everyone is looking at to clear up discrimination in the Department of Agriculture,” Sherrod said.

Sherrod, the former Georgia director of rural development, said she needs reassurance from both Vilsack and Obama that they are fully committed to ending discrimination as well.

“Many of the same people who discriminated against black farmers continue to work there…There are some other things that would need to happen within the agency that have not happened to this date,” she told me.

Over the past four days Sherrod went from a symbol of racism to being seen by some as a heroine – a journey she said was “tough.”

“My life has been about fairness, and to have people think that I was a racist, someone who has worked against racism all my life, really, really, hurt to feel that people thought of me in a way that I know I wasn’t, and a way that so many people who know me knew that that wasn’t me,” she said.
I emphatically do not compare my own experience to Ms. Sherrod's, but because of what I've written about Obama, I've been accused of being a racist as well. I wrote about that, and many related matters, here.

Because of some emails I received and a few posts I happened to see, I know that part of the reason for the accusations in my case was a particular tone I adopted in some of my comments about Obama. For example:
Listen up, Obama, you cheap, lying fraud: the United States government launched a criminal war of aggression against a nation that never threatened us. It continues a bloody, murdering occupation which does nothing but worsen the agony of the Iraqi people. We have no right to be in Iraq at all. We never did. The actions of the United States government have led to a genocide of world historical proportions.

Genocidal murderers and those who support and enable them -- as you do, Obama, since you vote to fund this continuing crime -- do not get to "ask" one single goddamned fucking thing of their victims. Not. One. Single. Goddamned. Fucking. Thing.

Get it, you pathetic little asshole?
You see the starkly obvious problem: I consistently fail to be sufficiently respectful. Still worse, I use bad words. I realize that it's entirely irrelevant that I said exactly the same things about Bush when he was president. It can't possibly be the case that I'm reacting to the policies of the men in question, or to the fact that both of them are war criminals. No, it's most definitely not any of that.

I can't offer Ms. Sherrod anything at all by way of remuneration, but if she ever feels the urge to do a little blogging, I'd be exceptionally proud to offer her a guest spot here for as long as she wishes. She would have total freedom to write about whatever she wants, in whatever manner she chooses.

We racists need to stick together. You should feel completely free to quote that last sentence and provide no surrounding context whatsoever. I'll even help you out some more. I hate America, too. And I do not support "the troops." And, "Yes, I Want the United States to Lose."

I am a repellently irredeemable, utterly loathsome, motherfucking bastard. I insist that you quote that sentence. Frequently.

UPDATE: Although I linked this essay above, I hadn't read it in its entirety since it was published just over two years ago: "Enchanted Evenings -- and Days, and Lives, in Hell." I read it again a few minutes ago. It's far better than I expected it to be, and I'm somewhat surprised to be as proud of it as I am.

I think you may find the personal history I offer there, together with my observations, of some value in connection with my argument about Obama and his identification with the white, male ruling class. I'd forgotten most of the details of that article, and I was delighted to find much of it very interesting in ways I hadn't anticipated, given my own memory lapse. That's always one of the qualities I look for in anything I read, one that I especially enjoy. I honestly don't mean to sound arrogant and conceited on this point (though I recognize I undoubtedly do, probably unforgivably so); as I say, my own reaction surprised and delighted me. It was lovely. :>)

July 20, 2010

Fuck Your Goddamned "Optics"

Jesus Fuck. No, I'm not sorry in the least. Those are the only appropriate words. I loathe the use of the term "optics" in discussions of what are genuinely life-and-death issues as much as I loathe anything in American politics. It is an almost perfect demonstration of America's obsession with marketing in place of truth and facts, with slogans used to bludgeon to an exceedingly bloody death the smallest remnants of genuine intelligence and perceptiveness.

Digby surely does love love love the "optics." As in the abominable health insurance reform "optics":
[Democrats and progressives] are desperate for something they can call a "win" as an alleged demonstration of perceived "political power."

Note the qualifiers I have italicized in the preceding sentence. This is the Horror Hall of Mirrors of the fatally corrupted world now inhabited by the "leading" progressives: reality is endlessly reflected and distorted, until all that remains is a nightmare depiction offering no connection at even a single point to something that constitutes a positive achievement in terms of their own stated purposes.

[There follows a detailed discussion of one of Digby's posts re same.]


In other words: even though those people who will not be able to pay for insurance -- and who thus may be subject to penalties for failing to comply with the mandate -- may desperately need those "better subsidies," they won't get them "even if" those "better subsidies" "made sense." In still other words: too bad you won't be able to pay for insurance, too bad you might be fined (and won't be able to pay the fines, either), too bad you might even go to jail. We could help you, but we won't. And we won't help you because it's more important for us to have our symbol of political power.

And the people who won't be helped are precisely those people these same Democrats and progressives endlessly told us they so desperately wanted to help when this wretched, abysmal process began.

This is the very definition of moral and intellectual bankruptcy.
And we have this today, in the latest set-to about competing charges of racism: "But I also have to wonder if they know what the optics of this are."

For a moment measurable only in nanoseconds, Digby entertains one possible explanation for the latest Democratic abomination: "After ACORN and now this, I really have to wonder if the Democrats and Brietbart [sic] aren't actually working together on a whole Sistah Soljah campaign." But then she swiftly pivots and retreats to the all-purpose disinfectant for All Things Stinky Rotten Yet Which Are Inexplicably Tied to Democrats: "Seriously, this shows tremendous weakness." (Digby retreats still further in a second update: "This is sheer cowardice.")

Aw, the Democrats are weak. They're cowards. Let us as one sing lamentations. Woe, ah, woe unto the Democrats! Who can withstand the eternal assaults of the omnipotent Power of Weak?!?!

Democrats only run every significant institution of power in the whole fucking goddamned country. They're only trying to run much of the whole fucking goddamned world.

Digby was one of two main examples I used in, "Blinded by the Story: Liberals and Progressives as Political Creationists." In a perfect coincidence (or is it??), the other example was Atrios; in an entirely predictable manner, Atrios links to Digby's post about the racism kerfuffle with the title, "What Digby Said." (Today's links via Corrente.)

In "Blinded by the Story," I excerpted various posts from Digby and Atrios in which both focused their laser-like minds on the Democrats' performance, yet could only mumble: "Don't Get It." Or, in Digby's words: "Obviously, I'm not the only one who can't for the life of me figure out why the congress is doing this." This phenomenon of self-willed and self-created blindness on the part of irrevocably committed political tribalists is one I've since discussed in more detail in my tribalism series, especially in "Creating the Next Generation" and "Learning to Hate 'The Other.'"

In "Blinded by the Story," I wrote the following in explaining the root of this kind of self-imposed blindness, and why these writers will continue to support the Democrats regardless of what they do:
The reason for that is very simple, and it goes to the progressives' central articles of religious faith: The Democrats aren't really like this, not in their heart of hearts. The Democrats don't actually favor a repressive, authoritarian state. The Democrats are good, and they want liberty and peace for everyone, everywhere, for eternity, hallelujah and amen.

People who continue to believe this have evicted themselves from serious political debate, and they have willingly made themselves slaves to their enthusiastically embraced self-delusions. They confess a comprehensive ignorance of history, a stunning inability to understand the political developments of the last century, and a desire to place the story they have chosen, primarily because it flatters their own false sense of vanity and self-worth, above every relevant fact. In terms of these dynamics, they are no different from Sam Brownback and his ludicrous defense of his religious beliefs against the evidence of evolution.
The balance of that post sets forth parts of the records -- the actual records, not the various mythologies so eagerly regurgitated by dedicated liberals -- of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Bill Clinton. That evidence (and a massive amount of further evidence, which I could only indicate very briefly) led me to this conclusion (among others):
The historical record is compelling in its clarity, and overpowering in its length and volume. A corporatist, authoritarian state is what the ruling elites want, and it is precisely what serves their interests, Republican and Democrat alike. They know it; they count on your inability or refusal to see it.
My earlier article also offered this further point about the operation of those beliefs which committed tribalists refuse to relinquish or even seriously question. I regret to say that the three years that have elapsed since I wrote "Blinded by the Story" have demonstrated that this has greater explanatory power than even I had fully anticipated:
Whenever a preexisting and preselected narrative assumes primary importance in this way, the longer one clings to the preferred story, the stupider one becomes. This is why the truth or falsity of the stories we tell is so critical, and why our methodology matters so much. If a story that is central to our view of ourselves fails to comport with the facts, and if we refuse to give up or even question the story, this necessitates that we block ourselves off from more and more information that might "undermine" that story, to use Brownback's terminology. Rather than eagerly seeking out further facts and trying to find out if a given story remains accurate or needs to be significantly revised (and sometimes even jettisoned altogether), we will lower our heads, narrow the scope of our inquiry, and progressively restrict the kind of data we permit ourselves to examine and even acknowledge. As time goes on, our intellectual curiosity steadily decreases. We won't want certain facts and information, because we might have to wonder whether particular cherished beliefs are correct.
In place of the fashionable, determinedly and offensively superficial preoccupation with "optics" -- that is, with the way things appear -- I would suggest that progressives and liberals focus on what the Democrats do and therefore what they are. If you allow yourself to look at and understand the relevant evidence, which now stretches back for a hundred years, you'll see that the Democrats want, indeed they fervently desire, zealously advocate and bring into an increasingly nightmarish reality an aggressively, criminally violent, interventionist foreign policy and a constantly growing authoritarian-surveillance state at home.

Today, and with as much detestable enthusiasm as the Republicans bring to the task, the Democrats seek to enrich and empower the ruling class still more as they simultaneously oppress, brutalize, impoverish and murder those who are not members of the ruling class.

But, of course, as Digby and Atrios and many others so regularly remind us and will doubtless tell us again in future, be sure to vote for the Democrats this fall and ever afterward, because ... ah ... well ... um ... the Republicans are crazy! In addition to my earlier comments on this insultingly stupid "argument," I'll restate the point for those who have difficulty following.

The Democrats will oppress, brutalize, impoverish and murder those who are not the ruling class, BUT -- since they are mercifully not crazy, not like those frothing, sputtering, Neanderthal Republicans -- the Democrats will know exactly what they're doing every step of the way. But in their hearts, the Democrats actually know these are horrible things to do, but, well, ya see, they just can't help it. They're weak.

Now, doesn't that make you feel much, much better? Of course it does! As Digby might say: "We're 2% less shitty than Pure Evil! It's all we've got!"

P.S. I'm working on a new essay about racism in contemporary America, and I hope to have it completed in the coming week or two. In the meantime, I will note that, yes, of course, there is a disturbingly significant element of racism in the "tea party" movement. I have some evidence for that proposition that will probably be new to most of you.

At the same time, the Democrats and progressives have no reason to congratulate themselves on this point. First and always foremost is the fact that institutionalized, systemic racism is endemic to the American polity; see here and here for just some of the evidence -- and see this for a discussion of Biden's racism, which all good progressives denied and adamantly refused to acknowledge (did the writer leave out a comma? -- I kid you not), and this too, on the hideous horror of Biden more generally.

Second, and of equal significance, is the fact -- acknowledged by almost no one, and certainly not by good liberals and progressives -- that Obama himself is a notably vicious racist: "All this means that it is Obama himself who has adopted the white racist framework. Yes, I repeat that: Obama has adopted the white racist framework with regard to every issue of importance."

This is true because Obama denies the truth of American history in some of its most essential aspects and fully embraces the myth of American exceptionalism -- which is a myth of white American exceptionalism. It is also true because Obama has intentionally adopted more particular racist tropes, such as the myth of "irresponsible" black fathers. (And follow some of the many links provided near the beginning of this article for much more on this topic.)

Please don't say Obama can't be a racist because he's black, or half-black, or however the hell you want to describe it. Just don't. I know you can be smarter than that, if you'll only try. In America today, the fastest path to power is via the white, male ruling class. Obama wanted and wants power, period. So in every way that matters, he identifies with the white, male ruling class. Now he's the leader of that class. See how that works?

But after all this (and this is just a small preview of my upcoming post, mind you), I only have one real complaint.

I need several new four-letter words, or the equivalent. Seriously, motherfuckers. Send me some suggestions, you worthless assholes.