December 24, 2012

An UnChristmas Story, 2012

"Yes, sir. We've been tracking them for the last week. They've been traveling through an area controlled by that terrorist group we're watching. Every night, they've stayed at the homes of people who are family relations or friends to someone we suspect of being a terrorist. All of them are involved with those protests about taxes, the land appropriation policy, and the forced labor program. As you know, sir, some of those protests have been very violent."

"Tell me again what they look like."

"Well, sir, as best we can tell, they're pretty scraggly and dirty. And swarthy, you know? They certainly don't look like regular folks or decent people, you know, not like us. And of course, they're carrying those suspicious looking packages."

"You still don't know what's in them?"

"No, sir. We haven't been able to figure it out for sure. We've caught glimpses of things that look like they might be drugs. And a few glints of something that might be precious metal. As you know, that all fits the terrorist profile."

"Yes, it certainly does. Anything else?"

"Some of the villagers have gone to the hut where the three men are now. From all the information we have, we think it must be a meeting of the local terrorist cell."

"And they're all together right now in that hut?"

"In the hut, or just outside it."

"I see. Aw, fuck it. Take 'em out."

"Yes, sir."

And lo, a drone was launched. It hit the designated target with perfect precision. That was unusual, but miracles happen sometimes. The three scraggly-looking men who had traveled so far, approximately 20 villagers who had gathered at the hut (which also happened to be a stable), and the new-born baby were all killed. And the baby's parents.

So there never was a Christmas.

Or Christianity.

Or history, at least the history you know for the last two thousand years.

Stop with your pathetic whining. You wanted to be safe from terrorists. Those people were terrorists! All the recognized authorities said so. And that baby would have caused a whole lot of trouble. Might have advocated for the poor, hated the big finance guys, God knows what. Hey, God. What's the story with that mofo? Talk about trouble-makers.

So, once the matter was brought to the attention of superior officers (and even of Dear Leader, known to all for his weepy compassion and astonishingly gentle soul), and because the exact coordinates of God's location proved to be somewhat difficult to determine, a series of drone strikes was launched.

At which point, God said, to coin a phrase, "Aw, fuck it." And He smote the whole fucking world. He didn't even need a drone. He later insisted that Earth had only been a rough draft, an experiment that perhaps hadn't been planned with sufficient care, and He also emphasized that He had never said He was perfect. During his appearance before the Council of Superior Beings, He would acknowledge only that, "Mistakes were made..."

God as the Ultimate Ass-Covering Bureaucrat. You knew it was going to turn out like that, didn't you? Yeah, baby.

Happy Unholidays.

December 18, 2012

Passing Thoughts, Proudly Offered with No Supporting Argument

One of the more horrifically amusing aftereffects of the Newtown murders is the spectacle of self-identified "libertarians" supporting involuntary commitment (e.g., here and here). Because, ya know, they're all about liberty and freedom. Maybe somebody should have asked them: liberty and freedom from what? It can't be freedom from bullets or murder, because these same people lovelovelove murder, conquest, exploitation, etc., etc. when the U.S. government pursues an aggressive and criminal foreign policy. But now we're told that, if "experts" agree and present "sufficient" evidence to the State demonstrating that an individual is an "imminent danger" to himself and/or others, we should start locking people up. And forcefeeding them drugs that are more than likely to make them "crazy" even when they weren't before, for "diseases" that for the most part don't exist except in the calculations of drug companies intent on amassing huge amounts of wealth (um, that is, even huger amounts of wealth), a task on which a compliant government is enthusiastically willing to collaborate. And very often, those in key governmental positions vis-a-vis the drug companies are those who have worked or will work for the drug companies themselves. Surely you didn't think the "mental health" industry escaped the corporatism that rules every other aspect of economic life in these glorious Yewnited States, didja? Surely not. It's all about the bucks, baby. And now Obamacare makes it even easier!

And liberals and progressives were happyhappyhappy to provide Obamacare! And they want to make sure insurance covers "mental health" problems ever more comprehensively -- so that, ya know, still more people will take drugs that are more than likely to make them "crazy," etc. and so on. And almost everyone believes, for example, that certain "mental illnesses" are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, and that the magic drugs correct those imbalances. Which is sweet and all, but actually there is scant to no evidence whatsoever to support those notions. Nope, most of what people believe on this subject is a pack of lies. It just happens to be a pack of lies that makes certain select companies and individuals fantastically rich. It's the American way! (That book has tons of facts and arguments, so I smuggled some in despite my headline. Ha!)

But people believe all that shit because Establishment "experts" tell them it's true. Honestly, have people learned absolutely nothing in the last ten years? What did foreign policy "experts" tell you about Iraq? What do they tell you about Iran? And what do Establishment "experts" on the economy tell you? Do you believe those experts? But when an expert has a medical degree and calls his opinions "science" (for which opinions he is frequently very handsomely paid by, tada!, the drug companies), almost everyone swallows all of it. (For a discussion of "experts" generally, see Part II, "The Claim to 'Special' Knowledge and Expertise," in this article. More smuggling!)

Well, all those drugs do accomplish one very important goal: they smooth out all the rough edges, deaden emotions and impair the brain (and lead to regrettable, regular episodes where people commit suicide, murder and other acts of violence, but oh well, eggs, omelettes, and all that) -- and they make people much more compliant and obedient. For an obedience culture, that's a big plus! That obedience trick works especially well with children, which is why more and more children are forced to take drugs -- but "scientific" ones! -- with every year that passes. Gotta get them early, you know.

I will have more to say on some of these points soon. But I have to wait for the nausea to subside. Hey, I'm sure there's a drug I can take for that! And I am feeling kinda blue. Aw, that's sweet. I've already received three emails from "medical experts" offering to write me prescriptions. They say the drugs will help with my "anger" issues, too. Obviously, in a country where the ruling class is intent on the destruction of vast numbers of people both at home and abroad, a country led by a deeply compassionate, weepy president who just happens to have a goddamned Kill List, there's absolutely nothing to be angry about, for heaven's sake. No sirree! God, I love this country! See, I'm better already.

Honest to Christ, folks. Are people ever going to WAKE THE FUCK UP? Oh, gee. I guess that sounded kinda angry, huh? Medicate me!

That is all for now.

December 16, 2012

God Damn You, America, and Your White, Privileged Grief

I debated whether to use what some will find a deeply offensive title, or to employ a safer, anodyne one. The debate did not last long, and it was finally settled, for me at least, when I read this:
President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Newtown, Conn., the close-knit town rocked by tragedy, after a gunman stormed into Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday and shot 20 children at least twice each with a high-powered rifle.

Officials revealed Saturday the gunman executed some children at close range and killed adults who tried to stop the carnage.

Obama will meet privately with victims' families on Sunday before attending a church service.
I also remembered the headline of a NYT story yesterday: "Nation Reels After Gunman Massacres 20 Children at School in Connecticut." "Nation Reels..."

We've had Cool Obama, and No Drama Obama. Now we have Weeping Obama. Does Weeping Obama "meet privately" with the families of those he has ordered murdered in Pakistan, or Somalia, or Yemen? Does he even acknowledge those murders -- murders that he himself ordered? Does the "nation reel" in response to these regular, systematic murders of innocent human beings -- many of them children? Does the "nation reel" in response to the Obama administration's repeated public announcements of its Kill List and its Murder Program, a program which intentionally, repeatedly murders innocent people? Does America react with horror to the fact that Obama and his administration claim the "right" to murder anyone they want, anywhere in the world, for any reason they choose or invent out of nothing?

I have written countless articles on the theme of the sacred, irreplaceable value of a single human life. At this point, and at least insofar as an honest reader is concerned, one who has read even a handful of my essays, I do not need to demonstrate my sincerity and commitment on this issue. (This is hardly to say that I am thereby protected from baseless, utterly unjustified attacks with regard to this issue, or many others. But I regard such attacks as entirely worthless and undeserving of any response, beyond my pointing to earlier pieces and saying: Read these, and then shut the hell up.) When I first heard of the tragedy in Newtown, my reaction was certainly one of horror. But it was not different in nature or intensity from my reaction to all the needless murders committed by the United States government in recent years.

And my reaction quickly shifted from horror at the murders in Newtown to a sickened disgust at the purposes for which the general public reaction was immediately utilized. I certainly do not question the genuineness of the reaction of those immediately affected by this immense tragedy. I made precisely the same point in connection with the murders in Aurora, Colorado. But that is not all I had to say:
I do not wonder about the terrible, life-altering grief felt by those individuals immediately affected by these ghastly events: the families and friends of those who were killed and injured, as well as those who were trapped in the theater during those terrifying and endless minutes, together with those who live in Aurora.

But I do wonder about the national paroxysm of grief, the generalized scream of pain offered by every politician and public official from president to trash collector, the public lamentation and wailing, the sickening enthusiasm shown by political tribalists from every point in the spectrum for scoring disgustingly cheap points off the blood-spattered corpses of the victims. Yet that isn't honest of me: I don't wonder about such public displays at all. I view them with deep loathing and contempt. I consider them, without exception, to be the symptoms of irretrievably damaged, narcissistic psychologies. Those who engage in such public displays and political positioning are vile and despicable in a manner that is close to impossible to capture in words. I emphasize again that I am speaking here not of those immediately affected by this tragedy, but of those people who have no direct connection of any kind to the victims and their families.
In that earlier essay, I explained the reasons for my judgment, speaking primarily of the horrors committed by the U.S. government in pursuit of a deeply evil foreign policy. After detailing the specifics in support of my conclusion, I wrote:
[M]any Americans hurl themselves with fundamentally false, deeply disturbed enthusiasm into public demonstrations of grief over the needless deaths of some human beings -- those human beings they see as being much like themselves, when the deaths happen in what could be their own neighborhood. As for all the murders committed by their government with a systematic dedication as insane as that of any serial killer: silence.

But every murder committed by the United States government, every murder ordered by Obama, represents a tragedy exactly like Aurora to someone. But it is not someone most Americans happen to know or recognize -- even if only to recognize the person as a fellow human being -- and it is therefore as if it never occurred.
These particular connections are overly familiar by now, for this pattern has been repeated an indecent number of times. This particular pattern of avoidance carries the stench of the decaying, rotting corpse of one of Obama's own countless victims.

Now I want to draw your attention to several other issues that will never be mentioned during the current exercise in national mourning. I again emphasize that I exclude from this analysis those persons and families directly affected by these events. My concern here is the national immersion in this story. This enthusiasm, and there is no other word to describe it, for demonstrating how deeply one is affected, how vast is one's grief, how completely shattered everyone is by these deaths -- everyone, that is, who is supposedly "decent" and "caring," and who is grief-stricken and shattered by these deaths but not by many thousands of other deaths -- is a symptom of a culture that is profoundly disturbed. It is another instance of a dynamic I recently identified in discussing the "feel-good" story about the NY policeman who gave a new pair of boots to a homeless man:
The fundamentally unjustified and highly selective focus -- on feel-good stories on one hand, and on only narrowly delimited evils on the other -- always seeks to achieve a whitewash of this kind: it attempts to obliterate the reality of the obviously related, but unacknowledged greater evils in the broader system. In this sense, all such efforts are cover-ups, they are intellectually dishonest, and they are always lies.
The "narrowly delimited evil" in the current story is, obviously, the murders in Connecticut. Because the majority of the victims were very young children, we have been repeatedly told by everyone how especially awful these murders are. The victims were those who are unquestionably innocent, and who are the most defenseless among us. Everyone has gone on to assert how desperately concerned we all are to protect "our" children, and to always, always keep them safe from harm.

This is a fantastic lie, and a lie that is truly spectacular in its scope. If "we" are all so deeply committed to always keeping "our" children safe from all conceivable harm, perhaps someone can explain the following to me:
[P]ublic displays of outrage and condemnation, particularly when engaged in with such unsettling eagerness, are to be distrusted. Anyone and everyone will rush to say, when the spotlight is on him, "No one could possibly care more about protecting children than I do!" The test of his sincerity is what happens when the spotlight moves on, when no one is looking -- no one, that is, except his own conscience and sense of humanity (and God, if he believes in such).

The test of his sincerity also includes what he does not say. I have yet to come across an article about what happened at Penn State that mentions this:
Thirty-one nations fully ban corporal punishment.

Sweden, in 1979, was the first to make it illegal to strike a child as a form of discipline. Since then, many other countries in Europe have also instituted bans, as have New Zealand and some countries in Africa and the Americas.

More than 70 additional nations have specific laws in place that prohibit corporal punishment in schools. You can sort through the table above to see where different countries stand on the issue.

In some cases, such as the United States, there are partial bans in place depending on either location or the age of the children.

For the U.S., corporal punishment is prohibited in public schools for 31 states and the District of Columbia. Two states, Iowa and New Jersey, extend their bans to private schools as well.
Thus, in the United States, corporal punishment is legal in public schools in 19 states, and in private schools in 48 states. In addition, corporal punishment is legal in every home.

I'll keep this simple. I'll put it in bold capital letters:


I refer you to an article I wrote, God help me, in 2004: "From Mild Smacking to Outright Sadism, Torture and War: The Lie of 'Well-Intentioned' Violence." Here is the opening of that essay:
I had begun this essay with a different title: A New Law for Adults -- Moderate Assaults Now Permitted. Can you imagine for one moment that anyone would assent to a law of the kind suggested by that statement? Think about the howls of justified outrage that would greet a proposal to pass a law stating as follows:
After review of many studies and having consulted the opinions of numerous experts, we have concluded that it is sometimes acceptable for one spouse to smack the other, if he or she does so to inflict "moderate punishment" for disapproved behavior. However, we emphasize that this new law should not be taken as permission for any adult to go further. Any violence engaged in by one spouse which results in genuine physical or mental harm to the other will be prosecuted to the full extent permitted by other applicable laws.
Yet physical assaults on children are legal in public schools in 19 states and in private schools in 48 states, and in every home in the Glorious United States of America.

From the ACLU, three years ago:
More than 200,000 US public school students were punished by beatings during the 2006-2007 school year, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union said in a joint report released today. In the 13 states that corporally punished more than 1,000 students per year, African-American girls were twice as likely to be beaten as their white counterparts.

In the 125-page report, "A Violent Education: Corporal Punishment of Children in U.S. Public Schools," the ACLU and Human Rights Watch found that in Texas and Mississippi children ranging in age from 3 to 19 years old are routinely physically punished for minor infractions such as chewing gum, talking back to a teacher, or violating the dress code, as well as for more serious transgressions such as fighting. Corporal punishment, legal in 21 states, typically takes the form of "paddling," during which an administrator or teacher hits a child repeatedly on the buttocks with a long wooden board. The report shows that, as a result of paddling, many children are left injured, degraded, and disengaged from school.

"Every public school needs effective methods of discipline, but beating kids teaches violence and it doesn't stop bad behavior," said Alice Farmer, Aryeh Neier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the ACLU, and author of the report. "Corporal punishment discourages learning, fails to deter future misbehavior and at times even provokes it."

The report found that in the 13 southern states where corporal punishment is most prevalent, African-American students are punished at 1.4 times the rate that would be expected given their numbers in the student population, and African-American girls are 2.1 times more likely to be paddled than might be expected. There is no evidence that these students commit disciplinary infractions at disproportionate rates.

"Minority students in public schools already face barriers to success," said Farmer. "By exposing these children to disproportionate rates of corporal punishment, schools create a hostile environment in which these students may struggle even more."

Students with mental and physical disabilities are also punished at disproportionate rates, with potentially serious consequences for their development. In Texas, for instance, 18.4 percent of the total number of students who were physically punished were special education students, even though they make up only 10.7 percent of the student population.


The report documents several cases in which children were beaten to the point of serious injury. Since educators who beat children have immunity under law from assault proceedings, parents who try to pursue justice for injured children encounter resistance from police, district attorneys, and courts. Parents also face enormous, sometimes insurmountable, obstacles in trying to prevent physical punishment of their children. While some school districts permit parents to sign forms opting out of corporal punishment for their children, the forms are often ignored.
Since the time of that ACLU report, two more states have outlawed corporal punishment in public schools, so some progress is being made. But corporal punishment is still legal in public schools in 19 states, and in private schools in 48 states -- and in every home. I have yet to see even one of the many wonderful people expressing metaphysical outrage about the Penn State story mention this fact.

So I repeat:


I spoke of the endlessly repeating pattern of momentary outrage followed by forgetfulness, a pattern which will doubtless occur still another time with the Penn State story. I wrote an article in October 2009 about the Roman Polanski controversy, which was just one more among countless "sensational" stories. Among my points was this one:
Most people, and certainly most people in the United States, will not condemn cruel behavior toward children by adults in anything approaching a consistent and meaningful manner. For an examination of emotional and psychological cruelty to children, see the discussion here and here (and follow the links for much more; you'll find still more links here). Very few people condemn such cruelty, for many people, and most parents, inflict such cruelty on children with great frequency. They consider such methods of childrearing to be "proper" and "correct," and they believe they treat children cruelly "for the child's own good."

This inconsistency becomes even more marked when we note how common physical cruelty toward children is. See "When the Demons Come," "The Search for Underlying Causes, and Why Spanking Is Always Wrong," and "From Mild Smacking to Outright Torture and War: The Lie of 'Well-Intentioned Violence.'" I also direct you to my discussion of the heated and fundamentally hypocritical Mark Foley controversy, and of corporal punishment in public schools: "The Politics of Lies: Suffer the Children." I emphasize: corporal punishment in public schools -- which means you pay for the torture of children. On the identical point, see the ACLU report here (pdf).

As noted, individuals are correct to condemn Polanski's actions, and they should condemn them. However, until and unless they demonstrate that they understand the much more common forms of cruelty toward children -- and until and unless they condemn that cruelty as well -- their condemnations of Polanski (and of similar behavior by others), however impassioned and even sincere they might be, represent nothing more than an isolated instance of happening to stumble upon the truth. It is very easy to condemn a figure such as Polanski: such condemnation involves no risk of any kind (indeed, for many people, the failure to condemn is much more likely to open them to criticism from those tribes with which they identify and to which they belong), nor does such condemnation imperil their belief systems.

A heinous crime such as rape -- rape of anyone, adult or child -- is comparatively rare. How often do adults treat children cruelly in the much more common ways I mention above, and that I have analyzed in detail in the past (and which I will soon analyze in still further detail)? Why, every minute of every day, all around you. Do you react with horror when the angry parent smacks a child at the supermarket? You should. Do you intercede to protect the child? I would not suggest that you should in every instance; it might be very inadvisable, for a number of reasons. But you should want to. Most people don't. Many people approve the parent's behavior, and many other parents treat their own children the same way.

For these reasons (and many more), while I regard the condemnations of Polanski as correct in a broad sense, I view them as largely insignificant. I also regard them as worse than insignificant in one crucial way: we are eager to condemn the most extreme crimes, especially when that condemnation carries no personal risk of any kind, precisely because we do not wish to confront and condemn cruelty that is much more widespread. The eager condemnation of the extreme particular instance allows us to avoid a much more threatening and fundamental truth.
In the midst of this latest national paroxysm of grief, have you heard even one mention of our longstanding national acceptance of corporal punishment of children? Can you recall the last time you heard corporal punishment discussed? Are any major national voices raised in a campaign to outlaw corporal punishment, for the same reasons we outlaw physical assaults on adult human beings? I repeat: CHILDREN ARE HUMAN BEINGS. They are not insensate hunks of matter on which you may unleash your repressed anger and hatred.

And do not wonder for even a second if or how widespread abuse of children continues to affect us when we become adults. For just one example, I turn to Alice Miller, in her article "The Origins of Torture in Endured Child Abuse":
Many people have claimed to be appalled by the acts of perversion committed by American soldiers on ADULT people, Iraqi prisoners. Amazingly, I have never heard of any such reaction in response to the occasional attempts to expose similar practices committed towards CHILDREN as for instance in British and American schools. There, these practices come under the heading of "education." But the cruelty is the same. The world appears to be surprised that such brutality should rear its head among the American forces. After all, America presents itself to the international public as the guardian of world peace. There is an explanation for all this, but hardly anyone wants to hear it.

It is definitely a good thing that light has been cast on the situation and that the media have exposed this lie for what it is. Basically it runs as follows: We are a civilized, freedom-loving nation and bring democracy and independence to the whole world. Under this motto the Americans forced their way into Iraq with devastating results and still insist that they are exporting cultural values. But now it turns out that alongside their bombs and missiles the well-drilled, smartly dressed soldiers are carrying a huge arsenal of pent-up rage around with them, invisible on the outside, invisible for themselves, lurking deep down within, but unmistakably dangerous.

Where does this suppressed rage come from, this need to torment, humiliate, mock, and abuse helpless human beings (prisoners and children as well)? What are these outwardly tough soldiers avenging themselves for? And where have they learnt such behavior? First as little children taught obedience by means of physical "correction," then in school, where they served as the defenseless objects of the sadism of some of their teachers, and finally in their time as recruits, treated like dirt by their superiors so that they could finally acquire the highly dubious ability to take anything meted out to them and qualify as "tough."

The thirst for vengeance does not come from nowhere. It has a clearly identifiable cause. The thirst for vengeance has its origins in infancy, when children are forced to suffer in silence and put up with the cruelty inflicted on them in the name of upbringing. They learn how to torment others from their parents, and later from their teachers and superiors. It is nothing other than systematic instruction by example on how to destroy others. Yet many people believe that it has no evil consequences. As if a child were a container that can be emptied from time to time. But the human brain is not a container. The things we learn at an early stage stay with us in later life.
The full article has more.

Yet we almost never discuss any of this.

In reaction to the Newtown tragedy, we have also heard a great deal about the unfathomable grief experienced by the families, and about the devastation suffered by those families. As I've already noted, the grief and devastation experienced by the families themselves is genuinely horrific. My question -- and my vehement criticism -- is directed at everyone else, and especially at those who claim to be so concerned with the families' suffering. If that concern is indeed genuine, why is there no mention of the following:
Obama’s mere presence in the Oval Office is offered as proof that “the land of the free” has finally made good on its promise of equality. There’s an implicit yet undeniable message embedded in his appearance on the world stage: this is what freedom looks like; this is what democracy can do for you. If you are poor, marginalized, or relegated to an inferior caste, there is hope for you. Trust us. Trust our rules, laws, customs, and wars. You, too, can get to the promised land.

Perhaps greater lies have been told in the past century, but they can be counted on one hand. Racial caste is alive and well in America.

Most people don’t like it when I say this. It makes them angry. In the “era of colorblindness” there’s a nearly fanatical desire to cling to the myth that we as a nation have “moved beyond” race. Here are a few facts that run counter to that triumphant racial narrative:

*There are more African Americans under correctional control today -- in prison or jail, on probation or parole -- than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

*As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.

* A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.

*If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste -- not class, caste -- permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era.
Much more on this subject will be found in this article by Michelle Alexander, and in her very valuable book.

Somehow, "our" limitless concern with the well-being of families does not manage to include what Alexander has termed "The New Jim Crow," and the great evil of the War on Drugs.

Note the thread connecting the issues I've discussed above, those issues mentioned by virtually no one else in connection with the Newtown murders. The overwhelming majority of the victims of the behavior (and often the crimes) described above are non-white -- at least, they are not "white" in the way "we" recognize "whiteness." They are foreigners -- often darker-skinned, almost always poor, people who count for nothing as far as "we" are concerned -- or they are Americans, but most often African-Americans, and usually poor, certainly much, much poorer than all the public and media voices screaming at us about how much they "care."

And while there are references now and then in news stories to Newtown being a "wealthy" or "affluent" town, I haven't seen much highlighting of some easily available facts about Newtown: 95% of those who live in Newtown are white, and the estimated median household family income is around $120,000. This is one very small, enormously privileged fraction of America; it certainly is not representative of America in any general sense in the smallest degree.

And that makes it the perfect tragedy for the Age of Obama, and the perfect opportunity for Weeping Obama to make his appearance. Never mind those whom Obama orders to be murdered; don't give a thought to the children abused, humiliated and tormented in ways that will scar them for the rest of their lives; ignore the families destroyed by Obama's zealous pursuit of the monstrous War on Drugs. None of those victims are people like us, they're not human beings who actually matter. Who gives a damn what happens to them? These are among the hideous effects of the unrelentingly cruel and brutal reality America entered when it elected its first black president, a man who perfectly embodies the white authoritarian-corporatist-militarist State, and who ran as a white man. You elected -- and reelected -- a white man who is also a vicious killer. What did you expect?

Now that I've explained some of my reasons -- and there are many more, but these will do for the moment -- I come back to where I began. So I will say it again: God damn you, America.

ADDENDUM: I want to mention, but only very briefly, a closely related aspect of this awful business. Stories have already appeared depicting Adam Lanza in the terms typically employed in the wake of such tragedies: he was a "loner," he was "painfully shy and awkward" (the Daily Mail); he was generally weird, and he "seemed not to feel physical or psychological pain in the same way as classmates" (Yahoo News). And of course, the New York Times will never permit itself to be outdone on this score. The NYT leads with the obviously terrifying and ominous fact that Lanza "carried a black briefcase to his 10th-grade honors English class" (!!), goes on to note that he was "nervous and fidgety" -- and offers what is apparently damning in the extreme: "[His former classmates] said he always seemed like he was someone who was capable of that because he just didn’t really connect with our high school, and didn’t really connect with our town.” And all the stories include the general catchall "explanation": he was "mentally ill" in some form.

You may think all of that is unexceptional in this case -- but I point you to another NYT story from over two years ago. That story described another "loner" in remarkably similar ways -- but the subject of the earlier story was Bradley Manning.

Now, that's more than slightly interesting, wouldn't you agree? I have a great deal to say about it, and it will have to wait for a separate article. But the fact that a murderer and someone who sought to expose the monumental crimes of the United States government are portrayed in largely identical ways is a powerful indication of how profoundly diseased this culture is. I have to say that the Times story about Manning is remarkably disgusting even for the Times. I had meant to analyze that article in some detail, but never found the time to get to it. Tragically enough, it appears I will have to do so now.

December 04, 2012

The Vicious Lie Is, Indeed, Vicious

The previous post discusses the widely celebrated "feel-good" story concerning a NY police officer, Lawrence DePrimo, who gave a pair of new boots to a homeless man, Jeffrey Hillman. As more details about this story emerge, it turns out that Mr. Hillman is not homeless. Hillman has also received ongoing assistance and aid of various kinds, for the last several years at least.

My major argument in the earlier article was that stories of this general kind, and this particular story in its original version, which devote significant time and resources to what appears to be an act of kindness, primarily serve as a distraction and a means of avoidance. By selectively focusing on such acts of purported compassion, a society mired in brutality and cruelty -- a culture which, as I have noted, offers as a central lesson to all of us, including children, that, "You will be rewarded for cruelty: the crueler you are, the greater the reward" -- seeks to convince itself that it is actually a model of kindness of caring. Even though it is an issue mentioned by virtually no one with regard to the Hillman story, I am compelled to remark that it is more than extraordinary for Americans to claim they embody compassion and kindness to any extent at all, when roughly 120 million Americans recently voted for two candidates who support a program devoted to the unrestricted murder of completely innocent human beings. Moreover, one of those candidates is the man who has ordered the murder of such innocents on multiple occasions and seeks to institutionalize his Murder Program as a foundational element of national policy going forward. Such a country can be described as murderous, vicious, and evil with full justification; kind, just, and compassionate are not words that occur to a sane, healthy person when confronted with brazen, publicly declared evil on this scale.

I have to confess that whenever I mention this issue, I am almost overwhelmed by the deeply felt need to begin screaming. I ask you to consider the nature and meaning of the Murder Program once again: the most powerful officials in our national government routinely and systematically order the murder of human beings whom they must know, if they are minimally honest for even a second or two, to be entirely innocent. These same officials have told us this is what they are doing on multiple occasions; their proclamations have been detailed in the nation's leading newspapers. For almost all Americans, it is as if nothing at all has been said. I feel I have to scream because it seems there is no other way even to get people's attention on this subject. The U.S. government commits profoundly evil acts every day -- and almost no one notices. For several decades of my adult life, I have spent enormous amounts of time reading, studying and thinking about the varieties of methods people use to avoid and deny what should be shockingly obvious truths. Much of my writing here over the last ten years has been devoted to these issues. But I admit that avoidance and denial on this national scale, and particularly with regard to the plain meaning of the Murder Program, leave me feeling close to completely helpless and impotent. I am not sure there is any way to break through a wall of resistance that has been built and is maintained with such willful, deliberate intention. And I greatly fear that only spreading catastrophe will finally cause more people to begin to question the fabricated version of the truth they so fervently believe. If you reflect on this terrible predicament a bit longer, a further especially horrifying aspect of our situation should become clearer: this national exercise in virtually complete denial of what should be obvious -- and what should be resisted with all the strength of which we are capable -- all but guarantees that catastrophe in multiple forms will soon be visited upon us, perhaps much sooner than I myself had once thought.

Even though I think these are the paramount issues that ought to concern us at this moment, we can hold the nightmare in full focus only so long before we begin to go mad. Let us return to the much narrower subject of Mr. Hillman and his particular circumstances.

Remember the key elements of what had made this a "feel-good" story: a homeless and barefoot man is given a new pair of boots by a NY police officer. Now that we learn Mr. Hillman has an apartment and has received assistance through several programs, those who had eagerly celebrated this story are disappointed. After noting that Hillman might choose to go barefoot because "shoelessness might make for better panhandling," one story concludes:
Which would also go a long way toward explaining why Hillman refuses to wear those nice boots. We're not going to jump to any conclusions yet, except one: The Feel Good is leaking out of this story like air out of an increasingly depressing birthday balloon.
Another story expresses the same point this way:
The revelation that Hillman has a warm home and a bed to sleep in further complicated what at first seemed like a perfect feel-good tale for the holidays.
For the feel-good story to work, for it to be "perfect," Hillman must be genuinely wretched: he must be homeless and barefoot, entirely alone, and with no resources whatsoever available to him. The stories strongly hint at what they want to say, but they won't state it in unmistakable terms. Nonetheless, we get the message: This man is a rotten fraud. He tricked us. That wonderful police officer helped someone who didn't even need his help!

As I discussed before, the feel-good version of the story was used in very significant part to make those who celebrated it feel good about themselves. It was a way many people could convince themselves that we're good, that we care, that we don't like to see bad things happen to people. When President Obama and his fellow criminals routinely order the murders of innocent human beings -- and when these same people refuse to understand what that means or even that it's happening -- the need to reassure themselves that they're basically decent is one they feel very keenly. We may refuse to identify explicitly what is happening around us, but we absorb at least parts of that knowledge indirectly. The information is out there -- the government has made certain of that, and continues to tell us the truth even though we refuse to acknowledge it (and they count on that, too) -- and it seeps into our souls despite our strenuous efforts at resistance. In this manner, we are conditioned to accept the still greater horrors to come.

But the reaction to these new revelations about Hillman establishes with awful clarity that Hillman himself was incidental to the uses to which the story was put. Toward the conclusion of the earlier entry, I discussed the general problem of homelessness in New York City. That problem hasn't gone away, whether Hillman himself has an apartment or not. There are still tens of thousands of people who must rely on municipal shelters, just as there remain an undetermined number of additional people who are completely unsheltered. If people are so desperate for a feel-good story, they could make one happen themselves -- if that is what they genuinely want to do. But you see, that isn't what they genuinely want to do. The original version of the Hillman story provided them a feel-good story without their having to do a damned thing themselves. That is precisely why stories like this become so popular, and why they are widely celebrated. They are a means of instant self-worth and self-approval provided cost-free. (We should note that it is false self-worth and false self-approval.)

Although we are now provided with some additional details about Hillman's situation, there remains a great deal we don't know. We're told:
For the past year, Jeffrey Hillman has had an apartment in the Bronx paid for through a combination of federal Section 8 rent vouchers and Social Security disability and veterans benefits, officials said Monday.
The story puts its thumb heavily on the scales and later describes his apartment as "a warm home." But we don't know that it's "a warm home"; it might be an awful apartment, and to pay for heating bills might be beyond his means. Moreover, it is entirely possible that the benefits he receives don't provide enough for food and clothing, in addition to his rent (and electricity, if we assume he also pays for that). Perhaps he panhandles because he truly needs more money, and he knows no other way to get it.

The stories also try to make much of the fact that Hillman refuses help. He's not just a bum, he's an ungrateful bum. To appreciate an interesting connection as to how these dynamics work, recall how every loathsome politician made the same claim about those damned "ungrateful" Iraqis. Hillary Clinton is the loathsome politician in that example, but almost every other loathsome politician said the same. The United States bombs them, murders them in vast numbers, and utterly destroys their country -- and those rotten bastards won't even thank us for the great gifts we've given them. This is a theme of enduring popularity.

I will briefly mention another connection that I myself find quite intriguing. The highly selective focus on feel-good stories, in an effort to bolster our own deservedly faltering sense of self-worth, is the mirror image of our zealous condemnation of certain evils, but evils similarly defined only very selectively. We eagerly condemn certain isolated instances of evil out of the same desperately felt need to convince ourselves that we are actually good, decent people. I've discussed this in several different contexts: in "The Varieties of Pissing"; about the Polanski story, when that was the controversy of the moment; and in connection with the condemnations of torture. From that last link: "By seeking to localize the evil in only one aspect of the much broader and more fundamental evil involved and within a falsely delimited period of time, the torture obsessives would thus whitewash the American project as a whole." The fundamentally unjustified and highly selective focus -- on feel-good stories on one hand, and on only narrowly delimited evils on the other -- always seeks to achieve a whitewash of this kind: it attempts to obliterate the reality of the obviously related, but unacknowledged greater evils in the broader system. In this sense, all such efforts are cover-ups, they are intellectually dishonest, and they are always lies.

Returning to Hillman: the same dynamic with regard to "refusing" help might be at play in his case. A man who was a neighbor of mine for several years received Section 8 assistance. He used to tell me how much he dreaded the visits from the local housing inspector. She (it happened to be a she in this case) would always find some trivial issue to pick over with him: a few grease spots on the stove, a few spots in the bathtub. (He kept an exceptionally neat and clean apartment which I saw on numerous occasions, so I knew the complaints had to be trivial.) But this government bureaucrat loved the measly amount of power she had been granted over other human beings. She would point out my neighbor's supposedly grievous failures to comply with the government's demands (as she interpreted them), and the ominous threat of the withdrawal of the badly needed government assistance was conveyed in unmistakable terms. Is it any wonder that some people might choose to refuse "help" of that kind?

No, we don't know that is what happened in Hillman's case. That is my point: we don't know. But those who enthusiastically embraced this story when it provided reassurance as to "our" innate goodness refuse to acknowledge these further possibilities in Hillman's situation, just as they adamantly refuse to acknowledge the broader problem of homelessness -- and just as almost all Americans refuse to face the monstrous horror that is this country today.

And Jesus Christ (the man of the season, after all): not only does our government have a Murder Program, which ought to put a stop to all discussions of our "goodness" until such time (if ever) as such monumental evil is permanently ended and rejected. As I mentioned yesterday, New York is home to some of the greatest financial criminals of our era. These criminals have devastated the U.S. economy, destroyed countless lives, wreaked havoc in numerous ways -- and for all of this, they have not only not been punished in even the smallest degree, but have been rewarded in amounts of trillions of dollars. And some people are disappointed because one lonely man is desperately struggling to get by in perhaps the only way he knows how? Hillman has unforgivably deprived them of the feel-good story they so badly need? Seriously, fuck all these bastards -- and no, I'm not sorry in the least for using such language, for I know no other way to express my loathing for such miserable creatures -- and if they so badly need a feel-good story about gift-giving at this time of year, then read a genuinely wonderful one.

And then, please, please just shut the hell up.

December 03, 2012

The Vicious Lie of Isolated Good Deeds

[Update added.]

The idiotic superficiality and mawkish sentimentality of American culture are revealed in especially stark fashion by many Americans' enthusiasm for celebrating an isolated act of kindness, and then using the single act, ripped out of its surrounding context and thus rendered meaningless, as an obviously cheap, manipulative way of avoiding inquiry into the deeply disturbing wider problems implicated by the act in question. Today's example: the gift by a New York Police Officer of a new pair of boots to a homeless man.

Oh, (almost) everyone sighed, what a wonderful man the police officer is! Golly gee whiz, (almost) everyone cheered, isn't the NY Police Department the absolute best! Wow, (almost) everyone moaned in an explosion of self-gratification, aren't we the most wonderful people for noticing and caring so, so much!!

To which, my responses are, in order: the officer may be a decent human being, but you have no grounds for so concluding; no, the NYPD is absolutely not the best, or anything remotely close to the best; and absolutely not, you ridiculous morons.

Perhaps you think I exaggerate. (Some people may also think I'm being extraordinarily rude and crapping all over their beautiful parade. To which I can only reply: goddamned right.) Look at the opening paragraphs of this NYT story:
After Officer Lawrence DePrimo knelt beside a barefoot man on a bitterly cold November night in Times Square, giving him a pair of boots, a photo of his random act of good will quickly took on a life of its own — becoming a symbol for a million acts of kindness that go unnoticed every day and a reminder that even in this tough, often anonymous city, people can still look out for one another.

Officer DePrimo was celebrated on front pages and morning talk shows, the Police Department came away with a burnished image and millions got a smile from a nice story.
Millions of people are idiots.

And my God, read this part again: "becoming a symbol for a million acts of kindness that go unnoticed every day and a reminder that even in this tough, often anonymous city, people can still look out for one another." God, we are so wonderful!

If we're so marvelously wonderful and if we care so much, perhaps one of these angelic creatures can explain what comes next in the story:
But what of the shoeless man?

For days, his bare feet — blistered and battered — were well known. Yet precise details about him proved elusive.

His name is Jeffrey Hillman, and on Sunday night, he was once again wandering the streets — this time on the Upper West Side — with no shoes.

The $100 pair of boots that Officer DePrimo had bought for him at a Sketchers store on Nov. 14 were nowhere to be seen

“Those shoes are hidden. They are worth a lot of money,” Mr. Hillman said in an interview on Broadway in the 70s. “I could lose my life."
It apparently is impossible for the NYT reporters and editors to grasp what ought to be shockingly obvious: living on the streets of New York City is brutal, harsh, and dangerous. If you have anything of value, other people may try to steal it from you. In the course of stealing it, and especially if you resist, they might murder you: "I could lose my life." It's not only the NYT that can't understand this painfully straightforward fact: it seems never to have occurred to all those who so eagerly celebrated this single act, and how it conclusively proved how compassionate and caring we all are, and our society is.

The NYT seems fascinated by the fact that Hillman has been seen on a number of occasions and that he has been barefoot, both before and after this recent gift. The story returns to this point twice, first here:
Since Mr. Hillman’s bare feet became famous, other people reported seeing him without shoes — one even after Officer DePrimo’s gift — and one woman said she had bought him a pair of shoes a year ago. Whatever the case, Mr. Hillman seemed accustomed to walking the pavement shoeless.
He was barefoot "even after Officer DePrimo's gift" -- and a woman "bought him a pair of shoes a year ago"! I begin to get the sense that the NYT thinks it's Hillman's own damned fault that he's barefoot. People keep giving him shoes and boots, and the damned fool refuses to wear them. He's just "accustomed" to going barefoot. It couldn't possibly be some other problem, could it -- a problem that might implicate us?

And the story ends with yet another version of this theme:
On Sunday, Mr. Hillman was spotted by Jamie Seerman and her sister Samantha near 79th Street and Broadway as they were shopping for a Christmas tree.

As he was being interviewed, several people noticed him.

“What happened to the boots?” one man asked.
Why, Officer DePrimo is so wonderful, and we're all so goddamned wonderful, and some people just won't accept and use our generous gifts the right way! No wonder he's homeless. No wonder he's a worthless bum.

The story also makes certain to include this:
“I was put on YouTube, I was put on everything without permission. What do I get?” [Hillman] said. “This went around the world, and I want a piece of the pie.”
I don't blame him in the least -- to the contrary, I find his candor on this point deeply admirable -- particularly given how everyone else is cashing in on this episode.

For example, Mayor Bloomberg, who talked about the incident on his radio show and said: "That’s what they’re trained to do — help people.” That's not all the NY Police are trained to do:
The NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices raise serious concerns over racial profiling, illegal stops and privacy rights. The Department’s own reports on its stop-and-frisk activity confirm what many people in communities of color across the city have long known: The police are stopping hundreds of thousands of law abiding New Yorkers every year, and the vast majority are black and Latino.

An analysis by the NYCLU revealed that innocent New Yorkers have been subjected to police stops and street interrogations more than 4 million times since 2002, and that black and Latino communities continue to be the overwhelming target of these tactics. Nearly nine out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent, according to the NYPD’s own reports.
And then there's the all too typical behavior complained of here, in a magnificent display of righteous fury. "There is no honor in this," infuckingdeed.

These are two notable examples of reprehensible, despicable, and typical behavior by the NYPD, just off the top of my head. If I researched the NYPD's abusive behavior for only a few hours -- including, please let us not forget, that they sometimes beat and murder innocent people -- this post could be 10,000 words long and contain an endless number of links.

The NYPD commits acts that are heinous in varying degrees with alarming regularity. You might agree this is a rather consequential fact. Moreover, it is a consequential fact that must be considered when judging the kind of human being Officer DePrimo is. I'm willing to believe DePrimo made the gift to Hillman out of genuine compassion -- but even if I accept that view of this particular act, it doesn't explain why DePrimo joined the police department in the first place. I would want to know his reasons, and I would want to know about his record as a policeman. In many ways, this is similar to the difficulties in judging an individual who joins the U.S. military, about which I have written in some detail. Even though I think joining the military is always a mistake at present, and a very serious mistake, that does not mean that a particular individual is necessarily immoral for joining. To make that kind of judgment, we would need to know the individual's specific reasons, his context of knowledge and understanding about the military and its functions and, very importantly, we would need to know exactly what he does (or did) while in the military. (This is hardly an exhaustive list of the relevant factors, but it would be a good start.)

We would need to know similar kinds of information about DePrimo with regard to the NYPD before we could make a meaningful judgment about him as a person. Even people who are monsters can act with kindness and generosity on isolated occasions. I'm certainly not saying that DePrimo is a monster. I know nothing about the man except what's been reported in connection with this lone incident. And that's exactly my point: as far as I can tell, no one knows much of anything about him beyond this incident. To view him as a wonderful man and/or as a wonderful officer is completely unwarranted. But the kinds of questions I raise here (and that I raise about those who join the military) don't occur to most people, which only demonstrates how superficial, meaningless and lacking in seriousness most people's judgments are (and not only about these kinds of issues).

Let's return to the fact that life on the streets is so dangerous that Hillman regards it as extremely unsafe to wear the boots that DePrimo gave him. Even though the Times is fixated on Hillman still being barefoot to the extent that it mentions it no less than three times in a comparatively short story, the obvious questions that ought to arise don't occur to anyone at the Times or, if they do, the Times doesn't view them as worthy of mention. The first question that should occur to anyone who actually thinks about this story is a very simple one: Why is Hillman still living on the street? Why is he still homeless? Isn't there a shelter in which he could safely spend his days and nights, while he tries to figure out what he wants and is able to do with his life in the future?

Note that the story tells us: "Mr. Hillman said he came to New York about a decade ago and had been on the streets most of that time." He's been homeless for most of ten years. The story also informs us Hillman joined the Army in 1978, served for five years, and then was honorably discharged. (We're also told that Hillman served as a "food service specialist" in the U.S. and Germany. Since he didn't torture or kill innocent people and left the Army almost 30 years ago, his service would seem to suggest no negative moral judgment of any kind.) Aren't there veterans' services that could help Mr. Hillman -- or is he yet another example of how the U.S. government uses people up and then discards them, in the manner of throwing out used up junk?

With regard to homeless shelters in New York City: in August of this year, there were a total number of 46,631 homeless people in municipal shelters. (A horrifying graph on that page tells us that the comparable number in March 1987 was 28,737.) What about the number of homeless people not in shelters? To that question, there is no answer:
While there is accurate data on the sheltered homeless population, there is no reliable measurement of the unsheltered homeless population in New York City. The City of New York, under a mandate from the Federal government, produces an annual estimate of the unsheltered homeless population based on a single winter night's survey. The City's controversial estimate has been criticized by advocates and academic researchers as a significant undercount of the actual number of unsheltered homeless New Yorkers.
At this point, if not much earlier, and at least if we are honest, we begin to realize that Mr. Hillman is one tragic example of a problem that is far worse, a terrible problem that is extremely disturbing in what it indicates about New York City and our society in general.

When we consider the extraordinary amount of wealth represented by the individuals and businesses in Manhattan alone, especially after the trillions of dollars taken from taxpayers and funneled directly into the already engorged coffers of the financial crooks who are stealing everything in sight before the system collapses altogether, and when we remember, as only one telling example, that apartments in Manhattan routinely sell for many millions of dollars (with one penthouse recently selling for more than $90 million), it is outrageous in a manner impossible of description that tens of thousands of people must rely on shelters to find safety for the night, and that a completely undetermined number of additional people -- 40,000? 70,000? more? -- do not even have a shelter to which they can momentarily retreat.

But that is America today in sickeningly, disgustingly brief form, isn't it? Untold wealth for the few, those who are the ruling class and its especially dedicated, favored executors, who make certain that every bit of wealth is siphoned up solely for their benefit and and never for anyone outside their sanctified circle, while everyone else is systematically reduced to living in ever greater desperation. And some lives are so desperate that even the gift of new boots is something that cannot be used, because to do so would place one's life in danger.

Perhaps Officer DePrimo is a decent man, but we have no way of knowing based on the information publicly available. Whatever his virtue as an individual, that virtue is not automatically transferred to the NYPD, about which we know many extremely negative facts. As for what this story means about "us" in general, and about our society at this moment in time -- well, it appears to me that we're not so wonderful and compassionate after all.

In fact, we are not wonderful and compassionate to a degree that any decent human being would even notice. This is a brutal, cruel and uncaring society. Stories like this one are simply another means of avoidance, a way to lie to ourselves as we steadfastly refuse to recognize the truth of our condition.

And that means that all of this will get worse, much, much worse.

UPDATE: More on the Hillman story and its significance here.