I. The quintessence of "humanitarian intervention" has rarely been displayed so completely than in a recent post by Hullabaloo contributor David Atkins: "The bloody work of hairless monkeys."
Much like Martin Amis -- who at some point in the early 21st century realized that Joe Stalin was one bad hombre and then wrote a book informing the world of this revelation -- Atkins has apparently just now discovered that human tribes and religious groups have been senselessly killing each other for, like, forever. Not only that: Atkins has also uncovered the hitherto unsuspected notion that "people everywhere are essentially hairless monkeys whose basic dispositions haven't evolved that much despite our larger brains and capacity for more moral decision making."
Indeed, the inescapable, inherent, endemic violence of human nature (or rather, hairless monkey nature) is so powerful and so overwhelming that "if the reasons to fight don't exist, they will be invented." Atkins couples this with yet another shocking discovery: "Human beings everywhere love to form in-groups and out-groups, and those groups will fight each other for the stupidest possible reasons." Not since stout Cortez stood amazed on that peak in Darien has there been such a wild surmise of illumination.
To recap, then, Atkins asserts that human beings are nothing more than beasts driven by primal instincts to band together in vicious in-groups and savagely attack any outsiders whom they perceive as a threat -- or even for no good reason at all. This is a most grim and gruesome vision of our common human fate, our existential reality. We are "stupid," "morally insane" hairless monkeys doomed to intractable violent conflict. Caught in a trap, can't walk out, as that venerable existentialist E.A. Presley once put it.
Or are we? Perhaps not. For despite the fact that we are all unevolved hairless monkeys with a basic disposition to make up reasons to kill each other, it seems that there is at least one avenue of escape from our inherent nature, one way out of the eternal cycle of violent conflict. Guess what it is.
I kid you not. After postulating that hairless monkeys cannot overcome their propensity for in-group/out-group violence, Atkins then proclaims that we need to form -- wait for it -- an incredibly powerful in-group capable of inflicting irresistible violence on any out-group that opposes the will of the in-group. Nation-states, and their hairless monkey populations, cannot be "left to their own devices," he says.
Minimization of war and human suffering will depend on tightly binding people and civilizations to one another, and on taking a dim view of the in-groups and out-groups that people use to separate themselves from one another. And that in turn will require a stronger multinational peacekeeping force, not a weaker one.
So we must "tightly bind" people together -- by force. We must enforce the unity of all humankind at gunpoint (and bombpoint and dronepoint). A "multinational force" is required -- is the only way -- to minimize the suffering from human conflict. And this multinational force must be so strong that it can oversway -- defeat, destroy, crush, humiliate -- the military forces of all nation-states and all other human monkey groupings outside the in-group behind the "stronger multinational peacekeeping force."
Unfortunately, having given us the answer to the age-old problem of human conflict, Atkins suddenly gets a bit coy on a key point. He doesn't address the question of who will control this all-powerful multinational force, which will require trillions of dollars and millions of soldiers to "tightly bind" the world together. Who will staff it, fund it, arm it, supply it, command its operations? Who will decide who commands it? Who will decide when it must be used to punish a recalcitrant tribe?
And these questions lead to another pertinent point: Surely whoever is in charge of this armed leviathan -- capable of bending whole nations, whole civilizations to its dominion -- will, in the end, be nothing more than a bunch of inherently violent, morally insane hairless monkeys themselves, won't they? Won't this in-group behave just as senselessly and stupidly as all the others?
Or can it be that Atkins believes that there are perhaps a few hairless monkeys out there who have evolved a bit further than the rest? And that perhaps these higher beings could be trusted to use an implacably powerful global war machine only for the greater good of the lesser breeds, only to "tightly bind" the insufficiently evolved masses and reduce their suffering? And might these wise guides be known as "humanitarian interventionists”?
II. Atkins was prompted to write his piece by the sectarian violence that erupted across Iraq this week. The slaughter of Shi'ite worshippers is indeed an instance of our human propensity for senseless killing. But from this current event, he leaps immediately to instances from history, from all over the world, to further illustrate this propensity. The effect of this sudden leap is that the events in Iraq get lost in the general historical flood -- just one more piece of flotsam drifting by in the bloody current. Its context is lost, subsumed in general assertions about our intractable nature. Why did these Iraqi slaughters happen? There was no cause -- just our stupid violent monkey nature. Atrocities just ... happen.
Atkins says that when he read of Iraqi slaughter, he was reminded of the sack of Magdeburg during the European religious wars of the 17th century. That's a bit odd. The first thing I thought of when I read about the Iraqi slaughters was something a little nearer to us in history: the "humanitarian intervention" by American-led military forces into Iraq in 2003. It was the intervention of this "multinational peacekeeping force" that directly and explicitly created the conditions for the recent slaughters that so disturbed Atkins and made him think about the Holy Roman Empire, and then a story he heard one time in a college anthropology class about Amazonian tribes, and also about the "bloody and brutal" culture of the "native Hawaiian kingdoms."
Atkins seems keen to move on from Iraq as soon as possible and dissolve its true context in this vague anthro-philosophical goo. His anxiety on the subject is understandable. For of course Iraq is the great scandal of our earnest "humanitarian interventionists." It is the unfortunate outlier, the stumbling-block that gives holy (sorry, humanitarian) war a bad name. For the fact -- the incontrovertible, historical fact -- is that modern Iraq never suffered from the atrocious level of sectarian violence that we see there today -- until the intervention of the "Coalition of the Willing" plunged the country into death, fear, ruin and chaos. The mass-murdering intervention not only fertilized the ground for the rise of sectarian violence; its Anglo-American leaders funded and armed and empowered several of the violent extremist groups directly.
The sickening violence in Iraq this week did not spring from the intractable nature of hairless monkeys blindly following their unevolved hormonal surges. It didn't spring from Amazonian tribesmen killing a boy who was not their kinsmen. It didn't spring from the bloody and brutal culture of the native Hawaiian kingdoms. It didn't spring from Imperial Field Marshal Gottfried Heinrich Graf zu Pappenheim and the other hairless monkeys who plundered Magdeburg in 1631. It springs -- directly and unmistakably -- from the intervention of the multinational force that invaded the country in 2003 and then continued to kill, destroy, corrupt, and foment extremism there for many years afterwards.
Now it's true that I am not comprehensively au fait with oeuvre of Mr. Atkins. But having read some of his offerings since he began binding himself tightly to Hullabaloo, I think it is highly likely that he himself opposed the intervention in Iraq. I'm sure he feels that it was the wrong kind of intervention, not a real humanitarian intervention. (How could it have been? It was launched by a Republican.) Yet here he is advocating precisely the same thing -- an all-powerful military machine heedless of state sovereignty imposing its will by violent force -- as the way to "peace and the reduction of human misery." I must say such logic leaves me slack-jawed, like old Cortez. Here we see Orwell's hoary tropes come to life: War is Peace. Slavery (being tightly bound under threat of violence) is Freedom. Death and Ruin are the Reduction of Human Misery.
No doubt Atkins' bright vision is based on the wild surmise that this world-controlling "multinational peacekeeping force" will be led by "morally responsible" leaders (perhaps even by, say, Nobel Peace Prize laureates), and that the nation-crushing operations of this global army will be carefully targeted, limited in scope, minimizing collateral damage whenever possible, and accompanied by humanitarian relief and civics lessons for the survivors, etc., etc. But if, like Atkins, we make human history our argument, how likely is it that we would see a more peaceful, less miserable world under the iron rod of such a force? Perhaps in answer we should adapt his own shrugging dismissal of all other alternatives to armed interventionism, and say that, "sadly, a study of human nature from before civilization to the modern day tends to disprove the hypothesis that [this] will lead to world peace."
Atkins strains for grandeur in his big finish:
At this point in our evolution we're still as overgrown toddlers playing foolishly with loaded guns in a grand, modern technology version of Lord of the Flies. Turning an isolationist eye of indifference toward all of this will not prevent bloody conflict for stupid reasons from enveloping humanity. It will simply guarantee it.
Once more, I confess that my non-large brain cannot follow the logic here. In our present evolutionary state, we are as toddlers. Or hairless monkeys. Or lemurs with sideburns. Or something. In any case, we are physically, genetically incapable of stopping our primitive urges to form in-groups and engage in bloody conflicts for stupid reasons. This is our nature. We have not yet gone beyond this point in our evolution. But if this is so, then how can we possibly form an armed Super In-Group without collapsing into the same pre-determined pattern (again, unless some of us have somehow taken a step up the evolutionary ladder)? And how can questioning the notion of military intervention be seen as the equivalent of turning an "eye of indifference" to the problems of human conflict? Are there no other alternatives? Things less grand than a tightly-binding war machine, perhaps, but less destructive? Less tyrannical? More humane?
Atkins' contortions seemed design to obscure -- not only from the reader but (one hopes) from himself as well -- what he is really asserting: that, for our own good, we hairless monkeys should be ruled by a small, more evolved elite who will impose their benevolent dictatorship on the world by massive armed force. And that anyone who opposes this sacred, unchallengeable truth is an "isolationist," indifferent to human suffering. There is no alternative. It's his way -- the way of war, of enforced unity (and uniformity of belief; the war machine will "take a dim view" of people "separating themselves" according to their own ideas and inclinations) -- or the highway.
I must say that reading this has prompted me to my own historical recollection -- the famous passage from Tacitus: "They make a desolation, and call it peace."
The turbulent ramifications of last week's New York Times story detailing the operations of Barack Obama's White House death squad continue to reverberate across the country today, sending shock waves through Washington and bringing crowds of outraged protestors to the ….
Just kidding! As we all know, there have been no "ramifications" at all from this shocking story, no scandal whatsoever surrounding the fact that the President of the United States and his aides meet every week to draw up lists of people to be killed all over the world -- even people who are completely unknown, who might simply be "behaving" in unspecified ways that some desk jockey somewhere has decided might possibly be indicative of malign intent. No scandal, no consequences, no imbroglio, no brouhaha; the caravan moved on -- and the dogs didn't even bark.
But wait, that's not quite true. There was one minor scandal issuing, in part, from the story. Republicans seized the opportunity to accuse Obama, again, of leaking classified matters for his own political gain. (Yes, they were shocked -- shocked! -- to find gambling going on in this establishment.) Obama was then forced to deny authorizing the leaks from his closest advisors and friends, and promised to investigate how in the world his closest advisors and friends happened to leak this top-secret information without his knowledge. This was followed by bipartisan Congressional calls to cloak the government's atrocities in even thicker clouds of murk.
Thus the only consequence from the revelation that the U.S. government not only asserts the arbitrary right to kill anyone on earth but actually has a formal process to carry out this serial murder is that it will now be harder than ever to expose any of the crimes and corruption and sinister follies of the vast national security apparat.
But as for the -- how to put it? Well, let's be quaint and old-fashioned, shall we? -- the "moral content" of the murder program, there has been no scandal at all. Yes, there have a few furrowed brows here and there from the progessosphere, some tsk-tsks, a few sad head-shakes -- before our Netroots nationalists plunge right back into campaign arcana, railing against some rightwing misinformation or partisan attack that might hurt the electoral chances of a man running a death squad that has killed hundreds of innocent civilians and fomented more terrorism, hatred, war and chaos. Because really, what is the shredded corpse of a drone-blasted child next to yet another birther outburst from that awful Donald Trump? Can you imagine the nerve of that guy?
Now to be fair, The Nation -- redoubtable flagship of American liberalism for yonks on end -- did sally forth with a bracing editorial against Obama's kill list. In no uncertain terms, it denounced the "corrupting logic" of the War on Terror, which leads "otherwise morally responsible leaders to do unspeakable things," such as Obama's "kill lists and drone assassinations."
This does, of course, lead one to wonder just who these "morally responsible leaders" are who are doing such unspeakable things. After all, there have been only two leaders during the War on Terror: Bush and Obama. No Nation reader (or any other sentient being) would ever consider the former to be a "morally responsible" leader. But as Obama has been ordering "drone assassinations" from the very moment he took office -- while resolutely defending and extending his predecessor's other War on Terror policies -- it is hard to see how his moral responsibility has somehow been eroded by his season in power. Should we not say instead with Shakespeare: "Man, he did make love to this employment."
There is also the strange notion that the "War on Terror" itself is somehow an abstract, outside force or entity which compels these individuals to violate their free consciences and do "unspeakable things." This childish concept -- "The War on Terror made me do it!" -- is of course a surreptitious (or perhaps self-deceiving) way for the editors of The Nation to retain their support for Obama even while criticizing him. They know that, deep down, he really is morally responsible -- a good man who has been "led" by the "logic" of the Terror War to do "unspeakable things" against his will and certainly against his inclinations. The "things" he does might be "unspeakable" -- that is to say, evil -- but he himself is not evil. He has simply been led astray, and may one day be led back to the right path of peace-loving progressivism -- just as long as peace-loving progressives don't abandon him, and let those truly evil Republicans return to the White House. (Where they might do unspeakable things like drawing up kill lists and launching drone assassinations.)
But again, let's give credit where it is due. The Nation makes many good arguments against the murder program. (And they have published some excellent work on the actual, real-life effects of the Terror War, in the stories of Jeremy Scahill.) They lay out the heinous nature of this barbaric operation with admirable clarity. But what do they conclude from all this? That the program is … "troubling." And that since liberals "raised a ruckus" about Bush's -- crimes? atrocities? mass murder? -- no, his "abuses," they should not be "silent" now.
But what liberals should say when breaking their silence is not addressed. Should they say, "We will not support a man who commits mass murder"? (For as The Nation tells us, in Pakistan alone "witnesses have attested to hundreds of civilian deaths.") Or would The Nation have them say, "My word, these 'abuses' are troubling. I certainly will not feel the same enthusiasm when I vote for Obama this time around!" The latter seems far more likely.
But the restrained editorial positively blazes with Luther-like moral fury when compared to some of the reader comments. Here you will find self-proclaimed "good liberals" who, far from being "troubled" by Obama's killing spree, cheer it to the rafters as a mark of moral goodness. Consider the reaction of this "lifelong Democrat, lifelong liberal" to "signature strikes" -- the blind blunderbuss launched against unknown people doing unknown things for unknown purposes:
"When nameless individuals are assassinated over 'patterns of behaviour' that support terrorist enemy combatants, I cheer, since there is alive one less potential attacker of my country."
After all, our leaders would never lead us astray. And they know more than we do -- they even know more than, say, the grandmother holding the bloody corpse of her grandchild in her arms:
"Neither the Pakistani government nor the hundreds of witnesses to US strikes is privy to the US intelligence. How could either possibly know whether or not innocent civilians are included in the death toll? I, for one, put the burden of proof on the other side, and I further place faith in my country to minimize collateral damage as best they can in a combat situation."
Who are you going to believe, Granny? The PowerPoint presentations of the White House "Tuesday Terror" team -- or your own lying eyes? I mean, how could you possibly know little Hamza wasn't a terrorist? Do you have access to Washington's omniscient SIGNIT and HUMINT? I thought not. So shut up already.
Or how about the disquistion of this learned Theban:
"Of course it's immoral and against human dignity to have a 'kill' list. On the other hand, times have changed … These days our enemies come as thieves in the night, stealthily and under pretense. They have no qualms about killing innocent people, including men, women and children. Their morals allow them to hijack and fly planes into office buildings killing thousands of innocent Americans, going about their capitalist business. I even understand their objection to our way of life. Capitalism, democracy and freedom empower individual people till they no longer can be controlled under a rigid theocratic ideology. This is a threat to those who would hold absolute dominion over others. These pathological radical religious and political dictators see the handwriting on the wall and are using every immoral and hateful means to hold out to the last insane mind.
“So yes, I believe 'kill' lists, drones, intense surveillance and every other means is available on a temporary basis to return to these maniacs the same punishment they meet [sic] out to others."
One might argue that there are other actors in the War on Terror who, as the NYT story shows, "come as thieves in the night" (with remote-control drones) and "have no qualms about killing innocent people, including men, women and children." And that they do this repeatedly, day after day, year after year. But of course, this doesn't matter. Because those we kill are, of necessity, insane maniacs trying to impose absolute dominion over others. Even the innocent men, women and children we kill. Even the people we kill whose names we don't know doing things we don't know for reasons we don't know.
And so it goes. For this Theban, and for so many other "good liberals" and staunch progressives, a five-year-old girl with her guts gouged out by some coward with a joystick 10,000 miles away is an "immoral and hateful maniac" who deserves to die, and whose very presence on the face of the earth justifies any and all repressive measures to keep "our way of life" intact. "On a temporary basis," of course. Just until all the maniacs have been killed. Just until we "exterminate all the brutes."
This is the spectrum of liberalism in 2012. On one end, "troubled" by state murder -- but not sickened, not outraged, not driven to furious rejection of those who perpetrate such "unspeakable things." On the other end, gleefully, joyfully accepting of the murder program, exulting even in the killing of absolute strangers. After all, every defenseless child eviscerated stealthily by a presidential drone is "one less potential attacker of my country." The Leader protects us! The Leader knows best! You go, Barry!
II. There is, of course, another view of these matters. You won't find it in the venerable journals of liberalism or amongst the fierce dissidents of the Netroots Nation. (As John Caruso points out, here is the rigorous moral compass of the founding father of the Netrooters in action: "’I’ll tell you what. If [Obama] shows that he’s going to fight for the things that I care about, I will fight twice as hard for him.’ And if he doesn’t? ‘Then I’ll vote for him,’ says Moulitsas.") It is apparent by now that for the vast bulk of the progressosphere, there is literally nothing that Obama can do to lose their support, however "troubled" or grudging that support might be.
No, for an alternative view, we must turn once again to Arthur Silber, who this week continues his examination of Obama's death squad. This piece begins to get at some of the deeper dynamics at work not only in the murder program itself but also in the mass indifference to its exposure in the Times story and elsewhere, the lack of outrage, the shrugging acceptance (or, as seen above, the wiggly, giddy embrace) of this "unspeakable thing."
Once again, you should read the whole of Silber's essay, but here are a few excerpts particularly pertinent to our theme:
It is one thing for the ruling class to target the general domestic population on economic matters, as it has by systematically squeezing every last bit of wealth and opportunity out of "ordinary" Americans and shoveling all of it into the drooling maw of the rulers (and for many Americans, these methods of brutalization are already catastrophic in the extreme). It is very different when the ruling class announces to the world that it considers every human being on Earth not favored by power and privilege to be fair game in a neverending campaign of slaughter.
Yet there are no crowds in the street. Forget howls of fury; you can listen with the greatest concentration of which you are capable, and you will detect barely a whimper. Life goes on precisely as before, as if nothing of great moment has happened. With very rare exceptions … even the harshest critics of the murder campaign so thoughtfully detailed in the NYT will not say:
These people are monsters. This is profoundly evil. All these people, all those who collaborate and assist in such a program, have placed themselves far beyond any limit of what can be designated as civilization.
… Be sure to understand this issue. The claim of absolute power -- the claim of dominion over all of human life itself, and the assertion of a damnable "right" to unleash death whenever and in whatever direction they wish -- is not remotely equivalent to any dispute over lowering Social Security benefits, raising the retirement age, or any similar question, at least it is not equivalent to any sane person. The claim of absolute power is sui generis; it is a claim unlike any other. It is not -- I repeat: it is not -- simply another "question of policy." It is certainly possible that, in particular cases, the deprivation of medical benefits (as just one example) may ultimately result in a person's death sooner than would have occurred otherwise. But for some period of time, however brief, the persons so affected are left with the possibility of action; they can still try to save themselves, even if those efforts are finally unsuccessful. But the claim of a "right" to dispense death arbitrarily -- the claim that the State may murder anyone it chooses, whenever it desires -- constitutes a separate category altogether, a category of which this particular claim is the sole unit. When death is unleashed, all possibility of action is ended forever.
Yet you can read various harsh denunciations of this policy, and you will almost never encounter language of the kind I employ here. Even for the most vehement of "dissenters," the assertion of absolute power is treated as another in a list of wrongs, perhaps an especially egregious wrong, but not a claim which demands a fundamentally different response. For such writers, it is certainly nothing to take to the streets about; it is no cause for withdrawing one's support in every way possible from a system of evil dedicated to death. This, too, is a measure of how profoundly damaged our culture is. With regard to almost all "dissenting" writers, and if I may express the point more personally and informally, I often think that I have never seen such a collection of gutless wonders. …
Not infrequently, I think that what may doom us is not the immense evil to which the State devotes itself, but the quality of the opposition -- those who are, in Thoreau's formulation, the State's "most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform." …
Although the NYT article did not disclose new information with regard to the essentials of the State's program of death, its length, detail and prominence constitute a significant ratcheting up of the State's claim of absolute power. Most crucial is the statement in the article that much of the content is derived from interviews with "three dozen of [Obama's] current and former advisers." As I pointed out in Part I, this in effect announces the identity of the article's true author: the author is the U.S. government, the State itself. Through these "advisers," the highest levels of the U.S. government have told the story they want to tell. And what is that story? It is simply this:
The State is become death. Our target can be anyone we choose. Yes, this means you. No, there is nowhere to run.
Here is no shuffling, no weasel-wording, no wiggle room for self-deception. Here we look at the mephitic heart of the matter, the burning, rotten core. In this political year, with an election looming, let no one be mistaken on this point: When you get down with Obama, however grudgingly or reluctantly, you are dancing on the killing floor. You are, to use The Nation's terms, following the logic of the Terror War into complicity and collusion with unspeakable things.
Arthur Silber is back, in a big way, with all guns blazing, in three new pieces that hit the boards this week.
First up is a blackly comic take on the mindless, fear-ridden conformity that permeates our political "debate" -- if one may so degrade the language by applying this term to the witless splutterings of the fourth-rate goobers and inch-deep intellects who prance across our various media stages these days. Silber then takes a quick, sharp look at a particularly egregious example of the sinister interpenetration of our media and political elite.
These were followed hard upon by a powerful and substantive analysis of the implications of the ice-cold killing machine being operated by the Obama White House -- or rather, openly celebrated by the Obama White House, as we saw in the remarkable piece of death porn in the NY Times last week. You should read the whole thing, but here is a brief excerpt:
I consider the reaction to [the NYT] article -- to be more precise, the non-reaction -- to be one of the worst signs we have yet seen concerning the collapse of this country into unrelenting, savage barbarism. … Given the subject matter, we can be certain that these "advisers" would not have provided numerous details about the "Kill List" unless the Obama administration wanted them to. In other words: this is the story the government wants to tell. This is the story the government wants Americans -- and the watching world -- to know. I state again that the central theme of the story is that Obama and his closest advisers are engaged in a systematic program of murder, targeting people about whom they know nothing in terms of the factors they themselves claim demand their urgent concern. That is to say: they murder anyone they wish, anywhere in the world, for any reason they choose -- or for no reason at all.
That is what they want you to know. And what is the reaction of almost everyone? The overwhelming majority of Americans haven't reacted at all. It is as if nothing whatsoever has been said. They simply don't care. Because this is the story the government wants to tell, we may properly regard it as being in the nature of a trial balloon. The U.S. government is saying to all of us, and to the entire world:
We can murder anyone we want, just because we feel like it. And guess what: we do! And we do it regularly and systematically. Because we want to!
Does anybody care? Does anyone give a damn?
Now they have their answer.
Read it, and tremble for the horror we have, and the horror that's yet to come.
In honor of Mitt Romney's nomination victory this week, we reprise below our last look at the man who might very well be the next temporary manager of the domination-and-despoliation machine belching mephitically on the banks of the Potomac.
In this earlier glimpse, we saw in Romney the quintessence of the bipartisan ruling elite -- and an avatar of the rabid psychopathology that lurks always behind the bland facade of normality our masters try so frantically to project. Time has proved the observations below to apply equally to both wings of the big bloated chickenhawk of our ruling class, of course, although in this particular piece more attention is given to the right wing of the necrotic creature.
But it is interesting to note how so many of positions Romney staked out in this four-year old speech were promulgated by the man who eventually won the White House that year. Although Obama doesn't play so overtly on the Muslimphobia that Romney exhibits with such naked frenzy here, in one respect he has gone much further than Romney and his fellow sexual panickers. Obama doesn't waste his breath blathering about Muslim birthrates and what all: he goes straight to the source and kills Muslims directly -- indeed, making a special target of those Muslim males most likely to breed, as his minions revealed so gleefully in the New York Times this week. He has also followed Romney's adjuration to continue the Terror War and keep gorging the military-industrial complex with war pork. Romney even anticipates Obama's "pivot the China" and the resurrection of the Yellow Peril trope so beloved by American imperialists from days of yore. And they say bipartisanship is dead.
Anyway, here he is: Mitt Romney, same as he ever was. For despite all their brazen flip-flops, our rulers remain admirably consistent in their core -- indeed, their hardcore -- belief: the maintenance and expansion of elite power and privilege … by any means necessary.
American Psycho: An Elite Exposed in an Exit Speech February 8, 2008
If you would like to see just how sick the American elite really is -- how morally depraved, how intellectually diseased, how addicted to the taste of human flesh, the scent of human blood, and the sight of human suffering -– then you need go no further than the speech given by Mitt Romney to the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 7, 2008.
Now you might say that Mitt Romney is old news. After all, this was the very speech where he declared he was quitting the presidential race. He's toast, he's over, the fork has been stuck into his well-roasted hide; who cares what he says? This is of course the witless "horse-race" view that dominates political discourse in America: who's up, who's down, who's getting the column inches, who's on TV? But in reality, the American elite – or the Establishment, or the power structure, call it what you will (as long as you don't call it what it really is: the ruling class) -- is like an iceberg: most of its vast bulk exists unseen, it plows on beneath the surface, unperturbed by the media storms that rage around the small bit of exposed material at the summit.
Mitt Romney is an immensely wealthy, well-connected man, a former governor of the state of Massachusetts, born and bred in an extensive web of privilege and power. His defeat in a presidential campaign changes none of that. He will simply submerge -- for a time -- back into those depths where the real business of the elite is largely done. Thus his words to the conservative activists remain a highly relevant indication of the mindset that holds sway over the world's most powerful nation. They show the barbarism, hatemongering and bloodlust that are considered perfectly acceptable in the polite company of our rulers and their sycophants.
Indeed, the most remarkable thing about Romney's speech is that there is nothing remarkable about it; it is entirely typical of the kind of red meat that many leading lights of American society routinely throw to the slavering rightwing faithful. It takes a strong effort to wrench your mind free from the media-besotted mentality that regards such a speech as "normal" (even if you disagree with it), and see it for the debased, bestial raving that it really is.
The smoldering core of Romney's vomitous offering can perhaps be found in his passing remarks on Europe. Again, in one sense, this was just a crowd-pleasing throwaway: a good Eurobash always gets the CPAC froth flowing. But in a deeper sense, it cuts right to the corroded heart of the matter, right down to the vicious, primitive, genocidal racism that has shaped and driven so many of the policies of Western elites for centuries. In the midst of a long diatribe about liberal "attacks" on "American culture," Romney pauses for a glance across the Atlantic, to evoke a hideous nightmare that could soon be America's future:
Europe -- Europe is facing a demographic disaster. That's the inevitable product of weakened faith in the Creator, failed families, disrespect for the sanctity of human life, and eroded morality.
By "demographic disaster," Romney simply means that there are more non-white people in Europe than there used to be. To Romney and his fellow elites, this fact in itself constitutes a genuine "disaster." Although the population of Europe is still overwhelmingly white (much more so than the population of the United States), even the smallest dilution of racial purity across the continent is to be lamented, decried – and rolled back. Here of course Romney is channeling fearmongers like Martin Amis, Mark Steyn, and Christopher Hitchens, whose trembly sexual panic in the face of hot-blooded, fast-breeding darkies would be comical, if it were not so sinister – and so useful to the warmakers and global dominationists in the ruling elite.
Romney makes the sexual and racial subtext abundantly clear in his remarks about Europe's loss of religious faith, eroded morality, etc. The Euros are plainly too busy having abortions and watching porn to do their duty by the race and breed bigger families kept under strict religious discipline. And thus the shabby denizens of an alien faith are breeding like rats in the cellarage of Western Civilization, gnawing away at the foundations and conquering it from within. The fact that "Muslims" are substituted for "Jews" in these formulations and implications of Hitchens, Amis, Romney, et al, does not lessen the precision with which their diatribes mirror those that saturated Germany (and many other nations) in the first four decades of the 20th century. For the elites, there is always a dark, sexually potent "other" out there, whose overwhelming threat to white supremacy can only be overcome by….giving the elites more and more power.
Oddly enough, there has been a demographic disaster in Europe -- but it has nothing to do with virile Muslim men and their fertile females. It is never mentioned by Romney and his elitist ilk -- because it is the result of their own philosophy, their own policies, and their own desires. We speak of course of the demographic collapse in Russia, where the population is dwindling while death rates remain almost twice as high as in the United States and Western Europe. The Russian people are still reeling from the catastrophic "shock therapy" inflicted on them by Boris Yeltsin's "Chicago School" market fundamentalists. (The harrowing story is well-told in Naomi Klein's study of "disaster capitalism," The Shock Doctrine.)
The Western elites were very glad to watch the Russian people sink to their knees, die off in droves and suffer in poverty, chaos and fear -- as long as a juicy slice of Russia's oil, mineral and industrial wealth was in the offing. The West's sudden distaste for Kremlin strongman Vladimir Putin has nothing to do with his egregious crackdowns on civil freedoms. Putin's depredations are hardly less egregious than those of Yeltin, who actually sent in troops and tanks to destroy the democratically elected parliament 1993, then ran roughshod over every vestige of law in harnessing the entire power of the state -- and the private sector as well - to ensure a victory in his re-election bid in 1996. After that, he laid open the entire economy to the rapacious looting of his corporate cronies and their Western allies. It is the fact that Putin has taken much of this loot off the table for Westerners -- and given it to his own cronies -- that has provoked the West's new-found concern for the rights and well-being of the Russian people.
In his swan song, Romney makes it clear that he and his elites want to continue pressing their "shock therapy" on the American people as well, rolling back the very mild attempts in the past to ameliorate, slightly, some of the worst excesses and inequities of unhinged corporate greed. In fact, Romney identifies these tepid measures as dire threats to "American culture" itself:
The threat to our culture comes from within. In the 1960s, there were welfare programs that created a culture of poverty in our country. Now, some people think we won that battle when we reformed welfare. But the liberals haven't given up. At every turn, they tried to substitute government largess for individual responsibility. They fight to strip work requirements from welfare, to put more people on Medicaid, and remove more and more people from having to pay any income tax whatsoever. Dependency is death to initiative, risk-taking and opportunity. Dependency is culture killing. It's a drug. We've got to fight it like the poison it is.
The ignorance -- and inhumanity - of this statement is breathtaking. Think of it: there was no poverty in the United States until "liberals" came along in the 1960s and "created" it with their welfare programs. (Before this "culture of poverty" was created, apparently, the few poor people in America just died off discreetly, like Russians, instead of hanging around a bit longer on government handouts, the way they do now, the shiftless, no-good wretches. Oh yeah, and they breed a lot too, more than white folks.) And even though Bill Clinton (uncredited here, of course, but the elite are well aware of his sterling services) finally drove the stake through the welfare program, these evildoers will still not rest. Just look at what they want to do: "put more people on Medicaid," and "remove more and more people from having to pay any income tax whatsoever." (Wait a minute; I thought red-meat-chomping CPACkers were in favor of people paying no taxes. I guess that only applies to the right sort of people.)
All of this -- especially the stuff about "risk-taking" and "dependency" on government largess -- is pretty rich coming from an avatar of a ruling class that is glutted with pampered heirs of wealth and power who, like Romney, begin their totally risk-free careers at the very top of the ladder, and who are continually fattened with no-bid contracts, kickbacks, tax breaks, subsidies, war profits and myriad other forms of "government largess." But beyond the transparent hypocrisy – and the ludicrous pretense that the "liberals" in today's Democratic Party pose some kind of genuine threat to this cornucopia – Romney's blast is a perfect encapsulation of the elite's hatred for the rabble they use as cannon fodder and cash cows. Let them get sick, let them die, let them languish in poverty, let them lose their homes, let them work three jobs to make ends meet – but by God don't you ever do anything, anything at all, to change the system that produces these chronic inequities and keeps the pampered elite in clover. That's evil. That's "poison." And it won't be allowed.
The speech goes on and on in this way; reading it is like wading through the sewage pipe of an abattoir. China and India and other Asian nations pose a challenge that must be confronted and beaten down. Why? Because they may "pass us by as the economic superpower, just as we passed England and France during the last century." And we must stop the yellow devils, because "the prosperity and security of our children and grandchildren depend on us." Apparently, it is not possible for Asian nations and the United States to be secure and prosperous at the same time; "our children" can only prosper at the expense of others. This too is transparently ludicrous, even nonsensical, if taken literally. Of course, ordinary Asians and Americans could be prosperous at the same time. What Romney really means is that the American elite cannot exert dominance and gorge itself in the manner to which it has become accustomed if other nations are secure and prosperous in their own right.
And that is where the "War on Terror" – the linchpin of Romney's speech, and the justification he offers for folding his campaign – comes in. The Terror War is simply an extension of the long-held goal of the American elite (and their British "junior partners") to maintain and extend their dominion over the world's natural resources and political arrangements – and the exorbitant profits this dominion produces. There is ample evidence in the historical record of the Anglo-American elite's abiding – and quite open – anxieties on this score, going back for generations. Literally millions of people all over the world have been sacrificed to these ambitions and anxieties, which have not abated but grow more frantic and acute with each passing year.
And thus the climax of Romney's peroration: a frantic blithering about "evil and radical jihad" and "the inevitable military ambitions of China" and the burning need to "raise military spending to 4 percent of our GDP" and overriding imperative to keep the Terror War raging, particularly on its central front in Iraq. None of this is remotely connected to the actual wellbeing, security and prosperity of the American people; quite the opposite. It is, however, absolutely vital to the preservation of the elite's power, privilege, self-image and status. And as they demonstrate day after day, they don't care how many people must die or suffer for this.
This is moral psychosis on a monumental scale. It is the complete and utter repudiation of every civilized ideal, of every fragment of enlightenment wrenched from the blood-drenched slagheap of human history. Yet it passes for normality in our political discourse.
I must, at last, admit defeat. I simply have no words, no rhetorical ammunition, no conceptual frameworks that could adequately address the total moral nullity exposed in Monday's New York Times article on the death squad that Barack Obama is personally directing from the White House. (“Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will.”)
It is not so much a newspaper story as a love letter -- a love letter to death, to the awe-inspiring and fear-inducing power of death, as personified by Barack Obama in his temporary role as the manager of a ruthless, lawless imperial state. In the cringing obsequiousness of the multitude of insiders and sycophants who march in goose-step through the story, we can see the awe and fear -- indeed, the worship -- of death-dealing power. This enthrallment permeates the story, both in the words of the cringers and in the giddy thrill the writers display in gaining such delicious access to the inner sanctum.
In any other age -- including the last administration -- this story would have been presented as a scandalous exposé. The genuinely creepy scenes of the "nominating process" alone would have been seen as horrific revelations. Imagine the revulsion at the sight of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld sifting through PowerPoint slides on "suspected terrorists" all over the world, and giving their Neronic thumbs up or down as each swarthy face pops up on a screen in front of them. Imagine the tidal wave of moral outrage from the "Netroots Nation" and other progressive champions directed at Bush not only for operating a death squad (which he did), but then trotting out Condi and Colin and Bob Gates to brag about it openly, and to paint Bush as some kind of moral avatar for the careful consideration and philosophical rigor he applied to blowing human beings to bits in sneak attacks on faraway villages.
But the NYT piece is billed as just another "process story" about an interesting aspect of Obama's presidency, part of an election-year series assessing his record. It is based entirely on the viewpoints of Beltway insiders. The very few dollops of mild criticism of the murder program are voiced by figures from deep within the imperial machine. And even these caveats are mostly tactical in nature, based on one question: "Does the program work, is it effective?" There is not a single line that ever suggests, even slightly, that the program might be morally wrong. There is not a single line in the story suggesting that such a program should up for debate or even examination by Congress. Nor is there even a perfunctory quote from mainstream organizations such as the ACLU or Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch -- or from anyone in Pakistan or Yemen or the other main targets of Obama's proudly proclaimed and personally approved death squad.
In other words, this portrait of an American president signing off -- week after week after week after week -- on the extrajudicial murder of people all over the world is presented as something completely uncontroversial. Indeed, the main thrust of the story is not the fact that human beings -- including many women, children and men who have no connection whatsoever to "terrorism," alleged or otherwise -- are being regularly killed by the United States government; no, the main focus is how this program illustrates Barack Obama's "evolving" style of leadership during the course of his presidency. That's what's really important. The murders -- the eviscerated bodies, the children with their skulls bashed in, the pregnant women burned alive in their own homes -- are just background. Unimportant. Non-controversial.
II. Here's how it works:
“Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.
“This secret “nominations” process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia. … A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan, where that agency conducts strikes.
“The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan — about a third of the total.
“Aides say Mr. Obama has several reasons for becoming so immersed in lethal counterterrorism operations. A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions.
“He realizes this isn’t science, this is judgments made off of, most of the time, human intelligence,” said Mr. Daley, the former chief of staff. “The president accepts as a fact that a certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen, and to him, that calls for a more judicious process.”
Again, words fail. Aides pumping reporters with stories about the wise, judicious philosopher-king consulting Aquinas and Augustine before sending a drone missile on a "signature strike" on a group of picnickers in Yemen or farmers in Pakistan. The philosopher-king himself nobly taking on the "moral responsibility" for mass murder. And the cavalier assertion that "a certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen" -- a bland, blithe acceptance that you are in fact going to slaughter innocent human beings on a regular basis -- precisely as if you walked up to an innocent man on the street, put a gun to his head and blew his brains out all over the sidewalk …. then walked away, absolved, unconcerned, and free to kill again. And again. And again. This psychopathic serial killing is, evidently, what Augustine meant by "moral responsibility." Who knew?
Obama's deep concern for "moral responsibility" is also reflected in his decision to kill according to "signature strikes" -- that is, to kill people you don't know, who haven't even popped up on your PowerPoint slides, if you think they might possibly look or act like alleged potential "terrorists." (Or if you receive some "human intelligence" from an agent or an informer or someone with a grudge or someone seeking payment that a group of people doing something somewhere might be terrorists.) This "moral responsibility" is also seen in Obama's decision to count "all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent."
Guilty until proven posthumously innocent! How's that for "moral responsibility"? Here Obama has surpassed Augustine and Aquinas -- yea, even great Aristotle himself -- in this bold extension of the parameters of moral responsibility.
It is, I confess, beyond all my imagining that a national leader so deeply immersed in murdering people would trumpet his atrocity so openly, so gleefully -- and so deliberately, sending his top aides out to collude in a major story in the nation's leading newspaper, to ensure maximum exposure of his killing spree. Although many leaders have wielded such powers, they almost always seek to hide or obscure the reality of the operation. Even the Nazis took enormous pains to hide the true nature of their murder programs from the public. And one can scarcely conceive of Stalin inviting reporters from Pravda into the Politburo meetings where he and Molotov and Beria debated the lists of counterrevolutionary "terrorists" given to them by the KGB and ticked off those who would live and those who would die. Of course, those lists too were based on "intelligence reports," often gathered through "strenuous interrogation techniques" or the reports of informers. No doubt these reports were every bit as credible as the PowerPoint presentations reviewed each week by Obama and his team.
And no doubt Stalin and his team were just as sincerely concerned about "national security" as the Aquinas acolyte in the White House today -- and just as determined to do "whatever it takes" to preserve that security. As Stalin liked to say of the innocent people caught up in his national security efforts: "When wood is chopped, chips fly."
Of course, he was an evil man without any sense of moral responsibility at all. In our much more enlightened times, under the guidance of a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in the White House, we are so much wiser, so much better. We say: "A certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen." Isn't that much more nuanced? Isn't that much more moral?
There is more, much more of this nullity -- and rotting hypocrisy and vapid sycophancy -- in the story. But I don't have the strength or the stomach to wade any further through this swamp. It stinks of death. It taints and stains us all.
So now we know the grand plan of the Peace Laureate (and his wag-tail pack of lapdogs in NATO) for the people of Afghanistan: civil war.
As many have observed, the NATO summiteers sent out an array of mixed messages at their meeting this week in Chicago: the Afghan war is over, the Afghan war is going forward, NATO forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan, NATO forces are staying in Afghanistan for years to come. This confusion of tongues led some cynics to believe that the gilded gaggle of brilliant statespersons nabobbing together in the locked-down Windy City actually had no earthly idea what they were doing in Afghanistan and were saying whatever they thought might satisfy their paymasters and keep themselves perked and porked in power for as long as possible.
But in the end, the gaggle came up with a "unified vision" for their "irreversible course" in Afghanistan: facilitating an all-out, full-scale, never-ending, hydra-headed civil war to tear the country to shreds.
The "plan" (if one can dignify this stew of blind hormonal impulse, psychological wound seepage and wilful ignorance with that term) calls for the American-led NATO forces to hand over all "combat operations" to the Afghan Army in 2013 (except, of course, for the combat operations that US forces will continue to carry out, like night raids and drone strikes, as Gareth Porter points out). Then, we are told, the "bulk" of the 130,000 foreign troops now occupying Afghanistan will be withdrawn. Except, of course, for the unspecified number of foreign troops who will remain -- for more than a decade, at the very least -- to "train" and "assist" the "independent" Afghan forces. (John Glaser has a good round-up of the "plan" here.)
But here's a funny thing: The Afghan army has been given billions of dollars worth of American training and weaponry over the past decade; yet we're told that only 1 percent of these forces are now capable of undertaking operations on their own. But the opponents of the occupation -- without these billions, without a bristling international military alliance behind them -- have somehow managed to wield a military force that grows more effective with each passing year. Could it be possible -- just going way out on a limb here -- that people fighting to rid their native land of foreign invaders are more motivated, more dedicated and more effective that people who are being paid (usually a pittance) to fight for the foreign invaders?
It's obvious that the Afghan "national army" will not be able to stay in the field against the Taliban and its allies without the continuing and direct assistance of the American military. It is equally obvious that the Afghan army won't be able to defeat the Taliban in these conditions; indeed, the combined forces of NATO have been unable to defeat the Taliban in 10 years. So the upshot of Obama's "plan" will be an interminable civil war, with a weak and demoralized "national army" given just enough support to stave off total defeat, while the war profiteers on every side continue to gorge themselves sick.
Pretty much the status quo of the last decade, then, with some slight repackaging, and a lower profile for the American role.
However, it is unlikely that this "plan" will actually go according to, well, plan. At some point, the profit margins on corpse production in Afghanistan will fall too far due to the Taliban's intransigence, and the Potomac poobahs will finally pull the plug on the whole pointless endeavor. This will doubtless happen well before the 2024 mark bruited in the recent "agreement" (yes, we're running amok with quote marks here, but what else can you do when there's so much mendacity about?) between the kleptocracies in Washington and Kabul.
You remember that agreement, don't you? Signed a few weeks ago with much fanfare during Obama's furtive drop-in to the satapry, and pledging American support for Afghanistan for the next 12 years, with options to re-up. (In olden days, of course, these kinds of solemn pledges of alliance had to be affirmed by a treaty and ratified by the U.S. Senate, but in our bold new Commander-in-Chief state, the Leader can pledge America's blood and treasure wherever and for however long he or she sees fit.) The "agreement" was largely forgotten by the time of the Chicago summit, although its very notional, highly provisional time limit of 2024 still wafts faintly around the zeitgeist. But again, we will likely see American forces doing the old Saigon Roof Dance long before that.
Meanwhile, the Afghan civil war which Nobel Peace Laureate Jimmy Carter helped facilitate by arming the uprising of jihadi extremists back in the 1970s will run on and on, given fresh impetus by the American invasion of 2001 and accelerated further by the "surge" of troops and brutal tactics by Nobel Peace Laureate Barack Obama. And further thousands upon thousands of Afghans will be slaughtered and ruined, their nation -- already cratered by the decades of Big Power gaming -- plunged deeper and deeper into suffering, for generations.
But our seepage-sodden NATO summiteers don't give a damn about any of that. Buried alive inside their security bubble, cut off from the world and common humanity, all they can see are their own reflections; all they can hear are their own lies.
UPDATE: Dave Lindorff has an excellent article laying out the inevitable end-game scenario in Afghanistan -- a debacle that could make the four-alarm FUBAR of the American exit from Vietnam look like an orderly and dignified retreat.
Gary Younge and Bernard Harcourt have good pieces in the Guardian about the "new normal" of America's militarized society, as exemplified by armed occupation of Chicago by a staggering array of "security" forces.
Younge notes the bitter irony of the word "security" in a city where the poor are being subjected to ever-increasing levels of violence both from private predators and public "protectors":
The dissonance between the global pretensions of the summit this weekend and the local realities of Chicago could not be more striking. Nato claims its purpose is to secure peace through security; in much of Chicago neither exists.
… The murder rate in Chicago in the first three months of this year increased by more than 50% compared with the same period last year, giving it almost twice the murder rate of New York. And the manner in which the city is policed gives many as great a reason to fear those charged with protecting them as the criminals. By the end of July last year police were shooting people at the rate of six a month and killing one person a fortnight.
This violence, be it at the hands of the state or gangs, is both compounded and underpinned by racial and economic disadvantage. The poorer the neighbourhood the more violent, the wealthier the safer. This is no coincidence. Much like the Nato summit – and the G8 summit that preceded it – the system is set up not to spread wealth but to preserve and protect it, not to relieve chaos but to contain and punish it.
Younge then gives us a few of the local fruits of this global system:
Chicago illustrates how the developing world is everywhere, not least in the heart of the developed. The mortality rate for black infants in the city is on a par with the West Bank; black life expectancy in Illinois is just below Egypt and just above Uzbekistan. More than a quarter of Chicagoans have no health insurance, one in five black male Chicagoans are unemployed and one in three live in poverty. Latinos do not fare much better.
Harcourt, meanwhile, focuses on the mechanics of the lockdown imposed on Chicago:
As one commentator suggests, Chicagoans are experiencing the "New Military Urbanism in Nato-Occupied Chicago". The extensive nature of these security measures (as reported by the US secret service), road closures and pedestrian restrictions included dozens of road closures (at least 7.5 miles of closed roads, by my calculation) …
Eight-foot tall, anti-scale security fencing went up all over that perimeter and downtown, including Grant Park; and the Chicago police – as well as myriad other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI and the US secret service – were out in force on riot-geared horses, bikes, and patrols – batons at the ready. Philadelphia Police Department is sending over reinforcements to help out; Chicago has also asked for recruits from police departments in Milwaukee and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC. Meanwhile, F-16 warplanes "screamed through the skies as part of a pre-summit defense exercise" and helicopters hovered incessantly. ….
Plus, the Chicago Police Department will be deploying its two, new, expensive long-range acoustic device (LRAD) sound cannons – which it bought at $20,000 a pop. These are the type of devices that were used by the Pittsburgh police to deliver high-pitched alarm tones during the G20 summit meeting there in 2009.
Then, there is the "secret suburban Chicago" police control center where "officials from more than 40 different agencies sit side by side with a giant central screen before them," as reported by the Chicago Sun Times. From the multi-agency command center, all different types of federal, state and local law enforcement can "view live video feeds from security cameras that are already up and running throughout the city".
Harcourt makes the telling point that Mayor Rahm Emanuel denied numerous protest permits and imposed other restrictions on the grounds that the expression of free speech by demonstrators would cause "inconveniences to traffic and ordinary businesses" -- this, after closing off more than seven square miles of the city's commercial area himself. He makes the even more telling point that these hyper-draconian measures will, in many cases, stay in place once the power-players have finished their meaningless jaw-flapping and returned to their well-wadded entrenchments at home:
Third, and finally, all of this is, sadly, here to stay. Nato will come and go, but the new anti-protest laws, the new riot-gear, the two LRAD sound cannons, and all the normalization of this police state … that will be with us for a long time.
Faces along the bar Cling to their average day: The lights must never go out, The music must always play, All the conventions conspire To make this fort assume The furniture of home; Lest we should see where we are, Lost in a haunted wood, Children afraid of the night Who have never been happy or good.
-- W.H. Auden, "September 1, 1939"
This week has seen a most welcome return of Arthur Silber after yet another long absence due to abysmal health. In a brief but penetrating post, he manages to crystallize some penetrating insights on the nature of politics, and political writing -- bringing into sharp and eloquent focus some thoughts and ideas that have been sloshing around -- inchoately and intermittently -- in my own mind for some time.
You should read the whole piece -- and follow the links to earlier pieces that put the new post in context -- but below is an excerpt that makes a vital point:
We (and I) spend so much time on political matters because politics affects our lives so dramatically and with such immediacy. Because politics has the power to alter our lives so profoundly and, far too frequently, even to end them, some of us fiercely resist the especially destructive aspects of its operations. Yet this will never be enough by itself, as history, including our recent history and ongoing events, prove repeatedly ...
… It is not simply that politics is a symptom of more fundamental factors. Politics, in itself, is a sideshow, a distraction, a camouflage. Politics is the means by which power is wielded over human beings. That is all it signifies; that is all it has ever signified. A few of the critical questions are: Who wishes to wield such power? Why? To what ends? And, why are so many people willing to submit to the demands of power?
When we begin to understand the answers to those questions (and many related ones), we begin to see the outlines of what ought to concern us -- where, if you will, the real action is. Political developments are the final result of these underlying dynamics. To focus on politics alone is to engage in the futile rearrangement of derivative elements. This is also why politics is so endlessly repetitive and stultifying, and why a focus on politics alone is so sickeningly boring, when it is not horrifying. Today, it is usually both. "Oh, God! Another horror! How awful!" If you pay attention, you realize that all the horrors you note are the same horrors that occurred a year ago, half a century ago, 200 hundred years ago. This is true even in periods of tragically temporary revolutionary change; see "Concerning the American Change in Management" for an extended consideration of how the American "Revolution" quickly abandoned genuine revolutionary change and instead resurrected age-old patterns of exploitation and oppression. The American "Revolution" ended immediately after it had begun.
If by some series of miracles (none appear to be on offer), significant change were to occur in the American polity, there might be a short-lived victory -- but as with the original American "Revolution," the victory would vanish before it could be enjoyed. The underlying dynamics would reassert themselves once more; the specific forms of exploitation and oppression might be somewhat different, but exploitation, brutality, oppression and death are humanity's constant companions. To concern oneself with politics alone is to deaden one's soul, and to permit the horrors to continue beyond the horizon.
Yet it need not be so. So we must examine why it has been so in the past, and why it is so today. And then we must see how we can change it, finally.
These coming pieces are something to look forward to. Meanwhile, we'll let Auden have the last word for now:
Defenseless under the night Our world in stupor lies; Yet, dotted everywhere, Ironic points of light Flash out wherever the Just Exchange their messages: May I, composed like them Of Eros and of dust, Beleaguered by the same Negation and despair, Show an affirming flame.