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It is to 20th Century political philosopher Hannah Arendt that we owe the ironic trope ‘banality of evil’. The expression she coined reporting for The New Yorker on the trial of one Adolph Eichmann, a former Schutzstaffel officer who—rendered by Mossad in Argentina circa 1960—stood accused of being Hitler’s man in logistics at the time of the Final Solution. Tried in Israel in 1961, Eichmann was O.J. when O.J. was still in junior college. His was a trial that the government of Israel ensured was afforded a level of media exposure that is now routine in the United States for the publicly notorious… a level of exposure the trial of Officer Darren Wilson would have no doubt received had St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch seen fit to indict the latter man for the killing of Michael Brown in August of this year.

Eichmann’s crime? He had directed the removal of much of an unwanted population—Jews, Roma, and other demographics deemed ‘unfit to live’ by Hitler and the Reich—to death camps in German-occupied Poland. (Involved from the start in plans to remove the European Jewry to, first, Madagascar, then, the Soviet Union, Eichmann was a bureaucrat who—when German military failures necessitated abandonment of plans to deport to either location—more or less signed on to the Final Solution with something like a shrug of the shoulders. His “So be it” was effectively complicity, which got him hung.) If the acts attributed to him by his Israeli prosecutors lacked the visceral sadism we tend to associate with a man like Josef Mengele, the infamous ‘Angel of Death’ of Auschwitz, Eichmann was nonetheless a key player in the Holocaust. Thus, when he was put in the dock in April of 1961, what we were supposed to see in him was a devil in the flesh. We were supposed to see a man with horns on his head, as it were, sweating out the balance of the rest of his life in a televised hot seat.

Yet, in said hot seat, he didn’t appear so, at least not to Arendt.

To Arendt, the man brought to trial in 1961 was neither a demon nor a criminal master mind. (Dissecting the mind of Eichmann, cutting him up on the stand, was never going to grant us insight into one of the most egregious crimes in human history.) If a loyal and punctilious officer, Eichmann was an unassuming man of average intelligence whose apparent reliance on faulty heuristic reasoning and thought-terminating clichés made him seem pitifully dense at times. Thus, if accountable for his actions, if guilty of the crimes for which he was hung, he was an inadequate scapegoat. And if a participant in an incomprehensible evil, he didn’t at all suit the role of EVIL itself, of ‘evil incarnate’… a role that not even the detestable Saddam Hussein played well when subjected to the Eichmann treatment.

No, Eichmann—the Eichmann observed during his trial, anyway—appeared to be what we might call an ‘average Joe’, a man whose less than tragic flaw was neither hubris nor Hitlerian destructiveness but a regrettable penchant for heeding too much the voice of authority. In the latter respect—in not just heeding but worshipping authority—the man was only too ordinary. He was us. (At least, two thirds of us!) He was, as Arendt suggested, ‘banal’. More than that, he was what eccentric psychoanalyst (and famously trenchant social critic) Wilhelm Reich once called an “indiscriminate slave”. ¹  The latter—Reich’s indiscriminate slave—is the subject that has learned to follow orders promiscuously, to serve anyone with credentials and a voice of a certain commanding pitch… the subject for whom doing one’s duty has become pathological, and who is fertile ground for the processes of fascism. Though loyal, well-mannered, and often exceedingly moral—‘moral’ in the sense of being fastidiously obedient—this subject’s willingness to serve is so extreme, it borders on the sociopathic. Often, it appears to us that he is not quite accountable for his own actions, that, as an actor, he is capable—if given the order and provided a catchy slogan (’Gott mit uns’, ‘Me ne frego!’, ‘Live free or die!’, and so on and so forth)—of doing the unthinkable.

Eichmann was both capable of and did the unthinkable. Justifiably (I think) he died in infamy. A criminal.

“So what?” you may ask, “What does that… what has Eichmann to do with Officer Darren Wilson, with the Ferguson situation?”

I admit, it was Eichmann—Arendt’s Eichmann—that first came to mind as I watched George Stephanopoulos’ recent interview with the beleaguered Ferguson County police officer.

In August of this year—according to a number of credible witnesses sufficient to indict at least Judge Wachtler’s famous ham sandwich—Wilson wasn’t merely complicit in a violent crime; he perpetrated one. (To the extent that the shooting of Michael Brown also made him complicit in the broader crime of repression is arguable, but not the point of the point of the Ferguson protests. To my knowledge, no one protesting St. Louis County’s non-indictment of Darren Wilson is keen on representing the latter man as the ‘Eichmann’ of judicial repression of blacks in the United States.) Yet what we saw in Officer Wilson during his interview wasn’t the would-be Skinhead some would make him out to be. Nor was it an especially cunning interlocutor, a man who—notwithstanding the fact that he was a cop, a trained witness—would have aced cross-examination. Rather, in the interview, he comes off as a somewhat awkward, mostly deadpan young man whose diffidence and artlessness is evidenced in the rushed and automatic answers he gives to the key questions put to him. (Again and again, questioned by Stephanopoulos as to his tactics and the result—a dead, unarmed kid—Wilson at once hastily and laconically spits out a pertinent series of thought-terminating clichés: “I was doing my job…”, “The training took over…”, “It was survival mode…”, and so on and so forth.)

Granted, Officer Wilson wasn’t on the witness stand. Not really. In lieu of a prosecutor at the trial many residents of Ferguson, MO and millions around the country think Darren Wilson should have had in this case, he was questioned in a unhurried, forty-five minute tête-à-tête by a low-key infotainer who mostly threw soft balls at him. The conditions of his interview belied three glaring facts about this man’s informal testimony:

His account was fundamentally inconsistent. In the interview, Wilson reports feeling, at one moment, in fear for his life, feeling—nay, just wanting to survive—the “immense power” of Michael Brown’s alleged assault on his person (which power he likens to that of Hulk Hogan matched against a child!), and, at the next—in the blink of an eye—feeling compelled to pursue when, after the first shot that struck him, Brown proceeded to flee. Prompted thus by Stephanopoulos: “You felt it was your duty to give chase…”, Wilson replies, in rather Eichmann-like fashion (again, with a formulaic thought-terminating cliché): “That’s what we were trained to do.” The improbable transition from mortal fear to dutiful action is poorly pursued by Stephanopoulos. As is Michael Brown’s somewhat inexplicable decision to flee from a man with a gun whom, we are given to believe, he had overpowered. We are asked accept the latter cliché (“That’s what we were trained to do”) as explanation of it. No effort is made to tease out this fundamental incongruity: how is it that such auto-heroism manages to ‘click’ in a man given to the perception that the perpetrator facing him is some manner of “demon”, one described as fighting through a hail of bullets by means of supernatural powers?      

His account was largely unchallenged. That George Stephanopoulos is no Mike Wallace—much less a surrogate prosecutor—is (depending on one’s outlook) laughably or painfully obvious. More than Stephanopoulos’ weakness as an interviewer, however, what is striking about the interview itself—ginned up as an ‘ABC exclusive’—is that it is framed as the ‘way it happened’, i.e. as the official version of the events surrounding Michael Brown’s killing… framed in a way that no investigative journalist worth his salt would accept given the published results of the Ferguson grand jury investigation. What’s more, ABC elected to exclude from the broadcast transitions to statements of the many eyewitnesses that not only directly but pointedly contradict Wilson’s story. Such statements are vaguely alluded to by Stephanopoulos throughout the interview (“Some say you appeared out of control”, “Some say Michael Brown’s hands were up”, and so and so forth), but never with sufficient force and specificity to compensate for the lack of eyewitness testimony.

His unequivocal denial of the root of the problem in Ferguson (and elsewhere) was largely unchallenged. Claims Wilson: “You can’t perform the duties of a police officer and have racism in you.” Prompts Stephanopoulos: “So, the result would have been the same had Michael Brown been white…”, a contention Wilson hastens to affirm. He is not challenged on his affirmation. Throughout the interview, largely unchallenged, Wilson categorically denies the root of the problem, the reason the situation in Ferguson has resonated nationally: Michael Brown’s summary execution on the streets of Ferguson, MO was by no means an isolated incident; excessive use of force by police against indigent minorities (blacks in particular) is a national pandemic. It has been so for several decades. (To a certain extent, the fact that indictment is even being considered in case like the killing Michael Brown—when, in the past, it would have almost certainly been swept under a judicial or procedural rug—can be considered a positive sign.) Wilson’s disavowal—and the disavowal of right wing media outlets like Fox, whose only too predictable response to the Ferguson situation has been, as it was during the trial of George Zimmerman, ‘If blacks were better behaved, these kind of things wouldn’t happen’—is essentially disavowal of the reality of white privilege in the United States. It stems from the sometimes naïve, sometimes disingenuous contention that the social conditions that motivated the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s no longer exist, that the fact that we honor MLK, have an African-American President and that the dreaded ‘N-word’ (among other such epithets) is now universally taboo is somehow indisputable proof of this fact. Cynical Republican pundit Lee Atwater once remarked that, as one can no longer explicitly use fear and loathing of blacks to gin up the conservative base in the United States, one must resort to dog whistle politics, i.e. use class-based rather than racial and ethnic antagonisms to summon the same emotions. (Rather than for ‘blackness’, the post-Civil Rights era conservative politico must take poor African-Americans to task for being too lazy, too unprincipled, too dependent on social services to compete on a labor market. Above all, he must paint them as being too prone to use race as an excuse for their failure to achieve social mobility.) Today, having thoroughly digested the insufferable ethos of the Reagan years—and having been conditioned by more than two decades of propaganda deftly crafted by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Roger Ailes—21st Century conservatives don’t even really need the whistle. Being, for the most part, far less cynical than was Atwater (and far more self-righteous than was Reagan), Red State America  is today very much disposed to buy without remorse into the notion that white privilege is a myth, that struggling blacks simply use it as political weapon. At once central to the situation in Ferguson and characteristic of the tone-deaf impotence of leaders like Missouri Governor Jay Nixon is Darren Wilson’s blunt, potato-faced disavowal of the ongoing crisis. (Wilson finds “sad” and incongruous the now national crisis that has caused the slogans “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and “Black lives matter” to go viral and has people throughout the country performing 4 ½ minute ‘die-ins’ in shopping malls and (to great effect) in front of rush hour traffic.) For whatever reason, ABC and George Stephanopoulos chose not to press him on his disavowal… not overtly, anyway.

Of course, though largely weak sauce and full of glaring omissions, Stephanopoulos’ interview wasn’t a total flop.

Stephanopoulos did do one thing well. By means of his muted approach and carefully timed repetition of key questions, otherwise incurious George was able to coax Darren Wilson into revealing himself to be what he was: a child of his situation, of the situational response of the 21st Century American beat cop. He was able to bring out what I contend is the Eichmann in Wilson… the Eichmann in the thousands of Wilsons patrolling American streets everyday: the indiscriminate slave to duty, the automaton whom obedience—rather than aggression or sociopathy—has led to crime and/or infamy. Asked repeatedly questions about his tactical reasoning, about motivations, about ‘second thought’ (“What would you do differently?” a question that, pitifully enough, Wilson answers much in the way that George W. Bush answers questions about second thoughts on the Iraq War!), as Eichmann once did, Wilson responds with what are virtually non-answers: thought-terminating clichés about his training, about his job, about ‘survival mode’. It’s clear he’s not thinking. It’s clear he can’t see the inconsistency of his position. (He can’t see where a statement like “All I wanted to do was live… that was it” is inconsistent with “You can’t ever let your guard down, wherever you are” and Wilson’s rebuke of such options as staying in his car, running, or even backing up a bit.) In perhaps the most pointed moment of this otherwise pointless interview, Stephanopoulos observes: “You use the passive tense a lot” (i.e. in describing the shooting). The latter was Stephanopoulos’ response to the weirdest—and, I think, the most telling—turn of phrase used by Wilson in the interview:

“It [Brown’s killing] wasn’t the intention of that day; it’s what occurred that day.”

Whatever were Stephanopoulos’ objectives going into the interview, it was in evoking such a statement that he succeeded in bringing to light at least a simulacrum of truth in the case of Officer Darren Wilson. (Yet it is only that, a simulacrum.) Wilson’s duty-driven and automaton-like behavior and deportment is a symptom; it’s not the disease.

Wilson—like thousands of police officers around the country—would seem to be, as I have said, a child of his situation. The killing of Michael Brown—if characterized by racial component that cannot be ignored—was, strictly speaking, neither a hate crime nor a simple crime of aggression; it was a situational response. If an act—just or unjust, depending on one’s perspective—it was the product of half an actor, a machine-man whose capacity for authentic moral judgment has been put into question. (Put differently—in terms to which AWilson himself alluded during his informal testimony—more than Wilson himself, it is Wilson’s role and all that has gone into it (training, ‘the job’, the expectations of the job, etc.) that is on trial today… a trial that is ongoing, irrespective of the pass given Darren Wilson by St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch.) What’s more, if an evil, the phenomenon of police violence against indigent blacks in the United States, it is an institutional, not a metaphysical one. In the idiom of Hannah Arendt, it is a ‘banal evil’.  

“I’m just a simple guy,” says Darren Wilson toward the end of his interview with George Stephanopoulos. A simple guy with a “clean conscience” (clean, because he did his job). As such, Wilson is the poster child for predatory police departments around the country. He is the poster child for Milgram’s 65%. (It will be remembered, the Milgram experiment itself was directed with Eichmann’s case in mind.) He is the poster child for an increasingly dysfunctional, for-profit justice system. He’s what happens when policing and the administration of justice becomes—not just a process of governance, and not just a necessary evil—but a business.

In 2013, on the subject of predatory policing and the correlation of the latter with civil asset forfeiture laws, The New Yorker magazine quoted former U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh thus:

In 1989, Attorney General Richard Thornburgh boasted, “It’s now possible for a drug dealer to serve time in a forfeiture-financed prison after being arrested by agents driving a forfeiture-provided automobile while working in a forfeiture-funded sting operation.”²

What Thornburgh was touting was the virtue of asset forfeiture provisions of the 1984 Comprehensive Crime Control Act. As The New Yorker points out, the beauty of these provisions was that they tended to sync President Ronald Reagan’s desire to stanch public sector spending with his desire to play hardball when it came to crime, specifically organized crime (Stillman, 2013). Understand that the civil asset forfeiture provisions of the above act were written with wildly affluent South American drug dealers (i.e. organized crime) in mind. Seizing the assets of such actors was one way law enforcement had of neutralizing a considerable advantage of theirs: their massive wealth. This approach has had its merits, but where it has gone wrong over the past 30 years is in the extent to which its objective has evolved. Today, those against whom it is levied are not simply affluent drug dealers. More and more, they are poor and working class urban minorities in traditionally high crime areas, peoples whose wealth isn’t so much a weapon—as it is in the case of drug lords—but, as it were, ‘low hanging fruit’. (To the extent that asset seizure—and predatory policing in general—is to be used in the process of fighting crime, who better to use it against than the socially and politically voiceless, i.e. the urban poor?) More and more—making use of practices like broken window policing and New York City’s ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ policy—these areas are worked by agencies seeking not simply to eliminate crime but to extract profit for municipalities, profit needed to compensate for the shrinking budgets that are the product of an age of protracted tax holidays. (In other words, enduring predatory policing in urban areas is yet another way the poor and working classes are helping to pay for regressive, supply side tax policies!) The long and the short of this trend is that is has tended to put police in indigent minority communities in the position of being both fault finders and collectors of informal taxes. It has put them in the situation of having to be predatorsa situation that brings with it consequences.

Of course, exacerbating the latter—the situation I speak of—is the presently burgeoning, increasing privatized, for-profit prison system. To the extent that locking up masses of minority and low income perps has become a business model, is it any wonder the United States has an incarceration rate that tops even that of South Africa and Vladimir Putin’s Russia? And is it any wonder that the fault finding and aggressive tendencies of police in low-income urban areas has helped to develop predators in their ranks… predators who may well—along with Officer Darren Wilson—sleep well at night, if only with the solace of the thought that ‘I have done my job’?

Darren Wilson has a clean conscience. Eichmann had one too. Having been convicted and facing his own execution, he was peculiarly untroubled. Arendt, in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil describes his inglorious end thus:

Adolf Eichmann went to the gallows with great dignity. He had asked for a bottle of red wine and had drunk half of it. He refused the help of the Protestant minister, the Reverend William Hull, who offered to read the Bible with him: he had only two more hours to live, and therefore no “time to waste.” He walked the fifty yards from his cell to the execution chamber calm and erect, with his hands bound behind him. When the guards tied his ankles and knees, he asked them to loosen the bonds so that he could stand straight. “I don’t need that,” he said when the black hood was offered him. He was in complete command of himself, nay, he was more: he was completely himself. Nothing could have demonstrated this more convincingly than the grotesque silliness of his last words. He began by stating emphatically that he was a Gottgläubiger, to express in common Nazi fashion that he was no Christian and did not believe in life after death. He then proceeded: “After a short while, gentlemen, we shall all meet again. Such is the fate of all men. Long live Germany, long live Argentina, long live Austria. I shall not forget them.” In the face of death, he had found the cliché used in funeral oratory. Under the gallows, his memory played him the last trick; he was “elated” and he forgot that this was his own funeral.³
Several pages later, in the epilogue to the above publication—in a fascinating passage—Arendt addresses Eichmann thus:
“You admitted that the crime committed against the Jewish people during the war was the greatest crime in recorded history, and you admitted your role in it. But you said you had never acted from base motives, that you had never had any inclination to kill anybody, that you had never hated Jews, and still that you could not have acted otherwise and that you did not feel guilty. We find this difficult, though not altogether impossible, to believe; there is some, though not very much, evidence against you in this matter of motivation and conscience that could be proved beyond reasonable doubt. You also said that your role in the Final Solution was an accident and that almost anybody could have taken your place, so that potentially almost all Germans are equally guilty. What you meant to say was that where all, or most all, are guilty, nobody is. This is an indeed quite common conclusion, but one we are not willing to grant you. And if you don’t understand our objection, we would recommend to your attention the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, two neighboring cities in the Bible, which were destroyed by fire from Heaven because all the people in them had become equally guilty. This, incidentally, has nothing to do with the newfangled notion of ‘collective guilt,’ according to which people supposedly are guilty of, or feel guilty about, things done in their name but not by them—things in which they did not participate and from which they did not profit. In other words, guilt and innocence before the law are of an objective nature, and even if eighty million Germans had done as you did, this would not have been an excuse for you.

“Luckily, we don’t have to go that far. You yourself claimed not the actuality but only the potentiality of equal guilt on the part of all who lived in a state whose main political purpose had become the commission of unheard-of crimes. And no matter through what accidents of exterior or interior circumstances you were pushed onto the road of becoming a criminal, there is an abyss between the actuality of what you did and the potentiality of what others might have done. We are concerned here only with what you did, and not with the possible noncriminal nature of your inner life and of your motives or with the criminal potentialities of those around you. You told your story in terms of a hard-luck story, and, knowing the circumstances, we are, up to a point, willing to grant you that under more favorable circumstances it is highly unlikely that you would ever have come before us or before any other criminal court. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that it was nothing more than misfortune that made you a willing instrument in the organization of mass murder; there still remains the fact that you have carried out, and therefore actively supported, a policy of mass murder. For politics is not like the nursery; in politics obedience and support are the same. And just as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations—as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world—we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.”

 
That—notwithstanding my questionable behavioral comparison—Darren Wilson is no Adolf Eichmann should be obvious to any sensible reader of this article. Wilson, in the line of duty, killed an unarmed teenager, a young man who, though likely riding cannabis high—and though possibly guilty of a petty crime (shoplifting)—posed no imminent threat either to Wilson or the public. Wilson’s was an act of criminal negligence, for which, in a better world, he would be held accountable. No carefree bystander to the crimes of the Third Reich, Adolf Eichmann mapped out the logistics for a regime that aspired to murder an entire unwanted population. He was the mother and father of all criminal enablers. If execution suits any crime (and I myself would suggest that it does not), it suited his. I don’t compare the two—Eichmann and Wilson—hoping to equate fundamentally racist and piss-poor American policing with Nazism. Still, I would assert that it is not mere counter-cultural sentiment that compels me to make the comparison.

The criminal acts of Darren Wilson and Adolf Eichmann, what they have in common is that they are ultimately situational responses to demands from unreliable sources of authority, i.e. sources lacking reasonable justification for action. (This is a way of saying that—regardless of the moral status of those who carried them out—such acts were the fruit of fundamentally broken systems of governance.) They are the legacy of machine-men who, whether owing to ‘training’, fear, or the vagaries of social and political intercourse, have come at some point to lose what I consider to be the mature human being’s natural capacity to morally judge the ethical consequences of their actions and to refuse the unjust command. (Understand that I am one who, though no Kantian, can’t get past the notion of das [angeboren] moralische Gesetz… one who considers ‘crime’ as such to be essentially systemic and a social and political phenomenon.) Albeit to varying extremes… both men—both machine-men—in action found themselves agents of bad systems of justice directed against unwanted and anathematized populations. Today, both are reviled for crimes that were too big for their own (machine) skins. Both have failed, both as machines and as men.

The problem we are left with—in the wake of their failure—is this: how do we do justice to their victims? how, given a situation in which the traditional procedure for doing so, viz. exacting verdictive revenge on actors we deem ‘responsible’ for suffering of said victims, isn’t entirely relevant or appropriate? Eichmann, the Nuremberg Ten… Wilson, Pantaleo, Loehmann… Das Volk, We, the People… In the final analysis, some of these hang, some are allowed to persist. The idea that ‘justice has been served’ by nailing any party I have mentioned to a proverbial world-historical wall is, to my mind, moot, given the role bad (unreliable) authority has had to play in the situational failure of each. And, to the extent we find—in the above cited passage—Hannah Arendt herself appearing to disparage the notion of ‘collective guilt’ (and all that comes with it), with respect to such failure—with respect to social and judicial remedies—I am compelled to advocate, not mayhem, but a solution of collective responsibility.

Notes
1: (Reich, 1974, p. 11)
2: (Stillman, 2013)
3: (Arendt, 1963, p. 118)
4: (Arendt, 1963, p. 130)

Works Cited
Arendt, H., 1963. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Viking Press.
Reich, W., 1974. Listen Little Man!. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
Stillman, S., 2013. The New Yorker Magazine. [Online]
Available at: http://www.newyorker.com/...
[Accessed 29 November 2014].

© 2014 Gentil Aquitaine. All rights reserved.

Discuss

Credibile est, quia ineptum est.” --Tertullian

“Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”

Since November of 2008, America’s powerful right wing has been obsessed with the notion that, as President, Barack Obama might be prepared to address the nation’s dire economic state by adopting a socialist agenda, or—what it deemed a greater threat—by adopting as his base the kind of grassroots movement that, circa 1932, compelled the Democratic Party to embrace the New Deal. What it feared was the emergence—the re-emergence—of a true economic populism: a counterpunch to the ideological circus it had been running in Red State America since it became apparent that the Republican Party was going to lose the Presidency in 2008, a blow that, as an assertion of the will of the people, would likely send it reeling, much as such an assertion did in the early 1930s. It feared the possibility of President Obama assuming the mantle of FDR: hiring the jobless, welcoming hatred, instituting—reinstituting—progressive taxation. And it had reason to. After all, Barack Obama Sr. was an avowed Marxian socialist. (Wasn’t he?) And, given that a majority of the American electorate expected of the new president a burst of Rooseveltian brio—one that might actually measure up to the President-elect’s campaign rhetoric—it only stood to reason the end was nigh for an era of government amenable to supply side economics and an unprecedented tax holiday.

To the end of forestalling such an unfortunate turn of events, the right preempted Obama’s first 90 days with a campaign of propaganda and disinformation that continues to this day. With a prodigious sector of the American mass media at its disposal—most notably, the Fox News Channel—it proceeded to drive home to a confused and increasingly impoverished precariat the notion that, not only was Obama the Second Coming of FDR—he of the 100% top marginal tax rate and a very public animus for America’s business class—he was un-American: a foreigner, a Muslim, a community (lisez ’communist’) organizer unfit for national office, much less the presidency. On top of that, more than any of these things, Obama was to be understood as Big Brother in the making: a totalitarian à la Hitler, à la Stalin and Mao (with a little King George, for good measure).

Hence the 2009 and 2010 machinations of one Glenn Beck and the pseudo-revolutionary zeal fledgling Tea Party Movement.

Fox jumped the shark when it resorted to the Big Lie, as it did in January of 2010, when it aired the spurious mockumentary The Revolutionary Holocaust: Live Free or Die. But more than that, when it provided a prized ass like Glenn Beck with a nationally televised rostrum and leeway to expound a thoroughly fatuous tangle of conspiracy theories—warts and all, and without much in the way of fact checking or editorial scrutiny—it brought America’s right-wing into an unflattering spotlight; it allowed it to be snared by an astounding irony, one of which, I suspect, it remains largely unconscious. You see, in ginning up a campaign of hate against a perceived arch-nemesis—playing the race card, invoking the Sons of Liberty, making specious associations of Obama’s manner of Keynesianism with the -isms Hitler, Stalin, and Mao… all that—the right was inadvertently shining a light on itself, as well as on its notoriously fractious constituency. Consider the recent output of media outlets like Fox, right wing talk radio personalities like Michael Savage and Pamela Geller, and right wing “brain-trusts” like Ann Coulter and Cal Thomas. The adroit student of 20th Century mass media communications will note that—in often and brazenly resorting to ad nauseam repetition, thought terminating clichés, scapegoating, loaded language, straw man arguments, and a very literal reductio ad Hitlerum—it virtually apes the public relations efforts of the Soviet state newspaper Pravda and Joseph Goebbels’ RMVP. What’s more, in their focus on the ills of Nazism and Stalinism, the right’s spinners of truth were exposing their own faction to a most surprising criticism. Of the many defects of a regime like Hitler’s: militarism, authoritarianism, ultra-nationalism, Social Darwinism, and leader-oriented society, few aught are commensurate with either the ethos or the praxis of genuine Marxian socialism… most, in fact, are attributes of far-right regimes. By all fact-based and politically educated accounts, notwithstanding the name of his political party, Hitler was no socialist (in fact, in 1933, he banned Marxian socialism, along with communism and trade unions); he was a fascist. I dare say, he was the Weimar equivalent of what President Nixon was wont to call a “right-wing kook”.

America’s right wing, in its decision to demonize Obama by associating him a militaristic, authoritarian hobgoblin the likes of Hitler seems to have fallen prey to a manner of Freudian projection. It seems to have glimpsed in its present bugbear precisely the scariest attributes of the unmentionables within its base. (You know… that untidy lot of ideological zealots that tends to show up at rallies screeching: “THE TRAITOR IS THE PLAGUE!” and “IF BALLOTS DON’T WORK, BULLETS WILL!”) Truth be told, if Nazism is to find a home here, in the waning days of the American Empire, its figurehead is far more likely to come in the form of an angry, bigoted, down-and-out, unemployed soldier of fortune in Montana than a smiling, polished corporate nebbish. Jaded and well-credentialed, Mr. Obama is neither a Hitler, nor a Stalin, nor a Mao. He isn’t even a Roosevelt, much to the chagrin of the millions that wanted him to be such circa 2009.

By now, the right wing knows this. It has likely known it all along—if not, then certainly since the first quarter of 2009. Without a doubt, to the savvy right-winger, the form Obamacare eventually took—an unwieldy, market-based nightmare rather than a rival to the best single-payer healthcare system in the world, the French—such was surefire indication that Obama was, in reality, Clinton 2.0

Yet it continued well after the 2010 mid-term elections: the right’s complicity in baseless, half-witted claims about Obama’s totalitarian ambitions by the likes of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, in Pam Geller’s insidious allegations as to Obama’s status as a crypto-Islamofascist, in birtherism, in talk of “Second Amendment solutions”, and so on and so forth. I contend there was a reason for this complicity, a reason besides the obvious political advantage of being able to mobilize and control one’s political base by nursing a visceral hatred for the opposition. In Obama, or rather [O′]—the Obama cranked out by hate machines like the Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and the Drudge Report, and by a handful of truculent radio talk show hosts—the right has happened upon a true find, politically speaking… that which, in the hands of the most calculating and least principled of partisan operatives (a Karl Rove, for instance) is philosophical gold. Better than a philandering Clinton—whom, despite the latter’s complicity in its economic agenda, the right impeached—it had a figure Red State America could really hate, a figure about which ideologically purblind voters might believe anything, the Big Lie especially. In [O′], the right had what is, in the truest sense of the word, anathema.

Anathema, I say… So, what is anathema?—and, if there are those for whom [O′] passes for such, what does that say about them (i.e. what does it mean to have an anathema)?

The word ‘anathema’ is famously polysemous. On the one hand, an anathema is a person subject to a curse, especially one pronounced by an ecclesiastical authority. (To the Catholic Church, for instance, an anathema, one who is anathema, is a person who has been excommunicated.) Generally speaking, this sense of the word can be taken to mean any hated person or object, or to the state of being such an entity, i.e. being anathema to such and such. In a political context, this sense could be said to denote one, such as Obama—[O′]—who is held in effigy, as it were, by the Church of Rove. On the other hand, the word can be said to refer to a thing consecrated—i.e. set aside or reserved—for the purposes of Providence (the mother of all partisan king-makers). The confusion—if the OED is to be believed—derives from the problematic use of the Greek form of the word in 1 Corinthians 16:22, specifically the formulation “ἀνάθεμα Μαρὰν ἀθα” [anathema maranatha], which, modern philology insists, should be broken up by a period. (Makes sense. The modern readers of Corinthians is none too comfortable either with ambiguity or cursing in proximity to his conception of Jesus!) Thus, serendipity, rather than metaphysical mummery, would seem to be behind the two-faced nature of this word. That said, several hundred years of usage have given us the ‘anathema’ we have today: a signifier with ostensibly opposite meanings, a signified that is at once consecrated and execrated, and the concept of determining the object with the two operations—consecration and execration—in one and the same gesture… a gesture that both psychology and etymology tell us is fundamentally ambiguous.

The long and the short of my point, and the reason I consider Obama [O′] anathema to the right, is this. There is more to the right’s visceral hatred of this president than simple loathing. This ‘more’ isn’t mere racism (Atwater’s “Nigger, nigger, nigger!” in the 21st Century); nor is it an affectation, acting… feigning moral outrage for political purposes. There is in the right’s consistently spiteful attitude toward the President something like interest, like obsession, and even awe. It’s an animus that just won’t quit, a “passionate intensity” that, in fact, smacks of the reaction formation.

To the extent that it hates Obama—Obama [O′]—the right desires. It desires in the mode of a Medea, an Electra, and of Wagner’s Isolde… there’s a love to its hate that it can’t stand and that, to the unbiased observer of partisan politics, is (as it should be) positively sickening. It’s the kind of sentiment that gives you the creeps… yet keeps you watching!

And you are watching!

Despite being a thoroughly discredited and blatantly partisan source of news and information, the Fox News Channel still dominates the alternate universe we understand as broadcast journalism. Accounting for its popularity is rather like accounting for the popularity of the WWE. The vast majority of those who watch pro wrestling know it’s fake. It’s obvious that this activity owes its origins to the world of carnivals and circuses rather than the world of sports. We make fun of those who appear to take it at face value. Yet it is wildly popular. A fair number of those who, at any given time, might be heard scoffing at pro wrestling’s true believers (if such persons actually exist) might also be found buying into the act themselves: watching, cheering, loving, hating… As is the case with the right wing’s fixation with Obama, their paradoxical behavior cries out for analysis. For all the world, they act as though they read something of metaphysical significance into the ridiculous spectacle of outrageously ripped, middle-aged men in cat-suits aping mortal combat. They identify with—or are repulsed by—certain pro wrestlers to such an extent that their guilty, half-ironic pleasure can’t be written off to mere amusement. (And this analogy can be extended to millions more perfectly self-conscious individuals who buy into team sports rivalries: NFL, NBA, MLB, etc.) In a word, they buy into the hate—the love-hate—the wrestlers are selling in their escapades; they buy into it as though that hate were their own.

Of course, there’s a difference between the average WWE fan and, let us say, the John Birch Society heir having, on the one hand, a burning, existential hatred for a given political actor (whether an Obama or an FDR) and, on the other, capital reserves equivalent to the wealth of multiple sovereign nations. Let it be said, the latter’s passion has consequences… especially in the United States post McCutcheon and post Citizens United. To the end of indulging it, said heir can buy out State Houses and Governorships. He can steer media and university curricula. He can buy majorities in Congress. Apparently, he can even buy a SCOTUS Judge (or two). And he may one day buy the Presidency.

Now, there’s a good chance that—rather than in Armageddon—plutocracy in the United States may simply eventuate in more of the same… more of what Americans have been brooking for the past 34 years: wide scale poverty, deep-seated and systemic political corruption, a crumbling infrastructure, an increasingly precarious environment… this merely perpetuated for a few decades. There’s a chance the U.S. may simply limp by as is—as it is doing presently—until, one fine day, in the distant future, it occurs to its middle and working classes to disburden themselves of what Marx famously called “chains of illusion”. Economically, technologically, geopolitically, it’s on the wane. Soon enough, its present dominance will be mitigated by the ascent of the BRICs and the EU. And perhaps its decline will not have been the catastrophe that has been supposed. (Perhaps it will have been a good thing.) On the other hand, we must seriously consider the possibility that, resulting from the negative consequences of more of the same, the U.S. may actually become politically unstable, that the systems and the culture that have thus far prevented a fascist or Soviet-style power-grab may break down, leaving a nation with a nuclear arsenal, some 310 million guns, and the most powerful armed forces in the world (by an order of magnitude) virtually up for grabs.

It’s when we give due weight to the possibility of the latter scenario that the present machinations of political extremists in the United States and merchants of hate like Fox cease to simply amuse, that they must give us pause. It’s then that we begin to divine the reason that—notwithstanding substantial First Amendment issues—the FCC instituted the Fairness Doctrine for almost 40 years (1949-1987)… that broadcast media were deemed a public trust and not something that could be opened up to the vagaries of capitalism without considered regulation.

For years, when asked about the objectionable content of his radio and television broadcasts, Rush Limbaugh deflected, insisting that—in spite of the cultural and political implications loading it—his shtick was “just entertainment” and that he was, in the final analysis, “just a harmless fuzzball”. For years, this tactic worked—and made sense. Rush was Rush: a shock jock. Everyone got that. He racked up dittoheads, nettled the opposition, made lots of noise and millions of dollars. It was all good until roughly the turn of the century, when his idea of entertainment morphed into infotainment and the producer of his ill-fated venture into television, Mr. Roger Ailes, got his hands on a cable TV news network. Only, Ailes had more than entertainment on his mind.

By 2009, we got a sense of what can happen when—in the guise of a public trust—a major media outlet succeeds in packaging and distributing agitprop and propaganda as news and information.

True fact: from roughly the 1920s to the present, the public relations industry has been the secret of Corporate America’s success. As a check against unionism and anti-corporate sentiment, it has been uncannily effective. (The reason the past 100 years have seen the United States public for the most part passively accept the abuses of American capitalism is simple: PR works!) Yet, I would suggest that nothing it has achieved so far quite matches what the Fox News Channel has managed to pull off over the past decade. To the extent that, in the United States, all of the major providers of broadcast news and information engage in some measure of conventional PR—deferring to political correctness, supporting the conventional wisdom (which, often enough, is the government line), selecting by virtue of a political calculus what is and what is not given substantial coverage, etc.—Fox has distinguished itself by convincing its viewership to allow itself to be propagandized, to allow itself to be told the Big Lie.

Understand the distinction. Fox isn’t fooling anybody, not even its bread and butter, Red State America. It isn’t trying to. It has taken the art of public relations to the next level. It has achieved a level of rapport with its viewership at which even an Ivy Lee or Eddie Bernays would have to doff his cap, a level that would seem to have freed it from the cardinal burdens of the journalistic profession: veracity, fact-checking, and integrity of argument. For Fox it is able to dispense with pretense. It can simply tell its viewers what to think (which is the general approach of a program like The O’Reilly Factor). Truth be told, Fox’s command of its audience is so complete that it can afford to be flagrant… that it can lie… that, reaching in its rhetoric, it can risk falling into the occasional Orwellian irony (viz. “Fair and Balanced”)… that it can spoon-feed its viewership brazenly concocted BS and expect it to ask for seconds—and, what’s more, act as though it were being told the unvarnished truth.

More than any media outlet or public relations firm operating in the United States, Fox has perfected the art of inculcating what a recent Yale University study¹ has called ideologically motivated reasoning. In the words of the author of this study, the latter is “a form of information processing that promotes individuals’ interests in forming and maintaining beliefs that signify their loyalty to important affinity groups”. It’s not stupidity. It’s not pseudo-stupidity. I would suggest that it’s not even willed ignorance. The long and the short of ‘ideologically motivated reasoning’ is that—when substituted for critical or scientific thinking—it can lead perfectly normal, well adapted, and even intelligent people² (them especially) to embrace dogma as outré and unsound as that of the Flat Earth Society and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Where Hitler erred in formulating his theory of propaganda was not in the famous heuristic observation, “…in the Big Lie resides a certain force of credibility [ein gewisser Faktor des Geglaubtwerdens]” (i.e. the bigger the lie, the more they believe it). Where Hitler was mistaken was in inferring that the propaganda supporting the Lie had to be dumbed down to be effective, that the only way of consistently moving masses was to bring communications down to the level of those most ill-informed among the general public and hammer home one’s point via repetition. What the both Yale study and the M.O. of the Fox News Channel would seem to tell us is that neither content of PR communications nor the aggregate IQ of one’s target audience are so critical to the success of the propaganda effort as the ability of those providing the message to woo, to foster the process of brand identification in hearts and minds of the faithful.

The faithful, in the case of Fox News, are those whom, elsewhere, I have called ‘habitual Republicans’: those in Red State America who, come what may, vote Republican and take what are called ‘conservative’ positions as much or more out of tradition, brand loyalty, and—importantly—hatred of the opposition than an educated belief in the party platform. (A noteworthy correlate to the habitual Republican is what used to be known as the ‘Kennedy Democrat’, that class of voters that, in the sixties, began voting Democrat as much because of the appeal of the Kennedy brand as belief in boilerplate Democratic politics.) What bears remembering about habitual Republicans is this. On the whole, they don’t themselves buy into—and some don’t even know—the radical course on which the Republican Party is set, and has been for about 30 years now. (If polled about the notions of ‘Starve the Beast’ and ‘Plutonomy’, if asked about the Chicago Boys, Randian Objectivism, or the brand of libertarianism espoused by the Brothers Koch, how many Red State voters might we expect to actually know what we are talking about, let alone agree with the likes of Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, or the John Birch Society? To the latter two, I should think such voters might react much as did the young William F. Buckley.) Much as was the case with the German lower middle class in the first quarter of the 20th Century, what binds the habitual Republican to the party isn’t ideology per se but identification with a clique—and, what’s more, through said clique, a certain representation of the world… a Weltanschauung, for lack of a better word. As down and out Weimar-era Germans loved and hated with the SA and according to the vagaries of Hitler’s disposition, so down and out Red Staters love and hate with Fox and Friends, the Five, and a bevy of attractive Republican gun-molls. As the latter may—and, I suspect, in most cases, do—know what they are hearing is BS and, often enough, reprehensible (of this lot, one can’t really say “non enim sciunt quid faciunt”), as the former did, they tend to disregard the ugliness of sentiments expressed out of admiration for those with the moxie to blurt them out.

You may know very well that what one is hearing is erroneous, nonsensical, and, once in a while, just wrong—but, with a wink and a nod, when offered up by the likes of Greg Gutfield, Eric Bolling, or—one of my personal favorites, the Madame Nhu of the right wing media these days—Michelle Malkin, you accept it… and defend it, when it is trashed in “lamestream media”. What’s more, your defense has merit. In a free society, one of the few in which free speech is written into a founding document, your opinion—whoever you are—is as valid as the opinion of anyone at the Economic Policy Institute or the Brookings Institution. (Not coincidentally, most defenders of Fox that I have encountered, rightly point out this fact.)

On the other hand, this I would assert: why you believe what you believe is more at issue than what you believe. To frame my point, I’d ask the reader to consider the following thought experiment.

Try and think of Fox News Nation as a corps, a standing army. As an army, it is as motivated as it is well trained. So motivated and so well trained is the average Fox News viewer in his role—that of misbeliever—that not even empirically verifiable facts and scientific evidence are sufficient to dissuade him from toeing the company line, from believing only in that which he is supposed to believe. In the final analysis, he believes what he believes, not because it’s absurd (a religious truth), and not because fact has come to determine a given belief base (one he may very well insist is his own); he believes what he believes because, in doing so—in so believing (often enough, masochistically)—he is participating in something greater than himself, greater than the sum total of his experience, something that transcends mere circumstance. In his case (and his case is not unique; it has precedent in history), that something is the corps, the purpose of which happensto be a perpetual state of war. War? What war? War on what? He won’t say… or doesn’t know. He knows it is perhaps the case that he’s not supposed to do either, know or say. So, he assumes it’s foreigners, or non-Christians, or ghetto-dwellers (users of public assistance), or that residuum of Maoist or Trotskyist communism that he may say—and be convinced—is preparing to come out of the woodwork in Washington (any day now). On the other hand, the state of war in which he participates may pertain to a combination of any or all of these noteworthy anathemata—or none of them. His may turn out to be a war on an idea. On this, he is willing to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. (He has no problem operating on a need-to-know basis.) Yet, here is his dilemma. His entire theory—that according to which he lives his life—is predicated on the notion that he is free, a sovereign individual. To him (and, without quite being able to say it, he knows this) freedom is more than a virtue word. It is certainly more than the virtue word that has been bandied about in the Middle East by Western policymakers since 2003. The fact that he has been led into a war, a war he doesn’t understand—the sides and objectives of which are subject to change—together with the state of being subsumed, i.e. being merely part of a whole (the corps), these two circumstances rankle his keen sense of self, of being an individual. Though he both wants to and does believe in what he is being told by his superiors (he wants to and does believe in a world governed by natural law), he can’t get by the fact that, as a part and not a whole, he’s got no say in the rationale for his belief. He can’t say why it is he believes—and, as he can’t say it, he cannot determine it. He would rebel and leave the corps for this reason (notwithstanding the fact that he is haunted by the threat: “Either you’re us or you are with the liberals!”), but for his sense that, in losing the corps—and, with it, that something greater than himself—he would be worse off, even further removed from the desired state of self-sovereignty. For (and here’s the kicker), in his desperation to own his thoughts—and, through the latter, his actions in the context of the war—he finds himself clinging all the more tightly to his situation, i.e. to the state of being subsumed. (Of course, hatred of the enemy, the liberal, has also got a lot to do with it.) He’s like the boxer who can’t punch his way out of the proverbial paper bag; the more he tries to think his way out, the more anxiety and his present sense of belonging keep him in. So, he stays in. What’s more, he gets comfortable. He begins to forget his theory (the notion that he is a free actor, an individual). Then, one fine day, it hits him. He has a personal 9-11; his twin towers come down like a ton of bricks. He finds out the war he has been fighting is a farce, a pretext for putting troops to work in the business of plunder. Everything in which he was supposed to believe—and did—turns out to have been wrong. It was wrong all along; he was wrong all along. Or was he? For his misgivings about following (more or less) blindly—believing what he was supposed to believe—had been well founded. He realizes now these misgivings represented his cognitive dissonance at misbelieving for so long: knowing the orders he was being fed were not valid yet disavowing this fact. He’s convinced that he had wanted to leave the Nation all along but was retained by the latter under duress, a charge that raises eyebrows. After all, it’s not like he’s living in a totalitarian state; he’s an American—and, what’s more, a libertarian.

At his trial (he finds himself before the Hague, sadly, under circumstances according to which he is not going be liberated), when asked for a plea, he offers the pregnant denial:

“I was tricked. Though I realized the order to be invalid, I wasn’t at liberty to disregard it.”

Naturally, he is questioned about such a statement…

“You weren’t at liberty to disregard the order?”
“I was a soldier. I was given an order and orders are orders.”
“Yet you claim to have been tricked.”
“I was tricked. In the Nation, the order is the trick.”

Looks like he is in hot water, doesn’t it? Doubtless, his prosecutor thinks he’s being coy or facetious. He’s a candidate for a hefty sentence. But his understanding of his situation is spot on.

The orders he gets from ‘the Nation’ aren’t explicit. They aren’t something he is expected to do (or else). The latter is the case for a formal army but not the body of which he is a part. In his army—that corps of loyal viewers—he is free to do as he pleases… in fact he is obliged to do so. (Like the rest of his comrades, he embraces the deeper sense of the well-known motto/imperative “Live Free or Die!”) Yet, in this obligation lies the trick he is talking about. Obliged to do as he pleases, what pleases him has already been established for him. It is the hidden nomos to which he was married when he was married to the corps… that which had enslaved him—as it were, to a life of not so negative “freedom”—even before he started assuming supposed beliefs. Baptizing you a “free” man, the corps enslaves you to your pleasure (your will), which pleasure it happens to own!

Now, that’s a heady mode of production! It beats actual slavery hands down! The trouble is, when such a system happens to break down or become corrupted, the problem of accountability for negative consequences raises its ugly head—even more so than it did in the Nuremberg Tribunals. Who is accountable when things go wrong, when the merchandizing of hate—not to mention the soldier’s natural addiction to hate—causes actions that go beyond the pale?

More than a ‘questionable’ question, the latter is, regrettably, a rhetorical one. It is one that, I should hope, vexes all participants in the ideological circus that has been travelling Red State America for the past five years.

1: http://papers.ssrn.com/...
2: Consider the nut country politics of either Ivy League bright boy Ted Cruz or the illustrious Peter Thiel!

© 2014 Gentil Aquitaine. All rights reserved.

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Thu May 15, 2014 at 05:23 AM PDT

The Thing You Can't Hide...

by gaquitaine

A Tribute to Fox News Nation and Patriots Everywhere!

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"Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Ou la Mort)"

"Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité", among other things, this is the national motto of France. I list it here as a ‘term to know’. Why? Its relevance would be one reason. Economically, historically, sociologically, "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité", or ‘LEF’, is presently relevant, which is to say, loaded: it’s language that, on the one hand, symbolizes—the Zeitgeist of the French Revolution(s)—and, on the other, invokes. Much as is the case with the motto of the state of New Hampshire, "Live Free or Die!", it contains in its meanings an occult appeal… and, I would suggest, a command. Like "Live Free or Die!", LEF is telling us how to live: not a command most of us are willing to accept explicitly. In fact, some would say, LEF is preaching to us, and in a manner far more sinister than that recently adopted by the Pope in the missive, Evangelii Gaudium.

Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

LEF symbolizes, as I have said, a Zeitgeist, that of France in the era that began with the Revolution of 1789 and ended with the tearing down of the Paris Commune. It will be remembered that, in this period, France made social and economic leaps as volcanic and dramatic as those of the American Revolution were not. She went from a state of monarchical feudalism, to an unstable, utopian form of democratic capitalism, to a meritocratic dictatorship, to a short-lived Napoleonic empire, to a constitutional monarchy, back to a capitalistic republic… albeit one from which some were keen to remove LEF and replace it with the label DIS: "Déterminisme, Inégalité, Sélection". LEF made a return as the motto of the Third Republic of France; by that time, of course, France was a far removed from the Zeitgeist of the Revolution as the United States of the Gilded Age was removed from the ideals of Jeffersonian democracy. LEF was the ghost of the French Revolution, and, as such, a spirit not too far removed from the much dreaded Marxian specter.

In a recent talk, economist and workplace democracy advocate Prof. Richard Wolff raised the specter of LEF. He did so at an (in)opportune time: a week or so removed from the passing of Nelson Mandela. Deftly enough (I thought), Prof. Wolff likened the failure of the ideals of French Revolutionary era democratic capitalism—a failure to which Marx himself bore witness in Paris circa the February Revolution of 1848, a failure that largely inspired (or, to use the Marxian term, ‘overdetermined’) his conception of class conflict in the capitalist mode of production—to the failure of the noble-hearted and much lionized Mr. Mandela to follow the end of literal Apartheid in South Africa with the elimination of the economic Apartheid by which that nation is presently gripped. It will be remembered that, in the early 90s, as President of South Africa, Mandela was keen on realizing a longstanding ambition of his: nationalizing the South African mining industry to the end of mitigating the poverty and gross income inequality that were then—and are still today—the bane of his nation. South Africa today quite literally owns the dubious distinction of being the most economically unbalanced nation in the world. With a Gini Index in the mid-60s, it does—much as did was in the 90s—provide a classic example of economic Apartheid.  That said, despite broad-scale support in South Africa for his ambitions, President Mandela succumbed to international pressure not to become a second Mohammed Mossadegh. He refrained from and abjured nationalization, a fact that, given the persistence of economic Apartheid—what some would characterize as a neofeudal state—in South Africa, may or may not taint his prodigious legacy.

So, besides remembering Mandela and the economic sermonizing of a new pope, why all this talk of LEF and Gini Coefficients? How is it that inequality—specifically, economic inequality—is as relevant as it is? After all, in many parts of the world—in South America, Australia, and parts of Asia, for instance—things are looking up. Economies and nations are starting to emerge from the shadows of colonialism and neocolonialism and are asserting themselves… over and against British and American hegemony, over and against the hegemony of foreign multi-nationals. (Which is why trade deals like TPP are such nettlesome and significant issues. TPP, for one, may well turn out to allow corporations to sue states over environmental and other laws and regulations they don’t like.) On the other hand, in America and the UK, there is, indeed, a sense that a sea-change is in the offing—one unrelated to climate change, which may soon see the Florida Keys go the way of the legendary city of Atlantis!

Socially, economically, the United States, for one, is at a point of departure. Thirty to forty years of corporate claw-back, of ‘tricke-down’, and ‘letting markets decide’, has seen the United States emerge from out of the wet dream of its Golden Age (1945-1968) to the so-called crisis of American Capitalism, which crisis many an astute Marxian commentator have recognized has been displaced onto the Federal Government. Before the malaise of the late 70s and the false optimism of the Reagan and Clintonian eras, the United States boasted a healthy and thriving middle class, a standard of living that was the envy of the world, and, significantly, a healthy Gini Index of around 35. (N.b., the Gini Index runs as follows. 0 is perfect income equality; 100 is all of state’s wealth in one individual’s hands. Socialist nations like Sweden maintain a Gini Index in the low 20s, while states characterized by extreme poverty, predominately black economies, warlordism, and neofeudal conditions are 50+. South Africa typically presents the worst Gini Index of all nations: 65 or so; Haiti and Nambia come in at about 60; while much of the Third World is in the low fifties. The Gini Indices of some healthy economies: Germany 27-29; Canada 32-35; Australia 30-32. The world average is 39.) The United States had largely won the War on Poverty which, recently—and in a disgusting and highly disingenuous manner—Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio (among others) have been wanting to liken to an economic Afghanistan… note, forty-some years after the fact.

Today, after three major economic collapses (in 1987, 2000, and 2007), a vast upward redistribution of wealth that has largely been the result of the Reagan and Bush II tax cuts (rather than ‘trickle down’, author David Kay Johnson is fond of referring to Supply Side tax policy as ‘Niagara up’), and the impact of the outsourcing and mechanization of the American manufacturing sector, the United States economy is starved for good paying middle class and blue collar jobs, unemployment and poor capacity utilization are persistent problems, real wages have stagnated, and the U.S. runs an astonishingly high Gini Index of around 45. True, worker productivity is at all-time highs, corporate profits and CEO pay (especially in the financial services industry) are through the roof, and the stock market, aside from crisis moments reached after the 9-11 and the three aforementioned economic collapses, continues to turn a healthy profit for America’s investment class. For many in the Forbes 400 and America’s corporate sector times are good indeed. But, for 90% of the country, the era of trickle-down/Niagara up has been a time of stagnation and decline. What’s more, after having spent liberally on corporate bailouts and subsidies and foreign wars, given revenue problems associated with 30+ years of a national tax holiday, and the budgetary issues created by an increasingly senescent population, the U.S. government is in no position to help mitigate this decline. Add to this the coup de grâce many pensioners are presently being hit with: in a fashion no less disgusting and disingenuous as that with which Rep. Paul Ryan would read the Last Rites to America’s social safety net (one wonders if, pious Catholic that he purports to be, he has heard what his Pope has had to say about his ethos), corporations and municipalities are now beginning to signal the need to cut back on pensions for which these workers have, for decades, forsaken claims to wage increases, pensions which, Prof. Wolff has pointed out, have been part and parcel of their compensation packages.  

So, income inequality is now the issue of the day. And, as it is such, so the ghost-like triptych LEF has crawled out of the spider hole in which it has been hiding in Europe, and is now staring us in the face. Much like the famously snarky population that gave it birth, it is quietly and ironically mocking us and our circumstance, and the fact that the triptych by which we have lived for well-nigh four decades—the triptych that LEF itself evoked from 19th Century France—viz. ‘DIS’ has lead us to social and economic quicksand.

Of course, the studious reader of these lines would be right in asserting this point of correction. I’ve said that it’s been according to a tripartite motto that America has proceeded in the period in question (perhaps it will one day be known—and blessed or cursed—as the Age of Rex Reagan and the Chicago Boys). That’s not quite accurate. Our motto has been one of four terms: "LIVE FREE OR DIE!" (As it is a command, one more explicit and less occult than that inherent in LEF, it really should take an exclamation point.) What exactly is meant by ‘FREE’ in this dictum might be deemed the question—and, by some, the joke. Nonetheless, of all those inclined to questions and jokes along these lines, I would beg to consider LEF’s Jacobin formulation. Rather than a triptych or a four-parter, it’s got five terms: LEFOM… "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité Ou la Mort!" And it’s the warning that history offers the would-be 21st Century plutonomist. It’s more pointed than the Pope’s.

“Don’t lose your head!”

Origin:
circa 1789, Antoine François Momoro

Related words:
Gini Index, claw-back, neofeudalism

© 2013 Gentil Aquitaine. All rights reserved.

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Thu Mar 27, 2014 at 01:38 PM PDT

Freedom!!!

by gaquitaine

Freedom (The American Notion of ‘Freedom’ as Evidenced in the Slogan “Live Free or Die”)

Let us disambiguate here. In the attempt to define so polysemous and tortured a public abstraction as the American conception of ‘freedom’ (political, economic or otherwise, all known forms of human freedom are packed and confabulated under the rubric of this magnificent virtue word), we do well to avoid invoking notions as large and delusive as Locke’s theory of ‘natural rights’ or Rousseau’s ‘liberté naturelle’. As we do well to eschew the facile dogma that most of us receive in the course of a secondary education. Still further from our minds should be the abiding faith in the moral and ethical freedom of the subject that is required of our moralists and legal thinkers. (That faith is a part of our heritage and best reserved for discussions of Kant, the Utilitarians, or Kojève’s Hegel.) The ‘freedom’ we have to consider has neither to do with ethics, nor metaphysics, nor with a famously tawdry red, white ‘n’ blue symbology.

No, our ‘freedom’ derives from the dark and sodden terrain of land nestled away in an alternate universe, that known to the political ethicist as ‘Negative Liberty’.

In Negative Liberty… it is there, flying just under the radar of historical consciousness that we come upon the genuine American homeland. A tangle of vines, roots, and detritus that lies deeper within us than jingoism, any ‘Hallmark’ or ‘Rockwell’ moment of sentimentality, or anything on the order of a moral or religious conviction, it’s a land to which no outsider can emigrate, a land in which there are no Indians (only Cowboys), a land to which even the beasts and trees daren’t lay claim. It’s man’s country. It’s there, and there only, that Freemen are truly at home, that there are no laws (there, ethics are superfluous), that one is able to prospect and mine at will the single essence in the epistemology of Freemen, that in which, famously, one thing is certain.

The thing is, the mining and all, even in Negative Liberty, it can only be done at night. For, as is well-known to lovers of Western literature, the sun shines on all of us, on slave and slave-master alike. Which is the reason that, in our homeland—a veritable ‘Land of the Free’—it is always and everywhere night.

(Hegel was onto something when he referred to the existence of “pure self” in the Night of the World.)  

In Negative Liberty… it is there, vouchsafed to the pick of the genuine American—in dark of earth and dark of sky, where all political and ontological distinctions melt like Protean vices—that the essence that we call ‘freedom’ is to be found. Indeed, it is found in such abundance, that were the homeland to be opened to the world, De Beers would give up all its claims to Africa for a single beach-head or point of entry! For savvy multi-nationals know well enough that, when the U.S. left the gold standard, she did not, in fact, adopt a floating currency. No, what she did was convert to a different standard: that of the essence we speak of. What she did was establish for the world a virtual El Dorado… one for Americans only. Real Americans…          

Freedom, as the American understands it, is its own negation. It’s a process best understood as a logical, political, and metaphysical equivalent of the Jungian principle of enantiodromia. And it comes part and parcel with a second process known as the ‘zero sum game’.

Its paradox was plain for even the Founding Fathers to see—some fifty years before the birth of authentic industrial capitalism in the United States—as is evidenced by the cross-purposes at which the authors of early American political discourse appeared to be speaking. (That Hamilton’s beast needed a leash… that the “all men” of the Immortal Declaration couldn’t be construed as ‘all men’, much less ‘all persons’… that freedom, as we understood it, needed ‘unpeople’ and, importantly, had to be tied to the mechanism of personal wealth… all of this was understood very early on.) That it is ultimately to Hobbes, to the Hobbesian natural state of man—that bellum omnium in omnes—that American political philosophy owes its origins, should hardly surprise us. Morally and ethically speaking, the American people are as much or more the legacy of the rough and tumble world of The Leviathan as we are Jeffersonian theory. We’re the nation of ‘Dog eat dog’. We’re the nation that dropped the bomb, the nation that did genocide right. We’re a people as obsessed with a freakish necessity of Revolutionary Era jurisprudence, the Second Amendment—obsessed with what we think it says—as we are with those parts of the U.S. Constitution that actually do represent epochal advances in human governance: the First and Fourth Amendments, the Due Process Clause, the division of powers, and so on and so forth. We’re the geopolitical superpower willing to lay down international law, but embark upon what Giorgio Agamben calls the ‘state of exception’ when it can and feels the need to. (I recall in this light Professor Fukuyama’s candid observation: “Americans are not a law-abiding people when compared to citizens of other developed democracies”. It’s from the recent monograph State-building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century. Reading this piece, I was struck by the extent to which Fukuyama failed to relate the relative lawlessness of the American people to the occasional lawlessness of America the state-builder.)

On the other hand, what should surprise us—and what I would suggest is the attribute that most distinguishes our conception of freedom from its analogues in contemporary European thinking or from the theories of Locke or Rousseau—is the degree to which, once secured in a positive state, in a Hobbesian State of Society, ‘freedom’ as such has always been undermined from within by those parties and sectors that have always most stood the most to gain from the provisions of the social contract. It’s rarely the little man—more rarely still, is it the subversive or criminal, who stands to gain little aught from functioning social systems—that succeeds in stripping public assets, corrupting politics, bending laws until they’re practically irrelevant, and cheating the state of enough revenue to inhibit its functioning. Little men and the socially outrés don’t rig markets, seek rent, exploit Third World peasants, and gouge consumers. Those that do all of these things—those capable of doing such things—almost universally belong to a social and economic class that is highly dependent both on a strong state and a strong consumer market. It’s the subset of this class, a lot of adventurers whose calling it is to—in the name of what they and we call ‘freedom’, and embracing the deepest, most metaphysical sense of the zero sum game—effectively sabotage the normative functioning of the state... it’s this group we should look to for a proper understanding of what we mean by the virtue word ‘freedom’.              

Why? Why them? Why a lot of adventurers rather than a scholar, a judge, or the President? More than any of our luminaries and de jure authorities, it’s our de facto leaders, those who really play the zero sum game—play it to win—and have the moxie to cheat when they can and have to... it’s this lot that moves the needle in this freedom business of ours. It’s they who have the know-how when it comes to undermining the state (the state on which, paradoxically, they are so dependent). They have been to the land I speak of, in Negative Liberty, our virtual El Dorado. They have found and have mined their ‘freedom’. (Have no doubt, they are real Americans!) What’s more, they have at their disposal most if not all of the major media outlets in this country, not to mention a state of the art public relations industry. If spreading wealth and freedom—i.e. their wealth of ‘freedom’—if that isn’t really their thing, if that’s not what they do... proselytizing masses to market theology, to the zero sum game, to the sanctity of negative liberty—all the while, setting business expectations—at these arts they masters on a par with painters of the Italian Renaissance; they’re what Bach, Handel, and Palestrina were to polyphonic music. They own the public discourse. What we know—vis-à-vis ‘free’ trade, ‘free’ markets, ‘free’ enterprise—they have, over the past seven decades, succeeded in jamming into our heads. What they scorn—’communism’, ‘cooperatives’, ‘community’ activism—we have, for 30-35 years now, experienced as something akin to a case of the crabs. They’ve engineered a level of consensus for their radical and uncompromising agenda, remarkable, yes, for its deftness and subtlety, but mostly for the astounding fact that the most pressing interests of 99% of those whose consensus has been won are dramatically undermined by said agenda.

For Fox News Nation, they have managed to turn night into day and day into night...

Who else in the world is better suited to tell us what we Americans mean by the word ‘freedom’?

So, it’s the brigands in our midst, it’s the most predatory of our turbo-capitalists that we choose for exemplars. They know the ropes. They know what it means to be free—really free. They have an idea of what needs to be done with those of us who aspire their level of freedom. But more than their knowledge, more than their economic and ideological leanings, it’s their behavior that exemplifies the ‘enantiodromia’ of which I speak. ‘Freedom’—as practiced by the predatory turbo-capitalist—advances the destruction (the negation) of the very conditions of its own existence. It weakens the state—again, the state on which it is largely dependent—the state that enforces its presence abroad, the state that cuts its trade deals, the state that is the sole guarantor of the contract it so cunningly exploits. (Indeed, of the Marxists I know, I can’t think one that doesn’t marvel at the extent to which Reaganomics, the Chicago School of Economics, and Clinton Era financialization have served to make Marx relevant again! The net effect of market liberalization, the destruction of the American Labor movement, and 35 years of regressive and inadequate tax policy—together with aggressive and expensive foreign policy—has been to displace the crisis of capitalism of the late 60s and early 70s onto the Federal Government, a burden that has left the latter in an increasingly inadequate position to further state sector R&D, assist state and local governments, and maintain the nation’s social safety nets. It’s made a handful of economic oligarchs filthy rich, but has put the whole future of the capitalist enterprise in question.) It impoverishes the body politic (the U.S. infrastructure and the net wealth of 90% of Americans are in an increasingly depleted state); it economically disenfranchises Romney’s (in)famous 47%. What’s more, the markets it purports to obey and to worship it consistently depresses and cheats. ‘Freedom’ is creating stunning and deleterious levels of unfreedom in the economy in which it lives, levels which, if pushed to the max—if pushed to their logical extreme—will fall back on ‘freedom’ itself. It will fall back on those who are selling to us. In a word, ‘freedom’ is killing itself. It’s leading itself to its own execution.

How’s that for creative destruction?!

‘Enantiodromia’ I’ve called it. And so it is. Acknowledged as such, however—as an economic and metaphysical ‘self-reversing course’—doesn’t our understanding of ‘freedom’ point to a way out of the vicious cycle it constitutes? Isn’t there a ‘teachable moment’ to be gleaned from its death pangs, one by virtue of which evolution might be possible? If such a moment is possible—and I see no reason why it would not be possible—I’d be inclined to guess that it will consist in breaking the ideé fixe to which we as Americans have been married for too long.  That ideé? It’s breaking the marriage of the two processes mentioned above: ‘freedom’ (as we understand it) and the zero sum game. It’s breaking the marriage of the American notion of freedom and the American-style capitalism.

It’s a misalliance. It always has been, even in boom times. The Gilded Age, for instance... named by the most supreme of American ironists. Today, there exists no greater threat to American democracy—which, believe it or not, has some bearing (of however inscrutable a nature) on what we call freedom—than that presented by the specter of American financial capitalism. It’s that simple.

For more than a decade, we’ve spent trillions defending the homeland from ‘the Terrorists’, from ‘Bad Guys’ past and present, from an ‘Enemy’, whether real or imagined. And, where it would be facile and misleading to suggest that “the real Terrorists” have always been on our shores... on Wall Street, “dressed in expensive suits”, and so on and so forth... it’s not at all unreasonable to suggest that, in concert with their addiction to high stakes poker on Wall Street and the depredations of the rogues in their midst, the short-term and otherwise faulty thinking of this nation’s presiding master capitalists has caused more suffering—here and abroad—cost us more money, and done more damage to the nation’s future than bin Laden could have ever hoped to inflict on the American people in the 9-11 attacks. They may not be terrorists, but—I don’t think unfair to say—they might as well be.

At any rate, before I terminate this piece of writing—which, as its title states, is about the virtue word ‘freedom’—I’d beg the reader consider a rather delicious irony. It inheres in a jaunty old slogan, a morsel of rodomontade that presently serves as the motto of the State of New Hampshire, viz. “Live Free or Die!”. Roughly analogous to the Jacobin slogan “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, ou la Mort!”, it’s an implicit command clad in a startling irony that would seem to reflect at least some measure of an insurrectionist people’s most rudimentary ethical substance. In the Jacobin motto, there are two operative words: ‘égalité’ and ’fraternité’; in the American there is one: ‘free’. The former reflects a radical egalitarian, the latter a radical libertarian ethos. In each case, operative language is skewered by the mood of the dictum which is forceful and minatory. Each case stinks with an irony of multiple dimensions. And each is a function of the other. They are two sides of the same coin.

Of course, closer to home, is another motto that bears comparison with that of the State of New Hampshire. It’s derived from a watchword from the Roman Empire.

“Expand or Die!”

As the reader is no doubt aware, the latter is the credo of 20th Century capitalism. Yet, duly considered, it is also the ethos of cancer. To read and to think about both dictums—as before, one as a function of the other—one can’t help but be haunted by the ironies... to the point at which, in their usage, one sees only the ironies, and nothing of the intended meanings.  

Lastly, on the subject of ‘freedom’ and the New Hampshire state motto, we would be remiss in our analysis if we failed to mention the case of one George Maynard (Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U.S. 705)¹.When, back in the 1970’s New Hampshire resident and motor vehicle owner George Maynard found himself troubled by the ideological content of the motto “Live Free or Die!”—less because it was his home state’s motto than because of the fact it had been inscribed on his license plates and was, hence, practically, ascribable to him—he was bothered by another contingency. State law forbade him from trying to cover up the inscription on his license plates. He did so nonetheless, obscuring the words “or Die” on said plates... hence the famous and acrimonious outcome. First the state of New Hampshire fined him, then, after the third or so violation, it threw him in jail. All of this is anecdote, or course. In 1977, a Supreme Court decision, rendered with future Chief Justice Rehnquist dissenting, validated Mr. Maynard’s right to inject the pangs of his particular conscience into a governmental process—an interesting effort at state-level propaganda—with which he had never wanted anything to do in the first place. I suspect it follows that, Mr. Maynard’s considered act of civil disobedience—in fact, the exercise of his First Amendment rights—was vindicated by this decision. Nonetheless, the moral of his story is both clear and revealing:

“If freedom isn’t free, it’s obligatory. There’s no forfeiting the zero sum game!”

Death, after all, is not the worst of evils.

1: http://supreme.justia.com/...

© 2012 Gentil Aquitaine. All rights reserved.

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Fri Feb 28, 2014 at 04:23 PM PST

Lebensraum in Context

by gaquitaine

And is it supposed that the wandering savage has a stronger attachment to his home than the settled, civilized Christian? Is it more afflicting to him to leave the graves of his fathers than it is to our brothers and children? Rightly considered, the policy of the General Government toward the red man is not only liberal, but generous.

--President Andrew Jackson 8 December 1829

By the time it was taken up as part of the ideology of Third Reich in the 1930s, Lebensraum was a relatively new term for an old concept, that of Ostsiedlung.  The latter was, itself, merely the realization of a universal and even more antiquated notion: conquest.

Granted, though a bloody proposition, the ‘settling east’ of the Germans of the 12th and 13th Centuries—the Teutonic Order in their ranks—was a far cry from manner of world building the Nazis attempted in the 20th Century. It wasn’t the advance of a state, and it was by no means an action that was particular to the German people. And the Germans of that era aren’t often repudiated for having pursued it. Ostsiedlung was a pale shadow of the Roman expansion, a mock imperialism, if you will… nothing on the order of Hitlerism, however. Still, it set a precedent. It became part of an identity, a ‘spirit’ that would eventually include the famous Protestant work ethic and a remarkable talent for speculative thinking.

The word itself—Lebensraum—was coined by German geographer and ethnographer Friedrich Ratzel in 1901. For Ratzel, the geopolitical state was more than just a legal entity or lines on a map. It was an organism. Its borders weren’t demarcations so much as a skin or membrane: the dynamic, physical margin of a life form that was always either expanding or contracting, depending on its state of health. Expansionism, colonialism—aggression, in fact—naturally, these symptoms implied a state of geopolitical bonne santé. On the other hand, with Ratzel’s conception of state health, an issue was raised. What was to be made of cases of aggression that radically exceed the bounds of reason, of good health… that seem to take on the aspect of a cancer? Malignant growth is as much a sign of the imminent decline of the organism as military defeat or isolationism, is it not?

Case in point: the Third Reich. How else but as a case of inoperable geopolitical cancer would the Ratzelian geographer presume to describe Nazi Germany? Not all growth is good growth. Aggression isn’t always a sign of good health. That said, it behooves us to put the question to the Lebesraumers of our day: is there ever a case in which bona fide aggression is healthy? Cancerous or not, every case of aggression since Nuremberg has invited a dreadful question: to what extent do aggression and colonialism actually imply a people’s inclination to go over the top, geopolitically speaking, to become sufficiently violent as to be associated with Napoleonic France, Shaka’s Zulu Empire, Georgian or Victorian England, or, indeed, Nazi Germany?

Here is a question that must haunt any thinker of a mind to participate in the building of an empire.

The Final Solutionthe fruit of Aktion T4, the Third Reich’s infamous euthanasia program, which claimed the lives of 275,000 mentally ill Germans, including one Aloisia Veit, cousin to Hitler himself—with little controversy, it’s deemed the most egregious case of genocide in human history. And yet the subject of its genesis remains, not only a matter for conjecture, but a hot topic. A hot topic indeed…

The Final Solution, was it simply a scheme hatched by a talented madman augmented by a state-of-the-art PR department? Were a generation of Germans effectively tricked into participation?—scared into participating?—mesmerized by Hitler’s remarkable persona? Not even a decade had passed between the Reichstag Fire and the implementation of the Final Solution. Could the mechanisms of totalitarian social control have been that effective that quickly? Was Hitler that good at his craft? This seems implausible. Was this generation, then, to blame? or (if there really is such a thing) the German race? Was the Holocaust, indeed, the expression of a people’s depravity, and Hitler merely a symptom? This theory puts the burden of accountability where it makes sense to put it, but is wanting for a coherent etiology. (It’s tantamount to George W. Bush asserting the existence of an ‘Axis of Evil’ or explaining the actions of al-Qaeda on 9-11 to an ill-disposition to what we call ‘freedom’—‘freedom envy’, for lack of a better word¹.) Such theories explain very little, and usually eventuate in ignominious labeling and thought-terminating clichés. Frankfurt School theories tend to finger sociological bugbears like authoritarian parenting, sexual repression, and a culturally specific bent for obedience to authority. Yet, where such theories have merit and are interesting (Erich Fromm, in particular, analyses both Hitler and the authoritarian personality type brilliantly), they are highly speculative and, for the most part, don’t provide a political ontology.

In the case of the Final Solution, the question ‘How could this happen?’ remains largely unanswered.

So, what if we were to formulate an answer based, not on race theory, mass psychology, or dubious clichés, but on Ratzelian geopolitics? What if we sought it in the dynamics of geopolitical aggression? Could the Holocaust be credibly understood as consequence of Ratzelian ‘growth’? After all, part and parcel of the Third Reich’s expansionism was the removal of the Jewry of Eastern Europe (to Madagascar according to Eichmann’s plan). When such couldn’t be accomplished by deportation, wasn’t mass murder the logical next step? When unwanted peoples can’t be removed, how else but via extermination is Lebensraum to be created?

For obvious—and some not obvious—reasons, it is difficult for us to take up the latter question. This difficulty is compounded by our unwillingness to even try to understand the Holocaust. After all, how can we frame this act as anything but a gratuitous crime against humanity, in light of which a handful of rightfully comminated heads were noosed at Nuremburg. It is an obscenity—is it not?—even to suggest there was more to the Final Solution than Hitlerian madness wrought on bad people. We are compelled to call its authors evil and be done with the matter. On the other hand, for less than obvious reasons, doing so must leave us with an uneasy feeling. If localizing evil in Nazi Germany—in Nazis themselves—and dismissing Hitler as a monotesticular madman is effective as warding off gesture, it is a delusive one.

We kid ourselves when we try to project the drive for Lebensraum on ‘bad guys’ or ‘rogue nations’. We lie to ourselves whenever we attempt moralistically to disavow ties to the likes of Hitler and Saddam Hussein. Moralists who are themselves morally conflicted—or else poor ethical thinkers—always wax indignant at efforts to resist such a disavowal. They, too, lie—to themselves and to the rest of us. (Indeed, more often than it is a sign of stupidity, protesting the unjust application of moral equivalence is a sign of bad faith, of cautiously dissembled ideological ruse and a morally conflicted position.)

It was an American, Justice Robert H. Jackson, chief prosecutor for the United States at the Nuremberg Trials, who introduced to post-war geopolitics the weighty expression ‘supreme crime of a war of aggression’. And—notwithstanding the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Panama, Iraq, and numerous Third World proxy wars—it is the stated position of the United States that wars of aggression are not to be tolerated, that actors involved with the perpetration of the supreme crime must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law (unless, of course, they’re U.S. Presidents). If hypocritical, it’s a sound legal and ethical position. But how authentic is it? How sound is American moral authority on this subject? In what ways have we better managed our nation’s hunger for Lebensraum as compared to other nations?

Those among us who speak of ‘American Exceptionalism’ must be willing to speak to this.

Der Hunger nach Lebensraum, in plain American English, is Manifest Destiny. Coined circa 1845 by pundit John L. O’Sullivan, the latter term is as close a correlate to the former as is to be found in the history of ideology. (O’Sullivan first used the term in an essay advocating for the Anschluss of Texas, an action that—to no-one’s surprise—resulted in the Mexican-American War. That said, the idea to which the term was applied—and the bulk of the ideological framework supporting the cause of what we now call American Exceptionalism—had its origins in policy and doctrine  established in the years 1809-1829, policy and doctrine that, I would suggest, constituted a sort of Thermidorian reaction to Jeffersonian democratic theory.) Granted, Manifest Destiny was never imbued with as much explicit theory as was loaded into the concept of Lebensraum by Ratzel and Nazi ideologues. When John L. O’Sullivan or President James K. Polk anointed we Anglo-Americans as inheritors of the North American Continent, neither went so far as to postulate the notion of a master race and to base it in ethnological theory as did Nazi ‘Race Pope’ Hans F. K. Günther. (To the extent that such notions have been taken up by fringe groups in the United States—White Supremacists, for example, whose notion of Christian Identity, or ‘CI’ is analogous to that which was propounded by Günther—they have yet to enter the level of authentic public discourse.) All the same, as was the case with Lebensraum theory, with the development of the theory of Manifest Destiny, the seeds of a Zeitgeist were sown. A population, over time, learned a mindset, a worldview (eine Weltanschauung). This worldview included the following: 1—that the continent is ours; 2—that our claim has been willed by Providence (a subtler, more Deistic way of saying ‘Gott mit uns’ or ‘nobiscum deus’); and 3—that American expansionism is, for this reason, the work of God.

Simply put, we learned to accept the belief that God had signed on to the plunder of the Mexicans and the Indians. If the mission of the Teutonic Order was Ostsiedlung, ours was taming the Wild, Wild West. Unwittingly, some 146 years after this worldview was given birth, President George H.W. Bush managed to encapsulate the spirit validating Manifest Destiny in four simple words. (In doing so, he revealed the extent to which it still informs American thought.) Those words: “What we say goes.” So, has history vindicated God’s decision in our case? Was our conquest of the north of Mexico and our removal of Native American nations justified in a way that Hitler’s plunder of Europe was not? If so, how? What is good as opposed to bad plunder?

Making the Devil’s Advocate argument for the logical equivalence of Nazi plunder with that of any aspiring empire in history (let alone ours) is an exhausting and largely pointless exercise. If the ethical valence of aggression doesn’t shift depending on whether it is prosecuted a ‘good and sane’ or a ‘bad and irrational’ actor, the radical nature of violence of the Third Reich renders such an argument moot. Of course, the manner in which Holocaust victims were disposed of matters to any consideration of the gravity of the crime. Of course, such distinguishes the Holocaust from any other act of genocide. With the advent of Nazi Germany, something new was added to the metaphysical reality of warfare and conquest, something that clearly did not exist before, even during the greatest excesses of World War I. (Truth be told, the Third Reich wasn’t alone in participating in it: consider the radically violent nature of the bombing of Dresden, the bombing of Tokyo—the use of nukes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.) Thus, to equate Manifest Destiny with Hitler’s radical conception of Lebensraum or the Native American genocide to that of the Ashkenazim during the Third Reich is to perhaps risk misrepresenting each of these terms. (And in a way that has nothing to do with orders of magnitude or Adolph Hitler’s biography.) Each needs to be framed in its proper context if it is to be adequately understood.

That said, we do well be wary of the common temptation to shield our history as a conquering—and genocidal—nation from a literal reductio ad Hitlerum. Allow me to repeat myself. The claim of absolute moral superiority is no less delusive than that of absolute moral equivalence. The way of the American apologist is also ridiculous.

The United States, in 1845 had designs on Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California; Hitler’s Germany, by the late 1930s, had developed an appetite for Europe, an appetite whetted by revanchism and its Leader’s inimitable megalomania. The United States, circa 1830, was grappling with the question of what to do with her natives, specifically the so-called Five Civilized Tribes of Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama; the Third Reich, roughly a century later was preparing to answer die Judenfrage. That the history of the German approach to its problems is emblazoned in our memory is hardly surprising. The crimes of the Third Reich are epochal and the legacy of a failed nation. That we tend to overlook or airbrush 19th Century American history, this also is less than surprising. The ‘crimes’ of the burgeoning American Empire, read in the context of Western history, are—or were, then—typical of ascending superpower, and are the record of a successful nation. They were merely a phase, a chapter in the adolescence of Washington’s Infant Empire. (Were they not?)

So, how do we do justice to our development, to the so-called crimes of our development? How do we best frame a discussion of Polk’s War and Jackson era Indian removal, of the famous Trail of Tears?

Here, we have an advantage dissidents of the Third Reich would have lacked in attempting to critique Hitler and the history of the Germanic peoples. (And it’s plausible that lack of this advantage had much to do with what the budding German Empire made of itself.) The First Amendment, a deep-seated cultural disdain for censorship and—notwithstanding the nibbling attacks on it by the reigning Presidential Administration and three or four of its recent predecessors—the codified principle of the free flow of information related to the actions of the United States Government… As long as it’s with legally acquired information, we are entitled to publish inconvenient facts with respect to the nation and its history. If some of these facts seem undeniable, for instance,

•    the fact that, from its outset, in the Red Stick War and in General Andrew Jackson’s assault on Fort Gadsden (a.k.a. ‘Negro Fort’), which precipitated the first of the three Seminole Wars, the United States’ conquest of Spanish Florida was racially motivated; the act that it was prosecuted in order to preclude an African-American insurrection, to secure slaveholder’s property rights over black slaves in the Southeastern United States, and to further the notion of Manifest Destiny (a.k.a. American Exceptionalism)…    

•    the fact that in April of 1846, the United States provoked war with Mexico in order to give President James K. Polk a pretext for invading California, the fact that said war was not less racially motivated than the conquest of Florida…

•    the fact that, together with the extermination of the Tasmanian Aborigines and Shaka Zulu’s assaults on South Africa and Zimbabwe, actions of the United States taken against the so-called Five Civilized Tribes of the Southeastern United States (including the Seminole Wars of 1814-19, 1835-42, and 1855-58, and Jackson-era removals of the Seminole, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek nations) constituted genocide on a scale comparable to that of the great ethnic cleansings of the 20th Century²…

consider how we might be given to interpret these facts—to read this history—had the First Amendment not been in place or had the modern PR industry been invented, not at the turn of the 20th century—as a reaction to the Progressive Era—but during the Administrations of Madison, Monroe, and John Quincy Adams, when U.S. policymakers were beginning to feel the need to steer public policy and the public discourse away from Jeffersonian democratic theory and in a direction favorable to Madison’s ‘opulent minority’. (Had one or both of the latter been the case, one has to wonder if American expansionist policies might not have eventuated in the taking of the whole of Mexico—as well as the annexation of Central America—and if American slavery might not have persisted well into the 20th Century.) Free speech and a free press have, indeed, served us well. It’s with a critical eye that we size up a character like Andrew Jackson, the United States’ first truly bellicose Commander-in-Chief, a man who, throughout his career as conqueror and a politician, earned a reputation for flouting international law for his own and the nation’s aggrandizement. Had America lacked a free press—or had Jackson had an Eddie Bernays or Joseph Goebbels—Old Hickory might well have escaped the ill-effects of a problematic reputation, and perhaps become our Napoleon. As it stands, we’re obliged to question such a Commander-in-Chief—to question such leadership—not to mention the spirit of his negotiations with the Five Civilized Tribes of the American South.

‘Spirit’ is the word I choose here—mostly, for lack of a better one. ‘Spirit’, a word with which I mean to encapsulate, at once, the behavior of the actor (Jackson), his ideological and religious leanings, as well as his nationalistic disposition. ‘Attitude’ would work, given its late 20th Century and present day usage. It makes for a hard-boiled grabber.

A general, a president, a sharp knife… a Commander-in-Chief with an attitude… it takes a bad ass to turn out a kick-ass nation.

Reagan’s City on a Hill, no less. Were I bad screenwriter, I might settle for ‘attitude’. But the word is too characterological. It smacks too much of the man’s personality, of an individual pathology. I feel the need to convey something of the extent to which Jackson’s actions were less about Jackson than the idea of which this Commander-in-Chief seems to have been an embodiment: that of Manifest Destiny. Thus, I refer to the “spirit” of Jackson’s approach to his nation’s Indian problem. ‘Spirit’ suffices. On the other hand, spirit isn’t Geist.

In speaking of the ‘spirit’ of the Age of Manifest Destiny, we largely fail to communicate the political and ontological connotations the German word brings with it. And, remember, it’s a political ontology we’re after. It’s not in a psychological but a politico-ontological context that we want to frame the removal of the Five Civilized Tribes and the Mexican-American War. We aren’t assigning blame or calling out world historical villains. We simply need a credible answer to the vexing, yet less than scientific question, ‘How could this happen?’ How is it that the morality of a people allows it to carry out genocide? For, clearly, to paraphrase Hillary Clinton, it takes a village to wipe out another village, at least when we’re talking about an era that predates weapons of mass destruction. Even Hitler—given the advanced technology and the Wehrmacht he had at his disposal—even he couldn’t have brought about the Holocaust without the complicity and the participation of the German people. And not even the most sophisticated propaganda, not even the greatest PR effort known to man, could have tricked the latter into mass murder against its will. Which is why both individual and mass psychology are, to some extent, irrelevant to the search for answer our question. From the standpoint of individual psychology, the reader has reason to scorn the comparison of actors like Hitler, Stalin and Dick Cheney with the likes of Andrew Jackson, Ronald Reagan, Cecil Rhodes, King Leopold II of Belgium, Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush, and Mao Zedong. Though each bears responsibility for mass killings and can be credibly dubbed a world historical villain, apple-to-apple comparisons are ludicrous. What’s more they’re largely a waste of time and breath.  

It’s neither a mens rea nor a case of mass psychosis that we’re investigating. It’s something on the order of what philosophers call ‘ethical substance’.

In the mid-1930s, during Hitler’s methodical rise to power, the philosopher Heidegger made a famous speech in which he referred to the “historical, spiritual [geistig] mission” of the Volk (i.e. of the German people). A month later came the Night of the Long Knives. Two months later—as Napoleon had 130 years earlier—Hitler effectively crowned himself Emperor. If none of these moments actually decided what was to take place in the decade to come, and all were indicative of a certain Ratzelian ‘growth’ of the relatively new German nation, if asked which of the three—or if any of them—truly betrayed how far the Third Reich was going to be willing to go in order to pursue the most radical conception of Lebensraum (global Empire), I’d be inclined to choose the first. Why? Because any Hitler could have been Hitler during the Third Reich. (Jackson could have been Hitler. Polk could have been Hitler. Given a little more talent, as Reich Chancellor in Nazi Germany, either Dick Cheney or General Curtis Lemay might have done worse!) Indeed, any ambitious adventurer with both the talent to fill a vacuum of power and a radically destructive personality could have led the Third Reich’s campaigns of aggression and genocide. If a necessary condition to events like genocide and radical acts of aggression, the Leader isn’t sufficient. But, then, neither are those led. What is both sufficient and necessary to the event is a perfect storm of ethical substance. The situation of the everyman—of ‘das Man’—must be such that no amount of fear and outrage and no level of threat or moral compunction is able to delegitimize either the role of Leader or the notion of one’s duty to country. The sanctity of the ‘spiritual’ mission Heidegger alludes to in the Rectorship Address must be absolute. (Simply put, one must exist in a society ripe for political fascism.) In such a situation, those being led to mass murder must do mass murder. Those being led to fight a war of aggression must fight—or at least support—said war of aggression. No questions asked… at least at the level of public discourse.

This is where a people needs its gods. It needs to hear its Gott mit uns” or One Nation Under God or “Allahu Akbar!. The greatest extremes of human behavior tend to require a base level of divine inspiration. (To lesser and subtler acts of violence, anonymous voice of authority will do—for instance, that which, I submit, commands behind the veiled invocation ‘Live Free or Die!’.) Imbued with something of the divine, the executive order carries more force than even force of law. This is why ideology matters. Indeed, ideology is the fascist’s point of access to the extra-legal force brought to bear by the divine.
Yet, ideology is not something the ambitious fascist can install on his own or have put in place overnight. (Here’s the rub for any would-be 21st Century CEO/Philosopher King or American Emperor.) It’s created over generations, with respect to—if not in competition with—existing traditions, and requires institutions (legal, religious, literary, educational, and so on and so forth). Not even a Hitler could invoke Germania… if Germania weren’t already an ideal and if he lacked rudimentary institutional support.
Which is why, when asked to explain how it is—in roughly twenty years—the United States made the transition from a Jeffersonian to a Jacksonian state, I’d be disinclined to take as my starting point either Jackson or Jefferson—at least in so far as concerns either’s role as a statesman (or fascist). Instead, I’d look to the American ideology, or, rather, to the latter’s sources. I’d look to the notion of American Exceptionalism and to its foundations in Natural and Constitutional law.

It so happens there is a single Supreme Court Case that provides us with an avenue to formulating such an explanation. (If nothing else, it’s an excellent start.)

Consider Johnson v. M'Intosh, 21 U.S. (8 Wheat.) 543 (1823).

It’s a SCOTUS decision familiar to anyone who has studied international law, and for good reason. The principle it embodies is the essence of colonialism. (It’s only fitting it was given precedent by an American court!)  It’s known as the Discovery Doctrine. It’s had much to do with the creation of the Third World as such—as an uncanny reflection of the geopolitical failings of the West for the past 200-250 years. And, I would submit, the reasoning it reflects persists in the ongoing efforts toward financial globalization pursued by the G-7 and a handful of powerful multinational corporations.  

By the controversial logic of the Discovery Doctrine, subjects of a recognized sovereign power may ‘discover’ territories deemed terra nullius, i.e. territories not under the protection of another recognized power. The long and the short of ‘discovery’ is that native or ‘aboriginal’ occupants of such territories—of ‘no-man’s-lands’—are, from the moment of discovery, effectively dispossessed of them. (That is, if possession of land even occurs to said occupants as an ontological possibility! According to the ethos of some indigenous populations, that which the European might call terra nullius is rightly terra omnibus. Ownership of land, if even conceivable, is ownership in common. Strictly speaking, land can’t be possessed³.) If they had certain rights of occupancy—what was sometimes called a ‘right of soil’—they can’t own land, not as a subject of a recognized power can. (Herein lies the tragedy of commons in terra nullius.)

Truth be told, the natives of North America’s no-man’s-lands suffered from subhuman status. Much as did Jews, Roma, and anyone else who fell into the category of Lebensunwertes Leben under the auspices of the Third Reich. What they lacked—indeed, in a manner that would make sense to any Right Hegelian—was proper recognition. Unrecognized, they remained in a legal and ethical terra nullius perfectly comparable to that of the territories they occupied—and defended, in many cases. The reality of their situation—in some cases—made ethnic cleaning inevitable. In the United States circa 1800, it made Indian removal an inevitability.

Why an inevitability? I mean, given the power of early American ideals, of Jeffersonian ideals…

By turn of the 19th Century, notwithstanding Jeffersonian democratic theory—not to mention the assiduous efforts by some the Five Civilized Tribes to assimilate to life in the Southeastern United States circa 1800 (some tribe members actually owned slaves and converted to Christianity!)—the ideology of American Exceptionalism was already well entrenched and ripe for implementation by the time Jefferson took office. (It was the fruit both of Natural Law theory as developed by Grotius and others and of the ethos of the conquistador.) It was Jefferson himself who largely mapped out the removal of the Five Tribes… Jefferson who, for all his high-sounding ideals and noble intentions, was not less of an acolyte of Manifest Destiny than was John Quincy Adams or the executive who actually signed off on the Trail of Tears, Andrew Jackson. Ultimately, Jeffersonian democratic theory, though not unimportant to the framing of the U.S. Constitution—and though a noteworthy advance on previous European democratic thought—was not compatible with the American ideology, either in Jefferson’s day or in what has followed since. Imbued by the spirit of American Exceptionalism—ironically enough—it seems, Jefferson himself was primed for a reaction against it. Actions taken by Jefferson as President (the Louisiana Purchase, for instance)—and, certainly, letters laying out his plans for Indian removal—would seem to attest to this. Understand that, in and of itself, Thomas Jefferson’s Thermidorian reaction to himself was neither a validation of Manifest Destiny nor an augur of the victory of the spirit of American Exceptionalism over American reason or American morality. It doesn’t allow us to designate Jefferson as the architect of the ethnic cleansing of the Five Tribes, any more than Andrew Jackson’s signature on the Indian Removal Act of 1830 allows us to construe him as such a figure. Jackson was but a man of action, a man afforded a plan; Johnson v. M'Intosh was but a single SCOTUS decision, one made with respect to case that did not directly concern either the probity or Constitutionality of ethnic cleansing in the United States. The Indian Removal Act, the destruction of Negro Fort, the Treaties of Dancing Rabbit Creek and New Echota… in themselves, none of these steps taken toward genocide were as consequential as the context in which they occurred, the context by virtue of which they were rendered a possibility.                                  

Allow me to repeat myself… to do so a second time… Any Hitler could have been Hitler during the Third Reich. History, geopolitics, and the German Ideology made this so. Likewise, in Early 19th Century America, any Jackson could been Jackson, and any Jefferson reversed himself—indeed, to the point of ethical and political inversion—given the Ratzelian hunger of the young republic and the afflatus of its muse.

Notes:
1—“America was targeted for attack because we are the brightest beacon for freedom in the world.”

2—To put the Trail of Tears in perspective, the number of Cherokee that died as a result of the removal of the Cherokee nation in 1838 was the equivalent of over 75 million Americans today. (N.b.—to put this figure itself in perspective, the number of Ashkenazi Jews murdered during the Holocaust was equivalent to roughly 211 million, the number of Tutsi killed in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 to 224 million.)

3—I think here of the ethos of the Iroquois Confederation (among a number of other Native American nations) as regards ownership of land. Though beneficiaries of both an advanced economy and a sophisticated understanding of the democratic process (a participatory and particularly egalitarian process), the Iroquois had no correlate for ownership of land and legal title.

© 2013 Gentil Aquitaine. All rights reserved.

**PDF of Lebensraum in Context**

Discuss


“Were I like thee I'd throw away myself.”—Shakespeare, Timon of Athens
Never-ending, it seems, is the pundit’s search for the right tone when treading on sacred ground, when broaching the difficult subject: murder, in this case… mass murder—for the most part, of innocents—by a maddened, masked gunman at that. It is almost too cliché to be real. He speaks of, he is asked to imagine what is generally called ‘a parent’s worst nightmare’. He speaks of and is asked to imagine a horror that he, as well-adjusted American, is not often made to face: naked human aggression—brought to our doorstep, what is more… there to take innocence. He speaks of evil, of an “unconscionable evil”; he thinks of the Devil for lack of a correlate. Of course, notwithstanding his search—for the right tone, for the right words—he feels justified in assuming a posture of righteous indignation. And he is right, is he not? Of course he is right. He has to be right. (Protocol does not allow for the alternative.)

It doesn’t matter that he’s right in so far the victims of this outrageous attack are concerned—they are, most of them, dead. That he is right, I doubt matters in any way to the parents of twenty first-graders, twenty targets of a military-style assault conducted, absent a military, by a single, very unstable young man. The truth of his assessment—an assessment of ‘evil’ in this case—if it matter at all, it matters to those who have the benefit of observers’ distance; it matters to us. It is the basis of our prosecution. We formulate the moral outrage that moves hearts, minds, and the fourth estate. (Justice, if it exist, exists in our image.) What we are asked to do… by whom, who knows? we know now only that we are obliged to do something… the task that has been handed to us is the assignment of blame in this case, an assignment to be made in advance of and in a more visceral manner than anything like an official verdict.

Blame is the unquestioned spirit of American internal politics. Blame inspirits the unwieldy mass that is the American body politic, and at a level far deeper than that of the frame and the organs. If not unfit, this body is fit for blame. Blame lives in the quick of its flesh; it burns in cells and in synapses. It is the stuff of its mitochondrial soul. In the body, which is to say ‘with us’, blame is ubiquitous. It colors our mores as well as the sound of our voice. It shines as the violent gaze, the eye-beam of the would-be vigilante. And when it shows itself in a court of law, it always bears the name of Justice.  

‘Justice’ of course, is the operative word here. Understand that it is not my intention to suggest that the shooter in question here—one Adam Lanza, 20, of Newtown, CT—that he is not done (appropriate) ‘justice’ in being held legally accountable for his actions— to the extent, of course, that it is possible to hold a dead man accountable. Notwithstanding a long history of mental illness—including Asperger’s or a similar developmental disorder and numerous episodes of (presumably) non-psychotic, violent outbursts—we haven’t heard much evidence to suggest that Mr. Lanza was as categorically ‘insane’ as, let us say, a Jared Lee Loughner. (Of course, Lanza did not leave behind the kind of digital footprint that Loughner did in advance of Tucson. If he was as delusional and paranoid and is Mr. Loughner, it was never recorded on Facebook or YouTube. Lanza never served word salad at a public forum. And, at the time of this writing, Lanza’s hard drive has been reported unreadable by authorities: destroyed, presumably by Lanza himself, at some time before the shooting of his mother.) Whatever the nature of his conscience—perverse, inverted or otherwise—Lanza was ‘responsible’ for his actions in so far as concerns the law. Understand, too, that I do not mean to suggest that the mother of Adam Lanza is either morally or legally at fault for what happened. It will be remarked, of course, that, notwithstanding the presence in her household of a mentally unstable family member, this woman not only kept assault-style firearms in her possession but introduced the former to them, reportedly as attempt to inculcate her own survivalist ethos. Hers was a tragically and cosmically stupid approach to a real dilemma. (And, consequently, a practice in keeping with NRA reasoning.) In no way, however, did she transgress authority; the weapons in question were purchased perfectly legally and the quality of her care of her son has yet to be questioned.  

Understand that, when we talk about ‘Justice’, we are referring to is what matters to us. And that is who has blame and by which standard. It is as a certain vitality that our justice is manifested; it is as hunger. Our need to fix blame is an appetite—a collective one to be sure—an appetite which, whetted by reason and law, is always set on the carnival, set on the kind of red meat that is constantly provided both by our demagogues and by the Hollywood dream-work. In this respect, what we are looking for in the Sandy Hook gunman is not necessarily what comports with the reality. What we need to see in the case of one Adam Lanza is not simply a bad situation—cause, perhaps, to address a ‘systemic failure’—blame of systems and procedures too often is an evasion of individual accountability—we need to see patent evil. We need a Lanza that lives up to his mask. We need the shooter to take the form of a crazed mujahid who, just as he is ready to blow his load, crashes into the Principal’s Office screaming “Allahu Akbar!” (Paradoxically, in marked contrast to the nature of his act, it is reported that the Newtown shooter said nothing.) We don’t need food for thought in this case; much less do we need tragic pathos. Here, we need the weight and the assurance of what is called a ‘hard label’.

It is to be admitted, of course, that much is lost to reason when we proceed with such categorical zeal. When we proceed to lay blame, to censure—to demonize, if so inspired—thought, retrospection, due diligence even… sufficiently often, they are left to the wind. With the act of judgment comes blindness sometimes. Sometimes, the moment the spade is called a spade all discourse is obviated. ‘Evil’, in this respect—even when called out by a president—is not always what it’s made out to be. Sometimes, on arrival, it is little more than a thought ending cliché. Dare we risk the calling out of ‘evil’ when such may succeed in keeping, let us say, the issue of gun control out of the general discourse?—or mental health out of the national spotlight (if not off of insurance policies)?—in keeping NRA faithful ignorant of the consequences of flooding the US market with assault-style firearms? Is that worth the risk?

Pope Michael the Clueless would probably tell you that it is. He would also play down the obvious role of mental health in this case. (To his mind, the necessary cause of this slaughter is the lack of prayer in our public schools, an assertion which, if it is not simply the thought of an abysmally stupid man, is indication that the ‘God’ of his ministry should be reckoned as a monster.) So should we go with the Huck on this one? Risk the oblivion of nescience which the Manichean conservative risks whenever it is he adjudicates?—which the Fox News viewer risks whenever he turns on the television?  
We really should answer that, either formally or literally—but before we do, I’d ask that we consider an off the wall hypothetical. I think, by way of an example, of an ironically constructed Monty Python sketch, the “Multiple Murder Court Scene” from the Whicker’s World episode. In it, a convicted mass murderer, at his sentencing, is solemnly read a long list of the individuals he has killed and, after the reading of the list, is asked if he has anything to say before sentencing. Of course, the defendant answers, ridiculously, “Yes, sir… I’m very sorry”. Grave courtroom faces assume, first, a puzzled and, then, an embarrassed demeanor as the defendant proceeds with a thoroughly ironic apology that results in a parodic sentence. The sketch is itself a spoof on the expectations of ‘true crime’ narrative and could easily have been applied to the hypothetical case of Hitler in the dock at Nuremberg. At the time this writing, the date of the fictitious crime mentioned in the sketch is exactly 40 years ago. Other than this negligible coincidence, this work of black comedy would have little to do with the atrocity that is the subject of my commentary if not for this element of its theme: to wit, our expectations of the evil-doer at his moment of reckoning. The hypothetical to which I allude involves a level of irony in many ways comparable to that of this sketch. We always want to talk of accountability in cases like this one; how do we cope with the possibility that, when made to give account, the ‘Black Beast’, as it were—the worst man in the world—provides an answer into which we can’t quite sink our teeth?
(And was the reason why bin Laden, instead of being hauled into court before a presumed execution, was simply buried in the ocean?)  

The reader, especially if he or she is endowed with an acute liberal conscience, will be forgiven for taking offense at my ironic choice of example(s) here: Monty Python, of all things. And the killing of bin Laden. (Wasn’t that, after all, the epitome of our notion of justice?) There are times at which irony and intellectual distance are all that keep us from drowning under a wave of inarticulate rage which, if appropriate at times, remains mere self-enjoyment. On matters as confounding as Sandy Hook, we have to say something. (An alternative to the writing of these pages? I would be content, I suppose, to force feed a pail of bovine excrement each to two men, two moral hypocrites: Mike Huckabee and Wayne LaPierre. Throw in Louie Gohmert, for good measure. But, again, what would that constitute? Mere self-enjoyment.) And, here, I am simply saying this: we don’t know—and it’s possible that we can’t know—what it is we want to hear from Adam Lanza. We don’t know what we want from that which we excoriate as ‘evil’.

Demonization—as it were, the ‘calling out of evil’—always entails the clouding of reason. Necessarily so. (Reason, as such, is more of a god than we are accustomed to believing. It must be blinded, as was the god of Genesis on more than one occasion.) Efforts at creating the anathema—efforts which do have the nature of expiation—nonetheless are an obscenity; they must be conducted in private, or else under the cover of dogma, which, more than even enjoyment, suffices to blind a god.

 Dogmatically, it will be admitted, we fashioned quite an anathema out the figure of one Seung-Hui Cho, as angry and as violent a perpetrator as one could imagine. Of a far more enigmatic shooter, the Beltway sniper, John Allen Mohammed—who, on his two or three week reign of terror, even had a jihadist in tote—we created, in some ways, an even more sinister image, one which may well have been his undoing. (Here was a duck caught as much in the noose of his ‘15 minutes’—and his megalomaniac response to it—as in an interstate dragnet.) If his manner of mass murder was slower, more deliberate and, in a sense, more sociopathic than that of Cho or Lanza, it bore in common with both an attribute that has rendered Cho, Lanza, and Mohammed alike more than just murderous criminals. Seung-Hui Cho, Adam Lanza and John Allen Mohammed alike bear the designation ‘evil-doers’ (for ‘evil doers’—George W. Bush’s favored word—read ‘anathema’), one which has been given them for reasons that are not well understood—by those doing the giving, at any rate.          

Hell is a man-made institution. We should be clear on this point. (Of course, to take it for what it is not, what it has not been (for us) since the Enlightenment—to wit, a deity’s Guantanamo Bay—this is to serve at least the pedagogical purpose of this problematic institution.) Those sent to Hell have been sent there by man—by us. And not always for the obvious purpose. When we create anathemata—‘evil-doers’, in other words—and they are not such, anathemata, until we create them, until we make the determination—we aren’t merely sending them to prison for life or pronouncing a death sentence. Metaphysically speaking, in damning to Hell, we are resorting to a manner of slavery. As anathemata, it is slaves whom we put in their place (which, by happenstance, we actually own). We want them there in perpetuity. (In the case of both slaves and anathemata, we suspend the right of habeas corpus.) We condemn for up to three reasons, which, in some cases, apply all at once. Reason one: we know that in Hell, the condemned is to be subject to torture. (This is a fairly well-established proviso; it is the spiritual sadist’s.) Reason two: in Hell, the condemned is to remain for us something like real property: our property, however ambivalently despised. (This is the spiritual capitalist’s infernal proviso.) Reason three: in Hell, the condemned is to remain eternally available, much as the pathogen remains in immunological memory: there, as a persistent absent presence, to lay assault on any future ‘antigen’. (The third is a provision of the atheist.)

Now, of all three reasons, it is the last—as it were, infernal inoculation theory—that seems to make the most sense. In however perverse and delusive a fashion, it makes sense, for instance, that Bernie Madoff—whom we have chosen to take the ignominious fall for 2007 and the Great Recession—should serve to inoculate Wall Street from an acutely pathological strain of finance capitalism. (Does Bernie not, after all, represent to state sanctioned racketeering what Hitler was to necrophilous aggression?) If reasons one and two are pure depredations of sense—the ‘oblivion’ to which I’ve just referred, nescience¬—then, surely, reason three isn’t nonsense. After all, it is true—is it not?—that since the fall of Hitler, haven’t ethnic haters in Europe—among Germans in particular— encountered formidable cultural resistance? (Consider the candid assertion of one Yehuda Bauer: there can be no more antisemites in the world—not since Hitler.) Presidents 40 and 43 called out evil when and as they saw it; since their formal declarations, haven’t communism and the new ‘axis powers’ been absolute nonstarters? (One is highly advantaged as a Manichean president; there are times when such an actor need only point to thwart the evil-doer!) And hasn’t Wall Street been exceedingly chastened since Bernie Madoff was anathematized?    

If my sarcasm is fairly transparent on this point it is for a reason. The answer to each of these questions is as obvious as is the failure of our efforts at localizing ‘evil’. Burn it, ban it, compartmentalize—everything about the actor, from motive to M.O.—we don’t ever get what we want from an anathema. As I have said, in his case, we don’t even know what we want.

We delude ourselves whenever we make an unqualified attempt at demonizing the criminal actor. As instinctive as the act may be—proscribing, possessing, destroying/employing: the notion of condemnation, I suggest, incorporates all three—it ultimately boils down to a very primitive method of ‘warding off’, warding off of that which both allures and repulses the subject. (By this, I mean ‘death’ itself: that which remains the only genuine anathema.) And, as ought to be expected from just such an instinctive and delusive act, prosecution of it has paradoxical consequences.

More than any other discipline, I suspect—more than sociology, more than communications—it is political science that teaches us the ultimate meaning of censure, the act of blame. Blame, at root, is not so much a means of framing individual accountability—that remains an aspect of positive law—as it is a comprehensive method of social control. When we blame, that is,  when we lay blame—and let us figure the substantive ‘blame’ here for a cipher, what our dog-whistle politicians like to call a ‘code’—to the extent that we control (events, violators, institutions), we are ourselves controlled. To the extent that we imprison (a desire), we imprison ourselves (our paradoxical desire). To the extent to which we destroy (politically or otherwise), the politics of destruction determines us.

When we lay blame, what we are doing has a ritual sense. In a ritual sense we are casting a pall—over some object, some situation—a cover that serves a function that is rather the inverse of draping a flag on a coffin. Notwithstanding the opinion of a judiciary, notwithstanding the actions of our Executive Branch, our act—preemptively and to an extent, prophylactically—seals off the anathema, before it can reach us and we reach it. The anathema is sealed in a certain unquestionable status before it is properly understood. Once blamed—once, as it were, ‘palled’—once convicted in public opinion in cannot be asked a question, much less for a defense. Even the ‘devils we know’—Bernie Madoff, for example—once they have received our judgment there is nothing they can say that will reach us. They are —and in a paradoxical sense, given that the anathema, for the most part, would like to produce a defense—de facto incommunicado.

Of course, in the net effect of this operation—the sealing off of the anathema—there comes a surprise, one that few of us are able to anticipate. The operation belies a sort of counter-operation, one conducted by an agent that remains still more unknown to us than the object of blame. In the counter-operation, we ourselves are sealed off, at least from certain levels of moral and political truth. We ourselves are incommunicado, not only to the extent that are we unable to question the object (as a person and a peer, if it was either before our act), but to the extent that we ourselves cannot reach our own (individual) thoughts on the guilt and the nature of the object. Our thoughts—on the subject of the anathema, at least—have become collective. (‘Collective’… A terrible word for the American, no?)
To put it simply, in the net effect of the operation of blaming an object, there is this surprise: we ourselves are inversely blamed.¹ In casting the pall, a pall of sorts is cast over us. Not a ‘pall’, I suppose, but a ‘veil’… something rather like a ‘veil of unknowing’ (because, for the most part, it remains unseen).

Without doubt, I should be asked to exemplify my point here. I will do so with a simple correlation.

It is altogether appropriate that we treat the Sandy Hook Massacre for what it is: a nation tragedy on the order of Columbine and Virginia Tech. The public response to it so far has been both sweeping and profound. Clearly, Sandy Hook has reached us. The extent to which it has done so I don’t think is approximated by any national crisis of this kind since 9-11. I suspect this has much to do with its nature: the ‘scariness’ of the perpetrator—a silent, for the most part invisible figure occupying the body armor almost like a ghost—and the egregious aspect of his act. He didn’t just kill kids; he killed young kids—babies, in the estimation of many… and in a bloody fashion worthy of the ungainly word ‘slaughter’. His act, in this respect, was not simply a crime but an obscenity. With respect to this event, we get all this; we feel it on an emotional level. And we are adamant in our belief and our contention that we—individually or collectively—could never commit such an act… that were any one or any number us—were even our government—to do so, condemnation on the order of that which we are asked to afford Adam Lanza—which we afforded bin Laden, furthermore—would certainly be warranted. Again, we get all this.

What we don’t get, however (and, I submit, necessarily so) is that if we are to play the ‘blame game’ here, universally and consistently, our condemnation of this hypothetical actor—a mass killer responsible for scenes at least as gruesome as that created by Adam Lanza—is indeed in order.

Consider the nature of signature drone strikes. Practically speaking, even those most poorly informed among cannot be unaware of this nation’s use of drone strikes in Middle East nations like Pakistan and Yemen. Even those most poorly informed among us—Fox News’ target audience, for instance—even these have developed some understanding of the nature of the signature drone strike. (Roughly the equivalent of law enforcement racial profiling, the signature strike is the case of a remotely piloted unmanned drone attacking, not an identified target, but individuals who, as it were, ‘fit a profile’: who either look like or are ostensibly engaged in patterns of behavior associated with persons of interest. In signature strikes conducted by the CIA and JSOC—more so the former than the latter—drones are known to have hit funerals, wedding parties and, in particular, local rescue operations—in what have been called ‘double tap’ strikes—resulting in civilian casualties that are now a matter of record.) Even these know at some level of consciousness that US drone strikes have resulted in a massacre the equivalent of Sandy Hook, and on multiple occasions. For those who require proof of this, the photographs are there², as are the vivid accounts of our journalists’. (If, on this topic, the reporting of the independent Bureau of Investigative Journalism doesn’t carry sufficient weight to satisfy the hardest of our doubters—signature strike deniers, as it were—the blunt acknowledgements of the major media outlets—and of the DoD, what is more—these really ought to.) A few doubters notwithstanding, and in spite of what I have heard called ‘the apparatus of mass disavowal’, we all know what takes place in signature drone strikes. Furthermore, most of us still refuse to subscribe to the pernicious notion that those civilians taken out are nonpersons by reason of ties—however remote—to Islamic extremists. Yet the public outcry with regard to our use of signature drone strikes has been minimal at best.    

President Obama has been pilloried for almost four years now over such things as the sluggish economy, Obamacare, a presumed anti-gun agenda (some of which, given Sandy Hook, he may now be compelled to pursue) and the ridiculous notion that he is secretly a communist. Little aught is said of the hundreds of drone strikes that have been conducted on his watch—at least 300 as of the date of this writing. (As wanton and egregious a violator of human rights as was the administration of George W. Bush, Obama’s record on human rights is worse in some respects, especially one. It has been the policy of the latter administration to use drone strikes, among other tactics, to effectively ‘kill our way’ out of the War on Terror. The second Iraq War aside, the body count racked up by the Obama Administration has at least doubled that of its predecessor. And there is good reason for this. On the civilian death-toll that has resulted from our ironically styled War on Terror—which, if one were to include all civilian casualties incurred since the first ‘Gulf War’, combat related or otherwise, is now into the millions—the American public has been conspicuously silent. If anything, the public has been approving of Mr. Obama’s approach. Ever the astute politician, the President knows this.)  So where is our moral outrage at the number of Sandy Hooks that have been brought about as consequence of US drone strikes? For the most part, it remains absent. And there is a reason for this.

Our silence on the topic of drone strike casualties is almost a perfect example of the operation—or counter operation—behind what Slavoj Žižek³, after Donald Rumsfeld, calls the ‘unknown known’. We know perfectly well that we should be morally outraged at what our government—what we, moreover—are doing in the name of a ‘War on Terror’. (For the most part, we know too that, over the course of this war, we—via the state—have become terrorists in our own right.) What we also know—without knowing we know it—is that it is ‘OK’ not to be outraged as those killed (be they civilians or not) are nonpersons. ‘They are the terrorists’, as George W. Bush would put it, altogether paradoxically. The unknown  known here—and, here, it actually a series, a vicious circle of nested unknown knowns—ultimately leads to a deeper and far more unacceptable one. And that is that genocide is acceptable if necessary—which is to say, if it advances the cause of our War on Terror.

This vicious circle—as it were, of ‘unknown knowns’—exemplifies what I mean by ‘veil of unknowing’ here. (Were it not the case that I find Rawl’s conception of justice ultimately self-contradictory, I might actually use the term ‘veil of ignorance’.) Once the blame game is fully engaged in, and we proceed to lay blame—to condemn actors and ‘evils’—rather than thinking out a situation, that is where we tend to lose both morals and our moral high ground.  

The President has alluded to the late Adam Lanza as “an unconscionable evil”. It is debatable and will be debated, of course, whether—in his estimation—the case of Adam Lanza constitutes that of a moral or a natural evil. The inscrutable conscience of the violent mad man, is it like to the tempest—a full-throated demonstrations of natural ‘anger’—or more like the rusted tea pot, which, once full of leaks, bears nothing?

One further note, in conclusion… The late Viktor Frankl, a theorist of note and a holocaust survivor, once proposed that the United States augment the Statue of Liberty with what he called a ‘Statue of Responsibility’ which, he suggested, for whatever reason, be located somewhere along our west coast. (A project is underway which will put one either in L.A. or San Francisco—which might be cause for derisive laughter—or else Seattle, which might well suit the fancy of one W.H. Gates.) My personal suggestion here? I’d like the structure (at least in spirit) to be erected at the mouth of the Potomac. As regards guns, gun violence and victim selection, empirical evidence overwhelmingly suggests that victims of murder by firearm are rarely taken by total strangers—which is to say that the standard NRA line on gun violence… that all we need is guns—guns, the bigger the better—to protect ourselves from the anonymous villain is total bullshit.

To the extent that the United States Congress and the President—whose pretty words on Sandy Hook may well have charmed the nation on 16 December—commit themselves to action as regards federally mandated gun control. To the extent that they do not, they disgrace the memory of those taken from us on 14 December and merit an equally disgraceful exit from office.

Notes:  
1—Of course, the topic of nature of this ‘inverse blame’ well exceeds the scope of this writing. Suffice it to say it is well attested in 20th Century thought on mass psychology.
2—http://www.globalresearch.ca/....
3—http://www.lacan.com/....

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Wed Nov 06, 2013 at 03:37 PM PST

What's Next for the Cooch?

by gaquitaine

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli gestures during a press conference after a hearing before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on a challenge to the federal health care reform act in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, May 10, 2011.  The three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals includes Obama appointees, Andre Davis and James Wynn, and Diana Motz, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton. The panel has heard arguments in two Virginia lawsuits challenging Obama's health care overhaul.  (AP Photo/Steve Helber) (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

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Mon Nov 04, 2013 at 11:33 PM PST

Ken Cuccinelli, Sex Therapist?

by gaquitaine

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli gestures during a press conference after a hearing before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on a challenge to the federal health care reform act in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, May 10, 2011.  The three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals includes Obama appointees, Andre Davis and James Wynn, and Diana Motz, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton. The panel has heard arguments in two Virginia lawsuits challenging Obama's health care overhaul.  (AP Photo/Steve Helber) (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

By W.H. Gavescon, Saturday, November 2, 2013

WOODBRIDGE, VA — Virginia State Attorney General and Gubernatorial Candidate Ken Cuccinelli (R) has been called a lot of things in his political lifetime—staunch social conservative, climate-change denier, anti-ACA zealot—but, until very recently, amateur sexologist wasn’t one of them. Then came “Better Sex”: a mobile application for iOS and Android released Wednesday on Mobango.com, ostensibly with the endorsement of the Office of the VA Attorney General. Questionably timed, said release would seem to be an answer to the controversy created by Mr. Cuccinelli’s attempt to re-institute provisions of Virginia’s Crimes Against Nature Law. (Given the 2003 SCOTUS decision Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, the latter statute was deemed unconstitutional by U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit earlier this year. Mr. Cuccinelli’s appeal to have this decision reversed was turned down by the Supreme Court in October.) Which raises a tantalizing question… Given his sagging poll numbers and the fact that his term as Attorney General is up in January, is it plausible that Mr. Cuccinelli has the role of ‘sexpert’ in his future?

Naturally, followers of Virginia politics have their doubts.

After all, the negative press and the popular animus resulting from the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear his appeal vis-à-vis VA Code § 18.2 361 has left Cuccinelli in a difficult position. His views on matters of sex have been made to appear both parochial and particularly backward. (In a sense, for Cuccinelli, the SCOTUS’s action has proven to be a nettlesome October surprise.)

Yet Virgina’s AG may boast at least one academic publication that bolsters them: a 2007 Liberty University study titled Human Sexual Practices and Their Relationship to Fertility Rates and Social Functioning. A careful read of this monograph reveals that, improbably enough, Mr. Cuccinelli has scientific grounds for advancing his peculiar take on sexology, grounds which, though decidedly controversial, are amenable to his deeply conservative ideology. Friday, I spoke to the principal author of the study, Professor Emeritus Hans Werner Friedrich Möse-Dunkeleichel, who explained the conservative eros thus:

“Many Americans consider conservative perceptions of the sexual act to be both religiously based and indicative of sexual repression. Our work at Liberty University examined psycho-social basis for these perceptions and found them to be rooted in an ethos in which fertility was valued to an exceptional degree. We hypothesized that the sexual behavior presented by keepers of this ethos is actually part of a biological strategy to maximize fecundity rates. We called this strategy productive sex and concluded that it was effective given the extent to which it minimized stimulation of the female genitourinary system during copulation.”

Asked about the relationship of “minimized stimulation” to fertility, the Liberty scholar replied: “Our study is based on the empirical observation that minimized stimulation is particularly conducive to sperm reception and fertilization. At Liberty, our research has always strongly supported the hypothesis that excessive stimulation of the female genitourinary system—as occurs during rough or prolonged sexual intercourse—invariably leads to a pronounced diminution in rates of fertilization. Indeed, coupled with strong emotions, such as fear or concupiscence, excessive stimulation causes the chances for the production of a zygote to drop way off. The female body has ways of advancing this drop-off.”  

As for “Better Sex”—both the concept and the application—my discussion with the learned Professor leads me to conclude that “better” is “more productive”. Sure enough, firing up the application on my iPhone 5, I am greeted by the catchy banner: “LEARN PRODUCTIVE SEX WITH THE COOCH!” A cartoon avatar in the likeness of Ken Cuccinelli winks at me as I scroll through the options.

So does the application really work? I decide to take up the Professor on his offer of a laboratory demonstration, and, one by one, he explains its use and features employing a voxel model of a copulating heterosexual couple.

“The mobile device” he explains, “needs to lie touch-screen down on the small of the man’s back and is held in place with this elastic belt. As the missionary position is both that which is most conducive to sperm reception and that which has been prescribed by our Lord, the application provides feedback that ensures strict compliance with this form. If, for instance, the man’s hips stray from the proper 180 degrees relative to the woman’s pelvis like so [the Professor makes adjustments to the model so that the male pelvis tilts this way and that, causing the voice of the application to admonish: “YO! STRAIGHTEN HER UP, JOE!”], there… You see? The subject is immediately corrected. The force and the timing of the pelvic thrusts are also important, so the application monitors them as well. If the man is thrusting too vigorously or too quickly [the professor gradually increases the speed at which the male pelvis thrusts until the voice responds: “WOAH! SLOW IT DOWN, TEX!”], or else too slowly [he gradually decreases the speed until he gets the response: “GET TO STEPPIN’, MEX!”], there… You can hear the feedback.”

“My…” I chime in, “I can envision situations where such feedback might tend to annoy.”

“True enough.” answers the Professor, “But then strictly Christian sex isn’t for everyone.” He adds wittily: “Yet.”    

Other features include ‘Musical Accompaniment’ (“Better Sex” compliant selections include The Blue Danube Waltz, Shout to the Lord, and—a piece recommended by the Professor for those unused to the application—The Ballad of Davy Crockett); a ‘Two Minute Warning’ (for copulation, “Better Sex” stipulates five minute intervals, in between which Biblical verses such as 1 Thessalonians 4 or 1 Corinthians 6 are recited, and the couple is asked to engage in ten minutes of introspection); a ‘Did You Know’ trivia function which, when activated, periodically informs the couple about the married lives of famous Christians from history and the moral hazards of birth control and masturbation; and ‘Ken’s Tips’ as regards Christian foreplay and the dos and don’ts of kissing and petting. Every session of “Better Sex” ends with a php contact form by means of which the user may submit input to the VA Attorney General’s Office.

Naturally, where I am impressed with the effort and the level of thought that has gone into the programming of the application, I am skeptical about its market appeal. “Indeed, it’s not the kind of thing you want to toy with grabbing a quickie with the neighbor-lady.” commented the Professor, when asked about its use by the public at large. He agreed, the 18-24 age demographic—which includes the most voracious consumers of mobile apps—might be especially put off by the methods of ‘productive sex’.

“Women, in particular,” he noted, “tend to become irritated—and even abusive—given the pauses for scripture and introspection.”

Nonetheless, the Professor, his staff of researchers at Liberty University, and—apparently—AG Ken Cuccinelli himself have big plans for “Better Sex” and future projects like it. Why?

“You never know…” claims one Ennis Cloward of Charlotte, NC, a pastor and licensed taxidermist—not to mention one of the few users of the “Better Sex” app willing to provide me with a testimonial—“America is a Christian nation… always has been, always will be. With leaders like the Cooch coming up, productive sex may be the next big thing!”  

Time will tell—and perhaps fairly quickly—whether such an optimistic appraisal of Christian sexology is truly warranted.

© 2013 Gentil Aquitaine. All rights reserved.

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Fri Aug 23, 2013 at 07:12 PM PDT

TPAJAX in Retrospect

by gaquitaine

Philosopher Slavoj Žižek is fond of bringing up the following hypothetical situation in his lectures. A man learns his wife has been cheating on him. He has suspected this to be the case for some time, and, through much sadness and soul-searching, has already come to terms with it in the abstract. Thus, being a tolerant, modern husband, he resolves to confront his wife and—in spite of his outrage—discuss his feelings with her rationally. This he does, and the crisis in his marriage appears to be resolved for the moment—until he is finally afforded pictures of his wife caught in the act. Then he explodes. The moral of the story has to do with the workings of psychoanalytic disavowal. Knowing the unpleasant—and disavowed—fact abstractly is one thing. (Truth be told, such isn’t really knowing it!) Being confronted with concrete evidence of what actually took place—that is quite another matter. “This is how ideology functions…” says Žižek.

So where is this story relevant to a discussion of TPAJAX—Operation Ajax—the CIA orchestrated removal of the democratically elected government of Iran, completed 60 years ago today? Are we, the American public, the jealous husband in this case? If so, what kind of evidence are we looking at?

We’ve known this dirty little secret for ages, it seems. The documents released today were made available in 1981, albeit in a highly redacted form. Public knowledge of the operation in the United States was achieved well before the Shah fell in 1979 (When he finally did—and we started in earnest to consider the reason for the Iranian animus—it was common knowledge.) It has been admitted to by Presidents, the latest being President Obama who gave it a “Yeah, but…” acknowledgement in his Cairo Speech of June 2009.

“For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known.”

Yeah, we overthrew a democracy—but… it was the Cold WarCommies everywheretaking the hostages wasn’t very nice either… (Excuses are largely self-propagating.)

No less cagey an acknowledgement of TPAJAX came in 2012, from a less official source: Ben Affleck’s sleeper propaganda film Argo. In Argo, it will be remembered, TPAJAX is indeed given passing mention in the first few minutes of the film. But with an angle. Recall the opening 50 scenes. Here, the film’s creators, knowing only too well that preterition of the specter of Mossadegh would look like mindless Chauvinism, resort to a canny public relations trick. Rather than omitting mention, they put it out there. This is to say, they bluntly state the unpleasant truth of the matter—right from the outset—in order to inoculate the rest of the film from the need to reflect upon it. Thus inoculated, the film makers are free to crush the memory of the TPAJAX, both with the rhetorical weight of the narrative (the situation of six Americans, the menace of Muslim extremism, the film’s glaring thematic contrasts: Hollywood vs. Tehran; B-movie extras vs. wild-eyed revolutionaries; the humor of actors Goodman an Arkin vs. the forbidding mug of the Ayatollah) and the orgasm of fist-pumping and jingoistic sentiment with which the film concludes (with a wink and a nod to the CIA’s clandestine naughtiness). In particular they inoculate Mr. Affleck’s character from having to brood wistfully on both the plight of his charges and the Spirit of ’53 (clearly, a stretch for Big Ben). It is the rhetorical opposite of poisoning the well. I quote the comically hard-boiled text of Chris Terrio’s script:

BATES: These fucks can hit us, we can’t hit back?
MALICK: Mossadeq. We did it to them first.
BATES: You think the Russians would put up with this? They’d fucking invade --
ROBERT PENDER, 40s, joins them heading down the hall. They’ve all gotten the same call to get to the Secretary’s office. PETER GENCO, late 20s, behind.
MALICK: What did you expect? We helped a guy torture and de-ball an entire population --
PENDER: (turning behind him) Schafer! Schafer!
BRICE: At least 60. Could be a hundred.
GENCO: (catching up to them) You still haven’t found Schafer?
PENDER: (to Genco) No, I was screaming his name ‘cause I was fucking him.

Vigor and gratuitous profanity, brisk steps in corridors, terse but peppery, ‘hard-nosed’ dialogue… Notice how the dirt is slipped in? This is vintage American propaganda—it is fed to us through the profanity in order to qualify it with the rugged quasi-ethos of the Hollywood G-man.

Argo is Hollywood’s “Yeah, but…” on the Iranian question.

So acknowledgement of the fact has even made its way into our propaganda. It has been echoed by presidents. It is part of the public discourse, i.e. we know it on an abstract level. But do we have evidence like that which is provided to Žižek’s aggrieved cuckold? Do we have the dirty pictures? In the (mostly) unredacted CIA documents, I would suggest we do. Much as is the case with the Wikileaks cables, what we have in these documents is stark proof of—what we’ve known all along to be—the willingness of the United States Government (and, to some extent, that of Great Britain) to skirt rule of law and democratic principles to achieve its own problematic strategic objectives. They show us the blue print for engineering regime change in unstable nations whose leaders will not play ball (a blue print used liberally by the CIA in countries as far apart—politically and geographically—as Guatemala and Australia). They show the extent to which business interests—in the case of the ’53 Coup, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, (now BP)—dictate the terms of Western foreign policy. They catch us, not our dreaded enemy, the Soviet Union, in the act of cheating an entire people out of its sovereignty and promoting a dictatorship. They reveal the public posture we assumed in the Cold War to be regrettably fraudulent.

“Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.”

Students of American presidential history will recall this astoundingly inappropriate line. President Jimmy Carter toasted the Shah thus, in Tehran on New Year’s Eve in 1977. (It may—justly—have made him a one term president.) If the Iranian Revolution was well underway by the time of Carter’s visit in December of 1977, this incident likely sparked its dénouement. Why? Why—of all the insults and injuries suffered by the Iranians by our hand thitherto—was this one so egregious?

However profound, in itself, the hypocrisy it symbolized could not have been the reason. (Read the Wikileaks cables… hypocrisy is fundamental to geopolitics!)

For all Iranian people of the time—not just the revolutionaries—it was an epiphany, one that unleashed the kind of explosive reaction alluded to in the case of the jealous husband. (Indeed—at least temporarily—I suspect said ‘explosion’ so radically disrupted the ability of the Iranian people to normalize the reality of their situation, they were susceptible to the kinds of staggering false choices that tend to be provided by opportunistic partisans: the Shah or the Ayatollah? radical Shiism or U.S. hegemony?) The epiphany? Here, at long last, is a U.S. President with an express concern for human rights, who appears willing to take steps to end the abuses of the Shah’s regime—which are longstanding and considerable—who, nonetheless, brought to a moment of truth, merely echoes the policy of his predecessors.

Which is this: as long as he can suppress democracy, you back the dictator in the name of ‘stability’; you have the UN cut him slack on human rights abuses and continue to fund his apparatus.

Carter is at the liberal, ‘ethical’ end of the limits of discourse in the United States; for an Iranian circa 1978—for an El Salvador or a Guatemala, for that matter—he is as good as it gets. In January of 1978 (days after Carter’s toast), the demonstrations began. A year later (16 January 1979) the Shah—his “great leadership” notwithstanding—was compelled to flee Iran. Is it any wonder what happened next? The only too predictable explosion. Zealous partisans who recalled the 1953 coup (an event that also caused the Shah to flee) immediately went on the offensive. With massive public support on their side, they brought about their answer to the ’53 coup: they fired the Shah and replaced him with the Ayatollah. (The taking of the embassy and the hostages and the demand for the Shah’s return was, essentially, a coup de grâce.)

Regrettably, the Iranian people have had to deal with a repressive theocratic government ever since. (Of course, incurring the wrath of a vengeful superpower hasn’t helped their cause much.) But stick a finger in the eye of neo-colonialism they did.

So, the unredacted TPAJAX documents, what do they tell us? What do they neglect to, or simply cannot tell us?

Let’s start with the former. What do the documents reveal? (What they reveal often exceeds what they say.)

To begin with, oil was top of mind in the decision to boot Mossadegh. Let’s not kid ourselves. Through the first half of the 20th Century, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (AIOC) had made a killing in Iran. What is a killing? Roughly, 15-85 in favor of the British. (To put that ratio in perspective, American companies at the time went 50-50 with the Saudis. AIOC would eventually try to meet 50-50—with qualifications—but literally as a last resort.) Nationalization of the Iranian oil industry threatened the future of said killing. As soon as the Oil Nationalization Act was approved by the Majlis in May of 1951, the AIOC and its hand-maidens in the British Government proceeded to undermine it. As early as August of that year, there was talk of the threat of Iran “falling behind the Iron Curtain”—much as there was talk of Guatemala becoming “increasingly communistic” before the CIA coup that removed the government of Jacobo Árbenz in 1954. Like the government of Mossadegh, that of Árbenz made the cardinal political mistake of crossing a powerful multinational (the United Fruit Company) with close ties to important officials in said company’s home government. (Allen Dulles, who was Director of Central Intelligence in 1954, was on the board of United Fruit.) Like Mossadegh, Árbenz was accused of advancing “irresponsible policies based on emotion” to the extent that he’d nationalized local resources (in his case, land) in the attempt to improve the lot of the poor in his country. And, like Mossadegh’s Iran, Guatemala under Árbenz was ultimately subjected to regime change in the name of anti-communism.

Here’s where we smell false pretenses.

If the relationship of Mohammed Mossadegh with the leftist (and arguably communist) Tudeh Party was, for the most part, tenuous, his rapport with the U.S.S.R. was decidedly frosty. Mossadegh had fought giving the Soviets free rein to search for oil Northern Iran. In 1944, during a session of the Majlis, Mossadegh made the following remark (directed at pro-Soviet activists from the Tudeh Party):

If you claim to be Socialist, then why are you ready to sacrifice the interest of your own country for the sake of Soviet Russia?

The Iranians, circa 1951, were clearly mistrustful of the Soviets and their intentions and had complained to the UN about their slow withdrawal from the northern territories in 1946. NSC documents of the time downplay the possibility of the Soviets making inroads into Iran. The Tudeh Party itself doubted the notion that solidly Muslim Iran was ready for communism anytime in the near future, preferring to advance an idealistic human rights platform rather than one that included specific Marxist positions. The Russians weren’t coming

On the other hand, if accusations of as it were, ‘going red’ were dubious in the case of Mossadegh’s Iran, in the case of Guatemala under Árbenz, they were patently ridiculous. (After all, Guatemala in 1954 had no official relations with the Soviet Union.) And yet, in both cases, accusations were made. Why? And on what grounds?

The ‘Why?’ is easy. Money. In both cases—both coups—a number of highly wealthy and highly influential individuals who were rather fond of money stood to lose proven sources of it. What is more, in addition to having friends like Sir Richard Stokes and the Brothers Dulles—and enough money to bribe the Sultan of Brunei—they had the wind at their backs… the spirit of anti-communism, that is. As Senator McCarthy proved in the Second Red Scare, visceral fear of the Commie was not only alive and well, it was a potent weapon. In the United States, the mere accusation of being a Commie, or even—as was the case with Ike and the military establishment—of being a little too diplomatic with communists, this was reason enough for one to be targeted by a red-baiter. The accusation was enough to get the ball rolling. Did wealthy individuals like the Rockefellers and companies like United Fruit legitimately fear communism? Absolutely. In a communist society, much of their wealth stood to be expropriated and their privileged positions reduced to those of the general public. (Egads!) Their “irrational fear of expropriation”, as J.K. Galbraith called it, I suggest, fueled the repressive First Red Scare and, by extension (note, fear trickles down more surely than does wealth) the public’s fear of the ‘Enemy Within’. And, though arguably exaggerated by we in the West, the repressive excesses of Stalin and Mao clearly exacerbated this condition. But what these businesses and these individuals understood even better than the notion ‘Lenin is the Devil’ was the proclivity of their governments to buy into anti-communism—much as these same governments buy into counter-terrorism today. In a word, they grasped the notion of the ‘dog-whistle’.

And the grounds? Well, if by ‘grounds’ we mean evidence—i.e. that either of these governments advancing strictly communist agendas—there are none to be had. None. And those who petitioned the CIA to remove these governments knew that. In the TPAJAX documents, the issue of oil is described as being of “secondary importance” to all other stated reasons for the action—preventing Iran from going red chief among them—but this something on the order of a tell. It’s the apophatic avowal of the high stakes geopolitical player: oil—money—is the alpha and omega.

So what else do the TPAJAX documents tell us?

They tell us why the United States had to be involved. British Intelligence was no less capable than the CIA of the kind of operation that brought down Mossadegh. It faced an obstacle, however. The Shah was integral to the plan. The planners needed his assent—and his signature—and the Shah was wary of British machinations.

Given that the public and Majlis were both solidly behind nationalization, the Shah was unwilling to do what we wanted done—sign decrees removing Mossadegh and appointing a puppet, General Zahedi, in his place—without a motion of no confidence from the Maglis. (In fact, doing so was a violation of the Iranian Constitution of 1908.) We were ready to procure such a motion—for the operation’s “quasi-legal” route, 41 votes and a quorum of 53 were needed (we counted on having to “purchase” 20 votes)—but wanted the firmans signed before the fact, this in event of the need to pursue ‘plan b’. I quote from Appendix A of the TPAJAX documents:

Quasi-legal method to be tried first. If successful at least part of machinery for military coup will be brought into action. If it fails military coup will follow in a matter of hours.

The plot hinged on getting the Shah to sign off beforehand. Thus, the Shah needed persuading. And, truth be told, getting the Shah to sign was the hardest part of the operation. He wasn’t convinced he would have the army if the operation came down to a military coup, and had qualms about undermining the democratic process. At the same time he feared being ostracized by the United States and Great Britain. Like many heads of failed regimes, he was notoriously diffident and weak-willed. (In the years following the 1953 coup, the Shah allowed his security apparatus—including SAVAK, the regime’s American trained secret police—to become what is known as a ‘state within a state’. A notoriously repressive one at that. Of course, the brutality of said apparatus he would attempt to ‘undo’ with periods of public appeasement, which largely made matters worse. During his reign, dissidence was steeled in times of repression and expanded during times of relative appeasement. By the late 1970s it had grown too large—and too committed—to contain. The Shah’s remarkably poor stewardship of his nation clearly stemmed from his personality.) In the middle of the coup he fled for Italy. By no means was he the kind of useful strongman the United States came to see in Saddam.

The basic thrust of our efforts at persuasion was to be guilt—as well as a veiled threat. I quote Appendix B of the memos:

If the Shah fails to go along with these forces, he will be solely responsible for the collapse of his country and the loss of its independence.

In spite of the Shah’s previous misconceptions, the United States and the United Kingdom have been supporting him, but if the Shah fails now, this support will be withdrawn.

General H. Norman Schwarzkopf (yes, Stormin’ Norman Sr.), Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, the Shah’s strong-willed, more politically minded twin sister, and Queen Soraya herself… all were involved in efforts to steel the Shah to task of signing off on the coup. Ultimately, it was a power play by CIA operative Kermit Roosevelt that seems to have done the trick. From the memo “Mounting Pressure on the Shah”:

Roosevelt finally said that he would remain at hand a few days longer in expectation of an affirmative decision and then would leave the country; in the latter case the Shah should realize that failure to act could only lead to a Communist Iran or a second Korea.

Of course, the Shah signed, the puppet was installed, and the CIA notched its first Cold War coup.

Another thing the TPAJAX documents indicate… grey propaganda works. If getting the Shah to sign off on Mossadegh’s removal was undeniably the heart of the operation the PR/PSYOPS campaign—involving, among other things, “cartoons and broadsheets”, black leaflets, and paid demonstrators—was both instrumental in turning the public against its Prime Minister and… well, cheap. The budget for the coup itself was $1 million: peanuts for an oil bearing nation of strategic interest.

What is more, TPAJAX made regime-change seem easy—too easy… which may have been one of its more regrettable consequences. (That which was most regrettable was, of course, the Imperial police state, which no less a person than General Schwarzkopf helped to kick off.) There was (relatively) little bloodshed, no U.S. casualties to speak of, and—at the time—we were able to rationalize that we had won hearts and minds. From the efforts at regime change that followed TPAJAX—Guatemala in 1954, Syria in 1957, Congo in 1960, the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Brazil in 1964, Greece in 1967, Suharto’s ‘New Order’ in Indonesia 1967-1998, the Chilean 9-11 (in 1973), the Australian “Dismissal” (1975), Argentina in 1976, the Turkish ‘Night of the Generals’ and the ‘Deep State’ (1980), El Salvador, Nicaragua, Grenada (the mess the Reagan Administration made of Central America 1981-1987), Afghanistan 2001-present, Venezuela 2002, Iraq 2003-present, Honduras 2009—we didn’t always emerge so unsullied and unscathed.

So what don’t the TPAJAX documents tell us? What is left out?

Obviously what their authors can’t tell us, i.e. the dreadful future the coup created for the Iranian people (who still don’t have anything like the democracy they had before August of 1953); the dreadful legacy of TPAJAX: the umpteen ill-advised and questionably motivated attempts at regime change undertaken by the United States Government, all of which have eroded its reputation as an honest broker in world affairs (Kermit Roosevelt himself, in 1979, lamented the terrible precedent set by the operation); the hubris the success of the operation would engender in the American intelligence community. One might add to this bitter truth that—being loyal and duly indoctrinated CIA officials—these authors weren’t allowed to see (or admit to themselves): that the Domino Theory was always a myth, one arguably crafted by those with a vested interest in the industry it spawned. (Anti-communism was, as counter-terrorism is today, a booming industry.) To whatever extent the Soviet Union was inclined to pursue a worldwide neocolonial enterprise, in the wake of WWII, it was too weak militarily and economically to do anything more than hold the territories allotted to it at Yalta. (For the Soviets, the space race and the nuclear arms race essentially broke the bank; there was no way they could compete with the United States in the Third World.) Even as American Cold War planners of the 50s were promoting a strategy of containment, they knew very well that, since Yalta, Soviet foreign policy had remained less than ambitious—and for a reason. As to Soviet designs on the Middle East, Ambassador Loy Henderson, in 1957—referring to Syria in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis—fairly well summed up what they all knew:

“The USSR has shown no intention of direct intervention in any of the previous Mid-Eastern crises, and we believe it is unlikely that they would intervene, directly, to assure the success of a leftist coup in Syria.”

What these authors don’t say, but likely knew? Moving forward, operations like TPAJAX—involving the sabotage of Third World democracy—were almost certainly going have to incorporate what TPAJAX lacked: plausible deniability.

© 2013 Gentil Aquitaine. All rights reserved.

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Tue Dec 25, 2012 at 05:25 AM PST

Christ With Me

by gaquitaine

(I wrote this about this time last year in response to an article by the incomprehensibly silly pundit Tony Perkins. I link a PDF of it here: http://admala.org/...)

It’s true, I suspect, that, in Washington, schemers abound in the ranks of our would-be politicians. In the ranks of those who will never reach voters, who cannot hold power, there is both a nastiness and a cunning that serves them well in the roles that they have to accept here, that enables them to thrive as propagandists, political eidola and rhetorical hatchet-men. A nastiness and a cunning that the wind breeds… Whether pundits, lobbyists, so-called ‘public relations consultants’, or simply well-publicized bloggers, these actors—let us call them ‘bent rhetoricians’—they always have a predictably sinister angle. They rarely come at you, rarely venture the swipe or the take down, without recourse to some measure of sophistry. Being intolerant of argument based exclusively in fact, they are rarely averse, in any attack, to pulling at least one trick out of a bag of rhetorical evils that is at least as old as Aristotle. Look into this bag… despite their best efforts—despite their deceit and their skills— you will recognize most of these subtile and clandestine evils. Here is the evil of quote mining; here, the hasty generalization… here we find recourse to the enthymeme, here a nurtured penchant for pedestrian exegesis. In this bag there are many tricks, many tools, many subtle ways of spinning truths—too many, of course, to catalogue here. Yet of the handful of sophists that govern discourse inside the Beltway today, I suspect there is not one whose body of work is not significantly characterized by at least one trick from this time-honored, if somewhat disreputable bag. ‘Somewhat’ disreputable, I say, knowing that, as regrettable as he art of ‘pulling tricks’ may strike the reader, every partisan hack I can think of will tell you that methods of duplicitous rhetoric are essential to the work of any effective Washington sophist.

As a bent rhetorician, of course, one is ‘effective’—one has been successfully ‘bent’, which is to say, not as obviously as was Sean Hannity—to the extent that one can doctor truth without allowing one’s rhetorical evils to be seen for what they are in fact: the earmarks of argument advanced in a moment of defeat and in bad faith. As a bent rhetorician, bent yourself but always looking to bend others similarly, you always work in what Nietzsche used to call ressentiment… you are always only staving off truth; you are the deflecting blunt force of an unwelcome reality.

In defeat and  in bad faith… Here are terms, which when applied in the political arena, do tend to be taken for fighting words. (Should you hear them uttered about you, about your body of work, know you are being admonished for some Nixonian, Clintonian or Rumsfeldian indiscretion; you are being called out as obvious—which is to say, an inexcusable—fraud.) Now, these terms are all the more so—all the more partisan fighting words—when applied to the work of those bent rhetoricians for whom established intellectual dishonesty is not simply a fault but is interpreted in terms of sin. By the latter, I mean those that present themselves as advocates of the religious right… not your typical, unscrupulous right-wing libertarians, mind you—your Kochs, your LaPierres, your Norquists, and so forth—but those who present themselves as authentic, bible-thumping Christian conservatives. If the dubious oeuvres of Ayn Rand and Cleon Skousen are taken as scripture for the conservative libertarian… well, ‘Scripture’ is scripture to the Christian right, the New Testament in particular: a collection of writings advancing a moral code that not only makes lying problematic, but renders the pursuit of an ideological connection between Christ and many traditionally conservative causes something of a dicey proposition. Take the cause of free market capitalism, for example—as one Christian conservative lobbyist has, in fact¹: Mr. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, the Christian conservative lobbying organization created by James Dobson in 1981…

As fond as is your dyed-in-the-wool Christian conservative of introducing the ‘WWJD’ (What Would Jesus Do?) question into political discourse, more often than not, he is reluctant to do so when arguing the virtues of privatization and the free market system. Reconciling one’s passion for capitalism—if not one’s own vested interests—with the legend of Christ and the Money Changers, the doctrine of poverty, and that problematic ‘Camel through the Eye of a Needle’ comment, this has never been a straight-forward task for the Christian conservative. It is complicated still further when he has to contend with the opinions offered by Christian big-wigs the likes of Popes John Paul II² and BenedictXVI³ on the subject—opinions which the latter man echoed earlier this year in advance of the G-8 summit in L’Aquila—the political efforts of progressive Christian organizations like the Center for Progressive Christianity and the National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and the particularly ugly history of Liberation Theology in the Americas, a subject that necessarily invokes not only the specters of Archbishop Oscar Romero and Miss Jean Donovan—two of numerous Christian dissidents murdered back in the 1980s by Central American death squads with connections to the United States School of the Americas (now styled the ‘Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation’)—but the United States’ osculum infame in the case of Nicaragua (specifically, with regard to the Contras whom President Reagan once famously called “the moral equivalent of our founding fathers”) and, moreover, the onerous thought that, like it or not, neither popular sentiment nor local Christians have ever been amenable to the advance of American free market capitalism throughout the Western Hemisphere. In a word, the ‘little people’ of whom it seems at least the biblical Jesus was so fond—and who knows what the real Jesus of Nazareth would have thought of them?… perhaps, neither a carpenter nor a clergyman, he was the Dead Sea Scroll equivalent of a hedge-fund manager—these have never quite learned enthusiasm for the manner of ‘freedom’ brought to them by free market capitalism. They are an obstacle to the truth the Christian conservative pundit would have us entertain, as is shadowy figure of the apostate Jesus

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.
John Kenneth Galbraith is famous and infamous for having issued this well-known barb. It is one that never fails to afflict your average free market enthusiast with a most intolerable irritation. To the conservative libertarian, indeed, it is fiberglass underwear.

“The word is ‘self-reliance’, not ‘selfishness’!” Thus, our libertarian protests. “Freedom—Freedom as we understand it—that needs neither justification nor verification. Statesmen, know that I have no need to pass myself off as an ‘other’!”

As fond as is the Christian conservative of introducing the ‘WWJD’ question into political discourse, he does so at his peril, at the peril of his faith—of his faiths, that is, in wealth on the one hand and its logical negation on the other—when he attempts to marry Christ and the free market. He is rolling the dice whenever he does so—hoping, in fact, beyond hope—on the implausible chance that the lapis philosophorum of which Galbraith speaks will find its way to the moment and into his hands. He is betting he will happen on precisely that superior justification of wealth that both ends one’s need to pander to the demos and ends the reign of two great haters over the landscape of his spirit—those being Calvin and Luther. He risks it all on a whim. But if he is smart—and, supposing that he is a legitimate sophist, I am willing to submit that he is—he will have always already hedged his bet on rhetorical grounds; he will have couched it in terms that inevitably allow for an escape, however ignominious. He will have protected himself with a veil of sorts—a veil less like the ‘veil of ignorance’ by means of which children and constituents are able to escape accountability and more like the one behind which guys like Bernie Madoff tend to work their magic—a trick which, with the prestesse of the pantomimist, he will have pulled out of the bag that I speak of and sprinkled over the language of the specific wager. He will have protected himself with comedy, in other words.  

The reader may be forgiven, of course, for asking where it is I am going with this. I’m going precisely where the aforementioned Mr. Tony Perkins has gone with regard to the Occupy Movement in the blog entry I’ve linked below. “My Take: Jesus was a free marketer, not an Occupier…” here, rather surprisingly, Mr. Perkins puts himself in the position that I contend is so discomfiting for the Christian conservative pundit. In trying to justify Wall Street in Christian terms, he’s placed exactly the perilous wager I’ve indicated. Here is his osculum infame… pulled off, at any rate, with exactly the kind of sleight of hand we have come to expect from the Washington sophist. If he effectively turns in his Christian credentials when he ventures to conflate Jesus with Mammon, he can reclaim them at any time by ducking behind the implicit mea culpa, “Well that’s what the Bible says!”  His gambit runs, for the most part, as follows.

Taking the Parable of the Ten Minas in Luke 19 as his starting point, Perkins argues that what Jesus meant by this teaching was not what is conveyed in its traditional interpretation—the gist of which is “Take what I have given thee and run with it”—but something altogether more concrete and specific. If Perkins’ Midrash of this parable is not quite reducible either to a Gekkoian “Greed is good” or a libertarian “Live free or die!”—both watchwords of today’s Randian conservative—it could very well run as follows: “I’ma give you ten grand a piece, my brothers… turn a profit with it by the time I get back and I will have you in the Big Club!” (Mr. Perkins is sufficiently diligent to cherry-pick from Luke 19, avoiding mention of either the besotted fat cat Zacchaeus⁴ who proposes to pay back four-fold what he has gained by fraud—a proposition that would not at all sit well with AIG or Citigroup—or Christ’s perilous flirtation with insurrectionary anarchism in the infamous ‘Cleansing of the Temple’ episode⁵.) Perkins even offers viable exchange rates: 1 mina = $225 USD. What he also offers is a canny scheme delivered up by the wording of the King James Version of Luke 19:13, which is rendered thus:

And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come.
   

Of course, the bells and whistles go off in the heads of conservative readers of this line. “Aha! ‘Occupy’… Betcha them commie punks in Zuccotti Park think they got an angle here!” (And indeed, if the subtile Christian irony inherent in Luke 19 has not yet been discovered as ideological weapon for the Occupy Movement, perhaps it should be.) It is in the word, in fact, in ‘Occupy’, that Mr. Perkins scheme takes its form. He is not simply engaging in quote mining, mind you, although his extraction the Parable of the Ten Minas from the context of Luke 19—his description of the invocation of the master of the parable, moreover as, a direct “order” from Christ himself—this clearly is quote mining. Mr. Perkins chief and most insidious trick lies in fallacious verbal association. I quote him directly:

The Greek term behind the old English translation literally means “be occupied with business.”
Indeed, if “Πραγματεύσασθε ἐν ᾧ ἔρχομαι”, the precise words of the Septuagint in Luke 19:13, if these are faithfully translated as ‘do your business’—’engage’ or ‘engage in affairs’ would be as good a translation, in my opinion—there is no logical or stylistic reason to associate them with the word ‘Occupy’ other than a 400 year old translation of the Bible and the bug in the butt the Occupy Movement constitutes for American ‘Free Market Corporatism and, in particular, the Republican Party.
Jesus rejected collectivism and the mentality that has occupied America for the last few decades: that everyone gets a trophy – equal outcomes for inequitable performance. There are winners and yes, there are losers. And wins and losses are determined by the diligence and determination of the individual.
Here, Big Tony augments partisan chicanery with right-wing propaganda: Christ’s purported flirtation with Social Darwinism. And, verily, I say unto you, life is a zero-sum game. Here Perkins most clearly shows his hand: a lapse that invariably gives the impression that he is not quite the sophist some might make him out to be but simply an ideological bumbler. If, for nothing else, I suppose it does qualify him for one of Sean Hannity’s ‘Great American Panels’.      

1—http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/...
2—http://www.vatican.va/...
3—http://www.catholicsocialscientists.org/...
4—Luke 19:1-9
5—Luke 19:45-48

© 2011 admala.org. All rights reserved.

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“Were I like thee I'd throw away myself.”
--Shakespeare, Timon of Athens

(A PDF of this entry may be found here: http://admala.org/...)

Never-ending, it seems, is the pundit’s search for the right tone when treading on sacred ground, when broaching the difficult subject: murder, in this case… mass murder—for the most part, of innocents—by a maddened, masked gunman at that. It is almost too cliché to be real. He speaks of, he is asked to imagine what is generally called ‘a parent’s worst nightmare’. He speaks of and is asked to imagine a horror that he, as well-adjusted American, is not often made to face: naked human aggression—brought to our doorstep, what is more… there to take innocence. He speaks of evil, of an “unconscionable evil”; he thinks of the Devil for lack of a correlate. Of course, notwithstanding his search—for the right tone, for the right words—he feels justified in assuming a posture of righteous indignation. And he is right, is he not? Of course he is right. He has to be right. (Protocol does not allow for the alternative.)

It doesn’t matter that he’s right in so far the victims of this outrageous attack are concerned—they are, most of them, dead. That he is right, I doubt matters in any way to the parents of twenty first-graders, twenty targets of a military-style assault conducted, absent a military, by a single, very unstable young man. The truth of his assessment—an assessment of ‘evil’ in this case—if it matter at all, it matters to those who have the benefit of observers’ distance; it matters to us. It is the basis of our prosecution. We formulate the moral outrage that moves hearts, minds, and the fourth estate. (Justice, if it exist, exists in our image.) What we are asked to do… by whom, who knows? we know now only that we are obliged to do something… the task that has been handed to us is the assignment of blame in this case, an assignment to be made in advance of and in a more visceral manner than anything like an official verdict.

Blame is the unquestioned spirit of American internal politics. Blame inspirits the unwieldy mass that is the American body politic, and at a level far deeper than that of the frame and the organs. If not unfit, this body is fit for blame. Blame lives in the quick of its flesh; it burns in cells and in synapses. It is the stuff of its mitochondrial soul. In the body, which is to say ‘with us’, blame is ubiquitous. It colors our mores as well as the sound of our voice. It shines as the violent gaze, the eye-beam of the would-be vigilante. And when it shows itself in a court of law, it always bears the name of Justice.

‘Justice’ of course, is the operative word here. Understand that it is not my intention to suggest that the shooter in question here—one Adam Lanza, 20, of Newtown, CT—that he is not done (appropriate) ‘justice’ in being held legally accountable for his actions— to the extent, of course, that it is possible to hold a dead man accountable. Notwithstanding a long history of mental illness—including Asperger’s or a similar developmental disorder and numerous episodes of (presumably) non-psychotic, violent outbursts—we haven’t heard much evidence to suggest that Mr. Lanza was as categorically ‘insane’ as, let us say, a Jared Lee Loughner. (Of course, Lanza did not leave behind the kind of digital footprint that Loughner did in advance of Tucson. If he was as delusional and paranoid and is Mr. Loughner, it was never recorded on Facebook or YouTube. Lanza never served word salad at a public forum. And, at the time of this writing, Lanza’s hard drive has been reported unreadable by authorities: destroyed, presumably by Lanza himself, at some time before the shooting of his mother.) Whatever the nature of his conscience—perverse, inverted or otherwise—Lanza was ‘responsible’ for his actions in so far as concerns the law. Understand, too, that I do not mean to suggest that the mother of Adam Lanza is either morally or legally at fault for what happened. It will be remarked, of course, that, notwithstanding the presence in her household of a mentally unstable family member, this woman not only kept assault-style firearms in her possession but introduced the former to them, reportedly as attempt to inculcate her own survivalist ethos. Hers was a tragically and cosmically stupid approach to a real dilemma. (And, consequently, a practice in keeping with NRA reasoning.) In no way, however, did she transgress authority; the weapons in question were purchased perfectly legally and the quality of her care of her son has yet to be questioned.  

Understand that, when we talk about ‘Justice’, we are referring to is what matters to us. And that is who has blame and by which standard. It is as a certain vitality that our justice is manifested; it is as hunger. Our need to fix blame is an appetite—a collective one to be sure—an appetite which, whetted by reason and law, is always set on the carnival, set on the kind of red meat that is constantly provided both by our demagogues and by the Hollywood dream-work. In this respect, what we are looking for in the Sandy Hook gunman is not necessarily what comports with the reality. What we need to see in the case of one Adam Lanza is not simply a bad situation—cause, perhaps, to address a ‘systemic failure’—blame of systems and procedures too often is an evasion of individual accountability—we need to see patent evil. We need a Lanza that lives up to his mask. We need the shooter to take the form of a crazed mujahid who, just as he is ready to blow his load, crashes into the Principal’s Office screaming “Allahu Akbar!” (Paradoxically, in marked contrast to the nature of his act, it is reported that the Newtown shooter said nothing.) We don’t need food for thought in this case; much less do we need tragic pathos. Here, we need the weight and the assurance of what is called a ‘hard label’.

It is to be admitted, of course, that much is lost to reason when we proceed with such categorical zeal. When we proceed to lay blame, to censure—to demonize, if so inspired—thought, retrospection, due diligence even… sufficiently often, they are left to the wind. With the act of judgment comes blindness sometimes. Sometimes, the moment the spade is called a spade all discourse is obviated. ‘Evil’, in this respect—even when called out by a president—is not always what it’s made out to be. Sometimes, on arrival, it is little more than a thought ending cliché. Dare we risk the calling out of ‘evil’ when such may succeed in keeping, let us say, the issue of gun control out of the general discourse?—or mental health out of the national spotlight (if not off of insurance policies)?—in keeping NRA faithful ignorant of the consequences of flooding the US market with assault-style firearms? Is that worth the risk?

Pope Michael the Clueless would probably tell you that it is. He would also play down the obvious role of mental health in this case. (To his mind, the necessary cause of this slaughter is the lack of prayer in our public schools, an assertion which, if it is not simply the thought of an abysmally stupid man, is indication that the ‘God’ of his ministry should be reckoned as a monster.) So should we go with the Huck on this one? Risk the oblivion of nescience which the Manichean conservative risks whenever it is he adjudicates?—which the Fox News viewer risks whenever he turns on the television?  

We really should answer that, either formally or literally—but before we do, I’d ask that we consider an off the wall hypothetical. I think, by way of an example, of an ironically constructed Monty Python sketch, the “Multiple Murder Court Scene” from the Whicker’s World episode. In it, a convicted mass murderer, at his sentencing, is solemnly read a long list of the individuals he has killed and, after the reading of the list, is asked if he has anything to say before sentencing. Of course, the defendant answers, ridiculously, “Yes, sir… I’m very sorry”. Grave courtroom faces assume, first, a puzzled and, then, an embarrassed demeanor as the defendant proceeds with a thoroughly ironic apology that results in a parodic sentence. The sketch is itself a spoof on the expectations of ‘true crime’ narrative and could easily have been applied to the hypothetical case of Hitler in the dock at Nuremberg. At the time this writing, the date of the fictitious crime mentioned in the sketch is exactly 40 years ago. Other than this negligible coincidence, this work of black comedy would have little to do with the atrocity that is the subject of my commentary if not for this element of its theme: to wit, our expectations of the evil-doer at his moment of reckoning. The hypothetical to which I allude involves a level of irony in many ways comparable to that of this sketch. We always want to talk of accountability in cases like this one; how do we cope with the possibility that, when made to give account, the ‘Black Beast’, as it were—the worst man in the world—provides an answer into which we can’t quite sink our teeth?

(And was the reason why bin Laden, instead of being hauled into court before a presumed execution, was simply buried in the ocean?)

The reader, especially if he or she is endowed with an acute liberal conscience, will be forgiven for taking offense at my ironic choice of example(s) here: Monty Python, of all things. And the killing of bin Laden. (Wasn’t that, after all, the epitome of our notion of justice?) There are times at which irony and intellectual distance are all that keep us from drowning under a wave of inarticulate rage which, if appropriate at times, remains mere self-enjoyment. On matters as confounding as Sandy Hook, we have to say something. (An alternative to the writing of these pages? I would be content, I suppose, to force feed a pail of bovine excrement each to two men, two moral hypocrites: Mike Huckabee and Wayne LaPierre. Throw in Louie Gohmert, for good measure. But, again, what would that constitute? Mere self-enjoyment.) And, here, I am simply saying this: we don’t know—and it’s possible that we can’t know—what it is we want to hear from Adam Lanza. We don’t know what we want from that which we excoriate as ‘evil’.

Demonization—as it were, the ‘calling out of evil’—always entails the clouding of reason. Necessarily so. (Reason, as such, is more of a god than we are accustomed to believing. It must be blinded, as was the god of Genesis on more than one occasion.) Efforts at creating the anathema—efforts which do have the nature of expiation—nonetheless are an obscenity; they must be conducted in private, or else under the cover of dogma, which, more than even enjoyment, suffices to blind a god. Dogmatically, it will be admitted, we fashioned quite an anathema out the figure of one Seung-Hui Cho, as angry and as violent a perpetrator as one could imagine. Of a far more enigmatic shooter, the Beltway sniper, John Allen Mohammed—who, on his two or three week reign of terror, even had a jihadist in tote—we created, in some ways, an even more sinister image, one which may well have been his undoing. (Here was a duck caught as much in the noose of his ‘15 minutes’—and his megalomaniac response to it—as in an interstate dragnet.) If his manner of mass murder was slower, more deliberate and, in a sense, more sociopathic than that of Cho or Lanza, it bore in common with both an attribute that has rendered Cho, Lanza, and Mohammed alike more than just murderous criminals. Seung-Hui Cho, Adam Lanza and John Allen Mohammed alike bear the designation ‘evil-doers’ (for ‘evil doers’—George W. Bush’s favored word—read ‘anathema’), one which has been given them for reasons that are not well understood—by those doing the giving, at any rate.  

Hell is a man-made institution. We should be clear on this point. (Of course, to take it for what it is not, what it has not been (for us) since the Enlightenment—to wit, a deity’s Guantanamo Bay—this is to serve at least the pedagogical purpose of this problematic institution.) Those sent to Hell have been sent there by man—by us. And not always for the obvious purpose. When we create anathemata—‘evil-doers’, in other words—and they are not such, anathemata, until we create them, until we make the determination—we aren’t merely sending them to prison for life or pronouncing a death sentence. Metaphysically speaking, in damning to Hell, we are resorting to a manner of slavery. As anathemata, it is slaves whom we put in their place (which, by happenstance, we actually own). We want them there in perpetuity. (In the case of both slaves and anathemata, we suspend the right of habeas corpus.) We condemn for up to three reasons, which, in some cases, apply all at once. Reason one: we know that in Hell, the condemned is to be subject to torture. (This is a fairly well-established proviso; it is the spiritual sadist’s.) Reason two: in Hell, the condemned is to remain for us something like real property: our property, however ambivalently despised. (This is the spiritual capitalist’s infernal proviso.) Reason three: in Hell, the condemned is to remain eternally available, much as the pathogen remains in immunological memory: there, as a persistent absent presence, to lay assault on any future ‘antigen’. (The third is a provision of the atheist.)

Now, of all three reasons, it is the last—as it were, infernal inoculation theory—that seems to make the most sense. In however perverse and delusive a fashion, it makes sense, for instance, that Bernie Madoff—whom we have chosen to take the ignominious fall for 2007 and the Great Recession—should serve to inoculate Wall Street from an acutely pathological strain of finance capitalism. (Does Bernie not, after all, represent to state sanctioned racketeering what Hitler was to necrophilous aggression?) If reasons one and two are pure depredations of sense—the ‘oblivion’ to which I’ve just referred, nescience—then, surely, reason three isn’t nonsense. After all, it is true—is it not?—that since the fall of Hitler, haven’t ethnic haters in Europe—among Germans in particular— encountered formidable cultural resistance? (Consider the candid assertion of one Yehuda Bauer: there can be no more antisemites in the world—not since Hitler.) Presidents 40 and 43 called out evil when and as they saw it; since their formal declarations, haven’t communism and the new ‘axis powers’ been absolute nonstarters? (One is highly advantaged as a Manichean president; there are times when such an actor need only point to thwart the evil-doer!) And hasn’t Wall Street been exceedingly chastened since Bernie Madoff was anathematized?

If my sarcasm is fairly transparent on this point it is for a reason. The answer to each of these questions is as obvious as is the failure of our efforts at localizing ‘evil’. Burn it, ban it, compartmentalize—everything about the actor, from motive to M.O.—we don’t ever get what we want from an anathema. As I have said, in his case, we don’t even know what we want.

We delude ourselves whenever we make an unqualified attempt at demonizing the criminal actor. As instinctive as the act may be—proscribing, possessing, destroying/employing: the notion of condemnation, I suggest, incorporates all three—it ultimately boils down to a very primitive method of ‘warding off’, warding off of that which both allures and repulses the subject. (By this, I mean ‘death’ itself: that which remains the only genuine anathema.) And, as ought to be expected from just such an instinctive and delusive act, prosecution of it has paradoxical consequences.

More than any other discipline, I suspect—more than sociology, more than communications—it is political science that teaches us the ultimate meaning of censure, the act of blame. Blame, at root, is not so much a means of framing individual accountability—that remains an aspect of positive law—as it is a comprehensive method of social control. When we blame, that is,  when we lay blame—and let us figure the substantive ‘blame’ here for a cipher, what our dog-whistle politicians like to call a ‘code’—to the extent that we control (events, violators, institutions), we are ourselves controlled. To the extent that we imprison (a desire), we imprison ourselves (our paradoxical desire). To the extent to which we destroy (politically or otherwise), the politics of destruction determines us.

When we lay blame, what we are doing has a ritual sense. In a ritual sense we are casting a pall—over some object, some situation—a cover that serves a function that is rather the inverse of draping a flag on a coffin. Notwithstanding the opinion of a judiciary, notwithstanding the actions of our Executive Branch, our act—preemptively and to an extent, prophylactically—seals off the anathema, before it can reach us and we reach it. The anathema is sealed in a certain unquestionable status before it is properly understood. Once blamed—once, as it were, ‘palled’—once convicted in public opinion in cannot be asked a question, much less for a defense. Even the ‘devils we know’—Bernie Madoff, for example—once they have received our judgment there is nothing they can say that will reach us. They are —and in a paradoxical sense, given that the anathema, for the most part, would like to produce a defense—de facto incommunicado.

Of course, in the net effect of this operation—the sealing off of the anathema—there comes a surprise, one that few of us are able to anticipate. The operation belies a sort of counter-operation, one conducted by an agent that remains still more unknown to us than the object of blame. In the counter-operation, we ourselves are sealed off, at least from certain levels of moral and political truth. We ourselves are incommunicado, not only to the extent that are we unable to question the object (as a person and a peer, if it was either before our act), but to the extent that we ourselves cannot reach our own (individual) thoughts on the guilt and the nature of the object. Our thoughts—on the subject of the anathema, at least—have become collective. (‘Collective’… A terrible word for the American, no?)

To put it simply, in the net effect of the operation of blaming an object, there is this surprise: we ourselves are inversely blamed.¹ In casting the pall, a pall of sorts is cast over us. Not a ‘pall’, I suppose, but a ‘veil’… something rather like a ‘veil of unknowing’ (because, for the most part, it remains unseen).

Without doubt, I should be asked to exemplify my point here. I will do so with a simple correlation.

It is altogether appropriate that we treat the Sandy Hook Massacre for what it is: a nation tragedy on the order of Columbine and Virginia Tech. The public response to it so far has been both sweeping and profound. Clearly, Sandy Hook has reached us. The extent to which it has done so I don’t think is approximated by any national crisis of this kind since 9-11. I suspect this has much to do with its nature: the ‘scariness’ of the perpetrator—a silent, for the most part invisible figure occupying the body armor almost like a ghost—and the egregious aspect of his act. He didn’t just kill kids; he killed young kids—babies, in the estimation of many… and in a bloody fashion worthy of the ungainly word ‘slaughter’. His act, in this respect, was not simply a crime but an obscenity. With respect to this event, we get all this; we feel it on an emotional level. And we are adamant in our belief and our contention that we—individually or collectively—could never commit such an act… that were any one or any number us—were even our government—to do so, condemnation on the order of that which we are asked to afford Adam Lanza—which we afforded bin Laden, furthermore—would certainly be warranted. Again, we get all this.

What we don’t get, however (and, I submit, necessarily so) is that if we are to play the ‘blame game’ here, universally and consistently, our condemnation of this hypothetical actor—a mass killer responsible for scenes at least as gruesome as that created by Adam Lanza—is indeed in order.

Consider the nature of signature drone strikes. Practically speaking, even those most poorly informed among cannot be unaware of this nation’s use of drone strikes in Middle East nations like Pakistan and Yemen. Even those most poorly informed among us—Fox News’ target audience, for instance—even these have developed some understanding of the nature of the signature drone strike. (Roughly the equivalent of law enforcement racial profiling, the signature strike is the case of a remotely piloted unmanned drone attacking, not an identified target, but individuals who, as it were, ‘fit a profile’: who either look like or are ostensibly engaged in patterns of behavior associated with persons of interest. In signature strikes conducted by the CIA and JSOC—more so the former than the latter—drones are known to have hit funerals, wedding parties and, in particular, local rescue operations—in what have been called ‘double tap’ strikes—resulting in civilian casualties that are now a matter of record.) Even these know at some level of consciousness that US drone strikes have resulted in a massacre the equivalent of Sandy Hook, and on multiple occasions. For those who require proof of this, the photographs are there², as are the vivid accounts of our journalists’. (If, on this topic, the reporting of the independent Bureau of Investigative Journalism doesn’t carry sufficient weight to satisfy the hardest of our doubters—signature strike deniers, as it were—the blunt acknowledgements of the major media outlets—and of the DoD, what is more—these really ought to.) A few doubters notwithstanding, and in spite of what I have heard called ‘the apparatus of mass disavowal’, we all know what takes place in signature drone strikes. Furthermore, most of us still refuse to subscribe to the pernicious notion that those civilians taken out are nonpersons by reason of ties—however remote—to Islamic extremists. Yet the public outcry with regard to our use of signature drone strikes has been minimal at best.  

President Obama has been pilloried for almost four years now over such things as the sluggish economy, Obamacare, a presumed anti-gun agenda (some of which, given Sandy Hook, he may now be compelled to pursue) and the ridiculous notion that he is secretly a communist. Little aught is said of the hundreds of drone strikes that have been conducted on his watch—at least 300 as of the date of this writing. (As wanton and egregious a violator of human rights as was the administration of George W. Bush, Obama’s record on human rights is worse in some respects, especially one. It has been the policy of the latter administration to use drone strikes, among other tactics, to effectively ‘kill our way’ out of the War on Terror. The second Iraq War aside, the body count racked up by the Obama Administration has at least doubled that of its predecessor. And there is good reason for this. On the civilian death-toll that has resulted from our ironically styled War on Terror—which, if one were to include all civilian casualties incurred since the first ‘Gulf War’, combat related or otherwise, is now into the millions—the American public has been conspicuously silent. If anything, the public has been approving of Mr. Obama’s approach. Ever the astute politician, the President knows this.)  So where is our moral outrage at the number of Sandy Hooks that have been brought about as consequence of US drone strikes? For the most part, it remains absent. And there is a reason for this.

Our silence on the topic of drone strike casualties is almost a perfect example of the operation—or counter operation—behind what Slavoj Žižek³, after Donald Rumsfeld, calls the ‘unknown known’. We know perfectly well that we should be morally outraged at what our government—what we, moreover—are doing in the name of a ‘War on Terror’. (For the most part, we know too that, over the course of this war, we—via the state—have become terrorists in our own right.) What we also know—without knowing we know it—is that it is ‘OK’ not to be outraged as those killed (be they civilians or not) are nonpersons. ‘They are the terrorists’, as George W. Bush would put it, altogether paradoxically. The unknown  known here—and, here, it actually a series, a vicious circle of nested unknown knowns—ultimately leads to a deeper and far more unacceptable one. And that is that genocide is acceptable if necessary—which is to say, if it advances the cause of our War on Terror.

This vicious circle—as it were, of ‘unknown knowns’—exemplifies what I mean by ‘veil of unknowing’ here. (Were it not the case that I find Rawl’s conception of justice ultimately self-contradictory, I might actually use the term ‘veil of ignorance’.) Once the blame game is fully engaged in, and we proceed to lay blame—to condemn actors and ‘evils’—rather than thinking out a situation, that is where we tend to lose both morals and our moral high ground.

The President has alluded to the late Adam Lanza as “an unconscionable evil”. It is debatable and will be debated, of course, whether—in his estimation—the case of Adam Lanza constitutes that of a moral or a natural evil. The inscrutable conscience of the violent mad man, is it like to the tempest—a full-throated demonstrations of natural ‘anger’—or more like the rusted tea pot, which, once full of leaks, bears nothing?

One further note, in conclusion… The late Viktor Frankl, a theorist of note and a holocaust survivor, once proposed that the United States augment the Statue of Liberty with what he called a ‘Statue of Responsibility’ which, he suggested, for whatever reason, be located somewhere along our west coast. (A project is underway which will put one either in L.A. or San Francisco—which might be cause for derisive laughter—or else Seattle, which might well suit the fancy of one W.H. Gates.) My personal suggestion here? I’d like the structure (at least in spirit) to be erected at the mouth of the Potomac. As regards guns, gun violence and victim selection, empirical evidence overwhelmingly suggests that victims of murder by firearm are rarely taken by total strangers—which is to say that the standard NRA line on gun violence… that all we need is guns—guns, the bigger the better—to protect ourselves from the anonymous villain is total bullshit.

To the extent that the United States Congress and the President—whose pretty words on Sandy Hook may well have charmed the nation on 16 December—commit themselves to action as regards federally mandated gun control. To the extent that they do not, they disgrace the memory of those taken from us on 14 December and merit an equally disgraceful exit from office.

Notes:  
1—Of course, the topic of nature of this ‘inverse blame’ well exceeds the scope of this writing. Suffice it to say it is well attested in 20th Century thought on mass psychology.
2—http://www.globalresearch.ca/....
3—http://www.lacan.com/....

© 2012 Gentil Aquitaine. All rights reserved.

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