November 30, 2007

The Authoritarian Democrats: Welcome to the Era of "Thought Crimes"

In "Blinded by the Story," I explained how a purportedly serious belief that the Democrats have acted historically and act now to further peace and protect liberty can only be maintained by forbidding oneself to understand the political developments of the last hundred years. After detailing the detestable records of Wilson, FDR and Clinton with regard to civil liberties (and do check out the earlier essay for some specifics about Bill's glorious "antiterrorist" legislation, which thoughtfully prepared the ground for the vile Patriot Act, in both its first and latest versions), I wrote:
The Democrats are opposed to an increasingly repressive, authoritarian state? Try to be serious.
Here is Philip Giraldi, with the latest exhibit in the ongoing bipartisan destruction of the fragile, vanishing remnants of freedom:
One would have thought that the systematic dismantling of the Constitution of the United States would have been enough to satisfy even the most Jacobin neoconservative, but there is more on the horizon, and it is coming from people who call themselves Democrats. The mainstream media has made no effort to inform the public of the impending Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act. The Act, which was sponsored by Congresswoman Jane Harman of California, was passed in the House by an overwhelming 405 to 6 vote on October 24th and is now awaiting approval by the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which is headed by Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. It is believed that approval by the committee will take place shortly, to be followed by passage by the entire Senate.

Harman's bill contends that the United States will soon have to deal with home grown terrorists and that something must be done to anticipate and neutralize the problem. The act deals with the issue through the creation of a congressional commission that will be empowered to hold hearings, conduct investigations, and designate various groups as "homegrown terrorists." The commission will be tasked to propose new legislation that will enable the government to take punitive action against both the groups and the individuals who are affiliated with them. ... Harman's bill does not spell out terrorist behavior and leaves it up to the Commission itself to identify what is terrorism and what isn't. Language inserted in the act does partially define "homegrown terrorism" as "planning" or "threatening" to use force to promote a political objective, meaning that just thinking about doing something could be enough to merit the terrorist label. The act also describes "violent radicalization" as the promotion of an "extremist belief system" without attempting to define "extremist."


As should be clear from the vagueness of the definitions, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act could easily be abused to define any group that is pressuring the political system as "terrorist," ranging from polygamists, to second amendment rights supporters, anti-abortion protesters, anti-tax agitators, immigration activists, and peace demonstrators. In reality, of course, it will be primarily directed against Muslims and Muslim organizations. ... Many of the suspects will inevitably be "anti-American" professors at various universities and also groups of Palestinians organized against the Israeli occupation, but it will be ea[sy] to use the commission formula to sweep them all in for examination.

The view that 9/11 has "changed everything" is unfortunately all too true. It has unleashed American paranoia, institutionalized mistrust of foreigners, and created a fantasy universe in which a US beset by enemies must do anything and everything to counter the alien threat. If it were a sane world, it would be difficult to imagine why anyone would believe that a Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act is even necessary.
I underscore that, in addition to the fact that this abominable legislation is completely unnecessary and a profound threat to civil liberties, the Democrats have ever so generously brought us to the era of "thought crimes": "just thinking about doing something could be enough to merit the terrorist label."

Of course, those of you so inclined should feel free to keep telling yourselves and the rest of us that all concerned citizens must vote for Democrats ("more and better" ones, it goes without saying, although many people will not stop saying it), because any alternative is so much worse, including all those alternatives which the now-mainstream "progressives" adamantly refuse even to consider.

Right. Got it.

November 28, 2007


Every now and then, when I am in a particularly self-punishing mood and feel I deserve some suffering for my sins, real or imagined, I read comment threads on various blogs, where commenters are debating the merits and failings of a minor league blogger who goes by the name Arthur Silber. As I say, I only engage in this ill-advised practice on rare occasions; besides, my writing isn't discussed that much by anyone, so it's not as if the opportunity arises with any regularity.

One comment that I've seen more than a few times typically goes like this: "Silber has been amazingly prescient. Everything he's predicted has come true. Everything. I don't know how he does it." That's all very nice, and I also think it happens to be true. But when I first saw this sort of remark a year or so ago, I would usually get very angry. I wanted to shout, or at least add a comment of my own, all in capital letters: "SO WHY WON'T YOU LISTEN TO ME NOW?" The primary subject about which I would have such thoughts is the one that ought to concern everyone, the only subject that matters now in terms of what it could mean for the future of the world, and of the United States: the probability of an attack on Iran.

Did you hear that? An attack on Iran.

Do you understand what I'm saying? A LIKELY ATTACK ON IRAN.

Never mind. The point is that even commenters who offer this kind of praise for my musings will not listen to me now, despite what they themselves admit is a track record of 100% accuracy, or as close to 100% accuracy as anyone is likely to come. For such commenters always go on to add: "Oh, but I don't read him regularly. I can't. He's just too damned depressing."

Please note that they do not contend that I'm wrong or inaccurate in what I see coming down the road. They acknowledge that I've been right before, and that I'm probably right now. But they would prefer not to think about it. It's just too depressing, doncha know. Of course, this is an entirely valid and useful approach to politics, and to life in general. When the deadly boulder topples over the edge of the cliff and is headed toward a landing directly on top of where you're standing below, it's always most advisable to close your eyes, stick your fingers in your ears, and say over and over and over again: "It's not happening! There's no boulder! It will be fine! NOTHING'S WRONG!! IT'S NOT HAPPENING!!!!"

Those of us who survive what may be coming will do our best to scoop up your pitifully splattered remains, and give you a decent burial. Never let it be said that we are disrespectful, or vindictive in even the smallest degree. We shall honor your memory, just as it deserves to be honored.

Many people consider it bad form to say, "I told you so." But I have, in detail, on many different subjects, most importantly in connection with trying to prevent terrible future events. Have I mentioned the likelihood of AN ATTACK ON IRAN? Forget it. Oh, you already have. Good for you! Anyway, only a few people listen to me -- I'm such a downer -- so what the hell.

For many months, I have been saying that this Democratic Congress would never, ever impeach anyone in the Bush administration. I said it in "Blinded by the Story":
But for the reasons set forth above (and a full case would fill many volumes), the Democrats are not going to impeach any of these criminals, barring events entirely unforeseeable at present. And they will not for one overwhelmingly significant and determinative reason: always with regard to the underlying principles, and frequently with regard to the specifics, the Democrats are implicated in every single crime with which they would charge the members of the administration. The Republicans' crimes are their crimes.
I said it in "From the Department of Not Going to Happen":
Of course, if the Democrats had any convictions that were genuinely opposed to the corporatist, authoritarian, warfare state, they would begin impeachment proceedings against both Bush and Cheney immediately upon Congress's return in September (and they would have begun them months ago) -- because impeachment is deserved 1,000 times over in both cases, and because such proceedings might make an attack on Iran less likely. That would also assume that the Washington Democrats had some strategic smarts.

Democrats with deeply held convictions that impelled them to principled action that was not guaranteed to be successful, and clever about the implementation of a plan -- one that didn't directly concern an election -- that demanded their careful attention for more than a week or two? Excuse me for a moment.

Sorry. I had to collapse to the floor in helpless laughter for a few minutes, and then slowly pull myself back up so I could get to the keyboard.
I said it again recently, in "Get Out the Razor":
So impeachment WON'T hurt the Democrats politically. Not even in terms of 2008. Why, it might HELP them -- and help them to an overwhelming victory. Not incidentally, it would also signal to the world that there are at least some people in our national life who give a damn about the Constitution, about the law (including international law), about moral law, about the value of human life, about civilization, about decency. It might save us from being unceremoniously heaved into the filthiest of trash heaps, where we deservedly belong.

More and more Democrats themselves admit that impeachment is the unquestionably appropriate remedy, and fully DESERVED. It won't hurt them politically. So why won't they do it?

One more time -- first, what I said that is excerpted above:
[Impeachment] is the one method the Democrats will categorically, absolutely not utilize -- because the Democrats are a crucial, inextricable part of the identical authoritarian-corporatist system that has led us to these horrors. They have all worked toward this end over many decades, Democrats and Republicans alike, and now the horrors manifest themselves explicitly, without apology, even with the sickening boastfulness of the mass murderer who is proud of what he has done, and who vehemently believes he is right.
Or as I put it in an earlier essay:

Try to grasp this finally, before it is too late: the Democrats may differ from the Republicans on matters of detail, or emphasis, or style. But with regard to the fundamental political principles involved, everything that has happened over the last six years -- just as is the case with everything that has happened over the last one hundred years -- is what the Democrats want, too.

This should not be a difficult point to understand. The historical record is compelling in its clarity, and overpowering in its length and volume. A corporatist, authoritarian state is what the ruling elites want, and it is precisely what serves their interests, Republican and Democrat alike. They know it; they count on your inability or refusal to see it.
That's why they won't do it. That's why impeachment is "off the table." Try, please try for crap's sake, to understand this. I am weary of explaining it.

But I will keep explaining it, until at least 15 of you get it. At the current rate, I expect that to take until 2018.

Even now, I'm an optimist. Go figure.
And I've said it in a number of other posts.

In the latest installment of my "Final Descent" series, I mentioned an illuminating conversation between Jonathan Turley and Randi Rhodes, on Rhodes' radio show. The topic on that occasion was the increasingly widespread use of a specific form of police intimidation typical of a more and more tyrannical state. When the police approach or question you, even if you have done absolutely nothing criminal and nothing wrong at all, if you do anything that the police may later construe as "resisting arrest," they will arrest you for resisting arrest -- even if there had been nothing to arrest you for in the first instance. Oh, my, you are thinking. Why that means the police could arrest anyone -- and everyone! Exactly. The state and the numerous representatives who execute its authority understand that; it's time more of you did.

Rhodes invited Turley to be her guest again today. Their discussion began with the government's systematic abuse of the state secrets privilege: how the government uses the privilege to shield itself from the exposure of any and all of its many criminal acts. Invoke the state secrets privilege, and the case is stopped dead in its tracks. Eventually, when the privilege is invoked a sufficient number of times and on enough points critical to a specific case, the lawsuit goes away entirely.

They then turned to impeachment, and why it is not going to happen -- and exactly how the Democrats are doing everything in their power to make certain it doesn't happen. Rhodes said she wanted Turley to explain his views, because Turley's insights had helped to make clear what Rhodes herself had not been able to understand. Rhodes said she hadn't understood at all why the Democrats wouldn't pursue hearings and investigations more aggressively, why they keep talking about retroactive immunity for the telecom companies (see "It's Called the Ruling Class Because It Rules," for a discussion of that and related subjects), and in general why the Democrats act like a pathetic, horribly abused dog that is regularly beaten almost to death. (If you'd been reading my blog, Randi, you would have understood it months ago! No, on this point I am not remotely humble.) For all the good they've done on any subject of importance, the Democrats might as well have taken the last year off. That could only have been an improvement. They have turned themselves into almost non-existent blobs of putrefying flesh, without the excuse of being non-existent or dead.

So if you didn't believe it when I said it, listen up. Here is what Turley had to say. The Democrats will never pursue hearings or investigations of the Bush administration beyond a certain point the Democrats consider "safe," they will not object to the administration derailing any case of moment by invoking the state secrets privilege, they keep telecom immunity alive, and the Democrats act in countless other ways to bury and cover up the crimes of the Bush gang, because there is one eventuality they fear more than any other: if there were ever to be a finding -- by a court, in Congressional committee, or anywhere else -- that the Bush administration, including the president himself, in fact ordered criminal acts, then they would have to begin impeachment hearings. It is inconceivable that even this repellent Congress could ignore, for example, a court determination that Bush had ordered torture -- which, as Turley pointed out, would constitute a war crime as defined by U.S. courts. The same would be true of any finding that the administration, perhaps including the president himself, had committed a crime by ordering illegal domestic surveillance.

Turley additionally noted that this is why the Democrats went out of their way to "save" the administration on the Mukasey nomination. The Democrats, or at least key Democratic leaders, didn't want Mukasey to say that water boarding constitutes torture. That would mean that administration officials had committed a war crime -- again, as defined by U.S. courts. They would have to begin impeachment hearings, once the meaning of the admission sank in. So the Democrats made certain that the question could be avoided, and that Mukasey was confirmed by a comfortable margin (see, "There Is No 'Lesser' Evil Now").

The broader point that Turley went on to make is the one I've made repeatedly, in the essays linked above and in others as well. "These are not principled people in this city," Turley correctly noted. He said he was sorry to have to say it, but it's the inescapable truth. Turley said that, with regard to the most critical dynamics in play, party designations don't matter much at all: "They don't believe in principle. They believe in power."

Turley thus made precisely the same point that I made in an article I wrote just before the 2006 elections:
Ah, but the Democrats will investigate the Bush administration's endless crimes. The investigations will restore honesty, decency and "true" American values to government. All the universes will be saved! Do people actually believe this nonsense? All such investigations will be exactly like all other government investigations of itself. People seem congenitally incapable of grasping that all politicians are now part of the same corrupt system, which aims only to protect itself and its existing prerogatives, as it simultaneously seeks to expand them. (The exceptions in the political class are so few that they don't matter.) In the end, all such investigations and committee hearings will conclude just as the 9/11 investigation concluded (and any other investigation you care to name): some criticisms will be made, general fault will be found but no one in particular will be condemned in terms that might cause distress, and some new guidelines and regulations will be proposed and enacted. Neither party wants to judge the other too harshly or cause irreparable harm: they don't want to, because they count on the same consideration in return. Both parties are happy to accede to this deal, for it is precisely how their system continues on its merry course, guaranteeing their lives of immense comfort and privilege, together with their hold on power. Many of the rest of us, both here and abroad, will be screwed, maimed or dead -- and just when exactly did that concern the governing class?
Do you understand now? Do you finally get it? I truly am weary of explaining facts that should be obvious to a not very bright, woefully underachieving six-year-old -- particularly when I'm dealing with adults who are resolutely determined to render themselves deaf, dumb and blind in perpetuity.

There is still a chance -- now a very dim and remote one, I grant you -- to prevent an attack on Iran. Here's that detailed program again, with a more recent version of part of it in the concluding part of this essay.

Oh, that's right. You don't want to hear about any of that. It's just too goddamned depressing.

God, most Americans are abysmally pathetic. I don't know why I even bother any longer.

November 26, 2007

But Seriously...

I had some mordant fun last week with fundraising at various places. I was feeling somewhat, ah, profane, in addition to which I was deeply annoyed that it was proving so difficult for to meet their quarterly goal. is one of only two or three alternative sources on the internet where you can find a comprehensive, worldwide listing of important news stories, together with first-rate commentaries by their own writers and links to still more articles.

So I'm very relieved to see that finally met its goal. I chipped in $15 myself, which I could ill afford. But some things are much more important to me than several meals, and seeing continue in its work is one of them. And look! They even have a link to an article by yours truly! (This one.) They are spectacularly discerning people over there. :>))

While I'm very happy for's success, my own news is rather glum. In response to that post last week, eleven people -- my very small core of incredibly generous, fantastically supportive readers, plus a few new donors, to all of whom I offer my deep gratitude -- made donations. And that was it. As a result, the cats and I will eat for the next few weeks, and I can pay basic bills (electricity, phone, internet service, and one or two others).

And I have very, very little toward the December rent. This is, as you might say, bad news. Remarkably bad news. It also comes at a time when I feel well enough physically to get some substantial writing done on close to a daily basis. I think the "Final Descent" series, the latest installment of which will be found here, is going very well, and I do say so myself. And I'm just getting to the good part! (That's true, in fact. In my own admittedly extraordinarily biased view, I think that series and the upcoming installments in particular may turn out to be among my most valuable essays.)

So, that's the pitch. If you want the unpleasant details and background on all this, this entry and this more recent one from two months ago will fill you in.

As always, I am sorry for the unpleasant interruption, and I extend my most grateful thanks to all of you for your indulgence and your very great kindness.

A Nation on the Edge of the Final Descent (IV): A Country Ready to Follow Orders -- Even into Hell

Part I: Glimpses of the Horrors to Come

Part II: A Culture of Lies, and a Desperate Need for Action

Part III: Obey or Die

The tasering of Andrew Meyer became and remained a major news story for at least a week after it occurred. I didn't attempt to follow all the commentary; it would have been impossible for anyone to do so -- there was simply too much of it. But I tried to listen to and read a representative sampling of opinion, across the political spectrum. (Since I can't afford and thus don't have television, my listening was confined to radio.) As I showed in Part III, two primary themes announced themselves, regardless of whether a person identified himself as conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat: the axiomatic assumption that the authorities are almost always right in whatever they do, and the uniform insistence that the authorities must always be obeyed.

I heard only one person who offered an impassioned contrary view: Randi Rhodes. (I apologize if there were others who made the points she did, and if I unfairly overlook them. As I said, no one could have kept track of what everyone said on this subject.) Rhodes is a difficult case for me, for I very often find her to be deeply irritating. At her worst, she is an unconvincing partisan hack, offering the most threadbare defenses of the Democrats. For several months earlier this year, she offered the "Innocent Bystander Fable" at least three or four times a week; based on my irregular listening habits, it appears she still repairs to these falsehoods with untiring dependability. This fable is very obviously false, as David Sirota regularly demonstrates, and it is deeply insulting to any intelligent listener. When I hear Rhodes and other Democratic defenders rely on transparent falsehoods of this kind, I always wonder who the target of such disinformation campaigns is: those they appear to be addressing, or themselves. I suspect it is both. I'll consider this question further in some upcoming essays.

But about the Meyer incident and the subjects it raised, Rhodes shone very brightly. I extend my great thanks to her for her treatment of these critically important issues. Rhodes noted that many others characterized Meyer as rude and obnoxious, and they considered him to be only a troublemaker and rabble rouser, someone who was "looking for trouble" and was "asking for it." To all this, Rhodes responded: No, I would say he is informed. She went on to say that given what has been transpiring in the United States for the last several years, and what continues to transpire today (none of which has been altered or even slowed down in any significant way by the Democrats whose virtues Rhodes still attempts to sell her listeners on), people who are informed tend to be agitated.

That's exactly right -- and that is precisely the point I have tried to make in essays such as, "Break the Goddamned Rules." Public life in the United States is designed and structured to make serious discussion about any subject of great moment impossible. This is true with regard to those views that are considered to be "acceptable" and "respectable," and it is also true of how political campaigns and political events are run, down to the daily and hourly details. It is prohibited to speak of the criminal genocide the United States has caused in Iraq; we may only talk about the monumental "strategic blunder" that has been committed. In the same way but on the smaller scale, both Democrats and Republicans make all but certain that they are never greeted with unwelcome or uncomfortable questions at public events, as Rhodes herself mentioned in connection with Andrew Meyer. On this occasion, Rhodes correctly insisted that her criticism was deserved across the board: she emphasized that Democrats do this as frequently as Republicans.

Rhodes saw very clearly that Meyer had to overcome tremendous obstacles even to ask his questions: he had to break through the cultural refusal to acknowledge the issues he raised, just as he had to push to the head of the line of questioners -- to ask questions that no one else dared to utter. As I have discussed, I consider Meyer's second question about the looming possibility of an attack on Iran to be the most critical at this particular moment. Meyer's first question, concerning Kerry's concession of the 2004 election on the day of the election itself, despite the fact that significant evidence of voter disenfranchisement and voting fraud was already known, was certainly an important one. Meyer forlornly asked Kerry at one point: "Didn't you want to be president?"

Although this is an undeniably critical question, I consider it to be a wasted, futile one, for one reason above all: neither Kerry nor any other leading politician will ever provide an honest answer. If Kerry were to be honest, he might say something like this: "Certainly I wanted to be president. But if I called into question the election results in any fundamental way, it would raise still more questions. It might make people wonder about the integrity of elections altogether. It make cause people to question the legitimacy of our system of government itself. We can't have that. Sure, Democrats and Republicans disagree about some issues of policy, and sometimes those are important. But we agree on the basics: a corporatist, authoritarian government at home, and American world hegemony abroad. That system has worked just fine for me, and for all my friends. Hell, I'm incredibly wealthy and powerful. So I don't get to be president. But I still have a life that 99.9% of you can only dream about, and I like that just fine. I'm not about to mess with the system that gives me all that."

Since no one in public life is ever going to provide an answer that even approaches the truth, it's pointless to ask the question at all. As for Meyer's third question, about the "secret society" that both Bush and Kerry have belonged to, I view that as a very bad mistake both substantively and strategically. It amounts to relying on conspiracy theories (or at least appearing to), when the motives and goals of our ruling class are in full public view, as they have been for decades. Any explanation provided by membership in a "secret society" is redundant and unnecessary. Additionally, since this approach is widely viewed as peddling conspiracy theories, it provides critics with an easy means of writing people like Meyer off completely -- and thus avoiding the crucial importance of his second question.

The possibility of an attack on Iran is not going away; it may actually be increasing. With their ceaseless, irresponsible warmongering, the leading Democrats do nothing but make such an attack more likely. For the better part of a year, I have tried -- and tried -- and tried -- to motivate people, including the leading liberal and progressive bloggers, to do something to try to prevent it. Almost no one gives a damn. It would appear that the greatest threats to liberty and peace are Joe Klein and David Broder, with the endless dire warnings about the Klein-Broder Fearsome Engine of Destruction leavened with a few posts here and there in praise of Otto von Bismarck's far-seeing social policies. There's nothing like the sugar-plum ideal of the Prussian welfare state to raise the spirits and get the blood rushing. Meanwhile, global catastrophe lies in wait. But neither I nor anyone else can convince the leading lights of the progressive blogosphere to move their pudgy fingers and fat asses to do a damned thing. To hell with it, and to hell with them. (In my zealous efforts to be scrupulously fair in all matters, I note that some of them may have slim fingers and superlatively firm asses -- but in almost every case, they are unforgivably lazy and contemptibly immovable with regard to any issue that genuinely matters.)

Returning to Rhodes' comments on Andrew Meyer: Rhodes repeatedly identified tasering as what it is -- and what it is, is torture. Rhodes was the only commentator I heard who made this point, and who made it numerous times. No one else thought this fact to be worth mentioning. In this manner and in many similar ways, we see how cruelty, barbarity and torture have become normalized in America. We feel no need to mention that the sun rose again this morning; it is an unremarkable, known, predictable fact, one of no significance whatsoever. And so it is now with torture and inhuman cruelty. These practices are now so common as to be unworthy of comment. The sun rises and sets; America tortures and murders, many times a day, every day, throughout the darkening years. There is nothing to note here.

On her show one day shortly after the Meyer incident, Rhodes' guest was Jonathan Turley. One primary focus of Turley's comments was especially enlightening, and particularly alarming. Turley's concern was the increasingly common Catch-22 of our increasingly authoritarian government: police approach you about some matter; in many instances, you have committed no crime at all; if you question the police -- or do anything at all that the police will later construe as "resisting arrest" -- then the police get you for that. In this manner, the police have free rein to arrest anyone and everyone. All they have to do is come up to you, for any reason or for no reason. If you do anything, if you even continue to breathe, you may be accused of resisting arrest. Out come the tasers, among other instruments of torture. If you manage to keep breathing and live, off to jail you go.

This is the "freedom" that "they" hate us for.

Yet with the exception of Rhodes (and perhaps a handful of others I may have missed), none of this was deemed worthy of comment or concern. Commentators who identify themselves as conservative and liberal, as Republican and Democrat and progressive, said almost as one: "He was a troublemaker. He was rude. He behaved badly. He was asking for it." As one, almost all of them insisted that we must always obey the representatives of authority, that we must do exactly as we are told, that we must follow orders.

Do I need to remind you of the historic episodes best-known for invocations and appeals of this kind? It appears I do, and I will get to that in more detail shortly. First, we need to consider the roots of this unquestioning, unappealable reverence for authority. This returns me once again to the work to which Alice Miller has devoted her life.

I have written numerous essays based on Alice Miller's books and articles; you will find them listed here, with a brief description of each. My recent essay about the Morton West high school students also discusses the critical importance of Miller's work, in the last section in particular. The overall theme of Miller's work is the destructive, life-long effects of the child rearing practices accepted by virtually everyone. If you are reading this, you have suffered in varying degrees the damages that Miller describes, as I have too. The exceptions are so rare that they scarcely merit mentioning. If you are a parent, you almost certainly are damaging your children in similar ways, at least to some extent. In essays that will be posted in the coming weeks (beginning, I hope and plan, in the next several days), I will prove this to you.

As Miller herself must regularly do, I hasten to add that the continuation of this destructive cycle is not the result of parents' failure to love their children, and certainly not because most parents wish to do harm. To the contrary: it is because today's parents were taught by their parents that these destructive methods of child rearing were "for your own good" -- that is, for the child's good. We are taught to deny our own pain as very young children; the continued denial requires that we idealize our parents (or other primary authority figures); the denial of our pain necessitates the denial of others' pain; and the idealization of authority spreads as we mature and often, as today, encompasses the state, including its military and law enforcement apparatus.

Permit me to offer a few general notes concerning Miller's work. I recognize that acceptance of the truths that Miller identifies is a painful and exceptionally difficult task. It may be of some help if I give this brief outline of my own intellectual journey in this particular terrain. I first began reading The Drama of the Gifted Child in the early 1980s. I didn't finish the book -- and it is not a long book -- for two or three years. Miller's identifications resonated very deeply for me, and reading the book was terribly painful. I was unable to read more than 20 or 30 pages at a time, and I then had to set it aside for months. In the late 1980s, I began reading Miller's other books. It continued to be very painful, and I continued to resist seeing the full scope of what Miller discussed. I only absorbed and understood it in small parts, over a very long period of time. (Many of Miller's other readers have reported the identical pattern to her.)

This resistance is completely understandable, and inescapable. Miller asks us to question those beliefs that were instilled in us in the very first years of our lives -- those beliefs that serve as the foundation for much of the rest of what we later come to believe. To question -- and then to begin to challenge, and finally to set aside -- those beliefs that are so critical to our sense of ourselves and to our view of the world must of necessity require a great deal of time and work. You can try to take shortcuts through this process, and I certainly did. But they don't work: I had to return to the beginning many times, and start to work through it again. It has only been recently, in the few years preceding my first essays about Miller, that I finally began to think that I had understood the major parts of my own history, and that my life began to make sense to me in terms of the beliefs and approaches that had shaped it.

My own resistance is mirrored in the response of many of my readers. As nearly as I can tell, only a very small number of people agree with my general political views, including my views concerning foreign policy. But even among that small number, the resistance to my Miller essays is remarkable, as I noted at the outset of the final installment of my series "On Torture." As I said there, many of the same people who agreed with me every step of the way will suddenly stop at that point. I understand the general reasons for this resistance, but it continues to cause me no small amount of astonishment.

Second, let me offer a suggestion about the order in which to read Miller's books. Although I started with The Drama of the Gifted Child (this was the book that first brought Miller worldwide attention, and it probably remains her best-known), I strongly recommend that you not begin with it. It is very densely written, and it is hard going. (It may not help that, if we read Miller in English, we are reading all her books in translation.) In addition, Miller was first trained in psychoanalysis, an approach she later disavowed emphatically and completely. A brief note on that subject will be found at the end of this entry. Psychoanalytic jargon and terms will be found throughout The Drama of the Gifted Child and her other early books, which makes them considerably more difficult. After Miller had jettisoned psychoanalysis, and as her ideas became clearer and more precise, her writing grew increasingly streamlined and "reader-friendly," if you will. For these reasons, I strongly suggest beginning with two of her later books, both of which serve as wonderful introductions to her thought: Banished Knowledge and Breaking Down the Wall of Silence. (Excerpts from the latter will be found here and here.) After those two books, you can work forward or back, and I think you will find that approach much easier.

As a final prefatory note to this further exploration of Miller's work, I want to emphasize the following: I would never say, and I have never said, that Miller's explanation of the damage we sustain as children represents the only explanation that matters, or the only causative factor of significance. Here I echo what Miller herself wrote in, The Truth Will Set You Free: Overcoming Emotional Blindness and Finding Your True Adult Self, in answer to a certain kind of criticism:
Many of my critics protest that one cannot trace world events back to the childhood of a single person. But I have never asserted that the causes I have discovered are the only ones conditioning the course of history. What I do keep pointing out is the consistency with which they have been ignored. I stand accused of using arguments that I have never put forward.
This is the key: "What I do keep pointing out is the consistency with which they have been ignored." The damages inflicted in childhood by almost all parents are forbidden territory: it is the single subject which most people entirely prohibit themselves from ever investigating, even as those damages continue to influence their lives as adults.

In one of my earliest Miller pieces, I made these related observations:
With regard to Miller's point that the idealization of authority figures is easily transferrable for those who have not been allowed to develop a true sense of self, events of the last few years have provided numerous examples. Let me emphasize one other point before moving on to some of the more notable ones. Nothing I am discussing here should be construed to mean that the ideas that people accept do not matter. In fact, as most of my writing here demonstrates, I view ideas, and whether they are true or false, as of critical importance. But the truly notable phenomenon is the following one: many of the ideas that people have accepted, in some cases even for thousands of years, can easily be shown to be wrong. So the obvious question arises: if the ideas are demonstrably wrong -- and as is often the case, when the consequences of certain ideas can easily be shown to be disastrous, and even horribly destructive -- why do people still cling to them so desperately, and absolutely refuse to give them up?

And this is where Miller's work is invaluable. Such tenacity in the face of overwhelming evidence cannot be explained simply by saying, "Well, they just refuse to think. And when someone refuses to think, no one else can make him." Obviously, certain people refuse to think at a certain point. But the question remains: Why? If one looks at the life histories of the great majority of people, keeping in mind Miller's work and her detailed personal histories of a number of individuals, the answer is clear: they dare not question the goodness of the authority figure, they dare not acknowledge the pain they have experienced as the direct result of the actions of the authority figure, and above all they dare not say: the authority figure is wrong. This underlying mechanism of obedience is set very, very early in life -- and the thought of dislodging it later on literally causes the adult to panic, in a sense that threatens his precarious (and false) sense of self. So the adult will do anything to avoid having to question the authority figure.
That is the last of the introductory matters I wish to include here, and it leads directly into two excerpts from Miller that I included in earlier essays. These passages provide the broad outlines of the general issue that concerns me. In future installments of this series, I will examine these ideas and their implications in much closer detail.

First, with regard to the foundational role of obedience, from the same earlier article:
In Part II of this essay, I excerpted several passages from Alice Miller's work. To focus this discussion on the issue I now wish to address, let me summarize my understanding of Miller's central argument. By demanding obedience above all from a child (whether by physical punishment, by psychological means, or through some combination of both), parents forbid the child from fostering an authentic sense of self. Because children are completely dependent on their parents, they dare not question their parents' goodness, or their "good intentions." As a result, when children are punished, even if they are punished for no reason or for a reason that makes no sense, they blame themselves and believe that the fault lies within them. In this way, the idealization of the authority figure is allowed to continue. In addition, the child cannot allow himself to experience fully his own pain, because that, too, might lead to questioning of his parents.

In this manner, the child is prevented from developing a genuine, authentic sense of self. As he grows older, this deadening of his soul desensitizes the child to the pain of others. Eventually, the maturing adult will seek to express his repressed anger on external targets, since he has never been allowed to experience and express it in ways that would not be destructive. By such means, the cycle of violence is continued into another generation (using "violence" in the broadest sense). One of the additional consequences is that the adult, who has never developed an authentic self, can easily transfer his idealization of his parents to a new authority figure. As Miller says:
This perfect adaptation to society's norms--in other words, to what is called "healthy normality"--carries with it the danger that such a person can be used for practically any purpose. It is not a loss of autonomy that occurs here, because this autonomy never existed, but a switching of values, which in themselves are of no importance anyway for the person in question as long as his whole value system is dominated by the principle of obedience. He has never gone beyond the stage of idealizing his parents with their demands for unquestioning obedience; this idealization can easily be transferred to a Fuhrer or to an ideology.
In "The Roots of the Politics of Power," I offered this excerpt -- from Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society's Betrayal of the Child -- which broadly traces the interconnections between the personal mechanism of obedience and the political sphere (by "poisonous pedagogy," Miller means, "the kind of parenting and education aimed at breaking a child's will and making that child into an obedient subject by means of overt or covert coercion, manipulation, and emotional blackmail"):
There is a good deal else that would not exist without "poisonous pedagogy." It would be inconceivable, for example, for politicians mouthing empty cliches to attain the highest positions of power by democratic means. But since voters, who as children would normally have been capable of seeing through these cliches with the aid of their feelings, were specifically forbidden to do so in their early years, they lose this ability as adults. The capacity to experience the strong feelings of childhood and puberty (which are so often stifled by child-rearing methods, beatings, or even drugs) could provide the individual with an important means of orientation with which he or she could easily determine whether politicians are speaking from genuine experience or are merely parroting time-worn platitudes for the sake of manipulating voters. Our whole system of raising and educating children provides the power-hungry with a ready-made railway network they can use to reach the destination of their choice. They need only push the buttons that parents and educators have already installed.

Crippling ties to certain norms, terminology, and labels can also be clearly observed in the case of many thoroughly honorable people who become passionately engaged in political struggle. For them, political struggle is inseparably associated with party, organization, or ideology. Since the ominous threat child-rearing practices pose to peace and survival has always remained hidden, ideologies have not yet been able to perceive this situation or, if they do perceive it, to develop intellectual weapons against this knowledge. As far as I know, not a single ideology has "appropriated" the truth of the overriding importance of our early conditioning to be obedient and dependent and to suppress our feelings, along with the consequences of this conditioning. That is understandable, for it probably would mean the end of the ideology in question and the beginning of awareness. Accordingly, many ideologues who consider themselves politically active are like people who, if a fire breaks out, would open the windows to try to let out the billowing smoke (perhaps contenting themselves with abstract theories about the fire's origin) and blithely ignore the flames leaping up nearby.

My hypothesis that Adolf Hitler owed his great popularity to the cruel and inhuman principles of infant- and child-rearing prevalent in the Germany of his day [see the Hitler chapter in For Your Own Good] is also proved by the exception. I looked into the background of Sophie and Hans Scholl, two university students in Hitler's Germany who became famous as a result of their activities in the resistance movement, "The White Rose," and were both executed by the Nazis in 1944. I discovered that the tolerant and open atmosphere of their childhood had enabled them to see through Hitler's platitudes at the Nuremberg Rally, when the brother and sister were members of Nazi youth organizations. Nearly all their peers were completely won over by the Fuhrer, whereas Hans and Sophie had other, higher expectations of human nature, not shared by their comrades, against which they could measure Hitler.
In the concluding part of that essay, I compared the cultures of the United States today and Germany in the 1930s. I emphasized that the differences are important and notable -- and yet, certain of the underlying mechanisms involved, particularly the demand for obedience, are shockingly similar. The reactions to the Andrew Meyer incident from people of all political persuasions demonstrate that fact with terrible clarity.

I had not read the very end of that essay, written close to two years ago, for quite a while. I do not at all enjoy being accurate in predictions of this kind, and I admit that it gave me a chill to read my own words now:
Thus we have the "crippling ties" to "norms, terminology, and labels" -- and we have a populace that is unable to see the truth behind "politicians mouthing empty cliches." They were forbidden to see the truth as children, and the blindness expands when they are adults. The same blindness may well lead to worldwide conflagration once again, as it has in the recent past.

It should be emphasized that, while the most extreme and dangerous examples of these mechanisms are presently to be found in the United States among Bush's defenders, most of those who criticize Bush are only marginally better. They do not challenge Bush's program on the deeper level indicated by Miller, and most of the political debates we witness are conducted in only the most artificially circumscribed terms. Thus, even those who denounce Bush usually avoid the most significant and meaningful issues -- and in the end, they are helpless to prevent disaster from overtaking all of us.
Events of recent years have confirmed these observations too many times to count, just as they continue to confirm them today.

To be continued.

November 25, 2007

A Nation on the Edge of the Final Descent (III): Obey or Die

Part I: Glimpses of the Horrors to Come

Part II: A Culture of Lies, and a Desperate Need for Action

To reestablish one critical aspect of the cultural context relevant to this series, perhaps it will be most efficient to reprise a brief passage from Part II:
In the last several years, [the United States has] caused the deaths of a million or more innocent people. The United States has committed crimes on a scale that defy comprehension. This fact is almost never mentioned by our leading politicians and commentators. And now all our leading politicians lay the groundwork for another act of still worse, monstrous, criminal aggression -- but we discuss it as if it is our "right" to wreak destruction, suffering and death, in the name of "self-defense" and "civilization." Lies, on top of criminality, on top of genocide, both accomplished and planned. Lies and destruction without end, and facts and reality are banished altogether.

And yet we talk about none of this. If you do, you're a crazy troublemaker. No one should pay attention to you, and you will be shunned.

It was in this cultural setting that Andrew Meyer asked his questions.
In cultural terms, and with regard to the mythic conception of the United States that we refuse to surrender or even to question seriously, America is like the crazy uncle whom relatives unsuccessfully attempt to confine to the attic. Just for amusement's sake, let's call him Uncle Sam, shall we? Uncle Sam mumbles incessantly and often incoherently about how young and strong he is, while his body rots and decomposes. Sam endlessly insists that his way is the best way -- his way in everything, mind you. Sam yells that if only everyone would listen to him and do exactly as he says -- in everything, mind you -- the world would be a beautiful and peaceful place.

To realize this beautiful and peaceful dream, Uncle Sam periodically goes on notably bloody and vicious killing sprees. He's been at this a very long time. Although a few people try to keep him upstairs (very few these days; most have given up, driven away in large part by the stench of decaying flesh), Sam regularly breaks out, taking with him a substantial part of his weapons collection. Tragically, Uncle Sam has the largest such collection in the region. Sam travels to a town some miles away, a town inhabited by people he's never met and about whom he knows nothing, people who have never considered harming him. Yet Sam insists they aren't obeying him. This cannot be allowed to continue. So Uncle Sam slaughters a lot of them. He's found such means to be the quickest way of ensuring obedience in the future. When his blood lust is sated, Sam returns home -- until the next time.

America's self-induced trance of mythic self-conception leads not only to denial and lies on a massive scale, but also to the institutionalization of role reversal and projection. In the increasingly terrifying reality we inhabit, Sam cannot be confined to the attic, or anywhere else. Sam owns the house containing the attic, the entire town, most of the state, and most of all the surrounding states. Sam's weapons collection has never been matched, and he is determined to make it still larger and more deadly. Uncle Sam also controls all the major news outlets, through various kinds of pressure and also through the enthusiastic willingness of news reporters and commentators to tell Sam's story in terms most favorable to him. So Sam isn't crazy at all, although he might make "mistakes" or commit "blunders" occasionally -- but if you dare to question his sanity or his tactics, you are. Your particular kind of craziness might upset others. This, too, cannot be allowed. One way or another, all such questioners must be silenced.

Thus we come to the primary virtue in a culture of this kind: obedience. And thus we come to the only fundamental alternative allowed to those who live in such a culture: obey or die.

I phrase the alternative in these stark terms for two primary reasons. First, it is true; second, to name the truth in the bleakest terms while being fully accurate, is the only possible means of breaking through the forbidding wall of resistance most people have erected. More and more, I am very doubtful that even this will penetrate the refusal to recognize the truth.

In Part I, I noted that most commentary about the tasering of Andrew Meyer studiously avoided any discussion of what a taser is and what it does. From Part I, and from an article from 2005 -- since such information has been available for some time -- I remind you of the relevant facts:
Feb. 17, 2005 – The death of a 54-year-old and the hospitalization of a 14-year-old after police stunned them with a controversial weapon last week in Chicago are the latest in a growing number of debatable uses of the potentially deadly Tasers, which is sparking community outrage across the country. The teenager went into cardiac arrest last Monday after police shocked him with the 50,000-volt weapon, and although he survived, another man died after police shocked him on Thursday.


Since June 2001, more than 70 people have died in police custody in the US and Canada after being struck with Tasers, with the number of reported cases rising each year, according to a November 2004 report by Amnesty International, a worldwide human rights organization. In five of these cases, an autopsy found that the Taser shock was a main cause of death. In several others, coroners' reports identified the Taser as a likely contributing factor.


The guns typically work by firing a pair of pronged darts that latch onto clothing or skin and send a 50,000 volt shock into the body in five-second bursts, which overrides the subject's central nervous system, causing uncontrollable contraction of the muscle tissue and instant collapse. The darts are attached to wires, which can reach up to 21 feet. People who have been "tased" report extreme, debilitating pain.
But the true evil of the manner in which tasers are now typically used is provided in the earlier summary I offered:
In brief: tasers can kill people, or cause very serious injury; tasers are "commonly gain compliance" -- from people who are usually unarmed and who pose no serious threat whatsoever; and tasers are frequently used on suspects who have already been subdued and immobilized.
Two recent incidents prove the point.

Obey or die, Exhibit One -- Robert Dziekanski: This story is a perfect, almost fictionally perfect, example of how the state kills. The state's total incompetence drove Dziekanski to distraction, to desperation, and to immense anger. Once he had become sufficiently disoriented and angry, the state had only one recourse: kill him. And that is precisely what the state did:
Mr. Dziekanski, a 40-year-old construction worker, arrived in Vancouver on Oct. 14 to begin a new life with his mother. After a 10-hour delay caused by immigration processing, Mr. Dziekanski became upset when he could not find his mother, Zofia Cisowski, who waited several hours before returning to her home in Kamloops, British Columbia, under the mistaken impression that her son had not arrived in Canada.

Unable to speak English, Mr. Dziekanski became distressed and began shouting in Polish, moving furniture around, shoving a computer off a desk in an arrival area and, at one point, throwing a chair. His actions soon attracted the attention of other passengers and security officials.

The recording shows that when airport security officials first appeared, passengers could be heard shouting to them that Mr. Dziekanski did not understand English.

Moments later, four members of the Mounties arrive in the waiting area wearing bulletproof vests. Mr. Dziekanski repeatedly shouted either the Polish word for "help" or "police," which sound similar, before walking away with his arms raised in the air. There was a brief conversation followed by a loud sound, apparently a Taser shot, and Mr. Dziekanski fell to the ground screaming in pain.

The recording captured what appeared to be a second Taser shot as three officers piled onto Mr. Dziekanski to subdue him. One minute and eight seconds after the police arrived, Mr. Dziekanski appeared to have stopped moving, and the recording ended shortly afterward.
Other accounts provide further details that amplify the horror: for example, Dziekanski had never flown before. So he undertook what was a unique, and perhaps frightening, experience -- and then he was confined to a secure area in the airport for ten hours because of a bureaucracy unable to deal with the simplest of tasks, and unable to provide an interpreter or offer assistance of any kind. One account noted that Dziekanski and his mother were within several hundred feet of each other for some period of time, separated only by a wall. Finally the authorities told his mother that he had not arrived, so she went home. Not too long after that, her son was dead.

If you can bear to watch it, here is a video of Dziekanski's final moments of life. Please note that, when the Mounties arrived and while they were there, Dziekanski was no threat to anyone (not that he had been that serious a threat before). He had nothing in his hands, and he had no means of seriously harming anyone. He was in a secure area of the airport. Like Andrew Meyer, he was significantly outnumbered. If the authorities believed he had to be "subdued," they had any number of other means of achieving that end -- means that would not have been fatal. But for the state, such calculations are irrelevant. Dziekanski was too much trouble; easier to eliminate him. The fact that he had become "too much trouble" as the direct result of the state's own criminal incompetence is forgotten.

Here's a bonus exhibit for you.

Obey or die, Exhibit Two -- Jared Massey: The story:
A man was tased and arrested on a Utah highway after being stopped by an officer and refusing to sign a speeding ticket because he did not understand what offence he had committed or why he had been pulled over.

The encounter, captured on the police car camera on September 14th and released this week, is the latest in a long string of incidents involving the unacceptable use of Tasers by officers on citizens whom the evidence reveals are in no way threatening, acting unlawfully or resisting co-operation.

The video shows the Utah Highway Patrolman pull over Jared Massey and his pregnant wife who also had their baby with them in the car and ask for Mr Massey's license.

Mr Massey tells the officer he does not understand why he has been stopped or what he is being charged with, at which point the officer orders Massey to get out of the car. The officer then puts down his clipboard and immediately takes out his Taser and points it at Mr Massey without any provocation whatsoever, yelling "Turn around and put your hands behind your back" as Massey attempts to point out the speed limit sign and engage the officer in conversation.

A shocked Massey asks "what the hell is wrong with you?" and backs away, turning around as the officer had demanded, at which point the officer unleashes 50,000 volts from the Taser into Massey's body, sending him screaming to the ground instantly and causing his wife to jump out of the car and yell hysterically for help.

Lying face down on the ground a shell shocked, Mr Massey says "officer I don't know what you are doing, I don't know why you are doing what you are doing" to which the officer replies "I am placing you under arrest because you did not obey my instruction."

Mr Massey then once again asks the officer several times why he was stopped and what he is being charged with. He then asks for his rights to be read and points out that the officer cannot arrest him without doing this. Instead of reading Massey his rights the officer then addresses another patrolman who arrives on the scene sardonically commenting "Ohhh he took a ride with the Taser" to which the other officer answers "painful isn't it".

The icing on the cake comes at the end of the video when the officer LIES to his own colleague about the encounter, clearly stating that he verbally warned Massey he was going to tase him, as is the law, when there was no warning whatsoever.
The story goes on to state:
In the last year over 300 people have died in admitted cases in the US alone from being tased. In the last week alone we have posted three separate stories of Taser deaths. Every week we post stories of incidents, which often feature old women, children and disabled people as the victims. The weapons are even being used in schools.

The police are now trained that "pain compliance," a euphemism for torture, is acceptable in apprehending anyone even if that person poses no physical danger. If you electrify any person, they suffer extreme pain and stand a high chance of being killed.
Even though these particular incidents occurred after the Andrew Meyer tasering, the general facts have been well-known for several years. Remember: "In the last year over 300 people have died in admitted cases in the US alone from being tased." We will never know what the actual number is.

You might think that writers and radio hosts would be familiar with the basic facts: that tasers can kill and often do; that tasers are frequently used in the absence of any physical danger presented by the person approached by the police; that tasers are used to gain compliance, and often for no other reason at all.

Obey or die. That is your alternative. Andrew Meyer did not die -- but he could have. Watch the video again. Keep in mind the critical facts. The campus police had approached Meyer when he pushed to the head of the line and when he insisted on asking his questions -- questions, I repeat, that no one else was going to ask, especially the second one about Iran. But once Kerry indicated that he wanted to hear the questions and Meyer stepped up to the microphone, the table was reset, if you will. At that point and for the duration of this incident, Meyer posed no threat to anyone (not that he did before, which he did not), and his conduct did not constitute even a serious disruption. If it was a disruption, it was one Kerry was willing to countenance. (I will have some comments about Kerry's despicable subsequent conduct in the next installment.)

In the midst of his third question, Meyer's microphone was cut. Still, Kerry wanted to answer the questions, and he started to do so. Meyer said, more than once, that he wanted to hear Kerry's answers. If the police had done nothing, it is highly likely that the entire business would have concluded without further incident of any kind. But the police descended on Meyer -- and then they tased him, also more than once. Remembering the facts set forth above -- facts which were easily ascertainable by anyone who wished to be basically informed on this subject, surely not a prohibitive requirement for public commentators and radio hosts -- the campus police could have killed him.

In the comments made in the immediate wake of this incident and documented below, no one that I heard -- with one exception -- mentioned what tasers are and what they can do. No one mentioned that they kill people. With regard to the comments from various radio shows, I do not claim that these are exact transcripts of what was said. But when I realized the significance of what I was hearing -- which was almost immediately upon hearing the first commentaries -- I began taking notes. So while these are not exact quotes, they are very close to exact for the most part. In certain instances, they are exact, and I have indicated that by using quotation marks.

Commentary One, on a radio talk show (delivered on the day of the incident or the next day; my notes are unclear on the exact date): For the most part, the commentary was joking in tone. There was no recognition at all of the possibly lethal effect of tasers, and no mention that tasers kill people. The producer, who functions as a co-host, said at one point: "If I saw someone being tasered, I would assume they'd done something wrong." She went on to say: "If everyone who was an ass got tasered, no one would be an ass anymore." Both the primary host and the producer said several times that Meyer "was asking for it." The host distinguished the behavior of Code Pink members from what Meyer did. He said that when Code Pink members are asked to leave, they leave. But, he went on, if they refused to leave and "resisted," then "maybe a taser would be appropriate."

Commentary Two, on another radio talk show (also in the immediate wake of the incident): "Tase him hard, and tase him often."

Commentary Three, from a newspaper column:
[T]he kid was loud, obnoxious, rude, disrespectful - and asking ridiculous questions. I think I even heard him mention President Clinton's blow-job. In fact, he did. [Yes, he did -- but the context in which he did is of crucial importance.] When one officer approached him during his first question, he rudely snapped "He's been talking for two hours, I think I have two minutes." Well, you don't walk into an event and start telling authority figures what YOUR [sic] going to do.

Then he rudely says: I'm gonna inform people and then I'm going to ask my question!" That's a sweet gesture, but there's a time limit and he knew that!


They TRIED to remove him peacefully, but instead he DEMANDED the officers put him down because he's "not gonna do anything". Ok, killers say that. Please, people...SPARE ME!

It's not like the taser even hurt THAT bad. Is it 50,000 volts of electricity? Yes - but he acted like he was shot in the eye several times while being ripped limb-from-limb... "OWWW!!! OWWW! HELP!!" C'mon, you actually bought that act? I'm sure it hurt - but the pain does not compare to many other MORE PAINFUL things.


This is not a Free Speech issue.. This dolt could have walked across the street, got a bullhorn and said whatever he wanted.

If you disagree, then try resisting an officer in any other instance, even a speeding ticket, and see what happens to you then!
On that last point, the story about Jared Massey above tells us what happens if you even question a police officer about a speeding ticket: you may be tortured, and even murdered. This writer thinks this is a wonderfully good idea.

Commentary Four, another radio talk show: As in the first example, the tasering of Andrew Meyer was the subject of much merriment. Again, there was no mention of what a taser is or what it does, or that tasers kill people. The host said that Meyer "was deliberately provocative." He was "asking for it." "He's obviously a rabble rouser." And he "should have done what the police told him to do," no questions asked.

Commentary Five, one widely read blogger's view:
[H]e cut in line, kept asking question after question, resisted police when they tried to shoo him out (and yes, I do think it was appropriate for security to move him on since his mike had been cut off), kept resisting and making a ridiculous scene, kept fighting after they decided to arrest him, kept on struggling even after they pulled out the taser, and then finally got tased.

Good for the campus police because Meyer deserved what he got.
If you were reading blogs and newspapers in the days following the Andrew Meyer incident, you saw comments like these numerous times. Exceptions to these views were extraordinarily rare.

Note the common themes: the authorities are almost always right and they must always be obeyed, even on those supposedly infrequent occasions when they are not. Being rude and disruptive and not "following the rules" is impermissible, and is even criminal -- and it is a crime that deserves swift and harsh punishment. Above all, there is one central, axiomatic, unquestionable virtue that we are all to embody at all times: obedience.

But for reasons I have discussed, in a culture like ours today and at a time of great historic peril such as the present, to "Break the Goddamned Rules" is our only hope. Yet very few people agree with this view; certainly none of the commentators described above does.

Perhaps you should take a deep breath. Here are the sources of these views, in the order they appear above:

Commentary One: This radio show, a nominally "progressive" one presented on a "progressive" radio station.

Commentary Two: This radio show, a proudly, viciously ignorant conservative one.

Commentary Three: This newspaper column, which I included because it presents the "he asked for it" line of thought in an especially crude manner. The unquestioning worship of authority is also notable -- but I emphasize that it is no different in principle from identical views offered by the other commentators, even the "progressive" ones.

Commentary Four: Another radio show, and another self-identified "progressive" one, on the same "progressive" station. (Stephanie Miller seriously compounded her own intellectual crimes and irresponsibility when, after Meyer's "apologies" were extorted by threat of prosecution and the destruction of his life, Miller used Meyer's statements to confirm her earlier, ignorant views. She said, in effect, that Meyer "admitted" he was a rude, disruptive ass who got what he deserved -- which was, she unapologetically announced, all she had said in the first place.)

Commentary Five: From a self-identified "rightwing" blog: "Andrew Meyer Deserved to be Tasered."

To state what is painfully, terrifyingly obvious: as a culture, we are in very serious, profound trouble. These messages are conveyed to all of us many times a day -- just as they were conveyed in the strongest terms to the peacefully protesting high school students in Illinois.

Next time, we will consider some of the sources of this terrifying trouble, how and why it manifests itself in the particular forms it does -- and the ultimate results to which it may lead. (A preview of certain of these issues will be found in "When Awareness Is a Crime," particularly in my discussion of Lesson Five.)

As I wrote at the conclusion of, "Careful the Things You Do":
The wish for unquestioning, unresisting obedience is coming true in America, more and more each day.

May God help us all.
AND Part IV: A Country Ready to Follow Orders -- Even into Hell

November 22, 2007

Racist Nation

There is much consternation and highly dramatic, distressed handwringing in Blogoland over William Saletan's sickeningly awful screeds on exactly why and how those blacks are, you know, stupid. But aw, shucks, sez Saletan, it's not as if it's their fault! They can't help it! It's in their genes.

Why are people surprised by these entirely predictable, regular revelations of overt racism of the most primitive kind? You have no right to be, none at all. My statement assumes people have a basic grasp of actual American history and culture, as opposed to the myths from which they seek comfort, and with which they try to convince themselves and everyone else that "the American model of society is destined to dominate the world, by one means or another, since it is held to be the culmination of human development."

Of course, such an assumption regarding education and knowledge is entirely unwarranted on my part. As I discussed several days ago, the distance between the fables Americans recount around our cultural campfire and reality must be measured in light years. By and large, contemporary Americans -- including every leading member of our political class and most of the media -- are hugely ignorant and deeply immoral.

Vicious, murderous racism, racism repeatedly enacted on a culture- and civilization-destroying scale, lies at the center of American history. We are, in a fundamental sense, a racist nation. Consider an essay of mine from the beginning of this year, which dealt with Biden's nauseating comments about Barack Obama. In "The Racism We Refuse to See," I wrote, in terms that are fully applicable to this latest set-to:
It is rather astonishing that people are taken aback in this manner: vicious racists are hardly unknown in our political life, and they are numerous in both political parties. Moreover, with the ascension of people like Michelle Malkin and Charles Murray into our national discourse, naked racism has become a staple of our debates. Malkin justifies racism in the name of "national security," while Murray seeks to "explain" it with "science" -- but it is all racism.

We are troubled by a still deeper conflict, between our preferred vision of ourselves and the facts of our history. We see ourselves as citizens of the greatest and most civilized nation in all of history. Our nation is also the most moral country in history, and we as individuals are exemplars of personal virtue. The United States represents Absolute Good, or as close to it as humanity will come. (I've discussed this mythology in a number of essays. See, for example, "The National Myth that Sustains Us -- and Its Inevitable Racism," "A 'Redeemer Nation,' with Some Explaining to Do," and "Myths of New Orleans.")

People who are Good cannot be racists. Obviously, many of us are. What to do.

This sanitized version of our history ignores or unforgivably minimizes the genocide of Native Americans, the slaughter and enslavement of African-Americans, a century following the Civil War of government-enforced segregation, discrimination against Jews, the Irish, Italians, Germans, and Hispanic immigrants today -- yet all of this is set aside so the myth can continue.

It also ignores another manifestation of the racism that inevitably proceeds from our mythologized self-assessment: the racism that has permeated our foreign policy for over a hundred years.
The earlier essay has much more on all this.

With regard to the bipartisan drive to American world hegemony, a program fully shared by both Democrats and Republicans, consider once again Hillary Clinton's vilely inhumane "explanation" of the monstrous catastrophe of Iraq:
Our troops did the job they were asked to do. They got rid of Saddam Hussein. They conducted the search for weapons of mass destruction. They gave the Iraqi people a chance for elections and to have a government. It is the Iraqis who have failed to take advantage of that opportunity.
That earlier piece, "Some Races Are Just Not as Good as Others," compared Clinton's comments to those offered by Senator Beveridge over a century ago. The dynamics and beliefs underlying the two sets of remarks are identical in every important way. With regard to certain basic moral principles, we have not progressed at all.

Or consider the racism revealed by the controversy over immigration some months ago, and which I analyzed in detail in "The Triumph of Racism" -- and see also a critically relevant followup essay, "Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor -- But Not Too Many Jews, and Not Too Many Iraqis", which reviews some especially terrible episodes of anti-immigrant hatred from our past, and in the present.

In the earlier articles, I included statements that starkly reveal the most repellent racism from a substantial cast of characters, spanning more than a hundred years: Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Albert Beveridge, as already mentioned, and also from John Kerry, Theodore Roosevelt, self-proclaimed "liberals" like Eric Alterman, and others. In this context, the outrage directed at Saletan is notable only for its high degree of selectivity. I have yet to see more than one or two liberal or progressive bloggers approach anywhere near an equal degree of moral concern and condemnation when similarly vile racist views emanate from the likes of Clinton or Kerry. Most liberal bloggers ignore such statements entirely.

Why, it's almost enough to make you think that many liberals have no compunctions whatsoever about evasion and lying when it suits their particular political purposes, just as is true of the loathsome Republicans. Surely, it can't be that.

So on this Thanksgiving, I offer the following thought: if you are white, male, straight and comparatively affluent, you indeed have much to be thankful for. If you are not, eh. Not so much. This is not to say that virulent racism (and/or sexism and/or sexual identity discrimination and/or classism) is the entire story of America. Obviously, it is not. But a viciously ignorant and destructive racism is a foundational element of our history, and its life is far from spent today. Its lethal effects can be seen in every area of our nation's pursuits and activities. It distorts, cripples and sometimes destroys individual lives beyond number.

Racism is, very simply, evil on a monumental scale. Condemn it wherever and whenever it reveals itself, not just on those occasions when it suits a specific political agenda. And it is perhaps most crucial to condemn it precisely when it is most "inconvenient": when racism motivates people on your "side" and informs certain of their views.

Enough with the selective condemnation, and more than enough with the self-imposed censorship about evil advanced by members of one's own tribe, political or otherwise. On some days, and this is one of them, relocating elsewhere on the planet becomes more and more attractive to me.

November 20, 2007


Just the other day, I examined some of the roots and implications of the glorification of the Anglo-American tradition. In the past, I've referred most often to the American part of this super-combo as constituting an "Empire of Clowns."

But wait! Make the Anglo side a full and equal partner:
Nov. 20 (Bloomberg) -- The head of the U.K. tax service resigned today after officials in his department lost the records of more than 25 million Britons, almost half the population.

Two password-protected discs containing data on 7.2 million families claiming child benefit payments went missing in the internal mail when they were sent from the Revenue and Customs department to the National Audit Office, Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling said in an emergency statement to Parliament. Households will be protected under the banking code in the event of fraud, he said.

"I regard this as an extremely serious failure," Darling told lawmakers. "I deeply regret this and apologize for the anxiety that will undoubtedly be caused."


The discs, containing the names, addresses and bank and national insurance details of almost every household with children under 16 in the U.K., went missing after they were sent from Revenue and Customs at the request of the National Audit Office, Darling said.

The incident amounts to a breach of strict security procedures, although police say there is no evidence the information has fallen into criminal hands, Darling said.


Junior revenue department officials twice sent data to the government auditor without following guidelines on how the information should be sent, Darling said. On the second occasion, in October, the data failed to reach its destination. The discs were sent via the in-house post system operated by TNT NV.


"It is staggering that an organization responsible for the data of millions of child benefit claimants is still copying data onto CDs and not ensuring its full protection through encryption techniques," Brian Spector, general manager for content protection at Workshare, a document security company, said in an e-mail.


Today's disclosure by the government follows other security breaches at the department. In September, records for about 15,000 people were lost by the department's courier service and, in the same month, a laptop with records was also lost.
So both England and America are under the power of increasingly authoritarian-dictatorial governments and of hugely intrusive surveillance states -- all run by tenth-rate versions of the Marx Brothers.

Without, you know, being remotely funny. Yet they still manage to murder a whole hell of a lot of people.

This is your future. Supply your own laugh track.

AND: A further discussion of a central aspect of Anglo-American culture -- ignorant and viciously homicidal racism -- from Chris Floyd.

More and Better Stupid Shit in 2008!

Americans love love LOVE stupid shit. Thinking about this undeniable fact, I've realized that we dissenting writers -- all 12 of us -- have made a HUGE, unbelievably dumb mistake. That's because we really really BELIEVE in STUPID SHIT.

Look at I mean, LOOK AT IT. Here you have a site that is totally, absolutely for PEACE. Is that stupid shit or what? collects news links to stories covering the globe, stories you won't find conveniently offered like that anywhere else. It presents original, first-rate commentary every single day. EVERY DAY.


So they have to beg for money. That's because they think they have to pretend they're offering something that ISN'T stupid shit. This is, how do you say, dumb. Wise up,! Say you want money for stupid shit. Then you'll be rich rich RICH, just like Britney Spears.


Tell everyone you know. Send them money yourself. Tell everyone else to send them money for all that stupid shit.

You watch. They'll be rolling in dough by the end of Thanksgiving weekend.

P.S. I know you have lots of change stuffed under your sofa cushions, under your mattress, in your freezer, wherever. So after you send most of it to, if you have a little left, I could use some of it myself for, you know, December rent, and food, and other STUPID SHIT. I write TONS of stupid shit. I know this, because almost no one reads it. Like these essays. "On Torture." Stupid shit, right? Someone, don't remember which site now, linked to that about six months ago, sending around 4,000 visitors to that summary post over three or four days. I watched to see how many people followed the links to read even ONE of the individual essays. Know how many? About TEN people. Out of 4,000. That's because it's STUPID SHIT.

So are all the essays in this series. Or the one from just the other day. Almost no one reads any of it. Because it's STUPID SHIT. I act like it's all carefully reasoned and presented, based in history and political theory, and blahblahfuckityfuckblah. Hell, it's not ANY of that. It's STUPID SHIT. Yayyyyy!!!!!!

I write stupid shit better than anyone! (Well, except I should be rich, too! I love love LOVE dealing with rotting teeth, and wondering whether it's worth it or not. It's NOT, you know. But I do it anyway, because I believe in STUPID SHIT.


When peace breaks out all over the world and when liberty is restored (hah!), we'll all have stupid shit for ourselves! A few of us are way ahead on this. That's because we're for real American values! We're for REAL, GENUINE stupid shit!

Spread the word. Send money. My commitment to stupid shit is absolute and non-negotiable. I can't speak for, but they seem to do pretty well for themselves on that score.

Okay. I'm done for the moment. Remember: more and better stupid shit in 2008! Learn it. Live it. Do it, NOW.

P.P.S. Oh, you still have some money left over? Send it to Chris Floyd. He writes absolutely first-rate STUPID SHIT. He should be fabulously wealthy. Send him money!

You can never, EVER have too much stupid shit.

November 18, 2007

"Regrettable Misjudgments": The Shocking Immorality of Our Constricted Thought

Dorothy Parker famously remarked about a Broadway performance very early in Katharine Hepburn's career: "She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B." Several decades later, Hepburn acknowledged that her work in 1933's The Lake was far from her finest -- although even at that distance, Hepburn appeared to find nothing humorous about Parker's observation. In any event, that setback, along with a few others, didn't slow Hepburn down for long.

I thought of Parker's typically witty and cutting quip in connection with our national discourse. I always feel a reluctant tremor of trepidation when I am about to launch that phrase: "national discourse." It grants our national debate far too much stature. It makes it appear that our public discussion deals with facts and recognizes crucial moral principles when, in fact, this is almost never true with regard to our national conversation. As a nation, we are resolute in our refusal to identify the true nature of our actions, and in our refusal to acknowledge the consequences of what we do. This may well be true of most nations throughout history. Yet there is a direct correlation between a nation's power and influence, and its reliance on myth and other public relations ploys. As the world's sole superpower, the United States via its ruling class saturates its subjects at home and abroad with propaganda on a scale and with an intensity that have rarely been surpassed. As is true of all propaganda, permissible viewpoints are confined within suffocatingly constricted boundaries of thought; variation of any moment from the prescribed guidelines is prohibited.

Chris Floyd recently wrote about an important article by Michael Massing; your time would be very well spent considering Floyd's commentary, together with the Massing piece.

Massing's concern is our unforgivable national ignorance about the brute reality of our foreign policy. Consider how far into fantasy we have traveled, consider the scope of our determination to banish facts from our awareness. It should not be controversial or noteworthy in the least to observe that conquest of foreign peoples by force of arms necessarily involves bloodletting, dismemberment and mutilation, that subjugation shatters the mind and the body, not just of the subjugated, but of those who would rule in this manner. History tells this tale repeatedly. Indeed, when our leaders wish to condemn other nations which utilize identical practices, they will examine these evils in endless detail. Our leaders will explain to us with enthusiastic commitment that such practices are deeply immoral and can only lead to disaster. But suddenly, when the United States sets out to conquer entire regions of the world, all these evils are not only transformed into a force for good: the evils miraculously cease to exist. The United States is good -- it is "the culmination of human development" -- and all its works are good. In "respectable" conversation in "respectable" places, you may not say otherwise.

Massing points out that such self-deception is significantly more unforgivable now than in certain past eras, and maintenance of this self-willed ignorance requires fully dedicated narrowmindedness, because accurate information is available from a number of sources. But, Massing notes, Americans dependably and with complete reliability, in the manner of conscientious students at a school devoted solely to instilling ignorance and cruelty, never avail themselves of the truth -- because they do not want to know it. Floyd highlights the following passage from Massing, where Massing contrasts the horrifying reality known to Iraq veterans with the morally slothful complacency into which most Americans will themselves:
How can such a critical feature of the U.S. occupation remain so hidden from view? Because most Americans don't want to know about it. The books by Iraqi vets are filled with expressions of disbelief and rage at the lack of interest ordinary Americans show for what they've had to endure on the battlefield. In "Operation Homecoming," one returning Marine, who takes to drinking heavily in an effort to cope with the crushing guilt and revulsion he feels over how many people he's seen killed, fumes about how "you can't talk to them [ordinary Americans] about the horror of a dead child's lifeless mutilated body staring back at you from the void, knowing you took part in that end." Writing of her return home, Kayla Williams notes that the things most people seemed interested in were "beyond my comprehension. Who cared about Jennifer Lopez? How was it that I was watching CNN one morning and there was a story about freaking ducklings being fished out of a damn sewer drain -- while the story of soldiers getting killed in Iraq got relegated to this little banner across the bottom of the screen?" In "Generation Kill," by the journalist Evan Wright, a Marine corporal confides his anguish and anger over all the killings he has seen: "I think it's bullshit how these fucking civilians are dying! They're worse off than the guys that are shooting at us. They don't even have a chance. Do you think people at home are going to see this -- all these women and children we're killing? Fuck no. Back home they're glorifying this motherfucker, I guarantee you."
Floyd follows this with these observations of his own:
Yes. Back home they're glorifying the war, or else, at most, tut-tutting over how "incompetently" it has been managed -- or, as Hillary Clinton likes to do, berating the Iraqis for not taking advantage of the wonderful opportunity we've given them by invading their country, killing their families, destroying their society, robbing them blind and empowering violent sectarians to rule over them. This is the full range of acceptable, "serious" discourse on Iraq: it's either a noble crusade marching steadily toward victory or a noble if mismanaged crusade on behalf of a bunch of ingrates who don't deserve our benevolence.
As I have noted myself in many essays, that is indeed the "the full range of acceptable, 'serious' discourse on Iraq." This should be profoundly shocking; that it is not to most people, reveals the depth and resulting moral and intellectual corruption of our system of national self-delusion.

I also must remind you that Americans' willed ignorance on the subject of war is nothing new. This kind of ignorance was in full force during even the last "good" war, World War II, as I discussed at length in, "Let Us All Become Cowards." From that earlier essay, Paul Fussell on the critical issue (from his book, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War):
What was it about the war that moved the troops to constant verbal subversion and contempt? It was not just the danger and fear, the boredom and uncertainty and loneliness and deprivation. It was rather the conviction that optimistic publicity and euphemism had rendered their experience so falsely that it would never be readily communicable. They knew that in its representation to the laity what was happening to them was systematically sanitized and Norman Rockwellized, not to mention Disneyfied.


The Great War brought forth the stark, depressing Journey's End; the Second, as John Ellis notes, the tuneful South Pacific. The real war was tragic and ironic, beyond the power of any literary or philosophic analysis to suggest, but in unbombed America especially, the meaning of the war seemed inaccessible. As experience, thus, the suffering was wasted. The same tricks of publicity and advertising might have succeeded in sweetening the actualities of Vietnam if television and a vigorous uncensored moral journalism hadn't been brought to bear. America has not yet understood what the Second World War was like and has thus been unable to use such understanding to re-interpret and re-define the national reality to arrive at something like public maturity.
And here is a reminder of two soldiers' recollections of the soul- and body-shattering reality of war:
But for Sledge [a U.S. Marine] the worst of all was a week-long stay in rain-soaked foxholes on a muddy ridge facing the Japanese, a site strewn with decomposing corpses turning various colors, nauseating with the stench of death, "an environment so degrading I believed we had been flung into hell's own cesspool." Because there were no latrines and because there was no moving in daylight, the men relieved themselves in their holes and flung the excrement out into the already foul mud. It was a latter-day Verdun, the Marine occupation of that ridge, where the artillery shellings uncovered scores of half-buried Marine and Japanese bodies, making the position "a stinking compost pile":
If a Marine slipped and slid down the back slope of the muddy ridge, he was apt to reach the bottom vomiting. I saw more than one man lose his footing and slip and slide all the way to the bottom only to stand up horror-stricken as he watched in disbelief while fat maggots tumbled out of his muddy dungaree pockets, cartridge belt, legging lacings, and the like....

We didn't talk about such things. They were too horrible and obscene even for hardened veterans.... It is too preposterous to think that men could actually live and fight for days and nights on end under such terrible conditions and not be driven insane.... To me the war was insanity.
And from the other side of the world the young British officer Neil McCallum issues a similar implicit warning against the self-delusive attempt to confer high moral meaning on these grievous struggles for survival. Far from rationalizing their actions as elements of a crusade, McCallum and his men, he says, "have ceased largely to think or believe at all":
Annihilation of the spirit. The game does not appear to be worth the candle. What is seen through the explosions is that this, no less than any other war, is not a moral war. Greek against Greek, against Persian, Roman against the world, cowboys against Indians, Catholics against Protestants, black men against white -- this is merely the current phase of an historical story. It is war, and to believe it is anything but a lot of people killing each other is to pretend it is something else, and to misread man's instinct to commit murder.
Following these excerpts, I wrote, as Massing writes:
Accounts of this kind are unknown to the American public. Most Americans are unaware of any and all such details; most Americans do not want to know them and will stop you, should you try to tell them. To the extent our political leaders are cognizant of such facts, they do everything in their power to prevent them from reaching the public. After all, our governing class might undertake the next campaign of slaughter any day now; if Americans knew what that slaughter actually entailed, they might not go along with the smug complacence they have exhibited on all such previous occasions. In an identical manner, if the ignorance of the American public were penetrated to any significant degree, they might demand an immediate end to the pointless murder in Iraq. But our governing class must maintain its prerogatives; as Higgs notes, it would not do to let the inmates run the asylum.

So the myths prevail. Our wars are always noble, fought for the purest of motives. Our warriors are similarly noble, engaged in a high-minded crusade. They butcher and slaughter, and are butchered and slaughtered themselves, so that "civilization" might be preserved. Never mind that many of the warriors themselves would not agree. Never mind that the front-line soldiers know that war is insanity, and only insanity. Never mind the overwhelming, senseless, futile, endless horror of what actually happens in combat, and the details that never reach the public.
This particular form of denial is inherent in America's view of itself, and it is repeated throughout our history. To understand why this denial is so fundamental to the American experience, it is necessary to remember the key elements of our national self-conception. At the beginning of one of the essays in my "Dominion Over the World" series, I wrote:
In Part VI of this series, I briefly discussed the religious beliefs that significantly informed Woodrow Wilson's calamitous and entirely unnecessary decision to drag the United States into World War I .... From the time of the earliest European settlements, America had always had a strongly religious conception of itself, and of its role in the world. With Wilson and World War I, the religious element became firmly grafted onto the ideology underlying our foreign policy, one which now intentionally cast us as the world's protector and ultimate savior. In that earlier essay, I quoted William Pfaff on this point:
During the first century and a half of the United States' history, the influence of the national myth of divine election and mission was generally harmless, a reassuring and inspiring untruth. During that period the country remained largely isolated from international affairs. The myth found expression in the idea of a "manifest destiny" of continental expansion— including annexation of Mexican land north of the Rio Grande—with no need to plead a divine commission. [I think Pfaff is wrong, at least to some extent, on this particular point. See the Hampton Sides' excerpts here.]

With Woodrow Wilson, this changed. The national myth became a philosophy of international action, and has remained so. In the great crisis of World War I the United States and Wilson personally had thrust upon them seemingly providential international roles; Wilson said that he believed he had been chosen by God to lead America in showing "the way to the nations of the world how they shall walk in the paths of liberty." The war's carnage and futility largely destroyed the existing European order and undermined confidence in European civilization.
I deeply respect William Pfaff and, as I have said before, I consider him to be one of the best five or six commentators and analysts writing at present. His knowledge and understanding are prodigious, and I have learned a great deal from reading his marvelous books. (Here are two in particular that I strongly recommend: Fear, Anger and Failure, and The Bullet's Song: Romantic Violence and Utopia, which is absolutely fascinating.)

But as I have continued to reflect on these issues, I realize that I must strongly disagree with Pfaff's assessment that "the influence of the national myth of divine election and mission was generally harmless" during the first period of this nation's history, when our actions were largely confined to the continental U.S. For it was precisely during that period when the complex mechanisms of national self-delusion and lethal mythmaking became firmly entrenched in America's conception of itself. Consider two of the most momentous aspects of those first years for America: the continuing genocide of the Native Americans, until finally almost all of them were slaughtered -- and the monstrous evil of slavery, the importation and brutal enslavement of millions of human beings, accompanied by an endless train of horrors that almost forbid contemplation.

Consider those two facts in all their horror -- and then ask yourself what would be required culturally and psychologically to maintain a belief in a "national myth of divine election and mission" in the face of them. I have formulated that so as to underscore the problem: you cannot recognize these facts and simultaneously maintain a belief in the notion that the United States is a divinely "chosen" nation, a nation superior to all others, a nation of spotless moral glory. The myth can be maintained only by denying the greatest part of the truth -- denying the full nature of the genocide systematically committed over a long period of time, and denying the full implications of the institution of slavery, which similarly lasted for several hundred years. As the United States consolidated its grip on the North American continent, it consolidated and made impregnable its view of itself: the United States conquered territory, displaced huge populations, murdered, enslaved and slaughtered for God, for "national greatness," for "Manifest Destiny," for "freedom."

I would further submit that Woodrow Wilson was only able to expand this national vision to the entire world with the ease he did because it was so firmly implanted in American culture by the beginning of the twentieth century. It is true that Wilson utilized a deeply dishonorable and shamefully dishonest propaganda campaign to convince Americans of the need to enter World War I -- but that campaign ultimately connected to a belief system widely shared by Americans. Most Americans believed then, as they believe now, that they are "special" in a way that no other peoples are, that God favors them as He favors no one else, that our "mission" is a sacred one. One would think that a people which views itself as religious would reject a program so lacking in humility as "saving the world," but this is only one of many contradictions to be found in such a belief system. When Americans, including our political leaders, talk of "saving the world," they mean it. Given the weapons at our disposal, it is a frightening and terrifying belief to hold. As I have remarked before, for our national leaders and the foreign policy establishment: "America is God. God's Will be done."

Many of these themes and ideas will be found in a review by the wonderful Johann Hari of the not-so-wonderful Walter Russell Mead's book, God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World. Mr. Mead is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Mead is a man of power and influence. Mr. Mead is important, and you should pay attention to what he says.

Mr. Mead "believes every age needs a 'liberal empire' to control the world’s seas and make free trade possible." Mr. Mead offers but a handful of guiding principles:
Build an open society at home. Channel its dynamism outward, toward the global economy. Use the full force of the state to control the oceans, protect commerce and defeat illiberal adversaries abroad. Open the global system to others, even your enemies, if they agree to abide by the rules. Then the world’s waters — and markets — will be yours.
Mr. Mead is undeterred by contradiction: Our great might shall force you, and everyone, to be free! Mr. Mead glories in unoriginality. If only Alfred Thayer Mahan (and many others) hadn't gotten there first. From Barbara Tuchman (excerpted in my "Dominion" series, in "A 'Splendid People' Set Out for Empire"):
In [1890] Captain A.T. Mahan, president of the Naval War College, announced in the Atlantic Monthly, "Whether they will or no, Americans must now begin to look outward."

A quiet, tight-lipped naval officer with one of the most forceful minds of his time, Alfred Thayer Mahan had selected himself to fill the country's need of "a voice to speak constantly of our external interests." Few Americans were aware that the United States had external interests and a large number believed she ought not to have them. The immediate issue was annexation of Hawaii. A naval coaling base at Pearl Harbor had been acquired in 1887, but the main impulse for annexation of the Islands came from American property interests there which were dominated by Judge Dole and the sugar trust. With the support of the United States Marines they engineered a revolt against the native Hawaiian government in January, 1893; Judge Dole became President Dole and promptly negotiated a treaty of annexation with the American Minister which President Harrison hurriedly sent to the Senate in February. Having been defeated for re-election by former President Cleveland, who was due to be inaugurated on March 4, Harrison asked for immediate action by the Senate in the hope of obtaining ratification before the new President could take office. The procedure was too raw and the Senate balked.


The motive of the annexationists had been economic self-interest. It took Mahan to transform the issue into one of national and fateful importance. In the same March that Cleveland recalled the treaty, Mahan published an article in the Forum entitled "Hawaii and Our Future Sea Power," in which he declared that command of the seas was the chief element in the power and prosperity of nations and it was therefore "imperative to take possession, when it can righteously be done, of such maritime positions as contribute to secure command." Hawaii "fixes the attention of the strategist"; it occupies a position of "unique importance ... powerfully influencing the commercial and military control of the Pacific." In another article published by the Atlantic Monthly in the same month, Mahan argued the imperative need, for the future of American sea power, of the proposed Isthmian Canal.


Theodore Roosevelt, who as the author at twenty-four of a book on The Naval War of 1812 had been invited to speak at the Naval War College, heard and became a disciple of Mahan. When [Mahan's] The Influence of Sea Power on History was published he read it "straight through" and wrote to Mahan that he was convinced it would become "a naval classic."


Roosevelt, still on the Civil Service Commission, was not yet widely heard, but his friend and political mentor, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, was the principal political voice in Washington of Mahan's views. ...

"It is sea power which is essential to every splendid people," Lodge declaimed in the Senate on March 2, 1895. He had a map of the Pacific set up with Britain's bases marked by very visible red crosses and he used a pointer as he talked to make Mahan's point about the vital position of Hawaii. The effect was dramatic and reinforced by the speaker being, as he wrote to his mother, "in desperate earnest." Hawaii must be acquired and the Canal built. "We are a great people; we control this continent; we are dominant in this hemisphere; we have too great an inheritance to be trifled with or parted with. It is ours to guard and extend."
In his review of Mead's book, Hari notes that Mead believes Britain and the U.S. to be uniquely suited to the role of empire builders because, among other factors, "Anglo-American culture became thoroughly Protestantized: we are all WASPs now." Hari then goes on to describe the myths, the lies, and the cover-ups that will be found at the heart of empire:
Mead presents these empires as essentially benevolent confections, offering a model of rule so seductive that "people choose freely to belong" to them. He says that by 1851, it looked as if "the Peaceable Kingdom had arrived; British power, progress, prosperity and liberty were ushering in the universal rule of peace." Really? Is that how it looked in, say, India? When Clive of India came to Bengal, he described it — in a way all visitors of the time did — as "extensive, populous and as rich as the city of London." It was a place of such "richness and abundance" that "neither war, pestilence nor oppression could destroy" it. But within a century of British occupation, the population of its largest city, Calcutta, fell from 150,000 to 30,000 as its industries were wrecked in the interests of the mother country. By the time the British left, Calcutta was one of the poorest places in the world. Is this really the baton the United States should pick up?

Mead does offer up a few comments on various imperial atrocities — but even here, his descriptions are strangely anodyne. He concedes that "the American Indians were not treated well," a rather sterile way to describe a genocide. Even when he does admit in passing that there were imperial "evils," he swiftly insists that anyone who calls them "coldly calculated, deliberate crimes," rather than "excesses, blunders or regrettable misjudgments by young soldiers in the heat of action," is a "WASPophobe" riven with irrational prejudice. This is strange. Most of the British imperial crimes he alludes to were not "blunders" by "young soldiers." They were deliberate crimes carefully planned and ordered from London and her proxies.

Then comes the most surprising omission. A book written today, calling for the United States to become a self-conscious empire, surely has to reckon with the hemorrhaging of American power in Iraq. Yet the reader waits — and waits. Iraq is first mentioned as a target for America’s critics. It takes Mead 362 pages before he notes that the war has brought "untold grief and pain to innocent victims." Iraq does not, it seems, have strategic implications worth discussing at any length. The United States should continue to attempt to rule the world, regardless of its inability to rule one collapsing country.
So you see the consequences of this kind of national self-delusion, and of mythmaking on this scale. "[T]he American Indians were not treated well." Mass murder, mayhem, and destruction on a monumental scale are "blunders" and "regrettable misjudgments."

Please note that this is the worst that may be said about Iraq in "respectable" circles, and by all our leading politicians. A criminal war of aggression, and the systematic slaughter of the innocent, is a "blunder." Unleashing a genocide is a "regrettable misjudgment." Our latest war of conquest was executed "incompetently."

Following Hari, we must acknowledge that the crimes of today -- just as was true of the crimes of past eras -- were "carefully planned and ordered" by those in power. That is the truth the governing class seeks to bury under endless propaganda, lies without number, and unceasing evasion and equivocation. Because most Americans are themselves committed to the national myth, they willingly ingest it all.

Given enough time, a steady diet of lies is fatal. These lies kill hundreds of thousands and even millions abroad, as they have repeatedly throughout history. In time they will kill us too, if we do not give them up. Yet even now -- even now -- our ruling class will give up none of them, and they prepare for the next war.

And who is prepared to try to stop them? Almost no one. That is also the truth -- perhaps the most terrible truth of all.