November 22, 2011

A Nauseating, Detestable Culture that Deserves to Die

Following up on my comments yesterday, there's this.

Speaking of which (unfortunately), I watched the film Horrible Bosses over the weekend (unfortunately). It's drenched, marinated and stewed in nauseating, detestable male entitlement and privilege. Endless jokes about sexual harassment and rape, because sexual harassment and rape are just so goddamned funny. You have to love that the "horrible boss" who engages in endless, humiliating sexual harassment is Jennifer Aniston. Because a woman widely viewed as extremely attractive and sexually desirable wanting to have sex all the time with her nerdy, dopey, idiotic male assistant is, like, totally the most common form of sexual harassment, as scientifically documented in thousands of studies. Or, two men conversing at one point: "Oh, no, I'd be more rape-able in prison!" "Are you kidding?! I'd be much more rape-able!" Because rape is so goddamned much fun. Especially prison rape.

Don't trouble yourself with any of these facts:
Rape in prison is an ugly reality that most people have learned to ignore, but prisoner rape is an institutionalized form of cruelty that infringes upon basic human rights, contributes to the spread of disease, and perpetuates violence both inside and outside of prison walls.


Male custodial officials have vaginally, anally, and orally raped female prisoners and have abused their authority by exchanging goods and privileges for sex. In many women’s facilities, male corrections officers are often allowed to watch female inmates when they are dressing, showering, or using the toilet, and some regularly engage in verbal degradation and harassment of women prisoners. Women also report groping and other sexual abuse by male staff during pat frisks and searches.

Currently, reporting procedures, where they exist, are often ineffectual, and complaints by prisoners about sexual assault are routinely ignored by prison staff and government authorities. In general, corrections officers are not adequately trained to prevent sexual assault or to treat survivors after an attack.


Punishment for prisoner rape is rare. Few public prosecutors concern themselves with crimes against inmates, and instead leave such problems to the discretion of prison authorities. As a result, perpetrators of prisoner rape almost never face charges. Staff members who sexually abuse inmates are rarely held accountable, facing only light administrative sanctions, if any. In fact, some female inmates have reported retaliation from corrections officers against whom reports of sexual misconduct have been lodged.

Prisoner rape has been used in some cases as a tool to punish inmates for misbehavior. Male inmates have testified that they were forced into cells with known sexual predators as a form of punishment for unrelated misconduct.
Oh, but the characters in Horrible Bosses were men joking about men being raped. That's totally different. Read the rest of my post from 2004, which includes part of Tom Cahill's account of being gang-raped for twenty-four hours. And the gang-rape was deliberately orchestrated by a guard. (Some of the internal links in that old post don't work any longer.)

Almost all of the "humor" in Horrible Bosses comes out of the same sewer. The film isn't remotely funny to any minimally aware, decent human being, in addition to which it's generally shitty in every other respect. But the ranks of minimally aware, decent human beings would not appear to include the NYT reviewer. Who is -- surprise! -- an enormously privileged, straight white man. By the way, I didn't mention that Horrible Bosses was written by three men, and directed by a man. Also a surprise! I was going to offer a few specific comments about Scott's review in theTimes, but fuck. Life is too short, and my stomach isn't strong enough.

On the subject of life for a woman in the Rape Culture, read this -- and watch this video. I'm sure the wonderful fucks who created Horrible Bosses and the wonderful fuck who reviewed it for the Times would find that monologue fall-on-the-floor funny.

With regard to the riotously hilarious song that greeted Michele Bachmann (Jimmy Fallon joked about it on Twitter, so it must be funny!): I find Bachmann to be a ludicrously awful politician, many of whose views are deeply repellent. That is, as they say, not remotely the point. If you don't know what the the point is, please go away. On your way out, take a look at "Kill That Woman!" and a followup article, "A Depraved, Violent and Indifferent Culture."

This ends the good news for today.

November 21, 2011

A Culture Dedicated to Creating Hell on Earth

In my remarks last week about the Penn State story, I explained why the repeated statements by virtually everyone that we all must "protect the children" are largely meaningless. Most people say nothing about the common forms of cruelty to children that occur all the time; the majority of people perpetrate such cruelties themselves, in the name of "discipline" and "proper" upbringing. This is especially true when we speak of emotional and psychological violence against children; in our culture, such violence takes place every moment of every day.

And the bullying children described in this story may be monsters -- but they are monsters created by the adults around them (in almost every case, beginning with their parents) and by the culture generally:
The boy who first came forward to accuse former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky of sexual assault has been harassed so intensely that he had to leave high school, prompting ousted coach Joe Paterno to speak out against bullying.

The mother of the alleged victim, who set off the investigation that has rocked the world of college sports and led to 40 counts of child sexual assault against Sandusky, told ABC News that students at her son's high school blame him for triggering the sex abuse scandal that led to the firing of Paterno, the beloved head coach who oversaw the university's Nittany Lions football team for 46 years

Speaking exclusively with "Good Morning America," the attorney representing Paterno said that the former coach denounces bullying, and called for respect in the name of the school.

"Coach Paterno strongly condemns harassment or bullying of any kind, and he asks anyone who truly cares about Penn State to conduct themselves honorably and with respect for others," attorney J. Sedgwick Sollers told ABC News
"Coach" Paterno is a goddamned fucking liar. I say this with absolute confidence in the correctness of my judgment, on the basis of what is already known about what happened at Penn State.

In this culture, goddamned fucking liars of this kind are the leaders in business, in politics, in every field including sports. Our culture loves goddamned fucking liars like Paterno.

From "Bullied, Terrorized, and Targeted for Destruction: Our Children Have Learned Well":
[Our children learn] that cruelty and violence are not to be condemned, but constitute the coin of the nightmare realm of our culture: cruelty and violence are enacted many times every day in films, on television, in our personal lives, and by our government on a national and international scale. You will be rewarded for cruelty: the crueler you are, the greater the reward.


Our children learn all this, and many more lessons of the same kind. Of course, they are often vicious bullies. Our government is a murderous bully on a scale that beggars description; most politicians are bullies; the majority of adults are bullies to varying degrees. Why wouldn't these children be bullies? It's what they've been taught. In the most crucial ways, it's all they've been taught.

These children are the perfect embodiments of the central values of our culture. They have learned well.
In that earlier article, I also wrote that our children learn that "the extent of your awareness of the world around you, and the extent of your sensitivity to and concern for the sanctity of human life, will be the extent to which you are punished." This is the awful lesson that the boy who was forced to leave his school is now being taught, in a particularly terrible way. If we seek to end evil, we must first name and identify it. That is what the boy did. Evil reacts as it must: it will try to destroy him.

A culture like ours -- a culture so uniformly dedicated to inflicting pain, to cruelty, to violence, to destruction, to creating hell on earth -- does not deserve to survive for another moment. Many signs lead one to believe that it may not survive much longer.

Good. May there be some measure of justice, a vindication of humanity, compassion, empathy and basic decency, at very long last.


On the same themes, see "A Depraved, Violent and Indifferent Culture," which includes this passage:
[A]ny signs of decency, of compassion and empathy, of being willing to say, No, and to mean it, any signs of healthy, vital life are ignored or, still worse, sneered at and made the target of mockery. (For much more on that last issue, see the discussion of high school students who peacefully protested the Iraq occupation and were then threatened with severe punishment, including expulsion, in "When Awareness Is a Crime, and Other Lessons from Morton West.")

In the most crucial sense, this is not a culture that deserves to survive. In all those ways that are conducive to fulfillment and joy, those ways that concern the sanctity of life and the possibility of happiness, such a culture is already dead.

November 18, 2011

Concerning the American Change in Management, and the Lies that Will Kill You

We all claim concern with the truth. This is the case even for those individuals dominated by delusion: the delusion exerts a powerful psychological effect precisely because the sufferer believes the delusion to reflect accurately certain aspects of the world as it exists independently of him. And when we speak of political matters, we all maintain that our analysis and prescription for action correspond to the facts. In public life, it is rare that a person deliberately and knowingly lies about a matter of significance over an extended period of time and does so successfully, all the while being aware that his version of events is fundamentally false. The chances of detection are too numerous, especially when there exist a multiplicity of avenues by which facts can reach the public, as is true today with the reach of the internet (at least for the moment, and until the ruling class settles on an effective means of control and censorship). Even in earlier periods, the problem lay not so much with the availability of information, but with how that information was interpreted and offered for consumption. As one example, see the discussion here of the Pentagon Papers, noting Arendt's observation (which was forgotten by almost everyone when they employed the Pentagon Papers episode as a point of reference for criticizing WikiLeaks on the grounds that its releases contained no "surprises"):
What calls for further close and detailed study is the fact, much commented on, that the Pentagon papers revealed little significant news that was not available to the average reader of dailies and weeklies; nor are there any arguments, pro or con, in the "History of U.S. Decision-Making Process on Vietnam Policy" that have not been debated publicly for years in magazines, television shows, and radio broadcasts.
I find one particular demonstration of how long the road before us is to be especially frustrating, even maddening, at the moment. Everywhere you turn, you see repeated invocations of "a return to the Constitution," pleas for the resurrection of "democracy" as envisioned by the Founders, demands that we as a society revive "true Constitutional values." Statements of this kind will regularly be encountered on both the right and left. Among many progressive writers and those who are sympathetic to the Occupy movement, you will often hear such pleas coupled with outrage at the fact that government has been entirely taken over by the wealthiest and most powerful -- and, they will usually maintain, this takeover has most significantly occurred in the last several decades. Thus, the solution to the current calamity is, among other elements, a return to that earlier Paradise, when the Constitution as originally envisioned held sway. After all, why was the American Revolution fought in the first place?

My title is intended as a corrective to this widespread, indeed nearly uniform, delusion. For a brief moment -- a very brief moment -- a "revolution" might have taken place. But the wealthiest and most powerful Americans were not about to let that happen: they saw the chance to enshrine their power in a country all their own, and they took it. What killed "democracy" in America? What gave the government over to the wealthy and powerful?

The Constitution. Of course.

The American Change in Management (formerly known as the "American Revolution," and we should work to make that "formerly" an actuality in usage) surely ranks as one of the more effective propaganda triumphs in history. The Constitution is the sacred embodiment of "government of the people, by the people, for the people..."? The government established by the Constitution was the indispensable means by which the ruling class established its dominion over the new nation and sought to ensure the continuation of that dominion into the future. That government was created by and for the benefit of a very small number of privileged individuals; the vast majority of "the people" were struck from the ranks of those with whom it was concerned in any positive sense.

The Constitution created a government of, by and for the most wealthy and powerful Americans -- and it made certain (insofar as men can make such things certain) that their rule would never be seriously threatened. The most wealthy and powerful Americans were the ones who wrote it, after all.

Yet all our problems would be solved if only we returned to "real" and "true" Constitutional values. I suppose it's a blessing of sorts that I enjoy comedy so much.

The excerpts that follow are from Terry Bouton's Taming Democracy: "The People," the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution. The first passages are from Chapter 4, "The Sheriff's Wagon: The Crisis of the 1780s." The similarities to our own time are striking: widespread, systematic foreclosure has always been a chief method by which the ruling class consolidates and expands its power. (In these excerpts, I have omitted footnotes and the highlights are mine.)
When it comes to symbols for the spirit of 1776, Pennsylvania has almost a monopoly. After all, it is home to the Liberty Bell, Valley Forge, and Independence Hall. It was the location of the First Continental Congress and the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence. These symbols speak of the triumph of liberty and democracy and have been celebrated, with good reason, by Americans ever since.

There is, however, another symbol of the Revolution that complicates the ending to the traditional story. And although this symbol has disappeared from cultural memory, in the years after the War for Independence, it was to many Pennsylvanians the most potent icon of the Revolution's outcomes. The image was this: the heavily loaded wagon of a county sheriff bearing the foreclosed property of debt-ridden citizens. The power of this icon came from its ubiquity. During the postwar decade, the sheriff's wagon could be seen nearly everywhere. With its load of foreclosed property, it struggled up the narrow gullied roads of the backcountry, groaned along the wide smooth lanes of the Delaware Valley, and rattled down the bumpy cobblestone streets of Philadelphia, the richest city in the new nation. As was to be expected in a largely agricultural society, the wagon made most of its stops at the homes of small farmers. Yet its flat wooden bed was just as likely to hold the confiscated tools of a blacksmith, the grindstone of a miller, or the inventory of a small merchant. Indeed, one striking comparative fact is this: there were more Pennsylvanians who had property foreclosed by county sheriffs during the postwar decades than there were Pennsylvania soldiers who fought for the Continental Army.


[I]t is important to pause and consider more closely the people who found themselves foreclosed. A few points deserve emphasis. First, the cash scarcity brought hardship to a wide range of people across the state, not just poor backcountry farmers. Second, although the crisis hurt some gentlemen, most of the pain was borne by those of the middling and lower sorts. And, finally, property redistribution performed by the sheriff ended up greatly widening the gap between the rich and everyone else.


In the end, the unequal distribution of pain translated into a widening gap between the wealthy and nearly everyone else. Although some individuals of the middling and lower sorts may have prospered, the lowest 90 percent of the population lost ground. By 1800, most citizens now possessed far less of the state's wealth -- land, money, livestock, tools, furniture, pots and pans -- than in the past. In Philadelphia in 1780, the lowest 90 percent of the population held over 56 percent of the wealth. By 1789, they held only 33 percent. By 1795, Philadelphia's lowest 90 percent owned only about 18 percent of the total assessed wealth -- a staggering downward shift in only fifteen years.

It was the same story in the countryside.
And from Bouton's concluding chapter:
In the waning years of the War for Independence, many of the gentry began embracing ideals and policies that they had once denounced as British "oppression." Frightened by the upheavals of war and spurred by a heightened sense of social status, many of Pennsylvania's self-styled gentlemen abandoned their commitment to extending political and economic power to ordinary folk. Instead, they adopted a new idea of "good government" based on concentrating both political and economic might in the hands of the elite. They launched a prolonged attack on popular ideals and the democratic achievements of the Revolution, attempting to undo reforms that many of them had helped to create. In this sense, the postwar period was essentially a replay of the 1760s and 1770s, with the revolutionary gentry playing the roles of Britain.

And, like Britain had done earlier, the gentry's effort to narrow democracy created an economic crisis and provoked an intense political struggle. Elite policies strangled the economy and led to mass property foreclosures across Pennsylvania. Many people from the middling and lower sorts initiated a powerful defense of popular ideals. They launched a barrage of petitions and tried to elect reformers to office. When those efforts fell short, they used mass civil disobedience and crowd protests to advance their ideals. In this way, the postwar years became a struggle to define whose vision of the Revolution -- and whose definition of democracy -- would reign in Pennsylvania and the new United States.


Genteel Pennsylvanians joined with elite men from the other states to create a new national government designed to be a stronger barrier against democracy. The new federal Constitution removed many economic powers from the states (like the ability to print paper money) and imposed new demands (like requiring debts to be paid in gold and silver), which effectively outlawed most popular reforms. At the same time, the Pennsylvania gentry replaced the 1776 state constitution with a new 1790 charter that mirrored the checks on democracy in the federal Constitution. State leaders then directed this new government toward enhancing the wealth of the elite and dismantling the rings of protection that ordinary Pennsylvanians had built to protect their communities. Ordinary folk continued to resist, even going so far as to close roads across the state. But they remained unable to mobilize in ways that would bring the changes they wanted. In 1794, when western farmers finally began organizing the state to oppose the new order, Federalist leaders became so threatened that they provoked a conflict to prevent ordinary folk from uniting. The final defeats came when armies marched in 1794 and 1799, solidifying a victory for the elite founders' vision of the Revolution.

It would be an enduring victory for the elite.


In terms of the practice of democracy, the defeat helped to confine democracy to forms of political self-expression that did not overtly threaten elite interests. The Revolution had convinced many ordinary Pennsylvanians -- and common folk across the colonies -- that they had a right to monitor the government, to shape policy, and to regulate the government if they believed that their leaders were not responding to the popular will. For these people, politics was not just about casting ballots -- indeed, politics was not even primarily about voting. To them, regulating the government to act on behalf of the governed happened mostly outside the polling place. And "the people" expected to participate not just on Election Day but 365 days a year. Indeed, many Pennsylvanians believed they had a sacred right to regulate their government and that it was their duty to exercise that right to preserve democracy.

The founding elite attempted to obliterate that idea of politics during the 1780s and 1790s and to confine political self-expression within an electoral system replete with barriers against democracy. Undoubtedly, the most powerful barrier was the new federal system that placed a tremendous organizing burden on anyone pushing reforms opposed by the ruling elite.


Along with radically scaling back the practice of democracy, the defeats of the 1780s and 1790s also weakened democracy's meaning -- primarily in the way the elite founders attempted to eradicate the idea that concentrations of wealth pose a threat to the republic. In Pennsylvania, the Revolution had been forged by elite and ordinary folk who insisted that a free government could only survive in a society with a relatively equal distribution of wealth. That belief had pushed the revolutionaries of the 1760s and 1770s to make wealth more equal -- or at least to repeal laws that made wealth more unequal. When many of the gentry decided during the war that concentrations of wealth were a blessing rather than a curse, they attempted to divorce wealth equality from the public's understanding of the Revolution. ... [T]he governments that emerged from the Revolution often fostered massive inequalities of wealth. At the same time, they redefined "democracy" as an ideal that could be reconciled with those disparities. By transforming democracy into a concept that encouraged uninhibited wealth accumulation rather than wealth equality, the founding elite (and subsequent generations of elites) tamed what they could not defeat. They turned democracy from a threat into an asset by making it into a concept that supported their own ideals and interests.
Today, many of the people who complain most vigorously about the current state of affairs still clamor for a return to "real Constitutional values" and for the revival of the Founders' vision of the Republic. With very rare exceptions, their efforts are directed to the continuation of the Founders' revised version of "democracy," not to the vision with which the "Revolution" had begun.

The comprehensiveness of the confusion can be seen even in the writings of those commentators viewed with great favor by progressives and liberal "reformers" (using "liberal" with the generally understood meaning). Appeals to the sanctity of "the rule of law" are indistinguishable from invocations of the "true" understanding of the Constitution -- for within the context of the Constitution as first adopted and the government it established, "the law" is simply another weapon wielded by the ruling class to protect and enhance its wealth and power. And yet Chris Hedges will write:
What we are asking for today is simple—it is a return to the rule of law. And since the formal mechanisms of power refuse to restore the rule of law, then we, the 99 percent, will have to see that justice is done.
What we have today is the rule of law -- the rule of law as conceived and implemented by the ruling class. As is true of the State itself, the law will always be conceived and implemented by someone -- and those who conceive and implement it will be those who have the most power. This should not be a difficult point to grasp, certainly not for those who regularly write political commentary.

And we see Glenn Greenwald write this:
The book focuses on what I began realizing several years ago is the crucial theme[] tying together most of the topics I write about: America’s two-tiered justice system – specifically, the way political and financial elites are now vested with virtually absolute immunity from the rule of law even when they are caught committing egregious crimes, while ordinary Americans are subjected to the world’s largest and one of its harshest and most merciless penal states even for trivial offenses. As a result, law has been completely perverted from what it was intended to be – the guarantor of an equal playing field which would legitimize outcome inequalities – into its precise antithesis: a weapon used by the most powerful to protect their ill-gotten gains, strengthen their unearned prerogatives, and ensure ever-expanding opportunity inequality.
The law has not been "perverted." The truth is exactly the opposite. "The law" is serving the precise function for which it was designed -- to serve, in Greenwald's own words, as "a weapon used by the most powerful to protect their ill-gotten gains, strengthen their unearned prerogatives, and ensure ever-expanding opportunity inequality." This is what history tells us repeatedly, as set forth in Bouton's book and other books on the same theme.

Moreover, this must be true if we are talking about "the law" of any State at all. (See "The State and Full Spectrum Dominance" and the detailed discussion here, as well.) It is again the most obvious point that seems to remain entirely invisible: The State and "the law" will always be devised and implemented by those with the most power: that is why they are devising them and not you. To expect the powerful to erect a system that will strip them of every advantage they possess fails to comport with the lengthy testimony of history, or indeed with human nature itself.

So we are left with the calls for a return to the vision of the Founders and to a government "of the people, by the people, for the people" -- by which almost everyone means the vision as embodied in the Constitution, not the vision with which the "Revolution" had begun and which did not survive the War for Independence itself. And, as Bouton explains, the ruling elite has "turned democracy from a threat into an asset by making it into a concept that support[s] their own ideals and interests."

It is an immense triumph of propaganda. And from that perspective, you have to acknowledge: it's fucking genius.

November 16, 2011

If it's all the same to you...

I'd rather stab a rusty fork into my eyes 2,583,921 times than ever read a passage like this again:
Greil Marcus’s achievement in “The Doors” is to isolate and resurrect this band’s best music and set it adrift in a swirling and literate cultural context.


Set adrift!!!

And the cultural context swirls literately!

Now, you know that I am unfailingly generous and kindhearted. C'mon, you know that. So, sez I to myself, that's just some editor having funsies on the introductory Books page at the Times.

Then I swirl myself into the full book review. My heart, resurrected just moments before (that blurb was like unto an iron fist launched at my chest with the force of a 15,000-member zombie army, stopping my heart like a cheap watch stomped underfoot by a crazed "culture" correspondent at, say, the Times), stops again. Except for "Mr." replacing "Greil" as the opening word, the entire sentence appears verfuckingbatim in Dwight Garner's review.

Oh, yes, I read the full review. The book is "acute and ardent." Marcus "quotes others shrewdly." He also "dilates." At length. Finally, as my gnarled, trembling fingers close around the fork, I read Garner's concluding sentence:
As Jim Morrison said in a 1967 interview, in a line Mr. Marcus happily reprints, “Critical essays are really where it’s at.”
Critical essays -- including certain book reviews, as I'm sure Garner would dilate, as he happily repeats the line.

I can see the crooked, self-satisfied, little-boy grin begin to poke at the corners of Garner's mouth, as the warm snot and drool drip off his chin and puddle on his laptop.

Leave me to my goddamned fork.

November 15, 2011

Aren't You All Just the Most Wonderful People!

Regular readers are familiar with my extensive writing on the abuse and mistreatment of children. My concern extends beyond physical abuse (although I've written many posts about it), and includes a detailed examination of what is much more common: the everyday emotional and psychological abuse of children, in forms that are accepted and approved by the majority of adults. Because of my focus on this subject, I've read a fair amount about the Paterno-Sandusky-Penn State story.

I would have read more, but I find most of the commentary profoundly disheartening and sometimes sickening. As I read about this latest horror story, I kept thinking: We've seen all this before -- and nothing changes. The phenomenon is largely identical to what one might experience reading about the current "crisis" on the economic front or in foreign policy. This, we are assured -- where this is whatever happens to be the "hot" story of the day or week -- is the breakthrough that will finally sweep away the rot and corruption and usher in a new order. Then, after a few weeks, the story slowly recedes from public awareness, to be replaced by another controversy. And that one will be the breakthrough that will finally sweep away ... well, you see how that goes.

One of the themes common to much of the Paterno coverage is the insistence, mixed either implicitly or explicitly with small or large helpings of self-congratulation, that "we all must protect the children!" The writers who condemn what happened at Penn State (which is all of them) are, by virtue of their heatedly announced condemnation, on the side of the angels, for they are fulfilling their responsibility to "protect the children." They know horrifying, sickening, even evil acts when they see them, and they are dedicated to eliminating them.

With so many people so passionately dedicated to "protecting the children," the safety of children in the future can hardly be in doubt even for a moment. Yet nothing will change -- and the abuse will go on.

For the most part, I don't doubt the sincerity of the writers who are outraged by what happened at Penn State, insofar as this particular story is concerned. I'm sure the pattern of extreme abuse that has been revealed genuinely horrifies them. But reactions of this kind (of every kind, in fact) are shaped and conditioned by the culture in which we live, including by the kinds of behavior that are so common and longstanding that they barely register in people's consciousness. Especially severe instances of cruelty grab our attention; such is the nature of "sensational" events in a culture which finds its primary nourishment in the sensational, while the common forms of cruelty continue uninterrupted.

Moreover, public displays of outrage and condemnation, particularly when engaged in with such unsettling eagerness, are to be distrusted. Anyone and everyone will rush to say, when the spotlight is on him, "No one could possibly care more about protecting children than I do!" The test of his sincerity is what happens when the spotlight moves on, when no one is looking -- no one, that is, except his own conscience and sense of humanity (and God, if he believes in such).

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The report documents several cases in which children were beaten to the point of serious injury. Since educators who beat children have immunity under law from assault proceedings, parents who try to pursue justice for injured children encounter resistance from police, district attorneys, and courts. Parents also face enormous, sometimes insurmountable, obstacles in trying to prevent physical punishment of their children. While some school districts permit parents to sign forms opting out of corporal punishment for their children, the forms are often ignored.


Selected Witness Accounts:

"He took me into the office and gave me three licks. … He made me hold onto the wall and he paddled me. … It hurt for about two hours, it felt like fire under my butt."
– Matthew S., who was paddled in second grade for throwing food in a school cafeteria in the Mississippi Delta.

"The other kids were watching and laughing. It made me want to fight them… When you get a paddling and you see everyone laugh at you, it make you mad and you want to do something about it."
– Peter S., a middle school student in the Mississippi Delta.

"What made me so angry: he's three years old, he was petrified. He didn't want to go back to school, and he didn't want to start his new school. I was so worried that this was going to constantly be with him, equating going to school with being paddled."
– Rose T., mother of a 3-year-old boy in Texas who was bruised from physical punishment after he refused to stop playing with his shoes in class.

"I went into the principal's office. … He gave me a chair and said hold onto the chair. The paddle had holes in it. Then he just did three swats. … I was hit on my buttocks. … There were holes in the paddle to make it go faster. … It hurt very much. There were definitely red marks and then swelling… almost welt-like markings. It didn't last for more than a couple days. … It left me feeling very humiliated. I think there were several levels of emotion. Physical pain, mental humiliation. … And being a female at that age, it was like there was this older man hitting me on the butt. That's weird… even at that age I knew it was inappropriate."
– Allison G., a recent graduate punished as a teenager in Texas for being late to class multiple times.

"I've heard this said at my school and at other schools: ‘This child should get less whips, it'll leave marks.' Students that are dark-skinned, it takes more to let their skin be bruised. Even with all black students, there is an imbalance: darker-skinned students get worse punishment."
– Account of Abrea T., former teacher in rural Mississippi.

"I see corporal punishment as a form of slavery. Beating on the slaves was how the headman got them to do something… we're focused so much on making kids do what we want. Think about the mental capacity that this kind of treatment leaves our children with. We are telling them we don't respect them. They leave that principal's office and they think, ‘they don't consider me a human being.' That young person loses self-respect."
– Account from Doreen W., school board member in a Mississippi Delta town.
Since the time of that ACLU report, two more states have outlawed corporal punishment in public schools, so some progress is being made. But corporal punishment is still legal in public schools in 19 states, and in private schools in 48 states -- and in every home. I have yet to see even one of the many wonderful people expressing metaphysical outrage about the Penn State story mention this fact.

So I repeat:


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

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

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

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

For these reasons (and many more), while I regard the condemnations of Polanski as correct in a broad sense, I view them as largely insignificant. I also regard them as worse than insignificant in one crucial way: we are eager to condemn the most extreme crimes, especially when that condemnation carries no personal risk of any kind, precisely because we do not wish to confront and condemn cruelty that is much more widespread. The eager condemnation of the extreme particular instance allows us to avoid a much more threatening and fundamental truth.

This is the same mechanism that I examined in my discussion of the behavior and meaning of those I call "the torture obsessives" ("By seeking to localize the evil in only one aspect of the much broader and more fundamental evil involved and within a falsely delimited period of time, the torture obsessives would thus whitewash the American project as a whole."). The mechanism is an especially effective means of avoidance. The torture obsessives seek to avoid far more uncomfortable truths about America the Good, America the Exceptional; the Polanski obsessives seek to avoid far more uncomfortable truths concerning their view of children and how we should treat them.
I want to reassure those readers who may tire of my mentioning these issues that even my realism, or cynicism as you may style it, is not without limits. I fully understand that all this has changed with the Penn State story and the widespread reaction to it. I have no doubt that this is the genuine breakthrough event that will finally change everything.

After all, with so many wonderful people in the world, how can I possibly believe that anyone, even a helpless, defenseless child, will ever be harmed again?

[In addition to the links provided above, much more on this subject will be found in "Meaningful Connections."]

November 14, 2011

I Care for Myself Too Much to Write About Iran

Once upon a time, I wrote the following about the growing likelihood of an attack by the United States on Iran:
I see no point in documenting the further steps on this route to hell, for the same reason I avoid a certain kind of horror film: it is the contemplation of cruelty, murder, barbarism and sadism for their own sake. Such exercises in psychopathology have no interest to me, and I will leave the dreadful task to others.
I said that after having written a few dozen articles about a possible U.S. attack on Iran, its causes, its meaning, and its likely consequences.

The passage comes from "The Worsening Nightmare," published on August 15, 2007. That's history for you. It'll kill you.

I discuss many issues in that article, all of them as critically significant now as they were over four years ago. Some specific details have altered, as have some of the players. What is most astonishing and horrifying is how much has not altered in any respect.

Since most readers aren't inclined to follow links, and to answer those who moan, "Oh, oh, oh, who could have known?," I offer this excerpt:
The great majority of people remain resolutely focused on the trivia of the day, and the latest "controversy" of the moment. Developments over a period of years and even decades bore them, and they have no interest in understanding them. Our politicians specialize in such ignorance, and most bloggers indulge their stupidity, and imitate it to varying degrees.

And most Democrats and their dedicated partisans (and I regretfully include almost all liberal-progressive bloggers in this category) remain absolute in their determined refusal to see the continuity of our foreign policy, from the annexation of Hawaii, through the Spanish-American War and the occupation of the Philippines, through Woodrow Wilson and the Open Door doctrine of global hegemony, to global interventionism, and all the other issues I've discussed in my "Dominion Over the World" series.

The Democrats don't object and they completely fail to mount serious opposition to our inevitable course toward widening war and an attack on Iran, not because they are cowards, not because they're afraid of being portrayed as "weak" in the fight against terrorism, and not because of any of the other excuses that are regularly offered by their defenders. They don't object because -- they don't object. That is: they agree -- they agree that the United States is the "indispensable" nation, that we have the "right" to tell every other country how it is "permitted" to act, that we must pursue a policy of aggressive interventionism supported by an empire of military bases. They agree about all of it; moreover, in most critical respects, they devised these policies in the first instance, and they implemented and defended them more vigorously and more consistently than Republicans, with the exception of the criminal now residing in the White House.

They agree. Try to wrap your head around it. Try to absorb the indisputable fact, which has been proven over and over and over again in the last century, and particularly in the last 60 years.
The heightened focus on Iran is the result of the new IAEA report. Numerous stories all make the same point: the report is based on "credible" information, i.e., credible intelligence.

This, too, is a subject I have repeatedly analyzed in enormous detail. You can begin with "Played for Fools Yet Again: About That Iran 'Intelligence' Report," from December 2007. Again, an excerpt:
I therefore repeat my major admonition, and give it special emphasis:
It is always irrelevant to major policy decisions, and such decisions are reached for different reasons altogether. This is true whether the intelligence is correct or not, and it is almost always wrong. On those very rare occasions when intelligence is accurate, it is likely to be disregarded in any case. It will certainly be disregarded if it runs counter to a course to which policymakers are already committed.

The intelligence does not matter. It is primarily used as propaganda, to provide alleged justification to a public that still remains disturbingly gullible and pliable -- and it is used after the fact, to justify decisions that have already been made.
And still, everyone discusses "intelligence" endlessly, and how important it is that we get it "right" -- that is, that the "intelligence" be "credible." If you understand why the true restatement of that last phrase is, "that the propaganda be credible," perhaps you'll stop engaging in this exercise in inanity.

As my title from four years ago had it: Fools.

Beyond all this, and I say this for approximately the eighty-seventh time, "So Iran Gets Nukes. So What?" Actually, since I've argued this point so often, I now ask: So THE FUCK what?

I have only one life to live, one life to find joy and love. So do you. At this point, further discussion of this subject becomes the contemplation of evil for its own sake. Unless you are irreparably damaged and suffer a compulsion to damage yourself further, that is a pastime to be avoided.

On the other hand, there is one course of action you might consider in light of the horrific, world-shattering consequences of an attack on Iran. My very bad health keeps me housebound. I hope none of you suffers the same or a similar restriction. Assuming you do not, if a few million of you should descend on Washington and take up permanent residence in the streets surrounding the White House and the Capitol, you would have my full, fervent support. Stay there until the national government disavows all plans to attack Iran. While you're at it, stay there until the national government dissolves itself altogether. I had been ready to list several other actions of special importance the national government should take. But self-dissolution is the simplest and surest way of addressing the innumerable problems. Besides, getting rid of the motherfuckers is the point. (At this point, if they're part of the national government, they're motherfuckers. No exceptions.)

And in line with the preceding article, make no mistake: you would be compelling our monstrous, evil national government to act in the way you demand -- to act humanely, decently, in a genuinely civilized manner, with reverence for the sacred, irreplaceable value of a single human life.

That would be a noble endeavor, nobly undertaken. Go to it, with all my blessings.

November 13, 2011

So, What Exactly Are We Talking About? Some Preliminary Observations

[Given the form and emphasis of the following discussion, and the possibly erroneous conclusions about my views of the Occupy movement to which they might lead, I think it advisable to mention that I have advocated widespread, ongoing civil disobedience for the past several years. As just one example, you can consult this article, in particular, the second section and the Addendum which discuss what I sometimes refer to as "The Power of No." Two additional articles of special relevance are this one (from February 2007) and "The Honor of Being Human: Why Do You Support?" (from December 2007).]

I have no opinion about the protesters' point of view. These barriers are killing my business, and everyone—the police, the protesters, the Mayor—has to understand the ramifications. The police decided the way to solve this was to put up these barricades, and I've approached every white shirt police officer here and said, "You are killing my business!" They say they're just following orders.

These barricades have created a siege down here on Wall Street that makes people not come here. I opened in June and hired 100 people and thought that was something good. I borrowed money, and the Trump organization took a risk with a little guy from Boston and signed the lease with me, and the bank loaned me money, and now I feel like a fool. I took such a risk here, and I'm collateral damage. My staff is collateral damage for other people's battles.
The remarks were made by Marc Epstein to the Gothamist. Epstein is the owner of the Milk Street Cafe. Because of the decrease in his business, Epstein has laid off more than 20 employees and may go out of business altogether.

Have Epstein, his business and his laid-off employees been damaged? Certainly. Has violence been committed against them? And if so, by whom precisely? Occupy Wall Street has an answer to the second question:
Asked about his plight, Occupy Wall Street issued a statement saying, "The NYPD makes the decisions on the part of police barricades. This is not our choice and we would never want businesses to have to deal with inconveniences that may reduce their business traffic."
Is that a satisfactory response? It may be true that the NYPD did not have to respond in the way they have; they might have used fewer barricades (or none at all), or placed the barricades in different locations (then perhaps harming others, but not Epstein). But the NYPD would probably respond with a statement on the order of, "We only did this [erected the barricades] in response to that [Occupy Wall Street]."

Would it claim too much to state that the presence of the barricades and the resulting damage to Epstein's business would not have happened but for OWS? That seems accurate in general terms. Given an ongoing presence by OWS, the NYPD will react in some manner, if not in this particular manner harming these particular actors, then in some other manner perhaps harming other actors. Some people might claim that the damage in this case is only to an "upscale food court" catering to Wall Street criminals and their abettors and enablers, so to hell with inquiries of this kind. Here, I will set aside such strategies, which substitute overly broad moral judgments for the difficult task of analysis, thus making analysis irrelevant.

In a different way, the response by OWS to Epstein's situation also avoids the analytic problems. The choices that led to damage to Epstein's business may not be those that OWS itself would make, but that isn't the issue. It was almost certain that the NYPD and the various other authorities potentially involved would respond in some manner; assuming they did respond (as they have), it was entirely certain that the choices they would make would not be selected by OWS. In other words, the fact of OWS's presence without more -- here assuming that such presence was completely "non-violent" as that term is generally understood -- set off a chain of events which OWS would not itself be able to control or direct. And that much could have been known by those taking part in OWS in advance of their taking any action at all.

Therefore, assuming for the moment that we wish to identify who is responsible for the damage suffered by Epstein's business (and based on reading various news stories from across the country, we can safely assume that there are more individuals suffering damage in the way Epstein has -- or in different ways, some possibly worse -- in additional locales), whom do we name? OWS? The NYPD? Both? Neither? Is it the case that, as he says, Epstein (and his staff) are "collateral damage for other people's battles," possibly unavoidable collateral damage once the battle was joined? Moreover, in reaction to the claim that the damage in this case would not have happened but for OWS, OWS might say that their presence only came about in response to the crimes of the ruling class. Thus, the causal chain is pushed back farther still; the parties who are ultimately responsible may be offstage, at least so far as this particular instance of harm is concerned (and setting aside for this inquiry the hardly insignificant matter of the extent to which the NYPD are only representatives and embodiments of the ruling class's means of control).

These questions, and more, call to mind an observation from Hannah Arendt: "No doubt, 'violence pays,' but the trouble is that it pays indiscriminately..." This returns us to the still more difficult question: Has violence been committed in the scenario involving Epstein's business? Relying again on the common understanding of the term, it would appear not. But "violence" is one of those terms ("God," "democracy" and "love" are others) which almost everyone uses without ever defining them, or even describing them with any particularity. "We all know what we mean" is a phrase that in practice means that we frequently possess only an approximation of a guess about the nature of the object casting constantly shifting shadows on the wall, that we likely have a similarly indistinct grasp of what others mean, and that debates very rarely clarify anything at all but only serve to strengthen the opinions with which the participants began. (You will find related observations here, especially in the parenthetical remarks in the second paragraph.) That is, in fact, we often don't know with any precision what the hell we're talking about. We can observe two results, among others. We may employ terms with one (vague, unspecified) meaning in one context, and then seamlessly shift to another meaning (still vague and unspecified, although apparently different in some respect) when the particular dispute alters. And, when a debate opponent appears about to corner us using our own words, we can say (and perhaps even believe, at least for the moment), "Oh, no, that's not what I meant!" I leave as an exercise for the reader a determination as to whether those who engage in such tactics do so with an appreciation of the sloppy, heedless, often repellent games they play while others suffer and die in the world of events.

Most typically, "violence" refers to physical harm inflicted on persons or things by direct action, where the harm is caused by an individual(s) or by an individual(s) controlling an instrumentality of some kind (a knife, a gun, a bomb, a drone). But we also use "violence" in a looser sense, when we refer to emotional or psychological violence -- or to economic violence. Factors common to these various usages include harm which would not have occurred absent the preceding action (assuming other possibly impinging elements remain unchanged), and that the nature and extent of the harm can often not be predicted with any reliability. We may think that a shot to the head will kill someone, but even that much is uncertain (as recently demonstrated in the case of Gabrielle Giffords). Although the specific nature and extent of the harm cannot be predicted, we can identify one other factor common to the different usages of "violence," including when physical harm is not involved (at least, in the beginning): when we employ violence, we seek to restrict or direct the range of choices available to the person(s) against whom the violence is aimed. As the Milk Street Cafe example demonstrates, those who are affected by the violence involved may not be immediately apparent.

In this last general sense, violence is a means of compelling obedience:
Informed, voluntary agreement occurs when a person is presented with a reason(s) to act in a certain manner; he understands and is ultimately convinced of the validity of the reason(s), and therefore acts in the manner suggested.

Obedience is the opposite of voluntary, uncoerced agreement: the understanding and agreement of the person in the inferior position are not required, and are often not sought at all.
The murderer's victim is compelled to obey: "You will no longer act at all." In a very different way, all the manifestations of the Occupy movement seek to compel obedience, even if only in a broad manner: "Our ongoing presence will make you take notice of us, and of our concerns." The same may be said of civil disobedience in general. As in the Milk Street Cafe case, a specific result of this effort at compulsion may not be what the initiators intended or would choose themselves -- but stating that they do not desire to cause a particular form of damage does not remove them from the chain of events. I emphasize that none of this is intended as a moral judgment or other kind of evaluation (whether the Occupy tactics are "good," or "justified," or "effective"); I am first attempting to identify exactly what is happening. And I mean to point out that when we view violence in general outline, as an instance of attempting to compel obedience, the line between violence and non-violence (as those terms are usually understood) is not a sharp one as almost everyone seems to assume, but one much more difficult to identify.

If we restrict ourselves to instances of civil disobedience which are entirely non-violent (again, in common understanding), we can observe that those who engage in such civil disobedience decline to follow those courses of action which are expected and informally condoned or, in the case of more overt conflict, those courses of action which are legally required. In other words, they decline to obey; they are being disobedient. While that much is obvious (perhaps painfully so, you might be heard to say), the reversal that is attempted is perhaps not so obvious: those who engage in civil disobedience seek to make others obey them. This is true in the manner already identified: the Occupiers (for example) are seeking to make the ruling class as well as the culture more generally take notice of their concerns. The additional goal is that those in power should do something about those concerns, even if what they should do is left unspecified (about which, more later). Those who protest seek to make those in power act in ways the powerful would not themselves choose, absent the protesters' actions.

I approach these questions from this perspective to throw into relief one particular issue: when we speak of civil disobedience, we are speaking of compulsion by those in power being answered by (attempted) compulsion by those who protest. The effort to compel others to act in a certain way (and/or to restrict their range of action) is common to both. It cannot be otherwise in a State founded on compulsion, which is any State. I will offer arguments on this issue in future articles; in the meantime, you can consult "The State and Full Spectrum Dominance" (in particular, the discussion of Nock and Higgs), which sets out some foundational concerns. I note again that this specific question is separate from an evaluation of the "rightness" or "justification" of the protest against perceived injustice, which I will get to in time (and it's touched on below).

Moreover, it cannot be otherwise when all of us are taught from the time we are infants that the foundation for society and "civilization" is obedience, which proceeds from compulsion. I say "all of us," and I mean all of us. There may be one exception among five or ten thousand, but I see you, and you are not that blessed exception. Nor am I, and the greater part of my work and thought over the last ten years has been to understand and undo the effects of that teaching. The work is neverending. I direct your attention to this article, which summarizes certain elements of this phenomenon about which I have already written. I will have more to say on the subject in these new essays.

Keeping these observations in mind, I think that, while it initially may strike us as very wrong to view the question this way given the widespread cultural conditioning to which we are all subject, it is far more accurate to view non-violence itself as another instance of compulsion. And if we are attentive to what proponents of non-violence advocate with regard to action -- and, importantly, what they hope the effects of that action will be -- the sense of error begins to dissipate. Surely, advocates of non-violence hope that change will result from what they do, and they often hope for dramatic and widespread change, even on a societal level. These advocates are not relying on persuasion alone; if they were, why the call to action?

One of the results of the commonly accepted view of non-violence as devoid of compulsion, and thus tautologically devoid of violence, is that we are led to bewildering reactions, as reflected in a number of comments I've seen about recent events in Oakland, for example. Advocates of non-violence will enthusiastically applaud the fact that the port of Oakland was forced to be closed (those who operate the port did not choose to close the port voluntarily), while they fervently condemn those protesters who smashed some windows and caused other property damage (all of which seems to be comparatively minor, to judge from multiple reports).

Why is compulsion approved in one case, but condemned in the other? I am unable to identify a principle which justifies the disparity. (There may be one, but I have yet to find it, even though I have read and continue to read extensively on these issues.) The answer cannot be in the nature and degree of the harm inflicted. Consider the Milk Street Cafe example with which we began. The chain of events which led to the dismissal of more than 20 employees, and which may lead to the closing of the Cafe altogether, includes the presence of Occupy Wall Street. Rather than the continuing presence of the protesters, the Cafe's owner himself might prefer, if he were free to choose, that the Occupiers broke some or even all of his windows, and perhaps went on to damage some of his other on-site property. If that happened on one occasion (and possibly even two or three times), he could replace and repair all of it, and his business might return to previous levels. That result would be a significant improvement over what is happening now.

Also consider the possible further effects for the laid-off employees. Perhaps one of them is a single mother (or father). She is unable to find another job, which is far from difficult to imagine in the present circumstances. She runs out of food in a few weeks, and she can't find sufficient food for herself and her two children from available food banks and similar resources. At some point, she considers stealing food so that her children will survive. Let's rephrase that to better capture the reality, which is much starker: she considers stealing food so that her children won't die.

But, certain proponents of non-violence will assuredly announce, that would be wrong. It would be a crime (obviously true, given current laws), and it would involve violence. For the non-violence advocates, it would be wrong in multiple ways. Violence is always wrong, they inform us. (Yet forcing the port of Oakland to close is a triumph.)

In addition to noting the inconsistency, a caution would not seem out of place. You might wish to reconsider a position which obliges you to take the part of Javert against Jean Valjean. Who's on the side of constituted authority, and of societal compulsion, and of institutional violence, now? As a thought experiment, I offer the following. Imagine that, a few years from now or even sooner given the possible trajectory of events, continuing and widespread food shortages occur. Imagine how different the manifestations of the impulses behind the Occupy movement might look. Food riots are not uncommon in periods of historical crisis, and sometimes precede revolutionary movements. What would those absolutely committed to non-violence have to say to the food rioters? "Violence is always wrong!" Will they add, "If you're unable to procure food except by violent means, then die"? Perhaps not.

(I have read, and continue to read, books, articles and numerous blog posts and associated comments about this general subject. Many of these concerns are addressed only infrequently. I sometimes get the sense that certain advocates of non-violence are more enamored of their self-perceived moral superiority than concerned with identifying and analyzing the immensely difficult questions involved. But the contradictions in their views alone fatally undercut the moral righteousness with which they seek to smother those who disagree with them. They eagerly endorse the use of compulsion [but it's "non-violent"!] to achieve the results they want, while they continue to eat the sweet, non-violent cake of moral self-satisfaction. Given the smugness that often oozes from the commentary of certain advocates of non-violence, I myself have begun to refer to such individuals as "non-violent smuggers." I am already inordinately fond of the phrase.)

Or is the commitment to non-violence not so absolute after all? Does the legitimacy of a response which includes violence depend on the nature of the injustice to which one reacts? The mention of Javert and Jean Valjean brings up a connection with which I had only a passing familiarity, one that I find fascinating. In my previous post, I pointed readers to Thoreau's passionate admiration and praise of John Brown (not precisely a consistent practitioner of non-violent civil disobedience). Another great admirer of Brown's was Victor Hugo, as discussed in David S. Reynolds' John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights.

Reynolds writes:
It was fitting, given Brown's racial message, that among the most heartfelt services in his honor were those held in Haiti. The epoch-making slave revolts of Haiti had inspired John Brown; he in turn inspired Haitian blacks.


The French novelist-reformer Victor Hugo was as deeply stirred by Brown's death as were the Haitians, whose history and culture he admired. Hugo sent an emotional letter about Brown, dated December 2, to the London News. Soon newspapers throughout the world, including many in America, had reprinted the letter. American Abolitionists saw it as a document that would "be read by millions with thrilling emotions."

What made the letter significant was not only Hugo's celebrity but also his sincere love of America. Hugo did not hate the South and love the North. Instead, he hated slavery and loved America. His revulsion over Brown's execution was proportional to his respect for the American democratic experiment. "The more one loves, admires, reveres, the Republic," he wrote, "the more heart-sick one feels at such a catastrophe." ...

The execution of John Brown revealed America to be the greatest oxymoron in the world. In this unthinkable act, Hugo wrote, the world witnessed "the champion of Christ ... slaughtered by the American Republic," "the assassination of Emancipation by Liberty," "something more terrible than Cain slaying Abel, ... Washington slaying Spartacus!" "The murder of Brown," he wrote, "would be an irreparable fault. It would penetrate the Union with a secret fissure, which would, in the end, tear it asunder."


Hugo's interest in Brown did not flag, even after slavery was abolished. Five years after the Civil War, Hugo aired plans to write a novel about John Brown. ...

Although Hugo dropped the plan, he incorporated Brown into Les Miserables, his famous novel of 1862. At the climax of the novel, to illustrate the idea that the victor is "magnificent" and the martyr "sublime," he wrote: "For ourselves, who prefer martyrdom to success, John Brown is greater than Washington." One sees shades of Brown in Hugo's Christ-like protagonist Jean Valjean, who suffers for the oppressed, and in Enjolras and his fellow revolutionaries, who fight against overwhelming odds on the barricades, just as Brown had fought in the engine house, and who die for a noble cause.

In 1874, Hugo, as the head of a committee of eleven French reformers, wrote a letter to Brown's widow along with a gold medal inscribed "to the memory of John Brown, judicially murdered at Charlestown, in Virginia, on the 2nd of December, 1859, and in commemoration also of his sons and comrades who, with him, became the victims of their devotion to the cause of Negro emancipation."
This is already far longer than I had intended. Perhaps these dismayingly unordered observations provide some impetus to reflection. As my title has it, these are only preliminary thoughts. In the next installment, we will turn to a consideration of a few genuinely difficult issues.

For the moment, I am condemned to exclusion from the state of grace which appears to be remarkably easy of attainment for so many others, where "we all know what we're talking about" and questions of grave import have luminously clear and satisfactory answers. I have sinned greatly in my life, and I continue to pay the price.

November 04, 2011

Sorrowful Silence

I'm very sorry if my prolonged absence has caused some of you concern and distress. As longtime readers know, I stopped reading the majority of my email several years ago. I had been regularly receiving numerous exceptionally nasty messages, some of which were deeply upsetting to me. (My views have not been hugely popular for some time. I understate.) As a simple matter of self-preservation, I had to cease reading emails from people I didn't know. As a result, I must also apologize if you've written to express your worry about my state and received no response. (For those who will tell me to "have a thicker skin": please don't.)

Wendy died at the end of September, at home, in my arms. She and I always had a special connection, one which became truly extraordinary in the last several months of her life. Although she was slowly vanishing before my eyes, Wendy was still able to move fairly well until the last week. Even then, when it took enormous effort, she followed me around the apartment, making sure she was as close to me as possible (when she wasn't on my lap or we weren't lying on the bed together, which we were much of the time). After we had been through so much, and since she still seemed to experience some pleasure at being home, I couldn't bear the thought of taking her to what would be, for her, the strange and very upsetting vet's office.

I also couldn't have her killed. I've lived with a few cats who surrendered to the inevitable toward the end, retreating to a comparatively secluded spot (a closet corner, under a bed), curling up, and not moving at all. Wendy never did that. Right up until the last two or three days, which were ghastly, she still seemed to be enjoying my company, along with that of Cyrano and Sasha (who were wonderful throughout, and I always spent a goodly amount of time with them as well). Wendy especially seemed to like the songs I would sing to her. One of her favorites was this one. And when Frank and I would sing that to Wendy together ... well, Wendy would bliss out and purr, and purr, and purr. In the last few weeks of her life, we'd sing that to her five or six times a day. Some of you may think I'm silly, or pathetic. You're wrong.

I've been overwhelmed with sadness. At this point in my life -- toward the end, although that may still be a few years away (or not), which prospect fills me with relief or greater sadness, depending on my shifting mood -- every loss carries a very heavy weight. There aren't that many more losses to go. And there have now been so many ...

Well. I've been doing some reading, and thinking. I have a few things I think I want to say, in part because I continue to see a lot of nonsense written about, well, everything. Including about the Occupy movement, particularly by those people who are, for reasons which are not at all apparent to me, accepted as instant historians, mysteriously capable of informing us lesser beings of what it all means, including what it all means for the future. I admire their omniscience. Beware the seductive allure of narrative, my friends, especially a preselected one which accords with your particular preferences. In the event you hadn't noticed, history doesn't give a damn about you or the storyline you find so attractive and compelling. History is a messy, violent, most often excessively nasty business.

But I'm not ready yet to write about this in detail, both because of my great sense of loss (which is becoming less paralyzing, but slowly) and also because of the issues I'm reexamining. Unlike our all-knowing seers, it takes me a while to work through complex issues. So I'm rethinking a number of questions, including many related to violence, and doing a considerable amount of reading. Here's one short piece you might want to read yourself and ponder, especially if you're one of those who praises Thoreau (for example) and "non-violent" resistance in general: Thoreau's remarks about John Brown. These issues are fucking complicated. I'm reading a lot about Brown, and I'll have some observations to offer when my own thinking has become clearer to me. (I'm not entirely sure what I think about certain aspects of this at the moment. Phooey, I'll never be a celebrity commentator, to whom everything is crystal clear before it even happens!)

In the meantime -- yes, you knew this was coming, and good Christ, this is incredibly awkward and I loathe having to do it -- I've paid the November rent and I'm perilously close to broke once more. Bless all of you who have been so wonderfully generous. I truly don't know how to express my thanks properly. And I would feel less inclined to ask for help yet another time, except I noticed that Atrios has been flogging his Act Blue donation page. Take a look at how much has been raised, just at Act Blue alone, for Elizabeth Warren. Yes, that's right: closing in on two million dollars.

Two fucking million dollars. For this Elizabeth Warren. (And donations are urged by this Atrios. Did you honestly think he was going to "create an epic 360 degree shitstorm"? As I noted in the earlier post, he leads an exceedingly comfortable life. In other words: he's got his. All this "progressive" blather is simply that: blather. For the suckers. Are you one of them?) But, I mean, Jesus: two million dollars. Functionally, despite whatever they may say (and a lot of Warren says is far beyond despicable and dreadful; check out that link), Warren is part of the ruling class (as is anyone in national or state government and, at this point I would argue, in government at any level), while operatives like Atrios are the ruling class's very useful adjunct. These people will harm you, perhaps grievously and irreversibly. They already do. And people enthusiastically give them lots of money to harm them still more. Perhaps someday (we won't see it), humanity will cease its compulsion to act out its endless nightmare suicide fantasy on the national and global scale.

On the other hand, I won't harm you. I may not offer much, but I offer at least that. I do no harm. Many others can't say the same. So a little financial assistance to a harmless, obscure blogger would be most gratefully received. Cyrano, Sasha and I will be able to muddle along a bit longer, while I gather my thoughts and try to identify what they are. And then, I hope not too long from now, I'll be ready to write.

As always, I extend my enormous gratitude for reading, and caring.