A Terrible Blogger is Born!

July 4, 2010

Anarchism and Patriotism

Filed under: Anarchy,State,U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 1:03 pm
Tags: ,

Last night I did what I suppose what millions of Americans do for fourth of July: I watched a fireworks show at a local park. I was the designated driver for the evening, and I suppose not being drunk for the occasion had a certain detrimental effect on my enjoyment of the proceedings. I like hot summer evenings, outdoor grilling, and fireworks as much as the next guy, but I do not know what they have to do with America, or freedom, or anything other than a good time and a day off from work. I suppose fireworks are meant to remind us of “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” and other such warlike imagery which, we are taught from a young age, are central to our national sentiment. One thing I don’t like is the flyovers by fighter jets and bombers which accompany the show. These remind me that the military is everywhere. They give me a tight feeling in my chest, an anxiety that is the opposite of a feeling of freedom.

Patriotism, even the kind which recognizes a difference between State and Nation, is usually anathema to anarchists (Emma Goldman, for instance), but I don’t think this need be the case. I’d like to quote extensively from an essay by the great English writer G.K. Chesterton, “A Defense of Patriotism.” He considered himself a true patriot and was indignant that patriotism was becoming identified in his country with the warlike spirit, or what he calls a “deaf and raucous jingoism.” His words can be neatly transposed to our own country’s situation as well:

On all sides we hear to-day of the love of our country, and yet anyone who has literally such a love must be bewildered at the talk, like a man hearing all men say that the moon shines by day and the sun by night. The conviction must come to him at last that these men do not realize what the word ‘love’ means, that they mean by the love of country, not what a mystic might mean by the love of God, but something of what a child might mean by the love of jam. To one who loves his fatherland, for instance, our boasted indifference to the ethics of a national war is mere mysterious gibberism. It is like telling a man that a boy has committed murder, but that he need not mind because it is only his son. Here clearly the word ‘love’ is used unmeaningly. It is the essence of love to be sensitive, it is a part of its doom; and anyone who objects to the one must certainly get rid of the other. This sensitiveness, rising sometimes to an almost morbid sensitiveness, was the mark of all great lovers like Dante and all great patriots like Chatham. ‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’ No doubt if a decent man’s mother took to drink he would share her troubles to the last; but to talk as if he would be in a state of gay indifference as to whether his mother took to drink or not is certainly not the language of men who know the great mystery.

. . .

We have to ask, then, Why is it that this recent movement in England, which has honestly appeared to many a renascence of patriotism, seems to us to have none of the marks of patriotism–at least, of patriotism in its highest form? . . . We are, as a nation, in the truly extraordinary condition of not knowing our own merits. We have played a great and splendid part in the history of universal thought and sentiment; we have been among the foremost in that eternal and bloodless battle in which the blows do not slay, but create. In painting and music we are inferior to many other nations; but in literature, science, philosophy, and political eloquence, if history be taken as a whole, we can hold our own with any. But all this vast heritage of intellectual glory is kept from our schoolboys like a heresy; and they are left to live and die in the dull and infantile type of patriotism which they learnt from a box of tin soldiers. There is no harm in the box of tin soldiers; we do not expect children to be equally delighted with a beautiful box of tin philanthropists. But there is great harm in the fact that the subtler and more civilized honour of England is not presented so as to keep pace with the expanding mind. A French boy is taught the glory of Moliere as well as that of Turenne; a German boy is taught his own great national philosophy before he learns the philosophy of antiquity. The result is that, though French patriotism is often crazy and boastful, though German patriotism is often isolated and pedantic, they are neither of them merely dull, common, and brutal, as is so often the strange fate of the nation of Bacon and Locke. It is natural enough, and even righteous enough, under the circumstances. An Englishman must love England for something; consequently, he tends to exalt commerce or prize-fighting, just as a German might tend to exalt music, or a Flamand to exalt painting, because he really believes it is the chief merit of his fatherland. It would not be in the least extraordinary if a claim of eating up provinces and pulling down princes were the chief boast of a Zulu. The extraordinary thing is, that it is the chief boast of a people who have Shakespeare, Newton, Burke, and Darwin to boast of.

America cannot look back on a long and deep tradition of high culture and intellectual distinction (though we have recently produced some of the finest world literature, from Whitman and Dickinson to Faulkner and Stevens), as England and the European nations can. But it has a far more glorious tradition of libertarianism, and it is this tradition which is forgotten, largely by the design of our education.  It is therefore a shame that the nation of Jefferson and Paine, of the Whiskey Rebellion and the spirit of ’76, of a long long train of religious dissidents and individualist anarchists, has as its best avatar of the soul Dick Cheney.

I recommend as devotional readings for the anarchist patriot the following: “Anarchism and American Traditions” by Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Origins of Individualist Anarchism in America,” and “Was the American Revolution Radical?” (an audio excerpt from the multi-volume history Conceived in Liberty) by Murray N. Rothbard.

P.S.- I was looking for some American flag pictures to accompany this post, but I found it too stomach-turning. Enough with the damn flag already. The less American citizens care about actual freedom or any of the worthwhile traditions of this country (like say, the Bill of Rights), the more they care about worthless symbols like the flag. I am reminded of a witty aside by literary critic Harold Bloom in one of his best books, The American Religion: “Creationism, I am now convinced, is only secondarily directed against the ghost of Charles Darwin. It is directed instead against all those who might deny that the Bible is a vast solid object, like a cliff or a First Baptist Church in a Texas city.” Similarly, American patriotism, 99 times out of a hundred, is only secondarily directed against those who hate America. It is instead a fierce defense of the American flag as a concrete object as it waves in arrogant victory over the cowed foreigner and the awestruck citizen, its stripes licking the sky like tongues of flame, its stars seeming like an explosion of sparks, the kind often seen when one has been punched squarely in the nose.

June 23, 2010

Spotlight on Israel

Filed under: State,War — rmangum @ 1:31 pm

. . . the government of Israel does not like the kinds of things I say — which puts them into the category of I suppose every other government in the world.
-Noam Chomsky

I may be premature or overly optimistic, but I think that we’ve reached some kind of turning point in American public opinion regarding Israel in the wake of the Gaza aid flotilla debacle. Our policy of blindly supporting Israel whatever they do, at whatever cost (monetary or political) is one of the greatest barriers to peace in our time, and such a policy seems more ludicrous the more heavy-handed Israel’s tactics become. When the Israeli state’s (I must repeat, with emphasis, “State,”not people) only supporters in America are the Christian Right and Democratic party leaders with a clear vested interest in keeping the Israel lobby happy, then we might see some change.

Here’s a round-up, with some comments, of articles I’ve recently read on the subject.

“Israel’s Feeling of Isolation is Becoming More Pronounced” (from The Washington Post): If Israel is very much like America, and a taste for indie rock is a pretty good indicator of liberal political beliefs, then concert cancellations by “Elvis Costello, The Pixies, and indie folk singer Devandra Banhart” should breed some internal resentment (in addition to, you know, the murdered aid deliverers).

“Desegregation in the Holy Land”
by Richard Spencer, from Alternative Right: This is not really about the Gaza situation, but it points out that relations with Arabs aren’t the only race problem Israel faces. Coming from a right-wing perspective, of course Spencer points out the hypocrisy of this, given the fact that Jews have been in the vanguard of civil rights movements in America. But what he fails to address is this: in every case of hypocrisy, the question is in which direction should it resolve into consistency- start practicing what you preach, or start preaching what you practice? Spencer’s fellow “white nationalists” clearly prefer the latter, the former is always possible and usually preferable.  This leads me to a fascinating article by Peter Beinart in the New York Review of Books, which shows clearly that there is something of a generation gap between young Jewish liberals in America and their parents or grandparents when it comes to attitudes about Israel. Faced with a choice between liberal democratic values and support of Israel, young Jews will decidedly opt for the former. Or as Beinart puts it:

For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.

Beinart characterizes this situation as a “failure of the American Jewish establishment,” that is, a failure to offer an alternative “liberal Zionism.” Whatever, the reason, it is an important part of the change in public opinion I am sensing.

Michael Chabon, the Jewish-American novelist, (author of several novels I’ve been meaning to get around to reading), is a bit older than the demographic Beinart discusses, but his embarrassed reaction to the news of the aid flotilla attack in the New York Times is probably somewhat typical. He muses about the discrepancy between famed Jewish intelligence and Israel’s “unprecedented display of blockheadedness.” Had he read Kevin Carson’s book on Organization Theory, he would have no cause for wonder: a given organizational system (in this case a militarized state) may be stupid, even if the people who make it up are not. It is no accident that “military intelligence” is widely regarded as an oxymoron. But I wonder if Chabon is not evading the real issue by focusing on the stupidity of Israeli actions, which is of course that they are highly immoral. As a parallel, I suggest that George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq is one of the stupidest acts the American government has ever done, but that is nothing compared to how immoral it was. One of my main problems with liberal critics of the war is that they have been obsessed with how “badly handled” it was (the unspoken subtext being that a high-I.Q. Democratic administration would have fared better), which distracts from the fact that it should not have ever happened in the first place. Bad management does not bring people to the barricades. Fighting brutality and oppression, that is to say, fighting evil, does.

P.S.- It’s stupid that I should even have to address this, but let me clear up a few things: 1. I am not Jewish, but even if I was, that fact alone doesn’t seem to keep you safe from the charge of anti-Semitism these days (nor, apparently, does it even give you a right to visit Israel). 2. Not only am I not anti-Semitic, I would even say that I am pro-Semitic, though I would point out that Arabs are Semites too. 3. Do I think that the State of Israel should not exist. Of course! I am an anarchist: I think no State should exist. States do not have a right to exist- people do, and both Jews and Arabs, in the Middle East as elsewhere, can claim the same right.

June 12, 2010

The Only Thing We Have to Fear . . .

Filed under: Notes Toward a Supreme Conspiracy Theory,State,U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 9:58 pm
Tags: ,

I’ve been reading Phillip Jenkins‘ political and social history of 1970’s America, Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America. The first thing I have to note is the striking similarities between our current period and the one Jenkins covers (focusing specifically on 1974 to 1977). But I really had an epiphany when I read about what Jenkins calls “The Terror Noncrisis.” He argues that the mid-seventies saw a wave of domestic terrorism in America. He writes, “In terms of the scale and frequency of attacks , America during the mid-1970’s was suffering one of the worst waves of terrorist violence in its history to that point.” He cites some well-known events, such as the Patty Hearst kidnapping, the ’75 bombing of the State Department by the Weather Underground, as well as some which were news to me, such as the “Zebra murders” in San Francisco and a Puerto Rican nationalist group called the FALN, supposedly responsible for “over thirty bomb attacks in New York, Chicago, and Washington.” These groups didn’t really have anything to do with each other, but all could be broadly categorized as subscribing to some Leftish variety of radicalism. But Jenkins also notes that anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Miami “became the heart of a flourishing terrorist and guerilla subculture.”

So what is the point in linking all of these together under the rubric of a “terror wave”? 1970’s domestic terrorism as a single phenomenon has been largely ignored by historians (“as late as 1995, writers on Oklahoma City were still remarking that finally ‘terrorism had come to the United States'”) and, more shockingly from a post-9/11 perspective, was not high on the list of earth-shaking fears of Americans at the time. As I said, the various groups were not linked (except as they each represented the death-spasms of the New Left), but it is strange that it was not thought to be the case at the time (except by usual anti-commie suspects like the Birchers). A mere 10 years earlier every longhair with a peace sign was suspected as an agent of Moscow, but now that the longhairs were actually blowing things up, nobody thought the revolution was finally upon us?  And its not as if the seventies lacked the paranoid mindset. As Jenkins demonstrates, this was the decade when the conspiracy theory went mainstream. So what happened?

The short answer is that Richard Nixon happened. The revelations about Watergate, COINTELPRO, the American-backed coup in Chile, and other government scandals had everyone looking to Washington as the source of crime and corruption. “The near-total focus on abuses by government and law enforcement meant that political dangers of a kind that in any other political environment would have demanded an urgent response. . . . The powerful focus on evils committed by the state diverted attention from subversives or revolutionary threats, however well-documented those dangers.”

While Jenkins does not deny that government agencies brought it on themselves, he seems to lament that the CIA and FBI were weakened, and thus unable to deal with new terror threats. “Infiltration and surveillance of the sort that once would have been commonplace was now highly unpopular . . .” But that’s the rub! Every single terror group Jenkins writes about fizzled out within the decade. Precisely nothing came of these threats beyond the isolated events. There was no revolution, because it was not televised. Americans quite rationally feared being spied on by government, but they did not fear that the Symbionese Liberation Army would force them all to smoke dope in communes while having orgies in front of a Chairman Mao poster. But let’s say that the Feds had retained the organization and legitimacy to “mobilize public concern.” It might have been civil war, and people might have felt like the wheels were coming off entirely (as they arguably did in ’69-70, the time of the Manson Family murders and Kent State). Consequently, they would have demanded greater force and more expansive measures.

Obviously, we can learn something from this era. As it stands, we have a president who refuses to prosecute his predecessor, the latter being guilty of crime and corruption at least on the level, and probably far exceeding that of Nixon and LBJ. And, oh yeah, then there’s the whole police state thing. And what are we worried about? The Hutaree.

The terror wave of 1974-1977, unlike that of the 2000’s, was a “noncrisis” because terrorism doesn’t work if you don’t become terrorized.

May 16, 2010

Sir Patrick Spens

Filed under: Literature,State,War — rmangum @ 11:52 am
Tags: , ,

The Scottish ballad tradition contains some of the most haunting and beautiful poetry ever composed, a fact all the more striking since the authorship of most of it is anonymous. Fans of American folk, bluegrass, and country music will find it the lyrical origins of our most vital body of song, expressing a powerful sense of death and loss. “Sir Patrick Spens” has this, and something more: a protest of political power. It is a powerful indictment of a king’s power to send his subjects off to pointless death’s on fool’s errands.

The king sits in Dumferling town
Drinking the bluid-red wine:
‘O whar will I get a guid sailor
To sail this ship of mine?’
Up and spak an eldern knicht,
Sat at the king’s richt knee:
‘Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor
That sails upon the sea.’
The king has written a braid letter
And signed it wi’ his hand,
And sent it to Sir Patrick Spens,
Was walking on the sand.
The first line that Sir Patrick read
A loud lauch lauched he;
The next line that Sir Patrick read,
The tear blinded his ee.
‘O wha is this has done this deed,
This ill deed done to me,
To send me out this time o’the year,
To sail upon the sea?
‘Mak haste, mak haste, my mirry men all,
Our guid ship sails the morn.’
‘O say na sae, my master dear,
For I fear a deadly storm.’
‘Late, late yestre’en I saw the new moon
Wi’the old moon in his arm,
And I fear, I fear, my dear master,
That we will come to harm.’
O our Scots nobles were richt laith
To weet their cork-heeled shoon,
But lang or a’ the play were played
Their hats they swam aboon.
O lang, lang may their ladies sit,
Wi’their fans into their hand,
Or ere they see Sir Patrick Spens
Come sailing to the land.
O lang, lang may the ladies stand
Wi’their gold kems in their hair,
Waiting for their ain dear lords,
For they’ll never see them mair.
Half o’er, half o’er to Aberdour
It’s fifty fathoms deep,
And there lies guid Sir Patrick Spens
Wi’the Scots lords at his feet.

In the first stanza we meet the king, who “sits in Dumferling town/Drinking the blude-reid wine.” Kings sit on thrones and hold court, but this king apparently occupies the whole town, signifying how places become identified with “great” political figures (think “Washington”). His wine is “blude-reid” because he is a parasite living off of the blood of the people he rules. It is no accident that the tyrannical king Vlad Dracula, famous for his enthusiasm for torture, bequeathed his name to the most famous fictional vampire. The king wants someone to “sail this ship of mine.” The ship of state is considered the sovereign’s personal property. No sooner is the question asked then someone at court pipes up to volunteer someone else for the job, in this case “an eldern knicht” who “Sat at the king’s richt knee.” It’s always the same story, old men sending off younger ones to die. The knicht may have been a warrior once, but is now just another courtier. He is a right-knee man, which is a much lower stature than a right-hand man. Today the knight would be a security adviser or a pentagon bureaucrat.

When we first meet our titular hero, he is innocently “walking on the sand,” which contrasts with the king’s sitting at the seat power. He has received a letter from the king, who “signed it wi’ his hand.” It is the same in Dylan Thomas’ “The Hand that Signed the Paper,” which declares, “Great is the hand that holds dominion over/Man by a scribbled name.” The hand is a metonymn for political power. The signature is proof of guilt in a contract killing. The king is represented by his limbs, his hand and knee. His body is the body politic (an idea illustrated on the frontispiece of Hobbes’ Leviathan), and his subjects are nothing but a multitude of appendages which may be used, severed, and then disposed with. Other characters in the poem are known by their accessories, tools by which ordinary people live, such as the sailors’ shoes and hats, the latter of which will be found swimming on the water, signaling their fate. At the end of the poem we do find reference to an appendage not the king’s: “thair lies Sir Patrick Spens/Wi’ the Scots lords at his feit.” This is a morbid parody of the opening scene of the king with his knights at court.

True to the Scots ballad tradition, “Sir Patrick Spens” highlights the experience of women, who are as affected by the adventurism of government that sends young men out to die as the men themselves. Two stanzas are given to the ladies, wives and mothers who bear the brunt of the loss when the state demands sacrifice. In the poem they represent an alternative body politic which, sitting or standing, may not be made whole because their men have been severed from them.

The poem leaves out a great deal of the story, such as the nature of the mission and how the crew died, but we can imagine any of the innumerable suicide missions a king can dream up. The point is that the brave knight met Leviathan and was destroyed. But Sir Patrick has the last laugh: we know his name, which is immortalized in the ballad, but not that of the ruler.

March 1, 2010

These are the ways the world ends

Filed under: Literature,Utopia,War — rmangum @ 9:58 pm
Tags: , ,

The latest episode of Battleship Pretension is on Post-apocalyptic film. The related ideas of apocalypse, eschatology, utopia and dystopia, have a special interest for me, and they have come up in the past week without my seeking them. First, I have been reading William Langland’s medieval visionary poem Piers Plowman, which is apocalyptic, but more in the classical sense. Second, my Dad calls to tell me of  his concern about my state of emergency preparedness because of a near-death-experience book he has recently become aware of which contains prophecies of, among other things, a terrorist attack on Salt Lake City and an invasion of the Rocky Mountains (a la Red Dawn) by Russia and China. Now this BP episode. Okay, so I’ll buy some bottled water and some extra round for my .38.

Now, the boys are a little fuzzy on the definition of “apocalypse“, its specific theology within Christianity, as well as its parameters as a film genre (it’s a book genre, too, counting J.G. Ballard, Stephen King, and recently Cormac McCarthy as notable practitioners, and this might or might not complicate the issue). However, they wisely stick to specifically post-apocalyptic film rather than apocalyptic films, the latter being mostly disaster films such as those made by Roland Emmerich (rightly disdained by Battleship Pretension). Case in point, I’d classify Night of the Living Dead as apocalyptic, and Dawn of the Dead as post-apocalyptic. They mostly avoid the novice mistake of lumping these in with dystopian films, which are a different bag altogether. Post-apocalyptic fiction concerns what happens after society falls apart. Dystopian fiction concerns societies which “work”, more or less, but are oppressive and/or perverse. The confusion comes because both typically concern societies in the future, and a dystopia may well come about because of an apocalyptic event (such as a world war). I could go on and on. I would like to quibble, however, about the inclusion of Planet of the Apes which, despite its twist ending which reveals the world to be post-apocalyptic from Chuck Heston’s perspective, seems to me more dystopian than anything. The portrayal of ape society is meant to comment on human society, as much as the non-human worlds visited by Gulliver do in Gulliver’s Travels.

Apocalypse strikes me as a uniquely Western theme, perhaps because of the legacy of Christianity, the most successful of the many apocalyptic sects of the ancient near east. St. John of Patmos is the first great apocalyptic poet, but it seems to me that the apocalyptic imagination only gets stronger the further we get into modernity. It is particularly strong, for reasons I can only speculate about, in Britain and America. The whole Dawn of the Dead/I am Legend/28 Days Later/The Road strain of horror and sci-fi in particular comes from British Romanticism. Check out Lord Byron’s poem “Darkness” if you don’t believe me. In America and Australia the genre is concerned with a particular vision of the wasteland, and is tied to the genre of the Western.

My other complaint is that they simply didn’t mention enough movies. Those interested in more books and movies of this type should visit Empty World. They do include dytopian ficiton, but you can argue the point that a dystopia counts an eschatological, or end-of-history narrative, but you’d have to do so on a case-by-case basis. For instance, Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron” is dystopian though not apocalyptic (the world changes through acts of congress, not divine judgment), or eschatological, (since the title character shows the cracks in the system which might lead to its downfall), while his novel Cat’s Cradle ends apocalyptically, but is not a dystopia.

December 9, 2009

Know Your Limits

Filed under: State,U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 8:29 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I have just finished The Limits of Power by Andrew Bacevich, an excellent critique of American foreign policy, specifically the ideology of “National Security” as rooted in our political culture. I believe the book’s flaws have been adequately pointed out by David Gordon in his review back in the Spring, so I’ll avoid the temptation to criticize and highlight what is most valuable about this short but potent book.

First, while Bacevich is by no means any sort of political radical, his critique is stringent and quite amenable to radicalism. Consider this assessment of our recent middle-eastern adventurism in the broader context of American history:

We’ve been down this path before. After liberating Cuba in 1898 and converting it into a protectorate, the United States set out to transform the entire Caribbean into an “American lake.” Just as, a century ago, senior U.S. officials proclaimed their concern for the well-being of Hatians, Dominicans, and Nucaraguans, so do Senior U.S. officials now insist on their commitment to “economic reform, democratic reform, and human rights” for all Central Asians.

But this is mere camouflage. The truth is that the United States is engaged in an effort to encorporate Central Asia into the Pax Americana.


The striking thing about this passage, as with so many in the book, is that it can apply equally to this administration as well as the previous one. Bacevich understands that the ideology of National Security is a bipartisan faith, even if American voters don’t. And he understands the nature of that ideology, which has little to do with the actual safety of the American people.

The ideology of national security does not serve as an operational checklist. It imposes no specific obligations. It functions the way ideology so often does- not to divine truth or even make sense of things, but to provide a highly elastic rationale for action. In the American context, it serves principally to legitimate the exercise of executive power. It removes constraints, conferring on presidents and their immediate circle of advisers wide prerogatives for deciding when and how to employ that power.

Speaking of the executive, Bacevich is particularly scathing about how the focus of mass politics has been reduced down to that office, indeed it seems to be solely about our emotions regarding the man in power:

Beginning with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, the occupant of the White House has become a combinaiton of demigod, father figure, and, inevitably, the betrayer of hopes. Pope, pop star, scold, scapegoat, crisis manager, commander in chief, agenda setter, moral philosopher, interpreter of the nation’s charisma, object of veneration, and the butt of jokes- regardless of personal attributes and qualifications, the president is perforce all these rolled into one.

The president also serves as an important cultural shibboleth. How you feel about Obama or Bush will determine who your friends are, what social circles you can participate in. But in practice they all serve the same function. In a recent Young American Revolution article on the antifederalists, Bill Kauffman quotes the pseudonymous Philadelphiensis’ objection to the executive proposed by the recently proposed constitution: “Who can deny the president general will be . . . a king elected to command a standing army?” Our revolutionary forbears were as suspicious of standing armies as we are enamored of- and dependent upon- them.

Bacevich follows his thorough critique of the national security state’s failures with a question that points in the right direction:

When considering the national security state as it has evolved and grown over the past six decades, what exactly has been the value added? And if the answer is none- if, indeed the return on the investment has been essentially negative- then perhaps the time has come to consider dismantling an apparatus that demonstrably serves no useful purpose.

“Dismantling the apparatus” is the starting point, though it will mean different things to different groups. But I think that everyone outside of the hegemonic center of American politics, from left-libertarians to post-paleos, social anarchists to anarcho-capitalists, even disaffected liberals and conservatives, has a common interest in dismantling it. For a somewhat centrist conservative like Bacevich, the purpose is to insure a more cautious and moderate foreign policy that attaches a different, more humble, meaning to American freedom and prosperity. This is worth considering, too. Though I don’t think the word “hubris” ever comes up in the book, it’s clearly what Bacevich identify’s as the country’s greatest sin. And it’s not just that our use of military might is immoral, or that it has been incompetantly exercised: there are actually objective limits on what force as such can accomplish.

November 11, 2009

Minority Report

Filed under: U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 11:03 pm
Tags:

Last night while at the gym I saw a clip of CNN’s “Senior Legal Analyst” Jeffrey Toobin talking to Anderson Cooper. In the wake of the Fort Hood shooting spree by a Muslim Army psychiatrist, Nidal Hasan, CNN had been showing the obligatory clips of bearded men shouting on streetcorners in London and New York and handing out flyers. Despite the fact that 99% of all reasonable people who have things to do in their lives completely ignore anybody standing on a streetcorner and shouting- particularly if the shouters have a religious bent- the news media feel the need to scare up fear about these “hate groups”. Anyway, Toobin gives us his own version of the “9/11 changed everything” argument by saying that, whereas before 9/11, the focus of the American Justice System was to convict criminals after they had committed a crime (you can see that this is, logically, a tautaulogy, yes?), the focus after 9/11 had to be about crime prevention. In particular, he referenced the need for hate speech/hate crime legislation. You can see where this is going. Since we were attacked by Muslims who hated (irrationally, of course) the United States, we can prevent further attacks by making it a crime to be a Muslim who hates the United States. Toobin went on to say something like, “Unfortunately, our legal system just isn’t set up to deal with this.” Yes, unfortunately. But since 9/11, it’s been getting better every day. What, in my naivete, shocked me was the lack of any mention of why our legal system doesn’t punish people who have committed no crime. Phrases like “due process” and “presumtion of innocence” are not heard.  I can understand, though disagree with, someone opposing those things due to some overriding necessity or contigency, but to look at them uncomprehendingly as a design flaw in an outaded model? Now, I understand this isn’t quite like the “Precrime” department in Minority Report, since the argument is that we should criminalize speech and acts which lead to the greater crimes of terrorism. But I think the totalitarian implications are clear enough. But this is my own streetcorner rant: when liberty is regarded as an dangerous and alien concept, we are already a totalitarian country.

But to get back to the Ft. Hood shooter, Hasan: what could have tipped off a Department of Precrime, and thus prevent a shooting spree? The Washington Post reports. Apparantly, a year and a half ago Hasan gave a presentation to Army physicians as a resident at the infamous Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He was expected to lecture on a medical topic, but instead, much to the dismay of his audience.

he stood before his supervisors and about 25 other mental health staff members and lectured on Islam, suicide bombers and threats the military could encounter from Muslims conflicted about fighting in the Muslim countries of Iraq and Afghanistan.

As near as I can tell about his presentation from the Post article, the purpose was- fitting with his training as a psychiatrist- to explain the psychology of suicide bombers within the context of Koranic faith. This could be useful stuff. Learning about the psychology of Islam might cause the U.S. military to question the widom of occupying Muslim countries. So of course it is doubly offensive to Hasan’s Army supervisors. Hasan was also particularly concerned about Muslims serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“It’s getting harder and harder for Muslims in the service to morally justify being in a military that seems constantly engaged against fellow Muslims,” he said in the presentation.

This aspect of his presentation has in hindsight a clearly autobiographical element. Hasan was to be deployed to Afghanistan where, according to a relative, he asked not to be sent. His presentation, titled “The Koranic Worldview as it Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military” concluded:

“Department of Defense should allow Muslims [sic] Soldiers the option of being released as ‘Conscientious objectors’ to increase troop morale and decrease adverse events.”

Oddly, or not, the Post article seems not to get the real meaning of Hasan’s presentation. To them it reveals his “extremist views”. To me it looks like a desperate plea. Hasan may or may not have been “in contact with others who may have encouraged violence against U.S. troops.” More information will come out I am sure. But then why a warning to the Army about potential internal threats?

Nidal Malik Hasan is a criminal, a mass murderer. That much is sure. But is this a crime of “extremism” and “hate”, and does it necessitate the criminalization of those motives as well? Or might this have something to do with the contradictions of being a Muslim employed by an Army that kills Muslims every day? And even if Hasan turns out to be an agent of Al Qaeda, that means the shooting is subject to the same logic of blowback as 9/11, which is that, as  Rep. Ron Paul explained to the dismayed Guliani, they hate us because we’re over there. It’s a hatred that may be extreme, but is anything but irrational.

October 16, 2009

The mainsream American Left is ignorant and naive: some recent evidence

Filed under: Economics,State,U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 6:46 pm
Tags: , , ,

Let’s go from least to most egregious. First, Rachel Maddow, a prime example of what Kevin Carson terms “goo-goo” liberalism. He writes:

Recently Rachel Maddow mentioned Congressman Jim DeMint’s planned trip to Honduras, where he intended to encourage coup leaders to defy the U.S. government.

Maddow prefaced her remarks with a long homily on how badly the U.S. government hated military coups, because they ran counter to everything the U.S. government stands for, were so abhorrent to American values that the U.S. government cut off all ties to such repugnant pariah regimes, and blah blah woof woof.

This is amazingly stupid—almost as stupid as the Congressman I saw back in the ’90s, speaking in regard to Clinton’s Balkan wars, who said he’d learned in school that the U.S. never went to war to obtain a square foot of territory or a dollar of treasure. The U.S. government is opposed to coups, especially against democratically elected leaders? Yeah, maybe in the Bearded Spock universe. Um, ever hear of Armas? Suharto? Mourão Filho? Pinochet? I’m sure all those nice folks in the U.S. government cried over such coups, just like Iron Eyes Cody watching somebody litter Central Park—or rather just like Lewis Carrol’s Walrus, weeping even as he polished off the last of the oysters.

Maddow also suggested it was “treason” to encourage another government to defy the policies of the United States government.

Carson adds that “It’s usually Olbermann who’s prone to this kind of liberal mirror-imaging of right-wing know-nothingism”, and I have noticed a more critical attitude toward Obama, however tepid, on her show than on others. Still, she’s part of the choir for sure.

Then there’s our good friend Michael Moore, always playing trenchant critic of the status quo while stumping for what is in effect a slightly more left-wing version of it. From what I have read of his new film Capitalism: A Love Story (no, I have not seen it), he shows an American government owned by Wall Street, and yet peddles the line that the election of Obama is a sign of Hope and Change. And yet who do we find right near the top of Obama’s campaign contributors? That’s right, Goldman freakin’ Sachs! You can rest assured that if McCain were president, Moore would have mentioned this fact in his movie. But Democrats just can’t be corrupted like that. Even the NPR review I heard pointed out that Obama’s policies are largely the same.

Thomas Naylor of the left-secessionist Second Vermont Republic likes the critique of Capitalism, but not the Big Government conclusions.

Moore is fully cognizant of the fact that the American economic machine is driven by money, power, speed, and greed. Unfortunately, he is a lot less savvy in his grasp of the problem of size in America. Moore appears to be oblivious to the fact that our country, our government, our cities, our corporations, our schools, our churches, our military, and our social welfare system are all too big, too powerful, too intrusive, too insular, and too unresponsive to the needs of individual citizens and small local communities.

The reason Moore is blind to the “problem of size” (and the problem of power) is that he is obviously not some anti-establishment rebel, but an authoritarian progressive. Another NPR reviewer, Kenneth Turan, points out:

In the end, perhaps the most startling thing about Capitalism is that Moore stands revealed not as some pointy-headed socialist, but as an unreconstructed New Deal Democrat. He admires Franklin D. Roosevelt, believes in increased democracy and opportunity, and feels that the decades-long weakening of unions has fatally weakened America.

For my money, I’ll take a pointy-headed socialist any day, many of whom actually believe that it was FDR’s incorporation of unions as a people’s movement into a managerial-capitalist structure that led to their ultimate weakening. Naylor’s article also quotes Moore as saying his major hero is Abraham Lincoln, which is quite revealing if you know anything about Lincoln’s economic policies, which were essentially mercantilist, and defined by Murray Rothbard as “a system of statism which employed economic fallacy to build up a structure of imperial state power, as well as special subsidy and monopolistic privilege to individuals or groups favored by the state.” If I may do a bit of shotgun revisionist economic history here, one could argue that the Hamilton-Henry Clay-Lincoln economic nationalist and pro-big banking philosophy led in a direct line to the Goldman Sachs’ America we have now. But could you make a hit movie about that?

Finally we have the selling out of the liberal anti-war movement in the Obama feel-good age (and isn’t he really like the Reagan of the left?), as Code Pink goes to Code Yellow. Founder Medea Benjamin is now thinking it might be a good idea to keep the war in Afghanistan after all, after former Karzai “Minister of Women” Masooda Jalal told her they needed more aid and more troops. Well, if the Minister of Women for a U.S. puppet says so! Medea may have just realized, along with authoritarian progressives all across the country, that this is the perfect war for her. As Anti-War.com’s Justin Raimondo writes:

This is a project sure to warm the hearts of “progressives” who long to do the same right here in the US – lift up the starving masses and pull them (forcibly, if necessary) into modernity. In the meantime, however, they’re content to settle for Afghanistan as a target of opportunity, and a kind of experimental laboratory in which to perfect their social engineering skills.

Added to this “humanitarian” impulse is the tremendous pull of identity politics, which dictates that something must be done about the status of women in Afghanistan – and if the US army does it, well then, Benjamin will hold her nose and overcome her distaste for the flag they fly long enough to applaud the “liberation” of Afghan women. Has a more appalling hypocrisy ever been conceived?

You may have noticed a theme in all these stories: a naivete in the face of power on the part of liberals, as long as that power says it is working for “democracy and opportunity”. At least, I only hope it is naivete. It could be that they know full well what they’re doing. It’s worth quoting again one of the most insightful points about the contemporary liberal mentality I have read, from Paul Gottfried’s After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State:

Like other contemporary social democrats who call themselves liberal, Rawls fails to discuss power. . . . The real reason, I would argue, is that liberals do not want to be seen as imposing their will upon others. They are philosophically and temperamentally uncomfortable with the power they both exercise and expand.

October 7, 2009

True Crime

For anyone who hasn’t been following the Sibel Edmonds story, or is just interested in a shocking tale of corruption and intrigue, I highly recommend the cover story of the latest issue of The American Conservative, “Who’s Afraid of Sibel Edmonds?” A former translator of Turkish for the FBI, Edmonds tells a fascinating story of State Department officials selling secrets to foreign intelligence, members of congress being bribed and blackmailed, American university professors acting as foreign agents, and negotiations between the people in the American and Turkish governments over potential occupation of Iraq before 9/11! Oh yeah, and a bit of sex scandal too.

The main reason this story isn’t being picked up by major media outlets is that it serves no partisan utility. It indicts Democrats as well as Republicans. Yes it is in The American Conservative, but don’t let the name scare you. This is an important story. When asked whether she expects change from the Obama administration, Edmonds expresses skepticism, pointing to the continuation or escalation of some of the worst Bush policies (the State Secrets Privelege, most notably), and adds:

The other thing I noticed is how Chicago, with its culture of political corruption, is central to the new administration. When I saw that Obama’s choice of chief of staff was Rahm Emanuel, knowing his relationship with Mayor Richard Daley and with the Hastert crowd, I knew we were not going to see positive changes. Changes possibly, but changes for the worse. It was no coincidence that the Turkish criminal entity’s operation centered on Chicago.

As the old conspiracy-theory saw has it, this one goes all the way to the top.

July 8, 2009

The Death of a Technocrat

Filed under: Dylanalia,State,U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 3:26 am
Tags: , , ,

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

-Bob Dylan

The hand that signed the paper felled a city
-Dylan Thomas

robert-mcnamaraSynchronicity: My girlfriend had never seen The Fog of War, the fascinating Errol Morris documentary portrait of Robert McNamara as he reflects over his life as a statistical analysis expert during World War II, as the head (briefly) of Ford Motors, as Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense during the Cuban missile crisis and the early days of Vietnam, and as head of the World Bank. We got the film from Netflix more than a week ago, but were away last week for the Shakespeare festival in Southern Utah, and only got a chance to watch it last night. McNamara was already into his eighties when it was filmed, and Jane marveled at how much younger he seemed, how lucid and animated. “Is he still alive?” she asked me. “I’m actually not sure,” I admitted. Well, he was. Until yesterday.

Superficially, McNamara’s career boasts a string of successes beyond belief. He was known in the early, pre-Vietnam years as a “whiz kid”, a genius technocrat out of Harvard Business who made cars safer and bombs deadlier with his mastery of numbers, his gift of analysis. Closer inspection shows someone who engineered a series of blunders as he moved from one institution he had no experiential knowledge of to another. He gave Ford the Edsel, and helped bring America its most traumatic and divisive war of the modern era. But he was blind to the source of his failures because of his ideological commitment to abstract planning, number-manipulation, and managerialism. I’ve been thinking a lot about these things lately as a result of reading Kevin Carson’s Organization Theory. I had to stifle a guffaw when I heard McNamara boast about how he transformed Ford Motors by bringing in his carpetbagging comrades from business schools. You see, Ford had fewer than 10 college graduates among its managers and directors (remember that this is the company which virtually invented the whole industry- and without the help of Harvard!): I’m sure Carson would have a laugh at that one too. McNamara is the “Man of System” famously written of by Adam Smith and (in a more mean-spirited vein) much of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” fits him like a “T” as well: “You that hide behind walls/you that hide behind desks”; “You play with my world/like its your little toy”.  In these aspects McNamara’s career is an exemplary one for the twentieth century (“I could pick a better century out of a hat!” says a character in the movie Sabrina- the one with Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, not the one with Greg Kinnear). For further analysis of McNamara along these lines I suggest John Ralston Saul’s Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, a book I don’t entirely agree with but well worth reading nonetheless. And of course, The Fog of War. Watching it, even a committed anarchist such as myself must feel some sympathy with the man, who on the one hand has genuinely tried to do good in the world and cannot understand why he has wrought evil, and on the other has the candor to admit that he is a war criminal- or would be, if his side lost.

I have not read any of the mainstream obituaries. I’m sure most will be politic. Many will be laudatory. Lew Rockwell.com was characteristically, and I think justly, acerbic:

Robert Strange McNamara, a brilliant bureaucrat and important member of the US power elite, has died at 93. A key planner of  the terror bombing of civilians in WWII and of the terrorist war on Vietnam, he later continued his service to the empire as head of the World Bank.

and:

If the prosecution of war criminals by the United States was ever taken seriously, McNamara would have been one of the leading candidates for the gallows. Instead, as we have been informed, the man died peacefully in his sleep, further evidence that, indeed, there is no justice in our world.

Is this a bit much? I don’t think so. Bernie Madoff just got the proverbial 99 years (or whatever) and would have been strung up and pummeled with stones like Mussolini if let loose amid the angry mob- and yet he never killed anybody, but merely proved the old saw about fools and their money. McNamara on the other hand- well, just watch the video. So I’ll leave off with another Dylan quote from “Masters of War”, even though I don’t think McNamara was a master of anything.

And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.