The Searing Light of Freedom and The Production Of Wood
"How fond I am of misfortune's tragic effects, how they stiffen me..."
—Sade, the tradesman Cordelli in Juliette
The Crisis of Authority and the Need to Believe
It should be apparent by now that there's a universal crisis of authority and its institutions right now in Murka. This shouldn't surprise anybody: for almost three generations (if not the entire history of the republic) there's been scandal after scandal involving all institutional authority. You can't trust the media; you can't trust the government; you can't trust the so-called holy men (eg, pederastic priests); you can't trust corporations, bankers, businessmen, economists, etc.; you can't trust where your food is coming from; you can't trust schools, healthcare, daycare, drug makers, nursing homes, funeral parlors. You're not even supposed to trust your neighbor, 'cause they may be on the other side of the cultural divide. And between the insights of psychoanalysis on the one hand, and a hectic lifestyle of nonstop stress and guilt and inadequacy and distraction on the other, you can't even trust yourself anymore to know that you're doing the right thing... Thus it's no wonder that people glom onto some kind — any kind — of belief system, no matter how outlandish; for when truth is unmoored people desperately seek some kind of anchor. (Or, as E. O. Wilson so poetically put it, "In the midst of absurdity the trumpet is certain.")
But that desperate search for truth and certainty is made all the harder and more desperate as countless brash voices of illegitimate authority continually bark at you to believe their lies, share their hatreds, and build distrust of all those who disagree. And it's all fear, all lies, all scarcity, all competition, all mindless benumbing distracting infotainment... it's all ways to divide and conquer, divide and conquer, keep people stupid and scared so they'll cling ever tighter to illegitimate authority to deliver them the false hope and phantasmic security they're made to crave. It's a deluge of bullshit, this politics of division. Illegitimate authority continually seeks to find ways to turn us against each other, rather than looking for ways to unite us in our common humanity, our common goals of creating a sense of belonging and acceptance wherein we all seek to nurture our mutual actualization in a space of peace. Eugene Ionesco got it absolutely right when he said "Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together." They understand this, and they know what a threat a united citizenry is to their illegitimate authority, especially a citizenry that would dare to ignore their bullshit. It's why behind the missionairies lurk the soldiers. And so illegitimate authority blares their ideologies, fine-tuning their messages to separate us ever more from each other, turning up the ideological rheostat on the floor of our overcrowded rat's cage like behavioral scientists studying aggression; then, while we're all distracted with fighting each other over our overemphasized differences, our illegitimate leaders steal us blind, robbing our money, our dignity, our lives, and our future.
There are many places to get a sense of how successful this message of divide and conquer is. It produces a seething and irrational mindset, one that yearns for, and finds comfort in, obtaining certainty and truth at all costs, and will brook no challenge to it. It's a mindset that desperately needs to believe the lies promulgated by an illegitimate authority promising salvation to the "chosen". Simply watch sunday morning church shows and consider the size and attitude of the audiences; or imagine the million followers of the deranged, powerful, and very wealthy Pat Robertson and his dangerously poisonous 700 Club. One of my favorite places to find such nuggets is the comments section at Chickenhead's White House, one of the most savagely funny and surgically precise political satires of all time. Here is one revelatory sample at this Swiftian site:
DATE = 09/06/2005
SUBJECT = Your message of Christianity
NAME = A. S. Morrow
MESSAGE = This site is gross! So is the site of your "christian" church. I, for one, am sick and tired of scumbag communists like you mocking the word of Jesus. The USA was founded on Christian values so it is right for godly George W. Bush to protect the sanctity of marriage and life, especially the lives of the unborn and people like Terri Schindler who was so brutally MURDERED by activist judges just because she was disabled (much like all of you are). Christianity is truth. You people may laugh when I say this, but Pat Robertson is one of the greatest people the country has ever known, for he understands the TRUE message of Jesus. Even if Pat Robertson thinks we should kill commie Hugo Chavez its better than killing 500 million unborn children and infecting all of us christians who understand abstinence with AIDS given to us by faggots. May God have mercy on your souls.
I can't know if this message is for real. It's entirely possible that it's a parody of this mindset, comparable to the brilliantly ironic review at Amazon by "True Christian American" for William Blum's vital book. The email's author, A. S. Morrow, crystallizes in one compact paragraph the internal contradictions, the irrational rage, the intolerance mixed with sanctimonious absolution, the dangerously credulous talking-point brainwashed thinking that frightens the shit out of the "reality-based" community. It's too stereotypically perfect in its crazed murkanBrand-xtian wingnuttiness.
Yet hard as it is to believe, there are a great many people who think this way in Murka. A substantial minority, in fact. And elements of this substantial minority possess great wealth and wield an inordinate amount of power relative to their numbers. Indeed many of them carry titles like "Congressman" or "Senator" or "Secretary" or "Judge" — or even "President". They are the ones who are currently piloting the ship of state, setting policy, making laws, sending loved ones off to kill and die. They are angry, they are crazy, they are powerful, and anybody who's not like them is a mortal threat.
America has always been held hostage by such people — always. They seem to think that America belongs to them, and that they have the right to dictate society's mores like some prudish big-haired spinster's Mary Kay taliban. These nutcakes, and the rapacious corporate gangsters who so easily program them as their ignorant footsoldiers in their internecine class-warfare, form the Scylla and Charybdis through which the average, well-meaning, reality-based family must find a way to pass if there's any hope of getting through these dark times.
Gamers, Gangsters, and SPECTRE
Personally I don't see how that's going to happen. I think Murka officially jumped the shark with BushCo's appointment in 2000, and that its slide downhill has only recently shifted into a higher gear: now that BushCo's new clothes are becoming increasingly transparent they're starting to remove their gloves, so now people will really start seeing what these psychopaths are made of. Don't forget, these are the guys who start wars of profit based on lies, form deathsquads and torture camps in foreign lands, pursue assassinations both character and corporeal as a matter of official policy, maintain lists of political enemies, steal elections... They have no conscience, and thus certainly no compunction about pursuing their genocidal larcenies. You see, it's all a game to them; and being good gamers they are devoted to nothing but winning. (BushCo's motto is essentially "do whatever it takes to win.") They knew it was only a matter of time before their lies would be uncovered. Don't you think BushCo, being the gamers they are, knew that all their lies would be discovered? (Well, perhaps Bush himself believed the faked intelligence peddled before him by his handlers — their job, after all, is to secure his hermetic "incestuous amplification" bubble. But BushCo, of course, is more than just Smirky McClusterfuck himself.) So does being found out stop them? Of course not. It just means that now the game has moved to the next phase, the phase when things start getting more intense, more aggressive. The ante's been raised, the stakes are keener, and so the bluffing, the mind-games, the distractions, the posturings, the body-counts intensify.
Perpetuating a state of constant fear and crisis is a major part of the strategy. The political philosopher Giorgio Agamben explains:
"The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the 'state of emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight." Walter Benjamin's diagnosis, which by now is more than fifty years old, has lost none of its relevance. And that is so not really or not only because power no longer has today any form of legitimization other than emergency, and because power everywhere and continuously refers and appeals to emergency as well as laboring secretly to produce it. (How could we not think that a system that can no longer function at all except on the basis of emergency would not also be interested in preserving such an emergency at any price?)
That's how they legitimize their illegitimate authority: they position themselves as the saviours of crises they themselves create and perpetuate, like magicians continually getting the rubes to look at the magic wand. And anyone who figures out the trick is an enemy of the state.
As Al Capone once said "I never knew until I got into this racket how many crooks there were dressed in expensive suits and talking with affected accents." They are nothing more than what Capone and his peers considered "upperworld" gangsters. Gus Russo, in his fascinating book The Outfit: The Role of Chicago's Underworld in the Shaping of Modern America, continually draws parallels between underworld gangsters and upperworld ones, referred to in everyday parlance as "white collar criminals." His summary is trenchant:
It has never really been a secret that the American upperworld economy, to say nothing of its legal institutions, is powered by the triple engines of greed, hypocrisy, and, for lack of a better term, linguistic prestidigitation. The ninetienth- and twentieth-century immigrant arrivals deduced this soon after arrival, and some (the underworld) decided to exploit the appararent invitation to villainy, knowing they would likely not be punished if they could quickly make the transition to the thoroughly indemnified upperworld.
Historian Curt Johnson wrote: "An impartial observer might conclude that a history of the United States could be written around instances of the triumph of greed over principle and compassion." Johnson added that the only difference between the upperworld gangsters and the underworld variety was that the lower-class criminals "had guts to spare." He might have added that, at every turn, crime organized by the underworld was dwarfed by that constituted by the upperworld. Sociologist Stanley D. Eitzen determined that the monetary impact of white-collar crime surpassed all forms of street crime by a factor of ten. More important, the American system of justice consistenly gives the flagrant white-collar offenders virtual carte blanche, while plastering the nation's front pages with tales of arrests of bank robbers, gambling bosses, bookies, and labor racketeers. This feat of prestidigitation served the purpose of engaging the reader with tales of Capone and Accardo, while distracting them from the far bigger story of massive, routinely sanctioned white-collar crime.
And, like the gangsters they are, anyone who gets in their way to commit legal plunder — legal simply because they pass the laws saying they have a right to commit such crimes — are terrorists deserving of torture and death. Here's that smarmy fucker Tucker Carlson giving us a nice example of this mentality:
CARLSON: I am objectively pro-France. You know, France blew up the Rainbow Warrior, that Greenpeace ship in Auckland Harbor in the '80s. And I've always respected them...
MADDOW: That made you like them?
CARLSON: Yes. Yes. It won me over.
Let's recall that BushCo's stated purpose is to take over the world. ("We need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles." —PNAC's "Statement of Princicples") So why is anyone surprised when they act that way? They are zealots, and the zealot's worldview is very simple: "You're either with us, or you're against us." Black and white. If you don't agree with us then you are a heathen and deserve whatever happens to you.
Blofeld and Largo occupy the White House; S.P.E.C.T.R.E. fills their cabinet. Their henchmen fill the legislature, the bench, the courts, multinational boardrooms and the media.
You think your stupid, piddling, pseudo-democracy is going to remove them? You think shining a light on their misdeeds matters to them? You think voting in rigged elections will have any effect? How about getting permits to hold peaceful protests, or candlelight vigils on every block? These guys are responsible for starting wars, creating death squads, opening torture chambers; they are adept at convincing the credulous and morally stunted to do their dirty work for them, broadcasting their stupid dangerous and obvious lies through the propaganda organs they own called "mainstream media"; and they're working hard to convert schools and universities into nothing more than indoctrination centers.
In fact, they love lying, they love duplicity, they love creating suffering and death — it makes them feel powerful, it excites them, it gives them wood.
Torture and Wood
Many of the people who comprise BushCo have long and intimate histories involving torture.
- John Negroponte, Director of National Intelligence, was responsible for setting up death squads and torture camps in Nicaragua and Honduras
- Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States, is dedicated to finding ways to defend torture and contravene the Geneva Convention
- Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, gave legal advise to the CIA that certain forms of torture are entirely permissible
- David Addington, Cheney's new aide to replace Libby, is one of the principal architects of BushCo's torture policy
- Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, provided legally broad justifications and defenses of torture, arguing that the president can order the use of torture
And these are just the marquee names. There's a whole backstage crew of lawyers, philosophers, and think-tankers working fulltime on the taxpayer's dime to provide these sadists with the spurious legal and ethical cover to carry out their despicable crimes against humanity.
As Henry Giroux says in his new book Against The New Authoritarianism: Politics After Abu Ghraib:
The wanton abuse of Iraqi detainees, including women and children, the ongoing efforts at the highest levels of the Bush administration to establish new legal ground for torture, and the use of private contractors to perform the dirty work of interrogating detainees in order to skirt what is clearly an abdication of civil and military law are evidence of systemic, widespread collusion with crimes against humanity.
Steven Laffoley attributes two possible explanations for why BushCo tortures: dark logic, and madness. Dark logic seeks to produce respect for authority through fear; madness pertains to becoming that which we fear. He correctly avers that
torture is not so much a means to an end as it is, in fact, the end itself
then correctly states
The only true value of torture - a value well understood by thugs like Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, Saddam Hussein and now George W. Bush and Dick Cheney - is that torture terrifies people. Lots of people. It creates a deep, lasting, irrational fear of national authority: a fear felt both by the enemy abroad and by citizens at home. And, historically speaking, it is disturbingly effective.
Later in the article he says of Bush (a synecdoche for BushCo) that
he thrives on our fears
All this is very true. But he misses one element: the very important sadean component.
Simply put, the suffering of others is pleasurable: it increases the sense of one's power. After all, what's the point of power if you can't wield it arbitrarily, committing heinous crimes with impunity:
- imprisoning people permanently, for no reason, and without legal recourse — even denying them the ability to take their own lives
- contravening international laws, including the Geneva Convention
- outrageously lying about things even in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary
- openly stealing from the public
- starting wars based on outright lies
- stealing elections
- etc etc etc...
They love lying (it's even "noble" for them), inciting fear, smacking down those who get in their way. And let's not forget torturing and killing innocents, wiping out entire villages, taking over countries.
Generally, making others suffer increases their sense of power; witnessing misery gives them wood, existential or otherwise. The lower the Other sinks, the higher they rise. That's why the natural reaction to thousands of poor darkies suffering from the devastation of Katrina is to play a guitar at a fundraiser and shop for shoes.
Sade understands this mentality very well:
It is others' hardships which cause us to experience our enjoyments to the full; surrounded by persons whose happiness is equal to ours, we would never know contentment or ease: that is why they say, and very wisely indeed, that to be happy, you ought never look upward, but always at those who are below you. If then 'tis the spectacle of the luckless who must necessarily complete our happiness by the comparison they furnish between themselves and us, one must take care not to relieve such downtrodden as exist: for by raising them, through this aid, from the class which provides elements for your comparisons, you deprive yourself of these comparisons, and hence of that which improves your pleasures. However, simply to limit oneself to witholding aid from the needy in order to preserve this class useful for comparisons whence the best portion of your happiness derives, that is not enough; you must neglect no opportunity to generate misery, both in order to increase the size of this class generally, and in order, particularly, to create a sector of it which, your own personal handiwork, sharpens the delights that are going to result for you from the comparisons it will provide.
—Sade, Norceuil in Juliette
Thus is shouldn't come as any surprise that they're developing weapons of crowd control designed to induce maximum pain without killing. That's wholesale public torture on a scale far worse than an Olsen twins movie.
Speaking of wholesale public torture, let's not forget the ultimate power aphrodisiac: getting away with murder on a mass scale, preferably some kind of heinous communal torture.
Methodically Berserk Retribution and the Searing Light of Freedom™
Fallujah's been in the news lately. (At least some news. Since I don't watch TV or read mainstream news I don't know how much this has been covered in Murka.) Some fairly reputable foreign mainstream news organs have recently decided to inform the public of something that was common knowledge to those of us who obtain our information from other, more reliable sources. It seems that there's now "official" confirmation of US war crimes in Fallujah during Murka's retributive offensive.
Israeli agent and state terrorist Gabriel Shear in the movie Swordfish understands the calculus of over-the-top retribution:
They bomb a church, we bomb 10. They hijack a plane, we take out an airport. They execute American tourists, we tactically nuke an entire city. Our job is to make terrorism so horrific that it becomes unthinkable to attack Americans.
The reason Murkan forces decimated Fallujah was purely retributive, with an insanely excessive over-the-top kill ratio of at least 1500:1. (It's probably much greater.) As William T. Vollman says: Deterrence, retribution and revenge must all be didactic to accomplish their ends.
Images of joyous Iraqis dancing in the streets of Fallujah were played non-stop around the world after
Hence Old Testament-style exploding clouds of blinding light that sears through flesh, killing a village's inhabitants for the sin of daring to defy their new terrible God. Kids got a chance to witness God's wrath as they watched mommy's face burn off; parents got to hear the hideous screams of their children, smelling their flesh cook as satanic light burned its way through to the chalk-white bones beneath. "[W]hite phosphorous kills indiscriminately. It's a cloud that will... will in, most cases, two... 150 meters of impact will... will disperse and it will burn every, every human being or animal":
"The gasses from the warhead... the white phosphorous, will disperse in a cloud. And when it makes contact with skin, it's absolutely irreversible damage, burning flesh to the bone. Um, it doesn't necessarily burn clothes, but it'll burn the skin underneath clothes. And this is why protective masks do not help, because it'll burn right through the mask, the rubber of the mask. It'll... it will manage to get inside your face. If you breathe it, it will blister your throat and your lungs until you suffocate, and then it'll... it will burn you from the inside. Um, it basically reacts to skin, oxygen and water. The only way to stop the burning is with wet mud but, at that point, you're... it's... just impossible to stop."
Yep, your tax dollars at work making the world safe for Freedom™ and Democracy™ by exporting ghastly death straight from hell, delivered from history's most powerful military to a people so poor and so desperate to defend themselves against their unholy invader that they will use their own bodies as weapons. The only way to defeat such an enemy, of course, is to eradicate them. And unless you're going to turn the world into glass you're not going to succeed.
But then that's not the goal, is it? If you annihilate your enemy you no longer have an excuse to continue a "state of emergency" to justify your authority, permitting you to wage hugely profitable distant wars while squeezing the folks at home ever more. Eternal wars require eternal enemies. And given the premeditated ferocity of the attackers in this stupid, sadistic, criminal, and hugely profitable carnage Murka has guaranteed itself the eternal enemy it seeks, one with a very long memory and a tradition of righteous vengeance.
"More dangerous than Nazi Germany"
And still people don't quite fathom just how deeply dangerous these guys are. People still entertain the notion that BushCo is just a dysfunctional aberration at one end of the political spectrum, an unpleasant anomaly that can be removed via politics as usual.
Recent Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter said earlier this month:
The Bush Administration is the most dangerous force that has ever existed. It is more dangerous than Nazi Germany because of the range and depth of its activities and intentions worldwide.
At first I thought Mr. Pinter's assertion was a bit unseemly, even hysterical.
But on reflection it occurred to me that Mr. Pinter is one of the few public personages who really understands them.
He said in another interview:
"The US is really beyond reason now. It is beyond our imagining to know what they are going to do next and what they are prepared to do. There is only one comparison: Nazi Germany.
"Nazi Germany wanted total domination of Europe and they nearly did it. The US wants total domination of the world and is about to consolidate that.
"In a policy document, the US has used the term 'full-spectrum domination', that means control of land, sea, air and space, and that is exactly what's intended and what the US wants to fulfil. They are quite blatant about it."
This is why I don't share the optimism of those who see the tide turning against BushCo. To me all the unfolding scandals and the turning of public opinion against them will only increase their fury, their barbarism, their duplicity as they're painted ever tighter into their isolated corner.
To me, 911 was the trailer, Iraq the newsreel. The feature is coming up...
The Last Word
"Evil men, obsessed with ambition and unburdened by conscience, must be taken very seriously -- and we must stop them before their crimes can multiply."
—George W. Bush
Saint-Font took up fresh subjects; he outlined a cruel scheme he had devised for the devastation of France. "We are presently concerned," said he, "by certain symptoms which could soon lead to a revolution in the land, and are disturbed especially by the untoward size of the population; the trouble might well have its origin there. The more numerous the people become, the greater the danger they pose; the awakening of minds, the spreading of a critical spirit, these are grave developments; only the ignorant remain placid under the yoke. Therefore," the Minister went on, "we plan, firstly, to have done with all these grammar schools, the free ones, which are producing such alarming quantities of poets, painters, and thinkers instead of the drudges and pickpockets we ought to have. What need have we of such crowds of talent, why do we bother to encourage it in them? Less wit in the nation, I say, and some numerical retrenchment also: France requires a severe purging, the lowliest is the first sector to attack. We intend hence to have unsparingly at mendicants, that's the class which breeds nine out of ten of our agitators; we are razing charitable institutions, the poorhouses, being determined not to leave the masses one single refuge where insolence can ripen. Bowed beneath chains a thousand times heavier than those worn by, let us say, the commoners in Asia, we propose to have ours crawl in slavery, and to this end we are prepared to use the widest variety of radical means."
"It will be a while before those means take effect," Clairwil pointed out. "If it's a sudden diminishment you need, then you had better resort to prompter ones: war, famine, epidemics..."
"Ah, war," said Saint-Fond, "we'll not neglect war, that's scheduled. As for an epidemic, it is to be avoided since we ourselves might be its first victims. Regarding a famine, the total monopolization of corn we are working toward, as well as being profitable to us, will shortly reduce the people to veritable cannibalism. We are counting heavily upon this measure. The Council of Ministers approved it unanimously today. Speedy, infallible, prodigiously lucrative.
"Won over to the principles Machiavelli set so clearly forth," the Minister continued, "I have for a long time had the profound convinction that individuals can be of no account to the politician; as machines, men must labor for the prosperity of the government they are subordinated to, never should the government be concerned for the welfare of the public. Every government that interests itself in the governed is weak; there is but one sort of strong government, and it considers itself everything and the nation nothing. Whether there are a few more or a few less slaves in a State does not matter; what does, is that their bondage weigh onerously and absolutely upon a people, and that the sovereign be despostic. Rome tottered feebly along in the days when Romans insisted upon governing themselves; but she became mistress of the world when tyrants seized authority; all the power resides in the sovereign, thus must we behold the thing, and since this power is merely moral so long as the people are physically the stronger, only by an uninterrupted series of despotic actions can the government assemble the force it needs: until such time as it commands all the real power, it will exist in an ideal sense only. When we are eager to gain the upper hand over others, we must little by little accustom them to seeing in us something which is actually not there; otherwise, they'll only see us for what we are, and this will regularly and inevitably be to our detriment..."
"It has always seemed to me," Clairwil remarked, "that the art of governing men is the one that demands more trickery, more duplicity, and more fraudulence than any other."
"Perfectly true," Saint-Fond assented, "and the reason therefor is simple: there is no governing human beings unless you deceive them. To deceive them, you must be false. The enlightened man will never allow himself to be led about by the end of his nose, hence you must deprive him of light, keep him in darkness if you would steer him; none of this is possible without duplicity."
"But is not duplicity a vice?" I wondered.
"I would rather tend to esteem it a virture," answered the Minister, "it is the only key unlocking the human heart. You cannot hope to live amidst men if you limit yourself to honesty; their sole and constant effort being to deceive us, what awaits us if we do not very quickly learn to deceive them? The foremost preoccupation of man and of the statesman, particularly, is to penetrate others without letting his own thoughts be known. Well, if duplicity is the only means for achieving this, duplicity is then a virtue; in a totally corrupt world there is never any danger being more rotten than one's neighbors; rather, 'tis there to assure oneself of the whole sum of felicity and ease which virtue would procure us in a moral society. But the mechanism that directs government cannot be virtuous, because it is impossible to thwart every crime, to protect oneself from every criminal without being criminal too; that which directs corrupt mankind must be corrupt itself; and it will never be by means of virtue, virtue being inert and passive, that you will maintain control over vice, which is ever active: the governor must be more energetic than the governed: well, if the energy of the governed simply amounts to so many crimes threatening to be unleashed, how can you expect the energy of the governor to be anything different? what are legally prescribed punishments if not crimes? and what excuses them? the necessity of governing men. There it is: crime is one of the vital mainsprings of government, I ask you now in what sense can this they call virtue be necessary in the world, when it is evident you cannot obtain it save through crimes? I may add that it is exceedingly necessary, for the government itself, that mankind in general be thoroughly corrupt: the more corrupt men are, the more easily they may be managed. In conclusion, examine virtue from every viewpoint and you always find it useless and dangerous."