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dwl » davelovell.net

dwl

Sep 042013
 

Ok, so I’ve been get­ting a few requests from friends, read­ers and assorted other mem­bers of the dorkosh­pere to try and give some clar­ity to the whole Syria thingy. Back in the Dark Ages when the Navy used to cruise my friends and I around the Med, we slipped in and out of all the Mid-East party spots; Algiers, Libya, the Mog and many other secretie type locations…shhhh! Only one of those places scared the poop outta me then, and con­tin­ues to do so now; Syria. I’d rather walk down Gaza draped in noth­ing but a US flag and spin­ning a drei­del than to ever feel Syr­ian sand under my feet again.  An old com­pany spook that I knew back in the day used to say that Syria was the Cuba of the middle-east – and no one wants to fck with Cuba.

But some­one wants to get the US into a war with Syria.

Try­ing to fig­ure out who and why is a Sisyphean task – the sheer ton­nage of media-agenda bias and gov­ern­men­tal dis­in­for­ma­tion makes me all sad and stuff.  When I get sad I am reminded of the Jesuits, and they remind me of logic and latin!  When the Jesuits taught me logic, they taught me that when attempt­ing to find cau­sa­tion, one must search for ben­e­fit. Cui Bono – “to whose ben­e­fit” was the phrase, and I think it will help us here.

So who would ben­e­fit from an open con­flict between the US and Syria? Lets start with elim­i­na­tion — it will not be good for the United States, it will not be good for Israel, it will not be good for Syria, it will not be good for Iran and it will not be good for Hezbol­lah.  From where I sit, only the Saudi’s can ben­e­fit from this sce­nario, plus they would get the bonus of not actu­ally hav­ing to participate.

Bil­lions of Saudi dol­lars have been pour­ing into the con­flict in Syria, but so far they have not been suc­cess­ful in their attempts to over­throw the Assad regime.  Now the Saudis are try­ing to play their trump card — the U.S. mil­i­tary.  If the Saudis are suc­cess­ful, they will get to pit the two great­est long-term strate­gic ene­mies of Sunni Islam against each other — the U.S. and Israel on one side and Shia Islam on the other.  In such a sce­nario, the more dam­age that both sides do to each other the hap­pier the Sun­nis will be.

There would be oth­ers ben­e­fit­ing from a U.S. war with Syria as well.  For exam­ple, it is well-known that Qatar wants to run a nat­ural gas pipeline out of the Per­sian Gulf, through Syria and into Europe.  And so Qatar has also been pour­ing bil­lions of dol­lars into the civil war in Syria.

So if it is really Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar that want to over­throw the Assad regime, why does the United States have to do the heavy lifting?

Pres­i­dent Obama is promis­ing that the upcom­ing attack will only be a “lim­ited mil­i­tary strike” and that we will not be get­ting into a full-blown war with Syria. (Regard­less of the deal he will have to make with the neo-con tea-drinkers in the House).

The only way that will work is if Syria, Hezbol­lah and Iran all sit on their hands and do noth­ing to respond to the upcom­ing U.S. attack.  So I guess we can just assume the usual well-reasoned and ratio­nal response from them… uhuh.  Let’s just say that I hope the MARSOC guys with the laser-targeting gear about to slip through the Syr­ian surf have got one hell of an evac plan.

What if there is a response, and a U.S. naval ves­sel gets hit, or pilots are cap­tured, or rock­ets start rain­ing down on Tel Aviv — the U.S. could eas­ily find itself engaged in a full-blown war with no clear idea as to what con­sti­tutes victory.

The vast major­ity of Amer­i­cans do not want to get embroiled in another war in the Mid­dle East, and a num­ber of top mil­i­tary offi­cials are express­ing “seri­ous reser­va­tions” about attack­ing Syria accord­ing to the Wash­ing­ton Post

For the United States, there really is no good out­come in Syria.

If we attack and Assad stays in power, we appear enfee­bled. If we help over­throw the Assad regime, the rebels take con­trol.  But they could be even worse than Assad.  Most rebel groups have pledged loy­alty to al-Qaeda, and are rabidly anti-American, anti-Israeli and anti-western.

This war would not be good for Israel either.  I have seen a num­ber of sup­pos­edly pro-Israel web­sites out there get­ting very excited about the prospect of war with Syria, but I think they are short­sighted if not trag­i­cally mistaken.

Syria has already threat­ened to attack Israeli cities if the U.S. attacks.  If Syr­ian mis­siles start land­ing in the heart of Tel Aviv, Israel will respond. And if any of those mis­siles have uncon­ven­tional war­heads, Israel will respond by absolutely destroy­ing Damascus.

And of course a mis­sile exchange between Syria and Israel will almost cer­tainly draw Hezbol­lah into the con­flict.  And right now Hezbol­lah has 70,000 rock­ets aimed at Israel. If Hezbol­lah starts launch­ing those rock­ets, thou­sands upon thou­sands of inno­cent Jew­ish cit­i­zens will be killed.

This is not the cal­cu­lated Mutu­ally Assured Destruc­tion of the Cold War, where the over­whelm­ing force of the other kept your fin­ger off the trig­ger.  The play­ers in that part of the world have left ratio­nal notions of pro­por­tion­al­ity behind and instead focus on ideas based on thoughts apocalyptic.

If the Saudis want this war so badly, they should saddle-up.  They should not be able to start a full-blown regional con­flict with their check­book.  At this point, even CNN is openly admit­ting this

At this point I want to be very clear that no one who knows the middle-east will ever claim to know exactly who is doing what to whom and why – and try­ing to fig­ure things out with only the inter­net and the media leaves one at the mercy of mul­ti­ple agen­das. So, again, I return to look­ing at what could hap­pen, and who would benefit.

It is an open secret that the Saudis have been using Jor­dan to smug­gle weapons into Syria for the rebels. Jor­dan says it is doing all it can to pre­vent that and does not want to inflame the sit­u­a­tion – and why would they lie? And Assad cer­tainly knows who is behind the civil war in his coun­try.  The fol­low­ing is an excerpt from a recent inter­view with Assad

Of course it is well known that coun­tries, such as Saudi Ara­bia, who hold the purse strings can shape and manip­u­late them to suit their own interests.

 Ide­o­log­i­cally, these coun­tries mobi­lize them through direct or indi­rect means as extrem­ist tools. If they declare that Mus­lims must pur­sue Jihad in Syria, thou­sands of fight­ers will respond.

 Finan­cially, those who finance and arm such groups can instruct them to carry out acts of ter­ror­ism and spread anar­chy. The influ­ence over them is syn­er­gized when a coun­try such as Saudi Ara­bia directs them through both the Wah­habi ide­ol­ogy and their finan­cial means.

 And shortly after the British Par­lia­ment voted against mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion in Syria, Saudi Ara­bia raised their level of “defense readi­ness” from “five” to “two” in a clear sign that they fully expect a war to hap­pen

Saudi Ara­bia, a sup­porter of rebels fight­ing to top­ple Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad, has raised its level of mil­i­tary alert­ness in antic­i­pa­tion of a pos­si­ble West­ern strike in Syria, sources famil­iar with the mat­ter said on Friday.

 The United States has been call­ing for puni­tive action against Assad’s gov­ern­ment for a sus­pected poi­son gas attack on a Dam­as­cus sub­urb on August 21 that killed hun­dreds of people.

 Saudi Arabia’s defense readi­ness has been raised to “two” from “five”, a Saudi mil­i­tary source who declined to be named told Reuters. “One” is the high­est level of alert.

 All that aside – it’s about chem­i­cal weapons, right? I have a hard time oppos­ing the Pres­i­dent when he says that we have a moral oblig­a­tion to stop a gov­ern­ment that would gas its own peo­ple.  But this is the middle-east… how sure can we be that Assad pulled the trig­ger on the gas – what if he didn’t?

Remind­ing you of my ear­lier warn­ings about get­ting any valid/accurate infor­ma­tion about these events, there have been reports from some­time Asso­ci­ated Press cor­re­spon­dent Dale Gavlak, that the gas came from the Saudis

Syr­ian rebels in the Dam­as­cus sub­urb of Ghouta have admit­ted to Asso­ci­ated Press cor­re­spon­dent Dale Gavlak that they were respon­si­ble for last week’s chem­i­cal weapons inci­dent which west­ern pow­ers have blamed on Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, reveal­ing that the casu­al­ties were the result of an acci­dent caused by rebels mis­han­dling chem­i­cal weapons pro­vided to them by Saudi Arabia.

 “From numer­ous inter­views with doc­tors, Ghouta res­i­dents, rebel fight­ers and their families….many believe that cer­tain rebels received chem­i­cal weapons via the Saudi intel­li­gence chief, Prince Ban­dar bin Sul­tan, and were respon­si­ble for car­ry­ing out the (deadly) gas attack,” writes Gavlak.

 And this is some­one that isn’t fresh out of jour­nal­ism school.  He has been a Mid­dle East cor­re­spon­dent for the Asso­ci­ated Press for two decades and has also worked for National Pub­lic Radio (NPR) and writ­ten arti­cles for BBC News.”

The Voice of Rus­sia (yikes) has also been report­ing on Gavlak’s bomb­shell findings…

The rebels noted it was a result of an acci­dent caused by rebels mis­han­dling chem­i­cal weapons pro­vided to them.

 “My son came to me two weeks ago ask­ing what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry,” said Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of a rebel fight­ing to unseat Assad, who lives in Ghouta.

 As Gavlak reports, Abdel-Moneim said his son and 12 other rebels died in a weapons stor­age tun­nel. The father stated the weapons were pro­vided to rebel forces by a Saudi mil­i­tant, known as Abu Ayesha, describ­ing them as hav­ing a “tube-like struc­ture” while oth­ers were like a “huge gas bottle.”

 “They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them,” com­plained a female fighter named ‘K’. “We didn’t know they were chem­i­cal weapons. We never imag­ined they were chem­i­cal weapons.”

 “When Saudi Prince Ban­dar gives such weapons to peo­ple, he must give them to those who know how to han­dle and use them,” she warned. She, like other Syr­i­ans, do not want to use their full names for fear of retribution.

 Gavlak also refers to an arti­cle in the UK’s Daily Tele­graph about secret Russian-Saudi talks stat­ing that Prince Ban­dar threat­ened Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin with ter­ror attacks at next year’s Win­ter Olympics in Sochi if Rus­sia doesn’t agree to change its stance on Syria.

 “Prince Ban­dar pledged to safe­guard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is top­pled, but he also hinted at Chechen ter­ror­ist attacks on Russia’s Win­ter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord,” the arti­cle stated.

 “I can give you a guar­an­tee to pro­tect the Win­ter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the secu­rity of the games are con­trolled by us,” Saudi Prince allegedly told Vladimir Putin.

 If this has any merit at all then the Saudis were so des­per­ate to get the Rus­sians to stand down and allow an attack on Syria that they actu­ally threat­ened them.  Zero Hedge (not the most rep­utable of sources…) pub­lished some addi­tional details on the meet­ing between Saudi intel­li­gence chief Prince Ban­dar bin Sul­tan and Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin…

Ban­dar told Putin, “There are many com­mon val­ues and goals that bring us together, most notably the fight against ter­ror­ism and extrem­ism all over the world. Rus­sia, the US, the EU and the Saudis agree on pro­mot­ing and con­sol­i­dat­ing inter­na­tional peace and secu­rity. The ter­ror­ist threat is grow­ing in light of the phe­nom­ena spawned by the Arab Spring. We have lost some regimes. And what we got in return were ter­ror­ist expe­ri­ences, as evi­denced by the expe­ri­ence of the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood in Egypt and the extrem­ist groups in Libya. … As an exam­ple, I can give you a guar­an­tee to pro­tect the Win­ter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the secu­rity of the games are con­trolled by us, and they will not move in the Syr­ian territory’s direc­tion with­out coor­di­nat­ing with us. These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syr­ian regime but they will have no role or influ­ence in Syria’s polit­i­cal future.”

 It is good of the Saudis to admit they con­trol a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion that “threat­ens the secu­rity” of the Sochi 2014 Olympic games, and that house of Saud uses “in the face of the Syr­ian regime.” Per­haps the next time there is a bomb­ing in Boston by some Chechen-related ter­ror­ists, some­one can inquire Saudi Ara­bia what, if any­thing, they knew about that.

 But the piece de resis­tance is what hap­pened at the end of the dia­logue between the two lead­ers. It was, in not so many words, a threat by Saudi Ara­bia aimed squarely at Russia:

 As soon as Putin fin­ished his speech, Prince Ban­dar warned that in light of the course of the talks, things were likely to inten­sify, espe­cially in the Syr­ian arena, although he appre­ci­ated the Rus­sians’ under­stand­ing of Saudi Arabia’s posi­tion on Egypt and their readi­ness to sup­port the Egypt­ian army despite their fears for Egypt’s future.

 The head of the Saudi intel­li­gence ser­vices said that the dis­pute over the approach to the Syr­ian issue leads to the con­clu­sion that “there is no escape from the mil­i­tary option, because it is the only cur­rently avail­able choice given that the polit­i­cal set­tle­ment ended in stale­mate. We believe that the Geneva II Con­fer­ence will be very dif­fi­cult in light of this rag­ing sit­u­a­tion.”

At the end of the meet­ing, the Russ­ian and Saudi sides agreed to con­tinue talks, pro­vided that the cur­rent meet­ing remained under wraps. This was before one of the two sides leaked it via the Russ­ian press.

Is this whole story fic­tion? Maybe… but if so, you wrote it and why? Clearly there is more going on here than a bad guy with a gas fetish.

So… I don’t know what to tell you.  George Ball once told LBJ dur­ing the early dis­cus­sions about troop esca­la­tions in Viet­nam, “Wher­ever you go, that’s where you’re gonna be.” If Assad gassed the chil­dren of his own coun­try, and we have the intel cold – then let me pull the trig­ger.  But I’ve been to Syria, and I’ve been on ops based on bad intel – and I’ve learned this; there is no good intel about Syria.

Mr. Pres­i­dent, I think we should can­cel the op.

 Posted by at 12:44 pm
Nov 202012
 

Hun­dreds of years ago I was a young Marine enjoy­ing brief vis­its to var­i­ous ter­ri­to­ries through­out the Mid­dle East at the behest of the State Depart­ment.  My polit­i­cal expo­sure to that region in the wan­ing years of the Cold War left many indeli­ble impres­sions, but recent events have led me to real­ize that new par­a­digms are called for.

The con­flict unfold­ing in the Gaza Strip takes place against a starkly dif­fer­ent regional back­drop than the last round of fight­ing in late 2008 and early 2009. The old regional order that existed then has been swept away, replaced with a new order which is uncer­tain and, until now, untested. This emerg­ing cri­sis will be the first such test, and will reveal much about how the recent years’ upris­ings have affected key regional actors and the rela­tions among them.

The old order in the Mid­dle East was founded on mutual inter­ests, and looked some­thing like a hub-and-spoke alliance sys­tem with the United States at its cen­ter. U.S. allies in the region shared, above all, an inter­est in sta­bil­ity and eco­nomic pros­per­ity, though each defined sta­bil­ity dif­fer­ently. For Wash­ing­ton, sta­bil­ity required polit­i­cal and eco­nomic reform; for our allies, it often meant the preser­va­tion of an increas­ingly shaky sta­tus quo.

Israel was a key part of this alliance, and coop­er­ated openly with some regional states, and tac­itly with oth­ers, through the good offices of the United States. Israel and Washington’s Arab allies largely shared a desire to counter and deter Iran and its prox­ies and com­bat ter­ror­ist groups in the region; many applauded pri­vately or openly when Israel dealt a blow to Hezbol­lah in the first days of the 2006 Lebanon war or destroyed a nuclear reac­tor in Syria in 2007.

The new regional order in the Mid­dle East is dif­fer­ent, but pre­cisely how and how much is unclear. Two things in par­tic­u­lar are uncer­tain. First, how do lead­ers in the region — espe­cially new lead­ers such as Egypt­ian Pres­i­dent Morsi — now per­ceive their national inter­ests? In impor­tant ways, these inter­ests have not changed with the Arab upris­ings. Armed mili­tias in the Sinai, for exam­ple, are just as apt to tar­get Egypt­ian sol­diers and inter­ests as they are Israel, and the per­cep­tion of insta­bil­ity or extrem­ist sen­ti­ment in the region will deter invest­ment and tourism des­per­ately needed to revive the Egypt­ian economy.

On the other hand, Pres­i­dent Morsi’s polit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions and the ide­ol­ogy of his Mus­lim Broth­er­hood fac­tion mil­i­tate against even tacit coop­er­a­tion with Israel. Morsi and his gov­ern­ment had appeared to be lean­ing in the direc­tion of prag­ma­tism until now, but send­ing Prime Min­is­ter Kandil to Gaza — like Turkey’s dis­patch of a flotilla to Gaza in 2010 — is more stunt than strat­egy. The Gaza cri­sis will test whether Morsi , along with other lead­ers in the region, will place ide­ol­ogy over interests.

The sec­ond ques­tion lin­ger­ing about the new regional order con­cerns the U.S. place in it. Washington’s dif­fi­dence in the face of the tur­moil in the Mid­dle East over the last two years, com­bined with the “pivot” to Asia, has con­veyed the impres­sion that the US is not pre­pared to con­tinue its bro­ker­ing role in the region. This suits some regional lead­ers just fine; the lead­ers of Egypt and Iran dis­agree on many things, but they share a desire to see Amer­i­can influ­ence in the Mid­dle East recede. For U.S. allies, how­ever, it raises the trou­bling ques­tion as to whether Wash­ing­ton can be counted on to act firmly to advance our mutual interests.

This uncer­tainty has already led to the dete­ri­o­ra­tion of the “hub and spoke” sys­tem, which has been replaced, roughly speak­ing, by the for­ma­tion of smaller regional coali­tions act­ing inde­pen­dently (for exam­ple, the GCC inter­ven­ing in Bahrain) and jock­ey­ing with one another for pre­em­i­nence. This is most evi­dent in the case of Turkey, which rather than turn­ing West or East has sought regional lead­er­ship, which has meant repu­di­at­ing its erst­while alliance with Israel.

While the first signs of this strate­gic shift in the region are evi­dent, it is not inevitable that it should con­tinue. Wash­ing­ton should craft its response to the Gaza cri­sis to rein­force its posi­tion and alliances in the region.

First, the United States should demon­strate strong sup­port for Israel. The Obama admin­is­tra­tion took a wel­come first step in this direc­tion by issu­ing state­ments affirm­ing Israel’s right to defend itself and hold­ing Hamas account­able for the fight­ing and for the suf­fer­ing of Pales­tini­ans under their mis­rule. Behind the scenes, the admin­is­tra­tion will need to work closely with Israel to help it to define con­crete objec­tives for the oper­a­tion and accom­plish them quickly and deci­sively. Once the fight­ing stops, the United States and Israel should pri­vately develop a real­is­tic and shared approach to Gaza and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sec­ond, Wash­ing­ton should prac­tice some realpoli­tik with Egypt, Turkey, and other regional allies. Any strong alliance is based on shared inter­ests. Given the changes in the region, we should not sim­ply assume that the region’s new lead­ers share our con­cep­tion of these shared inter­ests, but should enu­mer­ate them explic­itly through strate­gic bilat­eral dia­logues. Iden­ti­fy­ing such mutual inter­ests should not be dif­fi­cult — issues like ter­ror­ism and Iran­ian sup­port for the Syr­ian regime are of con­cern to both the United States and our regional part­ners. The United States should insist, how­ever, that our allies act on the basis of these inter­ests rather than sim­ply acknowl­edg­ing them in pri­vate, espe­cially in times of cri­sis. It is in this con­text that dis­cus­sions of aid should take place. Our eco­nomic and mil­i­tary assis­tance should be seen — in Wash­ing­ton and abroad — nei­ther as char­ity or com­pen­sa­tion for fur­ther­ing Amer­i­can inter­ests, but as a pol­icy tool to fur­ther shared interests.

Third, the United States should offer ener­getic and deter­mined lead­er­ship through­out the cri­sis to ensure that its con­clu­sion advances our inter­ests and those of our allies. The Obama administration’s first steps have been pos­i­tive, but there will be much more work to do at the United Nations to ensure that any even­tual cease­fire is sus­tain­able and enhances regional secu­rity; to encour­age Arab allies in the short term to press Hamas to de-escalate and take respon­si­bil­ity for the activ­i­ties of ter­ror­ist groups within Gaza, and in the longer term to shift all of their sup­port to the Pales­tin­ian Author­ity; and in doing so, ensure that the ulti­mate result of the con­flict is to put Israelis and Pales­tini­ans alike closer to peace and secu­rity, rather than deeper in turmoil.

 

 Posted by at 7:52 am  Tagged with:
Aug 312012
 

I’m a lit­tle more wor­ried about Paul Ryan after his accep­tance speech at the RNC — I assumed the big flam­ing media would pick-up on my new con­cern; but not a peep.  Guess it’s up to me…again.

Dur­ing a sec­tion of his speech when he seemed to be tar­get­ing the hip­ster demo­graphic (not a nat­ural demo for the Mittster…)  he made a Sesame Street “one of these things is not like the other” com­par­i­son between him­self and the Mitt con­cern­ing their ipod music col­lec­tions.  He com­pared Mitt’s to ele­va­tor music… omg, just so, so really funny!

Any­who; in this he tossed him­self the ulti­mate non-breaking fat-one right over his own plate.  All he had to do was decide which demo­graphic to pan­der to and then faux fill his ipod with the appro­pri­ate tunes.  I’m told that his han­dlers had a tough time con­vinc­ing him that the 74 dif­fer­ent polka bands that actu­ally fill his ipod would only appeal to a very small demo­graphic of peo­ple; those who see cheese as really nifty head-wear …and he already has their vote.

…just like this; this is how the Queen waves!”

They went for the Clas­sic Rock crowd; a vic­tory for the VH1’ers over the MTV’ers — so far, so good.  Pos­si­bly his staffers began to name a few bands that would appeal to the refined tastes of the con­ven­tion­ites; Foghat, Sky­nard, Kiss, maybe even the Motor City Mad­man his­self.  It seems that Ryan stopped them, insist­ing that he could rock this list all on his own… and maybe even alphabetically!

And so he did; “…on my ipod, it starts with AC-DC and ends with Zepplin.”

When I heard him say it I grabbed hard onto my barcalounger, expect­ing to see the gath­ered throng storm the stage, and drag Ryan off for a lit­tle refresher on what it means to be a real Amer­i­can — since he clearly for­got.  But they didn’t storm, nor did they drag… wtf?

I’m sure that you were as shocked as I, and even more so as the fol­low­ing days pro­duced a com­plete lack of out­rage and indig­na­tion at the bla­tant anti-Americanism dis­played by this seem­ingly whole­some Wis­con­sin prod­uct (Ryan, not cheese…)

Please don’t mis­un­der­stand me — I’m no musi­cal xeno­phobe; I can accept that Clap­ton is god and I’ve made my peace with Kennedy for allow­ing the Bea­t­les to invade — but while my “made in the USA” ears can appre­ci­ate the Brits, they will always be able to hear the for­eign­ness (social­ized med­i­cine makes the gui­tars sound funny).  And Mr. Ryan; the RNC is no place to be admit­ting to a musi­cal pref­er­ence for foreignness!

What’s next?  When some­one asks him for a flash­light will he apol­o­gize and say that he left his torch in the boot of his auto?  Will his Big Mac and Fries become Fish & Chips? Or even worse; will he begin to mis­pro­nounce “sched­ule” through rapidly decay­ing, but for­merly pearly white teeth?

Maybe you missed it, maybe the media did as well — but I know Karl Rove didn’t.  As we speak a Cross­roads GPS team of Amer­i­can­iza­tion Spe­cial­ists are being HALO dropped onto Ryan’s next cam­paign stop.  They’ll purge the pub cul­ture right out of our young Ayn Randier.  I hope the drop goes well — the last thing the RNC needs is a story of how Ryan’s cam­paign bus caused a traf­fic pile-up because it was dri­ving down the wrong-side of the road… Cheerio!

May 072012
 

The Break­down of the Clas­si­cal Lib­eral Par­a­digm in the Age of Globalization

…nice title eh?

Back in the 1950s and 60s, it was com­monly said that “what was good for Gen­eral Motors was good for Amer­ica”. The claim was rel­a­tively sim­ple to grasp: When Gen­eral Motors did well, it employed hun­dreds of thou­sands of work­ers and cre­ated prod­ucts that ben­e­fited the aver­age Amer­i­can. The slo­gan of course referred to the dynam­ics of Amer­i­can cap­i­tal­ism, and behind it lies a basic assump­tion about human nature, that indi­vid­u­als are for the most part moti­vated by eco­nomic self-interest. To an extent not gen­er­ally appre­ci­ated, the suc­cess of the Amer­i­can sys­tem can be attrib­uted to the founders’ incor­po­ra­tion of this insight into the Con­sti­tu­tion. The result was a political-economy that achieved an impor­tant goal of polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy, link­ing the inter­est of what the Greeks called the “few strong”, on the one hand, with the “many”, on the other. Until recently, our sys­tem did a pretty good job at doing just this. But it did so only because in addi­tion to self-interest, eth­i­cal val­ues guided pub­lic pol­icy and busi­ness prac­tice enough to limit the excesses of self-interest.

Through­out Amer­i­can his­tory, there have been two dis­tinct strands influ­enc­ing both our pol­i­tics and busi­ness prac­tices. The first strand is cap­tured in the above slo­gan and is grounded in clas­si­cal lib­er­al­ism. Out of this strand of thought comes the Amer­i­can who believes it is good to pur­sue his nar­row eco­nomic self-interest, under­stood pri­mar­ily in terms of prop­erty and its preser­va­tion. The sec­ond strand is the clas­si­cal repub­li­can ideal in which pri­vate inter­ests are sub­or­di­nated to the pub­lic good. This ideal is present when a cit­i­zen chooses a way of life because he per­ceives a social ben­e­fit asso­ci­ated with it. When one is influ­enced by this strand, he is not solely moti­vated by his nar­row eco­nomic inter­est, but also by care for the com­mon good. Exam­ples would include the indi­vid­ual who freely chooses to go to war for his coun­try, or one who con­sciously chooses a career in gov­ern­ment or the non-profit sec­tor because he or she wants to serve the pub­lic in way that would not be able to in the for-profit sector.

At this point in our his­tory, it is no longer pos­si­ble for us to assume that busi­ness activ­ity will auto­mat­i­cally con­tribute to the com­mon good. The clas­si­cal repub­li­can strand that has his­tor­i­cally func­tioned as a source of ethics for Amer­i­can busi­ness prac­tice has been under­mined by two par­tic­u­lar forces. What are these? Glob­al­iza­tion and a phi­los­o­phy of eco­nom­ics inspired by Ayn Rand, von Hayek and Lud­wig von Mises have eroded a pub­lic phi­los­o­phy that func­tioned to bal­ance the latent anti-social ten­den­cies inher­ent in clas­si­cal lib­er­al­ism. The increased pop­u­lar­ity of a phi­los­o­phy that treats the free mar­ket as a source of virtue has been both cause and effect of a move­ment that praises self-interest while den­i­grat­ing pub­lic ser­vice. Adher­ents of this new dis­pen­sa­tion make a very dif­fer­ent argu­ment than clas­si­cal lib­er­als do, one whose essen­tial dif­fer­ence is not easy to dis­cern at first glance. While clas­si­cal lib­er­al­ism does rely on self-interest to sus­tain a pro­duc­tive and sta­ble political-economy, the tra­di­tional under­stand­ing of cap­i­tal­ism views the self-interested pur­suit of wealth to be jus­ti­fi­able because it ben­e­fits soci­ety as a whole. In sharp con­trast, the newly influ­en­tial par­a­digm holds that the self-interested pur­suit of wealth is a virtue in itself and that indi­vid­u­als and cor­po­ra­tions should be able to do what­ever they want and can to increase their wealth even if their actions demon­stra­bly harm oth­ers in soci­ety. Adher­ents of Rand and von Hayek hold that pri­vate enter­prise not only is moti­vated by self-interest, but should be self­ish. And this brings up a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence between the tra­di­tional under­stand­ing of cap­i­tal­ism and the one that has dom­i­nated our cul­ture for a decade or so. The view of the free mar­ket cur­rently favored is one that expresses a rad­i­cal form of indi­vid­u­al­ism, in which the human per­son is treated like an atom with no essen­tial con­nec­tion to oth­ers. In the remain­der of the essay, I dis­cuss the source of this new par­a­digm, and offer an alter­na­tive which is con­sis­tent with our tra­di­tion yet more suited to sus­tain­ing a soci­ety we will want to live in.

John Locke and Adam Smith are the pri­mary sources of the strand in our pub­lic phi­los­o­phy that stresses a role for self-interest. In Locke’s “Sec­ond Trea­tise of Gov­ern­ment,” one of the most influ­en­tial for the founders of the nation, we are told that “the rea­son why men enter into soci­ety is the preser­va­tion of their prop­erty.” For Locke, indi­vid­u­als do not agree to sub­mit to a social con­tract because they care about virtue or a com­mon good. Rather, they are moti­vated to lend power to a gov­ern­ment because they believe that by doing so they will be able to pre­serve the fruits of their labor. Adam Smith is the other great thinker who claimed that indi­vid­u­als are pri­mar­ily moti­vated by eco­nomic self-interest. In the fol­low­ing excerpt from Book One of the “Wealth of Nations”, we see Smith ground the ben­e­fits of eco­nomic pro­duc­tion not on benev­o­lence, or care for the com­mon good, but on self-love. In his words:

…man has almost con­stant occa­sion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benev­o­lence only. He will be more likely to pre­vail if he can inter­est their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advan­tage to do for him what he requires of them. Who­ever offers to another a bar­gain of any kind, pro­poses to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the mean­ing of every such offer; and it is in this man­ner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of.

In the fol­low­ing, he makes the per­ti­nent point:

It is not from the benev­o­lence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our din­ner, but from their regard to their own inter­est. We address our­selves, not to their human­ity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own neces­si­ties but of their advantages.

The pri­mary goal of West­ern polit­i­cal thought has been to dis­cover a way to link the self-interested actions of pow­er­ful indi­vid­u­als who have “regard to their own inter­est” to a social ben­e­fit. Why is it so impor­tant to find a way to con­nect the self-interest of these few to the inter­est of the aver­age cit­i­zen? All main­stream polit­i­cal thinkers hold that there is a small per­cent­age of indi­vid­u­als in all soci­eties who are much bet­ter than the rest at get­ting and keep­ing what they want. At the out­set of The Repub­lic, Plato addresses this motive through the per­son of Thrasy­machus. He tells us that jus­tice is defined by what­ever group is in power. Later in the same work, we are told that their inter­est is to max­i­mize their wealth and influ­ence. In brief, the claim is that those in power will do what­ever they can to attain and pre­serve this end. In his words:

… each rul­ing group sets down laws for its own advan­tage; a democ­racy sets down demo­c­ra­tic laws; a tyranny, tyran­nic laws; and the oth­ers do the same. And they declare that what they have set down— their own advan­tage — is just for the ruled, and the man who departs from it they pun­ish as a breaker of the law and a doer of unjust deeds. This, best of men, is what I mean: in every city the same thing is just, the advan­tage of the estab­lished rul­ing body. It surely is mas­ter; so the man who rea­sons rightly con­cludes that every­where jus­tice is the same thing, the advan­tage of the stronger.”

One of the impli­ca­tions of the claim that there are a few who seek to max­i­mize their wealth and sta­tus is that we are not all equal in the way Amer­i­cans tend to assume. While there are good reli­gious and philo­soph­i­cal rea­sons to hold that we are all equal before God and law, we are not on firm philo­soph­i­cal ground when we assume that all indi­vid­u­als are iden­ti­cal in their abil­ity to get basic needs met. While no philo­soph­i­cal or reli­gious tra­di­tion claims that human beings are equal in this sense, many pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als and activists today seem to believe that all are equally able to suc­ceed in the free mar­ket. Unless we become more hard headed in acknowl­edg­ing the dis­tinc­tion made by all main­stream philoso­phers, one that serves as a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for and not a bar to the free-market, we are at risk of con­tin­u­ing to under­mine those qual­i­ties in our soci­ety that have made the United States a desir­able place for all, not just a few, to live.
From where did the treat­ment of the self-interested pur­suit of wealth as a virtue come? Influ­en­tial books that ide­al­ize self-interest and have had a sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence on polit­i­cal activism since the 1980s include Ayn Rand’s “The Virtue of Self­ish­ness”, “Cap­i­tal­ism: the Unknown Ideal”, and “Atlas Shrugged”, George Gilder’s “Wealth and Poverty”, and Michael Novak’s “The Spirit of Demo­c­ra­tic Cap­i­tal­ism”. What is philo­soph­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant about the treat­ment of the pur­suit of self-interest as a virtue is that it turns Thrasy­machus’ posi­tion on its head. While Plato was resis­tant to Thrasy­machus’ claim that the few either do or should call all the shots, many Amer­i­can activists believe pas­sion­ately that this is morally good. Let all good cit­i­zens be clear: the treat­ment of self-interest as a virtue is a rad­i­cal depar­ture from the West­ern as well as Amer­i­can tra­di­tion, and no main­stream polit­i­cal philoso­pher sug­gests that seek­ing one’s self-interest is a moral virtue. There is a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence between prais­ing hard work and effort, on the one hand, and prais­ing the self-interested pur­suit of profit, on the other. Any­one who does not under­stand the dif­fer­ence has no busi­ness being involved in pub­lic pol­icy debates. The founders of the United States observed the ten­dency of a few strong to seek to max­i­mize their wealth and influ­ence in ways that harmed the rest of soci­ety. On the basis of this knowl­edge, they sought to cre­ate a sys­tem that would con­trol and chan­nel the poten­tially desta­bi­liz­ing results of allow­ing these few to do what­ever they wanted in the eco­nomic arena. The eco­nomic free­dom treated as a moral absolute by some today is in fact a thought­fully con­structed set of laws and tra­di­tions whose goal is to bring the inter­ests of the few into line with the inter­ests of all. To put this another way, one set of “few” has been bal­anced by another set, namely those philoso­phers who gave us a strong cen­tral government.

If I am cor­rect in argu­ing that the pri­mary source of insta­bil­ity in our sys­tem is a dis­or­dered pub­lic phi­los­o­phy, one that treats a vice as if it were a virtue, then the solu­tion is con­cep­tu­ally easy: to return to a social phi­los­o­phy that preaches care for the com­mon good and that calls for rea­son­able lim­its on the self-interested pur­suit of wealth. In think­ing about a solu­tion to what can real­is­ti­cally be described as a civ­i­liza­tional cri­sis, I ask the reader to imag­ine for a moment that you are a states­man. Assume that you are in the midst of writ­ing a con­sti­tu­tion for a new coun­try named the United States.

What judg­ments are to guide us as we play the role of imag­i­nary states­man? Answer­ing this ques­tion brings us to the heart of the model I am propos­ing can play a role in lead­ing our polit­i­cal and eco­nomic life back to sta­bil­ity. There are two lev­els of stances that we as imag­i­nary founders must take. On the first level, accept that your goal as states­man is not to make cit­i­zens vir­tu­ous, as well as the fact that most peo­ple most of the time are moti­vated by a desire to attain basic needs in peace and secu­rity. In short, we accept the real­ity of the nar­row self-interest dis­cussed above. On the sec­ond level, how­ever, there exists a stance that we as imag­i­nary founders must con­sciously take towards our obser­va­tion of the exis­tence of the first level motive. This sec­ond level stance must be adopted by the activist, politi­cian or pub­lic intel­lec­tual. While the ordi­nary cit­i­zen as well as the few strong are nat­u­rally and unself­con­sciously moti­vated by self-interest, the activist and pub­lic intel­lec­tual must con­sciously take an addi­tional stance: s/he must remain neu­tral towards the real­ity of self-interest. The claim I want to make is that if activists and pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als with influ­ence do not adhere to both stances in the right way, we will expe­ri­ence increased insta­bil­ity, as defined above. They must nei­ther demo­nize self-interest, as Marx­ists have done, nor treat it as a source of virtue, as the Amer­i­can right has done since the 1980s. By ide­al­iz­ing self-interest, exces­sive power is effec­tively given to those few Thrasy­machus claimed were nat­u­rally dom­i­nant in ways that are harm­ful to society.

Here’s the point: In a democ­racy, each cit­i­zen is called to play the role of “states­men” when they vote. In our role as vot­ers, we each must observe the real­ity of self-interest while at the same time impos­ing those laws, rules and reg­u­la­tions required to limit the anti-social con­se­quences that would result if those who cared only about their nar­row inter­ested were allowed unfet­tered pur­suit of these ends. Through elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives, cit­i­zens must impose eth­i­cal val­ues onto a sys­tem that con­sciously assumes that the only oper­a­tive motive is eco­nomic self-interest. Eth­i­cal val­ues are imposed when we elect gov­ern­ments that apply wise laws and reg­u­la­tions. To respond by claim­ing that gov­ern­ment can­not be trusted to do this is sim­ply a restate­ment of Lock­ean lib­er­al­ism. Since this essay is argu­ing that this strand of our pub­lic phi­los­o­phy is no longer viable, it won’t do to sim­ply claim that “big gov­ern­ment is bad” or that “taxes must be low”. In short, those pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als and activists who in recent years have treated eco­nomic free­dom as a suf­fi­cient con­di­tion of the good soci­ety must learn the polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy they so far have only made assump­tions about. We must con­sciously return to a sit­u­a­tion where we bring eth­i­cal val­ues to bear on our political-economic sys­tem. It is a sign of deep intel­lec­tual, moral and spir­i­tual con­fu­sion when a polit­i­cal move­ment takes the stance that self-interest or worse, self­ish­ness, is a virtue. And this is pre­cisely what has hap­pened since the 1980s. No soci­ety can be either a good or a sta­ble soci­ety if it is moti­vated by the power of self-interest alone. We who are inter­ested in the com­mon good do accept the real­ity of self-interest, but we do not hold that it is a virtue. We hard-headedly know that we need eth­i­cal norms to inform the rules by which self-interested par­ties engage each other in the pur­suit of wealth and status.

 Posted by at 5:10 am
Mar 272012
 

If I were a wanna-be dic­ta­tor look­ing for some place to make my own, and I really mean my own – I might just pick Ten­nessee; any state polit­i­cally bipo­lar enough to pro­duce both All Gore and Fred Thomp­son is just ask­ing for it.

The con­di­tions would have to be just right; an eco­nomic depres­sion, high unem­ploy­ment, iso­lated urban cen­ters sur­rounded by vast rural areas – so far, so good.  Then I would need a polit­i­cal vehi­cle that I could manip­u­late; one well known enough to engen­der respectabil­ity, yet intel­lec­tu­ally vacant enough to be con­trolled … how ‘bout the republicans!

Now for the most impor­tant fac­tor in suc­cess­ful dic­ta­tor­iz­ing; fear.  I sim­ply need to iden­tify who the major­ity of the peo­ple are, find out what they fear and then blame it on the minor­ity of the peo­ple.  It’s sim­ply a mat­ter of tap­ping into people’s worst instincts, and then telling them how right­eous they are.

So, whom will I have to crush in order to take con­trol of my new domin­ion?  First will be the democ­rats, which should be easy, I’ll just call them social­ists and other things that peo­ple don’t under­stand but think they should be afraid of. Next I’ll have to break the power of the unions since the major­ity of the pop­u­la­tion are in the work­ing classes – oh wait… it’s a “right to work” state – job done.  Then there’s the media; no prob­lem, one cor­po­ra­tion owns 90% of all TV and print media in the state – I’ll just lever­age their cov­er­age with tax breaks and promises to sup­press their com­pe­ti­tion (start­ing with those quaint inde­pen­dent city papers).

Now for the fear fac­tor (and the rea­son this state will be so easy to take) – what the major­ity of my future fol­low­ers fear is los­ing their stuff, and the abil­ity to amass more stuff.  Be it a new bass boat, LCD tele­vi­sion or that week­end in Tunica.  If I can promise them that, they will line-up to hand over their civil rights.

But what minor­ity can I con­vince the major­ity to blame? Blacks? No, too risky and too on-the-nose; I’ll just redis­trict them out of mak­ing any trou­ble.  Gays? Prob­a­bly, but may have to dress that up with some­thing like just ban­ning them from mar­riage or mil­i­tary ser­vice.  Mus­lims?  Too late, it’s already impos­si­ble to build a mosque in this state.

Maybe the old iden­tify a minor­ity and then ship them off to camp idea is out­dated.  I may have more suc­cess with a vaguely defined and thus even more sin­is­ter minor­ity to scare peo­ple with – how ‘bout “lib­er­als?”  PERFECT! And I can roll all of the above stated trou­ble­mak­ers into the same cat­e­gory.  Any­one that claims the sys­tem is unfair or biased can sim­ply be called a “lib­eral” and quickly dealt with.  Genius!

 

Clarence Dar­row — “…off to my gulag!”

I’m just a bit con­cerned that the Repub­li­can party may not have the stones for the work I have in mind.  I need peo­ple that are so com­pletely con­vinced of their own inher­ent supe­ri­or­ity and the absolute evil of any­one else, that they won’t balk at the things I have in mind… I’ve got it! Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians!  They’ll hate any­one I tell them to, and with a zeal that would make a storm trooper blush.

 

All set then.  First the redis­trict­ing, get my min­ions in con­trol of the state leg­is­la­ture. Check.  Next, leg­is­late myself the abil­ity to dis­crim­i­nate at will.  Check.  Ban the abil­ity of any mal­con­tents to protest.  Check. And, for long-term con­trol of my peo­ple, get con­trol of what is taught in the schools.  I mean if I can con­vince peo­ple that evo­lu­tion didn’t happen…I could con­vince them of any­thing.  Really, what man with nip­ples doesn’t get the idea of evo­lu­tion?  Check.

 

My plan is per­fect – just hope some­one else hasn’t already thought of it…

 

good night and good luck

 Posted by at 12:35 pm
Mar 152012
 

After the lat­est imbe­cil­i­ties from Hush Lim­baugh and the con­tin­u­ing inani­ties from San­to­rum regard­ing women and those pesky vagina’s of theirs…  you would sup­pose me to go after some Freudian angle of attack, lev­el­ing some not so hid­den assaults against their failed swordsmanship.

pag­ing Dr. Freud…

Oh you think so lit­tle of me!  Rather, I shall refrain from indi­vid­ual assaults on the mea­ger wind­mills arrayed before me and launch into a com­pletely undis­ci­plined dia­tribe apro­pos — mod­ern day puri­tans (or, ass­holes as I pre­fer to call them)

I’ve vented around this idea before; that those who politic at us by pro­claim­ing moral decay and por­tray them­selves as some­one who will return us to the good old days…aren’t talk­ing about the good old days of strong unions, the GI bill and unas­sail­able pen­sions – they’re talk­ing about the good old, old days of seg­re­ga­tion, child-labor and back-alley women’s clinics.

Why do so many upstand­ing (pun intended) con­ser­v­a­tive men talk so much about sex?  Feel free to con­sult your first year psych text­books, but I think you already know where I’m headed…So:

By finger-wagging and sneer­ing, car­nal desires can be lived out vic­ar­i­ously in the Neo-Puritan imag­i­na­tion. In this way, petty moral­ists can ogle what they claim to condemn.

To Neo-Puritans, all the prob­lems of life can be traced to the gen­i­tals … true, but only their own problems.

How many times do the prigs, nin­nies, and scolds of the U.S. have to repeat this sort of inanity before they grow up and real­ize that human beings have strong libidos? Libido pro­pels both cre­ativ­ity and con­tretemps, and it is wise to aver that “the issue of char­ac­ter” should best be evoked and debated, as a gen­eral rule, when the sit­u­a­tion involves hypocrisy.

More­over, those claim­ing that their own sex­ual desires have never ren­dered them vul­ner­a­ble to silly mis­judg­ments evince a more nox­ious form of hypocrisy.
If in fact their lives have been absent such mis­for­tune; then one should with­hold the scorn reserved for hyp­ocrites, and, instead, grant these poor souls pity, for they have been afflicted with the awful cir­cum­stance of hav­ing passed through their lives with­out ever being seduced by life.

A more pro­found “char­ac­ter issue” here would seem to involve that of the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of mass media news­gath­er­ing orga­ni­za­tions, in par­tic­u­lar — their greed for ratings.

And what is one to make of the char­ac­ter of the indi­vid­u­als who com­prise the gen­eral pub­lic and their seem­ingly end­less avid­ity for these sto­ries — their insa­tiable crav­ing to revel in the tawdry — but remain engaged in the delu­sional wor­ship of their own toxic inno­cence? Holy Schaden­freude!

It is futile to strug­gle against the symp­toms while ignor­ing the source. As banal as the dreams of wit­less bul­lies, the archi­tec­ture and arti­fice of U.S. cor­po­rate imperium not only sur­rounds us but has col­o­nized our thoughts and desires. The elite of the cor­po­rate media and the U.S. pub­lic remain untrou­bled by Bradley Manning’s forced nudity, yet a cou­ple a snaps of a congressmen’s crotch sends their imag­i­na­tion reeling.

Since U.S. Empire is main­tained by mil­i­tarism — a de facto strong-arm racket shak­ing down the peo­ple of the world to sus­tain the end­less cupid­ity of its elite and prof­fer just enough bribes to keep its pop­u­lace over­weight, arro­gant, and obliv­i­ous — what “char­ac­ter issues” come into play involv­ing an individual’s com­plic­ity in the main­te­nance of imperium?

Per­haps as a reminder, fleets of U.S. air­craft car­ri­ers should be chris­tened with names such as, the USS Enti­tle­ment, the USS Dis­placed Resent­ment and the USS Will­ful Igno­rance — all armed and ready to patrol the oceans of the world, poised to attack and sub­due those who would deny us our birthright to con­sume the world like a bag of Cheetos.

Because fac­ing folly is dif­fi­cult, both pow­er­ful and pawn have embraced the most air­less of aspi­ra­tions … that greed run riot is a viable means to move in the world, even the sole means of estab­lish­ing a social order.

As was the case with any imperium through­out his­tory, the present order is main­tained by state-sanctified blunt force – and it is naïve to act sur­prised when a sol­dier on his fourth com­bat tour sim­ply strolls out­side, snaps in a full mag and slaugh­ters the inno­cent. To exist in empire, one is induced to deaden ones heart.

The act of hav­ing inter­nal­ized (albeit inad­ver­tently) the pro­pa­ganda of the cor­po­rate state and thereby cling to its pro­vi­sional com­forts … is to clutch a hand­ful of dust. And what is the mode of being to which so many cling:

Shuf­fling the floors of some sub­ur­ban box … within a gated “com­mu­nity” where one rarely sees, much less speaks to one’s neigh­bors; spend­ing hours at a time, anx­ious and irri­tated (if not out­right enraged) in soul-grinding com­muter traf­fic, lis­ten­ing to the obser­va­tions and pro­nounce­ments of inspired souls such as Morn­ing Zoo Crews and deep thinkers like Mush Lim­baugh and other right-wing talk-radio, hate mer­chants; then lan­guish­ing all day in a cubi­cle … just to turn around and do it all again.

Is it any won­der so many in the U.S. con­sider “our way of life” non-negotiable? What kind of a mis­er­able, bit­ter mal­con­tent would wish to chal­lenge and change such a life-enhancing, soul-vivifying mode of being? There is just no pleas­ing some people.

A loss of empa­thetic imag­i­na­tion is endemic to the con­sumerist mind­set of the mech­a­nized era. This form of pathol­ogy began, years ago, when our ances­tors offered up their life’s blood to the early cor­po­ratists of the Indus­trial Age.

I attack all those persons/ who know noth­ing of the other half / the half who can­not be saved / who raise their cement moun­tains / in which the hearts of the small / ani­mals no ones thinks of are beat­ing.” — Fed­erico Gar­cía Lorca,
excerpt: New York (Office and Attack)

Henry Ford and the rest of the Indus­trial Age’s klav­ern of gray ghouls mea­sured our flesh, mus­cle and bone with a productivity-measuring stop­watch. Cun­ning prac­ti­tion­ers of the dark art of con­vinc­ing human beings they were mere cogs in a soul­less machine, it was only a short trudge from that blood-bartering view­point of exis­tence through history’s slaugh­ter­house to Adolf Eichmann’s cold, corpse-rendering, math­e­mat­i­cal constructs.

Insu­lated, as he was, within his for­ti­fied tower of mortared casu­istry, Eich­mann proved adept at emo­tion­ally shield­ing him­self from the hor­rific impli­ca­tions of the sys­tem of mech­a­nized exter­mi­na­tion he helped devised.

From indi­vid­ual alien­ation to planet-wide eco­cide, Han­nah Arendt’s insights, regard­ing Eichmann’s psy­che in her sem­i­nal work, Eich­mann in Jerusalem, applies to our present con­di­tion: “The longer one lis­tened to him, the more obvi­ous it became that his inabil­ity to speak was closely con­nected with an inabil­ity to think, namely, to think from the stand­point of some­body else.”

Accord­ingly, to lose the green fuse of trans­for­ma­tion, implicit in inter­per­sonal rela­tion­ships, is to be dri­ven by dehu­man­iz­ing engines of annihilation.

In regard to the consumerist-colonized psy­ches of the pop­u­lace of the U.S., an inner archi­tec­ture is in place — an inter­nal­ized shop­ping mall (com­plete with sub-cretinous secu­rity crews trained to shut down polit­i­cal speechi­fy­ing and pam­phle­teer­ing — but who seem unwill­ing or unable to sub­due the impulse to buy, unnec­es­sary items on credit).

Con­versely, for a cul­ture to thrive, a vital agora and pub­lic square is required. Given the agora has been replaced by mall and social media’s weight­less pix­els of nar­rowed appre­hen­sion (an almost all-encompassing, ama­teur impro­vi­sa­tional the­atre for those with short atten­tions spans) can there be any chance of an awak­ing, even an upris­ing, against such life-negating forces?

Using any met­ric, the present sys­tem, based upon a zombie-like pro­lif­er­a­tion of expo­nen­tial growth is unsus­tain­able. By the destruc­tion lev­eled on nature and pub­lic space, in com­bi­na­tion with, the usurpa­tion of time and iden­tity (indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive) — the very struc­ture of the present sys­tem cre­ates alien­ation and anomie.

More­over, the root of Puri­tan panic (includ­ing the con­stant upwelling of sex­u­ally related scan­dal) is caused by its com­pul­sion to win­now down the human psy­che and its atten­dant dri­ves, actions, and enter­prises to only what is deemed pure and prac­ti­cal; hence, panic ensues when the musk and fury of the larger world (even one’s own thoughts and desires) rudely breaches the life-denuded con­tours of its cor­don sanitaire.

The anec­dote: Don’t tip­toe through your life like a ninny nor become a finger-wagging scold, so mor­ti­fied by your appetites and desires you would scour the messi­ness of the world into a ster­ile prison of self-deprivation. Like Emer­son, we must insist: we have a life to live — not a per­pet­ual apology.

Poetry, art and music can awaken imag­i­na­tion and induce empa­thy, there­fore are potent pro­vi­sions that sus­tain one while car­ry­ing the dark­ness. How­ever, one must first engage the strug­gle, to face the every­day mon­ster whose name is, “That is just the way it is and must remain” — even to risk hav­ing one’s con­cept of self devoured by the task.

To para­phrase Lorca: to know one­self by draw­ing near to the beat­ing heart of the mon­ster of the world.

“But the Duende — where is the Duende? Through the empty arch enters a men­tal air blow­ing insis­tently over the heads of the dead, seek­ing new land­scapes and unfa­mil­iar accents; an air bear­ing the odor of child’s spit­tle, crushed grass, and the veil of Medusa announc­ing the unend­ing bap­tism of all newly-created things.” — Fed­erico Gar­cía Lorca, excerpt: The Duende: The­ory and Diver­tisse­ment (1930)

One can­not kill nor ban­ish per­sonal demons but one can give them super­vised work to do.

Know­ing one’s demons also pro­vides insight when deal­ing with adver­saries and can pre­vent one from being drawn into the self-serving ploys of mass media vam­pires of mind and spirit who retail sex­u­ally related scan­dals that bring glee to the bloodless.

Per­son­ally, it couldn’t trou­ble me less if the sky shook, thick as seething locust, with a pixel-borne pesti­lence of sug­ges­tive pho­tos, ora­to­ries of innu­endo and troves of titillation.

Funny, the same crowd of fun­da­men­tal­ist, petty moral­ists who believe that global warm­ing is the result of nat­ural forces insist the heat of human libido is what will bring on man’s doom i.e., green­house gasses aren’t melt­ing the polar regions; instead, Cli­mate Change is caused by the hot breath of Satan him­self tweet­ing pic­tures of his lust-scorched undergarments.

In times such as these, one is advised to embrace both mys­tery and logic — both élan vital and logos.

Be both appre­hen­sive and com­forted by the unknow­able, inef­fa­ble qual­ity of exis­tence; thereby, one comes to be moved by a poetic approach to mys­tery, and the real­iza­tion arrives … that one is vividly alive even amid dis­mal, alien­at­ing cir­cum­stance, and, as a result, that the ennui engen­dered by the illu­sion of atom­iza­tion is, to a degree, mitigated.

Although one’s suf­fer­ing is uniquely one’s own, one remains part and par­cel of the impli­cate order of a liv­ing planet. This is how Wal­lace Stevens deliv­ers, in verse, the case for acquir­ing and main­tain­ing a view of the world by means of empa­thetic imag­i­na­tion (that can serve as a panacea to the preen­ing nar­cis­sism inherit in toxic inno­cence). I’ll give him the final word:

We feel the obscu­rity of an order, a whole,
A knowl­edge, that which arranged the ren­dezvous.
Within its vital bound­ary, in the mind.
We say God and the imag­i­na­tion are one …
How high that high­est can­dle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the cen­tral mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.

–Excerpt: Final Solil­o­quy Of The Inte­rior Paramour

 

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