If you took all the uncomfortable truths omitted from mainstream media over the past half century, compiled and indexed them, and added a dash of withering sarcasm, you might end up with a book a lot like, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy [Zed Books, 2013] the latest offering from serial dissident William Blum. Like his better-known peers Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn and Gore Vidal, Blum is a perennial gadfly on the imperial hide, puncturing falsehood and punctuating hypocrisy with an implacable zeal. On the back cover of Blum’s book Rogue State—and repeated in the current volume—is the following paragraph, probably the finest he has or may put to paper:
If I were the president, I could stop terrorist attacks against the United States in a few days. Permanently. I would first apologize – very publically and very sincerely –to all the widows and orphans, the impoverished and the tortured, and all the many millions of other victims of American imperialism. I would then announce that America’s global interventions – including the awful bombings – have come to an end. And I would inform Israel that it is no longer the 51st state of the union but – oddly enough – a foreign country. I would then reduce the military budget by at least 90% and use the savings to pay reparations to the victims. There would be more than enough money. One year’s military budget of $330 billion is equal to more than $18,000 an hour for every hour since Jesus Christ was born. That’s what I’d do on my first three days in the White House. On the fourth day, I’d be assassinated.
This paragraph was famously quoted by Osama Bin Laden in one of his grainy video homilies to the world in 2006. A minor media storm followed, hovering over Blum like a drone over a Waziristan hamlet. Once the furor subsided, however, Blum’s connection to OBL contaminated his reputation as a public figure. In the half dozen years since, Blum has received scant few speaking invitations from universities after enjoying a steady diet of engagements in the years prior. One can just envision the blandly decorous university administrator, seated in his mahogany office, dismissing out of hand a proposed invite to Blum, admonishing naïve student advocates to use a bit more discretion in their choice of speakers. But it was their loss.
Blum’s latest offering confirms that his exile from the college circuit has done nothing to dim his fury. The new book is a compilation of essays and articles dating from the middle of the Bush years through 2011, and covering a vast range of foreign policy issues. Blum writes with disarming informality, a writer with little time for the artful turns of the poet or novelist. His mission feels too urgent for anything but blank candor. In contrast to a more measured analyst like Chomsky, Blum holds nothing back. He launches salvo after salvo at the edifice of imperial falsification, a veritable babel of cloaked belligerence. Yet his indignation is leavened by healthy doses of humor, including a late chapter that envisions a global police state of comical extremes.
Blum’s central objective, it seems, is to expose the American mythology of good intentions. He states in the introduction, writing about the American public, “No matter how many times they’re lied to, they still often underestimate the government’s capacity for deceit, clinging to the belief that their leaders somehow mean well. As long as people believe that their elected leaders are well intentioned, the leaders can, and do, get away with murder. Literally.” [continue]
The power elite, especially the liberal elite, has always been willing to sacrifice integrity and truth for power, personal advancement, foundation grants, awards, tenured professorships, columns, book contracts, television appearances, generous lecture fees and social status. They know what they need to say. They know which ideology they have to serve. They know what lies must be told—the biggest being that they take moral stances on issues that aren’t safe and anodyne. They have been at this game a long time. And they will, should their careers require it, happily sell us out again. … Those who doggedly challenge the orthodoxy of belief, who question the reigning political passions, who refuse to sacrifice their integrity to serve the cult of power, are pushed to the margins. They are denounced by the very people who, years later, will often claim these moral battles as their own. It is only the outcasts and the rebels who keep truth and intellectual inquiry alive. They alone name the crimes of the state. They alone give a voice to the victims of oppression. They alone ask the difficult questions. Most important, they expose the powerful, along with their liberal apologists, for what they are.
Chris Hedges, The Treason of the Intellectuals
Your question is: why am I so interested in politics? But if I were to answer you very simply, I would say this: why shouldn’t I be interested? That is to say, what blindness, what deafness, what density of ideology would have to weigh me down to prevent me from being interested in what is probably the most crucial subject to our existence, that is to say the society in which we live, the economic relations in which it functions, and the system of power which defines the regular forms and the regular permissions and prohibitions of our conduct. The essence of our life consists after all, of the political functioning of the society in which we find ourselves. So I can’t answer the question of why should I be interested; I could only answer it by asking why shouldn’t I be interested? Not to be interested in politics, thats what constitutes a problem. You should ask someone who is not interested in politics; “Why, damn it, are you not interested?
Michel Foucault (via thesubversivesound)
There has been a striking change in the behavior of the intellectual class in recent years. The left intellectuals who 60 years ago would have been teaching in working class schools, writing books like mathematics for the millions (which made mathematics intelligible to millions of people), participating in and speaking for popular organizations, etc., are now largely disengaged from such activities, and although quick to tell us that they are far more radical than thou, are not to be found, it seems, when there is such an obvious and growing need and even explicit request for the work they could do out there in the world of people with live problems and concerns. That’s not a small problem. This country, right now, is in a very strange and ominous state. People are frightened, angry, disillusioned, skeptical, confused. That’s an organizer’s dream … It’s also fertile ground for demagogues and fanatics, who can (and in fact already do) rally substantial popular support with messages that are not unfamiliar from their predecessors in somewhat similar circumstances. We know where it has led in the past; it could again. There’s a huge gap that once was at least partially filled by left intellectuals willing to engage with the general public and their problems. It has ominous implications, in my opinion.Postmodernism? by Noam Chomsky
It is only in folk tales, children’s stories, and the journals of intellectual opinion that power is used wisely and well to destroy evil. The real world teaches very different lessons, and it takes willful and dedicated ignorance to fail to perceive them.
Noam Chomsky (via noam-chomsky)
They did not foresee, these ingenuous legislators, that if property is retainable by intent alone — nudo animo — it carries with it the right to let, to lease, to loan at interest, to profit by exchange, to settle annuities, and to levy a tax on a field which intent reserves, while the body is busy elsewhere. They did not foresee, these fathers of our jurisprudence, that, if the right of inheritance is any thing other than Nature’s method of preserving equality of wealth, families will soon become victims of the most disastrous exclusions; and society, pierced to the heart by one of its most sacred principles, will come to its death through opulence and misery.Property considered as a Natural Right | Proudhon (1840)
The main task for American intellectuals is … to figure out how this country’s staggering power can be harnessed for communal coexistence with other societies, rather than for violence against them. Certainly such a task cannot be helped by trading in metaphysical abstractions while we charge about the world as if we were the only people who counted. Nor will it be helped by declaring ourselves to be in a perpetual state of siege, partners in this protracted insanity with the Middle East’s diehard rejectionists.Edward Said
The country belongs to a handful of men who also control the media. Look at General Electric. It produces nuclear weapons for the Pentagon and also owns the NBC News cable channel, which is a very sophisticated censure apparatus, intrinsic to the system. It’s genius. It’s like an electronic cage around the nation which blocks information from getting through.The End of Gore Vidal
“If I were asked to answer the following question: What is slavery? and I should answer in one word, It is murder, my meaning would be understood at once. No extended argument would be required to show that the power to take from a man his thought, his will, his personality, is a power of life and death; and that to enslave a man is to kill him. Why, then, to this other question: What is property! may I not likewise answer, It is robbery, without the certainty of being misunderstood; the second proposition being no other than a transformation of the first?” - Proudhon, 1840
From the introduction to What is Property?:
Disregard then, reader, my title and my character, and attend only to my arguments. It is in accordance with universal consent that I undertake to correct universal error; from the opinion of the human race I appeal to its faith. Have the courage to follow me; and, if your will is untrammelled, if your conscience is free, if your mind can unite two propositions and deduce a third therefrom, my ideas will inevitably become yours. In beginning by giving you my last word, it was my purpose to warn you, not to defy you; for I am certain that, if you read me, you will be compelled to assent. The things of which I am to speak are so simple and clear that you will be astonished at not having perceived them before, and you will say: “I have neglected to think.” Others offer you the spectacle of genius wresting Nature’s secrets from her, and unfolding before you her sublime messages; you will find here only a series of experiments upon justice and right a sort of verification of the weights and measures of your conscience. The operations shall be conducted under your very eyes; and you shall weigh the result.
Nevertheless, I build no system. I ask an end to privilege, the abolition of slavery, equality of rights, and the reign of law. Justice, nothing else; that is the alpha and omega of my argument: to others I leave the business of governing the world.
“… in [Thomas] Paine’s view the code of government should be that of the legendary king Pausole, who presented but two laws for his subjects, the first being, Hurt no man, and the second, Then do as you please, and that the whole business of government should be the purely negative one of seeing that this code is carried out.”
An excerpt from Alfred Jay Nock’s Our Enemy, The State (1935):
The mass-man, ignorant of [the State’s] history, regards its character and intentions as social rather than anti-social; and in that faith he is willing to put at its disposal an indefinite credit of knavery, mendacity and chicane, upon which its administrators may draw at will. Instead of looking upon the State’s progressive absorption of social power with the repugnance and resentment that he would naturally feel towards the activities of a professional-criminal organization, he tends rather to encourage and glorify it, in the belief that he is somehow identified with the State, and that therefore, in consenting to its indefinite aggrandizement, he consents to something in which he has a share — he is, pro tanto, aggrandizing himself. Professor Ortega y Gasset analyzes this state of mind extremely well. The mass-man, he says, confronting the phenomenon of the State, “sees it, admires it, knows that there it is … Furthermore, the mass-man sees in the State an anonymous power, and feeling himself, like it, anonymous, he believes that the State is something of his own. Suppose that in the public life of a country some difficulty, conflict, or problem, presents itself, the mass-man will tend to demand that the State intervene immediately and undertake a solution directly with its immense and unassailable resources … When the mass suffers any ill-fortune, or simply feels some strong appetite, its great temptation is that permanent sure possibility of obtaining everything, without effort, struggle, doubt, or risk, merely by touching a button and setting the mighty machine in motion.”
The unquestioning, determined, even truculent maintenance of the attitude which Professor Ortega y Gasset so admirably describes, is obviously the life and strength of the State, and obviously too, it is now so inveterate and so wide-spread — one may freely call it universal — that no direct effort could overcome its inveteracy or modify it, and least of all hope to enlighten it. This attitude can only be sapped and mined by recurrent calamity of a most appalling character. When once the predominance of this attitude in any given civilization has become inveterate, as so plainly it has become in the civilization of America, all that can be done is to leave it to work its own way out to its appointed end. The philosophic historian may content himself with printing out and clearly elucidating its consequences, as Professor Ortega y Gasset has done, aware that after this there is no more that one can do. “The result of this tendency,” he says, “will be fatal. Spontaneous social action will be broken up over and over again by State intervention, no new seed will be able to fructify. Society will have to live for the State, man for the governmental machine. And as after all it is only a machine, whose existence and maintenance depend on the vital supports around it, the State, after sucking out the very marrow of society, will be left bloodless, a skeleton, dead with that nasty death of machinery, more gruesome than the death of a living organism. Such was the lamentable fate of ancient civilization.”
The fate of whole swathes of the population and sometimes of whole countries can be decided by the ‘solipsistic’ speculative dance of Capital, which pursues its goal of profitability with blessed indifference to how its movements will affect social reality Therein lies the fundamental systemic violence of capitalism, much more uncanny than the direct pre-capitalist socio-ideological violence: it is no longer attributable to concrete individuals and their ‘evil’ intentions, but is purely ‘objective’, systemic, anonymous.
Slavoj Žižek, ‘Less than Nothing’ (via stickyembraces)