Do I Dare to Eat an Impeachment?
O, this is “a massive fucking shitshow,”
starting with the blather of Devin Nunes.
We’ve no way of knowing where it may go.
The vast Left conspiracy is so low,
they want nudies of DJ Trump — such goons!
O, this is “a massive fucking shitshow.”
The Schiff-faced “cult” smirked at the google-eyed shmo,
as if he’d howled at one too many moons.
We’ve no way of knowing where it may go.
Nunes cries, “Russian hoax! Look out below!”
and an unknown Repub operative swoons,
“O, this is ‘a massive fucking shitshow.’”
Kent and Taylor talked up Trump’s quid pro quo.
“To do what he did was just looney tunes.”
We’ve no way of knowing where it may go.
Them Dems and Repubs going toe-to-toe,
like a battle of spooning silver spoons.
O, this is “a massive fucking shitshow.”
We’ve no way of knowing where it may go.
- John Kendall Hawkins
Rachel Maddow: ‘Lock him up!”
Sean Hannity: ‘Lock her up!’
Bruno Sammartino, Killer Kowalski, Professor Tanaka, The Fabulous Moolah, The Sheik, Haystacks Calhoun, Chief Jay Strongbow, Ivan Koloff “The Russian Bear,” Billy Graham, Colonel Ninotchka, and The Progressive Liberal. Turnbuckle nose jobs, sleeper holds, flying splats, head chairs, an occasional Curley Shuffle, tag-team terror, caged grudge, and emcee Vince McMahon. Hatred never had so much fun wrestling with Truth. Until Now. Entering the ring, none other than WWE Hall of Defamer, the one, the only, Donald J. Trump, aka Saint Grobian, champion of the deplorables, who onced “schlonged” Hillary Clinton, and is feared for his legendary hold, The Pussy Snatch.
According to Rolling Stone staff writer Matt Taibbi, this is the state of affairs in national politics today — a Spectacle of bizarre performers flipping each other in the public arena, to the titillation of the rabid masses, like some scene from the classic movie, A Face in the Crowd. They are divided Left and Right, polarized bears wrassling over baby seal meat on the world’s last floe, united by their choreographed hatred for each other. The End of the World as Reality TV. Great ratings. Matt Taibbi calls it all Hate Inc. — his new book.
Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity face off on the cover of Hate Inc. Loud Democrats versus Loud Republicans. Of the two, Taibbi takes issue with Maddow more because he sees her as “smart, quick, and funny,” and should know better than to slog the slimey end of Trump and Russiagate the way she has. Meanwhile, “The Sean Hannity Show is an uncomplicated gruel of resentment, vituperation and doomsaying,” writes Taibbi. Both adhere, to varying degrees, to what Taibbi calls The Ten Rules of Hate, which include notions like, “There are only two ideas,” “Root, don’t think,” “No switching teams,” “The other side is literally Hitler,” and in fighting that other side everything is permitted. For Taibbi, they are two faces of the coin of the fucked-up Realm.
We’ve been at the bread and circuses so long in America that it’s now difficult to conjure up the sad, but heady, days of catharsis that followed Dick Nixon’s TV resignation in 1974. Goodbye to ‘dirty tricks’ and, soon enough, the Apocalypse Then of Vietnam. We weren’t happy with Gerry Ford’s pardon of Nixon, but we managed to sublimate our bile through Chevy Chase’s regular depictions of Ford falling over himself on SNL. With Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky, Woodward and Bernstein, pushing to keep the Bastards honest, and with peanut farmer president Jimmy Carter, our dove among the warhawks, we felt we were moving toward our manifest destiny again. And the locusts sang that sweet mellow dee….
And then, lo, what rock through yon window breaks? Carter announces he has had lust in his heart for “other” women and admits so amidst all the pink bunnies spread out all over the place in the pages of Male Gaze Magazine (November 1976). Next thing you know, the press went berserk, and every time people started to forget about bunnies, and get back to kumbaya in the Middle East, John Updike put out another goddamned Rabbit book. Then Carter got into trouble again in 1979 when a naked bunny on the loose came swimming at his canoe with enough apparent purpose that he thwacked at “her” with a paddle. It was, all in all, a decade down the rabbit hole.
Well, it really wasn’t much of a hop to get from Carter’s hypothetical transgressions of the heart to Bill Clinton’s days of jizzy improvisation in the White House, a certain intern playing “Blind Willie Leaps” on his sexaphone, and all hell breaking loose inside the DC beltway (where belts never stay up long anyway) — the media frenzy, the special counsel, the calls to impeach, the partisan poli-dicking. The Clinton Show opened up a whole new can of whoopee-honkytonk. Anita Hill, Judge Thomas, pubic hair. “What is is.” You felt you were tripping. And some openly wondered how many people in Bosnia and Aftica were being taken out by cruise missiles to “detract” from the rocket’s red glare of Willy’s jism cycling the news back home.
Then after the palette-cleansing events of 9/11 wiped the smirks off our faces in a hurry and turned a whole lot of us into overcompensating conspiracy-fearists for about ten years, here we are, back in the criminal slime of celebrity sexual promiscuity. Now, with Russians.™ The phenomenon that is Donald J. Trump. He’s not only lusted after bunnies, he’s grabbed them by the pussy. Now we’re trying to figure out whether he grabbed Putin by the pussy, or if it was the other way around. And that’s all anyone cares about in America. Climate change? Nyet. Late stage capitalism? Nyet. Overpopulation? Nyet. Fashionable fascism? Nyet. Multiverses and the Singularity? Nyet. Welcome to America in 2019.
Hate Inc. brilliantly captures the current circus atmosphere and explores its roots in the political, economic and technological transformations of the last half century. Taibbi writes, “The Soviet Union let us all down by collapsing under the weight of its sociopathic leadership and systemic corruption, removing both itself and global communism as a functional adversary.”
That sucked. White Hat now alone in the spotlight, exceptionalism and neoliberalism looking more like Don Quixote than Sir Lancelot. So the Russkie demons had to be resurrected: Thank God Putin’s an asshole; it gives us something to work with. They gave us Sputnik; we gave them Stuxnet; now it’s their move.
Taibbi trots out his linguistic mentors early — Noam Chomsky and Hunter S. Thompson. One can see both at work in Taibbi’s style. He’s always keenly aware of the so-called “propaganda machine” that Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent, argues is behind all news production, the hidden vested interests, the profit-driven requirements of being in business, pandering to a readership. However, Taibbi’s prose is anything but academic; rather, it follows in the hip, snarky tradition of Hunter S. Thompson that is appropriate for a staff writer at Rolling Stone magazine.
The Russian disappointment aside, Taibbi locates the beginning of the corruption of good, solid journalism in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Far from seeing the end in Nam as a military loss, let alone a moral loss, American war hawks came away angry that ruptures in the narrative — Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers, Sy Hersh’s My Lai account — had undermined and betrayed the so-called Noble Cause. “The post-Vietnam story blamed an ‘excess of democracy’ for the loss,” writes Taibbi, “especially in the media: loserific criticism of our prospects for victory undermined the popular resolve to keep fighting a winnable war.”
The Excess of Democracy silliness sounded ominously Kissinger-esque. He’d said of events in Chile, “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.” It was as though the hawks and chickenhawks had replaced ‘communism’ with ‘democracy’ and Chile with America. New policy followed: Control the Messenger. One ex-CIA operative, Duane Clarridge, pardoned for his crucial role in the illegal anti-Sandinista campaign in Nicaragua, was shockingly candid with John Pilger about the fascist engine of American imperialism — “get used to it world,” it’s who we are.
This ‘national security’ attitude became policy toward journalists from Nixon onward, ratcheted up incrementally through the administrations until after 9/11. You could argue that the national political beat became little more than the propaganda arm of the War on Terror. As Glenn Greenwald and others have repeatedly charged over the years, the national press corps are made up of little more than stenographers being fed unattributed, often-uncheckable information.
Taibbi believes that part of the reason for the change in spirit that came over journalists is class-related. He writes, “…[B]ack in the day, reporters often came from a different class than the people they reported on in government. He relates the story of old school journalist Walter Winchell who was asked if he worked as a reporter: “He supposedly joked in reply: ‘Yeah, but don’t tell my mother. She still thinks I’m a piano player in a whorehouse.’”
That changed after Nixon and Watergate, he recounts. “Ironically, All the President’s Men, which made reporting glamorous, was about adversarial journalism. But the next generation of national political reporters viewed people in power as cultural soulmates because, at least socially, they were.” Suddenly, they were in a Georgetown nightclub together, grooving on Mose Allison tunes.
The economics of journalism has also played a role in the changes Taibbi alludes to. The media mergers of the ‘80s and ‘90s downsized the market, resulting in fewer outlets for news, which, combined with the ascension of the Internet in the late 90s began to affect revenue streams, especially for the press. Eventually, Taibbi argues, this began to affect news coverage and led to the transition to the current partisan bickering that represents contemporary coverage of events, especially national politics. It’s all come together like never before under Trump.
Taibbi observes, “Few seem troubled by the obvious symbiosis between Trump’s bottom-feeding scandal-a-minute act and the massive boom in profits suddenly animating our once-dying industry (even print journalism, a business that pre-Trump seemed destined to go the way of 8-track tapes, has seen a bump in the Trump years).” Trump often refers to the “failing” New York Times, and categorizes other mainstream media outlets as purveyors of “fake news,” but such attacks have done wonders for their bottom lines.
As the Peabody Award-winning Linda Ellerbee used to say, closing out her NBC Weekend stints in the 1970s, “And so it goes.”
Now that Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress last week ended as flat as a whimpering bagpipe, instead of the big bang smoke that Democrats were hoping to get from Mueller’s mushroom cloudy brain to fuel impeachment proceedings, we move in our spectacle to the last wrassling encounter on the programme. In this corner, Saint Groban, whose own government distrusts him with the country’s top secrets. And in the other corner, Julian “Wicked Leaks” Assange, wearing his fearful torn-condom mask, who the Trump administration wants to prosecute for espionage and journalism. A grudge match. The Pussy Snatcher versus The Sleepy Hacker. An atmosphere of pure hatred. Applause. The bell rings, we salivate.
Counterintuitively, The Whorehouse Pianist plays Rachmaninoff, musical pearls rolling before runting swine. Hunter S. Thompson would have loved it, dropping down another shot of whiskey, and heading upstairs for another round.
Sometimes the ironies, contradictions and absurdities mount so high to fuel the pyre that honors our postmodern relativism — oh, the vanity of bonfires! — that one wonders what must go through the minds of aliens looking down as they watch the spontaneous combustion of a species. What blue ship in the starry night is this that is all “mutiny from stern to bow” from dawn to dusk every walking-plank day? Sometimes the humanistic Captain Kirk seems in charge, like an acid trip redux, but if you blink you see instead Queeg razing Caine over strawberries, or, most often, the militaristic Ahab, who doesn’t have a leg to stand on whenever he tries to explain his rabbit-hole obsession with the white Russian whale. What must they think?
I was watching the 1965 film Ship of Fools the other day. The cautionary film was based upon the novel by Katherine Anne Porter, who was inspired by the satirical medieval classic by Sebastian Brant, who, in turn, derived his notions of neurotic oceans from Plato’s reference in the Republic. The trope has found its way into song (The Doors), as well as painting (see Bosch) and even modern sculpture. In the film, the fascistic rise of Nazi Germany is pre-figured on a luxury liner cruising off Mexico in 1933. Sardined migrant workers languish in the hold, while, above them, First Class passengers (mostly Germans) luxuriate and squabble over the politics of class, gender, and pre-Krisstalnacht anti-semitism. The malignant leather cancer metastasizes before your eyes.
The signs are always there, it will always seem, in retrospect. Russian meddling in American elections. You double-take as you hear President Obama admonish the Russians, shortly after the 2016 presidential election, “We can do stuff to you.” I’m old enough to remember that such ‘stuff’ has been going on for awhile. In 1996, Americans crowed about having meddled in the Russian presidential election. Well, you could argue that they can do stuff too.
Let’s recount. Reagan told Gorbachev to “tear down that wall” in Berlin. He did, along with the Iron Curtain. The neoliberals rushed in like RawdyYates in Rawhide with their bling and sto ho ethos. The oligarchs took over in Russia. Clinton installed the dancing circus bear Boris Yeltsin and laughed so hard at the president’s buffoonery that it looked for awhile like America would be friends-for-life with the Russkies. Maybe they could do stuff together.
But not every Russian citizen liked being represented on the world stage by a drunken lout. So maybe the Russians did stuff back: Maybe they did meddle. They larfed their asses off when Edward Snowden became the most famous American defector since Lee Harvey Oswald. And now we have our own humiliating buffoon calling the shots, while the Russkies tumble over themselves laughing, as Trump cries, ‘Put up that wall! Or iron curtain, or whatever you wanna call it. Doesn’t matter.’ Thus Spake Saint Gropian, patron saint of coarse and vulgar people. Well, Putin came after Yeltsin. KGB. Who will come after Trump’s second term (wink)? Won’t be Biden, Bernie or Pocohantas. They’ll all be too old. Maybe even dead, if they’re lucky. Maybe a disciplinarian’s on-deck.
Americans don’t need the Russians; we’re not above rocking our own ship of state with meddled elections. You don’t hear about it much or in context. Nixon did McGovern in (1972). Reagan boinked Carter (1980). And Bush whacked Gore (2000). In all three instances, potential treason is in play. In Gore’s case, not only did his loss open up the still-suppurating ugliness of race politics in America, but we may have lost our best chance at climate change leadership, here and abroad. Instead, we got 9 Eleven™. Now it’s too late, as the prophet-driven Bob Marley put it, because “Nobody can stop them now.”
Well, as Bobby Dylan would say, people’ve been drawing conclusions on the wall for quite awhile now, the signs have been there for the seeing. I’ve counted at least seven signs. Odd shit happening. The Pentagon, after decades of denial, suddenly announcing they’ve been chasing UFOs and providing evidence. People developing the Truman Show syndrome, thinking “that their lives are staged reality shows, or that they are being watched on cameras.” Verbs trying to take down nouns. Dinosaurs having the last laugh, as they release the comet energy that they absorbed onto us. DARPA talking ‘bout robo-bees replacing the dying honey-bees. The Pentagon talking Gay Bombs to drop on enemies, but pulling back at the last moment no doubt for fear of the potential blow-back, literally.
I’ve been saying for years that if the gargoyles are now in charge of the cathedrals — those colossi of pure beauty and holy terror worthy of any God’s love — then it’s time to tear the cathedrals down. Lo and behold, next thing I know, Notre Dame forest has gone poof! The firemen ate cake. The gilded crown of Christ was saved. No insurance. The 1% came to the rescue. Will it be known in the future as the MacDonalds Notre Dame Cathedral. Will we have to pray to the candy-colored clown christ of capitalism in the future? What was Quasimodo’s alibi that day anyway? Signs.
An enquiring mind wants to know how is it possible that a flat-earther like basketball star Kyrie Irving is allowed to dribble that round round ball so recklessly on that flat flat rectangular surface, repeatedly going off the edge of his world on lay-ups? Signs.
And then another sign. The controversy over a new app called DeepNude, described as an app that “Undresses a Photo of Any Woman With a Single Click.” Kind of like the Male Gaze fights back. Needless to say, in this #MeToo era, the app was pulled, pitchforks, torches, and calls to storm the Bastard were hailed. Actually, Ray Milland demoed the product in The Man with the Xray Eyes. But when they took away his glasses he went into a tailspin funk and ended up drinking himself half to death in The Lost Weekend.
Let’s face it: Ever since We fell from grace after eating an iApple from the Tree of Knowledge and were unceremoniously booted from Eden, God telling Adam, while pointing at the newly ribbed Eve, “take her with you and go fuck yourself. You’ll see.” After millennia of cultural and technological ‘evolution’ we arrive back, catastrophic methane bubbles popping out of the sea all around us, at the place we started from without knowing it, God taunting us, “So how did you like them apples?” Meaning everything from the be-bop bone in 2001: A Space Odyssey to the wormholes and the quantum and the mofo multiverses ahead. A self-made Adam carries a worn-out Eve across the threshold, from a living hell back to a Paradise frozen over. See ya.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” writes old man Frost, and, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, / And to whom I was like to give offence.” Surely, wisdom as wise as the Golden Rule itself. But, as with the Rule, not everyone sees it that way. Take President Donald J. Trump, our golden ruler. He loves walls. He says his first wall moment was when he all-but swindled his way into his Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago estate in 1985. He offered the owners, who had the estate on the market, $25 million, which they turned down. So he threatened to buy property next to Mar-a-Laga and put up a wall that would block their view of the ocean. In a panic, they ended up selling the estate to Trump for $8 million.
“That was my first wall,” he told the Post. “That drove everybody nuts. They couldn’t sell the big house because I owned the beach, so the price kept going down and down.” One of the first things Trump did was to replace the relatively modest hanging portrait of the previous owners with one of his own: “Trump is depicted as a bronzed, blond-haired god, or, as a plaque at the bottom of the frame proclaims, ‘The Visionary’.”
Most recently, our blonde-haired god surprised Spain with his ‘vision-thing’ of a wall spanning the Sahara to keep out migrants. Josep Borrell, Spain’s foreign minister, at the risk of adding to climate change woes, tried to take some of the me-vain gas out of the golden boy’s balloon ride by informing him that the Spanish span would be some 3000 miles, about 500 miles more than the width of America.
Not long ago in Scotland, Trump brought out the worst (or the best, depending on how you look at it) by trying to ‘evict’ some local residents from property near his golf complex in aptly-named Menie. When they wouldn’t be evicted, Trump pulled his Mar-a-Laga trick and put up trees to obscure their view. Locals seem to have returned the favor by emplacing a series of “ugly” wind turbines in the sea over which Trump’s golf estate looks. Similarly, In Ireland, Trump’s plans for a wall at his coastal golf course in Clare County, upset locals who feared it would harm wildlife. And it was also meant to keep Limerick residents out. Some of the latter managed some choice words in response. Walls to keep people out.
Of course, this thing about walls is not always so chucklesome or so explicit. Take the Sunni/Shia war in Yemen. The Saudis have built a wall along the 1000-mile border with Yemen. This not only keeps Shia riff-raff (almost all of them, by Saudi standards) from crossing into Saudi Arabia, but keeps them locked in as well. Yemeni ports have been closed by the Saudis since 2015. There is nowhere to go, and little food or medical aid, as Saudi and Emerati jets and drones drop American-made bombs and missiles on fish-in-a-barrel civilians — women, children, even Doctors Without Borders. So indiscriminate is this campaign at times that even innocent American citizens have been taken out — by Americans. It gives one pause, in this the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre. Trump doesn’t mind what goes on behind closed walls or minds. When he was recently kow-towing in the Kingdom he signed an agreement, begun under Obama, to provide another $350 billion in arms sales to keep hate alive in the Middle East. Walls to keep people in.
Last year Trump became the first sitting US president to stand before the “so amazing” Wailing Wall in beloved Israel. (The wall let’s you touch it and everything.) And one thing Trump is, depending upon what your definition of is is, is touchy. No doubt, he immediately wanted to buy it, or have one of his own. You can bet there was no wailing or gnashing of his picket fence white teeth for the Palestinians that live a walled-in existence in Gaza or the occupied territories.
Word is, from an anonymous source, that he’s thinking of purchasing the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. That way he can visit it with his chin up. But first he’ll have to have it re-etched, deleting the names of all the ‘Nam vets, and replacing them with all the names of those ‘elites’ who dodged the draft and eluded a tour in ‘Nam. A special section will bear those who went on to become Commander-in-Chiefs.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, but Trump ain’t that something.
Some people argue that Trump is trying to build, at the Mexican border, a new Berlin Wall. It was good for keeping people out (the Democratic West) and excellent for keeping people in (the fascist commie East). It offended everyone. It especially offended the citizens of East Berlin, some of whom managed to escape in a brain drain surge, while the lives of many others were cut down trying to scale the wall. So paranoid did the GDR authorities become at the prospect of losing their best brains to the West that their not-so-secret secret police, the Stasi, made it their mission to read the minds of those forced to stay behind in the dingy doldrums of the GDR. Everyone was jubilant when the wall finally came down, symbol of tyranny and all that, and the wonderful West was quick to capitalize on the fall, selling chunks of the wall as keychain souvenirs within. Freedom, right? Or as Dylan sang, “It’s easy to see without looking too far that not much is really sacred.”
But the real lode Mother Russia (foster, of course) was the trove of secret database materials that tracked the doings and thinkings of citizens throughout concentration city. Anyone caught thinking about going Beyond the Wall was subject to interrogation and torture. As Amnesty International points out, it’s a cautionary tale, “The Snowden revelations suggest the NSA can collect 5 billion records of mobile phone location a day and 42 billion internet records – including email and browsing history – a month.” To get a sense of what information they already can collect on you, whether your a terrorist or not, simply type in: myactivity.google.com (google account holders). Imagine the Internet not as a leap to Freedom but as a firewall locking you into Paranoiaville. Once again, as our ig-Nobel monster songster Dylan sang so presciently all them years ago: “If my thought-dreams could be seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine.” And Trump would probably volunteer to do it, Bob.
Speaking of Google and their ‘do no evil’ hypocritical oath, they are busy making the Stasi look like lightweight heel-grinders by comparison. Most recently, Google has been discovered to be helping to build and reinforce the Great Firewall of China, a process that, like as with the Stasi, includes not only snuffing out ‘free thought’ searches, but also keeping track of those who try to escape over the firewall to places like…America, home of Exceptionalism. Of course, such a Google-led system in China is a great place for the company, with its close ties to the NSA, to construct a template for totalitarian control of a populace. China’s Great Wall, 13,000 miles long, and built to keep out Genghis Khan and his barbarian ilk, was an inspiration to Donald Trump. You can’t get Great Wall chunks on ebay, but when I visited the Wall a few years back, a yak came along and shat on my shoe in a chunky souveniring kind of way I will always treasure (sorry, no pix).
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall; they’re going up everywhere, while Trump has his ‘lover’s quarrel with the world’. According to The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman, “Of the 51 fortified boundaries built between countries since the end of World War II, around half were constructed between 2000 and 2014.” Trump must be loving it.
He must be loving it so much that you can picture him going into a Walmart (natch) and trying to con the franchisee in to putting up pictures of his favorite worldly walls on a far wall of the store, which he promises to make customers pay to build. If the proprietor should be silly enough to refuse, Trump could pull a Mar-a-Laga and threaten to obscure the view of the wall of guns covering the opposite wall. You can almost feel the gunseller’s panic ensue.
All of this brings us back to Trump’s Mexican Wall, for which I have a modest proposal. Trump could offer to resolve the trade war with China by offering to by up, let’s say, 400 miles of their precious wall. Trump could point out that ‘they owe us one’, since we shipped to them thousands of tons of steel at a discount price shortly after the Twin Towers fell. That leaves about 400 miles to go. Trump could whisper sweet nothings into Angela Merkel’s ear walls, promising to forgive Germany’s underpayment for US military protection if she could part ways with, say, 100 miles of the defunct Berlin Wall. That would leave just 300 miles needed. Trump could sign an executive order that would rescind the right to own human-killer guns (AR-15s, handguns) and gather them all up, fusing them together at the Mexican border in an iconoclastic postmodern statement of God knows what. Side by side — the Guns, the Great Wall, and the Berlin Wall: Who would want to cross the border into what might lay behind that kind of modern art?
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…
Mostly these days Trump must be climbing the walls of the Oval Office (only to discover they have ears) and thinks, ‘the ears have walls’, and he pictures impermeable cell membranes, and cries, “Os Mosis — who are you?” Or some other Crazytown shit. And now, as the walls build up around him — anonymous op-eds, pussygates all over America — “fabulous” walls of his own making, a twisted and endless maze, down which he moves “like an old-stone savage armed,” chasing his own echo, and comes to a final wall, a mirror of mirrors, where our golden-haired minotaur flings a chunk of his ego, and watches as everything comes crashing down around him, a Tarantino ending, with himself, and reveals: the minotaur is the maze: the final offense.
Lots of nasty stuff has been written about Henry Kissinger over the many years since he left government service. For me, though, the most telling and direct lead to the essence of his character came in March 1973. He was meeting with President Richard Nixon at the White House and they were discussing an urgent request from Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir to exert pressure on the Soviets to allow Jews to emigrate from Eastern bloc nations. Kissinger, totally aware of Nixon’s ferocious anti-Semitism, might have offered up any number of titbits of advice, but instead our aphrodisiacal maniac offered up vile lickety-split.
“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” a craven Henry tells Tricky Dick on a White House tape released in 2010. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern.”
While it might be tempting to call Henry a self-loathing Jew here, he’s far more twisted, in a Picasso-esque way, than that: his cubes have cubes. No, suspending a merely reactionary response for the moment, one sees Kissinger’s geopolitical realpolitik in a nutshell at work here. More important – far more so – than human rights, or popular systems of self-government, are the strategies and whims of the global elite powerbrokers.
Consequently, Kissinger and Nixon were not happy, a year later, when Sen. Henry Scoop Jackson and Rep. Charles Vanik got together to pass through Congress the human rights-respecting 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment that tied trade status to emigration policy. Vanik, one of the last genuine and outspoken critics regarding the influence on legislation by special interest groups, had proud roots in Czechoslovakia, from whence his grandparents had emigrated to the US, and who was a vocal critic of the Soviet silencing of the Prague Spring.
And, in his new book, World Order, Kissinger grumbles about contemporary European inter-State policies, seeing them as having been influenced too heavily by the kinds of humanitarian considerations that brought leaders like Vaclav Havel popular support and rejuvenated European statecraft after the fall of the Berlin Wall, albeit much of the goodwill energy has since dissipated or been co-opted by the commoditizers of everything.
For toads and toadies like Henry K, the middle classes are to be tolerated (though not really respected) because they are the ocean of will that can sink or float a ship of state, and so they must be carefully managed with propaganda and promises, while the indigent, the hoi polloi who make up the majority of the world’s population, are entirely disposable and of no importance beyond ravishment.
Kissinger is certainly not alone with his aphrosdiacs; one thinks of the “brilliant” former head of the IMF and French “socialist” presidential hopeful, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who one day, during a break in strategy meetings, tried to force his aphrodisium on a lowly maid from Guinea. Sex and violence meets at the center of the psyches of both of these otherwise closeted men. I’m sure there’s a psychosexual etiology attached to the condtion, but let’s not go there.
Readers expecting anything fresh from Kissinger’s new World Order will be disillusioned; there’s nothing here but the same old same old, with some minor updating to include the influence of ISIS, a reference to the Ukranian crisis, and a coded declaration that the two trade partnership agreements across the Atlantic and the Pacific – the TTIP and TTP – are the essential upgrade needed to the Westphalian principles that have provided “order” to the Western-controlled world since the 17th century.
And, on this latter point, certainly it is not inconsequential that Henry’s World Order arrives on the verge of Hillary Clinton’s coming out for the 2016 Democratic nomination for the presidency. That explains Hillary’s recent Washington Post review of Kissinger’s new book, in which she turns in her former loud and acerbic criticism of all things Henry in order to polish his German helmet to a fine sheen. Who better than a Clinton to see sovereignty-destroying trade legislation passed and then managed? They have been praising each other in public ever since. But when two old trolls make such love under the bridge, where all that blood flows, you can bet it ain’t the bed you hear creaking. And for those who see the Kissinger-Clinton connection as an anomaly, recall rigid Ann Coulter’s preference for Hillary of over John McCain – because “Hillary is absolutely more conservative.”
World Order itself is some 800 plus e-pages long. It contains 9 core chapters sandwiched between an Introduction and a Conclusion. Kissinger starts out by discussing the importance of the Peace of Westphalia in 1642 which brought stability to an old Europe following the Thirty Years War by a coming-to-terms on issues of sovereign territory and the balance of power. As Kissinger puts it, this was “a turning point in the history of nations because the elements it set in place were as uncomplicated as they were sweeping. The state, not the empire, dynasty, or religious confession, was affirmed as the building block of European order.” The procedures this agreement instituted made it portable and helped spread the Westphalian system throughout the world, but especially in the colonies of the Americas and Africa.
The first two-thirds of the book is a very readable lecture-like survey and summary of various kinds of political orders that have taken root throughout regions of the world, but especially Europe, the Middle East and Asia, where all the major players are situated. One notes rather quickly that Africa is not mentioned at all in the book, and South America is barely mentioned, and then only in the context of colonization. Nafissatou Diallo, the Guinean maid on whom the banker Straus-Kahn tried make a deposit, would understand this dynamic perfectly.
So, then, says Kissinger, Europe and her satellites have the Westphalian system. In the Middle East we find, obviously, a system of order that is religious in its appeal and metaphysical in its dimensions. Until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the region had no set boundaries, and it may be that such physical demarcations are proving incompatible with tenets of Islam, although the religion has global hegemonic aspirations. In Asia, there is a long tradition of empires built on introverted consolidation and inherited power, and a historical resistance to the impurities of Western cultures. The question Kissinger raises is whether it’s possible to bring these various spheres into a compatible world order. But he slyly suggests that ‘Ve have Vays’.
And chapters 7-9 of the book would seem to affirm the possibility – if, the chief arbiter of world order these last 50 years – oh, you know who: America, the exceptional and indispensable – were to oversee a new world order broken up into some five regions, like a Venn diagram. As Kissinger concludes, “To achieve a genuine world order, its components, while maintaining their own values, need to acquire a second culture that is global, structural, and juridical—a concept of order that transcends the perspective and ideals of any one region or nation. At this moment in history, this would be a modernization of the Westphalian system informed by contemporary realities.”
And that’s the essence of Kissinger’s World Order. Update Westphalia with its familiar rules and Western hegemony and bring in the now-incompatible regions, such as the Middle East and Asia, by granting them regional sovereignty that respects, say Islam and Confucianism, but uses treaties like the TTIP and TTP to harmonize, and, in essence, bring together a new league of nations. Since this would lead to global radical economic de-regulation, one imagines a single world currency developing out of this, with a view to ending currency wars and current creeps back to the gold standard that could de-stabilize the US dollar and bring about World Chaos. The question is how to make Russia and China give up their selfish spheres influence (Russia’s near-monopoly on the gas supply to Europe)l China’s export surplus and monetary deflation).
Are such notions enough to justify a rapprochement and détente with a war criminal, whose realpolitik deceptions and policies led to perhaps 8 million needless casualties? Well, the mainstream media sure seems to be partying. And the smell of aphrodisium is in the air.
In this year of remembrance we look back at Abbie Hoffman, who died 25 years ago and has been overlooked among all the other celebrations
These past several months have seen the Western remembrance of passionate things past, 25 years ago – the Tank Man and Tiananmen Square uprising, the goofy breach of the Berlin Wall, and the heady promise of the Velvet Revolution, among others.
These mostly symbolic historical gestures have in common the leit motif of human passion, the yearning for better days ahead, and the latent threat to authority that is people power. Alas, the excitement of their commemoration lasted about as long as the new digital news cycle. The party balloons have all gone flaccid for events that, after all, ended badly.
Thomas Jefferson famously once said, ‘If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.’ Which is to say that the free flow of information is the lifeblood of democratic policy-making, and that when it disappears or is controlled by self-interested governance, then democracy vanishes with it. Few people understand this faceoff between government and the free flow of information better than Julian Assange and his arch-enemies at Google, CEO Erich Schmidt and Google Ideas head, Jared Cohen. All three realise that the Internet represents a ‘no state’ that is a challenge to control. It’s also an opportunity to transform the world, for better or worse.
The textual delirium that Schmidt and Cohen released last year, The New Digital Age, is a blueprint for a future that is more-of-the-same, albeit even more highly fetishised. The original name for the Schmidt-Cohen tome was Empire of the Mind, a far more fitting title. Google, the good Star Ship Entrepreneur, knows all too well that the final frontier is the space between our ears. It’s a happy digi-stim heaven where we ride together in a driverless car: a world of luxury gadgets, conspicuous consumerism, and, most importantly, an information flow that is tightly and centrally controlled in a totalitarian ‘no state’ in which you’ll be forced to participate from birth, where democracy is a digital presence and free speech is moderated like the comments section of the Guardian (psst: never criticize Israel).
What is the role of muckraking in such an environment? Keeping in mind that in a No State environment, with governance as distant as laughter from invisible gods, investigative journalism, except for when dealing with the most banal subjects has no place, no point. Muckraking is only valid as a watchdog in a democratic-republican system greased by informed consent. As Dylan once sang, it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there. And that’s where Julian Assange comes in.
Wikileaks notwithstanding, strictly speaking, Assange is not a journalist (let alone a muckraker) but a ‘hacktivist’, a kind of burglar for truth, bustin’ in to sociopath vaults to retrieve the purloined People’s Jewels. While the Edward Snowden revelations have proved astonishing and invaluable, their power point presentation style tends to abstract their implications (albeit others may disagree with this perceived limitation). By contrast, the closed and open documents released by Assange and Steven Aftergood (the operator of the Secrecy News blog, which regularly publishes, with brief commentary, the trove of crucial public interest documents the US government quietly puts into the public domain) provide clear and concrete paper trails of policy. Following them makes for a profound introduction into the often shadowy workings of government.
It is important to understand that, like it or not, we are in the middle of a Jeffersonian struggle over the future of the state.
The notion of nation states did not develop out of any ideal of ‘the natural rights of Man’, but rather arose out of the Westphalia peace treaty of 1648, which followed the brutal 30 Years War that tore old Europe apart. Essentially, the treaty established for the first time amongst these ever-warring factions a recognition of territorial sovereignty. The follow-on principle of nationhood, so superficially significant today, is also a largely arbitrary, state-originated conception. As Debora MacKenzie points out, the concept began with the American and French revolutions, but
France, for example, was not the natural expression of a pre-existing French nation. At the revolution in 1789, half its residents did not speak French. In 1860, when Italy unified, only 2.5 per cent of residents regularly spoke standard Italian.
This model continued to take hold and develop through the Industrial Revolution, and then, just as it seemed to be the entrenched basis for regulating inter-State diplomacy and commerce, the First World War erupted and the idea of the nation-state began to implode, beginning with demise of the Ottoman and Austrian-Hungarian empires. As Uri Avnery recently wrote in CounterPunch, though it may not be obvious at first glance, what Scotland and ISIS have in common is a rejection of artificially-assigned nation-state relationships.
We can see examples of the nation state fracturing everywhere, including in places of long-established stability. The recent northern California referendum to secede from the state is one example. Closer to home, one could argue that if Western Australia had its druthers the state would be autonomous from the Commonwealth. After all, Perth, ‘the world’s most isolated city’, with thousands of kilometres of desert separating it from the nearest major city of Adelaide, could probably make a case that it is already an autonomous city state.
A New York Times op-ed last year described this emerging phenomenon of breakaways as a ‘devolution’ from nation-statehood. Parag Khanna, a senior research fellow at the non-partisan New America Foundation, describes a 2013 report by the United States National Intelligence Council, which contains various global scenarios for 2030, based on forecasting of current trends. Khanna argues that one projected scenario, ‘Nonstate World,’ already rings true. This scenario
imagined a planet in which urbanization, technology and capital accumulation had brought about a landscape where governments
had given up on real reforms and had subcontracted many responsibilities to outside parties, which then set up enclaves operating under their own laws … though most of us might not realize it, ‘nonstate world’ describes much of how global society already operates.
A parsing of policies of current global nation-states would suggest that austerity budgets everywhere might just be harbingers of the coming Atlas Shrugged indifference to progressive reforms and a universal re-embracing of small government virtues.
Governments everywhere in the ‘democratic’ world, from America to France to Australia, are subverting their own constitutional principles to make room for the neoliberal transnational treaties. In the most recent New Scientist, Hal Hodson has a piece titled ‘E-citizens unite: Estonia opens its digital borders,’ which details how anyone anywhere is now free to open up a bank account and start a business in Estonia and become an e-citizen of the country (though not an actual citizen). Could this be the start of a larger movement? MIT researcher John Clippinger thinks so. ‘This is the beginning of the erosion of the classic nation state hegemony,’ he writes. ‘It’s going to get whittled away from the margins.’ Perhaps more haltingly, Hodson adds,
Such e-residency, as it is known, is a step towards a world where a person’s online identity matters just as much as their offline identity; where the location of data, rather than documents, is more important.
Coincidentally enough, Ukraine has a similar plan afoot.
We are entering a world where there is government but no newspapers; where the free-flow of information is not only suppressed but, in many cases, outlawed. It is a battle with existential ramifications. Merely being a passive consumer of hand-me-down news – trusting the MSM to tell us what we need to know to be truly informed consenters – is no longer a fantasy in which citizens can afford to luxuriate. As the madcap Yippie activist Abbie Hoffman once said, ‘Democracy is not something you believe; it is something you do, and if you stop doing it, then democracy dies.’
It is axiomatic that somewhere along the line the crass pleasures of consumerism got all mixed up with the solemn duties of democracy, so that mindless voting, largely employing ‘brand’ principles, has become a bland exercise in ritual.
If we can’t trust those we elect to fulfil their sworn and sacred oaths to preserve and protect their own constitution, which forms the basis of our common consent, and if the media have abrogated their duty to fully inform the public on crucial policy matters, then there is only thing to do: muckrake and leak and withhold consent. That’s the beauty of Wikileaks (and the like) – the citizen activist can skip the MSM middle man (and most of the time it will be a man) – and read the primary documents online herself, without filters and spoon-fed interpretations. This kind of unspun access scares the poop out of the pollies. In fact, muckraking, in the context of informed citizenry, means refusing to accept the surface features of policy: dig some on your own. So muckraking is essentially an act of honing consciousness. This is not particularly radical or new. Just do it.
The recent cynical stoush created by the Australian’s media editor Sharri Markson after she went ‘undercover’ to tape some ‘biased’ journalism lectures at two Sydney universities, is stupid and self-serving for any number of reasons, including the fact that the Oz had praised journo lecturers at UTS and UWS. The incident seems part of the general conservative realignment of Australian curricula and a move to expel the vital critical acumen academia provides. That Markson employed a pseudo-muckraking tactic to ‘expose’ and tweak the lefties offers just one more example of how Leftist values in general have been co-opted by the nastiest factions of the Right. As one student of the Sydney programs in question responded in Crikey,
The problem with Markson’s dig is it fails to acknowledge the critical environment that universities foster, and the intellectual capacities of the people who study there. Universities foster extremes because they allow ideological debate to expand beyond the narrow remits of public discussion, and far beyond the often honed agendas on display at papers like the Oz.
But, of course, conservatives don’t want ideological debate (and never have); they want obeisance and suppressed dissent. The surveillance state represents Happy Days.
The days of dismissive conspiracy theory-bashing are over: the shit’s here. We need to become more like the ‘productively paranoid’ Assange (as one writer trenchantly refers to him in a take-down review of The New Digital Age), and push aside the reactionary massage of his alleged and distracting personal issues to take note of his crucial message: It’s time to fight, to push back, or else prepare for some alternate way to survive a grim-looking future. Academics and humanitarians have been pushing for the cross-curricular development of critical thinking skills, and they never have been more urgently needed.
Becoming a citizen-activist-muckraker is not an excruciating process; it doesn’t require oodles of training, as Markson and her mates suggest. It does, however, require passion for civil rights and a commitment to getting a message out to others.
One good place to start muckraking and getting all activist about is the coming Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) legislation, which represents a clear and present dangernot only to free expression on the internet, but in its sovereignty-overriding deregulatory policies. It’s scheduled for review in the US soon, and whatever happens there with the bill will probably get rubber-stamped here in Australia. Frankly, if the TPP fails to stir the stones in your soup, probably not much will.
In Assange’s latest book, When Google Met Wikileaks, he briefly raises constructive ways around the growing totalitarian state – such as the use of mobile peer-to-peer or mesh networks that bypass a telcos. Every mobile phone comes with this built-in capacity because it communicates by radio frequency, but telcos lock the frequencies to force users to go through them. They can, however, be unlocked. Similarly, using comprehensive encryption (on files and communication) is a good idea. It’s also wise to employ a non-persistent operating systems on a USB stick or, better, a DVD (non-rewritable), such as TAILs – while, of course, limiting your use of Google services.
The irrepressible and not-so-radical-seeming-now John Pilger sums up the stakes and requirements best in his eloquent closing statement to his film Breaking the Silence: Truth and Lies in the War on Terror:
We need not accept any of this, if we recognize now that there are two superpowers: one is the regime in Washington, the other is public opinion – now stirring all over the world stirring, perhaps as never before. Make no mistake, it’s an epic struggle. The alternative is not just the conquest of far away countries, but the conquest of us, of our minds, our humanity and our self-respect. If we remain silent, victory over us is assured.
Oh what a difference a weekend doesn’t make.
At one end of the empire the ardent flame of Scottish independence, as if inspired by Mel Gibson’s cheeky Braveheart, was snuffed out by a pre-referendum BBC fear campaign and the pleading of a candid Cameron, the populace realizing it was all only a movie and that the popcorn was bland as styrofoam . Or maybe there was some widespread ‘mischief’, as some observers have claimed. Doesn’t matter. As Russell Brand said before the vote, “I’m not going to turn up and put an X in a box, like an Xbox. It’s like an illusion, it’s a temporary reality. It’s meaningless, it’s pointless. It makes no difference. Give us something to vote for, and then we’ll vote for it.”
At the other end of the empire, in New Zealand, on Saturday the Kiwis resoundingly welcomed back Nationalist John Key, despite (some would argue because of) the ‘Moment of Truth’ revelation festivalorganized by the Greens, which saw oracle Glenn Greenwald flown in from Brazil to join forces with firebrand Kim Dotcom, as well as live video links to Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. Together, these foreigners (Dotcom’s a recent immigrant), lampooned and besieged and tore at Prime Minister Key’s credibility, clearly demonstrating that he flat out lied about the mass surveillance of his own citizens. It was the kind of smoking gun stuff that got Richard Nixon chased out of town 40 years ago. But Key was returned by a 24% margin over the runner-up party, Labour. The illicit wiretapping for Uncle Sam will continue. But some good news: The Kiwis will now push ahead with a referendum for a new flag, so that they may proudly wave their symbolic independence to the world.
However, it was here in Oz that the Big News splashed its breathless headlines across the local tabloid: Terror Powers: Federal Police use special orders for first time to detain suspects. And what followed was a non-attributed, unchallenged piece put together by three reporters that told readers police would now be implementing a draconian 9 year old law passed shortly after the London bombing of 2005 (although, curiously, Oz did not see fit to pass such a law after the Bali bombing of 2002 that killed some 88 revelling Australians). The reader is told that federal police would now be using Preventative Detention Orders “to detain suspects in custody without charge” and that such PDOs allow police to take off the street any “suspect” and hold him with no communication to lawyers or family—as long as the threat was perceived by the government as “imminent.” Strangely enough, “Police cannot question a suspect being held under a PDO,” which is inexplicable, given the ‘ticking bomb’ rationale employed for scooping suspects. Further, we’re told in a jump to page 7, Attorney General George Brandis will expect from parliament this week expanded police powers, which give them immunity for actions during raids, as well, as the proposal is currently written, to torture suspects.
The precipitating event? Some baddie blew up the Melbourne Cricket Ground or the Adelaide Oval, resulting in the cancellation of the Aussie Rules football season? A heartless terrorist poisoned the vats at Carlton Brewery? A radical Aussie imam pulled up his dishdash and dumped a giant turd in the handsome blonde sands of Bondi Beach? Well, no. Instead, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the Butt of Jokistan, announced allegations of “imminent” “random” “beheadings” to be carried out by jihadists loyal to the Caliphate, or ISIL, or ISIS (guess it depends on what your definition of ISIS is, as Bill Clinton would say). No one was safe. Why, at the same time an infiltrator in Washington was scaling the fence of the White House with 800 rounds of ammo without being seen, jihadi plots were afoot to radically renovate Parliament House and to end Abbott’s triathlon career. And thus, last Thursday, the largest anti-terrorist raid in Australian history netted one arrest on terrorism-related charges. Allegations, mind you, that will effect the greatest loss of freedoms in modern Australian history.
Back in November 2005, federal agents conducted similar raids, also citing imminent threats, and arrested several men, amid an atmosphere of fear-mongering, but the subsequent prosecutions fell apart when no evidence was forthcoming. As Greg Barns, a lawyer for one of the 2005 defendants, put it yesterday in an op-ed that appeared in the Melbourne Age, “there is a history in this country in recent years of hyperbole, sensationalism, paranoia and misconstruing of conversations and activities when it comes to reporting on and about Australia’s anti-terror laws.” Indeed, one could argue that such excesses go beyond terror scares and include all manner of common perceptions of ‘outsider’ behaviour, this being the rather predictable outcome of a culture wherein even most left-wingers are nationalistic and where seemingly only three degrees of separation exist between citizens. In any case, as Barns rightly argues, the first casualty of such rush to judgements is the Aussie meme: Fair Go, meaning, in this case, the presumption of innocence. Barns concludes,
Terrorism is understandably an emotional subject and terrorist attacks, when they happen, are horrific for any community. But in Australia, the way in which police, politicians and media work hand in glove to whip up hysteria by making claims which often turn out to be untrue or grossly exaggerated, is dangerous for our democracy.
One could argue that such dangers are especially potent in a nation that has no formal constitutionally-mandated Bill of Rights to protect its citizens against various abuses. But then, we live in times where capitalism has shat the bed and Democracy is just another word for nothing left to lose.
In the same newspaper, we’re told that an Aboriginal Muslim-convertee from Perth is in trouble with police for his “radical rants,” such as suggesting that the US and its military allies are more terroristic than their targets, citing compelling examples for his rant. The expected new powers will fix this though, making it easier to prosecute people who say things like, “blowing up pregnant women and their children with drone-fired cluster bombs is every bit as evil as a beheading.” How outrageous –and un-Australian – to hold such a view!
Further still in the same fishwrap dispenser, the reader is informed that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, is “deeply concerned” about the Afghan heroin suddenly flooding the streets of Oz, a “narco-terrorism” that the word-smith Bishop finds “terrifying.” Awhile back former Prime Minister Paul Keating described Abbott as an “intellectual nobody” who Aussies should be ‘terrified’ at the prospect of electing to lead the nation. One might equally grow alarmed by the ascension of the formerly irrelevant Julie Bishop, who seems part Dan Quayle, part Sarah Palin. And a quick aside, what is it with Bishop’s sudden taking to wearing black dresses adorned with weird broaches? Is this to show how grim the situation is, an omen of dark times ahead, like that ‘black cat crossing the path’ Kathryn Bigelow inserted into her ‘journalistic’ Zero Dark Thirty account of the Abbottabad raid on the bin Laden compound?
Along with the new opium war the horrible Afghans are inflicting on the Lucky Country, the “deeply concerned” Bishop has quietly renewed charges before the UN Security Council that the Russians were ultimately responsible for downing Flight MH17, which had 27 Aussies aboard. The preliminary Dutch Safety Board report, she says, is consistent with Australia’s previous reactionary findings. Except, of course, that the report, if anything, leans more toward the ‘shot down’ by the Western-backed Ukrainians than by pro-Russian rebels, a view supported by innumerable eyewitnesses on the ground, not to mention radar evidence, and probably most importantly the failure of the US to release satellite imagery in their possession (they were directly overhead that day) that would end the debate immediately. Not even the CIA appears willing to back Obama. But then, Bishop must push the ‘Russians did it’ meme, because otherwise she’d have to explain why Australian advisers were sent to Kiev after the shoot-down to help shore up and re-train Ukraine’s flunky military, while the Southern Cross was draped across the caskets of 27 mates back home. Even scarier, the black dress and tangled-snake broach Bishop wore before the UN made her look like the ISIS flag. Or maybe that was the opiates kicking in.
And in related news, there were renewed calls to ban burqua-wearing. In Melbourne a man was forcibly removed from a flight because his seat mate got all terrified by innocuous satirical doodlesthe guy was killing time with and reported him to the crew, and the man has been banned indefinitely by the airline for his “disruptive behavior.” (To be fair, he should have known better, as cartooning in Australia can get you in serious trouble—god help you if you should be caught lampooning Israeli citizens in party-mode as they look down on the recent Gaza bombings.) On local TV grim reporters got into spirit of things by mixing in a report of man “with a telephoto lens” in a white van near an elementary school (they even showed a picture of the distant vehicle). A random mother was interviewed, and she snarled, “I’d like to get a hold of him myself,” and yet, though someone apparently got close enough to the van to determine the occupant had a telephoto lens, no one bothered taking down the plate or pursuing said vehicle. Then back to the terror alerts. Just like that the hysteria horses were off and running out the gates, and mercy on you if you were a neigh-sayer to this national crisis.
Well, the truth is, you could see it all coming, if you just kept in mind that Syria, Iran, Russia and China are the last nation-states that stand in the way of total American imperial hegemony. These four are connected in a couple of important ways. First, they have all begun trading in currencies other than US dollars, helping to limit their vulnerability to US monetary manipulation and its consequent political fallout. Second, they are directly tied up in energy resources infrastructure that is in direct competition to western-controlled interests; as one report puts it,
“It was estimated in 2007 that approximately 96.3 percent of the amount of projected natural gas which would be “imported by continental Europe would be controlled by Russia, Iran, and Syria under such an arrangement”
Russia already supplies most of Europe’s natural gas, making significant Continental sanctions against them self-defeating. But Russian truculence is intolerable to US oligarchs,
A few months back, while Obama was supplying and arming various ‘rebel’ factions trying to overthrow the Assad regime, including al Qaeda operatives, the US president announced that the US would stay out of direct participation “for now”, but that the Syrian use of chemical weapons would be “a red line” that would bring in US force. Sure enough, just a few months later many civilians were murdered by a sarin gas attack. As with the recent MH17 shoot-down, Obama and his State department clown posse immediately blamed the Assad regime, without evidence, and made it clear that Assad had crossed the red line and now must pay. But then Russia intervened, US popular support was negligible, and Obama had to back off. As legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has since reported, the likely sarin gas murderers were US-Saudi-backed rebels trying to go false flag.
Given this temporary setback for the US-Saudi partnership, it seems inevitable that an ISIS would develop out of this Bay of Pigs in the desert. Are they as dangerous as they seem? Probably. (Reportedly, many of the escapees from the 2013 Abu Ghraib prison breakout joined ISIS, including hardcore leftovers from the American occupation. How’s that for blowback?) Are the beheadings extraordinarily cruel and horrifying? Yes, especially when the killer wears scary pajamas, but not much more cruel or horrifying than cluster bomb mayhem or watching a botched execution in the US that leaves a man’s last moments a carnival of sadism. (Incidently, a lot of space in the media has played up the forensic evidence of the beheader’s lefthandedness and vein match-ups, etc., and yet no mention of an analysis of the British voice is mentioned. There’s a good chance the swordsman’s already know to investigators.) But ISIS are also valuable to the US, as they provide cover for the very air attacks on the Assad regime that Obama wanted months ago. No doubt, as ISIS moves further into Syria, sudden new corridors to Damascus will open up, courtesy of US bombs and missiles.
And then the Australian Prime Minister’s polls plummeted, as he reversed the carbon tax , and then cut funding to the social safety net, and called for the deregulation of universities and a more American-style educational loan system. Despite this austerity movement, the government found plenty of cash to fund significant increases in military spending, in direct support of a future expanded American military presence on Aussie soil as the empire looks to subdue China. Of course, this will make Oz a direct military target, in the case of a Chinese attack, especially Western Australia, due to its military installations in Geraldton and Perth. But no public debate over such expenditures or such a role in empire building. If Australia wants to become the Northbridge or St. Kilda red light districts for the Yankee doodle dandies—well, it wouldn’t be the first time.
Thus, one has to chuckle when Abbott made a public of show of being tough on his climate change policy, vowing to align with other nations against US emissions policy and said climate change would be off the G20 agenda next month, only to cower before the towering ‘blackfella’ in the Oval office and announce ‘room for agreement’ on climate change and to acknowledge he couldn’t stop the subject from being included on the G20 agenda. And, of course, the inevitable announcement that the US and Australia would henceforth have even closer military ties. “I like Aussies in the trenches with me,” Obama said, briefly and disingenuously buffing to a shine the Anzac legend in its centenary ,” they know how to fight.” And Abbot was all-too-happy polish Darth Vader’s helmet in return.
But here’s the thing. In this latest and likely to be longest foray into the desert storm, Obama does not have Congressional approval(which is to say public approval) for the coming evisceration by air of Syria, with whom the US is not at war, which is why he’s hedging, as usual, on what he calls it, while also intimating that he “doesn’t need Congress’ approval.” But there is no question that he is about to order more war crimes with his indiscriminate strikes. And by going along with this military campaign against a nation that Australia is not at war with and which has not threatened Oz in any meaningful way, Oz will be liable for its participation, on the moral scale, if not the Nuremburg scale. By going along with the US open war that has no apparent endpoint, no clearly articulated objectives, and necessarily adopting America’s quasi-martial law status (technically, the US has been continuously in a state of emergency since 9/11, which means his commander-in-chief status outranks his public presidency status), Australia is clearly ceding a good deal of its sovereignty.
The government has assuaged some with its “guarantee” that the new powers will not include the right of federal police to torture suspects (just as with the US before 9/11, but then came reasons to take the gloves off and rendition to black spots became routine). But, perhaps the most odious aspect of this indefinite shifting of “the balance between freedom and security,” which will “require some inconveniences for quite some time,” as the Prime Minister puts it, is the implementation of sedition findings based on expressions uttered online or in public. Whistleblowers will not be tolerated. As the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance wrote in a letter to the Attorney general, “MEAA believes that these penalties could be used to intimidate, harass and silence the legitimate journalistic scrutiny and reporting on the activities of governments and their agencies.” And if the previously alluded to examples of “political rants” that diverge from orthodoxy, and a man being tossed off a plane for doodling, are any indication, a vicious Vichy mentality will prevail throughout Oz, with citizens and journalists too reluctant to express their true views for fear of retribution or being handed over to spooks. In a mere matter of days Oz has gone from just another country with fiscal worries and uncertainty to being a garrison of the new Romans in their days of bread and circuses. And just like that Oz has become a far flung penal colony again. It remains to be seen what, if any, pushback there’ll be.
As I read Marion May Campbell’s new book, Poetic Revolutionaries: Intertextuality and Subversion, I was reminded of the still seemingly sacred notion of a democratic historical progress. This notion celebrates cultural alterity (and all that that implies), and makes an urgent appeal to textual revolution as a means to political resistance. Campbell’s work is rooted in the relativist revolution – the book is part of publisher Rodopi’s Postmodern Series – and her intense, erudite study addresses a state of disunion that has loosely bound the dwindling body of progressives ever since.
Campbell, a lecturer in literary studies and writing at Deakin University in Melbourne, opens her study by posing a seemingly innocuous, academic question: ‘What kind of critical purchase and subversive impact can textual practice have on contemporary socio-political culture?’ Despite this broad gambit, Campbell considerably narrows her focus to an analysis of just seven writers: Jean Genet, Monique Wittig, Angela Carter, Kathy Acker, Kathleen Mary Fallon, Kim Scott and Brian Castro. Campbell explains that she has chosen these authors for their ‘generic range (theatre, prose poetry, fable, novel), but more so by the fact all of these writers are informed by the French tradition of a revolutionary poetics.’ Generic range aside, one may observe that only Fallon, Scott and Castro are still alive, and that all of them are Australian. This is not arbitrary, but rather, at the heart of Campbell’s answer to the question she poses. While she presents some stellar examples of transgression at work in her own contemporary culture, the critical mass for broader socio-political change proves elusive. That tipping point should result from such heterodoxic practice, but Campbell’s study suggests that the mainstream has learned to co-opt and accommodate not difference, per se, but the comfort of academe. Worse, this presents an intellectual hegemony that may have learned to plagiarise the ideological dynamism of deconstructive practice to suit its own practice of destructive cons.
What is meant by ‘revolutionary poetics’? Firstly, Campbell acknowledges that it includes the material of verse producers such as Isidor Ducasse, Antonin Artaud, Arthur Rimbaud, Stephane Mallarmé and Charles Baudelaire. In a second phase, Campbell identifies the events of Paris, May 1968 (or thereabouts), with all its teeming intellectual energy working against the grand narratives of the day, as well as against the hegemonic collaboration of the French government with the American hunger machine – then at work feeding on France’s colonial leftovers in Vietnam. In this Paris, Campbell locates the radical post-structuralist review, Tel Quel, with its ‘cream of left-wing Parisian intellectuals’, as the place where the most culturally disruptive textual practice was in production. In short, it was an interrogation of what constitutes the self, through analysis, and how that self intersects (or intertexts) with the social realm to create a ‘better’ world, with more ‘equitable’ distribution of power. Thirdly, and crucial to Campbell’s thesis, is the work of Julia Kristeva, who incorporated key aspects of the works of Mikhail Bakhtin, Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan, among others, to develop her doctoral thesis, Revolution in Poetic Language.1
Remaining mindful of Kristeva’s thesis – with Campbell’s stage directions – proves to be a formidable task for the reader; one that certainly requires boning up on postmodern terminology and jargon. Suddenly, one is confronted with terms like bricolage, carni-valesque, jouissance, scenographic, abjection, parody, mise en abyme, palimpsest, tessellations, and so on. At times, this is like being led through a Barthian fun-house by Edith Piaf channelling Susan Sontag while strung out on Janis Joplin’s smack; a funhouse whose mirrored panes belong to the theorists in an endless feedback loop of heteroglossic différance. Nevertheless, Campbell’s production is rich and compelling, and deeply intelligent. Ultimately, its rhythms and precision present a kind of musical clarity. She moves from the openness of Paris 1968 to the austerity of Melbourne 2013, using these postmodern leitmotifs and intratextual threads.
Arguably, the key finding of Kristeva’s Revolution in Poetic Language is that subjectivity is not a static condition, and that we are each a sujet en procés (subject-in-process); caught up in an unavoidable dynamic discourse between the freewheeling, pre-lingual semiotic and the linguistic ordering and control that defines the symbolic. In order for the Bob Dylan meme – he not busy being born is busy dying – to be true, the self must constantly be in a state of becoming or revolution. But how to get there?
Campbell points out that the liberating function of the poetic – whether in the textual products of theatre, prose poetry, fable, or novel – is its call to action, to free thinking, difference and alterity. Consequently, as a preliminary answer to Campbell’s opening question, one can say with some confidence that the potential for textual practice to disrupt and subvert the grand narratives of the prevailing socio-political culture is (or, has been, up until now) profound. And, indeed, as she argues the point, ‘Kristeva sees the text’s availability to radicalism and polyphony as orchestrated by the reader‘ (Campbell’s emphasis). Thus, theory is not a system but a tool, a kind of browser add-on to the world wide web of subjects in process.
Campbell takes this Kristevan dynamic and applies it across genres. In Genet’s work she shows the sujet en procés by means of abjection, parody, inversion. Campbell further elaborates on this point as it relates to Genet’s last play, The Screens, which:
reignites the sense of terror behind the theatre and all representation, which stems from the interrelatedness of life and death, of spectator and spectacle, of stage and off-stage. All these tensions are actively played out, subjected to constant mutual embedding, imbrication and inversion.
The sujet en procés is not something the textual practitioner enacts alone, but through its (somewhat) unpredictable staging in the reader’s mind. Campbell highlights it in ‘the poetics of the lesbian bodies-in-becoming that is celebrated’ in Monique Wittig’s work. In Angela Carter, one finds ‘The negation of the Erl-King will confirm for the newly liberated subject her parenthood of herself.’ According to Campbell, Kathleen Mary Fallon finds it in a kind of ‘polyphonous’ self-mockery that serves to abject herself from mate-ly communitarianism wherein lurk ‘the most violent aspects of Australian materialism, sexism, homophobia and racism,’ in an act of shedding-as-becoming. Kim Scott finds it in the ‘arsehole’ of his en-whitenment; and Brian Castro, exploring othered-culturalism in Australia, performs the subject-as-process as multiple, asymmetrical selves. Campbell suggests that the one exception to this lot seems to be Kathy Acker, who sees a corruption so devastating that all that’s left for the subject-as-process is circus, carnival, and the dirge of parody.
If the sujet en procés is the overriding theme of Campbell’s Poetic Revolutionaries, then her book argues how the techniques, methods and practices of the semiotic are the clues out of the subjective labyrinth. Campbell demonstrates how mise en abyme appears and operates in, say, Carter’s rehabbed Bluebeard fable, ‘The Bloody Chamber’, when the virginal newlywed espies her husband gazing at her with an expression of pure carnal appetency in one of the castle’s many ‘guilded mirrors’. Then, in turning away, the virgin sees herself as he sees her and understands about herself for the first time ‘a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away.’ One sees here the contradictions between desire and death – Liebestod – come together in Carter’s textual victim. As Campbell further elaborates, ‘the story disturbs foremost with its emphasis on the awakening in the young bride of a desire for her own crushing annihilation.’ Similarly, in Kim Scott’s novel of miscegenation and ‘enwhitenment’, Benang, Campbell has us pause before a mirror with the novel’s subject-in-process, Harley. There, we note that the one remaining feature of his Aboriginality is his ‘arsehole.’ Campbell incisively notes:
The mirror functions like hegemony, interpellating the Indigenous subject within the dominant racist discourse. To ‘black eye’ this mirror is to resist its call to abjection and subjugation, to treat it with the contempt it deserves.
It should be noted, however, that not all critics of the postmodern find such analytically constructed moments of mise en abyme entirely convincing. Ron Moshe, for instance, details nine problems he has with the definition and function of the figure, and is persuasively unconvinced that such mirror scenes are emblematic of anything special.2 Nevertheless, Campbell’s observation is an interesting way of performing Scott’s text.
Just as Kristeva’s subject-in-process suggests an individuation that is never static, heteroglossia proffers forth a multiplicity of subjects-in-process, tentatively congealed in a kind of cultural individuation. As Mikhail Bakhtin posits:
Our ideological development is just such an intense struggle within us for hegemony among various available verbal and ideological points of view, approaches, directions and values. The semantic structure of an internally persuasive discourse is not finite, it is open; in each of the new contexts that dialogize it, this discourse is able to reveal ever newer ways to mean … (Bakhtin’s emphasis)3
Campbell demonstrates how heteroglossia is embedded in our thinking to begin with: that often we are not as ‘original’ in our ideological thinking as we like to believe we are; that our thinking in the realm of the symbolic is mediated and dialectical. This is bad news and good news: bad, because the implication is that we are largely products of conditioning, our thoughts and beliefs being part of a cultural co-dependency; good, because a secondary implication is that we can awaken from such conditioning and free our thinking. This is the work of postmodernism (just as it was the work of Socrates a couple of cosmic moments ago). All of the works under Campbell’s scrutiny – no matter the genre – shake, rattle and roll complacency and the conditioned expectation.
Perhaps Campbell’s best discussion of the power and necessity of unfettered heteroglossia comes in her discussion of Kathleen Mary Fallon’s Working Hot, where, citing feminist theoretician Donna Haraway, Campbell draws a distinction between the personal politics of heteroglossic resistance (and the need to carve out one’s own space, as it were) and that of social politics: ‘Complexity, heterogeneity, specific positioning, and power-charged difference are not the same thing as liberal pluralism.’ With its multiplicity of voices, rupturing of genre discourse and assorted registers, Fallon’s Working Hot is, Campbell suggests, a work of what Haraway calls ‘powerful infidel heteroglossia’ and, consequently, a prime example of how textual practice can work to shake up socio-political culture.
Related to this, is Campbell’s marvellous explication of how Kim Scott’s Benang explores the way language works as a material body, that is, ‘writing as a technology of terror perpetrated upon indigenous Australia.’ Indeed, what is terra nullius if not a ‘failure’ to produce a body of persuasion, a habeas corpus in the form of a sheet of paper called a land deed? What more compelling example of the dangers of controlled, commoditised, and reified language by its ‘possessors’, than the paper lingo of colonialism? In Benang, Campbell shows, miscegenation itself becomes a papering-over of an ancient oral tradition, deeply rooted in kinship, local cadences and rhythms, by the material enslavement to paper. Harley’s body, his ‘enwhitenment’, is the message of radical miscegenation; its own silent, wordless text, a tabula rasa tragedy. And yet, as Campbell amplifies, Scott has managed to ironically, ‘masterfully’ craft a largely parodic subversion of this reality – hoiking the colonials back into their own spittoon.
In the works Campbell examines and enacts, the principal method of textual subversion is by means of staging the carnivalesque. Loosely speaking, and as the term suggests, the carnivalesque involves the staging of a second, parallel reality that is parodic, autonomous and subversive of the hegemonic. The term is derived from a nearly forgotten but then much-practiced medieval folk tradition that Bakhtin describes in ‘Carnival Ambivalence’:
Because of their obvious sensuous character and their strong element of play, carnival images closely resemble certain artistic forms, namely the spectacle. In turn, medieval spectacles often tended toward carnival folk cultures, the culture of the marketplace, and to a certain extent became one of its components. But the basic carnival nucleus of this culture is by no means a purely artistic form nor a spectacle and does not, generally speaking, belong to the sphere of art. It belongs to the borderline between art and life. In reality, it is life itself, but shaped according to a certain pattern of play. (my emphasis)4
- Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language, trans. Margaret Waller, New York: Columbia University Press, 1984 ↩
- Ron Moshe, ‘The Restricted Abyss: Nine Problems in the Theory of Mise en Abyss’, Poetics Today, Volume 8, Number 2 (1987), pp417-438 ↩
- Mikhail Bakhtin, ‘Dialogic Discourse’, The Bakhtin Reader, ed. Pam Morris, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994, p86 ↩
- Mikhail Bakhtin, ‘Carnival Ambivalence’, The Bakhtin Reader, pp197-8 ↩
Of course, harkening back to Kristeva, one might also say that carnival takes place in the borderline between the semiotic and the symbolic; it is the meaning of language and simultaneously its ‘infidel’. Campbell amply demonstrates how this carnival atmosphere prevails in each of the primary and/or secondary works of the authors under consideration. It can take the form of scenographic carnival, as with Genet, or in graphological fulfilment, as with Acker, or in atavistic guises, such as with Harley in Benang, where his body itself becomes a carnival of abjection. The carnivalesque serves to undermine any notions of a stable, authoritative reality; there is no text, per se, but only the hypotheses of power, the centripetal and centrifugal pulling and held together in the atomic proximity of being. Campbell reiterates throughout her analysis that the textual practices of such postmodern works serve to liberate, and in doing so hold out the inexhaustible blessing/curse of socio-political change. In short, intertextuality and subversion are a means to getting at the poetic revolution within; becoming is the revolution.
It is not only Campbell’s analysis that is trenchant and compelling. In many places she employs some exquisite turns of expression that light up the page. She uses the term rubato at one stage to describe the technique of Brian Castro at play, but it could just as easily describe her own approach: keeping her subject of scrutiny in structural suspense with her lefty handwork, while laying down some righteous, handsome melodies with the other. For example, in describing the polybiographical nuances of Castro’s Shanghai Dancing, she writes:
Here, reclaiming cultural and ethnic multiplicity means navigating a universe of stories. The tessellation of genres, modes, and registers proposes inheritance as a relay of linguistic performances in the face of severance and exile. It suggests—through the gaps and abysses of its writing, through its phantasmagoria, its memories and its amnesia, its excesses, the compensatory tempo rubato or the stolen time of its music—that such might be the ‘grounding’, of ‘identity’, whose quest is as monstrous as it is vertiginous.
In this style, through more than mere analysis, Campbell bolsters the sublime which imbues her politics of the poetic.
But in the end one wonders if Campbell has sufficiently answered the simple, straight forward query with which she begins her analytical quest: ‘What kind of critical purchase and subversive impact can textual practice have on contemporary socio-political culture?’ As stated earlier, the contemporary socio-political culture she has in mind is clearly that of Australia. The three living textual practitioners she reviews – Fallon, Scott, and Castro – certainly have put forth transgressive works confronting issues that continue to pile up bad karma in the Australian socio-political culture: gender/sexual identity, the continued marginalisation of Aboriginality, and other-cultural accommodation. Campbell, while holding out a certain degree of optimism and continuing to keep faith with the alchemical processes of the semiotic, nevertheless provides a scathing rebuke to Castro’s reception among mainstream critics, adding what can only be seen as a massive slap-down of Australian mainstream culture:
Such is the myth of Australian egalitarianism that any difficult or ‘complex’ cultural text, whatever form it takes, is condemned by the mainstream critical apparatus as being wilfully abstruse and elitist … it is tempting to see it at once as symptomatic of the continuing mainstream distrust of intellectuals and of any who fail to embrace the feel-good myths of down-to-earth Aussie ‘belonging’, and especially those who celebrate a multiplicity of inheritance, rather than sentimentalised Anglo-Celt assimilationist mediocrity.
This is one of the few places in her work where Campbell sheds her analytical ‘diamonds and furs’, as she so brilliantly puts it in her latest novel, konkretion.1 In fact, Campbell’s konkretion is the rubato and carnival that accompanies her highly structured, academic thesis. The novel features an aging lecturer who complains about the same indifference afforded to postmodern literary experimentation and who seems imprisoned by her nostalgitations on the glory days of ‘revolution in the air’. At one point, the narrative voice of konkretion notes: ‘For some of Monique’s colleagues, poetry, and while we’re at it all of so-called literary fiction, is a right wing plot, effete, aristocratic nostalgia, a stepping out in diamonds and furs.’ This highlights one of the paradoxes of postmodernism: it liberates thought, but, at the same time, like Socrates, it is functionally anti-democratic and sceptical of popular culture, and many critics would like to see it go the way of Socrates (some argue that it already has).2
Poetic Revolutionaries would make for an intoxicating postgraduate survey course in postmodernism, tracing as it does a lineage and continuity of vital processes still at work, although significantly co-opted by rebounding structuralists who want to write a neo-liberal end to history. But postmodernism hasn’t gained the purchase on culture that Campbell wants, although it continues to be a necessary and effective tool, even if not a discernible movement. It is just such a course that is unlikely to ever see the light of day at any contemporary university in Australia, as recent academic labour tensions, followed in recent weeks by substantial budget cuts in education by the Abbott regime, make all too clear.
In the end, one wonders if the seemingly inexhaustible passion of desire expressed in language can any longer be transformative. Living in a world at war with an abstract noun (terror), under surveillance, and with democracy going the way of South Pole ice caps, people of a certain age (of which I’m one) can’t help but moon nostalgically and wonder if a 1968 is possible again – whether raining money down on Wall Street brokers, levitating the Pentagon, or sliding flower stems down gun barrels. The spring and summer of 1968 saw students, artists and intellectuals around the world begin a full-throated resistance to the doings of the Man – a resistance that grew in all the years leading up to the Nixon resignation in 1973, before being subdued again. Or is that all illusory? As Terry Eagleton prefers to remember it:
Imagine, finally, the most bizarre possibility of all. I have spoken of symptoms of political defeat; but what if this defeat never really happened in the first place? What if it were less a matter of the left rising up and being forced back, than of a steady disintegration, a gradual failure of nerve, a creeping paralysis? What if the confrontation never quite took place, but people behaved as though it did? As though someone were to display all the symptoms of rabies, but had never been within biting distance of a mad dog.3
If postmodernism still had its potency one might expect to see Genet’s The Screens being performed in one of the Aboriginal graveyards on Rottnest Island, with Pommies and Miners (the neo-Diggers) on stilts, and swimming there being part of the price of admission and submersion. But we hesitate like Hamlets, all ‘to be or not to be’, pondering Polonius-like memes such as, ‘Neither a Subject nor an Object be.’ Can the textual productions of the likes of Fallon, Scott and Castro find that critical purchase and subversive impact on contemporary socio-political Australian culture, as Campbell hopes?
- Marion Campbell, konkretion, Perth: University of Western Australia Publishing, 2013 ↩
- See, for instance Alan Kirby, ‘The Death of Postmodernism and Beyond’,Philosophy Now, May/June 2014 ↩
- Terry Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism, Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 1996, p19 ↩
NOTE: This review was published in the Cordite Poetry Review No. 48, August 2014.
While all kinds of pieces about the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising and its aftermath have been written over the years (including interviews with privileged Chinese dissidents lucky enough to make it out of China alive and into teaching posts at prestigious American universities) little – if any – follow-up has ever been done on the two most important figures in that famous image of a man facing down a tank in Tiananmen Square. That dissident was staring down another human being at the controls of that tank: the tank had no ‘free will’; it did not make the decision to stop instead of crushing the man with the satchel; a person inside the tank said, ‘No,’ and that should not be forgotten, because it was as heroic a decision on his/her part as the decision made by the dissident.
So who are these Little Big People? We don’t know who the tank driver was. But, at the time of the massacre, media were naming the dissident as Wang Weilin. As I wrote in a piece at the time, ‘Our China Syndrome,’ no one knows what became of this iconic hero, with his suitcase full of – what? Hope? Sadly, he’s gone while the symbolism remains, as if the Moment were textual, academic, a mere sub-dialogue in the master/slave dialectic. We do know that Wang Weilin never made it to the West, and we know that none of those shiny happy intellectuals who escaped was the Tank Man.
As I’ve suggested in the past, you don’t need cynicism to understand that there is a very good chance that the dissident and the tank driver ended up in the same prison factory together, one passing on piece work to the other in quiet solidarity. Tiananmen was never so much a ‘pro-democracy’ struggle, as it was an anti-casino capitalism plea. Everyone knows now that democracy without a Bill of Rights and the Rule of Law is a vacuous, empty soup can; a colourful vessel without substance or sustenance.
What happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989 can be linked back to the collapse of the Berlin Wall earlier that same year. For 25 years, the wall had been a symbol of the face-off between capitalist-driven democracy and socialist-driven totalitarianism, and its demise signaled the end of the Cold War. It ushered in a European rejuvenation that saw free spirits come out of hibernation – and, in Vaclav Havel’s case, out of jail – to challenge the world to take the next step forward toward a ‘global civilisation’ of tolerant co-existence.
But in America, though there was some sense of relief, the public response to the wall’s fall was rather restrained. I was living in Boston at the time and can remember most vividly that, within two weeks, the upscale Filene’s department store was selling chunks of the wall as key chains, in a kind of predator’s victory lap. Coming out of an era of industrial mergers, union-bashing, high unemployment and recession, most Americans did not see the relevance of the wall’s fall to their own lives.
Thus, in 1991, when Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the former US ambassador to the UN, opened a speech on the Cold War’s demise with, ‘We won!’, Americans accepted her words at face value, but there were no parades down Main Street, USA. For most, capitalism during the Cold War era, had not made America ‘a kinder, gentler’ place. They did not hear her simple exclamation for what it was – the starting pistol at a gold rush for industrialists, who saw the wall’s fall as a symbol of capitalism’s moral rectitude and a mandate for gleeful expansion. Fast forward, and in just a few short years, Havel’s ‘global civilisation’ has been foreshortened for commercial purposes to ‘globalisation’.
So the events in China have to be seen in the light of the global changes taking place at the time, and which continue to hurtle toward an unknown but clearly catastrophic future. Looking back on the events in Tiananmen and thereafter, escaped Chinese dissident Rowena He recently wrote in the Guardian,
China lost a golden opportunity for the Communist party to reform itself and start looking to Taiwan’s example: Let people have free speech and press and release political prisoners and in this way civil society will be able to develop.
Yes, but last I heard, the US, the world’s most exceptional democracy, refuses to even diplomatically recognise Taiwan or promote its virtues, fearing a face-off with mainland China – although American corporations sure do make a nice buck there, while the US government sees Taiwan as a key strategic military asset in ‘the Asian pivot’ underway. No doubt, the US will not stop until the Great Wall has become keychained.
The capitalist ‘reforms’ to a communism with deep ties to Confucianism was bound to lead to chaos and confusion on policy levels, with age-old traditions facing with contemporary relativism and nihilism. As He points out,
Over the years the policy has led to higher average living standards, a booming economy, and a more predominant place for China in the world – but has also engendered enormous inequality, massive corruption, growing environmental problems and profound popular cynicism, massive expenditure on stability maintenance and now a sense of belligerence on the international stage.
But this is not just a China problem anymore. It’s the new global standard among an ever-growing proportion of the global population.
In the end, whatever adrenalin rush was meant to pump up shoppers globally after the fall of the wall has long ago reached its peak and we are on the stimulus-exhaustion side of the Skinner track now. What fellow former dissident Wang Chaohua says is likely to China soon will probably be a mirror of what will happen to the world. She writes:
China will have some really crushing moment in the next five or 10 years. I don’t think the party can reform itself. It has become such an entangled web of interests; you can’t get it working no matter how great a leader is parachuted in at the top. So it would be more likely that a sudden incident or economic crisis would cause a catastrophic moment. The outcome of that is very difficult to predict.[my emphasis]
So true. But while we wait for some comet-ary to write the end to human history the way it was done for dinosaurs, allow me to raise a glass of tears to Wang Weilin and the courageous tank driver, who together demonstrated that humanity is more than the trumped up fanfare of images and symbols and that history comes down to one human just not wanting to hurt another human when given the choice.
Drink up. Last call. The lights are growing dim.