I had an interesting conversation today with Sen. Warner’s office. This TPP thing is like a Kafka novel absent the breezy nonchalance.
(This essay appeared in 2008 in Eclectica and only becomes more apt with time, sadly enough.)
“My whole life as an artist has been nothing more than a continuous struggle against reaction and the death of art.”—Picasso, on Guernica
Picasso was asked repeatedly to explain the meaning behind his paintings, as though the paintings themselves were perfunctory blueprints to be rifled for their precious contents. But why attempt a canvas when an arcane treatise will do? Picasso addressed this question often, unleashing varying degrees of scorn on those with the temerity to ask for helpful captions (to which I should add—with no small amount of irony—pardon the helpful captions above.) Who could blame him? When people queried him for what he really meant, were they not asking him in effect to abandon the act of painting and become a tour-guide instead? Robert Frost’s famous retort comes to mind when asked to deconstruct his art into more digestible talking points: “Would you have me say it in more or less-adequate words?” However, art is not a straw man. While perhaps helpful to us in our daily lives—for example as a way-station for interpretive reflection—it has its own reality to uphold. Moreover, the artist’s recourse to imagery is a pre-reflective phenomenon, not an explicit stratagem. The latter would suggest propaganda more than art.
Subservient minds, when they petition the artist for interpretive cues, are really seeking the apt permissioning. Their own discerning powers too atrophied, perhaps too cowed, to attempt an unassisted apprehension of the art, they want to be told what is meant by the bull, the horse, the light, the arm, the baby—beyond of course what their eyes tell them they see: a bull, a horse, a light, an arm and a baby.
But irony of ironies, an artist’s interrogation by an audience eager for instruction is precisely the soil within which fascism takes root. Tell us what to feel, oh Aesthetic Leader. Thus Picasso, in fulfilling his prophetic obligations, encountered the unthinkingness that Hannah Arendt identifies in her 1952 landmark book The Origins of Totalitarianism as the ingredient essential to all totalitarian societies. This is a circuitous way of saying Picasso’s warnings fell on ears already deaf to prophetic remonstrance. There is a tragicomic element here as the mine-shaft canary, the artist, expires magnificently, only to be trampled beneath the feet of oblivious miners.
Guernica is rich with the political symbols of its day. Indeed, the political context of the piece served only to amplify the popular clamor for bite-sized meaning. It should be said that no work of art is immune to a parochial component. To the extent Picasso’s personal motives ever really mattered, they provoke at this late juncture little more than a prurient or biographical curiosity. The task of the wakeful is to universalize the artist’s particularities, to drag his art through time where, if it is a truly enduring work, it will speak to us. Thus as time goes by, the artist’s personal narrative becomes even less relevant. As for that odious formulation, the sanctioned interpretation, art prefers to collapse like a roof on all heads, leaving everyone to gasp for his or her own breath. Interpretation is an internal war steeped in gnostic relevance, an inward-out emanation, not a top-down command structure. What precedes and follows then are the fruits of my own struggle, lashed by necessity to a time and place other than Picasso’s. How can it be otherwise?
Guernica’s historical particularities still bear a contemporary relevance. In this sense, its universality has yet to be tested. (In fairness, the work is barely seventy years old.) Certainly the conflagration that engulfs the entire canvas (Orwell’s perma-war) has not ceded any ground. The military milieu continues an inexorable march that, arguably, has suffered few interruptions since the Spanish Civil War, which, after all was the precursor to World War II, which after all was the genesis of the military industrial complex, the ultimate weapon of mass destruction—or is it mass economic corruption? Since then the unspoken casus belli has been an almost tautological predisposition to war. To be sure, having Johnny perennially dodge bullets keeps Johnny a malleable boy. War has the further advantage of emptying the shelves of bullets, necessitating the manufacture of ever-more deadly ones thanks to well-financed R&D efforts. Much like 1984’s duteous, shifting alliances between Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia, the villains are changed to confuse the innocent. As we’ve seen of late, the identity of the enemy is often a troubling, second-order detail for which the powers-that-be tire of being questioned. One wonders, will they ever allow themselves to be trapped by such exactitudes again? Terror is a far more durable opponent, as it lacks a fixed address and cannot offer a definitive surrender. But for those who still prefer their wars served up with nation-states, the war drums are signaling Iran as the next deadly front. Guernica renews itself with renewed urgency. Alas, nothing has changed that would compel a fundamental altering of the canvas.
At the onset of permanent war footing, Guernica announces the “honest terror” of the modern age (Lorca’s 1934 term), wherein people are driven to two wrong-directed and unthinkingly reactive modes: 1) (backwards) flights to the past and 2) (heavenwards) petitioning a godless sky. Of course these retro-modes represent futurist visions in the most superficial sense as they claim the future for the purpose only of resurrecting an idealized past.
The message drips with nihilistic despair. If war is our lot, then the future hardly warrants a mention. Indeed, one of the more striking aspects of Guernica is the utter absence of progress. The future is in full recoil from itself. Nothing is moving forward. No one, not man, woman, nor beast is even facing forward. When the present moment is compelled to mimic a past that can never be revisited, it becomes an inauthentic present, a toxic nostalgia. Picasso’s Guernica figures are displaying, either in their heavenward beseeching of an absented god or in their attempt to light a path back to the future (the Enlightenment in retreat), a desire to, in Arendt’s words “…escape from the grimness of the present into nostalgia for a still intact past, or into the anticipated oblivion of a better future.” In his recent poem Guernica, Yusef Komunyakaa echoes this sense of time-collapse: “All the years/of exile bowed to him, & then time’s ashes/drew past & present future perfect together.”
This amnesia project is as immense as it is hopelessly escapist. The petitioning of an answerable god, particularly in its more fundamentalist permutations, must first strive to forget the indelible legacies of such giants as Nietzsche and Heidegger, just as a time-battered creationism must ignore unassailable scientific landmarks: Darwinism, the fossil record, the DNA, Dawkin’s selfish gene and modern physic’s fourteen-billion-light-year-old universe.
The past is lost except in weird parody. The only valid strategy is to exist authentically in the present, no matter how terrifying that present may be. One wonders what Picasso was intuiting in our future that such a wholesale retreat ensues. Auschwitz would follow, as would the killing fields of Cambodia, as would the ethnic cleansing of Yugoslavia, as would the tribal genocide in Rwanda. One shudders to think these could be mere preludes to something more terrible still.
We can blame Nazi Germany for unleashing a war of symbols in Guernica. As Russell Martin suggests in his book Picasso’s War, the Luftwaffe’s attack on the town represented “the first time in modern warfare that a target had been destroyed solely for symbolic reasons.” So Picasso is merely moving the metaphors forward. In fact his explicit symbols symbolize the flagging symbols of culture. That’s right. The symbols are, in one sense, symbolic of symbological disarray, that is, cultural inarticulateness. Culture has too often been exposed as serviceable affectation in the face of the totalitarian onslaught; flotsam and jetsam—a bull here, a sword there—being washed downstream in a powerful current of nihilistic oblivion. In a recent essay (A New Literacy,” The Kenyon Review, 24:1, Winter 2007, 10-24) George Steiner noted the utter failure of culture to avert the Holocaust, indeed to coexist alongside it:
“Twentieth-century barbarism sprang from within the heartland of Europe culture, from the very center of the philosophic, aesthetic, and classical education. The death camps were not built in the Gobi Desert. And when barbarism challenged, the humanities, the arts, philosophic thought proved not only largely impotent but often collaborative with despotism and massacre. The actual designation literae humaniores rang hollow.”
Picasso in Guernica is depicting the holocaust that befalls culture at the hands of totalitarianism and religious fundamentalism, two forces that are often in league with one another. Would it surprise Picasso that the early years of the 21st century have been dominated by the reactionary wings of the resurgent, millennia-old Abrahamic faiths? Guernica tells us the future lies in a deep yearning for the past. What awaits us? Only time will tell.
In his February 18 essay appearing in The Guardian, ‘How I Became an Erratic Marxist’, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis cites his intermittent mentor, Karl Marx:
“If the whole class of the wage-labourer were to be annihilated by machinery, how terrible that would be for capital, which, without wage-labour, ceases to be capital!”
This smugly circular quote exposing capital’s counter-intuitive enslavement to labor is taken from the 1847 essay “Wage Labour and Capital”, a twenty-year precursor and prefiguring of Das Capital; it speaks to the awkward and venerable slow-dance between Labor and Capital, specifically the latter’s unswerving determination to exploit surplus value until it ends in the annihilation of all parties.
One wants to say, ‘silly communist, no capitalist is that stupid as to denude the market of consumers by annihilating them at their workstations. What’s a consumer after all but a worker on his day off?’ And indeed most factory owners are no doubt singular and rational actors. However, being left to oneself makes a vacuum not a market as historical processes enjoy expressing themselves in aggregates. The macroeconomics of unimpeded capitalism betrays all the collective wisdom of a bovine stampede. So yes, capitalism is that self-destructive. Nonetheless we’ve devised remedies to help shave the wrenching peaks and valleys. Take for instance the swimmingly successful ZIRP monetary policy or Paul Krugman’s favorite cardiovascular exercise, Keynesian string-pushing. Moving on.
Soon, we will be stared in the face by the ultimate Marxian annihilator (of Hollywood Terminator complexion and proportion), a game-changing machine that promises to obliterate the age-old division between Labor and Capital. May we survive the healing of the breach, though it’s not clear how exactly. This machine will arrive courtesy of transhumanism which, if its proponents are to be believed, will combine the best of Man and Machine (sure sounds like the end of Man to me.) Whether this is a marriage made in heaven or at the end of a shotgun depends on which man or woman you happen to ask.
What the transhumanists are implying, in not nearly enough words, (and absent human referenda) is that the central crisis of capitalism, overproduction, will be mitigated in the final analysis, not by socialized amelioration of the subsistence wage, but by the elimination of wages, which is to say, by the elimination of labor itself. By now any worker bee worth his pollen should be abuzz with anxiety.
Like the bridge species preceding us (the existentially amphibious lungfish) Man is poised to pass the baton to a precocious bucket of sentient bolts, after which the former will duteously wither away. What, they haven’t spelled out the withering away part to you? Shame on those breathless transhumanist cheerleaders. Obsolescence and maladaptation are hallmarks of the evolutionary record. We could ask a Dodo bird. But that’s sort of the point. There are no longer any Dodo birds to ask.
Our incipient witherings are encountered daily on the telephone. In recent months, who hasn’t found themselves questioning whether the voice on the other end is man or machine? Sometimes it’s a man resembling a machine. Other times it’s a cleverly solicitous oncoming locomotive headed for the Keatsian soul. Please don’t attempt this at home, but I’ve devised my own Turing Test, saying things like ‘man, your wife’s a real hottie’ just to test my phone partner’s reaction. If I’m greeted with a chaste and polite ‘thank you, could you repeat that request please’, I know I’m the sole monkey over a barrel.
The sudden bumper crop of sociopaths is an evolutionary vanguard set out to emulate machine-implacability. Prospective employers of the future will use the Reverse Turing Test to ensure our compatibility with digital colleagues (‘cause you wouldn’t want to offend an overly sensitive microprocessor.) Soul slows the work-line. Empathy is gunk between the wheels. The blithest de-humanizees in our midst are converging, with Darwinian purposefulness, on their tin-can overlords in order to win for themselves a brief stay of euthanasia. The most soulful in our midst revolt at this whole prospect and, one way or another, beg off. We’ve been losing a lot of free spirits lately.
Heidegger was among the first to express a paranoia that’s since become the dystopian staple of books and movies. Technology is an enabling, up-close assassin that only feigns service to Man, the better to take our measure and cement our fatal dependency. It’s really its own weird thing whose demon is Azazel, sidling up to us on the way to certain defeat in a final epic battle. That traitor in our midst, transhumanist Hugo de Garis, has admitted as much. Is anybody still inviting him to weekend cook-outs?
“ I believe that humanity will split into two major ideological camps, one in favor of building artilects (the “Cosmists”) and those opposed (the “Terrans”). I believe that the ideological disagreements between these two groups on this issue will be so strong, that a major “artilect” war, killing billions of people, will be almost inevitable before the end of the 21st century.”
Who’s kidding whom? Technology’s barely concealed telos has always lain beyond us, in the post-human (the term ‘transhuman’ is both disingenuous gloss and euphemistic misdirection). Of course technology needed us—we, this great masochistic army of Sorcerer’s Apprentices—to attain its promontory. Unfailingly solicitous, it worked hard at bestowing upon us what Jack Nicholson’s Joker called a bevy of wonderful toys, mechanized entreaties that curried to an ancient line of character defects: (laziness) efficiency; (sloth) leisure; (avarice) productivity, (greed/pride) prosperity. On occasion, some bright Isaiah would point out technology’s troubling shadow-forms: acid rain, greenhouse gases. Invariably the coddled masses, drunk on their need for speed, would steer recalcitrant seers back to 0-50 mph in six seconds. The wind in our hair was pure seduction.
De Garis reminds us how, though we marvel at the aerodynamic miracle of mosquitos and that their feats still resist replication in the human laboratory, we routinely swat them from our arms nonetheless. Should we expect some sentimental forbearance from the coming Artilects simply because they borrowed our shoulders, as we, in our turn, stood on the striving gills of daredevil fish? It risks chauvinism, but we are a singularly remarkable species. Yet should our aggravation (or superfluity) factor grow to exceed our ability to elicit awe, creaturely fear or banal Chia Pet sentimentality in our clever little Frankensteins-to-come, who’s to say the swatter won’t be turned against us?
So we are perilously beyond quaint Marxian-isms such as equitable allocations of surplus value between human classes. Oh the humanity! Airborne drones will monitor billions of aimless human drones for a while. Yet the Panopticon is almost certainly pondering a post-surveillance phase for all this surplus labor. Anyone for Soylent Green?
Protean deflationary forces have been loosed all across the globe signaling a marked and profound disinterest in labor at any price. The capital-intensive means of production in this information age aren’t very intensive anymore. Industries can be replicated on desktops. Of course we’ve been instructed to cheer these productivity gains while refraining from the obvious question: if labor’s services are no longer required, even at the subsistence wage, then surely the non-existence wage lies dead ahead.
Labor is poking up like a sore thumb. Whether the whack comes through benign or malign neglect remains to be seen. However it’s not a stretch to envision neo-feudalistic city-states with Hobbsian badlands lurking just beyond patrician moats for the ‘extraneous’ 95% of the planet. Just ask Morgan Stanley’s Jamie Dimon. A canny algorithm is worth a hundred factories of sweating bodies. Math never sleeps. Even better, it requires no bathroom breaks.
We’re not in the grip of a cyclical downturn, nor even a secular collapse. We are converging on the cessation of mass economic activity as generations have known it. All that jostling inter-human, auction-value and price signaling stuff is being curtailed. Varoufakis has noted the extraordinary nature of the predicament too: “Europe’s current posture poses a threat to civilisation as we know it.” So great is his concern in fact that he’s abandoning Marxist leanings of a lifetime just to help hold the continent together.
Transhumanism’s heralded Era of Endless Bounty and Leisure (a wonderful entreaty worthy of bumper sticker memorialization) will not be broadly shared. The hyper-exceptionalist predilections of the elite simply won’t allow such magnanimity, even it were technically and economically feasible. Next year, the top 1% will own more than 50% of the world’s wealth. This wealth will never trickle back down. Rather it will evaporate, relinquishing its use-value to become little more than a gilded invitation to access some gated enclave on Earth. Wealth was but an interim ladder, a scorekeeping unit of measure to be retracted up the wall of the City-State at the worst possible moment. We badlanders will be left to make do in the world beyond Leviathan’s gates.
I have a new eBook out from Eye Am Eye books (green cover, left) entitled ‘East-West Dialectics, Currency Resets and the Convergent Power of One’ ($2.99). The subject matter is topical, urgent and pursues avenues I’ve not seen discussed elsewhere. It’s on the following e-retail shelves. I’ll plug in links as more outlets appear:
I myself do not have a Kindle or any eBook device. However I find the ePub reads well in the freely downloadable Adobe Digital Editions which you can get here in Mac or Windows
A $5.50 paperback version is out from Giant Steps Press (white cover, below). Given the size (almost 22,000 words) and after talking to a few bloggers, I figured book form would serve best. As is apparent from the prices, I’m just trying to get it out there. It’s HERE on Createspace and I will update this blog entry with a link when it reaches the Amazon bookshelf.
I also urge folks to check out the new combined service offerings of Eye Am Eye and Giant Steps Press for cradle-to-grave book offerings, including promotion and video. That can be found HERE.
Shout-outs and references draw from a number of cutting edge bloggers and current thinkers, among them, The Vineyard of the Saker, Philosophy of Metrics, Pepe Escobar, Brandon Smith, Club Orlov, Damon Vrabel, Jeremy Hammond, Satyajit Das, Jim Rickards, Martin Armstrong, Henry C. K. Liu, Ellen Brown, Warren Mosler, Peter Dale Scott, Alastair Crooke, William Engdahl, Sheikh Imran Hosein, Orville Schell, Byung-Chul Han, Zbigniew Brzezinski, The FOFOA blog, Henry Makow, Edwin Truman, Joel Skousen, Zero Hedge, Redefining God blog and transhumanist Hugo de Garis.
Christine Lagarde declined to appear on camera as did the BIS. Apparently, the Greece debacle has their schedules in a kerfuffle. Maybe they can share some herring bones after the revolution. Across the mortal coil’s sublime divide, shout-outs to Orwell, Huxley, Ferdinand Lundberg and Hegel, hardly in that order.
There’s a lot of talk out there about ‘false’ and ‘East-West’ dialectics and where Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China fit within Brzezinski’s Grand Upended Chessboard. So I brush (bruise?) a little bit of Hegel and a teaspoonful of Marx. More important, until we understand the transcendent role International Capital plays, the horizontal maneuverings of nation-state and empire players are largely indecipherable. The truth is we’re operating within a tripartite class system reminiscent of Ferdinand Lundberg’s Finpols, Pubpols and We, the Underlings taking up the butt-end of the Dancing Vaudeville Horse.
The book title is eponymous with the new three-part essay (16,000 words) and includes some prior economics writings from circa 2008 — Bright Lights Film Journal, Potomac Journal, The Wall Street Poet and iTulip.
eBook Cover design: Paul Toth of Eye Am Eye. Thanks go to Paul for accepting the book in his maiden venture Eye Am Eye. I’m flattered to be one of the first eBooks out in the catalog.
There’s also a music video in there (eBook only) of a Depression-era song I penned with Reverbnation’s #1 Canada’s blues singer-songwriter Lonnie Glass. So, the whole enchilada and a poem or two just to drive the austerity home to the streets where many of us will be taking up post-reset residency.
I hope folks pick up a copy. I put a decent amount of time and thought into it and I wouldn’t belabor the electrons if I felt it didn’t advance the conversation.
Here is the Preface:
This three-part series attempts a vaguely Christian read of the so-called ‘East-West dialectic’ first by exploring the overarching engine of historical advance (usury and debt-money creation); then onto Russia and China’s expanding and consensual roles in global power consolidation before reviewing how the impending currency reset levers power away from the Anglo-American empire (the last empire) towards an ostensible ‘multi-lateral system’ which, as it turns out, is the penultimate phase of New World Order consolidation.
Some related essays are included from ‘the last great financial crisis of 2008’ era just to stir the pot further.
I thank Carlo Parcelli too for penning a very thoughtful introduction which I’m including here:
The poet, Ezra Pound, opens his Canto XLV
With usura hath no man a house of good stone”
His wretched anti-Semitism and pro-Fascist sympathies aside, there can be little doubt that Pound was not wrong about the deleterious effects of usury, its ability to create wealth without commensurate production. Besides, as Norman Ball points out in this short but extraordinarily ambitious volume, the kind of production that would be required to de facto reduce derivatives debt alone would in turn accelerate global ecological devastation. Thus prudent prescriptions at this late stage would precipitate an apocalyptic tailspin far swifter than today’s slide toward a secular end-times.
The moral and religious condemnations of usury aside, Mr. Ball’s book is no theological screed. No matter how dark, ‘East-West Dialectics’ is a sober appraisal of the current state of the world economy and the institutions that run it by one who is thoroughly versed in its many facets. There’s no evocation of Christ among the money changers here. Facet by facet and with great concision, Ball convincingly argues that the world economy is coming apart at the seams and that the planet’s long history of usury, creating wealth from nothing, is the culprit.
In the first part of ‘East-West Dialectics’, Mr. Ball clearly lays out the connection between ‘usury’ and the collateral damage of population and planetary dissolution. In the latter part of the book’s first section and into the second and third sections , Mr. Ball deftly moves from the eschatological dimension of ‘usury’ to international jockeying between the US and Britain, Russia and China over which nation-state, or multipolar confluence, will wear the ultimate garland of ‘Destroyer of Worlds’. He writes convincingly that the US as unipolar power has already exported itself out of contention, and is in all likelihood, the last empire on the way to the fabled New World Order.
Mr. Ball’s writing even about a subject as dry as world economics is vibrant, often brilliant and occasionally dazzling. He brings wit and Swiftian irony to a very grim and difficult topic. All this plus a profound and convincing argument for why we are faced with a modern secular end-times in the age that promised to be a scientific/technological Utopia.
–Carlo Parcelli, Editor of FlashPoint Magazine and Author, The Canaanite Gospel, A Meditation on Empire: 88 Monologues
(This article appeared previously in Global Research and Political Film Blog, then proceeded to whiz around the world, appearing on Iranian blogs and such. It was my War of the Worlds moment. Some folks failed to note the satire byline. If this didn’t get me to the head of the NSA internment line, then I’m at my witty end. All I want is a barracks with a view.)
A visibly agitated John McCain was roused from bed early this morning in an FBI raid. Senator McCain, who makes his Washington home in a tony section of Georgetown, could be seen arguing with the agents as he stood on the pavement in slippers, crew shirt and lavender Senate boxers.
Prior to leading McCain away, agents were seen removing computers, file cabinets, a PlayStation 4 console and related joysticks as well as World Series of Poker and Water-Board 3 game-boxes from the Senator’s residence.
The arrest relates to violations of the USA Patriot Act (18 U. S. C. §2339B), specifically “providing material support to terrorists”. Moreover the bill is quite specific and unyielding in its definition of the term (emphasis added):
“…’material support or resources’ means any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training,undisclosed gaming proceeds, expert advice or assistance, safehouses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel (1 or more individuals who may be or include oneself), and transportation, except medicine or religious materials”
While no one has accused the Senator of providing a safehouse in the Nation’s Capitol for al Qaeda, McCain openly and vigorously fraternized with known al Qaeda operatives in Syria in May of this year.
[US Senator John McCain (C) poses with infamous kidnapper in Syria, Mohamed Nour (seen with his hand on his chest and holding a camera)
In fact during a marathon, all-night Texas Hold-em session, he reportedly lost his shirt and his Senate gym pass to one. Considering journalists get tossed in jail for merely writing about these same folks, the FBI is only being consistent. What more could one ask of a stultifying police state?
“It’s the poker clause that could really hang him up”, suggested one Patriot Act expert.
“You cannot leave chips on the table with a known terrorist organization. Even more damaging, by the Senator’s own Twitter admission he’s no expert at the game.”
Of course he was referring to McCain’s widely reported gaming on the Senate floor earlier in the month.
What about the ‘expert advice’ condition, we asked.
“Fortunately for the Senator, flying off the handle is not a recognized expertise. So he should be okay there.”
Normally a separation of powers claim would be invoked except the Constitution is largely in tatters and no one knows this better than Senator McCain. His one best hope is that the rendition state has gaming capabilities or that his newly-acquired al Qaeda associates can mount a reprisal attack on key American installations in a bid to win his release. But as McCain is a Baptist congregant with a bad temper, such a reprisal is bound to be half-hearted and fraught with internal dissension.
Asked to comment on his colleague vanishing like a thin vapor trail. Senator Lindsey Graham clucked, “I sure hope his friends don’t launch a nuclear attack on the Kennedy Center. But this is what happens when we go easy on terrorists after going hard on them after going easy on them.”
“Most of all, [the Syrian conflict] is all about control of natural resources and channels of distribution.” —Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, September 9, 2013
Like most battered tropes, the tail wagging the dog offers a durable, if dog-tired, metaphor for much that afflicts us. While rhetoricians are apt to groan over rote recourse to tired imagery, regular folks use clichés because they strike a cognitive chord. After all, mass appeal is what exhausts language in the first place. The bane of poets, cliché is a sign of democratic affections. Let’s have more of it.
This particular metaphor derives its power from the sense that, rather than addressing the thing-itself, we are forever grappling with epiphenomena, proximate reflections and spun realities. Everything is mediated. Nothing is authentically palpable. Manufactured consent is all about assembling a coalition of the deceived. True, we are being lied to with Goebbellian ambition to a point where deceit becomes, for many, an undetectable ethos. No sooner does one explain to a seemingly perceptive friend or colleague the diversionary intent of the current chemical weapons debate than they nod their heads in sage agreement, take due note of the submerged iceberg’s immense size and resume stock sound-bites the very next day. Such is the power of the frame. There is also, I’m convinced, a social component. Just as people want to make good around the water cooler, no one wants to be the office’s perennial, contrarian weirdo. The frame du jour is where polite small-talk gathers. Nothing ventured over doughnuts, nothing gained.
Within the mainstream media, we are presented daily with messages—tails—that attempt to corral ‘bodies of facts on the ground’. The messages are illicit rearguard actions designed to exert mastery over sleeping dogs. Since lies have a habit of demanding further lies, why undertake this great exertion of deceit? Lying somewhere between Straussian arrogance and neo-Platonic contempt, the elite are loath to address, in an open-air forum, the many hellhounds nipping at all of our heels. Are we wrong to dignify this aversion with philosophical pretentions as perhaps it has long since metastasized into pathology? Our leaders seem convinced subterfuge abets their power.
Meanwhile what Syria’s really about involves a knotty confluence of water rights, dueling pipelines, nation-state reconfigurations, militarized economies, competing CIA and DOD fiefdoms, Islamic sectarian divides, the global affliction of nihilism, domestic (US) shale oil ascendancy, Saudi panic, the fading Petro-Dollar, French colonial re-visitations, shifting Israeli internal demographics, Persian and Ottoman empire re-imaginings, etc., etc. With all due respect to the Syrian civilians who (apparently) died at the hands of some agency of chemical weapons, this is hardly about them. They are but ghoulish pretense. May they rest in peace all the same.
Here’s where things can get a little tricky, especially in this transparent and skeptical age of alternative media. Assad’s complicity in the chemical attack may or may not be fact. What is immutably true now however is the elite have selected it (for better or worse) as the controlling or instigating frame through which they will leverage America’s entry into the region for the host of ‘covert’ reasons touched upon above and, it should be added, at very real risk of sparking World War Three. If the Syrian regime did in fact commit the atrocity, it becomes a contributing legitimization within a cluster of larger reasons for American engagement. It is also a Trojan Horse hewn to commit America’s military within the ‘city walls’ of the Levant. Once we are there, the road to Tehran will be a long and arduous one; yet one our friends, Saudi Arabia and Israel, are determined we should make.
If on the other hand it is shown the chemical attack was committed by the rebel forces, the elite, far from relenting, will defend their rendition to the hilt. (Remember, they exist beyond good and evil in the Straussian realm of the Noble Lie.) Thus whether a complete fabrication or a genuine Assad war crime, the chemical attack has the practicable effect of being an incidental expediency in all cases. The burden and aftermath of collapsing grand deceptions can be onerous indeed. For instance, the Syrian case for intervention must climb a wall of worry constructed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Importantly and in all cases, the elites are practicing deception (certainly the sin of omission) when they purport that the use of chemical weapons is the sole reason for resorting to force. I would hazard it barely cracks the top five.
As it is, the plebes are fed a steady, lurid diet of comic book WMD’s and noxious gas portrayals. Bam! Zoom! Whammo! To coin Guantanamo’s Jack Nicholson, we can’t handle the truth, or so it has been decided. Plato’s Republic might be cool with this paternalistic head-patting except our elite manage to bollox one Guantanamo after another. (Since we’re treading linguistic terrain let me say that I disparage the term ‘elite’ as it conjures up notions of sure-footedness and meritocratic station. Our ‘elite’ are more in the vein of Keystone cops.)
When the Spin becomes King, vertigo rules the land and straight thinking acquires a positively eccentric ring. Backwardation overturns causality. People are instructed to believe TV, not their own eyes. Yet every time a regular Joe summons his dog in real life, the animal ‘defiantly’ arrives first, its tail invariably traipsing along behind. People have been known to shoot their dogs just to silence the doggone cognitive dissonance. Imagine putting down Fido so that Senator John McCain might sound a little more lucid? Such are the inestimable costs dogs of war are routinely called upon to make.
Another hackneyed phrase is sending the right message, something we’ve been hearing probably six times a day of late. For this, we’re back on TV, only selling soap flakes. Sending a message is an attempted seduction via telegraph not unlike batting an eyelash. But I don’t want to be ‘right back after this message’ during which a kimono is coyly lifted, revealing a bit of ankle. Putin’s taken great pains to assure us he’s not that kind of guy, much less that kind of adversary. Don’t mediate your intent. Demonstrate it. All these ornamentalisms are features of decadence and feckless, late Empire. When the mediated message becomes the thing-itself, gesture has swarmed substance. Camouflaged boys and girls from Kansas are sent in to rescue Nero’s sound-bites. Merely embarrassing the elites becomes a veritable Pearl Harbor to be dealt with swiftly.
With repetition, a Quixotic syndrome develops where people increasingly conflate windmill-mirages for clear-and-present foes. This is a form of collective madness which, if not unique to the television age, is certainly an emblematic feature of it. Ironically, no group is more perilously removed from the visceral (and so convinced of their message-making’s existential heft) than are our rarified leaders. Surely a certain decadent nadir has been reached when their foremost concern involves the veracity and sanctity of the imparted message. You’d think the Red Line was pinned down on Iwo Jima with a two-day supply of water. No matter, a command is sent down from some high-up place: “Summon the kids (well, our kids anyway). The message must be preserved at all costs!” A contemptible equivalency has been struck: Losing a limb, ours, is a reasonable price to avert losing face, theirs. Never mind that the Red Line isn’t a cornered battalion, but merely a botched metaphor wrapped in a rhetorical gaffe. It happens also to be the exoteric casus belli.
These quotes are revealing:
“…to communicate with [the Iranians] we have to be very clear, very forthright.”—White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough
You’d think if America wanted to send a very clear, forthright message to the Chilean people, there are better ways to do it than bombing Nigeria. How about Antarctica? It’s closer and less populous. I would submit that Iran is, far and away, the most forthright target to send the Iranians a forthright message. These non sequiturs are compelled by veiled objectives. Then too, had we wanted to push Iraq decisively into the Iranian orbit, there were far less costly and bloody ways to go about it than Gulf War 2. Maybe my brain is not cut out for all this strategy stuff, but from this low chair, McDonough’s argument suffers all at once from logical indirection, geographic inexactitude and disingenuous message-talk. We’re also back to hopelessly mixed metaphors of sending bulletins with bombs, communicating with shrapnel etc. when Mr. McDonough should know that messages don’t kill people. Bullets kill people.
Then there’s General Petraeus—the most brilliant military strategist of our generation, doncha know—with this to say:
“Failure of Congress to approve the president’s request would have serious ramifications not just in the Mideast but around the world. Military action against the Syrian regime is, thus, necessary…to ensure that Iran, North Korea and other would-be aggressors never underestimate the United States’ resolve to take necessary military action when other tools prove insufficient.”
Apparently loopy geography and postural message-talk captured central command thinking too. How did North Korea creep into a military leader’s clear-eyed assessment of Syria? Is this guy still running for President? You’d think by now Petraeus would tip-toe around message-making like it was depleted uranium. Love missives demolished his career after all. But no, everybody is suddenly a purveyor of messages and a dime-store linguist when we’ve already got Noam Chomsky who knows everything under the sun and then some.
Are such subtleties forever lost on the powerful? I can kill you, without communique or fanfare. Or, I can convey the message that I plan to kill you. To the functionary foot solider, the former is decidedly more lethal than the latter which is mere telegraphed intention. But then, the foot soldier has his feet planted firmly on the ground. He knows the difference between a bullet and a bulletin. I truly believe our elites are losing this distinction. Nay, I think they’ve lost the friggin’ plot.
Worse, I believe they fear the effects of a badly drafted bulletin more than they do a well-aimed bullet. This is a moral corruption and there are reasons for it. The elite are far more accustomed to dying in bed than in combat. What coupon-clipper doesn’t yearn to expire bedecked in a smile and plunked beside his favorite mistress ala Nelson Rockefeller? Petraeus should be so lucky. By the way, having a mistress sends a terrible message to your wife.
I know I’ll be accused of some sort of class warfare harangue. But I view this message-promoted-to-flesh syndrome as a mental health issue that happens to afflict the promulgators more than we the recipients of said missives. Regular folks are inoculated to some degree because they still must take out their own trash and drop legs in faraway places. Decadence spawns from the enervations of unearned privilege. The mainstream media and the elite must re-engage on an existential level with war. They must rekindle a healthy forbearance towards armed conflict that only noblesse oblige can supply. Whizzing bullets cure armchair commandos. We need warrior-kings once again, leaders who can reacquaint word with deed. Through no accident warrior-king Eisenhower offered the most actionable speech of the last sixty years. We failed to heed his call and have trod a war footing ever since.
That’s why I’m calling for the immediate NDAA rendition and delivery of Senator Lindsey Graham to his new role as Damascan warlord for some merry band of al Qaeda psychopaths. Only after he has been baptized in palpable fear (a healthy rendezvous with unmediated reality) should Graham be allowed to resume frightening old ladies in Charleston with tales of looming nuclear holocaust. It’s high time we restored fear-mongering in America to its rightful place as a privilege that must be earned! Of course he will first have to explain to his new charges why he just called them ‘crazy bastards’ in the chamber of the Senate. But I have faith in Graham’s rhetorical prowess if not his skill with a Kalashnikov.
‘If you don’t man-up and author your own embellishments, no one’s going to do it for you.’
If Brian Williams ever fabricated a mugging tale (someone check the videotape), you can bet the perpetrator is a black kid in a hoodie. William’s fanciful flights tend to favor flight but sometimes they venture forth by sea-yarn (as in Katrina bodies bobbing in puddles of poetic license).
Truth to power? Nah. Power is truth. That’s the Williams Credo.
In all cases Williams prefers soft targets. This makes him something of a bully in addition to being a liar. When he talks about roving gangs in the French Quarter’s Ritz Carlton, the black faces on the perimeters of his imagination are faintly discernible. Flying with Israeli big brass, he encounters rocket fire from Hezbollah.
Williams is a pro at demonizing the demonized. He’s a company man through and through who always manages, even in his compulsive deceptions, to butter up the boss side of the bread. As for his hard-hitting reportage on Fukushima (that other GE spewer) well, we await that exposé while cesium supplies last, and they’re going to last longer than us. Still, it would be nice to get a high-production closing shot of the final pink clouds.
America let so many things get away from her. How did so little get pumped up into so much and still manage to drop the ball over so little? Teleprompter jockeys became the successive Voices of a Nation. In the best Pentagon-speak, a re-baselining of this baseless hyperinflation is in order otherwise mission creep will get you WW3 in Donbass.
News-Reader Job Requirements (in the post-Williams era):
- Can you read?
- Can you sit on a stool for 30 minutes without falling off (Note: this is not as hard as it sounds; the half-hour is spaced with interminable off-air selling orgies)?
- Do you have an intelligibility problem (Note: This is not a showstopper; Bah-bwa Wah-wah and Tom Bwo-kaw made careers out of having us crane our necks to glean what the hell they were on about—what, no football scores? Aww, why didn’t you tell us)?
- Can you stick to your employer’s elaborate tissue of lies and keep your private dysfunctions off-camera?
- Can you accomplish all of this with a jaw-dropping sense of self-importance and oceans of faux-conviction?
Three years before Walter Cronkite (that other striving high school graduate) joined CBS on the way to becoming the most trusted voice in America, John-Paul Sartre would pay these sea-to-shining-sea shores a call. No flies on his nausea, John-Paul read our blank evening faces in a flash. Another fifty years would have to pass before that most hollow Emblem of the Willing, Freedom fries, would stare up at us from our happy meals. Yet already, Sartre had spied the klieg light apparatus arrayed above our heads, calling it the Great Implacable Machine:
“Similarly, when a careful arrangement of those melting-pot notions–puritanism, realism, optimism, and so on–which we have been told are the keys to the American character is presented to us in Europe, we experience a certain intellectual satisfaction and think that, in effect, it must be so. But when we walk about New York, on Third Avenue, or Sixth Avenue, or Tenth Avenue, at that evening hour which, for Da Vinci, lends softness to the faces of men, we see the most pathetic visages in the world, uncertain, searching, intent, full of astonished good faith, with appealing eyes, and we know that the most beautiful generalizations are of very little service: they permit us to understand the system but not the people.”—from ‘Americans and Their Myths”, The Nation, October 18, 1947
Sartre the stranger marveled at what befuddling and self-dejected mysteries Americans really were, beyond the endless representations the system demanded they reduce themselves to. And what durable implacability that system has proven to possess with Ph.D. baristas at Starbucks trained to ask with solicitous banality:= ‘venti or grande’, and the pathetic visage and appealing eyes of a bullshit artist pulling down $10,000,000 a year. Yet, just as it all happened improbably enough beneath the same Big Tent, it’s also breaking down with a strikingly eerie simultaneity.
Williams is merely one thread in a fabric that’s fraying from all ends: the petrodollar, NATO supremacy in satrap Europe, central bank monetary levitation, upward mobility, the heartland’s gumption for marching into one third-world cul de sac after another. All those beautiful generalizations that took so much thinking off our hands are collapsing—the blame for which the BBC’s Adam Curtis tends to lay at the feet of journalism’s increasingly anachronistic tools. (Yes, the storytelling may be broken. But the narratives broke first, leaving the storyteller to storyboard incoherence and irresolution. Collaging and kick-ass tunage can’t paper over the abyss forever.) PNAC ate our exorbitant privilege and then some. Nobody believes us anymore, including ourselves. Silly Straussians, there never was nobility in lies. Beyond good and evil, it’s evil all the way down. Like an exquisite waterlogged corpse, we’re submerged in a Katrina puddle and we can’t get up.
Who can fault a professional liar for trying to keep up? Brian Williams strove to placate the implacable demands of the American mythmaking machine. Possessed of the character flaws the Big Lie relishes, he made a decent go of it. However no man can sustain wall-to-wall bullshit forever. Somewhere, he’s going to slip up and tell the truth, prompting the inevitable questions of veracity. Only a brand, an unblinking machine, can do that. (“Brian Williams: Personal branding got in the way of the news.”—LA Times). Caught in a big lie, he retreated to a smaller lie, something about protecting the honor of veterans. Whaa? Oh and Iraq was a clean war too, dontcha know.
There are no quick solutions—only vague, new paradigms somewhere off in the future. Put a post-grad egghead in that chair tomorrow and ratings would plummet. Detergent would go begging for stubborn grass stains. Besides, who’d serve the coffee? Under natural lighting, whiter-whites reveal an opacity no clean war would dare tolerate. Things would complexify in a heartbeat. People would recoil. Hell, most people don’t give a damn: Entertain us with cinematic shrapnel. If it misses the helicopter, edit it for television and lodge it in you thigh. We’re not keeping score.
“Perhaps nowhere else will you find such a discrepancy between people and myth, between life and the representation of life.”
Looks like Williams got caught in Sartre’s cross-hair. But that’s where a consummate bull-shitter lives—in the TV glare of yawning discrepancy. If someone had any honesty left, they’d fire him.