The Criminal Injustice System: Beyond Platitudes and Bleeding Hearts

Standard

Abc1

Aotearoa (New Zealand) has a lot of serious problems. Neoliberal reforms have been imposed against the will of the people here and it is only our pride and our racially informed sense of kinship with imperial power that keeps us from recognising that we are a neocolony – a privileged neocolony perhaps, but a neocolony nonetheless.

Recent decades have been an affront to our sovereignty and our progressive and socialist history. We were the first country with a 40 hour working week, the first to allow women to vote, the second to have a comprehensive public health system, and the first welfare state. It cuts against the grain, therefore, that in 30 years we have gone from a country with no poverty or unemployment and near the worst income inequality in the OECD (7th worst in 2014). With relatively low wages and one of the highest costs of living in the world, neoliberalism is ripping apart our social fabric. We have a housing crisis that is worse than those hitting the US, UK, Australia and Canada, but it is even more of a shock because 30 years ago the idea of homelessness and of people begging in the streets was simply alien to us.

Make no mistake, neoliberalism has fucked this country, and I do blame the US and the UK along with those traitor scum politicians who serve the empire and not their own people. But in one key respect, neoliberalism was pushing against an open door. Neoliberalism seeks to shrink the social support offered by the state but it also seeks to grow the coercive powers of the state – the police and the prisons. The latter harmonises much more easily with traditional Aotearoan values. We are a punitive people. We are not ruled by fear of malefactors to the extent that the US seems to be, but we still have a strong attraction to “law-and-order”.

Our prison population has traditionally been high, but as incarceration rates have grown in other countries we have kept our place in the leading pack (excluding the US which is in a league of its own). We imprison people at nearly twice the rate of Canada; 45% higher than England and Wales and 30% higher than Australia.

The punitive culture in Aotearoa is partly the product of settler-colonial relations. The nature of colonialism is to obliterate autonomy. In Aotearoa the British achieved this in the same manner in which they did in India. First is the process of dividing the locals, using diplomatic trickery, and co-opting collaborators. The second is military conquest, which is only achievable because of native forces. The third is the realm of police, judges, truancy officers, land surveyors, bureaucrats, and lawyers. It is a telling part of our history that the reputed “last gasp” of the decades-long New Zealand Wars was when a column of 120 armed men was sent to arrest a leader, Hone Toia, who refused to pay a dog tax. The judge who imprisoned Hone Toia made it clear that he was demonstrating the reach and power of the government.

The story thereafter will be familiar to other settler colonial societies, Compulsory schooling became the mechanism for literally beating and torturing the language and culture from Māori children. There was a school-to-borstal pipeline, particularly for Māori boys. This was the beginning of a self-sustaining circle of institutional racism. The result is that even though Māori are only 15% of the total population, they make up more than 50% of the prison population. Even Al Jazeera has made a documentary about the “Locked-Up Warriors” of our country.

However, at the risk of weakening the sense of crisis (which is very real in absolute terms) I feel obliged to point out that in proportion to indigenous populations Aotearoa actually has a lower indigenous incarceration rate than Australia and Canada. Australian aboriginals are the most imprisoned people in the world, ahead of US African-Americans. None of this should detract from the significance of Māori imprisonment here, where indigenous people make up a much larger part of the total population.

The prison is clearly being used as an ongoing tool of colonial control, even if it is only the momentum of the past that keeps it so. Yet I would argue that treating this as a race issue alone will not help. The racism of the system show that it is an unjust system, but getting rid of the race element will not fix the injustice. We have a massive social problem with Māori incarceration, but if we fix the racism inherent in the system will it really fix a system that is so open to racism? Where would that leave us with regards to class and poverty? In this day and age can do we really think we can address a racial disparity if we don’t also address inequality?

 

Native Affairs

Māori TV is a gift to all Aotearoans because it is our only public service mandated TV broadcaster. They produce some very good television – albeit at the cheap end of the spectrum. Yet I was sceptical of the Native Affairs episode on “Locking Up Māori”. I had the strange feeling that they would acknowledge the role of racism and poverty but then circle back around to the normal mindless position of showing stories of individual prisoners finding redemption with the help of guitar-toting redeemers.

Well, colour me un-fucking-surprised.

Of course, there is something to be said for reminding people that structural and personal racism are real factors behind imprisonment rates. When Marama Fox recently dared to use the term “racism” as a cause of Māori incarceration in The Spinoff’s “Great Debate”, the audience guffawed in incredulity. Clearly some people out there need a bit of educating. Therefore it might seem like a good deed to highlight the structural racism and social drivers that lead to high rate among Māori, but viewers of Native Affairs are probably not the ones that need telling. If you are not familiar with Native Affairs, it is just what it sounds like – a current affairs programme dealing with issues relating to Māori. The name is an ironic reference to the Ministry of Native Affairs – an historic institution of racial paternalism, land theft, and ethnocide.

Marama Fox flippin

Marama Fox (Māori Party Co-Leader) was quite expressive in the “Great Debate”

Given their viewership, it is less significant that Native Affairs addressed structural issues, so neglected in the mainstream, than that they took that as a starting point for a narrative that herded people back into alignment with mainstream thinking – like a sheepdog ensuring our wayward brains don’t wander too far from safe pastures.

First they identified the empirically proven drivers of incarceration as being poverty and poor education. Crucially they assert, without the same evidential backing, that “in Aotearoa cultural disconnection is a third factor.” They may or may not be correct in this. As I will discuss later it is not whether the latter is true or not that is at issue, but rather the way in which adding the element of cultural alienation sets up a narrative centred on the individual offender. It is a path back to old habits of thinking; the modern equivalent of the 19th century Samaritan’s self-righteous efforts to save the souls of the benighted sinners who have fallen from the Godly path of lawfulness.

Soon after this introduction the programme also broaches the subject of structural racism in the justice system. Māori are more likely to be stopped by police. Under the same circumstances they are more likely to be charged. If convicted they receive harsher sentences and are more likely to be imprisoned. Cumulatively it is this layered racism that is probably the biggest factor in Māori imprisonment.

So if poverty, under-education, and racism among police and judiciary are the best known significant drivers of Māori imprisonment then a documentary should surely focus on changing social policy, ending structural and personal racism in education, reforming the police and judiciary. The prisoners (referred to constantly in the programme as “these people”) are not the real authors of their fate in this regard. Yet instead of having the intellect and the guts to embrace what the statistics tell us, the participants cleave to facile moralism – depicting the narratives of each prisoner as being driven by transgression and the consequences that follow from it.

The social science shows clearly that focusing on changing prisoners is stupid. It tells us unambiguously that we are not being honest about what acts do or do not deserve punishment and why we expect prisoners to embrace guilt, remorse, and the need to change themselves. People are married to the fictional reductionism of crime stories in books, TV, and cinema. Through constant sensationalism in the news people are made overly fearful of the capacity for violence among convicted criminals, feeling safer if they think that people are being locked away. This is a heuristic error that vastly exaggerates the ability of any prison system to enact what is called “specific incapacitation” by isolating the offenders from society. It also fails to account for the ability of the prison system to engender violence.

Native Affairs should have shown the efforts to reform those in authority, and highlighted where such efforts do not exist. The onus should have been on police, politicians, teachers and judges. We should have seen them struggling to overcome their racism and their moral and intellectual failings. Exemplars should have described their journey of overcoming their unthinking abuse. In the documentary we meet the victim of a cruel self-righteous and almost certainly racist judge. This judge ruined a young man’s life. He caused immense harm and pain. but where was that judge or one like him talking about their journey to redemption – complete with guilt and remorse for destroying futures, for ripping apart social bonds, and for wasting inordinate amounts of taxpayers money?

I am aware that our prejudices are deep. It is easy to see a tattoo-covered ill-spoken prisoner as a wrongdoer, but few people can envision the judge as being a dangerous and vicious parasite, profiting from suffering that they help perpetuate. Yet if you strip away our personal fears and our social prejudices; if you judge the judges on the fruits of their actions rather than their benevolent rhetoric and evinced good intentions, it is authorities such as these that need fixing, not our prison population. So, dear reader, I am going to walk you through some things. I am going to show you that incarceration and criminality are not strongly linked; and I am going to help you learn to fear and loathe the genteel. Regardless of the existence of individual dangerous prisoners, collectively those in prison are the victims of violent injustice, not the other way around.

 

Lipstick on a Pig

TOPadOn the surface, The Opportunities Party has an admirably progressive criminal justice policy. They aim to reduce our prison population to half the projected number in 2027. There are two problems with this: arrogance and reductionism. The arrogance comes from presenting evidence already widely understood and proclaiming that other politicians are too stupid to get it. The reductionism is in reducing a complete socio-political problem to a single track of statistics without any sort of critical self-awareness. I don’t want to be unfair to TOP, who do link criminal justice to broader issues of poverty and inequality, but even that is a very narrow way of looking at a much more profound questions of guilt and innocence; justice and injustice; transgression and obedience. The weakness of their position is easily demonstrated with a question: if it is so stupid and counterproductive to lock up 10,000 people, why do you want to keep 6000 people in prison?

 

 

TOP are trying to solve a “problem” without asking why it arose initially. Why are we so punitive? I have suggested that some of it comes from our colonial past, but it has a contemporary and historical scaffolding that exists independently of that. We blame our populist right-wing politicians fear-mongering at election time andemotive pressure groups like the Sensible Sentencing Trust; we blame talkback radio and racist muddle-Nu Zillind, but it takes two to tango.

Our politics are not shaped by one side of a political divide, they are shaped by the way our political discourse divides issues into two vested camps and creates a static establishment orthodoxy that serves both.

While Hegel, followed by Marx and Engels, proposed that social forces create a dynamic “dialectic”, it is far more common in our time for “opposing” ideologies to become entwined in mutually sustaining inertia. Arrayed against the self-righteous sadists who demand that convicts must suffer are an equally facile bunch of liberal journalists, left-liberal politicians and NGO do-gooders who (by choice or by constraint) are mainly about looking as saintly as possible without really rocking the boat.

Our problems run much deeper than the attitudes of right-wing people. The rituals that surround our criminal justice system should be a clue that something is wrong. Rationality does not need to don special robes and use dead languages to give itself gravity. The system itself is not a measured and enlightened social institution, it is a quasi-religious instrument of authority. On close examination it maintains a strange irrational pretence of omniscience and still functions as if the court and the judges within it were touched with divine power.

Fixing our criminal justice system will require much more that a white-hatted technocrat Sheriff riding in on his high-horse to tell all us dumbshit yokels how to live our lives. The problem with people like Gareth Morgan is that their disdain for the intellects of others makes them incredibly naïve about social institutions. Just because a given institution purports to serve a given function that does not mean that that is it’s sole function, or main function, or even a real function. Some social institutions do the opposite of their pretended function. To put it another way, Gareth Morgan wants to put “evidence-based” lipstick on a pig that he is too stupid to smell.

 

Controlling and Punishing Social Inferiors

Our institutions have multiple historical roots but the tendency to echo the past (even when we can see clearly how inhumane and unjust the past was) has to be explained in contemporary terms. We are not so different than our cruel, stupid, superstitious and hypocritical forebears and much that we think of as the cast is actually still as much with us as it has ever been.

To begin with there is the religious and pseudo-religious moral impulse to view matters of criminality as an expression of sin – a form of moral transgression. This comes from the belief that the law is a moral framework and even when it fails to be so obedience to the law is a moral imperative in itself. This is an authoritarian viewpoint that is not actually morally sound. It is an irrational impulse and you do not have to delve too far into history to see that morality and obedience to the law are distinct and may be at complete odds with each other. By consensus we now recognise many laws from different places and times as immoral – for example, race and gender legislation that make chattels of racial groups, wives and daughters; apartheid laws; or the Third Reich’s racial laws.

Then there are the politicians, bureaucrats and social workers who see their jobs as being the imposition of their will on the behaviour of others. At base any attempt to change an individual or group of individuals is an attempt to to control those persons through the exercise of one’s own will. This may be both a personal inclination that attracts people into positions of such power and a situational product of our institutions of power. Our society hands people in these situations hammers and instructs them to treat certain individuals as nails. For example, social workers may as a group lobby for social change, but their day-to-day hour-to-hour activity is to try and change individual people however futile that may ultimately be in the bigger picture. By contrast, some politicians have a clear pre-disposed inclination to enjoy exercising power over others. Bill English was recently asked what cause he would take to the streets to march for, and he responded that he would march for the right to govern us. This is just a small glimpse into the state of derangement that veteran senior politicians fall into. They do not see governance as the exercise of shaping institutions in order to allow the will of the people to rule, but rather see governance as creating and using institutions to control and “govern” the people. To them that is what governing is, and they see no contradiction between that and what they refer to as “democracy”.

Billmarchi

These contemporary controlling impulses find rich and fertile soil to flourish in our inherited criminal justice system. Centuries of penal reform have changed the sharp brutality of sadistic 18th century barbarism, into the duller grinding inhumanity of today. The criminal justice system that we have today may be the most gleamingly polished turd in human history, but underneath it is still an inherited institution of class warfare (repurposed to serve also as an instrument of racial oppression).

When the historian George Rudé examined early 19th century English “criminal justice” system, he found an institution devoted to perpetuating the social order of class and ethnic division, not an institution of “justice”. This was occurring at a time that saw an increasing conflation of poverty and criminality. The enclosure of common land and the loss of small-holdings, along with agricultural reform and industrialisation, had seen a growth of poverty in England and a breakdown in the medieval “Poor Laws”. Not coincidentally, this era saw the creation of the first professional police force. Many of the lower classes were transported first to North America and then to Australia and there was not a great deal of distinction between committing a criminal act and being criminalised and punished due purely to indigence.

The end of the transportation era saw the rise of a three-part system of prisons, debtor’s prisons, and workhouses. The workhouses were cruel and exploitative. The clear, if irrational, ideological foundation was that the poor must be made to suffer if they were to receive sustenance. The moralism of the era demanded that they redeem themselves through suffering, tinged by Calvinist beliefs that poverty was a sign of sinfulness and God’s disfavour.

 

Trapped in the “Safety Net”

Social reformers worked to end this inhumanity, and seemingly they succeeded. Yet they did not succeed as well as they might have hoped. Decades after the abolition of workhouses George Orwell lived the “down and out” life in England and what he found was a new form of cruelty and a new way of trapping people in poverty. Those who sought shelter and nourishment were forced to prove that they were not merely lazy scroungers living the high life at the expense of their betters. Thus they were forced to remain imprisoned in locked cells for their shelter and then forced by law to walk many hours to get shelter for another night. Needless to say they could not work and could not have social or family connections. With no way of earning money their attire, and particularly footwear, was appallingly poor for those who had to spend each and ever day walking and exposed to the elements:

“One could not, in fact, invent a more futile routine than walking from prison to prison, spending perhaps eighteen hours a day in the cell and on the road. There must be at the least several tens of thousands of tramps in England. Each day they expend innumerable foot-pounds of energy – enough to plough thousands of acres, build miles of road, put up dozens of houses – in mere, useless walking. Each day they waste between them possibly ten years of time in staring at cell walls.”

It was an expensive and self-defeating exercise. The sadism of it was less newsworthy (or Dickensworthy) than the workhouses, but was it really much better? Things may have improved now, but maybe not as much as people think. In many ways we are slipping back. Poverty and its effects are intensifying and incidents of people trapped in implacable cycles of futility and suffering are on the increase.

We have never gotten over the idea that those who need help can and should be controlled. We think it acceptable that unemployed beneficiaries should be drug tested (and sanctioned for failing) and an overzealous campaign against “contamination” has seen many people lose tenancy in social housing due to traces of methamphetamine being found. Effectively that means that the less fortunate in society have a greater degree of state control in their lives than the more fortunate.

Many people undoubtedly think that it is beneficial for the unfortunate to have the guiding hand of a benevolent state to guard them from their own self-destructive impulses. It is for their own good, after all. In reality that is as much of a self-righteous delusion as the Victorian missionary’s belief in reforming the sinner. There is an increasing recognition that the neoliberal state systematically produces homelessness and that forcing special conditions on recipients of housing or other welfare acts to reproduce the vicious circle enforced on tramps in Orwell’s time.

One response to the structural injustice created by neoliberalism is the movement known as Housing First. Even PM Bill English proudly claims credit for “Housing First” initiatives. Unfortunately English is about as capable of grasping the essence of Housing First as Vlad the Impaler would be capable of grasping Nonviolent Communication. In theory, though not as it is widely practised, Housing First is supposed to provide unconditional tenure. Yet under 3 terms of National Party government, with English as leader or deputy, the government’s own social housing agency has been going in the opposite direction.

Neoliberalism reproduces the trap enforced on Orwell and his down-and-out compatriots, but with a much greater masquerade of benevolence. It actively encourages the underlying cause of social ills through deregulation, austerity, erosion of worker conditions and the devaluation of labour in relation to capital. Neoliberalism helps poverty, precarity and socio-economic exclusion to flourish, encouraging the disease but making a show of treating the symptoms. The long walks and the cold cells of 1930s England are replaced by the equally futile system of grants and supplements, constantly exposing people to a capricious and arbitrary system where they must pointlessly engage in a bureaucratic struggle to gain the money and service required to live in a system that is designed to give minimal support. The basic “safety net” support is insufficient in itself and yet is still contingent on conditions and impositions that can be extremely difficult for destitute people to live up to.

On the Native Affairs programme they revealed that the Howard League works to get inmates their driver’s licenses. This is a crucial and worthy effort, but it is a piecemeal step. The need for drivers license is a symptom of poverty, social exclusion and racism in the education system. It is not the only barrier affecting inmates and if they have to keep reaching out for help over each thing the process itself becomes demoralising and debilitating.

We have begun to have real conversations about the reality facing those on benefits today, and with luck that will continue, but for the last 40 years the gravitational pull has been to become ever more and more aligned with the US. By withdrawing support from the most needy due to infringements of a pseudo-moral code of behaviour we risk following the US footsteps of creating a criminalised underclass, a “school-to-prison pipeline” and a racial caste system. In many aspects the US is already in a Dickensian state. For example Eric Garner, who was killed by NYPD, was a career criminal who lived by breaking the law – he sold loose untaxed cigarettes and lived off the meagre profit margin. He wasn’t selling them at the time of his killing. He wasn’t even on his normal turf and was doing nothing wrong, but a cop recognised him from his own neighbourhood. Garner got angry at being harassed when minding his own business, and the police reacted with brutal and escalating violence that intensified when Garner was struggling for his life.

It feels as if we are not far away from the point where we too will tolerate the life and death of our own Eric Garner, seeing both the “criminal” and the poor person as somehow less human, lot worthy of a right to a dignified life and ultimately not even worthy of a guaranteed right to life of any sort. In the NZ Herald Paul Little has recently asked how Dickensian we have become:

Under the so-called three strikes law, Raven Campbell, a prison inmate who pinched a guard on the buttocks – his third offence – was sentenced, as that law required him to be, to the maximum term of seven years jail.

Social housing agency Tamaki Housing issued an eviction notice to the five children of Mabel Pe just weeks after her death. They were given three weeks to vacate the home where they had lived for 10 years.

Housing New Zealand issued an eviction notice to a family of seven, including two blind children, after their grandmother died. [3 of the children also suffer PTSD after losing a mother to cancer and a father to suicide shortly thereafter.]

In the last quarter of 2016, the number of people applying to Work and Income for hardship grants to buy food was 112,000 – an increase of 14 per cent over the equivalent period in the previous year.

Wendy Shoebridge, who was discovered dead in her home the day after she was told she faced charges over benefit fraud, was later found not to have committed any fraud, according to evidence presented at the inquest into her death.

We are seeing the rise of conditions of ever greater social division, a restructure in the relations of capital to labour and a massive upward redistribution of wealth. The transformation is akin to that of the mid-19th century, described by Karl Polanyi as The Great Transformation, and the response of our welfare and criminal justice systems is the same. It is not to ameliorate the conditions of those who are suffering the most under the change, but to preserve the social order. In effect this usually means inflicting greater suffering, hence the rising prison populations and the growing precariousness of those on benefits. If we don’t face up to those facts, how can we hope to make things better with our evidence-based culturally-sensitive “progressive reforms”. Quite apart from the fact that much of the “reform” only seeks to get incarceration rates back to where they were decades ago we cannot hope to effect positive change if we do not face up to the in-built malevolence and injustice in the system.

 

Crime Rates and Imprisonment Rates are not the Same Thing

To return to Native Affairs: Almost immediately after having established that Māori are imprisoned at rates disproportionate to their offending, without skipping a beat the narrator of “Locking Up Māori” reverts to the mindless conflation of imprisonment and crime rates, almost as if the journalist is incapable of processing the meaning of what is coming out of her own mouth.

The disconnect between crime and punishment is something that we as a society are not dealing with at all. It is far greater than the disparity in offending rates and imprisonment rate between Māori and Pākehā because there is also a massive class dimension that reinforces the racial dimension. Everything about our notions of crime is freighted with class disparity.

To begin with there is a much larger problem of prejudicial enforcement than merely who gets stopped by police more when driving or walking. Whole sectors of society are virtually invisible to law enforcement when it comes to certain sorts of crime. Most notably, bourgeois and wealthy people can reliably get away with committing drug offences. Many politicians have used illegal drugs, but few of those oppose prohibition. They are not volunteering to be punished themselves, but they are happy for others to be punished for doing the same thing they were not punished for.

The system is incorrigibly unequal and unjust. Ironically, many prisoners are victims in childhood or adolescence of serious criminal offences against them. Many, as we now know, were abused while in state care. Repeated offences of sexual abuse and severe physical abuse against vulnerable children in one’s care are amongst the most serious crimes we can imagine, yet those who perpetrated such heinous offences are afforded effective impunity while the victims often end up imprisoned for far less grave crimes.

Our need to see certain infractors punished is shaped far more by our sense of social order and hierarchy than it is by legally defined criminality. Researcher Emily Baxter conducted research for a project she called “We Are All Criminals”. In interviews with people she draws out the crimes they have committed and maybe spared little thought for because they suffered no consequences. She then gets them to reflect on how their lives might have been different had they been apprehended and reflect on the role that class and race play in making the difference between what might have been a youthful adventure for them, but could be the start of a descent into social exclusion for others.

The fact is that we are all criminals. Only a miniscule number of people have not committed crimes that individually or cumulatively could bring about a custodial sentence. If you think you are one of the rare innocents, then you probably need to interrogate you memory more vigorously.

There are also crimes which are hard to detect and prosecute. Nobody disputes that rape is a very serious crime, but the great majority of rapists a will never see the inside of a court, let alone a prison. We accept that reality because we cannot change it, yet it is hard to say how it can be just to imprison a minor thief or a cannabis user when rapists walk free far more often than not.

Further still there is the massive disparity in prosecution and even in the legal status of equivalent crimes that corresponds with differences in socio-economic status and power. The most obvious example at the moment is the disparity between those who commit tax evasion and those who commit benefit fraud. Tax evasion costs the government 33 times as much as benefit fraud, but the response is the inverse of what should be rational. Academic Lisa Marriott gives us these points:

  • We investigate a higher rate of welfare recipients than taxpayers. Around 5 percent of welfare recipients are investigated in an average year, compared to around 0.01 percent of taxpayers.

  • We have greater numbers of criminal prosecutions of welfare fraudsters than tax evaders. In a typical year, there are 600–900 prosecutions of welfare fraudsters and 60–80 prosecutions of tax evaders.

  • A higher proportion of prison sentences are given to welfare fraudsters, for a lower level of offending, compared to tax evaders. For an average level of offending of $76,000, 67 percent of welfare fraudsters received a prison sentence. For an average level of offending of $229,000, 18 percent of tax evaders received a prison sentence.

Marriott also compares two cases: “To summarise: welfare fraud of $3.4 million, where all was repaid (and more[$6.7 million was paid]), resulted in 10 years in prison — while white-collar crime of $4.3 million, where none was repaid, resulted in less than two years in prison.”

Another disparity is in the treatment of employers who steal from employees and vice versa. “Theft as a servant” is considered very serious because it is a breach of trust. Stealing from your employees, though, is a different story. I guess the logic is that because employees don’t have a choice to entrust their wages to their employer there is no breach of trust when the employer steals from them. Wage theft is commonplace in Aotearoa yet criminal penalties such as imprisonment, home detention or even community service are unknown. There is a push to impose criminal penalties such as prison on offenders, but not because we treat all other thieves in this manner, but because the offending is now reaching such a level of exploitation that it is linked with enslavement – yes enslavement, another thing we could not have imagined happening here even ten years ago.

Stealing hundreds of thousands from people poorer than you, who have no choice but to trust you, and whose labour is the source of your own wealth isn’t even treated as criminal. That is how fucked and how biased the system is.

And then there are those who more or less get to decide for themselves what the law is and whether or not they are allowed to steal from others without penalty. Meteria Turei, co-leader of the Green Party, bravely admitted to having lied about having flatmates in order not to lose some of the benefit she received while she was a single mother studying law. This was to raise awareness of poverty and precarity. She was hounded by the media relentlessly and felt compelled to resign just a week and a half after Andrew Little’s resignation (another party leader resigned the next week, by the way, just to keep the journalists on their toes). People asked why Turei had to go for taking a small amount so that she could afford to raise a child, while our wealthy PM Bill English took much more by deception. A “fact-check” assured people that Turei was naughty, because she broke the law, while English did not. Simon Wilson then he “sense-checked” the fact-checkers comparing the crimes of Metiria Turei with the perfectly legal acts of PM Bill English who claimed hundreds of thousands of dollars as a member of Parliament in order to cover the cost of living in a place he clearly did not live. Some of Wilson’s conclusions:

  1. Bill English must have known that he and his family did not live in Southland. But the system allowed him to pretend that they did, and he took advantage of that.

  2. He got away with it by arguing that his lawyers had told him it was OK.

  3. When he was found out, the system continued to protect him.

In fact, as Wilson further explains, the legality of the acts was not actually tested strongly: “He denied he had broken the law and the auditor general agreed. She appears to have been particularly persuaded by the fact he had relied on legal advice that his position was tenable.”

But wait, there’s more! Because ultimately the most criminally guilty people in the world don’t just go free, they are rewarded for their crimes. The worst criminal bankers on Wall St and in the City of London are not jailed, they are paid handsomely to retire, to stay on, or to work in government. Corporations can become a law unto themselves, causing thousands of deaths in Third World countries though pollution or using government forces to massacred those who stand between them and profit. From the days of United Fruit in Guatemala, to Shell’s involvement in the slaughter of people in the Niger Delta. No criminal charges.

Nor are there charges for murders carried out by the CIA, let alone other crimes. The whole existence of the clandestine action arms of agencies such as the CIA is based on lawbreaking. One old pre-digital estimate suggested that the CIA was committing crimes at a rate of 80,000 per day, dwarfing any non-governmental organised crime outfit. With computerised surveillance there is a near unlimited potential for individual crimes to be happening a dizzying speed.

Then there are the mass murderers. Since the death of Stalin, those with the most blood on their hands have mostly been Western political leaders. Johnson, Nixon, Kissinger – even Ford and Carter – Brzezinski, Reagan, Thatcher, Bush(es), Clinton, Blair. It is estimated that 20 million have been killed due to US-led aggression since World War II, frequently with crucial UK participation. They also have high levels of involvement in other acts of mass-murder. They backed the slaughter of 1 million in Indonesia and the subsequent genocide in East Timor. They gave diplomatic cover to the genocide in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). They trained and backed those carrying out the genocide in Guatemala. Third world dictators cannot even compare in terms of the number of dead they have caused. Yet Henry Kissinger, perhaps the biggest murderer of them all, is a fêted elder statesman, treated like a rockstar guru by the political elite. These people are by any reasoned standard more despicable and fearful than the very worst of our prison population.

So, when you see the stats that show that social forces such as racism and poverty are the main causes of imprisonment, do not immediately think, yeah, but people need to be held accountable for their actions. The worst people in the world are not held accountable for their actions. Normal people are not held accountable in the way that those who fall foul of the criminal justice system are. It is a capricious system full of racial and class prejudice and rampant injustice

Argument from Consequences

As mentioned, the Native Affairs programme that fulfilled my low expectations of journalistic endeavour included “cultural disconnection” as an unproven third factor driving Māori incarceration. How much it is true that “cultural disconnection” causes imprisonment is definitely an interesting topic, but in the programme it becomes the central factor – the focus of the programmes call to action. Without seeming to be aware of what they were doing, the makers of the programme use the topic of “cultural disconnection” to leave poverty and poor education as background factors in a narrative driven by notions of individual reform.

There is certainly something quite powerful in the question by one prisoner who asked why it took coming to prison for him to find out about his own identity. The colonial system literally stole the sense of self from many Māori and it is heartbreaking that it might take imprisonment for some of those to benefit from reconnecting. But now the viewers have been taken back into their comfort zone, the place where no one can see the forest because they are too busy looking at all the trees. Unlike those factors of class and race which allow for the actions of others to be a cause of imprisonment, “cultural disconnection” can only be interpreted as a cause of criminality in the prisoner themselves. The notion leads us back to the belief that it is still their criminal transgression that drives their fate and what we really need to do is to help them to stop being so angry and naughty.

It is as if the journalists are programmed by cliché. They will always find a way back into the comfort of tinkering reformism that maximises the sense of doing good but minimises any real clash with the status quo. In this case, cultural disconnection brings the focus right back to criminal acts by prisoners. It is actually a little bit ridiculous, because as wonderful as it may be for Māori inmates to connect with tikanga Māori, it is not why they are in prison and nor should they be penalised if they do not want to embrace Māoritanga. When you get right down to it, they are suggesting that you can fix a racist system by getting the victims of racism to change, not the racists. There is an obvious parallel here to those who think that the way to prevent rape is for the potential victims to alter their appearance and behaviour.

Yet people seem to find it impossible to let go of the notion that prisoners have personal responsibility for their fate. To be reformed they must go through the ritual of penitence and agree that it is they that must transform. It is true that, apart from those wrongly accused, they must have contributed at least one “wilful” criminal act to find themselves behind bars, but between the disparities in policing and sentencing we can see that in most ways the criminal act is not the greatest factor contributing to the imprisonment.

It is tempting at this point to separate violent from non-violent offenders. Then, in pragmatic terms, we could abolish drug prohibition and end custodial sentences for non-violent crime. That would lower prison populations and instantly curb the worst injustices coming out of the racial biases of the criminal justice system. But as much as I feel that drug prohibition is morally insupportable (and that too is a conversation that needs to be dealt with in full) I also think that blunting the worst excesses of an unjust system still leaves an unjust system.

The fact is that even in committing a criminal act an offender is acting as a product of circumstances beyond their control. People resist understanding this, but it is abundantly clear in the statistics. In violent offending, the unchosen circumstances of birth and upbringing are clear predictors. Growing up exposed to and especially victim to violence does not always mean that a person will become violent, but it is such a strong statistical association that it cannot be ignored. And there are other factors such as sensory deprivation in infancy, exposure to lead and other toxins, traumatic brain injury or other neurological conditions. The more we study the factors that influence behaviour the more we must admit that we are all products of circumstances that we do not control.

It is not just the social sciences that problematise our punitive understanding of criminality. While many philosophers still try to justify the existence of free will, neuroscientists are increasingly able to pinpoint the chemical processes of decision-making. If someone spikes you with a drug it will affect your decision-making. If someone controls the information you receive, it will affect your decision making. If you are abused as a child, it will affect your decision-making. Free will is a delusion. Even our current understanding of physics suggests that the universe is shaped by stochastic (individually random and unpredictable) subatomic events. Because these shape the real world and ultimately affect our lives it is impossible to reconcile the nature of the universe with free will.

Free will was an excusable explanation for a complex phenomenon in the same way that explaining lightning as bolts cast by a god was excusable before the process was properly understood. It makes sense that we would feel that free will exists even without proof, but it is a religious concept not a rational concept. Basing criminal justice decisions of the concept of free will ultimately makes no more sense than treating criminality as demonic possession. Yet the concept of free will underpins our notions of criminal culpability.

We cling on to a model of individual guilt and just punishment because it works so well with our emotions and social conventions. When bad things happen we want a sense of reciprocity and we also want to feel protected from those who might threaten us. On the more sinister side, we also have a tendency to persecute those who are perceived as alien, defective, diseased, or just a burden to our social collective. This is nothing to do with justice. On the contrary, it is one of the ways our evolution has sowed within us conflicts between compassion and brutality; xenophobia and solidarity; inclusion and exclusion.

Our sense of reciprocity, however, is perhaps the greatest impediment to a more enlightened approach because this innate tendency is bolstered and magnified by the narratives in which we constantly immerse our consciousnesses. I refer here to books, film, TV and so forth. In our stories transgressions seldom go unpunished, guilt is seldom in doubt to the reader or viewer, and there is almost always the implication that somehow the punishment ends the narrative arc, tying up the story with a nice little bow. However, this is not just true in fictional narratives, it is also the structure used almost exclusively in news reporting and documentary.

In reality neither safety nor reciprocity can be achieved through the criminal justice system and social exclusion is both undesirable and harmful. Despite this, they are powerful desires and the reason we cling to the idea of free-will is that without free-will we cannot have individual criminal culpability. Without that sense of culpability, we cannot package reciprocity, safety and social exclusion as a function of “justice”.

We cling to the idea of wilful individual responsibility when logic and evidence both tell us it is a delusion. We do not want to deal with the consequences of not having the ability to pronounce guilt because it would deprive us of our ability to see the criminal justice system as having inherently positive outcomes.

Ritual Sacrifice

There is something disturbing about the way we as a society created a sudden and new official Truth once a judge or jury has pronounced guilt. Suddenly doubt is officially banished, facts are certain.

There is a time between the verdict and the sentencing when the convict becomes a species of outlaw. Their penalty and path back to citizenship is undetermined and actions which are not crimes may affect their penalty as much, or more, than the actually criminal act(s). This outlaw status, by some mysterious rationale, becomes retroactive. Everyone has a right to deny charges against them without penalty, but once they are found guilty a magic time machine allows judges to reward “early guilty pleas” because the special powers they have make everything fair (and apparently there is no contradiction at all in discriminating in favour of those who admit guilt because it is not the same as discriminating against those who maintain their innocence).

It is just as problematic that once guilt is established there is an expectation that the convict must now align themselves with the official Truth and make a ritual obeisance before the court by admitting guilt and expressing remorse. This is not a rehabilitative process and it is not a parole hearing, this is part of the sentencing, so it is actually quite difficult to say, in terms of justice, why remorse at the time of sentencing is so important. The practical effect of coercing a show of remorse from a convict is that it forces that person, and often their supporters, to readjust their narrative and to reify the Truth established by the court.

One of the strangest parts of the ritual, from my perspective at least, is the breadth which judges give themselves in rendering judgements. At this point in the proceedings there can be no objections or arguments. It is pure soliloquy. It is quite normal for judges to tell those found guilty what their motives were, what they were thinking, and what they feel currently, as if the judge were some form of omniscient telepath.

As with everything here, I do not have to delve deep into the past to find exemplars. A case I find problematic is that of Gustav Sanft who killed his 2 year-old daughter. At sentencing just a few days ago as I write his wife pleaded: “I know people want to see Gustav punished for this accident, I see it everyday in him that he punishes himself. All I can ask is have mercy on Gustav. Our babies need their daddy at home, that is where he belongs.” The judge, however, decided that Sanft was not experiencing real remorse but rather “self-pity”. He sentenced him to 4 years and 4 months imprisonment.

The judge said: “Your denial you pulled the trigger is something you have latched onto, perhaps to help explain to yourself, and others, the terrible consequences of that morning.” This leaves us with two unpalatable options. One is that the judge, despite feeling at liberty to characterise the mental states of others, is so ignorant that he is unaware of the effect of adrenaline on short-term memory. If Sanft did pull the trigger there is no reason at all to expect that he would remember doing so. The other option is that the judge doesn’t actually care what Sanft believes. Either way, the emphasis on this detail is disturbing. The prosecution did not rely on his having pulled the trigger and the jury’s verdict does not confirm the fact.

If Sanft were more calculating and cold-blooded he might simply have told the judge what he thought the judge wanted to hear. Ultimately he cannot be considered more guilty of the original crime because he refuses to admit to something he may not even remember. I cannot say what sentence might have been given if Sanft had admitted the act, but the judge himself has made it seem that a very important factor in sentencing is submission to the judgement of the court. It is hard not to feel that what is required of Sanft is not completely different to an auto-da-fé – the public penance required and coerced from those condemned by the Inquisition which reinforced to onlookers the righteousness and honesty of the convictions and subsequent punishments.

Michel Foucault opens Disclipline et Punir with the horrifying theatrical spectacle of the public execution by torture of an attempted regicide. Foucault made the case that the theatrics of power did not disappear with penological reform, they just became more regular and less overtly objectionable. In that much, at least, he is correct. Much of this ritualised display is a show of power designed to maintain and reproduce the power that is exercised.

The Disconnect

We understand that the outcomes of our criminal justice system are measurably and demonstrably bad. The individual stories of those caught in the system, though most people are blissfully ignorant of them, can be extremely harrowing. People’s punishment may lead to much greater suffering than the crime they committed. In most cases the family of prisoners suffer despite not having committed a crime, and the cost to the taxpayer is excessive – stealing from the sort of spending that might be genuinely helpful to people.

We acknowledge these harms yet we seem to think that the basic system doesn’t need fixing. It has been more than 250 years since Cesare Beccaria wrote On Crimes and Punishments, and yet in many ways we have not yet lived up to his vision of a humane system in which punishments served rational utilitarian purposes. Perhaps it is an impossibility; punishment and humane rationality may not be not reconcilable.

We need to end the vestiges of noxious feudalism within our court system, but to do that we may have to go further. We need to end the fictions of guilt and innocence and the even more dangerous fiction that we can safely create an absolute Truth and justly act as if doubt does not persist. We need to move beyond our primitive senses of vengeance and reciprocity and recognise that punishment is never just.

We need to abolish prisons. It may be that some people must be specifically prevented from harming others, but in the vast majority of cases we know that imprisoning some people is not a way to prevent harm.

Even in a case of “preventive detention”, which aims at the specific incapacitation of those who are deemed an unavoidable danger to others, we have seen recently that the criminal justice system may enable crime instead of preventing it. In another NZ case that was in the headlines just days ago, a man who had been sentenced to preventive detention after having been convicted of raping (on separate occasions) a woman and a girl was found to have subsequently raped three cellmates. One was repeatedly raped for a week. Another was knocked unconscious and then raped. The man threatened to kill his victims and told them he had nothing to lose because he was a “lifer” due to his preventive detention sentence. In other words the attempt at incapacitation seems to have actually become a factor leading to the violence.

The double-bunking that facilitated these rapes was introduced under Minister Judith Collins who dismissed concerns over rape, then later made a prison rape joke (as did the PM of the time John Key). These details reveal that the most “law and order” minded people are ultimately, if unconsciously, concerned about social order, not justice. The very reason that they are so assured in their “tough on crime” stances is that they have a Manichean view of Us “good” people and Them “bad” people. Such people often commit crimes, quite serious ones, but they don’t consider themselves to be criminals. Criminals are the racial and class Other. The baddies from the cop shows.

Prisons are a mechanisms of social control, one of the ways that the neoliberal state is keeping lower class people in their place as the system begins to fail them. You might think that if we get rid of prisons, change the court system, and if we stop singling out some as the officially Guilty, then we will have a sense of broad impunity that will lead to a lawless orgy. It is a challenge, true. Yet we are almost all criminals, and we accept as a matter of course that those who have committed the most heinous acts must continue to live among us. Some, particularly rapists, will never even have to talk to a policeman. So may be acquitted because of reasonable doubt rather than innocence. Some will have been convicted, but apart from a very small number who die in prison, those people will still be part of society. Prisons can’t change that. They can and do make things worse in a number of ways.

The problems of the criminal justice system, and the politics and power behind the discourse of criminal justice, are absolutely pervasive. I can almost take exemplars from the headlines of any day on which I am which I write on the issue, and indeed I did so. There is no cherry-picking here, this gross injustice is the daily reality of our society and it needs to change.

This has been my idiosyncratic argument for abolition; born of my frustration at the half-arsed bullshit that journalists keep spouting; born of my frustration at all the things never talked about, the assumptions and the complacency. I hope it adds new dimensions, but I should also point out to readers that there are far more developed views out there. Abolitionism has a very long history with many renowned proponents such as Emma Goldman, Nils Christie, Ruth Morris and Angela Davis. I urge readers to engage with the prison abolition movement, including People Against Prisons Aotearoa. The costs of not abolishing prisons are growing.

Advertisements

It is not “Ridiculous” to Reject Hillary, Part 2: Bride of the Monster

Standard

bride

In Part 1 of this article I argued that the 2016 US presidential race is the Alien vs. Predator election. The joke, which is at the expense of everyone on this planet, is that they are both aliens and both predators. Many ordinary people understand the situation perfectly well. A South Carolina real estate billboard shows Trump and Clinton and reads: “Moving to Canada? We can sell your home.” Even a month ago you could read this Onionesque headline at The Hill: “Poll: 13 percent prefer meteor hitting earth over Clinton, Trump”. It is even heard “out of the mouths of babes”. My 11 year-old daughter and her friend just told me a joke they heard in school:

Q: Clinton and Trump are together in a plane crash, who survives?

A: America.

Many ordinary US folks get it. They understand. Some may grit their teeth and vote for Clinton, but most people do not have positive feelings about her. A small number of others feel the same about Trump and argue that he is actually the lesser evil. I will return to that subject later.

Clinton and Trump are much more similar to each other than they are to any ordinary mortals. The Clintons are estimated to be worth $110 million in wealth. Trump is clearly also obscenely rich (even if it is partly delusional). It is widely known that Ivanka Trump and Chelsea Clinton are friends, but Bill and Donald are much closer than people think. In 2012 Clinton said of Trump: “I like him. And I love playing golf with him,” and Trump called Clinton “a really good guy”.

The other link between Bill and Donald is their mutual friend, the paedophile billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. It is very important, if indirect, evidence that Clinton and Trump inhabit an elite sociopathic world where ordinary people’s lives are insignificant and expendable. People might think I am making the following stuff up, so I will simply quote from named news sources:

Daily Wire: “Both presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton have ties to convicted pedophile and Democratic donor, billionaire Jeffery Epstein and ‘Sex Slave Island.’”

Fox: “Former President Bill Clinton was a much more frequent flyer on a registered sex offender’s infamous jet than previously reported, with flight logs showing the former president taking at least 26 trips aboard the “Lolita Express” — even apparently ditching his Secret Service detail for at least five of the flights, according to records obtained by FoxNews.com.

The tricked-out jet earned its Nabakov-inspired nickname because it was reportedly outfitted with a bed where passengers had group sex with young girls…

New York magazine: “’I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,’ Trump booms from a speakerphone. ‘He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.’” [This is from 2002. The investigation leading to Epstein’s conviction for child-sex offences began 3 years later.]

VICE: “In 2010, Epstein pled the Fifth when asked by a lawyer representing one of Epstein’s victims about his relationship with Trump: ….
Q. Have you ever socialized with Donald Trump in the presence of females under the age of 18?
A: Though I’d like to answer that question, at least today I’m going to have to assert my Fifth, Sixth, and 14th Amendment rights, sir.”

Epstein was also allegedly involved as the procurer of the 13 year-old who was allegedly raped by Trump in Epstein’s apartment. As both Lisa Bloom and Drew Salisbury point out, these are not accusations that can be dismissed out of hand.

Hillary Clinton cannot wash her hands of Bill’s record of sexual violence, in part because her denials have helped him escape the consequences. Particularly damaging is Juanita Broaddrick’s belief that Hillary tried to ensure her silence after Bill almost certainly raped Broaddrick in 1978. The National Review reports: “Juanita Broaddrick’s claim was supported by not one but five witnesses and a host of circumstantial (though no physical) evidence.” The allegation seems difficult to deny because Broaddrick never voluntarily came forward. Rather, she was served with a subpoena and then taped without her knowledge after years of rumours. Hillary’s approach to this has been to brazen it out in a frankly Trumpian show of denial: “On December 3, a couple of weeks after Clinton tweeted, ‘Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported, ‘a woman at an event in Hooksett, New Hampshire, asked, ‘Secretary Clinton, you recently came out to say that all rape victims should be believed. But would you say that Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones be believed as well?’ Clinton replied, ‘Well, I would say that everyone should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence.’ The audience applauded.”

These rape allegations are symptomatic of an aristocratic system in which Marie Antoinette would feel at home. Epstein, for example, received a secret “sweetheart” non-prosecution deal from the FBI and only served 13 months. There is no equality under the law and many ordinary people are becoming acutely conscious of the divide between Us and Them.

A good argument can be made that voting for Trump or Clinton is essentially exactly the same thing. They are friends, peers, comrades and co-conspirators. Trump puts on a good show of dirty negative campaigning, but remember that this guy really does come from the entertainment world and even from pro-wrestling. His CV includes “body-slamming, beating and shaving” WWE owner Vince McMahon, and anyone who doesn’t at least entertain some doubts about the sincerity of his campaigning trash-talk is simply refusing to see what is in front of them. It is possible that this invective is just his natural way of being, but if that is true then he isn’t actually sincere in anything he does. The only question is whether he remains friends with the Clintons after this campaign.

We have now reached a point where both of these super-rich aristos are campaigning for the votes of the working class. Trump knows that he gets far more votes campaigning against trade liberalisation than he does by pushing xenophobia, and it was a key component of his recent speech in Detroit (though he did promise jobs to “titties like… Detroit” instead of “cities”). But he mixed “fiscal conservative” tax-cut rhetoric with anti-trade-deal rhetoric in a way that was unconvincing. Trump runs as an outsider and a maverick, but so has every Republican candidate since 1996. He decries Clinton as a creature of Wall St., but his own economic team includes several billionaires including financier John Paulson.

In essence Trump and Clinton also have identical stances on the TPP, a point that should give as much pause to Clinton supporters as to Trump supporters. Tim Kaine, who went against most Senate Democrats in support of TPP “fast-track” authority and defended the decision hours before being nominated as VP candidate, stands out because his flip-flop objections to the TPP (a transparent ploy to dilute the left-wing anger against his nomination) differ sharply from Trump and Clinton in that they reference unfairness in practical, ethical, and moral terms. Clinton’s TPP stance agrees with Trump’s and his implication that the problem with the TPP is that US negotiators were outsmarted and outmanoeuvred by us cunning foreigners with our underhanded slyness. Indeed, while some of us here in Aotearoa are wondering why our government is signing us up to a pact which will hurt and alienate our biggest trading partner (China), Trump is saying that the TPP “was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone.” The media don’t particularly care to highlight the fact, but Clinton has stuck to the same risible line: “We can not let rules of origin allow China — or anyone else, but principally China — to go around trade agreements. It’s one of the reasons why I oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership because when I saw what was in it, it was clear to me there were too many loopholes, too many opportunities for folks to be taken advantage of.”

Understanding the dynamics of these elections, and the ramifications of taking one stance or another, cannot be reduced to “candidate X says they support A and I support A, therefore I support X”, but our journalists and pundits are simply not capable of dealing with the reality of the politics we have to live with.

Broadcaster Paul Jay (who would much prefer Clinton as POTUS than Trump) put his finger on something when he observed that people should choose the lesser evil but “the problem is… they don’t call them the ‘lesser evil’; they start saying good things about them.”

Trump and Clinton are both vicious parasitic lifeforms too loathsome for people to bear in ordinary circumstances, but the people’s instincts are blunted and confuted by a journalistic and academic culture that gets stuck in half-think. Half-think, I should explain, is the process by which some people take the surface appearance of things and then apply fatuous received wisdom. Half-thinkers apply pre-fabricated generalities to any situation in order to make all things conform to an established ideology of complacent authoritarianism. Thus, when the common plebeians of Pompeii became alarmed by a smoking mountain and shaking ground they were probably reassured by one of their social betters: “Well actually, according the Greek authorities on such phenomena, belching is a healthy response for the human body and if the earth itself should belch it is surely a good omen. Quod erat demonstrandaaaaaaaah!”

Those who use half-think gain a sense of superior education and intellect, having gone past the mere vulgar issues of “plain fact” and “common sense”. However, this is no process of interrogation in which the half-thinker delves beneath the surface. It is an unthinking response that can be arrived at instantaneously, or sheltered behind over a long period. The half-thinker simply grabs onto any generality which they can pass off as being an educated insight in order to defend the status quo. That is to say that half-think is used to defend racism, inequality, war, state violence and so forth. It is fundamentally conservative in nature and often revolves around defending the indefensible because it is natural, unavoidable, part of human nature, or what anyone would expect of any “red-blooded male”.

I mention all of this because in times of political and social decadence and dysfunction, half-thinkers will always do their best to convince people that there is “nothing to see here”. Chris Trotter, who readers may remember from Part 1, has been employing the phrase politics is the “art of the possible” as a kind of snobby way of blocking his ears and going “lalalalala I’m not listening, I’m not listening lalalalala”. On one hand he is using a commonplace generality to assert something that he could never safely assert in specific reference to Clinton herself, and on the other hand, in doing so, he is performing the standard half-think trick of making remarkable things unremarkable.

I do agree with the half-thinkers on one thing, because they believe that there is nothing new under the sun. Where I differ from the half-thinkers is that for them this means: Western liberalism is the acme of civilisation; the people in charge are there for a reason; the police are doing their best in a difficult situation; North Korea is a rogue nation; ordinary people are dangerously stupid; Putin is a villain; our politicians mean well; you have to have a seat at the table to enact real change.

Half-thinkers like Trotter never examine their assumptions, they just use safety in numbers to avoid being challenged. They use their compatibility with power to keep real intellectuals at the margins.

In contrast to Trotter, Luciana Bohne, compares Clinton to Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha: “the one who chews broken bottles and kills rats with her teeth.” She casts Trump as Charybdis, “a huge bladder of a creature whose face was all mouth and whose arms and legs were flippers”, and Clinton as the Basilisk. “I’m raving, you say? This is the Age of Empire, and empire breeds monsters.”

Bohne’s imagery is extravagant because her eyes are open and the times demand it. Man-eating giants are striding the land stuffing screaming peasants in their maw by the handful, like so many jelly-babies, and people like Trotter are saying: “What giants? I can only see windmills and people have always been crunched up in windmill accidents. It is nothing new. Yelling about it will only cause more windmill deaths.”

Trotter wants us to be practical, but is his business-as-usual, vote-for-the-lesser-evil-then-appeal-to-her-progressive-principles actually practical? Or is it based on Panzaist delusions that turn a bloodthirsty mass-muderer into a well-meaning advocate of the rights of children? To counter cliché with cliché, is supporting Clinton the “art of the possible” or is it sticking your head in the sand?

Trotter doesn’t simply rely on the threat of Trump to argue that the US electorate should settle for Hillary, he also claims “This was the battle that Bernie won. As he told the Convention: ‘This is the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party!’ Yes, he endorsed Hillary, but in doing so he took care to bind her to that progressive platform with chains of rhetorical steel.”

In reality the platform is fatally flawed. Cornel West abstained from passing the platform because it did not oppose the TPP, acknowledge the occupation of Palestine as an occupation, or call for universal healthcare: “I have no other moral option”, he explained. Worse still, by stating “we will not hesitate to take military action if Iran violates the agreement”, the platform is advocating illegal aggression. The US has no right to take military action if Iran breaks its nuclear deal. Moreover the threat of a war with Iran horrifies most of the US public, particularly Democrats, so slipping a phrase like that in without mass protest shows how US exceptionalism and these “lesser evil” oligarchic politics create a massive and dangerous cognitive dissonance.

Even if the platform did have stronger and less ambiguous commitments, it is still nothing more than rhetoric. In the US system, there is no comeback for an administration or a caucus that does not abide by a platform. The platform means nothing. Obama entered his first term with Democrats in control of both houses of Congress so the 2008 Democratic platform should have been more binding than ever, right? Here are some of my favourite excerpts from that 2008 platform so you can judge for yourself:

* “We believe that the people of Puerto Rico have the right to the political status of their choice, obtained through a fair, neutral, and democratic process of self-determination. The White House and Congress will work with all groups in Puerto Rico to enable the question of Puerto Rico’s status to be resolved during the next four years.” [Under the Obama administration Puerto Rico has just been stripped even further of self-determination and been placed under similar governance to that which worked so well for Flint, Mi.]

* “We support equal rights to democratic self-government and congressional representation for the citizens of our nation’s capital.” [For the actual situation here is John Oliver’s rant]

* “We will close the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay,….” [No comment]

* “We support constitutional protections and judicial oversight on any surveillance program involving Americans.” [LOL]

* “Working together, we can cut poverty in half within ten years. We will provide all our children a world-class education, from early childhood through college.” [Data from Feb. 2015: “The official poverty rate is 14.5%, meaning 45.3 million people in the US live in poverty, up by over 8 million since 2008. An additional 97.3 million (33%) of people living in the United States are low-income, defined as incomes below twice the federal poverty line, or $47,700 for a family of four. Taken together, this means that 48% of the US population is poor or low income, 1 in every 2 people. More than 1 in 5 children in America (21.8%) are living under the official poverty line. Half of all children will be on food stamps before they turn 20, including 9 out of 10 African American children. ]

* “To renew American leadership in the world, we must first bring the Iraq war to a responsible end. … At the same time, we will provide generous assistance to Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons. We will launch a comprehensive regional and international diplomatic surge to help broker a lasting political settlement in Iraq, which is the only path to a sustainable peace. We will make clear that we seek no permanent bases in Iraq. We will encourage Iraq’s government to devote its oil revenues and budget surplus to reconstruction and development.” [The US just announced 400 more troops deploying to Iraq: “Last month, President Obama raised the “cap” on the number of ground troops in Iraq to 4,647. This cap has become something of a running joke, as the Pentagon has repeatedly admitted to having well more troops than that. Most recent estimates have over 6,000 US ground troops in Iraq already, before this new deployment.”]

The 2008 Democratic Party platform also promised to end nuclear weapons, whereas Obama has launched the biggest nuclear weapons programme since the Cold War. They promised to institute transparent government, but “transparency” and the FOIA system has become even more of a farce than under Bush II. Redactions are so commonplace and arbitrary that they release whole redacted pages that now have “redactions within redactions”, as if redacting something once is not enough any more.

So much for this year’s allegedly “progressive” platform, but we are still left with the major practical argument that supporting Clinton is necessary to stop Trump, even if she is not a desirable leader in her own accord. There are several important assumptions behind that which should be interrogated. One: can Trump win, and under what circumstances? Two: does supporting Clinton actually help stop Trump? Three: is Trump actually worse than Clinton? Four: balancing all these factors and more, what are the practical repercussions of supporting Clinton?

Like most people, I am frightened of what Trump might unleash on the world, but I have become much more relaxed on the specific subject of him winning the Presidency. All things being equal, Trump really doesn’t have a chance simply because this is a negative election (where the vote is decided on whom you most hate) and Trump alienates more people in swing states, while Clinton alienates people in populous safe Democrat states. In practical terms, as Rik Andino has pointed out, it is hard, if not impossible, to see a scenario in which Trump wins 50% of electoral college votes.

Since Clinton’s nomination, Trump is looking even less viable. In fact, with Clinton’s nomination it was as if a switch was thrown and suddenly the media that had previously made it seem that Trump could get away with murder, found his standard daily outrages now damaging and intolerable. Tellingly, it all began with him saying of Gazala Khan: “Maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me, but plenty of people have written that.” Suddenly this typical Trump comment was unacceptable, with news reports switching from telling people that Trump can say these things with impunity to running pompous features like this Guardian piece about how the dead “hero” Humayun Khan “could derail his campaign”.

Meanwhile, Trump has plummeted in the polls. Even previously safe Republican states , like Georgia, seem to be leaning towards Clinton. In Republican Arizona Clinton now leads in the polls. On the one hand this might seem to be expected in a state that is nearly 30% Hispanic, but on the other, Arizona has a history of supporting some extremely Trumpish policies including the notorious SB 1070 “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act”. This is widely felt to have encouraged racial profiling and was formally opposed by 11 other states, Mexico, large numbers of Obama administration officials and Obama himself, law enforcement heads, 68 national members of Congress, and dozens of human rights and civil liberties organisations. The state also banned successful Mexican-American studies programmes after Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal had been horrified to find that “they were portraying Ben Franklin as a racist”, and “they got a poster of Che Guevara.” Many books were banned from schools including important texts from James Baldwin, Isabelle Allende, and Howard Zinn along with Chicano writers that include some of the most important literary and scholarly figures in Arizona itself. They banned Martin Luther King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, and the novelist and professor Manuel Muñoz is banned in the school just across the street from where he lectures.

In Maricopa County, which is home to 4.2 million of Arizona’s 6.8 million population, SB 1070 was welcomed by 4 term “toughest Sheriff in America” Joe Arpaio. To call Arpaio controversial simply cannot do justice to his proven hatefulness, dishonesty, sadism, xenophobia (or crypto-racism), corruption and abuse of power. Arpaio is a Trump supporter who makes Trump himself seem like Mahatma Gandhi. I cannot detail his impressive record of lunacy, so I will take the unusual step of recommending this section of his Wikipedia page.

Arizonan’s have stuck with Arpaio through thick and thicker. They voted for a State Congress that banned hundreds of books from schools and a Senate that passed SB 1070. Yet they are turning away from Trump (perhaps they are also belatedly having qualms about their “tough” sheriff). It really doesn’t bode well for Trump’s bid for the White House.

There is also the question of how serious Trump is in his Presidential bid. From the beginning, on an escalator, his campaign has played out like a prolonged amateurish publicity stunt. A tax specialist who examined the possible reasons that Trump would continue to refuse to release his tax returns could only conclude: “Donald Trump will not publish his tax returns because he does not expect to be President, or at best has not internalized what becoming President actually entails. Trump’s tax return strategy is directed at a future in which he is not President, but is an even richer self-promoter.” More recently still, Representative André Carson (D-Ind.) claimed that Trump is “trying to sabotage himself to clear the way for President Clinton”: “It appears as if he knows he will not be the next President of the United States, so he’s trying to sabotage this thing because he’s not used to losing.”

Perhaps it is irrelevant whether Trump really wants to win or not. Trump is a threat and he has the potential to unleash violence upon the world, but it does not follow that supporting Clinton lessens that threat. As Kshama Sawant (a socialist city councillor from Seattle) suggested on Democracy Now!, if people to the left of Clinton give her their support out of fear, then they will drive masses of ordinary people into Trump’s camp. It is actually the politics of the lesser evil that have given us Trump. What is more Trump is not necessarily going anywhere.

If Trump is just playing a game, using extremist rhetoric to stampede people into the Clinton camp (like a sheepdog, but with rabies) then an electoral loss may or may not mean the end of Trump’s political career. If Trump is earnest, however, then everything we know about him suggests that he will not accept defeat in the way we have come to expect. Defeated major party Presidential candidates have a tendency to recede like clumps of rotting matter back into the roiling mire of party politics, thereafter surfacing occasionally or not at all. But Trump, if he is what he appears to be, will not accept defeat. He has repeatedly claimed in advance that the election will be rigged and one of his Republican Party supporters warned that there will be a “bloodbath” if he loses in November.

People are understandably concerned that Trump’s loaded language, such as his recent hint about “2nd amendment people” taking action, will inspire political violence, but let’s keep this in perspective: Trump may inspire some lone nutcases, but whoever is next President will be killing thousands of people with the US military.

The most tangible and certain fact about the Trump campaign is that his campaign is shifting the discourse of politics altogether. From that perspective it fits a long tradition of pushing rightwards, of increasing oversimplification, of increasing extremism, of increasing self-righteous chauvinism, and of decreasing empathy. It is a slow drift into what can best be described as a type of fascism. It is a one-way street, a ratchet system that can only go towards fascism and never away from it (though it may feature socially liberally aspects which are very different from historical fascism). The thing that makes this drift so certain and unremitting is the politics of the lesser evil. Democrat and Republican leaders have been playing Good Cop/Bad Cop since the Reagan years. The very logic of the lesser evil ensures that each new election cycle will see both greater and lesser evils being more evil than the last time around. We might worry about what Trump might hypothetically do if he takes office, but this is an effect that we know he is having. It is happening now and supporting Clinton only strengthens the shift towards a more encompassing and total fascism.

Not only does supporting Clinton empower Trump’s transformation of politics (bearing in mind that Trump and Clinton are merely the latest in a line of electoral double-acts), but some people see Trump as the lesser evil. Anthony Monteiro, for example, is an activist and African-American studies scholar linked to Black Agenda Report and Counterpunch: “His positions come as close to the working class as you’re going to get.” Talking to Don Debar and Glen Ford he says “he is to the left of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama….” He and others like him point out that Clinton is supported by the neoconservatives, Wall St., the military-industrial-complex, and appears much closer to overt plutocrats like the Koch brothers than Trump.

Those who see Trump as the lesser evil point out that Hillary Clinton is an undeniable war hawk, whilst Trump is an advocate of détente. Clinton has a public and undenianble track record of advocating, supporting, and committing war crimes that is far more significant from any perspective (including a feminist perspective) than Trump’s overt misogyny and probable history as a rapist. But then again, Trump is a monster, so treating him as the lesser evil is no more sensible than treating Clinton as the lesser evil.

Listening to Anthony Monteiro talk about Trump is exactly like listening to apologists for Clinton. The polemic follows exactly the same formula for either: Find the positive things and avoid testing them to see of they actually make sense; point out how scary the opponent is; state that there really are good reasons to treat the nicer rhetoric as substantive (like “chains of rhetorical steel”); find some reason to say that unlike the opponent this particular very rich powerful establishment figure is actually on the side of the common people; don’t mention the long public record that shows your candidate is against the common people (but do mention the corresponding record of the opposing candidate); et cetera.

In the end it is impossible to support Clinton or Trump in good conscience and that in itself is a practical consideration. Trump supporters should be aware of his extensive record of scams, lies and ties to organised crime. David Cay Johnston, for example, has been reporting on Trump for 27 years: he is not some stooge for the Clinton campaign; he isn’t protecting Wall St. from the new champion of Joe Lunchbox (quite the opposite really); he just reports that Trump has a long ongoing close working relationship with organised crime and reaches the conclusion (which is amply supported by evidence) that Trump is a dangerous “world-class narcissist”.

I am personally less interested in the individual character of a candidate than in the political dynamic that they create and that would result form their taking office. From that perspective Trump is terrifying. Almost everything that Trump says stokes anger. He is not only inflaming aggrieved white male entitlement syndrome, he is appealing to all who believe in US exceptionalism. He paints a picture of a noble and strong USA belittled and persecuted by inferior foreigners. This trope has historical roots from 19th century nationalism that continue through Fascism and Nazism. In the US context the conceit was a staple of the most violent hard-line Cold Warriors, but went mainstream under Ronald Reagan. Most relevant to Trump, however, was when it was used to justify one of the greatest war crimes of the 20th century by Richard Nixon – the invasion of Cambodia, which was followed by bombing that killed hundreds of thousands and is significantly responsible for the Khmer Rouge takeover and subsequent autogenocide. Nixon justified his act of aggression by saying that if the US “acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.”

Trump is openly Nixonian, which again suggests that he is not very serious about winning the Presidency. Aides avowed that Trump’s nomination acceptance speech was modelled on Nixon’s 1968 acceptance speech. There are many similar themes, but in fact Trump’s speech was far more alarmist and negative, and thus more inflammatory. The scariest thing for me is that Nixon’s speech was a launching pad for a campaign of right-wing authoritarian law-and-order at home combined with a crucial promise of “peace with honor” abroad. Trump 2016 and Nixon 1968 are part of a US tradition of loudly avowing peace in an election campaign when you are set on war. Other examples include Wilson’s 1916 slogan “He Kept US Out of the War” and Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 declaration “we are not about to send American boys 9 or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves”. Nison’s “Peace with honor” meant 7 more years of war, in which millions died. Incidentally Nixon had recruited the Democrat and liberal Henry Kissinger (who was on LBJ’s staff at the time) to sabotage the 1968 Paris peace talks thus guranteeing more war.

Another war hawk who donned the election-year dove suit was George W. Bush. He opposed military over-commitment and nation building. He said, “I just don’t think it’s the role of the United States to walk into another country and say: ‘We do it this way, so should you!’” Trump has reprised Bush’s semi-isolationist pragmatic deal-maker rhetoric in its entirety. People seem to have forgotten that this was the platform on which Bush campaigned because he did exactly the opposite when he was in office but that should be a lesson about how we really need to view political rhetoric. Rhetoric has meaning, but it is not as simple as equating an expressed wish with an actual desiure or inclination. Sometimes it means exactly the opposite. In taking the same pragmatic dove stance (which does not reject chauvinist patriotism or exceptionalism) Trump is positioning himself exactly as Bush, Johnson, Wilson and Nixon did. He is stating a desire for peace in order to create political space to wage war.

Choosing between Trump and Clinton is a lot like choosing between Nixon and Kissinger. Clinton is unashamedly close to Kissinger and is rumoured to be seeking his endorsement. Clinton and Trump, by their positive referrals to the widely loathed Nixon and Kissinger, are showing how contemptuous they both are of ordinary people.

I tend to see Trump as more dangerous, but someone responded to my stance by pointing out that Clinton is more dangerous because she would have bipartisan support for waging war. In parliamentary terms (not in terms of public opinion) this is certainly true and may or may not become crucial to the future of the world. GOP senators and congressional representatives will support every military adventure, every increase in surveillance and secrecy, every assassination, every arms deal, and so forth. Like Tony Blair in the UK, the only legislative opposition that Clinton will face will come from a weak sub-group of her own party. So as well as being like the choice between Nixon and Kissinger, this election presents a choice akin to voting either for Tony Blair or George W. Bush: one is unstoppable because she has captured and controls the one party that might oppose her warmongering, the other is unstoppable because he has created the space to govern as a partisan rogue who is not subject to congressional restraint or restraint by public opinion.

In the final analysis, any acquiescence to Trump or Clinton is a grovelling surrender to a sick slave-master who is demanding that we eat a pile of steaming dog turds. People like Chris Trotter lick their lips at the prospect and expect us to do the same, but how can supporting for Clinton not be an act of self-debasement? The FBI, predictably, decided not to prosecute her even though it is clear from their account that they believe that she committed a serious crime, but their account contradicts what Clinton said on three occasions under oath. As Clinton will be aware, that perjury makes her eminently impeachable, which really should have ended her presidential run then and there. How can people be expected to vote for someone who could be impeached on the moment she takes office? Now she is involved in a “pay-to-play” scandal from her time in the State Department that, among other things, is the perfect example of why her attempt to keep her emails private was a serious crime. Clinton will enter office with a number of unresolved scandals that should disqualify her. The worst thing is that she will probably do so with impunity, revealing that she is above the law and that people like her can openly mock the law. To support Clinton is to support demockracy [sic] – the farce of elections that are used to legitimate an actual kakistocracy.

Chris Trotter recently compared Clinton to F. D. Roosevelt and claimed that the US role in Libya was just lending “support to British and French efforts in the UN Security Council to provide air support to Libyan rebels fighting Muamma Gaddafi.” He is coming very close to simple outright lying and seems completely unfazed by the masses of negative comments he receives and equally disinclined to answer any of the arguments and evidence presented within them.

I agree with Paul Jay that our best hope for the future is that Clinton becomes President, but then becomes the immediate focus for discontent and agitation. If we support Clinton (by “we” I mean those of us who know more than what is fed to us by a mendacious system of mass media) we will undermine our own future. Mumia Abu Jamal said “If Trump is the price we have to pay to defeat Clintonian neoliberalism – so be it.” I want to suggest that Trump is not likely to become POTUS and the we already pay the price of having Trump in our world. The real issue whether we are willing to risk an outside chance of a Trump presidency, or whether we will be self-defeating losers who let ourselves be spooked by the scary clown. People in the US and outside need to gear up to oppose the next President, whoever she may be.

Many Trump supporters are like Brexit supporters who, as Jonathan Pie pointed out, made an almost rationally irrational decision to choose a self-destructive hopeless gamble over the certainty of slow neoliberal degradation. They weren’t really being offered a choice, because the entire referendum was framed so that voting stay would be taken as an endorsement of the wider status quo. US voters are faced with a similar non-choice. Clinton’s election will be taken as a mandate for war, empire and neoliberalism. Moreover, if people do not make a show of rejecting both Trump and Clinton it will validate and consolidate the demockracy. It will be a watershed in the slow murder of democracy, perhaps not as irremediable as the 1932 Nazi electoral victory, but a definite goose-step in the same direction.

As a long-standing student of US history and wars, this election reeks to me of the election before a major war. I suspect that we will be tested by the next administration and our responses will write the future for us and our children. The distinction between war abroad and war at home has always been blurry and it looks like becoming much more so. The US is heading back into the Middle East at a time when conflict in the Middle East and North Africa is metastasising and consolidating into a single historic bloodletting.

It is time to ask the question, which side are you on? Supporting Trump could be hateful or delusional or simply the product of desperation, but supporting Clinton (even out of fear) is a clear endorsement of neoliberalism, neoconservatism and empire. Do you think that your hatred of Trump can justify supporting the killing of tens of thousands in the Middle East? the suffering of tens of millions as whole countries are slowly ground up and turned into failed states to maintain US hegemony? the immiseration of hundreds of millions as neoliberalism continues its march towards a nightmare future? If you choose Clinton, whether you are witting or only half-witting, you are the enemy of humanity.



My Conspiracy Against the UK Government

Standard

union_jack_1

I started a conspiracy to harm Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (HMGUKGB&NI). I wanted to deal as much damage to them as possible so I conspired with a poet to plant an explosive and incendiary petition right in the heart of their own website. It was a petition to make the UK Government respond or debate the question of appearing before the International Court of Justice and allowing it to rule on the case of the Chagos Archipelago.

At issue is the terrible injustice to the Chagossians and their descendants who were arbitrarily evicted from their homeland with trickery or brutality. It was the US that decided the negative repercussions of this crime were a reasonable price to pay for a completely depopulated archipelago in which to put a naval and air base. The US gave the order to their British subordinates in a now notorious 3 word telegram: “ABSOLUTELY MUST GO”.

At issue also are the rights of Mauritius. The UK broke international law by detaching Chagos in the lead-up to decolonisation but refuses to have the question adjudicated. Her Majesty’s Government takes the position that Chagos will be returned to Mauritius once the islands are no longer required for “defence” purposes. So far they have “needed” Chagos for 50 years and there is absolutely no reason to believe that they will not “need” the military base on the island of Diego Garcia for another 50 years.

The plight of the islanders, who continue to live in deprivation, is a worthy cause, but we allow it to distract us from what is most important. Our natural sympathies and our psychology as activists is used to make the issue into a lightning rod. We pour our energy into that, and the UK Government directs it safely away from its edifice of imperial violence. Ultimately this is not only turning our backs on the victims of US military violence, it is also useless to the Chagossians. The fact is that no one can argue against the proposition that an injustice was perpetrated against the Chagossians, but they and their supporters are forced to fight the same battle over and over again, and each time they win it gains them nothing. To understand why we need to understand that human rights discourse is dominated by establishment voices who are unquestioningly subservient to power.

Take the example of this educator and human rights professional. She writes:

Considering the crucial importance of the military base for the USA and having in mind all the conflicts that are currently taking place in the Middle East and Asia and those that might be coming soon, it is difficult to believe that even if the Chagossians win again, they would be allowed for real to resettle the islands again.

The case of the Chagossians is interesting precisely because of its complexity and the many factors that have to be taken into consideration when examining it: the interests of both American and British governments, international politics, diplomacy and security, are most certainly factors that could not just be disregarded. So how do human rights enter the picture? Are they taken into consideration when they are opposed to international security? Could they change the course of events? They should definitely influence it. And here comes the question – is something as important as international security worth risking, so that human rights are not violated?

This creates a false dichotomy between human rights and “international security”. The author clearly cedes precedence to security as the superior concern, but without devoting even a single atom of examination to what it might mean. The embedded presumption is that the US and UK can unilaterally decide what constitutes “security” and that their actions are necessarily in favour of “international security”. On a very basic level this violates logic by suggesting that killing people and wreaking destruction in a region geographically distant from both countries is somehow in the service of “security” when there can be no immediate threat from the victims of that violence and destruction. If that basic flaw is unconvincing then there is the fact that US/UK interventions in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia seem to have spawned incredible amounts of insecurity. If “security” is defined as being the physical security of human beings, or even UK citizens, it seems quite a stretch in these times of instability and crisis to say that US/UK military actions have been in the service of security, but to simply stipulate that this is the case without even giving some form of argumentation is ludicrous and unforgivable nonsense.

The political discourse of UK foreign affairs relies on unchallenged assumptions and areas of inquiry where silence is enforced. Like their US counterparts the UK establishment cultivates and inhabits a world of parochial narrow-mindedness and mirror-blindness where they never need to ask themselves why they consider it their right to take lands and resources from others by force. The assumptions are based on exceptionalist notions that presume a fundamental benevolence of nature and benevolence of purpose as the foundations of Western civilisation. These assumptions take on the character of articles of faith and challenges to those articles are greeted with hostility as being heresy. For those that would oppose unjust actions by HMGUKGB&NI it is made much easier to challenge on narrow grounds by suggesting that a particular crime is an exception, while they affirm the rule. That is why it is acceptable to criticise the UK for injustices perpetrated on the Chagosians or even on Mauritius, but it is not permissible to state that their purposes in doing so are themselves criminal, arrogant, imperialistic, militaristic, illegitimate and morally repugnant. In fact even bringing up the subject is offensive, because the facts are so clear. The UK has no right to be in the Indian Ocean and no right to use territory there in support of killing people in the Middle East and Africa.

It is easy to see, therefore, why well-meaning people are attracted to the easy option of treating the issue of the Chagos Islands as separate from the acts of mass violence that are facilitated by the base at Diego Garcia, but it becomes a trap, The callousness of the treatment of those deprived of a homeland is infuriating and exasperating by design. Both openly and behind closed doors officials will fight every step of the way to avoid any admission of wrongdoing. They will make challengers fight and fight for every little admission and then finally, when the time is right and the fullness of consciousness is invested in the blatant injustice, they will admit regret and cite “strategic necessity” for “defence purposes”. In practical terms neither an individual nor a movement can change track at that point. Leaders of the cause, such as crusading parliamentarians, will effectively be subverted or left in a halfway position of campaigning to moderate rather than end overt wrongdoing.

At the same time the voices of the dead of 50 years of mass killing cry out. Diego Garcia is a base for long-range cruise missiles and bomber aircraft as well as communications and logistical support. Even leaving aside the questions of its naval and nuclear role, it is the source of incalculable death, destruction and suffering. This is not potential or theoretical. Another 50 years of “defence purposes” will mean hundreds of thousands killed. The very nature of the weapons systems is such that “defence purposes” can only mean imperial aggression. These are true weapons of mass destruction. Despite pretences, they are not and cannot be used in a pure military sense against a chosen Hitler-of-the-month dictator and their armies, they are weapons that attacks “peoples and nations” – which is the original defining trait of genocide.

Since the end of World War 2 the most indiscriminate and obscene weapon of war to be used has been the B-52 bomber. After smaller aircraft and ground artillery had had created a 20 km traffic jam on the Mutla Ridge early in 1991, it was B-52s which carpet bombed those trapped there, massacring them in a period of hours. This became known as the “Highway of Death” and the B-52s which were responsible for the slaughter flew from Diego Garcia.

Most B-52s that flew in the 1990-1 “Gulf War” were based in Diego Garcia. The near obsolete bombers dropped one third of the aerial tonnage and every time they dropped ordnance it was, by the very nature of the weaponry, a war crime of disproportionate and/or indiscriminate killing.

Paul Walker wrote:

B-52s were used from the first night of the war to the last. Flying at 40,000 feet and releasing 40 – 60 bombs of 500 or 750 pounds each, their only function is to carpet bomb entire areas. … B-52s were used against chemical and industrial storage areas, air fields, troop encampments, storage sites, and they were apparently used against large populated areas in Basra.

Language used by military spokesman General Richard Neal during the war made it sound as if Basra had been declared a “free fire zone”…. On February 11, 1991, Neal told members of the press that “Basra is a military town in the true sense…. The infrastructure, military infrastructure, is closely interwoven within the city of Basra itself” He went on to say that there were no civilians left in Basra, only military targets. … Eyewitness accounts Suggest that there was no pretense at a surgical war in this city. On February 5, 1991, the Los Angeles Times reported that the air war had brought “a hellish nightime of fires and smoke so dense that witnesses say the sun hasn’t been clearly visible for several days at a time . . . [that the bombing is] leveling some entire city blocks . . . [and that there are] bomb craters the size of football fields and an untold number of casualties.”

This was the opening of a period of genocide against Iraq. In 1998, during the sanctions period which was estimated in 1996 to have cost 500,000 children’s deaths, B-52’s from Diego Garcia launched 100 aerial cruise missiles as a major part of Operation Desert Fox. While officials, wonks and security studies hacks are triumphal about the efficacy of strikes against “regime” targets this comes from the long-standing habit of conflating civilian and military targets.

The patently false stated aim of Operation Desert Fox was to “degrade” the mythical WMD programme. The targeting of “command and control”, WMD industrial and “concealment” sites, and the Basra oil refinery were all deleterious to the people of the stricken country. Only retrospectively did the think-tank pundits decide that the real aim must have been regime destabilisation not WMD, but as with the sanctions inflicting misery and hardship on Iraqis only strengthened the governing regime. From 600-2000 civilians died along with an unknown number of military personnel who were attacking no one and had no chance to defend themselves or fight back.

In 2001, Diego Garcia was the most important base in launching attacks on Afghanistan. This was a high-altitude no boots-on-the-ground approach by the US which led predictably to a power vacuum, rampaging warlords, insoluble instability, refugee crisis, food insecurity and everything else we have since seen unfold. Like Iraq, the country is being slowly tortured to death. In 2003, Diego Garcia was once again central to US efforts against Iraq. Readers are probably somewhat familiar with what has happened in the area since.

Diego Garcia has never had legitimate “defence purposes”. It is a strategic asset of empire and it is used to maintain control over the Middle East, South Asia and parts of Africa. The base is there primarily for the purpose of killing large numbers of people at once when other means of exerting power are unsuitable, undesirable or unavailable. Its role is distinctly and inescapably genocidal.

Here’s the thing: it is difficult for activists to recruit people by accusing the government of war crimes, let alone mass-murder and genocide. A web search will show that even antiwar websites and writers tend mention Diego Garcia’s role in bombing only in passing while focussing either on its role in torture and “extraordinary renditions”, or on the injustice perpetrated against the islanders.

It is easy to see why the plight of the Chagossians appeals in the same way that seeing rabbits tortured in testing cosmetics was so rousing in the 1980s. The moral dimensions of the issue are readily apparent and very few people need to re-examine their ideology, challenge their beliefs, or question their loyalties. The Chagossian cause is just, but it is not right to ignore other crimes which are even more monstrous. It is not right, and it is not wise. Without undermining the “strategic necessity” argument then there can never be a victory. The Chagossians have already won in court – several times – but they remain in exile. Why? Because “defence purposes”.

People may not want to hear the truth about imperial aggression and the suffering inflicted in their names, but they can at least understand that giving the US a base in the Indian Ocean from which to bomb people has not made the United Kingdom in any respect safer. No one can suggest that carpet bombing Iraq reduced the threat of terrorism or Saddam’s WMD. If we do not accept that there are valid “defence purposes” then there are no legally or morally valid “strategic” reasons for keeping the Chagos Archipelago. That is something that we must always bear in mind when working in this cause – there is no strategic justification and the UK has no right to be there at all.

The cause of Mauritius is also just. They are the rightfully sovereign country deprived due to “strategic” decisions taken in 1964-5 which were no more defensible than the depopulation decisions of 1970-1. Mauritius recently won a case against the UK in the Permanent Court of Arbitration, but the UK denies the jurisdiction of the court and the court cannot rule on the issue of sovereignty. Mauritius is taking the case to the International Court of Justice for an “advisory” ruling, but that is only as good as the publicity it generates. They need allies, especially among UK activists who can keep the issue on the agenda at home.

For this reason I contacted Mhara Costello, an activist and poet who uses the pen name Tamerishe. Along with her poem “Once Upon a Palestine” she also wrote “Just a Word” which deals with the abuse of the term “terrorist”. It seemed an appropriate qualification. We formulated a petition that would incorporate a direct challenge to the narrative frame which ensures that critiques always remain atomised, specific and isolated – hermetically and prophylactically sealed away from infecting the self-righteous self-love of civilised Britons.

The characters allowed for e-petitions to HMGUKGB&NI are predetermined and restrictive, and this is what Mhara posted:

HMG should agree with Mauritius to an ICJ case regarding the Chagos Islands.

The Republic of Mauritius claims sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago, but that claim is disputed by the UK. If the UK government agrees the International Court of Justice can hear and judge the issues as a “Contentious Case” in accordance with international law.

At issue is more than sovereignty. The UK forcefully removed the inhabitants of the islands and leased Diego Garcia as a US military base. The treatment of the islanders is cruel and unjust, and has been ruled unlawful. The US military base sends bombing sorties which cause countless deaths and may constitute crimes of aggression or terrorism. The base is also implicated in torture, illegal rendition, and concealment of illegal munitions. More at: http://johnpilger.com/videos/stealing-a-nation.

The first response was silence. The after prodding the following belated reply:

Dear Mhara,

Thank you for your email. I apologise for the length of time it has taken to process your petition. We can accept the central request of your petition, but we cannot publish the second paragraph because it does not comply with our rules. This means that your petition would read:

HMG should agree with Mauritius to an ICJ case regarding the Chagos Islands.

The Republic of Mauritius claims sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago, but that claim is disputed by the UK. If the UK government agrees the International Court of Justice can hear and judge the issues as a “Contentious Case” in accordance with international law.

If you could let me know that you are happy with this, we could publish your request immediately.

To which Mhara responded:

No, I am not happy removing the second paragraph. I would be willing to amend it. Can you be more specific please, regarding your objections? In what way does the petition not comply with the rules? Please cite which rules have been breached? I am unable to identify any (inadvertently) I may have overlooked.

She then sent a second reminder and eventually received a longer email including the following:

We cannot publish the second paragraph of your petition, because we have not been able to establish that the very serious allegations you make are true. I hope you will understand that we cannot publish allegations of unlawful conduct. We would be happy to look at alternative wording for this paragraph, if you would like to propose some. It would need to be worded moderately and fall within our rules. You might reasonably say, for example, that many people believe that the former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands have been very badly treated by the Governments of the UK and the USA, and that this ought therefore to be examined by the ICJ. 

They are saying that you can’t detail allegations that you want addressed in court, because you have to prove the truth of the allegations before petitioning to have the matter adjudicated. This response is a bureaucratic Catch-22 piece of nonsense. It must be assumed that, as intended, the petition itself is troubling. The offending paragraph deliberately broadens the issue as much as possible within the character limit. One petition is unlikely to really shake the UK establishment, but it may yet frighten them because it takes matters into a realm which they cannot control. What is more, there is a hook in it.

When they commit crimes or act unjustly the greatest vulnerability of the authorities is their perceived legitimacy. When they are forced to overtly display illegitimacy it breaks their support structure. Even in the face of mass popular condemnation, a government can act with blatant injustice as long as they have a cover story – a lie which, however unconvincing, allows those who really want to give them unconditional support to believe in benign intent or even the ineffable divine schemes of “security”, which lie beyond mortal ken. In this case the UK might be in an awkward position if the question were debated because it does not want to negotiate directly with Mauritius. To explain why they do not wish the matter adjudicated by the ICJ the UK government might either have to say it prefers bilateral talks or it would have to say that it does not think its actions should be subject to adjudication under international law because “defence purposes”. That would bring the spotlight back onto the criminal uses of the criminally acquired Chagos Archipelago.

Right at the moment the “perceived legitimacy” of the UK government may already be close to breaking. Foreign entanglements must surely seem even less attractive to the UK public than February 2003, when a million marched in London to protest the looming invasion of Iraq. The sordid aftermath of shame from that act continues while the ongoing Balkanisation of the oil rich Arab world is surely one of the most inglorious blood-lettings in the unpleasant history of conflict. Even for those who do not understand that US/UK intervention created the fractures and fervour that wrack the region, it is hard to see any nobility in backing the Saudis, the Israelis and the “moderate” forces that fight alongside al-Nusra.

Meanwhile, the establishment seems to have to put the UK public in its rightful place of silent subjugation more often than it would normally need to. It seems that every time that there is a popular consensus in the general population or some significant segment of it, they need to be reminded that their democratic voice must be conveyed through a mediating wah-wah pedal that is under the foot of their social superiors. Whether it is giving Thatcher an appropriate send-off, or naming a sea-vessel, or when Labour Party members mistakenly choose a leader whose views coincide with those of ordinary people. Much more of this and people will start demanding that the hollow sham of modern democracy have some populist stuffing shoved back in it, and once government’s start giving in to popular demands it just encourages more; things could spiral out of control and before you know it you are dealing with a sovereign self-emancipated people who do not want a society run by and for a controlling greedy and/or power-obsessed few.

That is why even an e-petition can frighten Her Britannic Majesty’s mighty Royal Government. They need people to continue to be their own worst enemies. They need people to sabotage their own efforts. They need people to think that those within the establishment have a greater understanding of issues and how to tackle them. They need them to make their own protests against specific injustice into an embrace and an endorsement of the system itself.

Let’s show them that we won’t play that stupid game any more.

The Resistible Rise of Global Fascism Part 2: 8 Signs You Are Living Under a Fascist Regime

Standard

In Part 1 I asserted that there is a new globalised Fascist movement that has gradually, in fits and starts, insinuated itself as a new normal in Western regimes and in many “developing” regimes. A central claim of the article is that the differences between old Fascism and new Fascism are almost entirely due to the fact that the original Fascism was a nationalistic creed with imperialist ambitions, while the new Fascism is an imperialist ideology and mode of governance.

I also distinguish between the banal Fascism of governance and the dramatic Fascism of rhetoric. Fascists campaign as radical revolutionaries, but rule in a way that secures and bolsters the existing social order against mass discontent.

There is an inversion of the historic pattern in this new Fascism. This inversion of old Fascism parallels Sheldon Wolin’s conception of “inverted totalitarianism”. Old Fascism harnessed mass political engagement during a time of crisis and channelled it into an ultimately reactionary political project. The new Fascism has harnessed mass disengagement but the crisis it has brought by its own success has led to the same populist right-wing explosion that was the vanguard of the old Fascism. We can now see – particularly in the US – that this is a matter of sequence, not essence. The mass embrace of combative right-wing populism is becoming ever more common, and it completes the circle so that the symmetry with old Fascism is revealed.

A major difference between old and new Fascism is that the biopolitical paradigm of control in the new Fascism is neoliberal and expresses itself the state violence of police, courts and the “corrections” complex and through the discipline imposed on persons as consumers and workers. It lacks the paternalistic aspect of old Fascist corporatism and nationalism. This too is changing. Authoritarian political rhetoric and the actions of police and intelligence agencies have brought the new Fascism into much closer alignment with the old.

In writing this article I have been beset by two serious problems. The first is that each new day brings new revelations. For someone who is as slow in writing as I am, it feels almost farcical because I am constantly being overtaken by events. Internationally the manifestations of overt Fascism (such as the hundreds of neofascists who just marched behind Swastika banners in Helsinki) are dwarfed in significance by mass expressions of Fascistic xenophobic violence, mass support for crypto-fascist “right-wing populism”, yet more militarism, and increasingly remarkable and yet unremarkable government suppression (such as the Republic of Korea’s latest crack down which has seen, among many other things, more than 1000 cops sent to arrest a union leader hiding in a monastery).

The second serious problem is that boiled frogs are notoriously slippery, especially in metaphorical terms. In seeking to shine light on their sad state, I suddenly find them transformed into fish – fish who do not know they are wet. Immersed in a new Fascism, they cannot see the medium in which they swim. It is only by taking them out of the Fascist context that you can show the Fascist wetness of things and people that lie within. For example, the US started putting prisoners into Guantánamo 14 years ago. The institution was deliberately public – a display of power designed to incite fear and hatred, much like a public execution. At the same time, the public and overt nature of the Guantánamo prison complex was designed to establish a new norm. It established a state of exception – a zone where power was exercised without the constraints which are said to legitimise power. 14 years ago this state of exception seemed an exceptional response to exceptional and immediate circumstances. It was a dramatic departure from the norm. Now, 14 years later it is completely normalised. If events occur that provide a pretext to start sending more “terrorists” to Guantánamo we will only be surprised for about 3 seconds, and opposition will be seriously blunted by 14 years of inertia. As things stand, the continued imprisonment of inmates who have no rights at all is still a public statement. It says that power does not need legitimacy because the exercise of power legitimises itself.

Immersed in transparent Fascism, people are curiously incurious, accepting half-baked question-begging snippets of factoid-based analyticule. World-shaking historical events are placed in frames a thousand times too small to contain the full picture. I have previously written that the sheer scale of the refugee crisis is indicative of a subterranean Holocaust. Yet consumers of news media are given misdirection instead of analysis and are made to feel that the entire mass migration of tens of millions is somehow due to ISIS (the equally unexplained Instant State of Insane Salafists). The refugee crisis has been transformed by heightened fear and militarism into an even greater phenomenon, a type of post-simulation, post-Baudrillard mass violence: we may have already slipped into a secret sub rosa subterranean sub-real World War. There will be no precise and knowable beginning to this new World War, but it feels like the imprecise and unknowable beginning has already begun.

So bear with me as I list the 8 Signs that You are Living in a Fascist Regime, try to feel the wetness in which you are swimming and pity the fool author who bites off more than he can chew.

 

1 – Antifascists

In the Spanish Civil War there were International Brigades of volunteers who fought against the Fascist-led right-wing rebel coalition. Around one quarter of those volunteers came from Germany and Italy – countries that were overtly allied with the rebels – despite the fact that this would mark them as traitors. Perhaps more to the point the advent of the Civil War pushed the Spanish Republican side into a revolution. The rise of Fascism made the liberals and social democrats much less relevant and it empowered the innately antifascist Anarchists and Spain’s predominantly anti-Stalinist Communists.

When faced with movements of repressive authoritarianism, close-minded tribalism, moral expediency and vast inequality many people will respond by gravitating to libertarian, pluralistic, principled and inclusive ideals. Fascism changes the calculus so that when once people might have been inclined to think that society could not afford to be idealistic, they come instead to see that society can not afford not to be idealistic. Creeping Fascism has prompted a countervailing creeping antifascism. The upshot of the gradual advent of Fascism is that some people have become antifascists without even knowing it.

Of course, there is also overt self-conscious antifascist activism occurring. Antifascist or “Anti-Fascist” or “Antifa” groups are growing and becoming more active in Germany, the UK, Greece, Australia, Croatia, Portugal, Italy, Russia, France, Spain and Quebec to name a few. These tend to be counter-movements to extremist right-wing activists. Such antifascists have often historically fought street battles of varying intensity, but the frequency and distribution of such activities has slowly crept up. Even Bristol in the south of England has seen street violence between the Bristol Antifascists and the Bristol United Patriots. Such antifascists often greatly outnumber the more publicised growing right-wing formations such as Pegida and the English Defence League. Of late, however, that gap is closing.

The self-avowed antifascists are really only the tip of the iceberg of a broader and more significant generalised antifascist mood across the breadth of left-wing activism. This is an essentially and existentially antifascist movement, but even the activists don’t necessarily think of it in those terms. It started to evolve under an Anarchist renaissance in opposition to “globalisation” in the 90s. The thing about these Anarchists is that, like their Spanish antecedents, they largely rejected all of those organisational and tactical practices which were embraced by their antagonists. That meant a rejection hierarchy and dogma.

Consciously or unconsciously the anarchistic approach has come to permeate political dissent in the Anglosphere. Political scientist James Martel sees anarchist principles as central to the practices of internet freedom activists, antiwar activists, the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements, and more. We should bear in mind that during the Cold War era left-wing dissent in the West was decidedly dominated by authoritarianism and dogma. I am not saying that such dissent cannot be antifascist, nor that Stalin wasn’t antifascist because he was authoritarian. What I am suggesting is that when Fascism becomes visible people start to react with a more organic antifascist impulse. This is intrinsically pure antifascism, and it is on the rise.

What differs now from, say, battles between anarchist antifascists and avowed neo-Nazis in the 1980s is that this is all much more directly connected to mainstream politics. The right-wing extremists may still be socially excluded and marginal to public opinion, but they are ideologically aligned with centres of power that use “dogwhistle” tactics to validate fascist politics without openly declaring themselves as Fascists. This is even more striking in countries where avowed antifascists take action against their own governing regimes, policies or parties. Such countries include Switzerland, Ukraine, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, Turkey, and India.

Of course, this is only a selection of countries with antifascist activism. One I have not mentioned is the US, where avowed antifascists are rare, though there are some local and national organisations. In a way this can partly be put down to not seeing the forest of Fascism because there are so many trees blocking the view. Right-wing extremism is so pluralistic in the US that it resembles a bizarre menagerie. At the same time the political terminology of “right”, “left”, “conservative”, “liberal”, “socialist” and “libertarian” have all become empty signifiers meaning nothing more that “yay!” or “booo!” depending on the speaker. There is also the confusion that local, state and federal government agents practice and license right-wing extremism on one hand, but ostentatiously oppose it at other times. This is slippery Fascism – hard to oppose because it is so mercurial.

The US provides a lesson for all antifascists to learn – it is counterproductive to distinguish between the violent right-wing authoritarians who have swastika tattoos and the right-wing authoritarians who believe in guns or God or country or the uniform that they wear. What I expect to see, however, is that as the gobbets of Fascism increasingly clump together into a more obviously conjoined mass, those who have knowingly or unknowingly opposed aspects of Fascism during its rise will also consolidate both ideology and networks.

Whichever way you look at it, both activism that overtly opposes Fascism and activism that tacitly but coherently opposes what Fascism stands for is on the rise. It is a sure sign that there is a widespread Fascism which is prompting this phenomenon.

2 The Leader Principle

Like a South Park joke Amy Goodman recently inadvertently referred to the Canadian “presidential race”. It was also a Freudian slip. In the past 30 years it seems that every parliamentary democracy to have moved towards presidential style politics. In many countries the idea that a political party or ideology is tied to the personal qualities of a leader was once viewed with great suspicion. The reason for this is precisely because this style of politics is inescapably demagogic and fascistic.

In parliamentary democracies, strong party leaders have always been an asset, but electoral campaigning has traditionally been about getting a mandate for a party’s political platform and getting a mandate for a given parliamentarian to represent an electorate. That is the entire basis for the democratic pretensions of parliamentary systems – the basis on which the government claims to govern with the consent of the governed. In contrast, electing a single person as a “leader”, whether they be a Prime Minister or a President, is unavoidably undemocratic and presidential systems base their democratic claims on limiting or balancing executive power. More on that later.

To return to the fact that parliamentary systems are adopting a presidential campaigning style; the most striking example must be India. For those unfamiliar with India’s PM, if you do a web search for “Narendra Modi cult of personality” you will probably quite a surprise about the way things are in the “world’s largest democracy”. You will read that he had a TV channel in his name – or rather NaMo – when he was still Chief Minister of Gujarat; that NaMo is now available as an app; that his 2014 campaign created a “Mao-like personality cult” (which I believe may be even more serious even than riding a Mao-style bicycle); and perhaps most disturbing of all, in the style of the late Kim Jong Il, soon after his election he opposed moves to devote a chapter of school history textbooks in Gujarat to his heroism on the grounds that “the life story of living individuals should not be included”. Apparently this “humility” has only served to increase Modi’s popularity. But NaMo need not have worried because the political mass movement from which he sprung, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, sees “nothing bad” in a personality cult (and if millions of militaristic uniformed ideologues with a history of violence see “nothing bad” it is probably advisable to think carefully before disagreeing aloud.)

Not only have elections become increasingly akin to popularity contests controlled by marketing firms, but numerous countries are moving to consolidate more power in the hands of a single leader. In Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been trying to extend the executive power of the President. Previously executive power was largely vested with the Prime Minister and Cabinet, leaving President as a largely symbolic head of state. Erdoğan’s Islamist AKP was once the electoral alternative to the established fascistic old guard of corporatist militarist US client rulers (who were part of the Third Wave discussed previously). The AKP had planned to extend the powers of the President, but the electorate didn’t want to play along and so the Turks had to have a second election. As Rosa Burç wrote the elections were the “last exit before the bridge” to “an authoritarian presidential system.” The AKP put up barriers to prevent that exit and the bridge was crossed. The AKP regained a parliamentary majority and three days later Erdoğan put forward his plan to rewrite the constitution.

Elevating one leader above the normal party-political processes is not only authoritarian in its essence, it also fits the anti-political pretensions of Fascism. Moreover, along with the trend towards this “presidential” style, there is a widespread tendency to extend greater and greater political control to the executive power. This happened globally in the first few years after 2001, not just in the West but in the developing world, the BRICS countries and East Asia. Now that those changes have been around for a while governments are entrenching them by normalising the use of executive power which was originally implemented as a crisis measure. This follows a model established by Egypt and Israel who both implemented “Emergency Laws” 70 years ago and have not deactivated them since. For all of us now, a state of extraordinary crisis is the new normal. When governments are not yelling and screaming about the current emergency, they are still using the emergency powers. If challenged they will simply start yelling and screaming about the current emergency because, even more than at the height of the Cold War, normality to these people is defined as being a state of extraordinary crisis and immanent existential threat.

The best example of this is the US because on paper the executive should be limited. Naturally, any executive is going to have a lot of power simply from the immediacy of the office and the inevitable leeway that comes from choosing just how to enact the will of the representatives, but in the US case there are many putative “checks and balances”. Individual states have a great deal of sovereignty. At the federal level the most fundamental powers – legislating, taxing, spending, declaring war and signing treaties – are all in the hands of the houses of congress. Implementing policy is dependent on the disbursement of funds and often on the passage of legislation, so any administration is dependent on Congress. Further the executive can be constrained by the courts which have taken on the role of a watchdog ruling on the constitutionality of policies and laws.

There has always been a tension in US politics because various administrations have attempted, with differing degrees of success, to govern in the style of a fixed-term dictatorship. In the 1960s and 1970s Congress started to fight to regain the exercise of power that it is afforded in the US Constitution. Both Houses of Congress, separately and jointly, formed committees such as the “Church Committee” and passed legislation such as the War Powers Act of 1973. This was in response to the seemingly uncontrollable executive power which was then referred to as the “Imperial Presidency”.

According to Digital History the attempts to rein in executive power had mixed results: “The War Powers Act has never been invoked. Campaign financing reform has not curbed the ability of special interests to curry favor with politicians or the capacity of the very rich to outspend opponents.” Well given that Congressional failure to make decisions on war has become a bad joke repeated like an annoying sitcom catchphrase, and given the insanely expensive Pandemonium that is the current 23.8 month-long campaign for the 2016 elections, it is clear that they are vastly understating the failure.

On the other side of the ledger, Digital History claims that “Congress has had somewhat more success in reining in the FBI and the CIA.” Really? There was certainly a period during which these agencies kept a low profile, but if they retain any circumspection in certain areas, they more than compensate by shameless excesses in others. The FBI went from the COINTELPRO-esque “Green Scare” repression to a post-9/11 incarnation where it seems that the main activitity of the Bureau has been to create terror plots in order to foil them and throw their own patsies into supermax prisons for inhuman and cruel confinement for breathtakingly long periods. As for the CIA, a key constraint placed on their activities were the executive orders issued by Ford, Carter and Reagan which prohibited political assassinations. Now, by contrast, the CIA maintains weaponised drones and kills frequently and overtly as a matter of “routine”. Worse still, perhaps, is the fact that the CIA and FBI are only small parts of a gigantic intelligence industry that is beyond oversight. Dana Priest and William Arkin’s landmark investigation “Top Secret America” is a disturbing look at an unstoppable many-headed monster. This is all the more alarming because the 2010 revelations cry out for action, yet no action is forthcoming or even talked about.

After 2001 executive power was extended by legislation such as the Patriot Act. George W. Bush also set a precedent by using “signing statements” as de facto, if limited, rule by decree. This was all magnified by “Unitary Executive theory” which holds that the President is at the apex all Federal executive authority. This is not from the Constitution, rather proponents argue that it is a true because they say so, which is true to the authoritarian spirit of the whole thing anyway. As Garrett Epps wrote: “In any crisis, it allows power to flow to the President; as crisis recedes, future Presidents tend not to give it back.” Obama has done exactly that. By not abdicating any of the powers accumulated by Bush he has entrenched and strengthened the Imperial Presidency to the point where it no longer needs to justify itself and it becomes invisible – especially to younger people.

Theoretically Congress could still exert authority over the President, but we have to look beyond appearances. Congress itself is beholden to other powers and can only act against the President when acting with their assent. There are still institutions that subject the Presidency to checks and balances – Wall St, the military-industrial-media complex, the imperial think-tanks, the NRA and so forth. For more on those institutions see section 8 below.

3 Idiocracy (WARNING: Contains Nuts)

Fascism has always had a strong anti-intellectual strain. A key demagogic tactic is to play on popular prejudice in a way that actively rejects critical engagement. Neocons share with the Nazis and other old-style Fascists an intellectual argument against intellect. Leo Strauss, in particular, devoted much scholarship to the ways in which exposure to complexity might dangerously overheat the brains of plebs. His acolyte Alan Bloom wrote the book The Closing of the American Mind in which he explained that if you don’t restrict, constrain and direct the learning of students to the things that Alan Bloom thinks are worthy, the very openness of the education system itself will cause a feedback loop of bottomless relativism which will actually cause the young to become close-minded.

It is possible that Strauss and Bloom were actually trying to subvert and spoil growing anti-intellectual trends. Strauss, a Jewish exile from Nazi Germany, feared the coming of a single world government. He advocated camouflaging meaning within a web of lies, even to the extent of living a life of lies. He advocated moral simplicity and a Manichaean clarity where good-guys wear white hats and bad guys wear black. He knew that this was consonant with Nazi philosophy so he was either being subversive or he wanted to make sure that the next time he was on the side of the persecutors not the persecuted (and if that was the case, why didn’t he just move to Israel). Likewise, Allan Bloom, as a gay Jew, had every reason to subvert the old-fashioned patriarchal Anglo-Saxon protestant dominated canon of “Great Books”.

Regardless of the intents of Straussian neocons, we may judge them on the fruits of their labours – they were fools. But they are just one tributary feeding into a veritable Mississippi of moronic mentality in the US. Other sources include televangelists who want you to send money in exchange for various unlikely miracles such as God paying back the loan with interest; advertisers who want you to send money in exchange for various unlikely miracles such as their product making you wealthy and sexually attractive; and politicians who want you to vote for them (and send money) in exchange for various unlikely miracles such as them not helping to destroy the human species.

The old fashioned Fascists reasoned their way to unreason through a philosophy rejecting materialism. A lot of today’s most influential opinion leaders would consider all philosophy to be derp and don’t believe in thinking anything that takes more than 140 characters (of which up to half may need to be set aside for hashtags). Likewise the neocons believe in keeping things simple for the masses. For them, people must be led by a sophisticated elite, but if intellectualism is suspect why would we want to be led by intellectuals – what we need is government of the idiots, by the idiots, for the idiots. The new Fascism offers that – at least in part.

One could say that the new Fascism Trumps the old Fascism in its capacity for unadulterated anti-intellectualism. Donald Trump doesn’t even bother to try and make sense. He is not necessarily innately stupid, but whatever his intellectual limitations may or may not be, he simply does not try to reason out his stances. He has absolutely no incentive to try to make sense of things, it would only get in the way of his success in making money, in being a celebrity, and in politics. He has no reason to reason.

Trump is also the beneficiary of many years of the boiling frogs mechanism discussed in the first part of this article. George W. Bush was careful to always distinguish between Islamist terrorists and peaceful Muslims, but his actions and his unspoken messages said something else. Under Obama the environment has remained extremely favourable to the growth of Islamophobia such that now Trump can lie through his teeth in saying and reiterating that he saw thousands of Arabs celebrating the attacks of September 11 2001.

Trump’s simplistic and hateful populism has prompted some people to use the f-word (here, here, here, here, here, for examples). Chip Berlet countered that he is not a Fascist, but rather a “nativist right-wing populist”. Without wanting to devote too much time to Berlet’s argument, the first thing that should be noted is that Fascists generally are “nativist right-wing populists” and that Berlet is simply begging the question because he does not define Fascism.

Second to Trump in the polls was Ben Carson. Andy Borowitz has pointed out that he is smashing stereotypes such as the tired old cliché view that neurosurgeons are intelligent. He claims that the pyramids in Egypt were built by Joseph to store grain. Why he advances this 1500 year-old pseudo-biblical hypothesis is anyone’s guess. I assume that he is predisposed to believe any contention that has a biblical reference no matter how unlikely it is and how extraneous to faith. He is also said to be struggling to wrap his head around the most simple facts of foreign policy, which led him to claim on live TV that “the Chinese are there” in Syria.

The fact is that revelations of Ben Carson’s diminished intellectual capacity have come hand-in-hand with his rise in popularity. I think it is fair to say that the US is leading the charge into mass stupidity, but even there they have reached peak Carson. Like Wile E. Coyote he is in temporary defiance of gravity but will soon plummet to the depths of becoming a pop-culture reference – a meme which conveys a certain type of blithe and unselfconscious naïve idiocy.

The most important thing to note about Trump and Carson is that doing, saying and believing stupid things has not in any way prevented them from being successful. On the contrary, it has been the key to their success. It would be hard to demonstrate, but I genuinely believe that Carson needed both his religiosity and his cluelessness to succeed. As a poor black young man scepticism, social consciousness, or even just showing up his academic superiors would have earned ire and exclusion, leaving him as just another angry individual with wasted potential. By destroying or suppressing intellectual potential outside of his chosen field Carson has been made into an intellectual monstrosity – like a jigsaw of a normal mind with 2 thirds or more of the normal pieces taken away. On a purely human level this makes him a bizarre twisted thing, but he is twisted in the right way to allow him to have succeeded.

Trump is the product of a far more widely evidenced type of protective stupidity – that of gangsters, used-car salesmen, politicians and journalists. This is the protective stupidity of someone who does horrible things, often visiting harm to others in a very personal manner. Such people adopt a callous and officious obtuseness which is their armour against any questions of morality and ethics. They internalise these things so that they don’t have to answer their own consciences either. The degree to which such people believe their own lies is moot. The only thing that makes Trump outstanding is not that obtuseness and bullshitting are weapons in his political/commercial/celebrity arsenal, but the fact that they form the foundation of all that he has done.

Once again, the key to understanding outstanding anti-intellectual figures like Trump and Carson is to understand the context of a progressive dumbing down of entire societies. Miseducation is spreading. In 2003 it was found that the more you watched Fox News, the more likely you were to believe falsehoods about Iraq. This was not caused by Fox overtly lying, but rather by their coverage being constructed in a way that would seem to be utterly nonsensical if these lies weren’t true. For example, you would not devote hours and hours of coverage to the links between Saddam and Al Qaeda if they were fictitious. The only way that would makes sense was if you had a deliberate co-ordinated plan to deceive people but did not want to be caught in an outright liAe. Similarly, the vast majority of consumers of Western news media will currently believe that refugees were responsible for the Paris terror attacks that happened recently. The media coverage of political moves to restrict refugee entry in response to Paris makes no sense unless refugees carried out the attacks. Thus it can be concluded that there is a conscious effort to deceive. People did not need to switch to being ignorant Fox viewers, because Fox News came to them.

Trump and Carson have responded to the Paris attacks in a way that prominent US Muslims have described as “beyond terrifying”. They make a connection to Nazism for the simple reason that the analogy is too apt to ignore. It isn’t just Trump and Carson either. Jeb Bush is calling for a “Christianity test” on Syrian refugees. People are still taking them seriously. Trump may never become President of the US, but he is creating a space in the political landscape. Someone slightly less comical but equally antagonistic to evidence-based reason could fill that space in future times, but even in the absence of that new Leader he has added to a vortex of unthought which sucks public discourse into a vapid vacuum.

This entire section has featured the US because it is a large slow-moving target when it comes to accusations of ignorance and stupidity. A town in North Carolina rejected a solar power farm in the belief that it would “suck up all the energy from the sun”. In 2012 I posted a piece entitled “Polls Show: Israelis Racist Hateful Baby Killers, “Americans” Stupider than Frog Spawn”. I wrote, “If a Martian were to make judgements on the peoples of the Earth based on their responses to polled questions, that Martian might possibly conclude that the average US citizen has an intellectual ability somewhat below that of a concussed baboon and that the average Israeli would like to see all Palestinians strangled at birth.” My point was that the average person from these countries was probably not well represented by the extreme results, but that the polls reflected growing trends. Sadly I was right.

But the growing interlinked hate and stupidity is by no means contained in the US and Israel. Writing of the current “Age of Stupidity” Andrew Levine opines: “The U.S. hasn’t gotten smarter, but it is no longer the outlier it used to be.

“Everyone knows that British bombs in Syria will serve no useful military purpose; that their effect is mainly symbolic. And yet they bomb – putting the British people at greater risk.

“This is stupid indeed, but David Cameron is downright sagacious compared to François Hollande. With the National Front breathing down his neck, Hollande has affected a stance as vengeful – and dumb — as Bush and Cheney’s after 9/11.”

Anti-intellectualism is pre-condition of many of the aspects of Fascism that I will continue to enumerate. The violence, the chauvinism and the hypocrisy all require a type of willful stupidity to exist. Sometimes the stupidity is internalised and intrinsic to the individual Fascist, but it is often a deliberate construct. The bizarre claim by Binyamin Netanyahu that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem persuaded Hitler to kill all the Jews is, like the Tory attacks on Corbyn in the UK, calculated to impress a certain section of the Zionists who are impervious to simple logic and common sense. ISIS followers believe that they will fight a battle against the “Romans” in small town in northern Syria as part of the end-of-days showdown against the Antichrist. This is used to recruit people, but it only works because they are willing to accept a particular interpretation of a sentence in the Hadith as being worth killing and dying for. Perhaps that is what makes ISIS most scary – they are idiots like us.

 

3b More Idiocracy

As amusing and alarming as the foregoing idiocy may be, it may actually be less of a problem than the degradation of those institutions that are meant to reflect the pinnacles of intellect and knowledge.

Tertiary education, for example, has always been dominated by the ruling class and by bourgeois perspectives. If universities are often associated with activism and dissent it is certainly not because rich kids are more idealistic and dedicated than others, it is because the knowledge that is incidentally gleaned in their process of “education” tends to create discontent. The very nature of the universe itself is anti-establishment. To paraphrase Steven Colbert, “truth has a well-known left-wing bias”. Of course, the knowledge aspect of tertiary education is on the decline. For some reason it is universally accepted that the tax payer and the student should pay their own money to become exploitable “human capital” that someone else can profit from. We demand that universities provide what employers want even though the employers aren’t paying for it. Instead of tertiary education, wherein students learn about things, we have a tertiary training model, where students learn to do things.

In addition the university is a strictly hierarchical structure. It is all very open and free until suddenly it isn’t. There is no one who will tell you outright not to say certain things, but wrong thought is treated by double-standards of nit-picking, obtuseness, bullying and petty lies. If you don’t take the hint the system will eventually turn on you and you will suddenly realise that at key points it is purely authoritarian, 100% opaque, completely immune to appeal or interrogation. This is referred to as “traditional independence”. You don’t have to take my embittered and biased word for it because Steven Salaita, who was unfairly fired for his political beliefs, researched the whole subject and wrote this book and gives a one hour talk on his findings here.

Universities are also, and more importantly, dominated by junk merchants (who directly exchange “scholarly” product for money from those who benefit) and fanatics of ideological orthodoxy (who may be difficult to distinguish because their official pieties also serve vested interests). Furthermore there is a great gray area where as prospective employers, as sponsors, as investors, and as “partners” certain industries and interests influence tertiary institutions. Education is further degraded by the clearly deleterious influence of industries such as the pharmaceutical, petrochemical, arms, mining, biotech/agribusiness, PR/marketing, media, and finance along with an equally if not more destructive involvement from the military.

Beyond the university system there are also the “think tanks”, where money talks, power yells and Orwellian ideology screams out of loudspeakers. This is a whole issue in itself, worthy of entire articles like this, or this. Because they provide pundits and commentary for news media, think tanks have effectively become a type of ideological priesthood. Rather than describe them all in general terms I offer this case-study on a very respectable UK Islamophobe think tank excerpted from a blog post by ex-diplomat Craig Murray:

“Donald Trump’s remarks have brought appropriate condemnation, but the Henry Jackson Society got there first. In February 2006 Douglas Murray, Associate Director of the Henry Jackson Society, stated :

It is late in the day, but Europe still has time to turn around the demographic time-bomb which will soon see a number of our largest cities fall to Muslim majorities. It has to. All immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop. [] Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board: Europe must look like a less attractive proposition.

“Douglas Murray also came out with a straight defence of the use of torture by Western intelligence agencies.

“The Henry Jackson Society is the go-to organisation for broadcasters looking for comment on Islamic affairs. I was both pleased and surprised to see the Henry Jackson Society named two days ago in a Guardian article on the mainstreaming of Islamophobia. …

… Guess what? The Guardian Editors have now excised all mention of the Henry Jackson Society from the article on the mainstreaming of Islamophobia. Interesting that, isn’t it?

The Henry Jackson Society seconds staff to the Quilliam Foundation. This extraordinary organisation is a career vehicle for “reformed jihadists” to milk huge salaries and luxury lifestyles from government money, in return for fronting an organisation run by the security services. Quilliam specialises in denouncement of Muslim organisations and talking up the Jihadi threat, offering “expert advice” on the government’s anti-free speech strategy. At the same time, it seeks to maximise the income of its directors. One interesting collaboration to make money was its collaboration with the current head of Pergida UK, and former head of the English Defence League, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (Alias Tommy Robinson).

“Quilliam have received millions from the taxpayer for their dubious “work”. But their application for Home Office funding to split with Yaxley-Lennon remains an episode beyond belief. Several of Quilliam’s staff are “lent” by the CIA-funded Henry Jackson Society.

With the idiocy, the spin, the ideological faith-based reasoning, the junk, and the propaganda predominating in the public discourse, where does that leave public intellectuals? There is still room for engaged activist academics to tackles inequality, housing, racism, or neoliberalism in many important ways, but the fundamental areas of international relations, economics, and politics are the realm of the fanatics, the mercenaries and the pseudorealist dullards. More often than not, news media contextualise Western military action by getting comment from a puerile geek who heads a University-based think tank with called the “Center for Strategic Something-or-Other” who thinks the world is a James Bond movie and gets breathless while describing moves “take out” these ISIS forces or those Al Qaeda affiliates.

The most respected intellects in the public realm are now those best at peddling propaganda and blithely trashing intellectual rigour. Niall Ferguson, for example, wrote a 2012 Newsweek cover article that was full of deliberate distortions, that hasn’t lowered his stock. If Noam Chomsky had done something like that we would never hear the end of it, but Niall Ferguson is treated as if he is some form of superior being. His books are also abysmally poor from a scholarly, intellectual and ethical viewpoint except when he is writing about financial history. When writing about finance he is incisive and cynical, but when writing of more general history he simply reproduces old political rhetoric and propaganda. He is like an archeologist who, on excavating a midden, throws away all artifacts and instead collects the ancient, dry, dusty manure into a big heap. Then, for this pile of shit, he is given high accolades, praise, book deals and glowing reviews.

Neocons and other old warmongers like Henry Kissinger are treated increasingly like idols. In France the most notable intellectual of this time is Bernard-Henri Lévy. That alone should be enough to show how low we have sunk. Like Henry Kissinger, “BHL” is widely loathed, but he is accorded the highest status as a public intellectual.

The right-wing fanatics and neoliberal apparatchiks, who promote of greed, selfishness, hate and war, are not balanced by opponents who are given the same stature. Antagonists are effectively crowded out of the mainstream conversation so that the anti-intellectualism of the right-wing pundits spreads discredit over scholarship as a whole. Left-wing public intellectuals thrive amongst the activist minority, but are almost totally excluded from mainstream news media. Instead, news media will not only feature junksters from think-tanks, but will often allow paid PR people and political consultants to act as pundits. It is simply free unregulated political advertising for right-wing and commercial interests.

Meanwhile, a war criminal like Tony Blair can travel to any part of the world and, no matter how much ordinary people hate him, rich people will pay huge sums to hear him speak. They do not line up to pay for ex-leaders who did not wage a war of aggression. They are so enamoured of power that in their magical thinking the very fact that Blair was such a successful mass-murderer imbues his words with mystical sagacity. This reveals much about elite culture and politics that I will return to later.

In the US there is also a rarified zone “inside the beltway”. This Olympus is at the heights of power, but apparently at that altitude something weird happens to your brain and Ronald Reagan looks like a Great Man or even some form of genius. Among the beltway demigods are many neocons like Robert Kagan who are treated as paragons of intellect. Let me be very very clear here: some of these neocons, most likely including Kagan, know exactly what they are doing. Their idiocy is calculated. The past 15 years of ongoing slaughter, destruction and instability in the Middle East, Central Asia and parts of Africa under the rubric of fighting terrorism has seen the US extend its already unparalleled imperial hegemony. Without this death and suffering the US empire, which has voluntarily been constructed out of militarised control of strategic resources and finance, would have shrunk. By their own tacit standards, which are seldom voiced, the neocons have succeeded enormously. But that is not my concern here, because the way they publicly explain themselves is utter nonsense. Their intellectual offerings are much like those of Niall Ferguson, but where his is dusty remnants, theirs is fresh, steaming and pungent.

Accorded the status of intellectual people like BHL, Kagan, or Ferguson can say stunningly stupid things and be praised for their superior minds. However, let us not pretend that this is not pointed. The stupidity must serve the right purpose. It must be pro-war, pro-authoritarian, and pro-neoliberal. Or it could be Islamophobic. Sam Harris, for example, has extremely clever ways of saying extremely stupid things. As Marek Sullivan writes in Counterpunch, Harris uses “‘vaccinated polemicism’—a polemicism that incorporates a moderate dose of self-reflexive critique”. What he does is reject the crude Islamophobic rantings of people like Trump, and having established himself as a creature of reason, he performs a 180-degree turn and affirms them, except now couched in more multisyllabic terms. This “enables him to say one thing while meaning another, to give the impression of reasonableness while endorsing the most noxious ideas of the right.” To extend the metaphor I used for neocons and Ferguson, Sam Harris proves that despite everything they say, you can polish a turd. Many people who don’t like the raw turds offered forth by Trump or Ted Cruz will cheerfully gobble down Harris’ polished turds, which are a much better class of crap.

 

4 Let Your Fists Do the Talking

The proclivity for using violence is an intrinsic constituent of Fascism. When Fascists eschew violence it is always a tactical decision, because on the whole they are ideologically and psychologically wedded to the idea that if they use violence to advance an agenda it is necessary, natural and morally righteous.

If you have ever found yourself in personal opposition to neonazis or fascistic white supremacists, you will know that they project their own violent tendencies and intentions on those who oppose them ideologically. Fascist ideas are very attractive to people who have what psychologists refer to as “appetitive aggression”. This is fostered by trauma, such as family violence, and in turn prompts not just violent acts but cruelty.

Your average Fascist, however, is not a frontline Brownshirt. They mostly want violence to be inflicted on those they think of as enemies by those who they think of as their protectors. They want the police to be violent to criminals and to those who threaten the social order with activism. They are both thrilled and reassured by displays of military might and by the use of mass armed violence against those who they perceive as potential threats. This, in turn, is part of a tendency that psychologists term “right-wing authoritarianism”.

“Right-wing authoritarians” also believe strongly in following a leader, hence the name. For this reason I want to return to a particularly revealing recent incident described in the headlines of Democracy Now!:

“Trump’s remarks at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama were interrupted by an African-American activist who shouted, “Black lives matter.” Trump shouted, “Get him the hell out of here,” and a group of Trump’s supporters surrounded the activist, Mercutio Southall Jr., kicking and punching him. Trump defended their actions in a Fox News interview Sunday.

Donald Trump: “I don’t know, rough up, he should have been – maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing. … And this was a very obnoxious guy, who was a troublemaker, was looking to make trouble….”

Trump is saying that it is good to beat up people who annoy you and his supporters spontaneously do that to protesters at his rallies. At a more recent rallysupporters yelled Shoot him! Kick his ass! and even Sieg heil—a Nazi salute—as one protester was dragged away.” Others yelled “light the motherfucker on fire”. But Trump and his followers are not that far from the mainstream. When protests have occurred at rallies for the Democrats as well as the Republicans for a number of years attendees have spontaneously surrounded the dissidents and chanted “U S A! U S A!” in a manner that should be chilling. It is not that much of a step to go from an aggressive mass chant to the violence of physical force.

[I have just seen an even more striking incident at a Trump rally where the reviled dissidents were themselves rather midlessly partiotic and joined in the USA! chant]

Part of this is the belief that people raising their voice is discordant and a form of transgressive violence. Any perceived insult to the country or to authority prompts great violent anger. For both the leader and the followers anything seen as insubordination is the equivalent of unpredictable dangerous violence. This is shown again and again by US police who can become violent and agitated if people are not deferential.

The “white male entitlement syndrome” is part of a growing culture of authoritarianism in the US. A key indication was one of those incidents that should have been widely broadcast news, but which the global mainstream media managed to pretend was not newsworthy and that is the “Don’t tase me bro!” incident which became famous through social media. This happened in 2007 when some security guards at the University of Florida decide to detain someone because the did not like the question he posed to John Kerry. He quite rightly resisted being silenced and what followed looked a lot like they deliberately inflicted pain on him for having been defiant. The difference between this and many of the police incidents is that these guards were by no means in a confrontation, they had no possible excuse for being fearful, and they were not forced to exert control over the body of the man. Everything they did was utterly gratuitous. I am not trying to excuse other incidents of police violence, but this is an extremely uncomplicated example of uniformed thuggery by people who seemed to believe that it people who do not show deference to authority should be punished with violent pain. My great fear is that many people cannot really see why this incident is so disturbing and symptomatic.

It is only a short step from a crowd bravely beating a lone protester, to militias attacking peaceful rallies while the police studiously fail to notice. From there violence may easily become deadly. Back to India, Narendra Modi’s ideological wellspring – the RSS – is a militant organisation with many aligned militias. They have a long history of entanglement and involvement in bloody communal violence. This has long been a serious problem, but now violent Hindu nationalism has, to a degree, been endorsed by the state.

The English language Indian website Countercurrents features many stories about Indian fascism. This is a large and complex issue in a large and complex country, however there are two stories that I think will be striking to most readers. One is the fact that Indian tax money is being spent erecting statues to Naturam Godse. Godse was the Hindu nationalist, formerly of the RSS, who killed Mahatma (“Venerable” or “Great Soul”) Mohandis Gandhi. The statues are part of an attempt to rewrite history: to make Gandhi more exclusively Hindu and to elevate Godse. “One BJP MP called him a patriot and other BJP MP said that Godse chose the wrong target, instead of Gandhi; he should have chosen Nehru as his target.”

Alonside Gandhi and his murderer, Modi has also elevated the Sardar (“Chief”) Vallabh Bhai Patel. Patel banned the RSS after Godse killed Gandhi, so it is little wonder that Sandipan Sharma writes: “The utopian dream of the lamb and lion drinking from the same fountain couldn’t have found a more perverse fulfillment.” Combining contradictions within one entity might be fertile for spiritual and philosophical thought, but in politics it always denotes the deliberate confusion of antagonistic values in order to create Orwellian doublethink. War is peace. Modi, like Sam Harris, is polishing turds. He is making violence, hatred and intolerance acceptable to people who want to pretend that they are not complicit in the excesses of the few.

The second striking story of Fascism emanating from India is the natural result of the dogwhistle endorsement of communal violence that is implicit in Modi’s governance. This is the advent of anti-beef militias who attack and sometimes lynch people suspected of eating beef or transporting cattle. These attacks are directed against Muslims in general. Countercurrents details 5 deaths, all of which seem to be prompted by faulty or flimsy information, before adding: “Recently three writers were killed by fascist forces. Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M.M.Kalburgi were killed in cold blood and none of the culprits were arrested so far.”

Central and Eastern Europe have seen the coinciding phenomena of the rehabilitation of old Nazis with the rise of Fascist violence. In Latvia hundreds of Waffen-SS veterans and supporters marched. Earlier, “the last Estonian SS veteran to have been awarded the Nazis Knight’s Cross, Harald Nugiseks, was buried in Estonia with full military honors on Friday 10 January 2014.” In Croatia nationalists demonstrated against an antifascist ceremony chanting the Ustasha slogan “Za dom spremni” (“Ready for the homeland”). The Ustasha ran a Nazi client regime in World War II. They had their own death camps where an estimated 34,000 Jews, 80,000 Roma and 300,000-600,000 Serbs were killed. In Ukraine, though loathed by many Ukrainians, large numbers of West Ukrainians venerate Stepan Bandera whose Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists had dedicated SS units who are estimated to have massacred a total of 500,000 civilians.

Those who embrace the Fascists of the past as heroes tend to minimise their crimes of violence, but they themselves embrace the use of violence as a valid form of political action. Many readers of this article will no doubt be aware of the Odessa Massacre, but given the mainstream silence on the subject it is worth (re)acquainting yourself with the facts to understand what Fascists will do when they are able.

Behind the thugs who commit acts of cruelty are demagogues who spout what may at first seem to be hyperbole. We know from sources such as the Auschwitz doctors interviewed by Robert Jay Lifton that the over-the-top rhetoric of Nazi leaders, which they had almost disregarded when first hearing it, made it much easier to adjust to the new reality of daily participation in mass-murder. For this reason, like a tongue probing a sore (and cliché) tooth, I must return to the topic of Donald Trump: “’We’re fighting a very politically correct war,’ Trump said during a 2 December interview on Fox and Friends. ‘And the other things with the terrorists, you have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families! They care about their lives, don’t kid yourselves. They say they don’t care about their lives. But you have to take out their families.’”

Trump, who is ahead in polls by up to 5-27% depending on the poll, defended his openly stated plan to murder innocent people by saying “we have to be much tougher than we’ve been”. But it is the context in which Trump is saying these things that is most disturbing. He fellow candidate (currently second in the polls) Ted Cruz wants to carpet bomb ISIS areas, where millions live, and says “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.” The same debate in which Trump said those things saw the moderator ask Carson: “Could you order airstrikes that would kill innocent children by not the scores, but the hundreds and the thousands? Could you wage war as a commander-in-chief?” So now it is normal and accepted that mass-murder is part of the job description of President of the US.

Being a pediatric neurosurgeon, Carson’s response to being accused of not being willing to slaughter kids was fascinating: “…you should see the eyes of … children when I say to them, ‘We’re going to have to open your head up and take out this tumor.’ They’re not happy about it, believe me. And they don’t like me very much at that point. But later on, they love me. …

HUGH HEWITT: So you are OK with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilian. It’s like—

DR. BEN CARSON: You got it. You got it.”

Even for a religious person like Carson it seems a stretch to think that those you have killed will look back and love you for it. Carson is combining two techniques of sanitising violent crimes that, while not exclusive to them, were greatly beloved of the Nazis. One is a specific dehumanisation which strips victims of their capacity for suffering. Usually this is done by saying that “life is cheap” for the enemy, but Carson’s childish fantasy works to the same effect. The other is the use of a medical/surgical metaphor for warfare. This enduring mental framework for the grotesqueries of mass violence adjusts the attitude of those on the home front, those in the rear echelon, and those in the front lines carrying out the butchery. We might like to think that we cannot become the new Nazis, but once you accept the basic proposition that killing human beings is an act of sanitisation, or the excision of a disease, then there is no limit to how far you will take that killing.

This brings me to my final point, Jeb Bush, because of the circumstances, is able to make a completely anodyne and banal call for genocidal mass slaughter: “We need a strategy. We need to get the lawyers off the back of the war fighters. Right now, under President Obama, we’ve created this standard that is so high that it’s impossible to be successful in fighting ISIS…. We need to increase our military spending. We need to deal with a no-fly zone in Syria, a safe zone. We need to focus on building a military that is second to none.”

Bush’s word are the most significant of all because, although he is far too unpopular to become POTUS, he is the genuine voice of power. His words could have been uttered by Hilary Clinton without anyone raising an eyebrow. Her own rhetoric is extremely warlike and she is the easy frontrunner when it comes to campaign contributions from weapons manufacturers. Remember that almost every POTUS of the last half century has become significantly more hawkish after each successful election. In that context, what Bush is saying is ominous in the extreme.

 

5 Might is Right

Fascists believe that by exercise of power and will people can righteously act outside of the boundaries of law. They loathed “criminals”, but when they used the term they meant poor people, minorities, and race/class traitors. Breaking the law for your political beliefs or for self-advancement is not really criminal. “Moral” crimes and material gain are gray areas because the Fascist ideology is really just a cover for a psychology of us and them. The fear and hate directed at them is rationalised and justified by the fact that they are innately criminal. Those prone to this viewpoint are, on one hand, inclined to project their own sense of self onto others they consider respectable, and on the other hand have so conflated the concept of criminals with their phobic negative feelings about them. On both counts it makes it hard for them to view social peers and social superiors as actual criminals, nor view their illegal and transgressive acts as being actual crimes.

Once again our societies have drifted into a place where the fundamental relations of power that were truly important to Fascism are in effect, but the more visible flashing patent-leather declarations of Fascist ideology.

We are now more accepting of the idea that the rich and the powerful are beyond the law. I could mention here the near impunity enjoyed by perpetrators in finance, in oil and mining, in US law enforcement. There are a few scapegoats, but they are the exception. For example Donald Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, was prosecuted after 29 men were killed in a mining disaster in 2010. In my own country of Aotearoa when 29 mine workers were killed in the same year, CEO Peter Whittall managed to position himself in the news media (which is a willing tool of the PR industry) as something akin to a heroic rescuer. Whittall did face 12 charges, but they were dropped in what appears to be a deal in exchange for a voluntary payment of $3.4 million. His company was convicted and fined and ordered to compensate victims, but it went bankrupt, paid no fine, and gave only $5000 to each grieving family.

We are thoroughly accustomed to the idea that prosecutions against the rich are dropped because they might be expensive and risky, but we seem utterly oblivious to the hugely disproportionate use of national wealth that goes into prosecuting the poor and then locking them up at the taxpayer’s expense. I was nearly selected to sit on the jury for a couple accused of small-time tax fraud. Between investigation and prosecution it was clear that the expense to the taxpayer would have been at least 10 times the amount that they were accused of defrauding. The prosecution were seeking custodial sentences the costs of which would have also exceeded the amount they defrauded. In a bittersweet epilogue, after the conviction the local community has had to use its resources, including time donated by lawyers, to prevent the female convict from being deported away from her citizen children.

The accused in that instance were not exactly poor. They were petit bourgeois facing the same sort of “justice” that a working-class petty criminal would face. To demonstrate the long arm of the law, the state will entirely disregard cost when it comes to punishing the lower orders. The criminal justice system will wreak havoc on families and communities to remind all ordinary people that they are subject to the rule of law. They are sending a message to the poor. They also send a message to the rich, but it is a very different message. The message is that they will be fine unless they are very unlucky, or they steal from rich people, like Bernie Madoff did, or they paint a large bullseye on your chest and wear a cap saying “I’m an ideal scapegoat”, like Martin Shkrelli did.

Having different rules for the rich and for the poor is nothing new, but as our societies become more authoritarian, it becomes more natural. US law enforcement officers, for example, seem to genuinely believe that if they break the law it is not a crime. Equally, the outpourings of public support for George Zimmerman show that for tens of millions of people in the US right and wrong is a literal matter of black and white. The scary thing is that those who don’t believe that George Zimmerman is a murderer are so profoundly racist, in a deep and often quiet way, that they cannot even be reached by reasoning.

Similarly, when an Auckland businessman chased a 15 year-old tagger and stabbed him to death with a knife, there was a great deal of public support for his claim that it was self-defence. The boy, who was Maori, was portrayed in court as a pothead and an alcoholic. The killer was convicted, but the incident showed how even in Aotearoa, the foul slime of respectable and fearful racism is not far from the surface.

These cases show the way different aspects of society blend into a Fascist whole. Hate for the poor, however tinted by race and class notions, is always a product of uneasy consciences as well as being linked to authoritarianism and chauvinism – call it the discreet guilt of the bourgeoisie.

Times of crisis catalyse fearful privilege and create a fertile medium for Fascism to flourish. One of the symptoms that has come to the fore of late is Aggrieved White Male Entitlement Syndrome. This is a violent reaction, much like that which prompted the formation of proto-Fascist Freikorps militias in Germany after World War I. This happens when those who enjoyed status and security within the system lose their privilege due to systemic change or crisis. Out of egocentricity, and because the myths of society put them in an unrealistically central role, they mistake the symptom of breakdown (their loss of privilege) for the cause. They then blame those who campaign for equality for breaking a system in which they dreamed themselves to be the ruling class.

As I have already written about on another occasion, there is also an imperial version of Aggrieved White Male Entitlement Syndrome. You don’t have to be white or male, you just need to think that you are meant to be the part of the greatest and best country in the world, and when that imperial state no longer accords you secure well-being, your reaction is that other peoples should be attacked. In the most tragicomic fashion this is demonstrated by a recent poll in which 30% of US Republicans supported bombing Agrabah – a fictional country from a Disney cartoon.

This brings me to my next point, that governments and powerful political leaders are not expected to always act lawfully. There is now very little expectation that Western governments will give a cogent legal rationale for military action.

Governments and their agencies have always broken laws, but the open defiance of the international law currently displayed by Western governments and some of their client regimes is precisely comparable to the same open defiance of international law displayed by Hitler. In many respects this was Hitler’s most striking trait.

The evolution of this overt and unapologetic illegality is quite and interesting tale. I call it “How to go from Truman to Hitler in 6 easy steps”:

  1. Create client states as in South Korea and South Vietnam so that you can wage aggressive war against enemies under the pretext of “defending” the states you yourself created.

  2. Wage clandestine aggressive warfare using puppet troops or mercenaries under the command of US “advisors” as occurred in Laos.

  3. Wage secret conventional warfare using your own forces, but doing it “off the books” as in the “secret” bombing of Cambodia.

  4. Lie, blackmail, bully and distort UNSC authorisation to use force as in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Note that this involved a greats deal of time and effort and was achieved at considerable diplomatic cost. It prompted mass popular unrest and was generally a risky and costly road to waging a war of aggression.

  5. Get a UNSC authorisation to use limited force for a specific purpose and then simply use that as an excuse to wage a war of aggression. If people object, just thumb your nose at them. UNSC 1973 authorised the use of force to protect civilians, but belligerent Western and Arab regimes simply used as the pretext to wage aggressive war which toppled Libya’s government.

  6. Bomb Syria and get all of your friends to bomb Syria. If people point the finger you can say that everyone else is doing it anyway. Congratulations, you are now officially As Bad As Hitler.

The UK claims that its bombing of Syria is legal as “collective self-defence” of Iraq under Article 51 of the UN Charter bolstered by UNSC 2249. But Article 51 provides that “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.” The intent is that claims to act in collective self-defence cannot simply be used as a pretext for aggression. The UNSC specifically did not authorise military force in UNSC 2249, therefore it must not accept, as a body, that there is a valid case for collective self-defence. It is perfectly legal for the UK to bomb Iraq at Iraq’s behest, but to bomb Syria on that basis cannot stand because the same logic could be used for any act of aggression where you deemed that one state was being attacked from within another. If that were the case any of the 5 permanent members of the UNSC could wage aggressive war anywhere in the world by citing this pretext and there would be no way to overrule them.

Let me reiterate that the transformation is not such much one of increased illegality, it is that we no longer expect of governments to act within the law. Security Council resolutions were a big deal in 2003, an issue in 2011, and a mere curiosity for “policy wonks” in 2015.

By the same token we are readjusting our expectations of democracy. 2003 was a watershed. A NY Times writer wrote that antiwar demonstrations “are reminders that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.” Now we know that world public opinion has little power to constrain the US, or the EU, or NATO, or China, or Russia. The people of the world are the superpowerless. They are fooled and they are manipulated. When they do not accept lies they are capable of staging massive, elaborate, sustained and magnificent displays of impotence.

A study based on data from 1981 to 2002 confirmed what most people who concern themselves with the issue already knew: the US is not a democracy. The history of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) shows that the US is no exception. Both in polling and through mass action, peoples showed their clear opposition, but the regimes who signed the deal don’t really care. Equally, in this and in so much else, the news media vastly favoured the elite narrative and gave very little time to the popular narrative of opposition.

Not only is the democratic deficit getting worse, but the democratic electoral façade is becoming an ever more bizarre communal ritual that has nothing to do with democracy. To begin with I believe that there is a global pandemic of chronic electoral fraud. This is matched by an elite neoliberal hegemony over political and public opinion polling. We fool ourselves that, like PR companies, polling companies are amoral apolitical mercenaries, but they will not provide loyal service to those on the political left.

If we know that there is no democracy derived from the electoral process, then we are left to wonder what the increasingly elaborate and expensive business of campaigning is all about. The US is subjected to nearly 2 years of Presidential campaigning, but there is clearly no connection between public will and the actual post-election policies of the winner. In part the process is an auction block, with candidates selling policy for contributions. Mostly, though, the US Presidential campaign is an extended orgy of propaganda.

With a cast of thousands, a budget of billions, with focus groups, strategists, spin-mongers and the ever compliant presstitutes, the whole fantasmagoria is a long unrelenting barrage of thought control. It manufactures consent, it manufactures assent, and it manufactures disgusted disaffection and complacency. It gives some the illusion of self-determination, while it drives others away from all political participation. Amongst the array of candidates many will find either someone who they believe in, or someone who they feel must be kept from office, or both. All of the candidates are sheepdogs, herding all the voters together into lines to buy the product, Democracy®. They ride the electoral roller coaster in Democracyland and when it ends they are too dizzy and dazed to know up from down and left from right. Whatever happens after that they are told that they asked for it themselves or, more often, that everyone else voted for it and they must accept the democratic will. You can’t complain if you don’t vote and you can’t complain if you do vote.

To return to the subject of war, we can track the democratic deficit growing alongside the ever more blatant illegality. People hated the Korean War, so they voted for Eisenhower who ended the war. People didn’t want a war in Viet Nam, so they voted for Lyndon Johnson who promised not to send “American boys” but he promptly did exactly what he had promised not to do. Then they voted for Richard Nixon who promised to end the war. That did not work, either. But they had also been taking to the streets and taking direct action. More than 6 years after Nixon had been elected on promising to end the war, Congress finally ended the funding that would have seen the war continue in perpetuity. Now, however, it doesn’t matter if people take to the streets. Congress will never defund a war in the current circumstances. Perpetual war is with us. There are no democratic avenues to constrain the US empire in fomenting one eternal conflict after another.



6 Chauvinism, Extremism and the Death of Empathy

Two important related traits of right-wing authoritarians (or authoritarian “followers”) are aggression and a lack of empathy in general. These traits are greatly intensified by an excessive and exclusive identification with one’s own self-defined collectivities such as ethnicity, race, nation, religion, sect, region, sex, and class. This even extends to rather minor things like school and sporting affiliations, but these may become very serious to the authoritarians.

When you get authoritarian governance mixing with a widespread mass authoritarianism then you will inevitably end up in a Fascistic society. The authoritarian followers do not need to be a majority, they merely need to activated and weaponised by official sanction.

The dog-whistle approach of demagogues has continually fertilised and inflated the extremism of the authoritarian minority and, like the Weimar Germans, we have probably been distracted by the growing pluralist and libertarian tolerance of the majority.

While we are caught up in the good feelings that certain dramatic reforms engender, such as gay marriage, we fail to notice the increase in structural problems, the growing levels of social, political and economic exclusion, the growing corruption of unbridled plutocracy. We fail to notice the anomie, the inequity and the iniquity, but we also fail to notice that large numbers of people don’t share our joy at seeing our fellow human beings gain dignity and freedom. Those people think that gay rights and social disintegration are the same thing. They might or might not think that growing inequality is a threat to society, but they will all screw up their faces at the mere thought of feminists, and they will all be scornfully resentful of “political correctness”.

And now, when crises hit these people and their opinions are no longer quarantined. They live in a world threatened by demons and it shapes their thinking in ways that we might find difficult to grasp and beliefs we might find difficult to take seriously. These beliefs are now supported and promulgated by “mainstream” political leaders, religious leader newspaper editors, and broadcasters.

Carly Fiorina was attacked by some for saying: “Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” But many people are being told, and are receptive to, the message that the fact-checkers are the ones who have it wrong. For example in Breitbart you can read an article entitled “AP Correction Shows Carly Fiorina Is Right About Planned Parenthood and the Media”. If you actually read to the end carefully it does not actually validate Fiorina’s lie, but you actually have to try hard to notice that.

A Time article also seems at first to make Fiorina’s claims seem more credible. Twice they state that the video which she referred to has been released, but further down you can read: “There are no images on the full video of any attempt to harvest the brain of the fetus, and there is no sound.” The man who produced the video, Gregg Cunningham, claims to be “confident” that it is of an abortion, but refuses to name any organisation or clinic. In an online update Time was forced to admit that the footage could depict a miscarriage. As for Cunningham: “He said he worked as an intelligence officer at the Pentagon, where he learned the importance of using graphic images in wartime propaganda to establish popular sympathy for victims and anger at enemies.”

To summarise, mainstream people and outlets are promulgating emotive deceptive propaganda that feed extremism and violent reaction. Those who drink from this wellspring of demonisation divide the world into Us and Them.

They may be evil, subhuman, or merely unreachably alien. In many respects the Them is of lesser importance, a mere symptom of the more fundamental sense of Us. The point is that you only empathise and identify with the exclusive group that you understand as being human. You do not accord full humanity to others. From this perspective your understanding of any given Other may include any or all of the following: they are not capable of reason; they do not love their children; they cannot feel the same level of pain, fear or grief; they are inscrutable; they love destruction suffering and violence; they are evil.

The irony is that those who think they are the Us become the closest approximation to their own vision of the demonic Them – capable not only of committing monstrous acts but coming to revel in the suffering of others.

A recent study in the US has shown that students are significantly less empathic and more narcissistic than those 30 years ago. People are apparently confused as to how this could come to be, and the finger of blame often points to technology, violent games, and various aspects of youth culture. This makes me want to scream in outrage because we have wilfully promoted social relations and an orthodox ideology which makes narcissism and lack of empathy an absolute necessity for survival, let alone success, in contemporary Western societies and this disgusting culture has emanated from the US spreading like gangrene into the Anglosphere and then beyond.

From the Baby Boomer “Me Generation”, through the New Age, right up until now we have had more than half a century of an evolving social structure in which self-promotion has become compulsory in ever more varied spheres of life. The effect has been that of a repackaged and rebranded social Darwinism. Under the guise of individual positivity and self-esteem we have created societies where crushing competition is omnipresent. In this world the meek and the modest are kicked in the face, and feeling empathy for others will cause futile counterproductive angst.

This is the context that produces hipsters. For them social success and social inclusion requires an exquisite degree of self-regard while the space that previous generations might have reserved for political engagement is now filled with political correctness and ethical consumerism. This is also the context which produces trolls – people who derive a pleasurable sense of power and superiority from acts of destructive cruelty.

Other results of this need for narcissism include the reactionary impulse to recreate the nurturing tight-knit communities of an imagined yesteryear. In this imagined past the things that might cause anxiety, such as emancipated women or coloured people who are not servile, are (inaccurately) removed. This can be seen in Mad Men where the past is rewritten to make white male privilege seem less problematic, less contested, more natural and, above all, something that is not a source of guilt. That is not altered by a touch of self-reflexiveness or a morality-play type critique of white privilege because it is reaffirming the mythology of white supremacist nostalgia. Interestingly the critiques of Mad Men have themselves been dismissed as anachronistic, meaning that the ordinary perception of the past is in fact a distorted fantasy of white male empowerment.

The fascist nostalgia fuels nativism, racism, sexism, sectarianism, and religious fervour, but there is also a purely negative reaction that rather than trying to recreate fantasy, tries simply to exclude the contemporary notes of discord. In this nothing quite symbolises turning one’s back on humanity the way a gated community does. Gated communities have flourished in the last 40 years in both the developed and the developing world. The fact that they are often occurring where the risks of violent crime are negligible or not lessened by being in a gated community shows that these are the product of a distorted sense of danger and a fear of the disintegration of a fictional safe social order which never existed outside of the imagination.

The death of empathy can make the hegemonic class, ethnicity, gender, sect and/or religion into potential monsters. There is probably no clearer example of a nation losing the capacity for empathy than Israel. Israel has seen increasing levels of callousness and brutality. The anti-African racism in Israel has prompted both alarming words and shocking deeds. Israelis cheer the killing of Palestinians and desecrate their corpses. Religious scholars encourage the killing of children “if there is a good chance they will grow up to be like their evil parents.” A wedding party of Orthodox Israeli Jews danced and cheered to celebrate the death from fire of an 18 month-old Palestinian, brandishing knives and guns and stabbing a photograph of the murdered baby.

I could probably devote thousands upon thousands of words to describing what trollish hatred and violence that is gripping Israel, but instead I want to show how Fascism in one people can encourage Fascism in their enemies. In this instance I could cite the fact that opposition to Israeli crimes often causes anti-Zionists to cross a line from supporting the legitimacy of groups like Hamas and their right to resist occupation to actually becoming partisan advocates and supporters of this reactionary theocratic political organisation. More interesting than that, though, is the way that the real crimes of Zionism feed old-fashioned anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and white supremacist beliefs. People who believe in the impending “white genocide” (and who would probably cheerfully kill their grandmother if she began an intimate relationship with an Arab) seem genuinely concerned for the suffering of Palestinians. Of course, some are obvious shills for Israel, like this one but I don’t think they all are. The existence of these groups in turn feeds Zionist propaganda. The US-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) decries the scary extremist “White Supremacists”. This is fuel for their long-standing practice of appropriating alarm at the hateful racism of others and using it to delegitimise and attack those who would critique the hateful racism and oppression perpetrated by Israel.

The ADL is increasingly preaching to and collecting from the choir. Since that choir includes numerous billionaires and both the preaching and the singing are in the service of US empire, the ADL doesn’t have to worry too much about their increasingly frayed credibility. It is not easy to practice the legerdemain that equates anti-Zionists like Rania Khalek, Max Blumenthal, Ali Abunimah, or Rania Masri with the Ku Klux Klan or some skinhead thug covered in swastika tattoos, but the Zionists can afford to look foolish.

However, even Israeli elites are starting to see more of an equivalence between their own leaders and the Nazis. The Israeli ambassador to Switzerland responded to new legislation aimed at left-leaning NGO’s in Israel by posting this famous Göring quote to facebook “Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are under attack and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.” Meanwhile: “Hebrew University lecturer Dr. Ofer Cassif wrote on Facebook that Justice Minister Shaked is ‘Neo-Nazi scum’ and told Army Radio afterward, ‘I think it’s fair to compare Israel to Germany in the 1930s, and not to the years of genocide.’” Gideon Levy, who is admittedly somewhat of a dissident, wrote a New Year op-ed for Haaretz “2015: The Year of Blatant and Unapologetic Israeli Fascism”.

Israel is not the only Fascist state that feeds off the fascism of others. ISIS was the direct result of the US-led invasion and occupation of of Iraq and it thrives in an ongoing US-led destabilisation/permanent-war/slow-genocide strategy that seems to be aimed at all populous Arab countries. Europeans who join ISIS are motivated by experiencing Western racism and economic exclusion combined with seeing the hypocrisy and cruelty of Western military violence against Islamic peoples.

Former ISIS captive Didier François describes his captors as being far more driven by right-wing ideology and hatred of “democracy” than by religious ideology. “Islamofascism” was originally a purely fictional conceit created by neoconservatives seeking to promote war in the Middle East. [Islamofascism seems to fit a pattern of self-fulfilling prophecies made by US ideological “scholars”. These claims are patently false when made, but become true as the supposedly unintended outcome of US interventions. These notions include the “clash of civilisations”, the “arc of instability” and the “end of Iraq”. All of these conceits claimed that there was endemic conflict in the areas where the world’s most significant oil reserves are found. The claims were full of factual and logical errors when first made, and yet after heavy and violent US intervention they became reflected in actual events. While the “clash of civilisations” thesis is still nonsense, all of these claims are now in some respects reified and played out in violence destruction and misery.]

Predictably “Islamofascism” feeds from Islamophobic fascism. The latest Al Shabaab recruitment video, for example, features Donald Trump. Equally, the response to the existence of this new Islamofascism is an explosion of Christofascism, Amerofascism, Ziofascism, Whiteyfascism, Eurofascism, and Liberofascism. Like the Islamofascists these fascists appeal to an imagined past and seek to “make America/Britain/Eretz Israel/Ukraine/etc. great again”. There is also a utopian “end of history” promise of a future of righteous peace which just needs some military action, some redrawn borders and maybe a little bit of lebensraum.

Even satirical morons Barry Shitpeas and Philomena Cunk remarked that ISIS atrocities functioned to destroy the sense of humanity that was beginning to be extended to the millions of refugees fleeing conflict. Trump and Katie Hopkins thrive on the brutality of ISIS.

ISIS doesn’t just promote fear and loathing, it feeds self-righteous chauvinism. People don’t use the term “master race”, but the savagery of Islamist terrorists along with the facts of poverty, conflict and chaos make people of the US and Europe feel highly superior to the peoples of the former colonies.

Of course, those of you who are reading this article are likely to understand that the conflicts in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia are all sparked and fuelled by Western intervention. We know this because if you follow events the evidence cannot be ignored. Many people might not grasp the purpose of these monstrous acts, but Western fingerprints are undeniably all over the masses of murder weapons. As Andre Vltchek wrote of Syria: “The conflict… is so ‘unnecessary’, so bizarre, so obviously triggered by the West and its vile allies and interests.”

Most Westerners, however, do not understand that their own brutal regimes are visiting this suffering on poor nations and peoples. Most Westerners take this as proof of the savagery of those other peoples. Some say it aloud – the Trump followers, the Likudniks, the Daily Mail readers and so forth – and some just think it. The latter, which in the US context would cut right across supposedly vast gulf between “left” and “right”, from those who support John Ellis Bush (“JEB!”), to the Clintonites and the Sandernistas. These folks do not openly proclaim that others are barbarians, they just claim that the USA is the epitome and fount of civilisation, and they feel all the more smug for being too politically correct to say directly what they believe.

Under Hitler, the Germans were also very convinced that they were the embodiment of civilisation. Germans did not look back on their brutal actions in the Herero genocide and think – “we are actually the violent savages, not those we oppress.” Equally, people in the US cannot and do not match the brutal actions of their leaders and soldiers to their notion of who they are. US soldiers raped boys in front of their mothers in Abu Ghraib. It is difficult to think what more it would take to qualify as barbaric. Yet, as Rob Corddry explained on The Daily Show, this does not change the self image of people in the US: “There’s no question that what took place in that prison was horrible, but the Arab world has to realize that the U.S. shouldn’t be judged on the actions of a…well, we shouldn’t be judged on our actions. It’s our principles that matter, our inspiring, abstract notions. Remember: just because torturing prisoners is something we did, doesn’t mean it’s something we would do.”

 

7 State Repression

The savage empires with their torture and their massacres often fuel the hypocrisy and the exceptionalism by reference to the “freedoms” that they enjoy in the homeland. This too may often be more myth than reality. There is a confirmation bias which takes any affirmation of “traditional” freedoms and liberties as being fundamental and any curbs on freedom to be exceptional and not representative. The reason that this seems true to people is that state repression is not aimed at people who do not pose a threat to the state. When the state becomes fragile it may begin imprisoning journalists or comedians who speak heresy, but the ideal response to such people is to do nothing and act positively to ensure that that they are overwhelmed by having at least ten times as many column-inches and twenty times as much airtime devoted to more patriotic opinions and more loyalty to the social order.

There is a lot of truth to the sense of freedom in the developed Western world. There is a virtuous circle where a regime allows more freedoms because the people are contented and unthreatening and those increased freedoms increase the level of contentment which in turn allows even greater liberalisation. Existing alongside this, however, is another source of loyalty and contentment, which is delusion brought about by propaganda. The two work very well together because you can create enough freedom and material well-being in the homeland that it seems intuitively correct when you claim to be the standard-bearers of human goodness. Thus when you carry out brutal acts of slaughter against foreign peoples it seems perfectly believable when you blame the victims.

Western ideological governance is not so much carrot-and-stick as carrot-and-stick-and-koolaid.

I will return to the “stick”, later. At this point we should note that the “carrot” helps mask the bitterness of the mind-controlling “koolaid”. The carrot is the Bernie Sanders “bribe” which I referred to in part one of this article. The carrot comes in forms like the US “New Deal” or accommodation reached in Western Europe after 1968 which saved capitalism from itself. The problem with the “carrot” is plutocratic distemper. If elite plutocrats are not actively frightened of the consequences of not providing a carrot they tend to resent giving carrot handouts to the masses. Once the carrot is gone, the “koolaid” of regime loyalty becomes very sickly and increasingly hard to swallow.

Contrary to popular belief, empires do not tend to be very good at doling out carrots. Many people, having taken their patriotic koolaid, think that empires are run for the benefit of the homeland. In fact the very nature of empires is to create a set of imperial interests and power relations which detach an imperial elite from the homeland population. The Roman, the Spanish and the British Empires all developed in such a way that inequality and deprivation gripped both the imperial centre and the conquered periphery. As the homeland population becomes less economically significant, as is happening now with the outsourcing of industrial labour, the imperial elite cheerfully destroys the social structure. This is not just out of unreflexive greed, but also because wealth distribution has a democratising effect and elites do not like democracy. Thus the virtuous circle of carrot-and-koolaid is replaced by a vicious circle of deprivation-and-stick.

I will deal with the increasing levels of inequality and economic injustice in the next section, but it is important to highlight the centrality of class relations. Underneath all of the doling out of carrots regimes are always, at base, structured to favour the interests of a ruling class. There is always discontent and dissent among those who see more clearly or whose place in the social order leaves them out of the carrot party. Because of that there is always the stick. In the best carrot-and-koolaid consuming scenario the stick stays out of sight. It is deniable, but ideally the carrot-and-koolaid munchers sense that it is there. They fear it but cannot confront it. If the stick comes out of hiding it puts them off their carrots, and if they don’t enjoy the carrots they will refuse to swallow the koolaid. For some people the stick is always brandished visibly. They get little carrot and they can’t stomach the koolaid so the stick is used to shut them up. A lot of them will drink the sickening koolaid anyway, just out of despair and because they will probably get even more stick if they don’t.

In these metaphoric terms what we have seen is that Western societies is the withering of the carrots. They are small and rubbery, and some people are getting very few. The koolaid, meanwhile, has doubled in sickly sweet strength – it is more effective to some, but more revolting than ever to others. The stick is brandished and used far more widely.

Civil liberties have been seriously eroded everywhere after 2001. People in the US, for example, might have once expected that at some stage the tide would shift back and liberties would be restored, but instead the very institutions that might provided a countervailing impetus have been eroded or blunted. I don’t feel that I need to go into specific detail on measures such as the UK’s prolific CCTV cameras or the US airport security regime, readers are probably just as familiar with the details as I. The one thing that is universal and unprecedented, though, is electronic surveillance (or data collection if you think there is a meaningful distinction).

We should all understand that our precious Western freedoms have always been contingent. You are most welcome to freely express your opinion in a “free-speech zone” but if you do anything that actually seriously disrupts the ruling class you will be subject to pain of some form. This is generally done in legalistic terms, but false charges are commonplace. Often this is not in pursuit of a criminal conviction but just a way of locking people up, bullying them and hurting them. In the US, for example, when major protests occur police departments regularly have a pre-approved budget of millions to cover settlements from lawsuits stemming from misconduct.

As the carrots dry up, and discontent grows, more and more people will discover what the stick feels like. The importance of the dragnet data collection is that politically active people are more and more likely to face charges relating to conspiracy or intent to commit a crime. Now, when those charges are brought to court the prosecutor will have comparatively easy access to years and decades of texts, comments and phone conversations. The prosecutors will be assisted by excellent speech recognition software and algorithms designed to go through everything you have ever allowed to be digitised, not to mention everything your child has ever told to its favourite talking toy.

Realistically speaking, if warrants are used to make this data presentable to court they will be sought only after intelligence offices, police and/or prosecutors have already had a not-so-legal sneak preview. Because computers have already trawled through everything to find things that fall within predetermined criteria of incriminating material, they will find exactly what they are programmed to find. After that the defence will have to rely on the scepticism, goodwill and propriety of the judge and jury. Scepticism may grow as people become more aware of the problem, but goodwill and propriety are dwindling commodities.

In the developed countries we have become subject to greater surveillance by far than any other population in human history. Thus far this has been of more use in shaping public opinion than in dragging dissidents away in the middle of the night. That should not be much of a comfort. The fine control over “messaging” that the “computational politics” of big data is itself fuelling a type of bland tyranny wherein spin doctors can make the masses accept nearly any outrage – a subject to which I will return in my conclusion.

The degradation of traditional Western liberties does not need to be repeated here in full. In my country, for example, an intelligence agency was caught breaking the law by spying on people so the government just passed a new law to retrospectively make the spying legal. This sort of thing is typical not just in the West, but in all countries where “terrorism” provides plausible cover.

France could perhaps be emblematic of the lunacy of it all because they are clamping down on free speech in order to, supposedly, protect free speech. Whilst the entire world was still rallying for free speech and everyone was declaring “I am Charlie”, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala managed to get himself arrested for posting “I feel like Charlie Coulibaly” to facebook. He was charged with incitement to terrorism because Coulibaly was the surname of one of the Charlie Hebdo shooters. Dieudonné was making a clear point about the hypocrisy, but he did not arrest himself. The French authorities were also making a very clear point – a declaration of what they consider to be protected speech and what they consider to be incitement.

The worst spikes in state repression have been seen in the increase of death sentences and executions in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt. Saudi Arabia just put 47 “terrorists” to death in one day and then hung their bodies from gibbets. In the year since lifting an execution moratorium, Pakistan has killed over 200 men, most of whom were labelled as “terrorists”. In Egypt there have been 3 mass death sentences handed down and confirmed in the last 2 years which have left hundreds condemned to die for participation in political activities. Another mass trial of 494 protesters facing the death penalty has been postponed for the 11th time in more than two years.

 

8 Inequality and “Corporatism”

Some people bandy about the term “corporatism” with considerable ignorance. They simply assume that “corporatism” means rule by big business “corporations” in the US sense of the word. Others like to sneer at the ignorance of such people, but in this case the ignorant are more grounded in the real world than the sophomoric geeks (who should probably stick to arguing about Star Trek or what method of suicide Alan Moore will use if they make another film based on one of his stories). As is so often the case, the ignorant mass opinion is wrong in detail, but broadly makes sense, while the educated opinion is correct in a central aspect but completely oblivious to the larger picture. This is why educated people can be much more twisted and Orwellian in their beliefs. But I digress….

Fascist and postcolonial corporatisms espouse various vertically organised “corporations” as a means of organising and representing the entire populace. This is a highly authoritarian ideal, with each corporation structured hierarchically. It means that a top stratum of society runs everything in the name of various subdivided parts of society, but in effect they become their own separate elite interest. In postcolonial corporatism this meant that the politico-military elites controlled large industrial, extractive and agricultural concerns (often alongside former colonial interests). Whether or not they were the formal owners of enterprise, this politico-military-capitalist would be able to expropriate profits and accumulate capital whilst risk was absorbed by the state.

For Hitler and Mussolini, the former combatants, the ideal was to create a giant army-like machine out of the nation-state, to make it a single organism. Corporatism was the ideology put forward, but as the Parenti quote in part one of this article showed, the reality was a close collaboration of government and capital, with government acting as the muscle of capital against labour. This was not even an invention of the Fascist countries. Despite its liberal ideology opposing such things, the British Empire had built a very close-knit revolving-door sort of relationship between government and the industries of arms, finance, shipping, steel, coal, and oil. Germany and the US had followed in Britain’s footsteps and in some respects Hitler’s empowerment of the industrial elites was a restoration of the central role that they had occupied under the Kaiser.

“Corporatism” is therefore quite a good word for the interpenetration of government and capital we now experience. Like their liberal forebears, neoliberal (anti)praxis is a complete contradiction of the espoused ideals of neoliberalism. Neoliberal globalisation and “liberalisation” is, in fact, the spread of corporatist governance. It is the process of concentrating both capital and political power within a shrinking group of inseparably mixed “private” and “public” elites.

There are many reasons why the rich and powerful feel that the rich and powerful should have all of the power and wealth concentrated in their own hands; why they should be the masters of the universe. Even small business employers tend to be paternalistic at best and at worst hateful of their socioeconomic inferiors. Research shows that wealth has a positive correlation with narcissism and aggression and a negative correlation with empathy. I suspect that there is are even stronger equivalent correlations engendered by one’s position in a political power hierarchy.

Wealth and power are increasingly inseparable. Between speaking fees, directorships and consultancies, those who use power in the right way when they hold office are showered with riches thereafter. They become part of a network of institutions of wealth, power and information/ideology. Within this are think tanks and private institutions that shape or even write government policies like the Council on Foreign Relations; institutions that write legislation like the American Legislative Exchange Council; or they could undertake some of the executive functions of government like the US Federal Reserve or the RAND corporation. These are just examples, of course, but there is interpenetration with lobbying organisations and PR firms. Then there are conspiracy forums such as the Bilderberg Group where the most powerful people in the world meet in secret, but if you suggest that they might actually conspire in these secret meetings (as opposed to merely making small talk) you are tarred as some sort of fantasist.

Within this network are also those enterprises whose business model is reliant on policy, legislation and/or government spending for their revenue. This includes armaments, nuclear and finance industries by their very nature. Other industries choose to pursue a similar path either exclusively or partially. These include mining, oil, agribusiness, food, pharmaceuticals, biotech, aerospace, energy and infrastructure. Other business generate revenue by supplying demand with goods and services or by creating previously non-existent demand through marketing and then filling that demand. Because of their intimate involvement in government these private interests inevitably edge closer and closer to taking the shortest route between point A (collecting taxes) and point B (giving that tax money to executives and shareholders). US government contractors are particularly bold with boondoggles like the f-35 jet, and the insanely corrupt no-bid contracts of the Iraq occupation.

Halliburton subsidiary KBR initially made great wealth from contracts in Viet Nam furnished by Lyndon Johnson (to whom they had given sizeable campaign contributions). In Iraq they were given $39.5 billion in contracts. A 2003 CBS story gives the background:

“The system has been awarding billions of dollars in military contracts to private firms. Among these firms is a Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root, which got the oil fire job, and in 1992, authored a study that concluded it would be good to privatize billions of dollars worth of military work. ‘Of course they said it was a terrific idea,’ says Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity, a group that monitors the government for possible corruption. ‘So they helped design the architecture for privatizing a lot of what happens today in the Pentagon when we have military engagements.’

“In 1992, the Department of Defense, under then Secretary of Defense Cheney, commissioned the Halliburton subsidiary to do the study. In 1995, Cheney became the CEO of Halliburton.

“Says Lewis, ‘Why would a defense secretary, former chief of staff to a president and former member of Congress with no business experience become the CEO of a multibillion-dollar oil services company,” asks Lewis. “He was brought in to raise their government contract profile and he did.’

“Halliburton nearly doubled the value of federal contracts it received – from $1.2 to $2.3 billion – during the five years Cheney was its CEO. “I’m not saying it’s illegal,” says Lewis, who points out that many former high-ranking military officers work for firms seeking federal contracts. ‘They set up the system for themselves, and they may be doing it in red, white and blue, but they’re doing quite well.’”

With US interests in particular this is not just an upward redistribution of the wealth of the US masses, it is an appropriation of wealth from everyone on the planet. Almost every nation in the world, including China and Russia, is forced to pay the US some of the money that the US spends on weapons which, in a roundabout fashion, are used to make sure they keep paying. This fiendish system was described in Michael Hudson’s book Super Imperialism. In case you are unable to read the book, Hudson has explained the underlying thesis in 84 seconds here.

Not coincidentally the interests that get to feed at the public trough just so happen to be the means of imperial hegemony. To complete the picture one must also include news and entertainment media, but between arms industry ownership of major media, intelligence agency control of news media, and Hollywood dependence on the Pentagon, that too is well within the same network. I have said it before, and I will say it again, this is an “empire complex” and it is nothing new to this world:

In 1902 John Hobson noted that the British Empire was a drain on the wealth of the majority of the people of Britain and the majority of the capitalist enterprises of Britain. He wrote: Seeing that the Imperialism of the last three decades is clearly condemned as a business policy, in that at enormous expense it has procured a small, bad, unsafe increase of markets, and has jeopardised the entire wealth of the nation in rousing the strong resentment of other nations, we may ask, How is the British nation induced to embark upon such unsound business; The only possible answer is that the business interests of the nation as a whole are subordinated to those of certain sectional interests that usurp control of the national resources and use them for their private gain.

But the nature of these certain sectional interests was far from random: shipping, coal, arms, finance, and military contracting. These were the beneficiaries of empire, but they were also the tools. These are strategic industries. They were the British military-industrial complex – the empire complex if you will. None of these interests were separable from the Crown, nor, more to the point, was the reverse the case.”

Those who use political office to advance the empire complex are richly rewarded. Tony Blair, for example, has a net worth of over £60 million. Bill Clinton is worth about $80 million. Part of this comes in astronomical speaking fees. Blair was once paid £364,000 for two 30 minute talks, and Hillary Clinton’s speaking fees average $230,000. Given that large numbers of people think that Blair should be tried as a war criminal, including his current successor as Labour leader, the high speaking fees and the adulation given to Blair by the rich and the cronies seem to indicate that there is a strong disconnection between the culture and beliefs of ordinary people and those of the elite. In one Marie Antoinette moment, for example, Save the Children had to apologise after having caused outrage by giving Blair a “Global Legacy” award. This was reminiscent of the mass anger, that apparently was unforeseeable in Washington DC, when the Bush administration had the brilliant idea of making Henry Kissinger the head of the 9/11 Commission.

The people at the centre of the empire complex are out of touch and no longer capable of smelling the putrid stench of their own corruption. They do not believe that the law applies to them, and though they might choose to be sentimental about some issues, they clearly do not place any value on the lives of ordinary people in normal circumstances. We have seen an evolution from the banal “Realist” excuses for mass-murder put forward by Henry “One Should Not Mistake Covert Action for Missionary Work” Kissinger; through the naïve attempted sincerity of Madeleine “We Think the Price is Worth It” Albright; to the giggling lunacy of Hilary “We Came. We Saw. He died” Clinton. You may think that it is unfair to compare Clinton’s statement about the death of Gaddafi with Albright’s statement about the deaths of 500,000 children, but Gaddafi was not the only Libyan who died. Clinton’s remarks are by far the scariest because they were premeditated and the sick delight she is taking in the news of Gaddafi’s death is all too evident. Normally even the worst dictators at least put on a front of solemn gravity and Clinton’s twisted pleasure reminds me of nothing so much as the smirk on Saddam Hussein’s face in 1979 as he read a list of “enemies of the state” in a council meeting where many named were present. They were all executed within hours.

French economist Thomas Piketty is right in the basic premise of Capital in the 21st Century: inequality is feeding itself. For structural and psychological reasons elitist inequality acts to concentrate wealth at the same time as becoming ever more deranged. I have referred to it as plutocratic distemper. It is not just driven by greed and megalomania, but by creating a psychosocial milieu in which elitism is natural, vast wealth is always a just desert, and democracy is only ever demagoguery and is a threat to “liberal” oligarchic liberty.

I will not go into detail on elitist governance, and the lies they tell themselves and others to justify plutocracy. It could take up a great deal of time and space. The point is that, thanks to technological development which has created ever larger and more immediate areas of effect for wealth and power, there is a vicious circle of inequality. Like the British Raj, the mechanisms by which ordinary people constrain their rulers have been destroyed by the imperialistic nature of political and economic governance. In many respects Fascism and Nazism replicated those same effects by destroying unions and other aspects of democratic governance, but the effect was the same.



Conclusion – The Whole Kit and Caboodle

I wrote at the beginning of this part of this article that events would keep overtaking me, and they have. The new Bundy siege is just one example. Speaking of anti-intellectualism in the USA, DC Comics also put out an annual in which an editor’s note describes some text as “translated from Pakistanian”. In France people report electoral disappointment for the Front National, but the right-wing party won a record number of votes despite the mainstream lurch rightwards after the Paris attacks.

In addition I have given very short shrift to Central and Eastern European fascism in its various overt and covert forms. Some writers see Ukraine as one front in an antifascist war while Syria is another. NATO has become a Fascist coalition, and perhaps discreetly it always has been. In that sense one can tie everything I have written about to interventions in Syria, Libya, Iraq and even back to the bombing of Serbia.

I have also left out the historical continuities between the anti-Comintern Axis powers and the Cold War era anti-Communist alliances led by the US. Unreconstructed Fascist and Nazi personnel were recruited not just for building rockets, but also for counterintelligence, propaganda and even torture expertise. Klaus Barbie, for example, was sent through the notorious “ratline” of Operation Paperclip and was then recruited by US counterintelligence and used as a torturer in Bolivia. Other Fascists were recruited into anti-communist “stay behind” armies, which would become notorious for conducting false-flag terror attacks and were linked, along with Italian intelligence, to the Bologna train station bombing that killed 85 people.

Something else that I have left out is the subject of militarism. In some ways it is difficult to assess. A lot of places have long had a very high bar of militarism and any increase is generally slow enough as to be imperceptible. The most obvious exception is Japan, where the renaissance of militarism is as striking as it is alarming. In contrast, countries like Egypt and Indonesia have the military woven into every strand of society, but this is nothing new. Mass conscription states like Israel and the Koreas are also innately militaristic. In Israel this has grown like a cancer due to the advent of paramilitary settlers and the aforementioned increasing embrace of violence.

The Anglosphere is most definitely more militaristic than it was in the 1970s. In the UK, Australia and Aotearoa the fetishistic honour and obeisance paid to former servicemen has become and obscene form of worship. People have forgotten that the original returned servicemen’s organisations were explicitly antiwar and that the original national commemorations, which began after the Great War of 1914-18, were against all war. Now the “fallen” are glorified in order to promote war.

For my money, though, the US may be the most militaristic society ever in human history. Their fervour exceeds countries where the actual military is omnipresent, like Israel. Israelis may have fantasies of being a cross between Sparta and Masada, but the banal reality of khaki-clad teenagers with their horny sexting and typical acne-ridden idiocy does not allow the depth of militarist delusion that is indulged in the US. In the US it seems as if every enlisted dweeb is an action movie hero and every high-ranking officer is a personal development guru with almost mystical insight and intellect. It is the latter part that is most surprising, in a way, but it indicates that the authoritarian worship of success that is endemic to the US is being translated into a military idiom. The logical outcome of this was already predicted in Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 satire Starship Troopers. Critics were confused by Verhoeven’s depiction of Fascist consumerism in 1997, but as Calum Marsh wrote in 2013, “now people are finally getting the joke”.

I have missed out many many significant fascistic aspects of our time, but I have tried to be consistent in suggesting that it is the whole that must be judged, not various events, institutions or people. It is the context that makes the person a Fascist, not merely their individual traits words or actions. If someone holding political office in a Fascist regime is not actively rejecting the fascistic aspects of the regime that that are involved in that office, then they are a Fascist. That is why I draw the distinction between Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

It is not just political office holders, it is also the academics, journalists, business people and normal workers who embrace fascist ideas. However, ordinary people are far less fascistic than elites, including the content creators of the left and alternative media. For example, Democracy Now! and Brave New Films joined the gushing adulation that is pouring out of “progressives” because Obama cried about the little kiddies when, after 7 years in office, he decided to take executive action to curb the insane gun violence problems in the US. In both cases, however, facebook commenters made it very clear that at least they had not forgotten that this Oscar-worthy performance came from a man who regularly kills children. Are these alternative media people Fascists then? I would say that they have to work much harder to earn the right to categorically deny being Fascists.

Ultimately, though, you may well ask why I choose to make any claim about Fascism at all? It is, after all, only a word. Moreover, most ordinary people will just think that you are a bit unhinged to say that there is a new global Fascism that has slowly taken over the world. Yet we do need a word.

There is a coherent ideological movement rightwards that has spread throughout the globe. It is not entirely new, but it can no longer be labeled as neoliberalism, neocolonialism, Western imperialism, globalisation, or any combination thereof. Nor are variants of “totalitarianism” any good.

Italian Fascism once happily embraced a totalitarian identity. If a regime is helpful enough to enunciate a totalitarian norm, it is very easy to criticise them as being totalitarian. The problem is in deciding whether their practices are actually more totalitarian than those who don’t proudly announce that they are totalitarian. There is no good reason to presuppose that people who overtly embrace totalitarian rhetoric are more totalitarian in practice. That is only the beginning of the problems inherent in using the term “totalitarianism”

For totalitarianism to work as a concept we would have to have a very good idea of what is and isn’t the state and have good reasons for making the distinction. Market fundamentalism, for example, could be described as totalitarian because it imposes a total paradigm of power, but it claims that the market’s power is separate from the state. Should that be accepted, and if so why? Or, to use an example that is only half absurd, should we consider all states with a state run education system to be totalitarian? Almost every citizen of these countries is socialised to think the same way about maths, sciences, art, music, history and language. They are given identical standardised instructions on how to think about civics, politics and their obligations and duties as a citizen. To someone with radically different ideological views, might this not be considered totalitarian?

For these reasons the process of labeling a given regime as “totalitarian” is tautological. Certain aspects of the society are deemed totalitarian because they are products of the totalitarianism of the regime, and the regime is diagnosed as being totalitarian because those same aspects are symptoms of the disease. This was very useful to liberal ideologues and self-loving Western chauvinists like Friedrich Hayek and Isaiah Berlin who were able to use it as a way of equating Nazism and Communism while painting Western liberalism as the best of all possible worlds. Because it is tautological the concept of totalitarianism is analytically sterile and the insights offered by thinkers like Hannah Arendt and Sheldon Wolin are like diamonds wrapped in used toilet paper – they are not that hard to get at, but you would be advised to wash the stinky Hayek from your hands afterward (do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth with Hayek-stained hands or you may contract brain rot!)

Fascism is a very good word to use because this ideological phenomenon that has taken over much of the world’s power elite is very compatible with the Fascism and Nazism of old. Not only that, but the suit-wearing, anodyne new Fascists are ideologically, politically and militarily aligned with overt neo-Fascist and Neo-Nazi groups and individuals. Furthermore, when the West bombs or sends troops or uses proxies is it as Fascist aggressors. This is something that the regimes in Russia, Syria and Iran are acutely aware of. I am not saying that to excuse their own authoritarian repression, but it is a fact. They know that they are facing an unfolding World War against Fascism, just as Stalin (who was not a nice person) knew that Fascism/Nazism was the greatest threat to the USSR, to Russia, to socialism and to humanity. He wasn’t wrong. He was a horrible person, but he wasn’t wrong.

Finally, I want to trace briefly how we came to this point.

For a long time people kept leaders from going “full Fascist”. This coincided with the period of comparative equality, humanitarian progression and aspects of democratic governance. This was also a time of intellectual ferment and public engagement. In part I think we owe a debt to the people of Spain, because it was their resistance to the Fascists rebels, and the positive aspects of their revolution, that woke and roused the mass hatred of Fascism that was the natural sentiment amongst people in France, the UK and the US. Beyond that, though, we really do have to thank Adolf Hitler for opening people’s eyes to the full putrescence of unleashed Fascism. In fact, a shocking number of military, commercial and political leaders did not actually think that Nazism was bad, especially in the US, but those people had to be very careful about what they said in public. Fascism was not respectable any more.

In a sense the post-WWII world was inoculated against Fascism, but we haven’t had our booster shot. Not that I think people have become much more sympathetic with fascism. That has certainly started to happen now, but the progress of creating the new Fascism began earlier. I have referred several times to what I term “plutocratic distemper”. This can be related to Piketty’s work on inequality, and it basically indicates that the elite ability of concentrate wealth and power in elite hands has created a feedback loop. They are increasing inequality and social exclusion and the result will be the destruction of society. This happened in Rome’s past when the Senatorial class in the republic started using political power to concentrate ownership by seizing lands theoretically due to be given to retired legionaries. From this arose an economic paradigm of large landholdings (latifundia) owned by oligarchs and worked by slaves. Ordinary people became much less important to the economic activity of the republic. The populares were political enemies of the elitist optimates who were appropriating land for the wealthiest. Populares fought for and secured a subsidised grain dole for the underemployed landless people who moved to the city. Later the dole became free. The contest between optimates and populares was a century of street thugs fighting, lynching, political assassination and civil strife that became a series of civil wars. This destroyed the republic. I would have destroyed the entire Roman polity, no doubt, if the civil wars that followed the death of Gaius Julius Caesar had not been won by Octavian – a man who would rule as princeps Augustus Caesar for a very impressive and relatively stable 4 decades.

I think we have reached a similar point in our history for two reasons. The first is that technology has destroyed the wealth distribution that previously occurred through the selling of labour. Out of both necessity and desire the purchasing power of workers is dominated by goods and services that do not provide a large amount of employment. The “invisible hand” can increase mass consumption, but it cannot redistribute wealth under that paradigm. The consumption can be maintained at high levels through falling prices and built-in obsolescence but that will only accelerate the loss of purchasing power in the long term. Like the Romans before them, ordinary people are becoming peripheral to the economic functioning of society. Their jobs may still be absolutely crucial to society, but they cannot retain their market value.

The second reason is because the elites have become too good at wielding power. They are using what has been labeled “computational politics”. Zeynep Tufekci introduced the idea with these words:Digital technologies have given rise to a new combination of big data and computational practices which allow for massive, latent data collection and sophisticated computational modeling, increasing the capacity of those with resources and access to use these tools to carry out highly effective, opaque and unaccountable campaigns of persuasion and social engineering in political, civic and commercial spheres.”

The upshot of computational politics is a vast amount of turd polishing. Ideas that are against the common interest are constantly tinkered with, rebranded, repackaged, rephrased, re-rebranded and generally fucked with until people lose the ability to oppose them. Some of the most assiduously polished and gleaming turds are politicians. With their consultants, pollsters, and spin merchants, each has acquired a teflon coating. The fact that Australia’s Tony Abbot actually managed to get into trouble and not slime his way out of it immediately is a testament to his near inhuman ability to alienate and disturb ordinary sane people.

The new Australian Prime Minister has evinced admiration for his Aotearoan counterpart, former Merrill-Lynch currency trader John Key. Before even becoming leader of the “centre-right” National Party Key was implicated in illegally using a religious cult to campaign in contravention of electoral law. Key also developed a clear pattern of frequent lying. In mid-2014 this list of his 150 most important lies was collected. His lies are more venal and petty than the whoppers told by Trump, but as with Trump he is never actually concerned with what is true, only what he can say that will give him the greatest gain. He does not ever suffer negative consequences from these lies, and may be personally unable to fully distinguish the difference between truth and lies.

Key’s dishonesty should have killed his political career, but he would literally have to start killing babies on camera to spark any real consequences. He became an object of international ridicule when he repeatedly pulled a waitresses ponytail. It became more sinister when it was revealed that he has a habit of compulsively touching young girls’ ponytails. If you think that this might cause him to keep a low personal profile you would be wrong. He once again became the butt of John Oliver jokes when he went on commercial breakfast radio and revealed, among other things, that he has peed in the shower and does not “trim his downstairs” before he became a little bit evasive in discussing his habits of masturbation. Not content with leaving it there, the Right Honourable John Key would later go on an even more low-brow morning radio show to do a stunt in a cage where he was asked to pick up a bar of soap and chose to play along with the hilarious implied prison rape joke.

Key gets away with this stuff, which is all cleared in advance, because he has constructed an ordinary bloke image. His actions are very political, and very right-wing, but his persona is devoid of all politics. With considerable calculation he acts like he is not even the holder of high office even while he flaunts his high status and power. He depoliticises his politics in a way that old Fascists would have admired, but which is also appealing to a jaded population that is deeply distrustful of political ideologies.

This antipolitical trend is also seen in Guatemala where they elected a comedian to be president. Jimmy Morales describes himself as a “common man”. His politics are right-wing and he is accused by rights groups of being racist, sexist and homophobic, but he acts as if he has no politics. His campaign manifesto was six pages long and he argued that his lack of experience was his greatest asset.

Key and Morales are also like Trump. Their lack of coherence makes them immune to the vestiges of democracy that remain in the electoral systems of their countries. Their opponents are forced into the same position just to compete. Coherent politics has already become a liability. Trump doesnt just use a big lie technique, he uses a big joke technique because saying utterly outrageous things and sticking by them is much easier, less risky and less costly than trying to make real observations.

That is how we have reached this point. This plutocratic distemper has created a kakistocracy (rule by the worst) which is a new form of Fascism. The Fascism will destroy itself eventually, but the longer it lasts the more it threatens our civilisation, our species, and even our planet.



 

The Choice

Standard

You are at the edge of a canyon. Below you is a procession of thousands upon thousands of gagged people marching forward, their hands behind them in steel handcuffs. The sun mercilessly beats down on you and on the marchers causing real pain and distress. From your vantage you can see that they are marching to a cliff and to their certain deaths. You have been yelling and screaming to warn them, but your voice is distant and it is growing hoarse. It is never completely hopeless because occasionally people look up. Sometimes small groups together follow the gaze of someone who has heard you yelling. You wave frantically.

This has gone on for hours that seem like centuries.

When people see you their reactions vary. Some shrug in disbelief or denial. Others panic. Those who panic understand that they face death but instead of giving them salvation, all you have done is add more suffering to their last moments of helpless torment. Some manage to scramble out of the press of bodies to outcrops or scraps of shelter that vary in their levels of discomfort and precariousness. Some of those who stop try to gesture warnings to marchers with head and eyes. Others try to shield themselves from the merciless sun. After a time of watching hundreds marching by, many of those you warned decide that you must be wrong, or at least that all the other people might be right. They rejoin the death march, relieved to once again be going with the flow. The marchers have been promised that shelter and freedom lie ahead of them. They may be sceptical about that, but all you can offer is struggle and suffering.

There seems little hope. Your skin blisters and your voice is nearly gone.

There is a pool of water. Sometimes you leave the cliff edge to quickly drink. If you didn’t your voice would already have given out. There are also materials around to with which you could build a shelter. You would love to just build that shelter. You could even build a shade that kept the sun off the marchers as they pass your section of cliff. One time you splashed water on the marchers and they loved it. It was genuine joy. You could be sheltering yourself, alleviating suffering, and providing genuine happiness instead of giving only the bitter curse of impotent truth. It is the obvious thing to do.

The problem is that the pool of water gives the best view of people dying.

When they reach the cliff people try to scream through their gags. Some marchers turn on others, kicking and butting. Some are simply paralysed with fear. Many, perhaps even most, secretly thought that this might come and they go to their deaths hating themselves for not having fought back. They fooled themselves and now they realise that they should have paid any price to avoid this fate – for them and for their loved ones. No one at the cliff will thank you for having once splashed them with water.

You could build a screen to block the view of voiceless death and suffering, but you couldn’t live with the screen.

If you close your mind, then your acts and the choices you make will be part of the concealment of the truth. If you can’t bear to bring joy or alleviate suffering without denying the truth, then your acts will perpetuate the lie that sends people to their deaths. You will be complicit in mass murder.

The only answer to the cliff, is to keep screaming.

You know that there is just a small chance that enough people will stop marching and will accumulate at the sides of the canyon. Or maybe enough will look up and see you at one time. Enough to make a real difference. Then….

…Things could go very badly. It could create a stampede. The death might be worse than the cliff itself. Maybe that might be worth it if it ended the death march for good, but there is no guarantee that the march won’t just start again after the stampede. Marchers will go right over the bodies of the trampled if they have to. It only makes them more resolute and narrow-minded in going forward.

On the other hand….

…If the marchers can fight fear, if they can hold firm despite the discomforts of the canyon, a ripple of refusal might travel back right through the march. The marchers aren’t stupid. Most harbour serious doubts about the march, but they have no access to other voices. They have no access to each other’s voices – except for incoherent grunts, tweets, status updates, and moans. That is the only thing that gives power to the distant shouts of a lone lunatic.

They don’t like the source, but deep down many marchers feel that the screeching wierdo might be the only one who is being honest with them.

Once they stop the death march, they will realise that they have no choice but to bear the sun while they work together to get rid of the gags and handcuffs and try to find or make ways out of the canyon. Not easy tasks, but better than marching enslaved in the blazing sun to certain death.

It is not much hope, but it is hope. So you can’t quit.

Jews and Genocide

Standard

An audio commentary: http://www.radio4all.net/index.php/program/82622

 A sort of companion piece to the article “The Refugee Crisis and the New Holocaust” which explores the political misuse of Holocaust exceptionalism and Judeocide exceptionalism to mask the genocidal nature of empires past and present.

link to mp3: https://archive.org/download/20150908JewsAndGenocide/20150908Jews%20and%20Genocide.mp3

Partial transcript with hyperlinks:

Jews and Genocide

Zionists like to lay special claim to the term genocide on behalf of all Jews, but now anti-Zionists have taken to supporting this. Some anti-Zionists and supposed anti-imperialists have repeated the false claim that the term was invented to denote the killing of Jews. The only reason that I can see for this is to maintain a false image of genocide as an act of exceptional villains. In fact genocide is a normal behaviour of imperial and colonial powers. Despite many attempts to rehabilitate empires as being on some level noble – all imperial and colonial projects are inescapably genocidal.

However, a number of Jewish nationalist ideologues claim that the only true genocide was that carried out by the Germans against Jews. These people are called “Holocaust exceptionalists”, and their claims are broadly understood by genocide scholars as being nonsense supported by falsehoods. It is fair to surmise that Holocaust exceptionalists are generally ardent Zionists. That is why I have been alarmed to see their most central and fundamental lie being spread by anti-Zionists, anti-imperialists, and antiwar writers. That lie is the idea that the word genocide was ever in any way meant to be a way of describing Judeocide in particular.

One writer went so far as posting that the word genocide “was invented… in order to stress the difference between murdering Jews and killing lesser breeds.” This lie is so easy to disprove that it is laughable. Anyone can spend 30 minutes reading Chapter 9 of Raphael Lemkin’s Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (which can be found here) and they will know that there is no way that Lemkin meant the “genocide” term to be exclusively applied to Jews or to the Judeocide that was happening even as he wrote.

When people refuse to accept or even to re-examine a demonstrably false claim it is because it is an essential foundation of a much larger lie. For Zionists the obvious need is to make Israel morally immaculate and incapable of doing wrong. Holocaust exceptionalists have to perform serious mental contortions to avoid confronting the fact that genocide was not intrinsically related to Judeocide, but apparently the Zionists are not alone in this. When I have tried to correct others on this issue I am met with resounding silence and even censorship. The question is why don’t these antiwar and anti-Zionist people want to face up to a very simple truth? What do they have to hide? Or what are they hiding from?

Genocide is an incredibly important word. That is the reason that the meaning of the word is suppressed. It is a term, like “terrorism”, that is thrown around with great passion by people who would never in a million years be able to explain what they actually mean when they use the term.

Many people bandy the term genocide about with great emotion and no thought. However, there are also people who scorn others for inappropriately using the term when they too would be completely incapable of giving a real definition. The whole discourse between these two sides is even more idiotic than the sum of its parts because it is like a debate without any reasoning. The conflict is invariably between a party who believes that it is a badge of passion, courage and moral engagement to claim that something is genocide, and another that believes labelling something as genocide is premature, rash, irrational, partisan or lacking in scholarly standards.

Unacceptable Ideas

You might wonder how this widespread idiocy came to pass. It is very simple. At the end of World War II a traumatised world wanted to know how the events they had lived through had come to pass. They wanted to criminalise the German and Japanese leaders and they wanted to understand what had led these societies to cause such violence. People wanted to understand this as criminality and pathology. But there were two areas into which inquiring minds might wander which were metaphorically signposted with skull-and-crossbones and the legend “STAY OUT!”

The first area relates to the war that had just been. The victors in this “Good War” were in reality drenched in the blood of the innocent and that was a very delicate matter. We have just passed the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and there is still a suppression of the fact that those bombings were not military in intent. They were not aimed at winning the war against Japan. Nor was the even more deadly campaign of firebombing that preceded the atom bombs. In fact most of the “strategic” bombing carried out by the US and UK in World War II was simply mass murder of civilian populations, and it was militarily counterproductive – a misuse of resources that hindered military progress. I could illustrate this in detail, but let me try to save time and effort by using a comparison. The Soviet Union produced more armaments than anyone else in the war. They did not build bomber fleets to bomb German cities. To do so would have been an unthinkable, nigh suicidal, waste of resources. The Western Allies had the luxury of wasting their most valuable materiel and personnel on a project of mass murder, but the underlying strategic calculus is the same – it was militarily counterproductive.

With the deaths of millions of civilians weighing on the consciences of leaders and on the collective conscience of the people’s who had fought against the greater evil of Axis, the last thing anyone would want would be the suggestion that the actions of the Allied leaders in killing civilians were in some intrinsic and essential way linked to the atrocities committed by Japan and Germany. Both collectively and individually, both consciously and unconsciously, people knew not to explore any notion that would suggest that mass killings of civilians by Allies had any fundamental and immutable connection to the mass killings of civilians by Axis powers.

This is best summed up by Justice Robert Jackson’s opening statement at the Nuremberg Trials, “…the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.” Please note that he is not talking about a future trial of a future regime, but the way “history” will judge “us” – meaning Jackson and his contemporaries. The discourse of aggressive war that was created at Nuremberg was closely and precisely shaped to construct a crime of which the Germans were guilty but of which the Allies were not. That is why Hermann Göring at times shouted out “What about Hamburg?” and “What about Hiroshima?” Göring knew that wasn’t a legal defence in and of itself, he was trying to fracture the narrative framework with which his prosecutors and judges legitimated themselves.

And then there is another no-go area – another place from which the collective consciousness (and most individual consciousnesses) shied away in fear. In addition to avoiding any suggestion that Axis atrocities might bear any resemblance to the Allied habit of incinerating innocent human beings by the tens of thousands, it was also imperative that there be no suggestion whatsoever that Japanese and German conquest and occupation might in any way resemble the colonial and imperial policies of Britain, France and the US.

The Frightening Truth

To be very clear: the Allies killed millions in World War II, but the Axis powers killed tens of millions. Within reason, aggression can justly be called “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” Thus, to suggest that there is a moral equivalence between Axis and Allied crime is not really acceptable. (It is equally unacceptable to claim a moral equivalence between Nazi crimes and those of Communist regimes in the USSR or China).

That said, however, the atrocities that the Germans and Japanese committed against the peoples of Europe and Asia inevitably resemble the crimes of other colonising and imperially hegemonic powers. Both of these Axis powers, along with Italy, consciously wanted to repeat the imperialist and colonialist conquests of the British and French. The difference is that with changes of technology the intensity and speed were unprecedented. What would have been 50 years of killing for the British Empire was squeezed into 5 years. Yet the principle was the same, and I cannot help but think that the main reason that people saw a moral distinction between German imperial expansion in Europe and, say, British expansion in Africa was that most of the victims of the Germans were White.

Meanwhile policies of deliberately and systematically killing civilians came to dominate the so-called “strategic bombing” of the UK and US during the war. They too bore chilling similarities to the policies of mass killing pursued by the Germans and Japanese. Eric Markusen and David Kopf published a book called The Holocaust and Strategic Bombing which documents parallels in the way the Germans and the Western Allies were justifying ever greater mass killings with pretensions of clinical detachment and inevitability, along with eerily similar euphemisms – such as the German “evacuation” and the British “dehousing”.

The fact is that there is an essential and fundamental connection between the actual extermination of peoples, such as the Aboriginals of Tasmania, the “hyperexploitation” such as lead to millions of deaths at Potosí and 10 million in King Leopold’s Congo, and the social and cultural destruction accompanying the economic and political subjugation of imperial or neocolonial domination. Within that framework there are also practices of ethnic cleansing and of any systematic attempt to reduce a non-military population through killing, preventing births, or reducing material wellbeing to lower lifespans.

The Germans did, or attempted to do, all of the above to various peoples under the Nazi leadership of the “Third Reich”. In many ways this project was inchoate and even contradictory, and yet viewed from enough distance it had a distinct singular form. One man, Raphael Lemkin, saw it and recognised in it “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups.” He called that “genocide”.

Disney Genocide

Lemkin had a profound insight which had three things in common with other fundamental changes in paradigmatic thinking. The first is that it had a long gestation. Lemkin didn’t just base his idea on German policies under Hitler, he had been researching and thinking about these issues since he was a teenager nearly three decades earlier. He was horrified by the Armenian genocide and spent his early adulthood trying to understand and encapsulate that violence, with the particular aim of making it an “international crime”.

The second is that its significance was much greater than the originator himself understood at the time. Later, Lemkin himself, much to the detriment of his career and political standing, made a clear link between genocide and settler-colonialism. He spent a great deal of his time writing about the genocidal destruction of indigenous peoples in the Americas. In my opinion he did this despite wishing to think the best of his new home in the United States. Had he lived longer he would have been forced to confront the fact that imperialism is inherently genocidal even when it is not engaged in settler colonial expansion. Rather than seeking to impose the “national pattern” of the imperial centre it seeks to impose an “imperial pattern” which is equally alien to the victim group but which also cements their subjugation in an ethnoracial imperialist hierarchy. This is achieved with exactly the same social, political, cultural and economic destruction and the same forced displacement, concentration and mass killing that characterises settler-colonial genocides. This is true regardless of whether the empire is predominantly formal, informal, or neocolonial.

The third thing that happens when new revolutionary ideas arrive is that people try to cling on to outmoded beliefs and ways of thinking. They are resistant, and in the case of genocide this resistance has been nourished by political interests and given a fertile discursive medium by the historical experiences of the internal and external relations of Germany’s Third Reich. The nature of genocide was obscured from the very genesis of the term by a strident and loud imagery of Nazi exceptionalism.

An exceptionalist emphasis was one of two opposing reactions to the unprecedented suffering inflicted on the world by the Nazi regime. The other emphasis was to try to understand what conditions had led to members of our species doing or allowing things that seem to be unvarnished evil from the outside. A lot of good and bad things came out of line of thought, but I would argue that it greatly profited societies to think of the German experience as one to be studied and avoided. It is from this tradition, which is always at least partly relativistic, that sprung concepts like Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” and our understanding of the psychology of authoritarians. I think that a very frightening aspect of contemporary life is that our understanding of these Nazi traits fades, and as the understanding fades the traits themselves become more and more manifest in ever more shamelessly inhuman official discourse. Two recent examples being the US “Law of Warfare” field manual which authorises the killing of journalists and the West Point professor who wants the military to kill lawyers and scholars who oppose US military actions to the list of targets – not to mention attacking mosques and various other enemies of US military freedom.

In contrast to those who sought deeper understanding of Nazism, all forms of exceptionalism involve taking supposedly unique aspects of something and presenting them as essential and defining characteristics. This vastly overstates the substance of those aspects that are claimed as being exceptional and, if accepted, makes comparisons impossible. This exceptionalist approach can be seen in the famous Disney wartime propaganda film “Education for Death”. It is understandable that there was a desire to dramatise the oppressive and invasive nature of the Nazi regime, but it encapsulates a fetishistic approach that is literally a cartoon version of reality. As propaganda this is to be expected, but after the war it is not as if people said to themselves: “Now that that is over I need to take a more nuanced view of the National Socialist government in Germany if I am to truly grasp the nature of that regime and its atrocities.”

The danger of exceptionalist narratives is that they deny context and refuse to allow comparisons. The upshot of this is that people emphasise the wrong things in the fetishistic and cartoon manner which I mentioned. Thus US exceptionalists create a fetish out of surface aspects of their constitution that they are formally and informally indoctrinated at a young age to view as essential parts of “democracy”. In reality, the excessive focus and attention then given to the “democratic” nature of US governance actually makes it far easier for undemocratic power relations to develop and entrench themselves.

Similarly, an exceptionalist narrative about Nazi Germany emphasises surface appearances and destroys any ability to learn and to avoid repetition. To use a reductio ab Hitlerum analogy, it is like saying that everything will always be okay as long as the highest political office is not occupied by a man with a funny moustache.

 

Holocaust Exceptionalism

Here is a multi-choice question:

The US has just won a war against the forces of darkness embodied by Germany and Japan. There is a new word around called “genocide”. Are you inclined to think that this word means a) what Hitler did to the Jews, b) what Hitler did to the Jews and what was done to the indigenous people of North America in order to create the US – illustrate your answer with reference to the screen appearances of John Wayne.

Clearly no ordinary citizen of the victor states would want to think that the crime of genocide, which saw millions of Jews systematically murdered, was a very prominent part of their own proud national heritage. Canada, Aotearoa, the US, and Australia didn’t want to see their origins as stained by comparison to the roving mass-murders of the Einsatzgruppen. The USSR didn’t want to see the Terror Famine in Ukraine or Stalin’s ethnic cleansing transmigrations as bearing any resemblance to the Camps in which so many of their own died. And the old imperial powers, France and Britain, didn’t want to see their bejewelled traditions of civilising hegemony equated in any way to gassing children.

In the fertile ground of Nazi exceptionalism that was already established it was inevitable that Holocaust exceptionalism take root, not just as the explicit belief of hardliners, but also as the default starting point for general layperson’s discourse. The base belief is that the Holocaust is the defining archetype of what genocide is and that other events are “genocidal” to the extent that they can be compared to the Holocaust.

What is this Holocaust that they are talking about? Part of the problem is that this is an extremely slippery concept. The real problem is that people don’t want a robust definition of the Holocaust. They want to be able to know what it is without having to cogently delineate that knowledge. For most people the Holocaust is emotive but vague. It is misunderstood not in the manner that one might misunderstand historic events like the War of the Roses or the reign of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, but rather the impressionistic imagery is so powerful as to drown out actual detail. This is understandable, but still regrettable.

The Holocaust is so overwhelming that a film like Schindler’s List had to be made in monochrome because even the sombre and washed-out cinematic tones that are conventionally used for Eastern Europe in World War II are insufficient for an actual concentration camp. Genocide is literally made to be black-and-white. Our sensitivities to the issue are so high that misters used to cool visitors to Auschwitz today caused an international outcry because they were reminiscent “the Holocaust showers” (as one news bulletin called them). There were, of course, no actual “Holocaust showers”. The realities are not any less horrifying than the nightmare images, but they are more complicated. In fact, the realities are more horrifying than the symbolic beliefs, and once you know them you can’t unlearn them. That is why people create a totemic imagery of the Holocaust. They can feel all of the horror, grief and outrage without the crippling depression. Most of all, they don’t feel the burden of obligation to end suffering. Instead, steeped in the dark cartoon visions of “Holocaust showers”, they are more able and more likely to inflict suffering because they are artificially separating the suffering of certain human beings from other members of the same species.

The symbolic or cartoonish approach to conceptualising the Holocaust has the advantage that you do not have to be categorical about something to make it a defining character. It is possible to retain the notion that the Holocaust is encapsulated in the conspiracy of the Final Solution, in the Judeocide, and in the gas chambers of death camps. Everything that is not part of that vision is either forcibly incorporated or essentially ignored.

To clarify my point, let me draw your attention to the role of a) gas chambers and b) the Final Solution. These things are synonymous with genocide in most people’s minds, but Lemkin never included them in his description of genocide for the very simple reason that he didn’t know about them. Moreover, if these things had not existed it might have meant that many more Jews would have survived in relative terms, but most European Jews would still have been killed by the genocide policies that Lemkin described. Those Jews who died were joined by many millions of others who died as a result of genocide. The Final Solution and the gas chambers are clearly linked to genocide in that they are a way of enacting genocide that is entirely consistent with the logic of genocide take to its greatest extreme – that of extermination. These things are linked to genocide, but they do not typify let alone embody genocide.

The end result is that the paradigmatic exemplar of genocide, the Holocaust, is a misrepresentation of itself, let alone genocide as a whole. For some that means that the Holocaust was the only genocide. For most, however, it means that when one decides to use the “g-word”, one constructs the newly acknowledged genocide as being a reflected image of that mythologised Holocaust. By maintaining that exceptionalist purity one never needs to accept something as genocide if one does not want to. In fact, people can get very angry when someone labels something genocide on the basis that to do so is to accuse the perpetrator of being as bad as the worst atrocities of German mass murder. Conversely you can appropriate the imagery of the Holocaust for anything you don’t like, particularly if you can label it anti-Semitic. In an extreme example a man was filmed at a rally opposing the “Iran nuclear deal” recently where he yelled that Obama was releasing money to “the terrorist Nazi regime which is building nuclear gas chambers!”

 

Kelly’s Law

If you are attempting establish the moral validity of acts by refuting any comparison to Hitler’s acts, you are defending the indefensible.

Most readers will probably be familiar with Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches”. The most common corollary is that the party that makes the analogy has lost the argument. It is dated now, and perhaps it was always more inclined to be used against critical thought than to promote it. I propose instead that what we need now is a “law” that states that if you are attempting establish the moral validity of acts by refuting any comparison to Hitler, you are defending the indefensible. This is true whether the reaction is the gut reaction of an Israeli who spits and yells with genuinely distraught anger at the suggestion that Israel is committing genocide; or whether it is the snide put-downs of a pundit, politician, bureaucrat or academic who sneers at those who claim that the US or UK or France has committed genocide.

The corollary of Kelly’s Law is that not only must the person refuting the Hitler comparison be defending the indefensible, but they are almost certain to be demolishing a straw man in doing so. To say that someone has committed genocide is not the same as saying that they are morally equivalent to Hitler in the same way that saying the we evolved through processes of natural selection is not the same as calling someone a monkey. For example, in his book Empire Niall Ferguson first himself compares the actions of British forces during the Indian Mutiny to those of the SS against Jews, but then concludes that the British weren’t actually as bad as the SS as if that somehow makes things better.

Nazi exceptionalism and Holocaust exceptionalism are the gift that keep on giving. As long as you avoid building death camps with giant gas chambers and crematoria then you can incinerate and starve hundreds of thousands. It is like teflon coating for genocide perpetrators. It shields them from all serious accusations of intentional wrongdoing because any attempt to suggest a systematic purpose behind Western mass violence is delegitimised as being an invalid attempt to equate our leaders with the Nazis. I fear that this will continue until the point where it Western governments, particularly the US, actually do become the moral equivalent of the Nazis – and that moment does get closer over time.

A New Holocaust

People don’t want to face up to the reality of genocide, because they will then have to admit that Western states are committing massive acts of genocide right now. The Western interventions most apparent in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia have created mass destruction and mass death.

The tempo of violence that exists now does not even match that of the bombing during the Korean War, let alone the enormous scale of violence of World War II. However, this violence never ends. It seems destined to continue for eternity and the scale of death continues to creep upwards. Western interventions of many types have sowed conflict and instability and they keep tearing at these open wounds, often blaming the victims. I cannot shake the feeling that if Germany had not been at war, Nazi genocide policies would have been enacted at the same slowly accumulating pace.

The destruction and the violence are often meted out by enemies of the United States, but I think people are beginning to grasp that to greater or lesser extents the US is often the creator and sponsor of these enemies. Moreover these enemies are often materially dependent on the US either directly or through allied regimes. That is the new reality, or at least one of the new realities. Lemkin’s understanding of genocide was of disparate acts that could only be related to each other when you grasped the underlying strategic reasoning,

That is why anti-Zionists are embracing Holocaust exceptionalism. Israel provides such easy cartoon villains, Netanyahu and a cabinet of political colleagues that seems unable to go two months without a minister openly calling for the extermination or ethnic-cleansing of non-Jews. They might as well have a leader with a funny moustache. It is facile and comforting, but it is stupid. Israel does not have the power to effectuate all this destruction, nor does it control the US. Everything the US has done has followed a trajectory it has clearly been on since 1945. Trying to explain it current genocidal actions is like trying to explain the trajectory of a cannonball by a stiff gust that arose during its flight without any suggestion that there might have been a cannon involved at any point.

US Rule in Occupied Earth (or Everything You Need to Know About Genocide, but Never Knew to Ask) Part 4: You Are Next

Standard

Leunig - How to do it

http://www.radio4all.net/index.php/program/82288

direct link to mp3: https://ia801508.us.archive.org/12/items/20150817USRulePart4/20150817%20US%20Rule%20Part%204.mp3

Lemkin defined genocide as being a form of warfare, but instead of it being military warfare “against sovereigns and armies” it was war against “subjects and civilians”. We do not need to distinguish between the sort of internal “war” declared against a minority within a state and the sort of “war” that is waged against a foreign people. So, for example, the Japanese “3 Alls Policy” of “Kill all. Burn all. Loot all,” was genocidal because it was aimed at the Chinese people and was not a truly military scorched earth policy.

Lemkin focussed originally on occupied Europe, but he saw the same processes in the conquest of the Americas and he spent much more time studying and writing about genocide in the Americas than about Germany’s genocides in Europe. He characterised Indian reservations as being a form of concentration camp and symptomatic of genocide. As you can imagine, this sort of thing did not go down well in 1950s USA. He was unable to find publishers for his later works. As John Docker has said: “We can only mourn that Lemkin’s manuscript writings were not published as he hoped, for in them the inherent and constitutive relationship between genocide and settler-colonialism is strongly argued, given subtle intricate methodological form, and brought descriptively to life.” Lemkin died poor and comparatively obscure 1959. Only 6 people attended his funeral. Had he lived longer he would have recognised that the strategic hamlet programme in Viet Nam was also symptomatic of genocide and I am sure he would have made the leap that links genocide to all forms of imperialism, not merely settler-colonialism.

Whether related to settler-colonialism or not, genocide reveals itself best in military occupations because they allow the full panoply of genocidal behaviour to manifest. Lemkin saw genocide as a combination of ancient and modern practices. On one occasion it might be the visceral slaughter of a massacre, on another the dispassionate exercise of issuing papers that reclassify people as no longer having the right to live in their homes. One might reduce the food intake available to a people who have been previously deprived of subsistence resources, or create a policy of retaliatory violence. One might order a carpet bombing raid or institute a military doctrine of “force protection” guaranteed to cause mass civilian death and widespread terror. In short, genocide can manifest as wanton violence and destruction or targeted violence and destruction. It can involve policies designed to control, to destroy, to immiserate, to alienate, or to provoke.

Perpetrators of genocides like to claim that their actions are military in intent. Sometimes they are deliberately deceiving and sometimes they are wilfully lying to themselves. The greatest lie they tell themselves and others is that attacking the civilian population and its infrastructure is a valid way of degrading military strength. This is the lie that was behind of the “strategic bombing” of civilian areas in World War II and was used to implement the genocidal sanctions against Iraq. These are very instructive examples of genocide undertaken in the guise of warfare, yet, instead of looking at those I want to focus on counterinsurgency.

Imagine a materially and/or numerically inferior people who occupy land that you covet. You start taking their land by force and/or start using your superiority to coerce their departure through inflicting some form of pain. Eventually resistance will ensue. The resistance may or may not have been part of the plan, but it now becomes the excuse for ever greater violence against the people as such. War against a people as such is, by definition, genocide. When you deconstruct counterinsurgency programmes throughout history you will find that this pattern of genocide is common to many.

I already mentioned the Japanese “3 Alls” campaign. The excuse for this genocidal behaviour was that it was a way of combating the People’s Liberation Army which drew sustenance from the people themselves. Mao said, “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.” But the point is that the people wouldn’t have supported the PLA if it did not in some way embody their collective will. The Japanese, by contrast, were inimical to the Chinese people. Their occupation was already genocidal, if they hadn’t been strategically inclined to inflict destruction of Chinese people as such, then they would have dealt with any insurgency by actions, policing or military, that were restricted to the PLA itself. In fact, the genocidal strategic imperative was greater for the Japanese than the military strategic imperative because such “counterinsurgency” is inherently counterproductive militarily.

To put it in simple terms you win a counterinsurgency by winning the “hearts and minds” of the people and thus isolating the guerillas from the material support of the people and delegitimising them so that violence against them does not cause the people to hate you. But, if your strategic designs are against the fundamental welfare of the people themselves you cannot win their hearts and minds and so it is inevitable that when armed resistance arises the response, if you do not alter your strategic aims, will be genocidal.

It is no great secret that the way to win against an insurgency is to win the acceptance of the people and then treat the guerillas as a separate military or policing operation. The reason this is not done is not that people don’t know it, but because they cannot accommodate the will of the people even to the degree that would get them to cease supporting the conflict of armed resistance. In short, for demostrategic reasons they are enemies of the people and they are at war with the people. It doesn’t matter of it is a tribe of 300, or a nation of millions, the same applies. Just as the genocidal acts of the Japanese drove people into the arms of the PLA, the same pattern has been enacted throughout Latin America, Southeast Asia, and in Eastern Europe during the Partisan War. In fact, Hitler said: This partisan war has its advantages as well. It gives us the opportunity to stamp out everything that stands against us.” It is well worth remembering at this point that Lemkin described Hitler’s genocides as being “a new technique of occupation aimed at winning the peace even though the war itself is lost.”

Since the First Indochina War, the US has shown unmistakeable signs that it welcomes and even fosters insurgent resistance as a way to channel its military might into genocidal violence and destruction. Few people realise how much of the US effort in Indochina went into systematically attacking civilians without even the pretext of a nominal insurgent presence. They did this on the basis that the people themselves were the sea in which the guerilla swam. The entire Phoenix Programme, for example, was aimed at civilians. “Free-fire zones” were, among other things, designed to re-designate non-combatants as legitimate targets for death. Under this logic missions of mass death could be carried out without any hint that an actual combatant might be present. US personnel were also trained to view the people of Viet Nam through a hostile racial lens. That and the way the GIs were deployed created a systematic situational predisposition for US personnel to view the the people of Viet Nam to be their enemy. If the US had wanted it to, a fraction of the money they spent on fighting in Indochina could have been spent in ways that won the “hearts and minds” of the local peoples. But that would have empowered the people. The Vietnamese, for example, would have been very thankful and then have firmly continued to move towards reunifying their country and exercising self-determination.

The US now exerts more hegemony over Viet Nam by having visited genocidal destruction and lost the military struggle than it could ever have done by making the concessions needed to allow it to achieve military victory. The state of Viet Nam was far less damaged by US destruction than the people of Viet Nam. The war had actually left the country as a military powerhouse and regional hegemon. On the other hand, bottom-up development was crushed. When industrialisation took hold it was not some form of strategic development that empowered the proleteriat and the nation, it was low-wage light manufacturing for the benefit of Western multinationals and Western consumers. That is a profound strategic victory for the US empire.

Viet Nam’s ongoing weakness means that it is subject to the governance of the “Washington Consensus” institutions which use debt and trade to prevent development in a for of structural violence, but at least there seems to be little prospect of hostile military action from the US. Iraq, on the other hand, seems to be slated for an eternal grinding and inhuman violence punctuated by periods of mass slaughter. Iraq has become like Prometheus to the US Zeus. Zeus ordered his servants Force and Violence to chain Prometheus to a rock where each night an eagle would tear out his liver. This was partly in revenge for Prometheus tricking Zeus out of what Zeus thought he deserved to be given as offerings by humans, and partly because Prometheus, a friend to humanity, had given fire to humans. In many respects the analogy is chillingly apt. For the US, even backing successful coups in Iraq didn’t produce regimes that were willing to make sure that Iraqi oil wealth was used to benefit US hegemony, thus Iraq cheated the US out of its due.

Due to a combination of petroleum, geography, demography, culture and history the Iraqi people, as such, are indelible enemies of US empire. Even under Saddam Hussein oil resources were nationalised and oil profits went into national development. Iraq is too large to be a rich rentier state with a small wealthy citizenry and it is too small for the oil profits to be inaccessible by the bulk of the population as in Nigeria. This is a big problem for an imperial polity, ie the US empire, that specifically uses control of petroleum as a method of strategic hegemony.

The result is that if you want to see an almost exhaustive exemplar of genocide then you should look to what the US has done in Iraq. It has been, to paraphrase Lemkin, “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of [Iraqis], with the aim of annihilating [Iraq itself]. The objectives of [the] plan [are the] disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.” To outline the Iraq Genocide I can go through each one of Lemkin’s “techniques of genocide”. He enumerated these in Chapter 9 of Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, which, as you will recall, is where the term “genocide” originates. His descriptions of techniques of genocide can be very closely mapped to US actions in Iraq. And remember that this is the original defining document on what genocide actually is and you can go through it point by point and see how well it applies to US actions. The process is far too complex to detail fully here, but I will give a rough outline and hopefully you can use your own faculties and prior knowledge to fill in some gaps.

  1. Thee first technique of genocide was labelled Political – this would include the entire “De-Baathification” process; the period of rule by Paul Bremer; the suppression of mass demonstrations, of political dissent and of organised labour; the subversion of sovereignty; and the imposition of constitutional arrangements.

  2. Social – changing the legal structure; abolishing unionism; targeted killings of community leaders; fomenting sectarian division; disruption family social and economic life by targeting “military-age males” for disappearance or death. One of the biggest social impacts has come from the eliticidal killings of intellectuals and certain professionals such as doctors. This began with “Debaathification”, and then there were kidnappings, then the US instituted the “Salvador Option” and since that time intellectuals have often been targeted by death squads.

  3. Cultural – To paraphrase Lemkin by merely changing the word “regimentation” to “chaos” and the word “Poland” to “Iraq”: “Not only have national creative activities in the cultural and artistic field been rendered impossible by chaos, but the population has also been deprived inspiration from the existing cultural and artistic values. Thus, especially in Iraq, were national monuments destroyed and libraries, archives, museums, and galleries of art carried away.” Let me repeat: “…national monuments destroyed and libraries, archives, museums, and galleries of art carried away.”

  4. Economic – to quote Lemkin again: “The destruction of the foundations of the economic existence of a national group necessarily brings about a crippling of its development, even a retrogression. The lowering of the standards of living creates difficulties in fulfilling cultural-spiritual requirements. Furthermore, a daily fight literally for bread and for physical survival may handicap thinking in both general and national terms.” In 2013 Iraq passed the $100 billion US dollar mark for post invasion oil sales, and yet Iraqis still languish in poverty.

  5. Biological – in this category Lemkin discussed measures that the Germans used to lower birthrates particularly by geographically separating the men and women. The US has pursued policies which separate men from women en masse, but not to such an extent that it would affect the birthrate significantly. Bear in mind, however, that the physical and environmental aspects of genocide against Iraqis have also acted to reduce birthrates and may be even crueller than dividing families.

  6. Physical – Lemkin divided this into 3 subcategories: a) Discrimination in feeding – by 1998 it was calculated that 1 million had died because of sanctions imposed on Iraq. In infants particularly this was from a combination of disease and malnourishment. The perpetrators – the US and the UK – blamed the Iraqi government, but the rationing system in Iraq was as efficient and equitable as could reasonably be expected. In fact it cannot be denied that in this regard the Ba’ath government provided a far better and far less corrupt service than any large-scale service provided by the US government or any US contractor in Iraq. In reality, the deaths were the result of the deliberate withholding of essential nutrition and medications; b) Endangering of health – in addition to the sanctions preventing medications from reaching Iraq they also prevented medical equipment from being replaced. This was a slow torturous atrocity whose intentionality cannot be questioned. Then during the invasion and occupation US military forces systematically targeted medical personnel and medical facilities. This was something that Dahr Jamail was at pains to document at the time and compiled into an alarming report in 2005. Not content with merely bombing hospitals and systematically murdering health workers, the occupation authorities also used the same sort of destructive policies they used on economic assets – giving both US and Iraqi money to corrupt contractors who had been formally been made immune to both Iraqi and US law and were thus guaranteed impunity in advance. While facilities struggled to cope with mass violence and to rebuild that which was degraded during the sanctions period, Iraqi funds were misspent on lining the pockets of rich US contractors. c) Mass killing – the shocking results of the mortality survey in 2006, known as “Lancet2” or “L2”, have now been vindicated. As well as a very high rate of violent death L2 showed that up to 2006, where known, most people were killed by coalition forces and most people were killed by small arms. Total mortality in Iraq due to the invasion is above one million. If this is added to the fatalities caused throughout the previous 13 years the figure in considerably in excess of 2 million.

  7. Religious – Here I could cite the numerous attacks on and destructions of Mosques carried out by Coalition forces in the first few years of the occupation. But it is impossible to avoid mention of the sectarian and religious conflicts caused by the occupation. This is portrayed as something that is an endemic problem, but that is a complete lie. Westerners don’t seem to grasp how unusually blood-drenched Christianity is, and how sickeningly racist it is to project that peculiar tradition of violent intolerance onto others in order to avoid seeing Western culpability in fomenting bitter divisions. Just to be clear, it is not Christian theology that originated the violence of the religion, but rather the fact that it became the state religion of a thousand year-old empire that had the established habit of brutally killing those it considered to be ideologically heterodox. Indeed, Christians themselves had frequently been victims of this impulse. Once Christianity was bedded in to Roman politics it was inevitable that the Roman approach to heresy would reassert itself. Then the Church split, with Rome becoming the centre of a quasi-sovereign multinational “Papal monarchy”. This Western church found that its power was greatest when it was fighting heretics and infidels and it became addicted to bloody Crusades. These were not just to the Holy Land, but also included the brutal genocide of the Albigensian Crusade. After that was the Inquisition and then the Reformation set off the wars of religion which killed millions upon millions. That is not even to mention the indelibly Christian flavour of Western imperialist violence which continues to this day. Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam all have violence in their past and present, but none have a history that compares to this. For that reason I get very angry when people talk about the sectarian violence in Iraq as being the result of some ancient enmity. Very little of the violence in Islam’s history has a sectarian origin. Western historians talk about Shi’a political participation in the original Sunni ruled Caliphate as being “political quietism”, but even that is projecting a Western standard coloured by things like the massacre of Huguenots in Paris. I could go on, but I hope you get the point.

  8. Moral – Lemkin wrote: “In order to weaken the spiritual resistance of the national group, the occupant attempts to create an atmosphere of moral debasement within this group. According to this plan, the mental energy of the group should be concentrated upon base instincts and should be diverted from moral and national thinking. It is important for the realization of such a plan that the desire for cheap individual pleasure be substituted for the desire for collective feelings and ideals based upon a higher morality.” I think that this is a subjective area, but I think that the imperial pattern that the US tries to replicate everywhere, including at home, is one of atomised consumerism. In Iraq’s case this meshes with the social, cultural and economic destruction mentioned above.

  9. Environmental – Lemkin did not have this category, but it seems now a salient and highly important technique of genocide. Lemkin had no environmental awareness, as such, because of the times in which he lived, but some people now use the term ecocide to refer to systematic environmental destruction and I believe that ecodide is best understood as being one of these techniques of genocide. In Iraq the US has systematically caused environmental degradation by destroying infrastructure and contaminating areas with toxins, radioactive material and unexploded anti-personnel ordnance. Perhaps the most well known pollutant is depleted uranium, but recent studies in Fallujah show that it is only one part of a toxic cocktail that causes birth defects and cancer. Practices like using burn pits have also created deadly exposure to toxins for both Iraqis and US personnel. Like Agent Orange, these are slow motion chemical weapons attacks, and like a gas attacks there is always some “blowback” onto your own personnel (for a war leader, sacrificing pawns is necessary to win the game). Like Agent Orange, the pollution will kill for generations, causing health problems and heart-rending grief. Worse than even Agent Orange, however, some of these pollutants will stay for as long as we can foresee – a legacy of death and suffering that is practically eternal.

The Iraq occupation was a watershed moment, but it was not an aberration. It was part of an increasingly genocidal imperial policy that has blossomed into a series of ongoing neocolonial postmodern holocausts. The US sows conflict and instability and ensures that there is never any conclusion. Through direct or proxy interventions the US has created one eternal warzone after another. There is now a string of destabilised states, many of them so-called “failed states”, whose people are denied any path to peace. The situation is proliferating: Yemen, South Sudan, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, western Pakistan and eastern DR Congo. These are the acute cases, but there are many other countries have a lower level of chronic violence and instability.

These spreading zones of violence are a new form of genocide that slowly effectuates “the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups”. Can it be said that the goal is to “annihilate” these nations? Yes it can, because the goal is to annihilate them as such. It is imprinted in the logic of the genocide. Because the violence provokes resistance, the logic of the genocide will demand unending violence. The violence creates its own strategic imperative for continuation while at the same time the institutions created to carry out that violence gain substance and a life of their own.

History will record the current era as a time of neocolonial slaughter much like the spasm of imperialist violence at the end of the 19th century – an increasingly mechanised blood-letting that foreshadowed the slaughter of World War I. However, genocide is not a discrete and absolute phenomenon. It is never the case that “a genocide” is committed in isolation. The current genocides have long historical roots. US “counterinsurgency” in the “Indian Wars”, in Latin America and in Asia, is cross-pollinated with South Africa’s “Total War” against its neighbours, and Indonesia’s genocides, and Israel’s invasions of Lebanon. This has created a system of in institutional knowledge rife with various techniques of Balkanisation and destabilisation.

By playing Hawks off against Doves, US imperialists create room for themselves to inflict unending violence without ever allowing the perception of control that a military victory would give. Retired General Mike Flynn believed that the US needed to use more military force to defeat IS but has also said: What we have is this continued investment in conflict. The more weapons we give, the more bombs we drop, that just … fuels the conflict.” This is a complaint that has gone right back to 1950, becoming particularly prominent during the 2nd Indochina War. Military officials try to explain that they are hamstrung and prevented from achieving military victory, but rather than taking their claims seriously they are written off as being overzealous madmen. The fact is that apart from some insane proposals to use nuclear weapons, the military types do have a point. Military decisions are avoided for the same reason that counterinsurgencies become counter-productive, because the real enemy is the people and a military victory would only hinder the strategic goal of crushing the people themselves.

It would also be wrong and artificial to separate genocidal wars abroad from domestic governance. The institutions of genocide that Germany created when it committed genocide in East Africa are considered important antecedents of the later genocides in Europe. But the first people that the Germans put in concentration camps were German political dissidents. The first Nazi mass killings were of disabled Germans. Military war, genocide, and the quotidian oppression of domestic governance partake from each other. In the US there is a long interplay between the criminal justice system and the genocidal attacks on peoples of other countries. This is inseparable from the past genocides of colonisation. Ajamu Baraka, writing on the recent death in custody of anti-police brutality activist Sandra Bland wrote “The struggle in the U.S. must be placed in an anti-colonial context or we will find ourselves begging for the colonial state to violate the logic of its existence by pretending that it will end something called police brutality and state killings.”

Mass incarceration, domestic torture, police killings, and mass surveillance are all institutions that feed and feed from genocide abroad. In this sense you can see that it becomes an impediment to argue that a given phenomenon is “a genocide”, instead we need to acknowledge that a phenomenon such as US mass incarceration is genocidal and not “a genocide”.

A famous quote from Martin Niemöller begins: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist.” It ends: “When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.” That is the nature of genocide. If we do not find a way to end the genocidal interventions in the Third World our turn will come, and collectively it already has. An elite habituated to meeting obstacles with genocidal violence will enact it on their own people, and that has already begun. If an innocent Caucasian is brutalised by a US policing and mass incarceration system that is primarily aimed at people of colour, that does not make that person an aberration of collateral damage but rather an indication that those institutions will be used against whomever it serves. The divisions between some “Them” and some “Us” are lies. They mean nothing, but we are made to feel that the mass violence perpetrated by our governments on distant foreigners is no threat to us, and may even be to protect us. It is not true. Every death we allow to happen places us all at greater risk, places our loved ones at greater risk. And one day, when it happens where you live, those who might speak for you will be dead or silenced.

But speaking out now has to be an act of true revolt. Ours is an age in which there is no more crucial imperative than that of demolishing the lies of elite ideology. Western regimes are almost impervious to the opinion of the masses, so mass education is far less important than deprogramming the apparatchiks that populate our boardrooms, newsrooms, seminar rooms and lecture theatres. We do not need to educate the masses. What will they do when they are educated, be knowledgeably powerless? No, we need to enrage the masses and delegitimise the elites. Their intellectual and moral pretensions are hollow.

To do this more than anything we need two things. One is to rediscover the knowledge and analysis of imperial power, and the other is to understand that imperialist violence, including structural violence, is genocidal in nature. Elite Western ideology was struck a blow by the end of the Cold War. By the late 1990s analysis of “globalisation” had begun to merge with a new, and not exclusively Marxist or Marxian, interest in the US empire. By now this has been almost completely expunged. In its place we have the traditional dullard stance of those who, without ever having to trouble their brains for confirmation, take it as granted that the default approach of the US is to seek to create stability and spread democracy. Less Pollyanna-ish, but equally blind are those who view US foreign policy as a variety of “realism” in response to “national security threats” such as “Islamist terrorism”. Most infuriating of all are the opponents and critics of US foreign policy who are now dominated by beliefs that US foreign policy is controlled by the Israel Lobby and/or acts primarily in order to deliver profits to the military-industrial complex. These are not only tropes of repugnant apologism, they are fatuous ahistorical and anti-intellectual conceptual cul-de-sacs which make cogent analysis impossible. They clearly satisfy deep-seated psychological needs, but they mainly fulfil the role of concealing continuities and preventing people from seeing the true shape of US imperial interventions.

To illustrate the potency of the term genocide imagine how difficult it would have been for the US to justify its actions in Iraq, if academic and media interlocutors had seen the pattern of genocide in US actions. Currently continuity and intentionality are concealed by simply replacing and recycling varying excuses made to limitlessly amnesiac intelligentsia. No one steps back and asks whether the current excuse for genocidal violence actually makes sense in the larger picture. Saddam might invade his neighbours again? Bomb the water infrastructure! Saddam has WMDs? Starve the people! There is resistance to our occupation? Dismantle all of the economic infrastructure and destroy historic sites! Insurgency? Kill! ISIS? Bomb! Iraqis don’t love us? Bomb some, arm others, then arm the ones you bombed and bomb the ones you armed! If it wasn’t so horrifically serious, it would be a pathetic joke.

Understanding the genocidal nature of this violence is the only way to end the cycle of mutating rationalisations. If they can’t launch a bombing campaign with a lie about a gas attack, the next lie will come along shortly and eventually one will stick. Take Gaza, for example. Israel’s violence has been justified as being: “Because Hamas. Because rockets.” But already you can see the beginnings of a new trendier discourse being established, where it is the failure of Hamas to control Salafists that will justify future genocidal violence. “Because ISIS. Because rockets.” And when that wears out there will be another excuse. And if we don’t escape the parameters of discourse set by the idea that Israeli actions are related to security (whether you agree with them or not), then there will never be an end to potential excuses. While we debate the merits, they will kill more. And so it will continue.

To conclude, then, I hope that Anuradha Mittal learns what I have said here and I hope she decides that it is not a good idea to give a detailed hour-long account of a genocide and to baulk at using the word “genocide” itself. What she described was a people who were dispossessed, had their movement controlled, were cut of from the native soil that provided them economic and psychological health, had family lives shattered, were traumatised, were deprived of materials of culture and religion, had social networks destroyed or degraded, and finally had their history, their agency and ultimately their humanity expunged from the official state narrative of history. If that isn’t genocide then there can be no such thing.

I would also like Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian to reflect on the fact that they published a book in 2008 that specifically claimed that US personnel were systematically murdering Iraqis in large numbers, but never used the word genocide. Perhaps they can now see that they effectively orphaned their work and made it irrelevant by not giving the systematic killing its rightful context as being genocidal mass killing. To put the murders they talk about in any real context that relates them to the bombing, sanctions, economic destruction, social disintegration and civil war absolutely requires that the word and the concept of genocide be used.

The word must be used because the genocide continues in Sri Lanka just as it does in Iraq. The situation in Iraq is well known, but what Mittal describes is also alarming because the Sri Lankan government seems to use weakness to deepen persecution. They seem to have exploited the military weakness of the Tamil Tigers at the end of the civil war to conduct mass murder and they have used their victory to rewrite history to further denigrate the Tamils. That forebodes further armed mass violence. By the appropriate use of the term genocide, however, public alarm and discontent can be wakened. Once people actually grasp the meaning of the word it will be much easier for groups such as Tamils to awaken people and much harder for perpetrators to convince them to stay asleep.

Perhaps most important of all is the potential to cause a “revolt of the guards”. This is something that Howard Zinn famously advocated at the end of a People’s History of the United States and it is also something that Chris Hedges refers to frequently. The fact is that when people come to understand that they are engaged in a necessarily atrocious and criminal enterprise they are liable to stop. The concept of genocide can open peoples’ eyes to the cruelty in which they have become enmeshed.

But the power of the word does not end there. Many of the war resisters within the US military who acted against the genocide in Indochina used the term genocide to justify their actions, or refusal to act. It is a very powerful position to take, to say: “This is genocide, and I will not partake in genocide”. If someone says “this war is immoral” the counter-argument is that it is not for them to decide what is moral. But if you say “this is genocide” then any disputant is inevitably going to have to argue that it is not genocide and that opens up the discourse to discussions of human suffering as opposed to notions of threats and security and combat that dominate the discourse of war.

The fact is that there are clearly people out there who will actually argue that it is sometimes right to commit genocide. In that sense perhaps spreading a greater understanding of the term does risk “debasing the coin”. These people will crawl out of the woodwork, and then there will be a discourse of genocide and genocide-lite. Various reasons will be put forward that some genocide is tolerable, maybe necessary, and even, perhaps, sometimes a moral good. But most people will never buy into that. Genocide necessarily means deliberately inflicting suffering on the innocent. In practice military warfare also means this, but proponents can always argue that such suffering an unfortunate side-effect of an otherwise perfectly moral enterprise of destruction killing and maiming. When something is appropriately labelled and understood as genocide, the perpetrators have no place to hide. That is what we need.