Dear Landlord: A Message from the Zeitgeist
Mr. Carl Kandutsch, a business lawyer down Plano way (and, it turns out, a fellow CounterPunch contributor), writes in to take issue with a recent post I put up here in these run-down precincts. I had written what I thought was a straightforward piece asking readers to consider giving some support to a writer I admire -- Arthur Silber -- who is going through a serious medical crisis. I must say I was a bit taken aback by some of the responses, which seemed to come from the Paul Ryan school of social compassion: "Losers who are sick and low on money don't deserve any help because they want to be sick and low on money. They're just ungrateful malingerers, fakers, takers, they like to beg." And so on. Pretty depressing stuff. But as I noted in the comments, this is just the zeitgeist of the age: a hard, mean spirit blowing through our times, where compassion has curdled and vulnerability is considered a cause for scorn and suspicion.
Mr. Kandutsch is not in the giving vein either -- but thankfully, his response is not decked out in Paul Ryan drag. He doesn't object to Mr. Silber being poor and sick as such. (Well, he does throw in a bit of Ryanish "snark" -- to use his own eloquent terminology -- about Mr. Silber "begging for money." You see, "begging" is what we call it nowadays when a writer asks readers if they would like to consider paying him for his work. I wonder if Mr. Kandutsch regards the fees that he receives from the landlords and cable companies he proudly represents as "begging." Somehow I think not.) No, what gets Mr. Kandutsch's goat is the apparently disrespectful tone that Mr. Silber -- and I! -- have taken toward Glenn Greenwald. But let's let Mr. Kandutsch -- who, as his CounterPunch bio tells us, has a Ph.D in Comparative Literature from Yale -- speak eloquently for himself:
I can't help but notice the snide and snarky poke at Glenn Greenwald ("No oligarchs are paying his way...."), who (along with Edward Snowden) is repeatedly disparaged by Floyd and Silber for having co-founded a platform that will allow him to actually and effectively challenge the national security state -- i.e., for doing something more than writing an obscure, whiney blog that almost nobody reads while begging for money. Also hard not to notice that while Floyd and Silber criticize Greenwald and Snowden for not being sufficiently radical, it's the latter duo and not the former who are forced to live in exile abroad. ... Snowden's NSA leaks published, summarized and analyzed by Greenwald present an actual and effective challenge to the national security state, as demonstrated by the government's response to those revelations and by the fact that neither Snowden nor Greenwald may return to their country without great risk to their respective persons. None of this can be said of those who snipe at them from the safety of their living room bunkers concerning the methods used by those who bear all of the risk.
I for one consider myself well and truly pwnd. Of course, I could quibble over a small point here and there, such as the fact that Mr. Kandutsch's synataxical dexterity in his opening sentence seems to say either that Edward Snowden co-founded First Look Media or that Mr. Silber and I have "repeatedly disparaged" Edward Snowden. Neither of the implications that emerge from this rhetorical efflorescence are true. (I've taken issue with Mr. Snowden directly only once, for his recent statement to the EU that revelations such as his should only be "safely disclosed to responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders," i.e., the same government that is perpetrating the crimes being revealed.) But hey, a blog comment is not a comparative literature seminar, is it? We know, or sort of know, what Mr. Kandutsch means: Mr. Silber and I are disreputable characters who have disparaged better men than ourselves.
I could also point out that Mr. Kandutsch's characterization of Mr. Silber's platform as "an obscure, whiney blog that almost nobody reads" does not really partake of the kind of empathy for those in need -- and for those whose voices have been marginalized -- that one usually associates with writers who submit their work to CounterPunch, or indeed, those who align themselves with efforts to "challenge the national security state." Mr. Kandutsch seems to imply that Mr. Silber's lack of a mass audience is itself a sufficient cause to dismiss him with a rather crude scorn. But I'm so old I can remember when even Mr. Greenwald had an "obscure blog that almost nobody read." Did this fact vitiate any insights he had to offer in those days? Were his opinions only validated when he reached a certain level of popularity? Is popularity really to be regarded as a measure of worth for writers? Is Dan Brown a better writer than, say, Cormac McCarthy? Is that what they teach at Yale? Surely one cannot believe such a thing of a university that produced one of the great leaders and towering intellects of the 21st century, George Walker Bush.
What's more, I can even remember the many, many times that Mr. Greenwald himself used his blog to -- gasp! -- ask readers for contributions. He did it regularly, even when he had become successful and popular enough to earn the respect of people who have doctorates. Was this also some kind of disreputable "begging for money"? Or is it not simply a perfectly acceptable practice for any writer who puts an enormous amount of time and effort into the writing they publish on the internet, and who, as Mr. Greenwald did and Mr. Silber does, depend largely or solely on that writing to support themselves? Is this not the case for any writer who seeks payment for his or her work? When Cormac McCarthy asked Alfred A. Knopf to pay him for writing The Road, was he "begging"?
No, if I had not been properly chastised and humbled by Mr. Kandutsch's righteous rebuke, I would almost venture to say that his remark about "begging" on "an obscure, whiney blog that almost nobody reads" could possibly come across -- to an untutored, undoctorfied reader, of course -- as a haughty, sneering, elitist put-down of someone whose poverty and "obscurity" have rendered them déclassé, beneath notice. "You're a nobody; who are you to question your betters?" Doubtless that wasn't his intention; after all, his opening sentence showed that one must carefully tease out the meaning from Mr. Kandutsch's artful prose, as one would with a passage from Finnegan's Wake, for example, or Decision Points. So perhaps we should charitably ascribe what on the surface seems to be the obvious reading of Mr. Kandutsch's phrase to our own unenlightened misapprehension.
As for the meat of the matter, I take Mr. Kandutsch's point entirely. No one who is not facing "great risk to their person" should criticize in any way the methods or financial backing of anyone who is. I apologize for not realizing this before. You see, unfortunately I don't live in the Homeland these days, and I have forgotten one of the sacred tenets of our society, enunciated so memorably by the great Warren G. Harding: "Don't knock; boost!" And of course there is the absolute taboo against criticizing "our boys in the field" when they are facing danger. As we were told so many times during the Iraq War by our conservative bretheren, no one who is not a serving soldier can criticize the actions or methods of anyone who is.
And this is the lesson Mr. Kandutsch imparts: do not criticize anyone who might be in danger, if you yourself are not in danger. Whatever they do is beyond reproach, while the slightest demur you might make is just the whining of a snarker (or the snarking of a whiner) sitting in his bunker. Now I feel bad that I wrote all that stuff about the war crimes committed by US soldiers in Fallujah and elsewhere; after all, there I was criticizing them from the safety of my "bunker" when they were facing great risks to their persons. How can I have been so thoughtless?
I thank the counselor for this good advice. I will of course immediately repress my concerns that an enterprise which I have actually praised highly -- the revelation of nefarious state secrets by Edward Snowden -- is being rendered less effective than one hoped due to the way the data has thus far been controlled and disseminated. And by the fact that these revelations have now become tangled up in the affairs of a plutocrat who has hitherto used his charitable activities to pursue what I believe to be unseemly ends; i.e., the 'monetizing' of philanthropy (turning it into a source of rapacious profit for elites while hurting those it professes to help), and involving himself in dubious efforts at "regime change" in democratically elected governments overseas. In my ignorance, I thought these were reasonable questions to raise. But I can see now that to air one's opinions freely on these matters is no longer acceptable, even among savvy dissidents who laud challenges to the national security state.
So I will go and sin no more. Because I sure don't want to be left languishing in obscurity. I sure don't want to be a nobody. When I walk into a room full of landlords or Yale men, I want to hear them say, "We like the cut of your jib!" I want to be acceptable. Let those who are sick, those who are in need, look after themselves. After all, it's the spirit of the age, right?