I received the following comment on my last post about the hacking of the website. I thought I would offer the exchange here, in hopes that it will clarify some things, not just about the hacking but about the website itself. And this is the last thing I’m writing about the current hack — except to say, once again, a very heartfelt thanks to all the readers who expressed their support in so many ways.
A commenter writes:
I must preface this whole comment with a statement that I consistently enjoy reading this work. I am a college kid, who, perhaps in the spirit of college rails against everything – government, the Democratic Party, the press, University administration, the shoddy food etc. It’s my role in society to be contrarian – because without advocates for such abstract concepts of human rights, democracy, liberty – perhaps they wouldn’t exist as vigorously as they do now in the world. As an extension of my role is work as contrarian – Chris Floyd and Glen Greenwald as examples. I read these pieces, comment about them and raise discussion about Bradley Manning and drone attacks in my human rights class, and the world goes on. The work I cite is part of the discussion, and not necessarily the “truth.” (As a side note, my course on human rights is taught by a former cabinet member under Bush I, and he is more an advocate of governments speaking out on human rights than I would expect).
As an Idealist now, I talk about these violations in the abstract, they don’t affect me personally: I have never met an Afghani with an arm blown off because of drones, I have never had my parent’s blog taken down, I am not living in Egypt. I talk about them nonetheless because I am compelled to do so – perhaps as Chris is compelled to as well; but most importantly there is still a hope that these things that occur do not really occur motivated by a supreme evil. I have always felt that in 30 years time, after I get a job, pay my taxes, I can begin to see the world in a more pragmatic grey and not a black and white. My experience with my professor in the human rights course has indicated that there are a basket of interests that must be balanced by every government, and the US government isn’t as monolithic as people think – the state department is certainly fumbling around in the dark like much of the world as governments are fundamentally still made of people – and people are always prone to error.
So while I talk about human rights and democracy, and American Imperialism – it’s always in the back of my mind that in some time I will come to accept the pragmatic rationale those in power use to justify bad things. I mean, from one point of view, we get “imperial masters” who bomb for fun and actually derive pleasure from it – do we really accept this? As (hopefully) still rational people, do we really think that those in Obama’s administration really sit in dark rooms and concoct/hatch plans to murder thousands every day? We point to the official press releases that muddy the water as a m.o. of cover-up, but why can’t it be like this: a bunch of people who get intelligence that al queda lives in house x, decide that they can’t take a chance if osama is there – and pull the trigger because they have their pictures of their wives and daughters on their desks and genuinely are scared to fuck up? Does no one harbor even a small kernel of light for these people?
What’s most scary is this constant takedown of the website. It indicates that perhaps that I am wrong, and that governments are monolithic and those controlling the strings actually would derive pleasure from suppressing the small sites. Even still, am I inclined to take this world-view as truth, as doctrine? I hesitate to actually believe it because I still have hope in this world! Damn it, I don’t want to believe it – I am much more comfortable talking about it as a college kid, isolated by books and tuition in an abstract thinking-man’s land. I love reading this work, Chris – it helps me fulfill my role, but I do not believe it. I love the words, the eloquence, the idealism that permeates these digital pages. But I cannot extinguish that small kernel of light I have for people. I won’t extinguish it perhaps until it directly affects me, and the constant attack on your site – well, it could still be twerps (I am in college, and there are lots of people I know who have the mindset and skills to do these attacks).
Keep writing, but I will reserve my judgment.
If you think this site presents a “monolithic” understanding of human nature — including the nature of those humans who operate in a brutal, inhumane system of power — then you understand nothing of what I write. The whole point of power structures based on inequality and domination is that those who get caught up in them are not cackling, moustache-twirling cartoon villains — they are ordinary human beings who end up degrading their own humanity because they put it to the service of a violent, brutal, unjust system. They do this for a thousand different reasons — mostly because it’s the system they were born in, the system that seems “normal,” and a system that rewards those who accept it and serve it with honors, prosperity, respect, a sense of belonging, etc.
But who is claiming, or would ever claim, that governments are not “fundamentally made of people” prone to ignorance and error as we all are? You seem to feel that this site presents a cartoonish, “monolithic” view of reality — but here you are fretting over straw men of your own devising, not anything I have ever claimed.
That said, do you really think that the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of innocent villagers killed in America’s patently illegal drone attacks in Pakistan have been killed just because some tender-hearted soul was looking at pictures of his family on his desk and said: “Well, who the hell knows if this intelligence report we got from some unnamed source somewhere acting on motives totally unknown to us is accurate or not; gosh darn it, I just can’t take the chance that Betty Lou and little Skipper might be slaughtered in their beds tonight by a big ole Muslim; better push the button anyway.”
Do you really believe that’s how it happens? Day after day after day after day, with the thousands of secret operatives and military personnel and government officials involved? Every one of them only thinking of Betty Lou? Every one them genuinely scared that if they don’t blast a whole compound of Pakistani peasants to bits — rip little children to shreds, turn mothers and grandfathers into piles of smoking goo — then Osama will come and kill their families? None of them could possibly be acting from base or cynical motives? Or even more — that these actions, and many others like them, could not possibly be the result of institutional processes and agendas that do not take individual human lives into account — neither those of their victims or of their own agents — but grind on regardless of Betty Lou, while sometimes, yes, trying to “muddy the waters” with lies and misrepresentations if their misdeeds (or “mistakes”) come to light? Do you think this doesn’t happen in our system on a regular basis — as it does and always has in every other system?
Again, I say: Who has the cartoon viewpoint here? Who has the “monolithic” apprehension of reality?
You speak of how you will be in 30 years after your graduation. Well, it’s been 30 years since I was in college. I have a job. I pay my taxes. I have a family. And yes, I do see the world in pragmatic gray, not through the prism of any kind of monolithic “idealism” whatsoever. Life is full of compromises on every level, many of them difficult. But what you don’t seem to realize is how very radical, how very extreme our system is. You don’t seem to realize how many innocent people have been killed by it, or with its full backing, in so many places for so many years. Of course there is “a basket of interests that must be balanced by every government.” But one of the “baskets” of our current system includes the bipartisan determination to ensure — by any means necessary — the continuing domination of world affairs by the United States. Not to mention the continuing domination of the United States by those “baskets of interests” who have a vastly disproportionate amount of money and power, and want to keep it that way. And why do they want to keep it that way? Because they believe that it’s the right thing to do, that they are serving a greater good in maintaining the proper order of society, etc. The fact that this greater good coincides with their own self-interest is just a happy coincidence — and one of the most persistent and pernicious of the delusions that, yes, plague all of us kernels. Millions of people around the world have died, violently, and many millions more have had their lives blighted or degraded by the “balancing” of these particular “baskets”. You have to know the true nature of the system you’re dealing with in order to determine your stance toward it. That’s not “idealism.” That is true pragmatism.
And of course, there are good people trying to do the decent thing in this system. This is true of every system of human organization under the sun, throughout history. I have stated this plainly many times. And yes, of course, most of the people who end up doing evil in this system — and all other systems — are not cackling super-villains who love to murder, but are ordinary people who think that by serving the system they are doing good. The fact that this process is not “monolithic” is what is so terrible about it.
I don’t know exactly what you mean by “harboring a kernel of light” for those who end up — willingly, knowingly, unwittingly, ignorantly — doing evil things on behalf of a power structure. You seem to be saying that you hope they really aren’t willing evildoers but just ordinary human beings who perhaps don’t realize the full moral consequences of their actions. Well, again, who is saying otherwise? And who says you have to “extinguish that small kernel of light” you have for people? If this is the message you are taking away from the website, then I cannot possibly possess the “eloquence” that you attribute to me, because I would have entirely failed to convey my understanding of the world.
But of course, any person, in any system, at any level, at any time, can bestir themselves and become more aware of what they are doing or facilitating through their involvement in the system — and then disassociate themselves from it. And it is up to each individual to decide how far they are willing to compromise — in the pragmatic gray area in which we all live — with the system they find themselves in, and when they finally have finally reached a line they cannot cross. There is nothing “monolithic” or idealistic about it; it’s a struggle that goes on inside us all every single day of our lives.
As for the website, I’m beginning to regret talking about the hack at all. Do you really think that I think that Barack Obama or “those controlling the strings” at the highest level personally shut down my website — and did it just to get cackling, super-villain pleasure out of it? Is that really what you took away from my post? If so, again, I must be one of the worst writers in the world. I don’t know exactly what happened with the hacking — but I do know that in a system that now operates mind-boggling “security” technologies on a vast scale (and it’s no secret, you know; you can read about it in the Washington Post if you like), all it takes is one person with the power to put a website, or an air traveler, on some minatory list somewhere, and that target is going to find their lives mucked up in various ways. And yes, maybe such a listmaker got some ‘bad intelligence,’ or maybe they made an unwitting mistake, or maybe they were thinking of Betty Lou and the kids and were scared of Al Qaeda, or maybe they didn’t cackle but wept salt tears of regret at turning a website over to the teams of hackers which we know — again, from mainstream media reporting — that governments and corporations around the world employ to do their dirty work for them.
Or hell, maybe it was just some twerp — even one of those people you know who has the mindset and skills to hack at a website 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for months on end, defeating some very sophisticated security measures and so on. All I was trying to do in the post was to tell readers what I thought had happened to the website — especially after it had been hacked so badly, and after many of the recent posts had disappeared. And these surmises were based on new evidence that convinced me, for the first time, that the relentless series of hacks were, as I said, very likely to have been a deliberate targeting of the site. That seemed the most logical conclusion of the evidence; but if my interpretation of the evidence is wrong, so what? I’m not asking anyone to go out and, say, fire drone missiles at villagers in Pakistan on the basis of my interpretation. It’s just my opinion.
Finally, I don’t know what kind of “doctrine” you think I am pushing here. I’m not pushing any “doctrine” whatsoever. And certainly not one that is meant to cause anyone to “lose hope in this world.” I honestly don’t see how anyone could get such a thing from this website. And of course you should “reserve your judgment.” What else would any thinking person do?
But if you do want to know my “world-view,” below is a reprise of a piece I first wrote several years ago. It expresses as best I can the impetus behind the website. Perhaps this is a good time to bring it out again.
Work, for the Night is Coming
Black milk of daybreak, we drink it at evening
– Paul Celan, “Deathfugue”
The children were walking to school. The young people were going out to a dance.
The children stepped on a booby trap planted by a soldier. The young people were shredded by the nails of a suicide bomb. They were all blown up, destroyed.
One moment, the force of life animated their biological matter, their brains seethed with billions of electrical impulses, the matrix of consciousness brought the entire universe into being, within them, within each of them, each solitary vessel of knowing.
The next moment, only the matter remained: inert, coagulated, decaying. There was no more knowing, no more being; the universe had come to an end.
We drink it at midday and morning; we drink it at night
They would have us believe it is because Ishmael warred with Jacob. They would have us believe it is because this or that Divine Will requires it. They would have us believe it is because ethnicity or nationality or religion or some other arbitrary accretion of history and happenstance must override both the innumerable commonalities of all human beings and the radical, irreplaceable uniqueness of each individual.
They would have us believe anything other than the truth: that everyone and everything will die; that all nations, ethnicities, religions and structures will fall away into rubble, into nothingness, and be forgotten; that even the planet itself will be reduced to atoms and melt away, like black milk, into the cold deeps of empty space. And in the face of this truth, nothing matters ultimately but each specific, fleeting instance of individual being, the shape we give to each momentary coalescence of atomic particles into a particular human situation.
That’s all we have. That’s all there is. That’s what we kill when we murder someone. That’s what we strangle when we keep them down with our boot on their throat.
We drink and we drink
Is it not time to be done with lies at last? Especially the chief lie now running through the world like a plague, putrescent and vile: that we kill each other and hate each other and drive each other into desperation and fear for any other reason but that we are animals, forms of apes, driven by blind impulses to project our dominance, to strut and bellow and hoard the best goods for ourselves. Or else to lash back at the dominant beast in convulsions of humiliated rage. Or else cravenly to serve the dominant ones, to scurry about them like slaves, picking fleas from their fur, in hopes of procuring a few crumbs for ourselves.
That’s the world of power – the “real world,” as its flea-picking slaves and strutting dominants like to call it. It’s the ape-world, driven by hormonal secretions and chemical mechanics, the endless replication of protein reactions, the unsifted agitations of nerve tissue, issuing their ignorant commands. There’s no sense or reason or higher order of thought in it – except for that perversion of consciousness called justification, self-righteousness, which gussies up the breast-beating ape with fine words and grand abstractions.
And so the fine words and breast-beating goes on and on – prosperity, freedom, holiness, security, justice, glory, our people, our homeland, God’s will be done, we will prevail.
We shovel a grave in the air where you won’t lie too cramped
Beyond the thunder and spectacle of this ape-roaring world is another state of reality, emerging from the murk of our baser functions. There is power here, too, but not the heavy, blood-sodden bulk of dominance. Instead, it’s a power of radiance, of awareness, connection, breaking through in snaps of heightened perception, moments of encounter and illumination that lift us from the slime.
It takes ten million forms, could be in anything – a rustle of leaves, the tang of salt, a bending blues note, the sweep of shadows on a tin roof, the catch in a voice, the touch of a hand, a line from Sappho or John Clare. Any particular, specific combination of ever-shifting elements, always unrepeatable in its exact effect, and always momentary. Because that’s all there is, that’s all we have – the moments.
The moments, and their momentary power – a power without the power of resistance, defenseless, provisional, unarmed, imperfect, bold. The ape-world’s cycle of war and retribution stands as the image of the world of power; what can serve as the emblem of this other reality? A kiss, perhaps: given to a lover, offered to a friend, bestowed on an enemy – or pressed to the brow of a murdered child.
Both worlds are within us, of course, like two quantum states of reality, awaiting our choice to determine which will be actuated, which will define the very nature of being – individually and in the aggregate, moment by moment. This is our constant task, for as long as the universe exists in the electrics of our brains: to redeem each moment or let it fall. Some moments will be won, many more lost; there is no final victory. There is only the task.
We drink you at morning and midday; we drink you at night
So do we counsel fatalism, a dark, defeated surrender, a retreat into bitter, curdled quietude? Not a whit. We advocate action, positive action, unstinting action, doing the only thing that human beings can do, ever: Try this, try that, try something else again; discard those approaches that don’t work, that wreak havoc, that breed death and cruelty; fight against everything that would draw us down again into our own mud; expect no quarter, no lasting comfort, no true security; offer no last word, no eternal truth, but just keep stumbling, falling, careening, backsliding, crawling toward the broken light.
And what is this “broken light”? Nothing more than a metaphor for the patches of understanding – awareness, attention, knowledge, connection – that break through our darkness and stupidity for a moment now and then. A light always fractured, under threat, shifting, found then lost again, always lost. For we are creatures steeped in imperfection, in breakage and mutation, tossed up – very briefly – from the boiling, chaotic crucible of Being, itself a ragged work in progress toward unknown ends, or rather, toward no particular end at all. Why should there be an “answer” in such a reality?
This and this alone is the only “ideology” behind these writings, which try at all times to fight against the compelling but ignorant delusion that any single economic or political or religious system – indeed, any kind of system at all devised by the seething jumble of the human mind – can completely encompass the infinite variegations of existence. What matters is what works – what pulls us from our own darkness as far as possible, for as long as possible. Yet the truth remains that “what works” is always and forever only provisional – what works now, here, might not work there, then. What saves our soul today might make us sick tomorrow.
Thus all we can do is to keep looking, working, trying to clear a little more space for the light, to let it shine on our passions and our confusions, our anger and our hopes, informing and refining them, so that we can see each other better, for a moment – until death shutters all seeing forever.