I assume that most people who read this blog also read Arthur Silber. If not, you should. Over the years, Silber has created — and is still creating — a body of work that is unsurpassed in the blogosphere…or in any other venue where our political realities are addressed, and assessed, with words. He has done this — and is doing this — in the face of chronic and often catastrophic ill health, and in the face of the ravaging poverty that is the lot of any writer who tells the unpalatable, unpleasant yet penetrating truths that Silber does. It is a kind of heroism rare indeed in our increasingly conformist and fearful society.
And it goes beyond the insightful — and often slashing — criticisms that Silber offers of the vast herd of sacred cows that trundle back and forth across America’s political discourse, dribbling their endless slurry of cud over the truth. For what ultimately animates Silber’s work, I believe, is not the kind of nasty, gleeful nihilism that so often passes as “dissidence” these days — and certainly not the careful careerism or factional blinders sported by many if not most of our leading “progressives.” No, what underlies Silber’s work (again, as I see it) is a rich, compelling vision of human possibility: the enlightening, ennobling and liberating possibility that life could be different, that greed and cruelty need not rule human affairs, that we have a chance — at least a chance — to work toward a more evolved, engaged and compassionate understanding of ourselves, our species and our societies. Yet to see such a vision tarnished and mocked day after day after day after day; to see us hurtling headlong in the opposite direction, into a world ruled ever more brazenly by greed and cruelty, a world reveling in deliberate ignorance and comforting delusion; to see the very concepts of hope and change transmuted into nothing more than blue smoke masking the same old machinations of the same old brutal systems — it is a galling thing, it rightly provokes outrage, and the most stringent skepticism (called “cynicism” by the comfortable), and a purging scorn. All of this you will also find, in abundance, in Silber’s work. But it is the furthest thing from nihilism or contrarism; it is, quite simply — and most complexly — what is best in us crying out against what is worst.
Anyway, I often fear it is redundant for me to excerpt pieces by Silber here, because of the aforementioned assumption that most anyone simpatico with this website will already be wired in over there. But of course that can’t true in the case of every reader who runs across this site. And more importantly, there are many times when I simply want to associate myself with something Silber has written, especially if it’s something that I feel but which he has already expressed far better, and at greater depth, than I can.
His latest major essay, “You Aren’t Going to Beat the System, Baby,” is a case in point. I’m offering a few excerpts below, but I’m leaving out whole sections of very important material, and the many links that give Silber’s pieces their rewarding depth. So you should read the original in full. But as we approach the overheated hokum that will surround the inauguration — where the baton of imperial management is passed from one faction of militarist courtiers to the other — I think it is important to give Silber’s views the widest possibly play. So here are a few choice samplings:
As I am often compelled to do these days, I must begin with a principle which few seem to grasp, and even fewer are prepared to accept:
Any individual who rises to the national political level is, of necessity and by definition, committed to the authoritarian-corporatist state. The current system will not allow anyone to be elected from either of the two major parties who is determined to dismantle even one part of that system.
This principle applies to Barack Obama with regard to every policy of significance pursued by the United States government… Obama fully accepts and agrees with the U.S. policy in pursuit of American global hegemony, to be maintained by a worldwide empire of bases and foreign intervention (covert or overt, depending on circumstances) and criminal, aggressive war as required.
In many essays, I have analyzed one of the primary delusions that afflicts many Democratic supporters and apologists. I say “afflicts,” as if the problem is one forced upon innocent victims who unwillingly succumb to its symptoms. But such a characterization is frequently far too generous, especially when one considers the alacrity and enthusiasm with which prominent liberal and progressive writers and bloggers peddle obvious falsehoods. The specific delusion to which I refer is the utterly unfounded belief that “better” Democrats generally and Obama more particularly, via helpfully unidentified, mysterious, miraculous means, will “transform” the very nature of the United States as a political entity. (Obama, we are told with apparent seriousness, will change “the very nature of politics.”) Let it be noted that “hope” of this kind — hope which disregards history, even very recent history, and which eagerly discards genuinely serious political analysis as “cynical” or “irresponsible” — is an exceedingly dangerous gateway drug, which may in time lead its users and countless truly innocent victims into a hell on earth beyond our worst imaginings.
Over three years ago, in December 2005, Naomi Klein wrote about what she called Bush’s “infamous ‘We do not torture’ declaration.” Klein noted the location of Bush’s viciously dishonest pronouncement, Panama City, and further noted that it is but a short drive from there to the location of the School of the Americas from 1946 to 1984. She discusses the history of the evil taught at SOA, and some of the effects of that evil around the world. Klein then writes:
Suffice it to say that choosing Panama to declare “We do not torture” is a little like dropping by a slaughterhouse to pronounce the United States a nation of vegetarians.
And yet when covering the Bush announcement, not a single mainstream news outlet mentioned the sordid history of its location. How could they? To do so would require something totally absent from the current debate: an admission that the embrace of torture by US officials long predates the Bush Administration and has in fact been integral to US foreign policy since the Vietnam War.
Here, Klein herself is far too generous, and her truncated history is dangerously misleading. The U.S. government’s embrace of torture unquestionably goes back to the monstrously inhumane occupation of the Philippines at the very beginning of the twentieth century. Moreover, when one considers the genocide of Native Americans and the centuries-long practice of slavery, one appreciates that systematized, institutional torture is as American as sickeningly rancid, fatally poisoned apple pie. If one views the American government as a brutally dysfunctional family, then, my friend, Mom and Pop are the torturers-in-chief…..
[Here Silber quotes from a past essay]: [A]s I have continued to reflect on these issues, I realize that I must strongly disagree with [William] Pfaff’s assessment that “the influence of the national myth of divine election and mission was generally harmless” during the first period of this nation’s history, when our actions were largely confined to the continental U.S. For it was precisely during that period when the complex mechanisms of national self-delusion and lethal mythmaking became firmly entrenched in America’s conception of itself. Consider two of the most momentous aspects of those first years for America: the continuing genocide of the Native Americans, until finally almost all of them were slaughtered — and the monstrous evil of slavery, the importation and brutal enslavement of millions of human beings, accompanied by an endless train of horrors that almost forbid contemplation.
Consider those two facts in all their horror — and then ask yourself what would be required culturally and psychologically to maintain a belief in a “national myth of divine election and mission” in the face of them. I have formulated that so as to underscore the problem: you cannot recognize these facts and simultaneously maintain a belief in the notion that the United States is a divinely “chosen” nation, a nation superior to all others, a nation of spotless moral glory. The myth can be maintained only by denying the greatest part of the truth — denying the full nature of the genocide systematically committed over a long period of time, and denying the full implications of the institution of slavery, which similarly lasted for several hundred years. As the United States consolidated its grip on the North American continent, it consolidated and made impregnable its view of itself: the United States conquered territory, displaced huge populations, murdered, enslaved and slaughtered for God, for “national greatness,” for “Manifest Destiny,” for “freedom.”
…It now appears that the response of the Obama administration (and of most of its already dedicated defenders) to the horrors of the past eight years will be what I have predicted all along — the response that is, in fact, necessitated by our corporatist-authoritarian-militarist form of government: a return to “camouflage” and better public relations, and a return to “plausible deniability.” And the torture will go on, as will the wars of aggression.