Bleed the Monster, or, we gotta
get the world straightened out

December 7-18, 2005

by  G. S.    <george.salzman@umb.edu>

this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Discus/2005-12-18.htm

Immersed in disaster, and not just in Iraq, and
not “just” the United States of America

      A giant being sucked irrevocably into a maelstrom, death as inevitable and excruciating as that of a victim in Kafka's In the Penal Colony.[1] For the United States is a mighty giant in the world today, mighty and fearful, able to spread destruction on a scale never before even imagined in the councils of the powerful. Temporarily, for all things are temporary, in the hands of a small group of people best described as maniacs, but evil maniacs not to be forgiven, this nation-state of almost 300 million souls is thrashing in its final agony, and causing untold destruction around the world. There are almost 6 and a half billion human beings on the earth; each birth was a miracle of life, each tiny creature learning, from the beginning, what it meant to be human.

      In an earlier essay, “Mutual Aid and Mutual Trust”,[2] I wrote:

[F]rom the very beginning of its life an infant is embarked on a miraculous search for understanding — everything — a search to comprehend the world of which it rapidly gains consciousness. Long before it can verbalize, long before it can decipher the sounds of speech, it discovers, much to the pleasure of adults, that it can smile and that its smile invariably elicits smiles in return, and human warmth. And it learns to cry. You have only to watch a small baby held by a parent or other familiar person if its eyes suddenly discover you in its field of view. With its eyes rivetted upon you, the intense, unabashed scrutiny to which you are subjected is one of total curiosity, a focused effort to understand you. The child tries to fit you into its perception of the universe. Clearly, at this stage, a small child is nothing if not totally open, totally honest.

The United States — a non-unique monstrosity

      The United States is unique only in the vastness of its destructive power, not in its corruption, its institutionalized lying, or – though this might seem to be a contradiction, but it isn’t – the wonderful everyday people who live in this part of the Americas. Rather, because of its singular military status in today’s world, it has come to be the epitome of the entire fatal delusion that goes by the name Western Civilization. There is only a single legitimate measure by which a society may claim to be a true civilization: that is the extent to which it achieves the least possible avoidable suffering of each person who is in any way connected with that society. No nation-state has ever, to my knowledge, even aspired to that goal.

Peoples and governments — don’t mix ‘em up
Most people are good — governments are always bad

      For a long time ‘I used to hate Germans’, but I finally learned ‘how baseless was my stereotypical view. Hell, Germans were just like everyone else ... Having “German blood” was meaningless for knowing anything significant about a person.’[3] No national government represents the people over whom it claims jurisdiction. Never mind kingdoms or outright dictatorships, where it’s glaringly obvious. So-called representative democracies never represent the interests of ordinary people, but always those of the dominant, powerful groups, and are invariably plutocracies of one variety or another. For example, the United States is a corporate, military, industrial plutocracy. All nation-states claim total sovereignty — over their territory, their population, and their natural resources. They also claim their supposed right to tax their inhabitants, and their exclusive right to maintain all the machinery of coercion and repression — the armed forces, police, courts, jails, and so on. The principle function of a nation-state is to safeguard the class division, to maintain and protect the privileges of the wealthy and powerful, regardless of the suffering ordinary people and colonies and other nations must endure. All nation-states are monstrosities. It’s only because the U.S. is the most powerful — the most threatening one right now that I focus on it.

Even in the U.S. the demand to “Get the fuck out
of Iraq” is growing loud and clear

      One powerful, eloquent call for immediate total withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq came from Stan Goff <sherrynstan@igc.org> in the Dec 2 Counterpunch.[4] As always, Goff [5] is direct and unequivocal. No “[g]radual, phased, planned, strategized, conditioned, delayed, partial withdrawals” are acceptable. Out now! is his message and demand. He’s right, of course. This disaster-in-progress, this Vietnam-II, is a total abomination. The U.S. Congress, to whom his open declaration is addressed, is almost entirely composed of politicians whose absolute top priority is, shamefully, to gain re-election. Of course his contempt for their behavior is justified. He’s dead right as far as he goes — but, he doesn’t go far enough. It’s not just the liberals and progressives who don’t go far enough, but most of the (political) radicals as well. The scale of disaster exceeds Congress and the Iraq quagmire; it is far greater than the United States. It embraces the entire ediface of what’s called Western Civilization.

      It’s been an overt disaster-in-progress for the Indians of the Americas ever since Columbus made land on Hispaniola Island, December 5, 1492. Bush and gang are but the latest excrescence of the whole miserable enterprise, notable only because they have unabashedly extended the Monroe Declaration to the entire world and are trying, with all the “marvels” of science and technology, to impose it — regardless of what the world's people want or need.

      And there’s no reason not to go back earlier, before the ongoing disaster-in-progress began to encompass the Americas’ indigenous peoples. So yes, we’ve got to stop the Bush-trumpeted conquest, but we’ve got to go far beyond that. And tough demands (but in reality supplications) to the profoundly cretin politicians in Washington (and damn near everywhere else in the world) won’t cut the mustard. We have to stop asking other people to save us, especially the governing scum produced by a value system honed by thousands of years of domination by cupidity-and-power-based societies.

We, the world’s peoples, have got to save
ourselves, or it won’t happen!

      So, how do we do it? Obviously, no one person has the answer. But we’ve got to find out. All I can do is to offer some thoughts and hope that others of you will join in with your ideas, criticisms, and efforts. I think we best start with ourselves and our neighbors, in small groups of people who know each other face-to-face. We build our efforts, as the Zapatistas would put it, “from below”. We build mutual trust among ourselves, based on one-to-one mutual confidence. We learn from each other. We help each other. We work to understand why the world is being consumed by misery, death and destruction, and to dope out what we must do to change it. And then we try to do it, to make essential changes, to be activists in gaining control over our own lives.

      I suggest we turn away from many of the talking heads, in particular those who are forever expounding on the meaning of this or that manifestation of the idiots-in-power, or predicting what is likely to be the course of their idiocy — will Iran be attacked, or Syria, or Venezuela, or New Orleans, or Al Jazeera? If only ten percent of that (in my view, largely wasted) intellectual effort went into figuring out why, in terms of fundamental understanding, the system is irrevocably deadly and how we can go about replacing it — not reforming it but changing it's fundamental nature — an anathema to the liberals, I know — we'd be well started in figuring how to get out of the millenial morass of murder and mayhem.

      I’m only one guy, so what I can do by myself is negligible, but let me explain my efforts, for whatever value that might have.

1. I try as hard as I can to “Bleed the Monster”, i.e. to divert as much material wealth as I reasonably can away from corporate and governmental control, and into building the global grassroots infrastructure. For example, in 2004 my contributions to tax-exempt groups came to $63,550; my income tax paid to the IRS was $6,506. Almost 10 times as much went for building socially beneficial grassroots infrastructure as to the federal monster.

2. In January 1997, when I was 71, I had already decided not to try to save, not to try to prepare for prolonged medical care, and to come to terms with my own mortality. That enabled me to contribute large (for me) amounts of money each year to various groups. Of course on a personal basis it was risky. I wrote then, “Lacking any real social security, only some accumulated wealth remains as a buffer between middle-class comfort and possible misery at the end of one’s life. But if enough of us take the risk, I believe the movement to gain real security for all the world’s people will be greatly helped. We must build a society without greed and without insecurity.”

      It still seems right at age 80. Compared to the risks young people are being forced to take in Iraq and elsewhere for the empire, the risk to me is minimal, and it's for a good purpose, a decent world for our grandchildren. That short piece was titled “Renewing the Call to RESIST”.[6]

3. In 1999 I set up the Grassroots Infrastructure Trust and deeded a house and land irrevocably to the Trust. Separate from my retirement income (from a half-century in academia), that property is essentially a cash cow, and a permanent part of the grassroots infrastructure. Currently all the “rents” go towards a building-purchase fund for the Lucy Parsons Center, a radical book and periodical store and community center in Boston.

Counter-propaganda efforts — inspiring
one another — keeping in touch

      Aside from the above efforts to help secure a material base for a local part of the grassroots infrastructure, I participate in the communication and information network with my website and an extensive e-mail contact list. For example, I wrote recently of an activist friend, Richard Stahler-Sholk,[7] <rsholk@gmail.com> who is on sabbatical leave from Eastern Michigan University. Instead of the Sorbonne and a year of indulging in French cheeses, not to mention Merlot, he's trekking the mountainous forests in Chiapas, engaging as an academic activist in the Zapatista struggle. I was seeking support for his effort to help the self-education program of the Zapatistas, an essential part of their movement.

      I wrote him before posting the article, ‘There are a few things still, like my saying I’ve contributed $1,000, which I have mixed feelings about. It could sound like boasting ... [b]ut I’d like to try to get my middle-class liberal friends to feel some connection with how they squander the wealth over which they have legal control (e.g. tourism is the world’s largest industry!) and their role in perpetuating the terrifying conditions of many many human beings ... They are among my really good friends, and at the same time they are truly class enemies of the poor people, though of course they don’t want to admit it. They are Oh-so-liberal! You must know a ton of such people too — academia is full of them.’ Rich wrote back, ‘Yes, academia is indeed full of “liberals” who all believe that they have no ideology (a bad word) and that they alone are objective. Reminds me of a poem by Guatemalan revolutionary poet Otto René Castillo called “The Apolitical Intellectuals”. Go to http://www.marxists.org/subject/art/literature/castillo/ and click on “Apolitical Intellectuals”.’ Here’s some of it:


One day
the apolitical
intellectuals
of my country
will be interrogated
by the simplest
of our people.

They will be asked
what they did
when their nation died out
slowly,
like a sweet fire
small and alone.

No one will ... want to know
about their sterile combats
with “the idea
of the nothing” ...

They won't be questioned
on Greek mythology, ...

They’ll be asked nothing
about their absurd
justifications,
born in the shadow
of the total lie.

On that day
the simple men will come.

Those who had no place
in the books and poems
of the apolitical intellectuals,
but daily delivered
their bread and milk,
their tortillas and eggs,
those who drove their cars,
who cared for their dogs and gardens
and worked for them,
and they’ll ask:

“What did you do when the poor
suffered, when tenderness
and life
burned out of them?”

Apolitical intellectuals ...
you will not be able to answer.


Criticizing others — that’s always easy, but how about
ourselves — the “political left intellectuals”?

      The problem as I see it is basically that of privilege — the fact that the prevailing social structures in most societies deny to many people, usually a very large majority, specific advantages that only some people — the privileged — enjoy. The Guatemalan “apolitical intellectuals” indicted by Otto René Castillo because of their unconcern with the suffering of “the simple people” were able to be indifferent because they were privileged. Quite simply, they did not experience the suffering of the humble majority; they could live in a world seemingly disjoint from that of the poor, and most of them of course did so, either unthinkingly or deliberately. Many of them were taught that they were superior to the poor people, that they deserved their privileges. I’m pretty sure that’s the same in all cultures.

      It might be tempting to say that anyone who’s labelled ‘intellectual’ is privileged. In a certain sense that’s true, to the extent that the label accurately refers to someone whose intellectual activity is regarded as a significant part of his or her life. In that narrow sense Mumia Abu Jamal is “privileged” despite the terrifying physical and psychological circumstances of his life in prison.[8] Most people who are thought of as intellectuals are privileged in a much broader sense, able not only to think about more general matters than how to keep body and soul together from day to day, but to enjoy a variety of material advantages unavailable to most of the population. Such an intellectual can choose whether to avoid or engage in social problems. Otto René Castillo dealt with the “avoiders”. Among the “engagers” are those who align themselves with the socially dominant forces, usually for substantial monetary considerations. They populate right-wing “think tanks”, write reactionary columns and Op-Ed pieces, make public appearences, and provide similar intellectual services to support the status quo. These are, roughly speaking, what I would call the “paid for” intellectuals.

      The group of “political left intellectuals” includes a very broad spectrum of individuals, some of whom would not think of themselves as “leftists” but all of whom have in common an awareness of the severe disparities in society and the human suffering that results, and all of whom want, in some way, to try to alleviate the unnecessary suffering – to improve the human condition. Compassion is the shared core value, but how individuals respond to that motivation varies widely. Here of course is where criticisms — mutual criticisms and self criticisms — begin. I think it’s essential that we keep in mind that everyone who shares our compassion and is trying to respond to it is “on our side”. Our criticisms, in order to be constructive, to help towards our common basic goal, must not be attacks on each other but criticisms of specific actions, efforts at persuasion that such actions are mistaken, or could be improved. Let me give an example.

      In a recent interview by Toronto-based writer Justin Podur <justin.podur@utoronto.ca>,[9] Robert Fisk, author and Mid-East correspondent of the Independent (UK), spoke his mind, as he always does,

Justin Podur: Can you elaborate on why you hate the word phrase “mainstream media”?

Robert Fisk: The phrase itself has become a cliché. But also in the university, especially in the U.S., you have a lot of people who call themselves “activists.” I'm not sure what that means, we're all “activist” if we get up in the morning, I don't know. We're activists when we drink coffee. And “activists” spend hours and hours emailing each other to no purpose it seems to me, other than to say, “we're losing.”

And they keep saying “mainstream” and “alternative.” The problem with that is that if I'm an ordinary person not in the university élite and I have the choice of a “mainstream” or an “alternative” newspaper, I'll choose the “mainstream” one, won't I, because it sounds better? Why not call your papers mainstream and the New York Times alternative?

      Anyone who’s seen my earlier posts knows I think the world of Fisk.[10] Here he is criticizing ‘a lot of people who call themselves “activists”, people ‘in the university, especially in the U.S.’, who ‘spend hours and hours emailing each other to no purpose it seems to [him], other than to say, “we’re losing.”’ This was a friendly, but probably somewhat rapid-fire interview, and there’s no reason to become defensive about his criticism of people who call ourselves activists. Fisk knows very well that we don’t think of brushing our teeth as qualifying us to be called activists. What we mean is that we’re not apolitical intellectuals, we’re conscious of the chasm between rich and poor, and we’re trying to do something about changing it. But the serious challenge remains: How effective are the actions we are pursuing? In fact, he implicitly levels the same challenge at himself in his article, “ “We are all complicit in these vile acts of torture – but what can we do about it?””(emphasis added, see [10] ). It’s the doing that is critically important; it separates the merely “left political intellectuals” from the “left political intellectual activists”.

      Towards the end of the interview the following interesting exchange occurs:

Justin Podur: What do you hope to accomplish with the book [The Great War for Civilisation: the Conquest of the Middle East, Oct 1, 2005]?

Robert Fisk: I didn't know the answer to that when I was writing it, but now I do. I want readers to reject the narrative of history laid down by their presidents, prime ministers, generals and journalists. Challenging the narrative of history, or monitoring the centres of power, to use Amira Hass's phrase, means we have to reshape our own view of the world unencumbered by clichés and dead words like “war on terror,” “terrorist,” “Islamic terror,” surgical strike, good and evil, them and us, “they hate our freedom,” “democracy” — “democracy” delivered by Abrams tanks and swords and Apache helicopters.

      Fisk is, in the fullest sense of the term, a political intellectual activist. And though he might reject the adjective “leftist”, his sympathies are unambiguously for those who are poor and suffering, not the powerful and rich.We all wonder — those of us in this group — whether our efforts to make the world better will accomplish anything significant. Fisk might not have formulated the answer to Podur's question while he was writing The Great War for Civilization, but he was of course driven by his felt need to try to tell the terrible truth of what he witnessed, to as many people as he could reach. And he hoped that his telling would not be in vain.

      I believe, though I’m uncertain, that Fisk’s criticism of the self-labelling by many left political intellectuals as “activists”, especially among academics in the United States, stems from his belief that their activities are ineffective in contributing towards the social changes so desperately needed, and therefore they don’t deserve to be recognized as “activists.” My view is that we're awash with left political intellectuals who try to understand everything, but who remain largely apart from effective activism. Uninformed or misinformed activism can be terribly dangerous to human well-being, as for example the frighteningly effective activism of the right-wing Christian fundamentalists in the United States in supporting war. We need to be informed, to understand the contemporary world — the social reality that encompasses our lives, but we need also to be engaged as true activists in order to change that reality. How to achieve this is an ongoing challenge to all of us. We need to do a helluva lot more than ‘spend[ing] hours and hours emailing each other to . . . say, “we're losing.”’ We need to find, each of us (and remember there are billions of us), concrete actions that we can and do carry out, actions that contribute to moving humanity away from the deadly course of history that now threatens us all.

― G.S., December 18, 2005

Notes
[1]In the Penal Colony, by Franz Kafka. Edward Said gives a concise summary, writing that the story is “about a crazed official who shows off a fantastically detailed torture machine whose purpose is to write all over the body of the victim, using a complex apparatus of needles to inscribe the captive's body with minute letters that ultimately causes the prisoner to bleed to death.” The quote is from Said’s article in The Politics of Anti-Semitism, Counterpunch, p.155.

[2] Mutual Aid and Mutual Trust, http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Grass/Infra/Infra-5.htm.

[3] ‘I used to hate Germans’. That and the other quote is from the essay “The Jewish Threat — real or imaginary?: trying to learn the truth”, at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Discus/2005-04-09.htm.

[4] Counterpunch http://www.counterpunch.com/goff12022005.html.

[5] I first learned about Stan Goff from Alberto Giordano's Narco News website http://www.narconews.com/en.html in October 2001. Al wrote, shortly after 9/11, that Goff's work was 'must reading' for anyone attempting to understand the immediate historical situation the world faces. At http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Discus/2001-10-10.htm, that interview was almost four years ago.

[6] “Renewing the Call to RESIST” is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Anarch/Cal2Res.htm.

[7] I discuss Richard Stahler-Sholk’s work with the Zapatista base communities in the second half of the article “Let me tell you about my prostate — or, Why are old people so interesting?”, at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Notz/2005-11-28.htm.

[8] Mumia Abu Jamal “had been awaiting execution in Pennsylvania from 1982 until December 2001 when Federal District Court judge William Yohn overturned his death sentence. However, Yohn reaffirmed Jamal's conviction, ruling that he will remain in custody indefinitely.” –Wikipedia, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mumia_Abu-Jamal.

[9] Justin Podur interview of Robert Fisk, Nov 24, 2005, is at interview. The URL is (with no space between the two parts!): http://www.rabble.ca/rabble_interview.shtml?sh_itm=a37c84dbd62690c4c1abb1 a898a77047&rXn=1&

[10] On Fisk, see for example my posting, “Activism! — Even heroes can be frustrated without it”, at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Notz/2005-11-24.htm, where I said, ‘Even people whose work is widely recognized, and who struggle hard to make this “A Better World for Children” can experience frustration, as all of us in this camp do. Fisk “cried out”, in frustration as it were, with an article, “We are all complicit in these vile acts of torture – but what can we do about it?’, which is at http://www.robert-fisk.com/articles509.htm.


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