The Moment of Truth — February 23, 2002

The Invisibles

Hi, I’m mejeffdorchen, and welcome to the Moment of Truth, the wind that blows through the streets of extreme capitalism at night and sweeps the gutter clean.

What could be more disgusting than super-rich, over-priviliged scum conniving to squeeze even more money out of the majority of earthling humans? I guess the answer would be: religious fanatics who kill civilians in attempting to impose on the world the laws of their god. Then again, I don’t see much difference between them, except for their relative proximity to the tools they use to kill civilians. Oops, I probably should have kept that to myself.

I guess most people in polite society would contend that an innocuous guy like, say, the CEO of a cosmetics company in Chicago, is not as bad a person as your rank-and-file al Qaeda member. Not as much of a killer, therefore not as deserving of death. Yet this cosmetics CEO was instrumental in a conspiracy to slip through the Illinois legislature without public debate an eleventh-hour rider that forced community educators to continue to live below the poverty line. Living in poverty exposes one to illness and violence and death in a way that living a middle-class existence does not. But see, that’s okay, cuz all this CEO did was indirectly withhold state funds from community educators. This led to attrition among their ranks, thereby leaving more poor people with less educational options, hence curtailing opportunities to improve their relationships with illness and violence and death. But is that the CEO’s fault?

Oh, did I mention that this CEO thought nothing of getting tax dollars to fund a private penthouse gym for himself? Does that matter? Does that put him in the same league as a follower of Osama bin Laden?

You know, all Adolf Eichmann did was schedule trains.

I’m not going to name the CEO in question, because to advocate violence against him would be illegal, immoral and unethical. And lumping him in with terrorists could thereby incite violence, start the Bush administration making noises about invading Illinois.

Were I eloquent enough, persuasive enough, I might convince even some of our most sophisticated progressives to advocate a US bombing campaign against the terroristic business community, as long as the Pentagon promised to kill as few Illinois civilians as possible. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Try to kill as few civilians as possible.

Oh, one can’t compare the condition of black men between the ages of 14 and 40 in the state of Illinois with that of women under the Taliban. I don’t have to tell you that. But take the Taliban’s practice of executing women in a stadium or on the street… please. Illinois stopped killing people almost four years ago, and even when its killing aparatus was operating, it had the civilized taste to execute its victims in sanitary rooms in an intimate setting, with bloodless, traceless chemicals rather than a rifle to the head — though a gun is often the preferred method of less formal executions carried out by agents of the state “in the field” as it were.

There are privileged players in the world who see people, people simply trying to go about their daily business of staying alive, as expendable. Expendable in the grander project the players have arrogated to themselves. Some of these nuts have the misguided idea that expending these expendable persons in a bloody public spectacle is best. Although some of these murderers may be quite wealthy, as wealthy as their more genteel counterparts, they’re backward, unsophisticated. Their spectacular fascistic terrorist theater brings unintended ruin to their project. They are artless, clumsy, ham-fisted, and as such provoke swift and spectacular retaliation from those they murder.

And so, we ordered them crushed, although the deaths of innocent people were inevitable in that process.

There are ham-fisted murders in our own society. The death penalty is certainly a good faith attempt to rid ourselves of them while killing as few innocent civilians as possible; an attempt made in faith as good as the Pentagon’s in Afghanistan, I dare say. Consistency would dictate that those who advocated the bombing would, at least on a case-by-case basis, advocate the death penalty. That’s part of the moral web that began being woven by unequivocal advocators of the bombing of Afghanistan. I can’t make a value judgment about it here. The death penalty may or may not be appropriate or right or good. I simply feel that the equation can’t be dismissed except by the cowardly.

When I was a community educator in Chicago, living below the poverty line, one of my students was killed in a drive-by shooting. I was in the room when they told his sister. He was fifteen, and she was a year younger. He was in a gang, and was killed by members of another gang.

But was the mayor of Chicago guilty of the murder of this kid just because he misappropriated federal funds earmarked for low-income housing? Or because he misused tax dollars to reward his friend with a private penthouse gym and helped get him appointed to a position wherein he could exert his influence to keep community educators living below the poverty line?

I don’t know. All Eichmann did was schedule trains. And since then it’s become possible to distance oneself even further from the fatal results of one’s fiats and civic activities.

I understand why some of the best of us have given up trying to trace our society’s tele-automatic terrorism to its culpable source. That way lies an existence of daily frustration and helpless rage. It puts people off at the dinner table. Also, it implicates all of us. I haven’t been able, nor have I ultimately felt the need, to turn a blind eye to the cruelty we all accept because it surrounds us like air. I’ve learned to elude the rage most of the time by believing that the human soul is never entirely hostage to the injustices, visible and invisible, perpetrated by the terrorists that strive to rule us. Even to two people leaping from a burning skyscraper, holding hands might have been a kind of victory, maybe a powerful or even unequivocal one.

I steeled myself against blaming the poor as soon as I heard Reagan start doing it way back in the 80s. It hasn’t always worked. There are certainly a lot of people making their own lives more miserable than necessary. But there is also a privileged bunch whose programs for dominating land and resources and laws run roughshod over whole communities, even whole nations. The tele-automatic nature of their terrorism is such that they can usually deny their crimes even to themselves.

Teleterror. If you advocate the death penalty while accidentally killing some innocents, and the bombing of Afghanistan, also accidentally killing some innocents, what is your answer to teleterror? I guess the reward for being sophisticated enough to conduct their mass violence from a distance is a social taboo against their enemies fighting them with any other than democratic means.

And what about when democratic means are removed from the arsenal of the oppressed? What means of resistance can you get your hands on quickly and straightforwardly? Democratic means of resistance are means for resisting at a civilized distance terror perpetrated at a civilized distance. Without democracy, the tools one is left with are much cruder. Ham-fisted and artless.

Thus the US military ham-fistedly fights al Qaeda, whom no one can vote out of office.

Where else does a dwindling of democratic means of redress threaten to leave us without sophisticated, civilized options? Texas? The WTO? Monsanto?

Most of us know what Eichmann was doing, though he might have convinced even himself that he was merely scheduling trains. It’s much easier to direct anger at an unambiguous enemy. But it’s not impossible to trace teleterrorism to its culpable source. It’s unpleasant and uncouth, though. It crosses lines of social propriety. It makes the sophisticated cringe. It can lead to abuses of theory that then lead to abusive action, and this is something to be vigilant about. But it’s not impossible, as long as one is willing to hold onto the baby while the bathwater is thrown out. Of course, it’s hard to get people to agree on which stuff is bathwater and which is baby.

On the flip side, however, maybe it’s possible NEVER to give up hope for a democratic, artful solution, even in cases where one is confronted with a hamfisted enemy. Maybe it’s not just possible but morally imperative, given the complex relationship of terror and retaliation, sophisticated and otherwise. If we tried to solve everything peacefully, some innocent people would suffer of course, but we’re already okay with that.

These are just musings, artless, ham-fisted and unsophisticated though they may be. I promise for now to refrain from advocating unsophisticated resistance to teleterrorism. But I expect a bit more reflection on the part of everyone else in return for my circumspection. Otherwise, why shouldn’t I take the example of our patriots and government and the sophisticated left and bomb the Texas prison system? Yes, I’m really as simpleminded as all that. As violent as TV is, I’m much more influenced by the decisions of those I respect. And I think kids are more influenced by the violence of their government and the advocation of that violence by their respected elders than they are by fiction on TV.

What if I said, “Think of the children?” Wouldn’t that get you right here?

Is it a surprise to anyone that, since giving Bush the go-ahead to bomb Afghanistan, we can’t put the genie back in the bottle? $48 billion dollars that will not mitigate the poverty of community health workers, educators, counselors, children, seniors, homeless people, anyone, will now go to the military. That’s just the domestic repercussions. I know how unpersuasive it is to talk about civilian casualties in other countries.

But do victims of teleterror, whether foreign or domestic, count as casualties anyway? If so, who didn’t foresee these casualties? And among those of us who did, and who care, why did we rub the lamp in the first place, with that foreknowledge in our heads? And those of us who care but didn’t foresee: why the hell didn’t we?

Would our decision have been any different had we had those future casualties uppermost in our minds? Would at least the debate have been different? Or was it simply impossible to remember invisible victims when faced with the violently visible? But if so, why? We’re not animals who can only see what’s in front of us. We’re animals that can connect time, past to present, present to future, and conjure with vividness the physically absent.

I’m glad Osama bin Laden has helped us rediscover Orwell. See what I mean about how the human soul is never entirely hostage? And how every cloud has a silver lining or some such crap? What a resilient intelligentia we are, with what insight do we selectively revive history. Now, how about Ralph Ellison? Hannah Arendt? Frantz Fanon? Marcuse? Marx? Swift? Zola? Rabelais? Seneca? Maybe Kenneth Lay can help us rediscover them. But will that do any good? We can’t consider everything, even if we’re all as considerate as we can possibly be. What will we leave out, hovering in our blind spot, next time?

Will one day the earth stand still long enough for us to catch our breaths? Maybe we should put those alien robots in charge. They promised they would kill as few innocent civilians as possible.

I’m mejeffdorchen saying “Klaatu borada nikto” from the Moment of Truth.