Hold It All

Category: Dissidents

Remembering Alexander Cockburn

Dear Andrew,

You and I make frequent reference these delirious days to Alexander Cockburn, who published us in his Counterpunch website back during both the Bush and Obama administrations. A while ago I reread his glorious book, The Golden Age Is in Us: Journeys & Encounters 1987-1994, and I am happy to share with you several passages that reveal the man. He is missed.

Take a Look!

Mark

So the Golden Age is subversive and it’s fun, which means that for us on the left, it should be our goal and sales pitch. People love utopias that make sense….There is abundance, if we arrange things differently. The world can be turned upside down; that is, the right way up. The Golden Age is in us, if we know where to look, and what to think.

It would take the pen of Swift to evoke the nauseating scenes of hypocrisy, bad faith and self-delusion on the White House lawn on September 13, crammed as it was with people who for long years were complicit in the butchery and torture of Palestinians and the denial of their rights, now applauding the “symbolic handshake” that in fact ratified further abnegation of those same rights…. In the shadow of an American President with the poise and verbiage of the manager of a McDonald’s franchise, Arafat produced oratory so meager it made Rabin sound like Cicero. To think that long years of struggle and U.N. resolutions acknowledging Palestinian claims should end with this pathetic fellow shouting thank you to his suzerains.

The wars in Korea and Vietnam were not byproducts of superpower rivalry. In both instances the United States wanted to crush indigenous revolution. Read the rest of this entry »

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With Gratitude for Reinaldo Arenas

And then, at last, they saw the country and the countercountry – because every country, like all things in this world, has its contrary, and that contrary-to-a-country is its countercountry, the forces of darkness that work to ensure that only superficiality and horror endure, that all things noble, beautiful, brave, and life-enhancing – the true country – disappear. The countercountry (the poem somehow revealed this) is monolithic, rigid vulgarity; the country is all that is diverse, luminous, mysterious – and festive. And this revelation, more than the images of all the beautiful things that they had seen, invested the listeners with an identity and a faith. And they realized that they were not alone, because beyond all the horror – including the horror that they themselves exuded – there existed the sheltering presence of a tradition formed of beauty and rebelliousness: a true country.

–Reinaldo Arenas, The Color of Summer, trans. Andrew Hurley

 

Entry: Noam Chomsky

Interesting to find an entry for Noam Chomsky in The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia. The brief mention  includes,  “He rose to even greater prominence for his lifelong pursuit of radical leftist ideas, some mainstream (he opposed the war in Vietnam and is a critic of Israeli policies)…”

Mainstream views on the Vietnam War were marked by the debate between the hawks and the doves. The position that opposed the war on principled grounds (U.S. aggression is wrong, Chomsky’s position) was not part of the debate among “respectable intellectuals.” Hence, not mainstream.

Further, Chomsky being a critic of Israel’s policies (a “radical leftist idea”?) and in the mainstream (?) makes me wonder exactly how many New York Times op-eds on Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians he got published from the 1970s to the 2000s.

I’d guess three, at most.

Stephen Batchelor’s Gotama: A Dissenter, a Radical, an Iconoclast

Stephen Batchelor has been exploring for quite some time a Buddhism with overt religiosity stripped away. His thoughtful, engaging project reminds me of a similar one undertaken by John Dominic Crossan regarding the historical Jesus. The following passages come from his 2010 book, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist; as you read through them, compare and contrast with other Buddhist teachers you’ve read, from Pema Chödrön and the Dalai Lama (Tibetan Buddhism) to Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhism).

I was beginning to suspect that the Mahayana traditions had, on certain points, lost sight of what the Buddha originally taught. 97

The Buddha dismisses such questions, because to pursue them would not contribute to cultivating the kind of path he teaches. 99
It seemed clear from these texts that the Buddha’s original approach was therapeutic and pragmatic rather than speculative and metaphysical. 100

This story of intrigue, betrayal, and murder locates Gotama in the midst of a highly volatile world in which he was deeply implicated. 108
… his role as a social critic and reformer was one who rejected key religious and philosophical ideas of his time, who ridiculed the priestly caste and its theistic beliefs, who envisioned an entirely new way in which people could lead their individual and communal lives. 109
I have to acknowledge that the vast majority of Buddhists have shown little if any interest in the personality of the man who founded their religion; they have been content to revere a remote and idealized figure. 110

He saw his teaching—the Dhamma—as the template for a civilization. 110

Gotama’s voice is confident, ironic, at times playful, anti-metaphysical, and pragmatic. Over the course of his formative years, he had achieved an articulate and self-assured distance from the doctrines and values of Brahmanic tradition. But exactly how he did this, we don’t know. 124

Gotama’s awakening involved a radical shift of perspective rather than the gaining of privileged knowledge into some higher truth. 129
… Gotama did not encourage withdrawal to a timeless, mystical now, but an unflinching encounter with the contingent world as it unravels moment to moment. 129 Read the rest of this entry »

Hadji Murat and Noam Chomsky

1.

“… when we came to the camp, Hamzat led the khan into the tent. And I stayed with the horses. I was at the foot of the hill when shooting began in Hamzat’s tent. I ran to the tent. Umma Khan lay face down in a pool of blood, and Abununtsal was fighting with the murids. Half his face had been cut off and hung down. He held it with one hand and held a dagger in the other, with which he cut down everyone who came near him. In front of me he cut down Hamzat’s brother and turned against another man, but here the murids starting shooting at him and he fell.”

Hadji Murat stopped, his tanned face turned reddish brown, and his eyes became bloodshot.

“Fear came over me, and I ran away.”

“Really?” said Loris-Melikov. “I thought you were never afraid of anything.”
“Never afterwards. Since then I always remembered that shame, and when I remembered it, I was no longer afraid of anything.”

–Leo Tolstoy, Hadji Murat, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

2.

I remember when I was about six, first grade. There was the standard fat kid everybody made fun of. I remember in this schoolyard he was standing outside the school classroom and a bunch of kids outside were taunting him. One of them brought over his older brother from third grade, a big kid, and we thought he was going to beat him up. I remember going up to stand next to him feeling somebody ought to help him, and I did for a while, then I got scared and ran away. I was very much ashamed of it. I felt, I’ll never do that again. That’s a feeling that’s stuck with me: You should stick with the underdog. The shame remained. I should have stayed with him.

–Noam Chomsky, interview with David Barsamian, Chronicles of Dissent

Morality 101

See, I focus my efforts against the terror and violence of my own state for really two main reasons. First of all, in my case the actions of my state happen to make up the main component of international violence in the world. But much more importantly than that, it’s because American actions are the things that I can do something about. So even if the United States were causing only a tiny fraction of the repression and violence in the world–which obviously is very far from the truth–that tiny fraction would still be what I’m responsible for, and what I should focus my efforts against. And that’s based on a very simple ethical principle –namely, that the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated consequences for human beings: I think that’s kind of like a fundamental moral truism.

So, for example, it was a very easy thing in the 1980s for people in the United States to denounce the atrocities of the Soviet Union in its occupation of Afghanistan–but those denunciations had no effects which could have helped people. In terms of their ethical value, they were about the same as denouncing Napoleon’s atrocities, or things that happened in the Middle Ages. Useful and significant actions are ones which have consequences for human beings, and usually those will concern things that you can influence and control–which means for people in the United States, American actions primarily, not those of some other state.

Actually, the principle that I think we ought to follow is the principle we rightly expected Soviet dissidents to follow. So what principle did we expect Sakharov [a Soviet scientist punished for his criticism of the U.S.S.R.] to follow? Why did people here decide that Sakharov was a moral person? I think he was. Sakharov did not treat every atrocity as identical–he had nothing to say about American atrocities. When he was asked about them, he said, “I don’t know anything about them, I don’t care about them, what I talk about are Soviet atrocities.” And that was right-because those were the ones that he was responsible for, and that he might have been able to influence. Again, it’s a very simple ethical point: you are responsible for the predictable consequences of your actions, you’re not responsible for the predictable consequences of somebody else’s actions. Read the rest of this entry »

The Way It Looked Fifty Years Ago

“The war is simply an obscenity, a depraved act by weak and miserable men, including all of us, who have allowed it to go on and on with endless fury and destruction — all of us who would have remained silent had stability and order been secured.”

–Noam Chomsky, American Power and the New Mandarins: Historical & Political Essays

 

Thinking for Oneself (and Then There’s the “More Sophisticated”)

The audience I try to reach, and to some limited extent do reach, is a different one: partly, activists of a less doctrinaire sort than the mainstream liberal intelligentsia and sectarian Marxists, partly the kind of general interested audience that one finds everywhere: around universities (primarily students), church groups, and so on.

I’m not trying to convert, but to inform. I don’t want people to believe me, any more than they should believe the party line I’m criticizing—academic authority, the media, the overt state propagandists, or whatever. In talks and in print, I try to stress what I think is true: that with a little willingness to explore and use one’s mind, it is possible to discover a good deal about the social and political world that is generally hidden. I feel that I’ve achieved something if people are encouraged to take up this challenge and learn for themselves.

There are a vast number of people who are uninformed and heavily propagandized, but fundamentally decent. The propaganda that inundates them is effective when unchallenged, but much of it goes only skin deep. If they can be brought to raise questions and apply their decent instincts and basic intelligence, many people quickly escape the confines of the doctrinal system and are willing to do something to help others who are really suffering and oppressed.

This is naturally less true of better-educated and “more sophisticated” (that is, more effectively indoctrinated) groups who are both the agents and often the most deluded victims of the propaganda system.

—Noam Chomsky,”The Manufacture of Consent,” 1983, Language and Politics, 389

Ale Vázquez

Sara Roy speaks to Germans

Your sense of guilt, if that is the correct word, should not derive from criticizing Israel. It should reside in remaining silent in the face of injustice as so many of your forebears did before, during and after the Holocaust. —On Equating BDS With Anti-Semitism: a Letter to the Members of the German Government

Is Murdered Journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s “A Russian Diary” Only Relevant to Russians?

Anna Politkovskaya, A Russian Diary:
A Journalist’s Final Account of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin’s Russia

Random House, 2007

… the Russian people gave its consent. Nobody stood up. There were no demonstrations, mass protests, acts of civil disobedience. The electorate took it lying down and agreed to live, not only without Yavlinsky, but without democracy. 16

Our society is sick. Most people are suffering from the disease of paternalism, which is why Putin gets away with everything, why he is possible in Russia. 71

The Russia tradition is one of an inability to plan and see through the sheer hard work of systematic opposition. If we are going to do anything, it has to be something we can do on the spot, here and now, after which life will be sorted. As that isn’t the way things work, life doesn’t get sorted. 121-122

This whole system of thieving judges, rigged elections, presidents who have only contempt for the needs of their people, can operate only if nobody protests. That is the Kremlin’s secret weapon and the most striking feature of life in Russia today. … We have emerged from socialism, as thoroughly self-centered people. 124-125 Read the rest of this entry »