Hold It All

Category: Power and Ideology

The Goal Is Justice, the Method Is Transparency

For those who would like to know a little more about  the issues surrounding Julian Assange and Wikileaks, please take two minutes to read and ponder the following passages from Tariq Ali and Margaret Kunstler’s new book, In Defense of Julian Assange (OR Books, 2019).

Providing information to the citizens of this world has become a dangerous act, but it cannot be stopped, as every authoritarian regime understands. The courageous people who provide this information must be protected.  —Tariq Ali and Margaret Kunstler, xxvii 

I posed the question of what the most positive trajectory for the future would look like. Self-knowledge, diversity, and networks of self-determination.  A highly educated global population—I do not mean formal education, but highly educated in their understanding of how human civilization works at the political, industrial, scientific and psychological levels—as a result of the free exchange of communication, also stimulating vibrant new cultures and the maximal diversification of individual thought, increased regional self-determination, and the self-determination of interest groups that are able to network quickly and exchange value rapidly over geographic boundaries. —Julian Assange,  212

[Julian] Assange’s agenda is infinitely more noble and infinitely more reviled by the servants of power: to upset the status quo that demands war, corruption, and oppression in order to exist.—Caitlin Johnstone, 195 

As founder and editor of WikiLeaks, [Assange’s] crime has been to make sense of dark times. WikiLeaks has an impeccable record of accuracy and authenticity which no newspaper, no TV channel, no radio station, no BBC, no New York Times, no Washington Post, no Guardian can equal. Indeed, it shames them. That explains why he is being punished.—John Pilger  151 Read the rest of this entry »

For So They Treated the Prophets…

Here’s Noam Chomsky–True prophets like Amos — “dissident intellectuals,” in modern terminology — offered both elevated moral lessons, which the people in power weren’t fond of, and geopolitical analyses that usually turned out to be pretty accurate, which the people in power were even less fond of. Naturally, the true prophets were despised, imprisoned, driven into the desert. The public also hated the true prophets — they didn’t want to hear the truth either. Not because they were bad people, but for all the usual reasons — short-term interest, manipulation, dependence on power.

Julian Assange has been despised, imprisoned, driven into extreme isolation; according to Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: ‘we all came to the conclusion that he showed all the symptoms that are typical for a person that has been exposed to psychological torture over an extended period of time.’

One of the reasons he and Wikileaks are so hated by the devotees of the war-making state is the release of such material as this on Collateral Murder.



What a Joy to Run the World!

When corporate-endowed foundations first made their appearance in the United States, there was a fierce debate about their provenance, legality, and lack of accountability. People suggested that if companies had so much surplus money, they should raise the wages of their workers. (People made these outrageous suggestions in those days, even in America.) The idea of these foundations, so ordinary now, was in fact a leap of the business imagination. Non-tax-paying legal entities with massive resources and an almost unlimited brief—wholly unaccountable, wholly nontransparent— what better way to parlay economic wealth into political, social, and cultural capital, to turn money into power? What better way for usurers to use a minuscule percentage of their profits to run the world? How else would Bill Gates, who admittedly knows a thing or two about computers, find himself designing education, health, and agriculture policies, not just for the US government but for governments all over the world?

Arundhati Roy, Capitalism: A Ghost Story


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!


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 »

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 »

Marxism Is Dead; Long Live Marx

Marxism is a curious notion like Freudianism. These are, in my opinion, forms of organized religion, which treat individuals as gods, or maybe idols. In disciplines that have passed beyond the most primitive stage, there is (or should be) nothing comparable. There is no “Einsteinism” in physics for good reasons…Sane people will learn from [Marx] what they can, discarding what is wrong or irrelevant. The fact that Marxism, as a form of idolatry, has lost its appeal is all to the good…. In my opinion, “Marxism” (though not Marx’s work) should disappear everywhere, but not to be replaced by new dogma and secular religion; rather, by independent thought. Read the rest of this entry »

The Political Economy of Memory

Alan S. Rosenbaum, ed., Is the Holocaust Unique? Perspectives on Comparative Genocide

I read this book for my treatment of Wiesel and it gave me plenty of perspectives, arguments and insights. The question of the volume already reflects its Shoah-centric status and bias. For example, there is no debate about the uniqueness of the Armenian slaughter. I still think that this question, which is but one reflection of the cultural production of the American political economy of memory, has its roots in the 1967 June War: after this there have been both sincere and disingenuous reckoning with the Holocaust. And Wiesel is torn — quelle surprise –between these two.

But there have come to be challengers to the implied moral claim that the Holocaust was the worst catastrophe in history (see even Dussel’s footnotes in Invention of the Americas) — and this volume gives them a voice, from Ian Hancock’s meticulous, impassioned claim that there was no difference between the treatment accorded Jews and Gypsies to Dave Stannard’s critique of the uniqueness proponents, especially Katz, for engaging in denial of other people’s Holocausts in the attempt to gain the monopoly on the genocide label only for the Jewish people. Read the rest of this entry »

Books To Read before We Die

Recently, I gave a bibliophilic friend the new book by James Mustich, 1,000 Books To Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List. It is a delight to peruse the tome, as the author and his associates have done a brilliant job of layout, summary, enticement—each day I pick it up, I make mental notes of works to reread or discover afresh.

Mustich encourages his readers to start their own list and add books that have been significant in their lives. I noticed that of his thousand, there’s not one by Noam Chomsky. This reminded me that a book by Chomsky that I read, way back in 1985, deepened how I was then learning to see the world.

The timing was perfect. With friends in Louisville, I had the good fortune to be a part of three projects that had as their focus U.S. foreign policy and Central America—the Sanctuary Movement for Salvadoran refugees; Witness for Peace in the war zones of Nicaragua under attack by the U.S.-backed contras; and the Pledge of Resistance which aimed to make Congress accountable for funding the terrorists against the Sandinista government and the Nicaraguan people.

During that period I read Chomsky’s Turning the Tide: U.S. Intervention in Central America & The Struggle for Peace. I had already been developing a sharper, critical perspective on the role of the U.S. government, having been informed by the radical Catholic perspectives of Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, and Thomas Merton. Chomsky, free from all religiosity, set as his task to de-mystify the U.S. policies and to expose the intellectuals who were the agents and beneficiaries of that mystification. (It was shortly after this period that I read The Fateful Triangle, Chomsky’s book on the U.S., Israel, and the Palestinians, which influenced me to such a degree that I later expanded a small point Chomsky made therein about Elie Wiesel into my first book.) Read the rest of this entry »

Why Do They Come to Hinder Us?

Julien Benda, The Treason of the Intellectuals (La Trahison des Clercs) [1927]

Julien Benda’s Treason of the Intellectuals can be read as a gloss on the Dreyfus Affair. In this polemic against intellectuals who have betrayed their vocation, Benda affirms the contestatory position of a writer like Zola. Benda takes note of the modern perfecting of political passions, particularly those of race, class, and nation. He asserts that “[o]ur age is indeed the age of the intellectual organization of political hatreds. It will be one of its chief claims to notice in the moral history of humanity.” [27] And it is just the pursuit of such political passions that constitute what Benda deems the “real” world, of the layperson whose expected mission is to pursue practical interests. The true intellectual, on the other hand, has a two-fold mission: to pursue in his or her intellectual path disinterested activity for its own sake and to remind the laypersons that there is a transcendent set of values that ought to be respected. The true intellectual, according to Benda, would have to agree with Jesus’s avowal, “My kingdom is not of this world.” [43] The intellectuals have an utterly pure mission, in contrast to the impure and practical interests that govern the masses: “I only say that the ‘clerks’ who indulged in this fanaticism betrayed their duty, which is precisely to set up a corporation whose sole cult is that of justice and of truth, in opposition to the peoples and the injustices to which they are condemned by their religions of this earth.” [57] It is by steadfastly maintaining allegiance to that cult of justice and truth that the intellectual fulfills her role. Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering Is Not Enough

Hilene Flanzbaum, The Americanization of the Holocaust
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999

The following  note is from summer 1999 when I was reworking my dissertation to what would become my first book, Elie Wiesel and the Politics of Moral Leadership (Temple University Press, 2001).   Hedy Epstein’s Erinnern Ist Nicht Genug: Autobiographie appeared in Germany in 1999. Norman Finkelstein’s book The Holocaust  Industry came out in 2000. 

This collection of essays doesn’t have much in the way of political relevance to my project, but there are good cultural analyses, particularly the editor’s overview to the subject (e.g., Wiesel at the Mets’ game),  Steinweiss’s remarks on Wiesel in Nebraska, Greenspan’s  studies of the evolving reception and discourses of survivors (stigmatizing vs. celebratory), and Young’s remarks on the politics of identity.  

Indeed, it is easier to talk about cultural shifts and Americanization rather than take the more controversial  and critical view that  elites are happy to focus on the Nazi crimes rather than our own.   Those people speaking out — more than 50 years later! — against Nazism may think of themselves, proudly, as moral beacons, say,  Christian “Holocaust scholars.”  But this reminds me of what Chomsky said, “You can tell the truth about Ghengis Khan, but it doesn’t rank very high on the moral scale.”  People got agitated about the Reagan Bitburg scandal of 1985, but not about Reagan’s  aiding and abetting the bloodbaths in Central America at the same time.