Hold It All

Category: Power and Ideology

Countering Chaos

Alexander Cockburn, A Colossal Wreck: A Road Trip through Political Scandal, Corruption, and American Culture
Verso, 2013

Daisy Cockburn: When I was a teenager my father used to suggest I read the dictionary when I had a spare minute, or if I was feeling a bit down. His own father Claud had recommended a dip into Marx if darkness descended. The point being made was a reminder not to collapse, to find meaning, counter chaos with spirited punches—get to the root of things and then improvise, blow your trumpet from there. 571

These words by Alex Cockburn’s daughter are at the end of the magnificent volume of his writings from 1995 to 2012. Rereading him in the time of descending darkness during COVID-19, I return to the following passages to find meaning and counter chaos for purposes of necessary improvising….

Boyd had that rare talent: relentless intellectual focus on the task at hand. To hear him dissect tactics employed at the battle of Leuctra, when the Thebans beat the Spartans in 371 BC, was as overwhelming as to hear him discuss the relevance of Gödel, Heisenberg and the Second Law of thermodynamics to human behavior. Beyond all that, Boyd was an honest, modest, populist who never lost his humanity amid a life devoted to the consideration of war. 80

Like Greece, the strength of the Occupy Wall Street movement lies in the simplicity and truth of its basic message: the few are rich, the many are poor. In terms of its pretensions the capitalist system has failed. Nearly six million manufacturing jobs in the United States have disappeared since 2000, and more than 40,000 factories have closed. African-Americans have endured what has been described as the greatest loss of collective assets in their history. Hispanics have seen their net worth drop by two-thirds. Millions of whites have been pitchforked into penury and desperation. 515 Read the rest of this entry »

Act Two by Andrew Wimmer

My friend Andrew Wimmer emailed the following to some of us, and gave me permission to share here…
In May 2016, Adam Gopnik wrote in The New Yorker:

“There is a simple formula for descriptions of Donald Trump: add together a qualification, a hyphen, and the word ‘fascist.’ …his personality and his program belong exclusively to the same dark strain of modern politics: an incoherent program of national revenge led by a strongman; a contempt for parliamentary government and procedures; an insistence that the existing, democratically elected government…is in league with evil outsiders and has been secretly trying to undermine the nation; a hysterical militarism designed to no particular end than the sheer spectacle of strength; an equally hysterical sense of beleaguerment and victimization; and a supposed suspicion of big capitalism entirely reconciled to the worship of wealth and ‘success.’… The idea that it can be bounded in by honest conservatives in a Cabinet or restrained by normal constitutional limits is, to put it mildly, unsupported by history.” (Adam Gopnik, “Going There With Donald Trump,” The New Yorker, May 11, 2016) Read the rest of this entry »

The Power of Footnotes


My idea of the ideal text is still the Talmud. I love the idea of parallel texts, with long, discursive footnotes and marginal commentary, texts commenting on texts.

–Noam Chomsky, Mother Jones interview, 1987


Text from Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, p. 386 (South End Press, 1983):

[On the Sabra-Shatila massacres] There was also a reaction from Elie Wiesel, who is much revered internationally and in the United States for his writings on the Holocaust and on moral standards and has been proposed many times for the Nobel Peace Prize for these writings, again for 1983, by half the members of Congress according to the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.* Read the rest of this entry »

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 »