An blog by a member of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, to explore the nexus between contemplation and resistance. "The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Understanding Torture




The first job of the American Resistance is to understand the forces arrayed against us. The tendency to personalize political forces is a temptation which the corporate media encourages us to indulge and which dissipates the power of our critique. While people make politics and exercise power, their decisions are usually a response to forces that are not personal and in most cases, have little if any respect for the value of humanity to which the Resistance is committed. President Obama, for instance, is by all evidence a sincere and intelligent man, committed to the moral good as he understands it, but now part of a system that does not respect that moral good. His administration serves at the pleasure of the national security apparatus, as has every President since John F. Kennedy, whose death at the hands of that apparatus is graphic evidence to each successor of the consequences of disobedience.

There is no significant constituency for democracy or the rule of law within the ruling elite. They respect wealth and the pleasures wealth brings to themselves and their cohorts. Many of them sincerely believe that the virtues cultivated in striving for wealth are the highest ideals to which humanity can attain. But, sincere or not, these “virtues” drive the policies of their agencies such as the IMF and the World Bank.

The purpose of torture is to intimidate dissidents and enforce obedience to corporate priorities. The methods used in Guantanamo and the Middle East were developed during the U.S. led coup in Chile which established Pinochet and implemented the first massive neoliberal experiments of the current era. The technique that Obama has employed in releasing selective information about what is done to those who question U.S. dominance follows a classic pattern.

Naomi Klein wrote concerning torture, "But this fear [of torture] has to be finely calibrated. The people being intimidated need to know enough to be afraid but not so much that they demand justice. This helps explain why the Defense Department will release certain kinds of seemingly incriminating information about Guantanamo--pictures of men in cages, for instance--at the same time that it acts to suppress photographs on a par with what escaped from Abu Ghraib. ...This strategic leaking of information, combined with official denials, induces a state of mind that Argentines describe as 'knowing/not knowing,' a vestige of their 'dirty war.'" - Naomi Klein, "Torture's Dirty Secret: It Works"

The purpose of letting people know some gruesome details of torture while holding back others is clear: "...when they use rendition and torture as a threat, it's undeniable that they benefit, in some sense, from the fact that people know that intelligence agents are willing to act unlawfully. They benefit from the fact that people understand the threat and believe it to be credible." - Naomi Klein, "Torture's Dirty Secret: It Works"

In other words, both of Obama's decisions inform potential dissidents that U.S. intelligence practices torture and that the practitioners will not be prosecuted. At last, the pattern emerges: "This is torture's true purpose: to terrorize--not only the people in Guantánamo's cages and Syria's isolation cells but also, and more important, the broader community that hears about these abuses. Torture is a machine designed to break the will to resist--the individual prisoner's will and the collective will." - Naomi Klein, "Torture's Dirty Secret: It Works"

If there are investigations of the Bush torture policy, it is likely that they will be used to further desensitize Americans toward torture, normalizing it into one more instrument of imperial policy. Once the instruments are on the table, dissidents will understand what’s in store for those who contradict the new consensus.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Obama Uncovers the Instruments




"Generally bad people can do good things (even if for ignoble reasons) and generally good people can do bad things. That's why I care little about motives, which I think, in any event, are impossible to know. Regardless of motives, good acts (releasing the torture memos) should be praised, and bad acts (arguing against prosecutions) should be condemned." - Glenn Greenwald, "The Significance of Obama's Decision to Release the Torture Memos"

I agree completely with Greenwald that we should not inappropriately personalize these decisions. Such personalization smudges our perception of the real issues. But these obvious statements are a little too true to be entirely innocent. As we all know, there is a pattern in people's decisions that reveals what they represent as power to themselves. To pretend otherwise, even to support objective analysis, is mystification - pretending that the obvious tendency is the result of mysterious and unknowable motivations.

Let's examine what the probable effect of these two decisions on public attitudes toward torture might be. Withholding the details of the tortures would have mitigated public outrage among some, but would have disappointed those who demand assurance that those who threaten us are treated with sufficient cruelty. Promising not to prosecute such crimes against the human person essentially declares open season on "enemies" or "terrorists" or soon, probably, "environmental terrorists." If even a politician like Obama will not prosecute those who torture, then the message is clear that anything can be done to our enemies.

Naomi Klein wrote concerning torture, "But this fear has to be finely calibrated. The people being intimidated need to know enough to be afraid but not so much that they demand justice. This helps explain why the Defense Department will release certain kinds of seemingly incriminating information about Guantanamo--pictures of men in cages, for instance--at the same time that it acts to suppress photographs on a par with what escaped from Abu Ghraib. ...This strategic leaking of information, combined with official denials, induces a state of mind that Argentines describe as 'knowing/not knowing,' a vestige of their 'dirty war.'" - Naomi Klein, "Torture's Dirty Secret: It Works"

The purpose of letting people know some gruesome details of torture while holding back others is clear: "...when they use rendition and torture as a threat, it's undeniable that they benefit, in some sense, from the fact that people know that intelligence agents are willing to act unlawfully. They benefit from the fact that people understand the threat and believe it to be credible." - Naomi Klein, "Torture's Dirty Secret: It Works"

In other words, both of Obama's decisions inform potential dissidents that U.S. intelligence practices torture and that the practitioners will not be prosecuted even if they act in full knowledge of its unlawful nature.

At last, the pattern emerges: "This is torture's true purpose: to terrorize--not only the people in Guantánamo's cages and Syria's isolation cells but also, and more important, the broader community that hears about these abuses. Torture is a machine designed to break the will to resist--the individual prisoner's will and the collective will." - Naomi Klein, "Torture's Dirty Secret: It Works"

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sanity Defined




Sanity can be defined as follows: "The psychic task which a person can and must set for himself, is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity, without panic and undue fear." - Erich Fromm, The Sane Society.

What Mark Danner describes in "The Red Cross Torture Report: What It Means", the ground-breaking report just published in the New York Times Book Review, is an obsession with security that is the psychic opposite of sanity. To be free means to be insecure, just as the thinking man is by necessity uncertain. When the risk of insecurity becomes intolerable then we are willing to torture and maim others to maintain the illusion of security no matter the cost to our humanity. Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.

"How does peace come about?...Through the big banks, through money? Or through universal peaceful rearmament in order to guarantee peace? Through none of these, for the single reason that in all of them peace is confused with safety. There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. It can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war. To look for guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means to give oneself altogether to the law of God, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won where the way leads to the cross. Which of us can say he or she knows what it might mean for the world if one nation should meet the aggressor, not with weapons in hand, but praying, defenseless and for that very reason protected by 'a bulwark never failing'." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "The Church and the People of the World"

But clearly this is not the path which the Obama administration has chosen. "The United States has formally adopted the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture; they are not some kind of "foreign devilment" messing with our sacred sovereignty: they are the law of the land. But it is clear that the Obama Administration does not have and never had the slightest intention of obeying the law and instigating the required investigations and prosecutions of the high crime -- the capital crime -- of ordering and committing torture. And the reason for this refusal is also clear: the Obama Administration wants to retain the power to torture, to conduct "paramilitary operations" with secret armies and single assassins, to carry out mass, illegal surveillance of the population with no legal accountability, to do "whatever it takes" to keep the machine of war and domination churning at full strength. That is why they have retained apparatchiks like Kappes and Sulick; that is why they are not only defending the Bush gang's egregious assertions of authoritarian power, but are actually seeking to expand them, as Glenn Greenwald and others have detailed." Chris Floyd, "Hope Abandoned", April 10, 2009.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Power of Nonviolence




The first thing we need to recognize is that war is being waged on us. Forcible imposition of debt peonage is just as much violence as carpet bombing. Someone once said, "Poverty is worst form of violence."

That means we have to decide how to respond to the violence waged against ourselves and our brothers and sisters. There is a power in us that is independent of money and violence. There is something in us which is superior to brute physical force and that this brute nature always yields to. Gandhi said, "This force is to violence, and, therefore, to all tyranny, all injustice, what light is to darkness. In politics, its use is based upon the immutable maxim, that government of the people is possible only so long as they consent either consciously or unconsciously to be governed."

Hedges probably knows well how easily controlled angry mobs in the streets are. The powers will do everything they can to encourage acts of violence. We got a small taste of this at the G20 demonstrations in London last week. Credible reports indicate that the police deliberately provoked window smashing to aid camera crews in capturing violent scenes to be played over and over on the nightly news. This type of action plays directly into the panic they are constantly stoking.

Conscious non-cooperation with evil is the foundation of genuine resistance. We must constantly remember that their power depends on our cooperation. They don't have enough military power to subdue Iraq. What would they do if a hundred million Americans decided to stop playing their game of fear and illusion? We are capable of much more than our allotted role in this fantasy factory. We are capable of purposeful responsible action for social change, but it must be made a concrete part of our lives. The new corporate masters depend on our cooperation - without it their money is worthless.

Monday, April 06, 2009

How Just Our Coming Servitude




How just it seems that we should be reduced to the same status as those we have exploited these many centuries. How proper that those among us who share the name of Christian should share the fate of the wretched of the earth.

Massive non-cooperation is what's needed now. Clearly, Obama is playing the role of confidence-building front man to allow the assets of the U.S. Government to be openly transferred to Wall Street banking firms. The rest of us will play the role of debt slaves for the remainder of our and probably our children's lifetimes. Liberals have been intimidated into silence "to give Obama a chance" and they will remain silent just long enough for the wealth transfer to become irreversible. Then the noise will begin, but it will far too late by then.

We must also face our own cowardice and complicity. The latest moves are the culmination of a long series of previous moves over the past 30 years and more by the economically powerful. Because the earlier consolidations were not successfully resisted, the current one became possible, then inevitable. Debt has been the weapon of choice during each previous consolidation. While the previous strategy was to impose debt slavery on African, Asian and Latin American countries, this time they intend to use its full force against the American and European people. Their purpose is to inculcate a higher degree of "discipline" into the work force, by which they mean a return to actual slavery for the vast majority. This is necessary to continue increasing profit margins under current conditions.

Though I am not convinced that street protests will save us, I would rather go down in rage against the dying of the light than to dumbly accept my servitude as I fear will be the fate of the majority. We do have a few strategic advantages. First, the new feudal lords require an advanced technology in order to enforce their rule and that means skilled and intelligent workers. It may not be easy to entirely prevent these workers from reasoning about their servitude. Second, we have the memory of freedom, fast fading though it may be. That memory may be enough to begin a massive campaign of non-cooperation. In conscience lies our only hope.

Friday, April 03, 2009

What We Want




"We want a welfare system that is adequately funded and treats clients with dignity and respect. We want high quality education and healthcare for all, independent of one's financial means. And we want all this paid for by progressive taxes on income and wealth. We know that this is perfectly possible and can be achieved through well-tried policies. Only poor priorities that stem from the power of wealthy elites to impose their will stand in the way of achieving it." - Change How the World Works? Yes, We Can, Robin Hahnel, April 3, 2009.

Here is the key: "Finance should serve the real economy instead of the other way around."

So simple, yet it would turn the world around. The world has turned upside down and everyone grown used to standing on their head. We can turn it around, but we need to turn Obama upside down to make it work. First comes people's needs, their real needs, then comes what supports that. Finance has no other social purpose than to aid in producing goods that people need. If it fails in that, it has failed, totally, and must be removed. Jobs be damned. There are plenty of jobs supplying the needs of real people. Sustaining the current financial system only destroys people and the planet that gives all of us life.

The secret that none dare speak, even most of those on the left, is that none of this is necessary. The crisisis completely within the minds of ultra-rich Wall Street bankers and their acolytes throughout the world. The current productive capacity of our civilization is more than sufficient to give a decent living, health care and education to every man, woman and child on the face of this planet. But for the elite who own that productive capacity, real human needs are never the issue.

Obama is essentially saying that we can have both: a financialized economy that serves the profit motivations of speculators and a real economy that serves the needs of ordinary people. He fails to recognize that these two social forces are in fundamental conflict with each other. But this denial of conflict implicitly favors the victory of the more powerful entity.

The voice of the London protesters is actually this: "Our slogan 'better world is possible' means that we reject the economics of competition and greed as a human necessity and embrace the possibility of an economics of equitable co-operation. These approaches to solving our economic problems are fundamentally different. One way motivates people through fear and greed and pretends that market competition can be relied on to bend egotistical behavior to serve the social interest, when too often it does not. The other way organizes people to arrange their own division of labor and negotiate how to share the efficiency gains from having done so equitably. This way motivates people to work at tasks that are not always pleasant, and to consume less than they sometimes wish, because they agreed to do so, secure in the knowledge that others are doing likewise. The driving force behind our economic world is participation and fairness, no longer fear and greed." - Change How the World Works? Yes, We Can, Robin Hahnel, April 3, 2009.

We might call this the economics of solidarity and it has the power to reliably produce and distribute goods that meet real human needs. All we have to do is sacrifice our delusions of grandeur. What's more, all the beauty and true grandeur that this civilization has created - the art, the music, the technology - will still be there, in greater abundance and flourishing in a civilization with more capacity for appreciating them than ever before. Instead of dire warnings of imminent climate catastrophe, we can look forward to a future of unending spiritual growth.

But we have to let go the delusions bred by excessive material wealth. In the words of one London protester, "We're here to say that we can build the world anew, bottom up. I would put myself on the line and say that we could be on the verge of a revolution - we are getting to the point where people have nothing left to lose, and that's when they rise up." - Marina Pepper, 41, Liberal Democrat town councillor for Telscombe, East Sussex.