In 2001, Tom Engelhardt launched TomDispatch, a site that’s become one of the last bastions for intellectual discourse in what I think can fairly be called, in this latest iteration, a Trumpian America, in response to the Bush Administration, and primarily to its reactions to September 11, 2001 (9/11). As one writer describes our current culture:
“Like it or not, the president of the United States embodies America itself. The individual inhabiting the White House has become the preeminent symbol of who we are and what we represent as a nation and a people. In a fundamental sense, he is us.” – Andrew Bacevich, Slouching Towards Mar-a-Lago
While I try my best to avoid inventing hyperbolic clichés to describe something complex (and what is not complex when you make an effort to examine something with your rational tools of mind?) I’d briefly describe TomDispatch’s emergence on the Internet as: an intellectual response to the imperial activities of the Bush Administration as it captured the nation’s sanity, and, as a consequence, its conscience, in the process of responding imperially to the events of September 11, 2001. That Administration did so by sending the blunt instruments of our military establishment to the Middle East where it set the template for America’s Neoconservative driven 21st Century by sledge hammering apart the already damaged and fragile governing edifices of Afghanistan’s and Iraq’s fragile, sending both nations as well as much of the Strategic Elipse into waves of chaos that continue today, nearly 16 years later.
I don’t know how I first found the site, not sure precisely when, but some time around 2003 as my memory serves me. I followed some reference with a link, I suppose, because I was reading, therefore seeking out the works of people like Chalmers Johnson, Rebecca Solnit, Noam Chomsky, Juan Cole, and the like, as I was watching the events unfold globally after 9/11. I recall thinking then that Americans were on the verge of becoming the more hysterically insane human inhabitants of the planet, but surely the majority of the people will calm themselves from their natural reaction to watching those planes fly into the Twin Towers that day, and then we as a nation will recover our collective sanity and conscience and begin a more rational process of making sense of the world once again.
While that has yet come to pass, at least to my satisfaction, I have, meanwhile, continued to enjoy the high caliber writing that Tom attracted to his site. I find writing that does depart from the hysterical chaos of mainstream media, and offers a more deeply probing approach to the daily events. And I also have to thank TomDispatch for opening the door to a broad array of writers I had yet to meet in my own reading world.
Andrew Bacevich is one of those writers. Here’s a TomDispatch interview that will introduce anyone interested to know his background, thus the context that goes into what he writes: TomDispatch Interview: Bacevich on the Limits of Imperial Power and here, Part II. What I appreciate is that TomDispatch brings, with intellectuals like Bacevich, a range of intellectuals to the conversation. This is important to me because I find a commonality in all intellectual thought, but with that commonality I also appreciate a difference in cultural context that generates its version of intelligence. With that I get a chance to think about things in ways that are somewhat familiar to my own process but at the same time different enough to encourage me to expand my way of forming opinions. It slows me down just a bit.
Today, Bacevich writes about our current cultural hysteria. Here’s an introductory remark I feel worth noting, mainly because it echoes my own accounting of the moment:
“In his article today, TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich suggests another author worth revisiting — novelist John Updike — and a caution against worrying too much about President Trump and not nearly enough about the culture, the society, the country, and the people who put him in the White House. “Trump is not cause, but consequence,” writes Bacevich tellingly.”
…too much about Trump and not nearly enough about the culture…. Yes. That’s it. But then, what does worrying about the culture really get us? How does that translate into what I would like to see as a return to some semblance of national dignity? I doubt that collectively we’ll come up with a simple answer. But the questions need to be asked, and kept out there as something to work at answering, and maybe somehow the doubting and the wondering will restrain the panic that drives us to electing examples of ourselves that we then turn to look at with deep revulsion and even horror.
With that I give you a connection to the thoughts of Andrew Bacevich:
Slouching Toward Mar-a-Lago
The Post-Cold-War Consensus Collapses
By Andrew J. Bacevich
Andrew Bacevich, ex military, retired with the rank of colonel, thus an officer, and, in my mind, a management elitist by nature, thus someone who long ago bought into the legitimacy of hierarchy, should be someone whose thoughts I would immediately dismiss without much need for fore thought, dismiss as someone with a mental framework, a paradigm, as Thomas Kuhn called it out for us in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions, that would have him see the world through a lens that I find dangerous and distorted, ultimately authoritarian and pro archic. I would expect his words to follow a deep seated ontology that I’d find predictable and distasteful to my deepest sense of independence and free (from) dom (ination).
But that’s not been the case in his writings that Tom Engelhardt has shared with us on his ever outspoken against empire and militarism site: TomDispatch.com.
Bacevich introduces his own piece (Cow Most Sacred: Why Military Spending Remains Untouchable) with a tale of his visit to an annual meeting of Veterans For Peace in Berkeley, CA, a meeting I myself might have been at had I not left the Bay Area fourteen years ago. In it he expresses a sense of openness and appreciation for democratic processes that I would not expect to find in a management mentality. True, it comes with management words that make me cringe, like “rank and file” that echo those management frameworks that look down upon the hordes the management likes to manage, but still the words struggle to speak outward from that self enclosed Machiavellian box to see the possibilities and the values of freedom and liberty embedded in the outward behavior of the minions he’s observing. This paragraph in particular I found noteworthy, even eloquent:
What particularly impressed me was the ability of rank-and-file VFP members to articulate the structural roots of American militarism and imperialism. They understand that the problem isn’t George W. Bush and Barack Obama (and therefore won’t be solved by Hillary or The Donald). It’s not that we have a war party that keeps a peace party under its boot. No, the problem is bigger and deeper: a fraudulent idea of freedom defined in quantitative material terms; a neoliberal political economy that privileges growth over all other values; a political system in which Big Money’s corruption has become pervasive; and, of course, the behemoth of the national security apparatus, its tentacles reaching into the far quarters of American society — even into the funky precincts of the San Francisco Bay Area. There is no peace party in this country, even if a remnant of Americans is still committed to the possibility of peace.
If any of my weekend confreres have occasion to read this piece on the second go-round, I hope that it will pass muster with them. If not, I know they will let me know in no uncertain terms. Andrew Bacevich
I couldn’t have expressed my own vision and ongoing narrative of the structure of our civilized world and its inevitably liberty-constraining format any better. Of course, my vision only begins with this military format. I cannot speak for Andrew Bacevich, whose own history somewhat parallels mine back into the Vietnam era. His was management, mine was not.
My own big wake up to U.S. militarism and it’s relationship to what many are finally recognizing as “empire” came one morning in mid February, 1967 — I’m fuzzy on the exact date, they were all one big blur of days at the time — while I was lying in my “rack” waiting for that sleep jarring moment intended to awaken us all to another day of duty. Reveille. I hated reveille so much that my mind would pull me from sleep, no matter how sleep deprived — and we consistently were… sleep deprived, like adherents to a cult kept from thinking about what cult leaders want us to do for the cause, especially while at sea on Yankee Station — well before its blast so that I could mentally prepare myself for my emotional response. While I was lying there I was going over my past eight months of thoughts about my circumstances.
Unlike many of my fellow military cult members, the day I stepped down off the last step of that bus that had brought us into a Naval boot camp, what I felt through my feet, and saw taking place around me was not a scene where my ritual of passage to manhood was about to begin, but a replication of what I’d recently read in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and would later read about in his Gulag Archipelago; that is, a prison camp, complete with high razor wire topped chain link fences, uniformed men marching by in frozen faced pain, no doubt from their deeply suppressed personal freedom to express their inner feelings, and everything that the horrors of authoritarian dominance stimulated my inner nature to revile. That was mid May of 1966. It was Cold War, America, and I was about to go help save all of us from Solzhenitsyn’s Soviet Union that was, somehow (out of my pay grade and no doubt security clearance to know the details) extending itself into Vietnam.
I of course had not yet revealed that inner nature entirely to myself, I’d only experienced it in flitting bits and pieces, had read about it from fellow freedom lovers, like Henry David Thoreau, James Baldwin, Albert Camus, and a few others at that meager point in my exposure to the humanly civilized world. I had as yet met very few who actually expressed my own inner feelings and revulsions to this structure of dominance in the way that I felt them. Thus I wasn’t entirely sure that any such real person existed. The writings I’d indulged in were disembodied, much like my own dreams and imaginings. But the moment was a kind of crude awakening for me, nevertheless, and while everything that was to follow was intended to put those awakened sensations to sleep, in my case they did not. Rather they fed my awakening visions, and so I was lying there, waiting for reveille, reflecting, thinking I suppose you could call it, those visions, not necessarily in chronological order, but more in a kind of constantly sorting three dimensional focusing.
So all that is merely the beginning of a long process of exploration though which I developed my own vision of:
a fraudulent idea of freedom defined in quantitative material terms; a neoliberal political economy that privileges growth over all other values; a political system in which Big Money’s corruption has become pervasive; and, of course, the behemoth of the national security apparatus, its tentacles reaching into the far quarters of American society... – Andrew Bacevich
So, while I was lying there, waiting for reveille, going over the visuals of those eight months of impressions, feeling my frustration, my pain from constantly suppressing my deep need for freedom, I suddenly felt an immense sense relief, like a letting go of all that was troubling me, as I thought, what if we all just threw down our tools of war and walked away, all at once? What if we just left, and left those managers, those few elite officers at that top to do their war thing without us? What would they do? What could they do? And then came reveille. But that moment was like an awakening. And I began a new consciousness, I firmly believe, in that moment. I believe that’s how the closure of a rite of passage happens. And each rite of passage that includes a new consciousness becomes more and more refined.
I don’t know where I’d be without people feeding me all this “news” through email. Silence, I guess, or just listening to meditative music and meditating. I’m thoroughly isolated from the media now (intentionally) and I barely have the interest to turn on the computer most of the time. I don’t need a continuous stream of information, because the facts of the situation have been clear to me for years. In this iteration, the DLC chose its candidate, and there was no alternate Obama option this time around to make it seem like a genuine reality tussle. That’s how Bernie got his “revolution” going. People are starved for some election reality, though there never really was any chance for Bernie. Now the Trump phenomenon… that’s another matter entirely.
A few weeks back. I got a tip for a sci-fi novel from the seventies I’d missed. I wasn’t really into sci-fi then, or ever. But it can have some good metaphorical references to work with. The Matrix seems to last. The 1974 novel was The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe by D.G. Compton. Compton turns out to have been writing in much the same vein as Phillip K. Dick. Don’t know if his was quite as drug induced; I actually found it to be some half way decent literature. Got into the character’s heads.
Amazing foresight from Compton, though. I can’t remember what clues going around then that might have foretold the very idea of books produced and read through computers. Kindle and other ebook formats would not have occurred to me, even though I was getting the news through writing courses that if I wanted to write fiction, good literature was on the way out, and formula fiction would be the future. Really killed my interest in writing that genre as a potential future when I stepped back and saw what was taking place media-wise. I never did get into television as a kid, so I wasn’t really paying attention. But then I began to, and what I saw was the death of the very environment out of which literature would be produced and shared. So I went a different route with my writing jones. But fiction that would be computer produced and spread was the job Compton imagined Katherine would be doing when she got the bad news about her imminent death.
But the most chilling conception was the televised reality notion, out of which, in a variation of that future, a Donald Trump would create his image and draw his notoriety from a continuous reality-starved public of media addicts. The key to understanding the novel and reality television’s emergence as a phenomenon is in the title, with the word ‘continuous’. You’ll have to read it to get it. Today Trump is probably as real to many who have helped put him on this bizarre path to the White House (can you imagine a nation calling it the Black House?) as their own discontinous lives.
So, as to the title of this blog… Looks like another message board site where I shoot up to appease my writing jones is history for me. On the 23 of July, the lights went out, thus the lines from an old country song now echoing in my head.
They left open the option of writing blog essays, to which people could make comments. Not the same as a message board and the somewhat anarchical freedom that abounds in such atmospheres. But I tried one. I discovered it was to be manually read and would have to be “approved” by management before it would be viewed by the public. Eventually it appeared. A small discussion followed. I wrote a second essay.
They killed my second blog piece. They are now giving me the cold shoulder when I ask why. That’s the same treatment I give others — trollish, rude combatants who I want to ignore. It works. They give up instead of taking over my topic. Appears they now have a formula down for complete control of their site. What does that say about the host? The host is a television and radio political talk show figure. What does it say about the concept of authenticity vs hypocrisy? The host himself has become a reality media creation of sorts. And D.G. Compton’s 1974 novel was a good read for me right about now. RH