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September 16, 2007

Internet Stuff

• The first segment on a recent episode of This American Life about this impressive guy:

Sam Slaven is an Iraq War veteran who came home from the War plagued by feelings of hate and anger toward Muslims. TAL producer Lisa Pollak tells the story of the unusual action Sam took to change himself...

• Ray McGoverns tells a story:

[A]fter a lecture I gave two and a half years ago in a very affluent suburb of Milwaukee...some 20 folks lingered in a small circle to ask follow-up questions. A persistent, handsomely dressed man, who just would not let go, dominated the questioning:

"Surely you agree that we need the oil. Then what's your problem? Some 1,450 killed thus far are far fewer than the toll in Vietnam where we lost 58,000; it's a small price to pay... a sustainable rate to bear. What IS your problem?"

I asked the man if he would feel differently if one of those (then) 1,450 killed were his own son. Judging from his abrupt, incredulous reaction, the suggestion struck him as so farfetched as to be beyond his ken. “It wouldn’t be my son,” he said.

• Rob Payne describes our silent land.

• Jeff Cohen talks at Google about his book Cable News Confidential:

Posted at September 16, 2007 10:01 PM | TrackBack

The Rob Payne piece is good--he proposes Americans break the silence hanging over the land and confront the myths or illusions about our history to change our society and ourselves.
Two issues here:
1. I've known only one society that has done such a thing, and that was West Germany. And to a very large degree, because it had been reduced to rubble--physically and spiritually. Not wishing that on us, what American equivalent of the destruction of Germany could propel Americans to self-examination and self-exposure, and eventually to withdraw from the illusions building that bubble of silence?
2. What would be left standing, if we'd tear away the historical and psychological illusions (delusions?) we've wrapped ourselves and our society in? All that's holding our society together now, and that ain't so much, might drift away, leaving us standing there,as Melville's "Confidence Man" without the snake oil he' been selling to others and to himself. And then what?

Posted by: donescobar at September 16, 2007 11:47 PM

Donescobar, I am glad you enjoyed my post. You make two good points and all I can say is that I see it as a place to begin because you need to identify a problem before you can fix it. I don’t know if it is possible but we have little to lose by trying. When I was teaching music I would have my students tape everything they did and like a mirror the tape recorder does not hide anything from the listener but it made my students learn how to listen to themselves and it greatly facilitated their progress, at least those that would tape themselves. I guess that is why I feel that if we try to be honest with ourselves that we can grow as a nation and with the internet we have the perfect tool to be each other’s mirror.

Posted by: rob payne at September 17, 2007 04:06 AM

Over the past couple of years I have grown to almost appreciate people like the man Ray McGovern talked to. They simply want to send young Americans to die for some precious oil. They know that their families will never be called upon to make any kind of sacrifice.

Having examined the delusions that many people have about the US occupation of Iraq, and the bottomless hypocrisy evinced by many, I have to say that people like the man who confronted McGovern help to cut through the bullshit. The fact is, however, that rational assholes like that that man are ultimately just as bad as the morons and the hypocrites.

Posted by: atheist at September 17, 2007 07:12 AM

The man in the McGovern audience probably holds stock in Exxon.

If that man had done some math he'd realize that a half-trillion dollars added to the cost of Iraq's oil, even if he is able to discount all the deaths, is not a bargain.

Now, if you own an oil company, having a country bankrupt itself to further your business is great business for you. At worst, you just move your international headquarters to another country when the potholes and riots get to be too much.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at September 17, 2007 10:44 AM

Donescobar - I think a lot would be left standing. There's still valuable ideas in the American fabric, else we wouldn't be able to perceive hypocrisy in our elites; democracy, freedom, equality are real ideas, not just mush that can be forced out in order to justify some foreign policy calculations. Clear away the vapor from our eyes, and we'd still have those things to hold on to - or at least to move towards.

Rob payne - I'm definitely the left-most in my family, and I get a lot of "Okay, saurabh, whatever you say," sort of sentiment. One of the most infuriating memes in the American discourse these days is "Everybody is entitled to their own opinion, and they're all equally valid." Since when? Okay, I've decided not to be silent. How do I get people to stop dismissing what I say as my own drunken ramblings? Is this just a matter of my own lack of cogency?

And, as an aside, the McGovern piece is excellent (though it retells a lot of familiar tidbits of story). That exchange with the well-dressed man at the end is infuriating. I would have exploded at the guy - what's HIS problem, the evil rat-fuck, that he thinks he has the right to decide who lives and who dies?

Posted by: saurabh at September 17, 2007 10:46 AM


Yeah, I have the exact same problem as you do, my family thinks I am a radical, gasp. I tell them I don’t see it as a matter of being radical or liberal or moderate, etc. rather it is a matter of the immorality of what is happening in Iraq and our news media. They seem to accept that much at any rate though they remain skeptical about how awful the news media is. Also I am not saying that everyone’s opinion is valid but rather that by discussing it on the internet it is a way of bouncing your ideas off other people to see what they think. Just from coming to this website I have changed an awful lot of my own opinions by reading the posts and the comments here. I was once firmly in the Democrat camp but no longer am for example. If we remain silent about what we think than certainly nothing will happen but it is frustrating to be dismissed out of hand if you say something that goes against established thought patterns.

I especially liked the post on Sam Slaven because there is someone who was able to overcome their own prejudice which really struck a chord with me. Maybe things will change though not in some large sweeping way but in little spurts and starts with people like Sam.

Posted by: rob payne at September 17, 2007 12:01 PM

Yes, "little spurts and starts" are a good beginning, the kinds of victories Joe Bageant describes as happening--occasionally--at the local level. But after a while, these "spurts and starts" have to grow into a "large sweeping" thing, or the powers that are will simply live with the nicks and scratches spurts and start have made. The civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam war movements had to grow and attract many and create confrontations before anything substantial could be achieved. But then, at least some of the "elite" young were supporters. Now, they aren't and show no signs of emerging from their careerist cocoon. When the sons and daughters of the NY/DC lawyers and stockbrokers are in danger of getting bloodied, then things might start to happpen. No whispers of a sign, so far.

Posted by: donescobar at September 17, 2007 12:16 PM

SILENCE IS GOLDEN, but my eyes still see-- Old Song(?) And my eyes see that WE will never get well as long as cancer and gangrene are in the Oval Office. Time for a bit of surgery. Call Nancy Pelosi @ 1-202-225-0100. Just say IMPEACH.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at September 17, 2007 01:39 PM

My family thinks I have commonsense.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at September 17, 2007 01:45 PM

“Now, they aren't and show no signs of emerging from their careerist cocoon.”

That is why I believe the problem is a cultural one. I pretty much believe our government has gone off the deep end so I think the change has to be from the bottom up rather than top down. Looking at the presidential candidates I see a line of little George Bush’s awaiting there turn to do pretty much more of the same. World views do change over time but in the meanwhile people are dying needlessly in Iraq so I wish there was a way to speed it up.

Posted by: rob payne at September 17, 2007 01:50 PM

The Sam Slaven piece was restorative - I know he's an unusual case, but if even a small fraction of the soldiers who return can make the same adjustment, that would be something. But his bigotry had roots in a rational response to the kind of terrorizing situation few of us will ever be exposed to.

I am much more horrified by the guys who are like Ray McGovern's subject - their bigotry is a product of their own imaginations, necessary for them to take whatever they want, from whoever they want, by any means and without consequences. Their outlook formed Manifest Destiny, and keeps it up and running through Iraq today.

Posted by: slim at September 17, 2007 05:22 PM

One other historical model that provides more hope than Germany is Great Britain, which, in the 15 years after WWII went from a globe-straddling empire to a tiny island off the coast of Europe (OK, they kept the Falklands).

No doubt there was much hand-wringing about the loss of the empire, and lots of earnest "what's our purpose now?" nonsense, but then the Beatles and the miniskirt came on the scene, and everyone was happy! Right? So cheer up!

And our transition to post-empire should be even easier than the Brits. They had to suffer from the economic dislocation caused by the collapse of a manufacturing base that no longer had a captive market in the colonies. We, on the other hand, wisely pissed away our manufacturing base long ago, so we have nothing left to lose!

Posted by: SteveB at September 17, 2007 08:25 PM


True about the UK, but in those 15 years after WWII they were still Brits, culturally one even if class-divided. Language and tradition, from working class pub to Oxbridge club,still held. They had, for a while, popular culture, not mass culture. Mostly what we and they now have is multi-mass cult. Not much there except the lowest common denominator to share. Or hate.

Posted by: donescobar at September 18, 2007 12:10 AM

Well, I don't get your point about the need for cultural unity, but my point was that, before 1945, the average Briton felt that he had a right, even a duty, to rule over the world, and today, virtually no one in Britain believes that. That represents an enormous change in outlook, and the same could be said of other former colonial powers, too.

No major disruption of society was required, IMO, because the average person never really benefitted from the empire and saw no great loss in letting it go. The elites felt the loss greatly, of course (just think of the loss of all those colonial civil-service positions for Oxbridge grads!) but when the empire became unsustainable due to resistance by the occupied peoples, they were had no choice but to readjust to the new post-colonial reality (of course, one of the ways they did this was though neo-colonialism, using the IMF and World Bank to rule over the former colonies, without the need for occupying armies).

I don't see why the same thing couldn't happen in the U.S.

Posted by: SteveB at September 18, 2007 11:40 AM

Oh, it could (and should) happen in the US, but who's gonna tell whom to make it happen? Unless it's a bottom to top groundswell screaming demand, the top isn't going to tell Americans we shouldn't be #1 anymore, controlling economies, bullying "allies," invading "enemies."
I see tiredness and distrust and uncertainty, even a touch of pessimism, but not yet desire to change our supposed "role" in the world and to remake our society without this role. Many citizens still believe our actions are variations on the Marshall Plan. Who will educate them? Not our better universities, not even the mediocre or lousy ones. Not the media.

Posted by: donescobar at September 18, 2007 01:20 PM

But the beauty of de-imperializing is that it doesn't require the citizens of the imperial power to learn or understand anything. At some point. resistance by the colonized peoples becomes so great that the empire becomes untenable, and then simple self-interest takes over.
Did Britain leave India because British citizens suddenly realized that it was wrong for Britian to rule over the Indians? Of course not. All that was required was the Britons decided that they could no longer afford to rule over the Indians. The realization that empire is morally wrong comes later, after the empire has divested itself of its colonial properties, and people are able to look at the question more objectively.

Posted by: SteveB at September 18, 2007 08:27 PM