The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Let’s Talk American Public Responsibility for Torture and Iraq

I recently read a Guardian piece on Gitmo. Here’s an excerpt:

Gen Miller suggests reorganising the prisons so that the guards help the interrogators “set the conditions for … successful interrogation”.

It was following his visit that torture and humiliation by the guards began in earnest. Prisoners were hooded, threatened with rape, threatened with torture, had pistols held to their heads, made to strip naked, forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, beaten till they bled – sometimes with implements, including a broom and a chair – hung from doors by cuffed hands, deceived into thinking they were to be electrocuted, ducked in toilet buckets, forced to simulate masturbation, force to lie naked in a pile and be photographed, urinated on, menaced and, in one case, severely bitten by dogs, sodomised with a chemical light, ridden like horses, made to wear women’s underwear, raped, deprived of sleep, exposed to the midday summer sun, put in stress positions and made to lie naked, in empty concrete cells, in complete darkness, for days on end.

Here is another:

The worst may be to come. Little has yet emerged about conditions inside the prisons run by the US in Afghanistan, where eight deaths in US custody remain unexplained, and an internal military report remains unpublished. In an essay accompanying the documents, Danner draws attention to the language of one of the official investigators of Abu Ghraib, James Schlesinger, who wrote in his report of “five cases of detainee deaths [worldwide] as a result of abuse by US personnel”. Danner points out that Schlesinger could as easily have written: “American interrogators have tortured at least five prisoners to death.”


Hussain Adbulkadr Youssouf Mustafa, a teacher of Islamic law with Palestinian citizenship, describes how he was arrested in Pakistan, in May 2002, handed over to the Americans and taken to Afghanistan.

While at Bagram air force base, Hussain said, he was blindfolded, tightly handcuffed, gagged and earplugged and sodomised with a stick while three soldiers held him down. “It was excruciatingly painful,” said Hussain. “I have always believed that I am not a person who would scream unless I was really hurt. Only when the pain became overwhelming did I think I would ever scream. But I could not stop screaming when this happened. This torture went on for several minutes, but it felt like hours, and the pain afterwards was almost as bad as anything I experienced at the time.”

Feel free to read the rest.

Now, let’s talk a little about Iraq. We don’t know how many people died in Iraq. Why?  Because the US didn’t count, and did their best to make it impossible for anyone else to count either. We don’t know the number of orphans, but it’s in the hundreds of thousands (one of the readers of this blog, MFI, will probably supply a good estimate.) The killing is ongoing. Every week, even the Western press covers some bombing or massacre killing dozens, and every day people are killed, tortured, and raped in less newsworthy fashions.

Now let’s talk about democracy. In the the year 2000 A.D., the United States elected George Bush, a man who, as a child was known, at the time of his election, to have blown up frogs by putting firecrackers in them. This is, if you’re unaware, one of the classic childhood signs of psychopathy. Electing Bush was malfeasance, but let’s be honest: He stole the election. I know it, and anyone who’s taken the time to properly investigate what happened in Florida and with the Supreme Court, and who can also add and subtract, knows it.

So up until 2004, the rest of the world kept saying, “It’s not America, it’s not Americans.”

Then in 2004, America re-elected Bush. An argument can be made that that election was stolen too, though not as blatantly as the 2000 election (I was almost part of writing a book on the subject, but the publisher decided Americans didn’t care). But let’s examineit: If the election was stolen, it was stolen by a few hundred thousand votes.

About 122,349,000 Americans voted in the election. Even assuming fraud, 61 million Americans voted affirmatively for a vicious war based on lies, and for torture (and that America was torturing was widely known by 2004). Now, one can make the argument that approximately 97 million Americans didn’t vote. But not voting is a choice; it is a choice that says, “I don’t care that the US is torturing people enough to go out and vote.” Again, you can finding mitigating arguments: voter suppression, that the vote takes place on a working day, etc…but those arguments don’t add up to 97 million.

In 2004, America said: “We don’t care about torture, it’s just not that important to most of us.”

A lot of people will hate this post. Every time I write something like this, I’m told some version of “I opposed it,” or “Grow up, many of us opposed it.”

But Americans did have the right to vote against Iraq and Torture. They didn’t. It may be that Kerry would have kept torturing, it may be that Kerry would have continued the Iraq war for as long as Bush did (and as incompetently). But the question was not even put to the test: Americans did not, when it matters and where it matters, in the ballot box, say, “We don’t agree with torture and war.”

For that matter, in 2004, Democratic Primary Voters did not vote for the most anti-war candidates. Instead, they went with Kerry. The opposition party nominated a man who had voted for the war (albeit a man who said he’d made a mistake doing so).

This does not mean YOU, personally, are responsible for Iraq. Probably, if you read this blog, you were against it. It does not mean you, personally, were for torture. Again, my readers are mostly against torture and vote consistent with that principle. But it does mean that the rest of the world judges the US by the 2004 election–because you didn’t take that chance to repudiate Bush.

The consequence of not repudiating Bush in 2004, by the way, is that Obama has substantially continued to implement Bush’s policies. Oh, to be sure, there’s probably less torture than there was (though force-feeding prisoners you know to be innocent, while keeping them in solitary confinement, and refusing to free them is pretty heinous), but in its place, Obama has gone whole hog on drone killing, and, in the process, killing far more people than Bush did. Obama, and Washington, concluded from the results of the 2004 election, that you didn’t care about most of the stuff Bush did. Just as DC concluded from the fact that there were no mass protests in 2000, when the Republicans and the Supreme Court stole the election, that Americans don’t really care about democracy, and that its present form is generally sufficient. (Well, except for those Republicans elected by the Tea Partiers, because the Tea Partiers have guns and threaten to use them. Republicans are terrified of their base.)

The flip side of responsibility, and many readers won’t understand this (because by now they’ll be so defensive or outraged they can’t think clearly), is that it implies power. If you have responsibility, you have power. If you have a democracy in the United States, then that means Americans as a group don’t just have the responsibility for what happens, they have the ability to change it.

Now, of course, one can argue that the US is NOT a functioning democracy. I think that argument is, right now, credible, though it does need to be made, and cannot be assumed. If that is your argument, if you believe that American citizens are effectively subjects, and that democracy is dead in the US, then you can also argue that Americans are not responsible for what happened in Iraq, for torture, or much of anything else. (Though, of course, it begs the question: “Was the US ever a democracy, and if it was, are Americans responsible for losing that democracy?”)

But if you believe you don’t live in a democracy, if you believe that change cannot come through politics, then you’ve got bigger problems.

This argument about responsibility is an important one, and it touches on many different countries throughout the world. It also has to do with the question of consumer politics, of choosing from a slate of candidates and policies chosen by the elites, rather than creating your candidates and polices, and the question of whether that creation is possible. (For example, when primaries are not actually open or can be nullified by leadership, is a state actually democratic?)

That point, then, touches on the character of the people of a nation and of the changes in the character of developed nations and is too big to go into now (though should my book ever come out, it is something I’ll go into).

A people who do not control their own politics will have someone else do it for them. If they are not willing to do the work to keep control, then they will lose everything: their liberty, their prosperity, their democracy, and in many cases, their very lives. Along the way, if those people are the citizens of the hegemonic power, millions of people will suffer and die.


Historical cancer indidence rates controlled for age


Egypt bans the Muslim Brotherhood


  1. tatere

    Yes, 2004 was absolutely the point where Americans unquestionably signed on to all of this horror. I personally think he really did win, and in any case, as you say, it was way too close. This is maybe a goofy metric but look at the stories in pop culture, the shows on TV for instance. The *heroes* of these shows are goddamned Nazis, only they don’t have German accents and the leads don’t wear black uniforms, so I guess that makes it OK. If some of the shows are “news” about actually dead people, well, so what.

    That question about candidates is essential, I think. Without the organizational source and support that unions provide, almost all candidates have to be personally well-off to even be able to run. There are always individual exceptions but we can’t be surprised by the results. I have some hopes that Central and South American immigrants are bringing some skills, experience, and mindsets to bear, to break out of the “progressive” fail mode.

  2. Formerly T-Bear

    Election 2004 was confirmation the Republic was dead, having given up the ghost in 2001. The bright side, the country dodged two bullets in Gore/Lieberman and Kerry/whatever. The public bought the corpse and the stink that goes with dead bodies. The 2004 ‘election’ marked the final call to civic duty, the last chance to exercise civil rights, none remain outside the delusion of continuity. Withdrawal of consent is the only path forward, corruption does not correct itself, never has, doesn’t now nor never will. Never vote for anyone calling themselves Republican. Never vote for self-proclaimed Democrats that are incumbent in national office. New elections, new faces every time until the new deal is restored if that path is insisted upon. There has not been a legitimate government since the court’s decision November 2000. There is not a legitimate government now. There cannot be a legitimate government in the future until the membership of the Republic, unintimidatedly grants consent. Never. A military coup would have more legitimacy than the present charade being conducted by the psychopaths in Washington DC, and may be the only recourse the future holds to wrest power from those abusing power now. May you live in interesting times! Indeed!

  3. Z

    The 2004 election wasn’t only about torture obviously … it was about bush starting a war based upon lies … lies that anyone with a clear, non-partisan mind could see were purposeful lies … and a war that basically destroyed a country and led to hundreds of thousands of deaths of innocent people. That is the larger context that foreigners viewed and judged americans after the 2004 election.


  4. Celsius 233

    Formerly T-Bear’s post was awesome and echos my sentiments close enough.
    America is one fucked up country; and the American people are just shit! They don’t have a clue!
    Jaysus fucking Christ, what’s it going to take for them to wake up, and realize this is all in their hands?
    They can change it, all of it; but time is of the essence; it’s now or forever shut the fuck up!
    For my vote; they’ll choose to do nothing which would be no surprise at all.
    How sad! To watch the freest society on the planet willingly give up that freedom for what?
    Total subservience; that’s the price of freedom; enjoy the fruits of your ignorance…

  5. S Brennan

    “one can argue that the US is NOT a functioning democracy”. But just as importantly, the media, or more correctly labeled, propaganda organs of the state our force feeding decent people lies from a fire hose. If people in other nations wish to help, then it is to offer up active news sources [and thoughtful entertainment that opens up a mind inured by years of ceaseless propaganda] that are reasonably well produced. Broadcast has all sorts of FCC restrictions, but a consortium could put together a netflix type site…call it “Free America”.

    We are a ruled nation, elections results mean nothing, both our foreign and domestic policies have been unchanged for 13 years. Both men sociopaths, both affecting voices at odds with their background, both men lied about their past…and Clinton, Bush [the 1st], does anybody remember the defining issue in 1992? NAFTA anyone? Elections results mean nothing.

  6. Jeff Wegerson

    I get the sense that people like you, Ian, see the U.S. the way I see the execution-state, Texas. One very messed up place that makes me glad I that I live in a different state. But what really makes me uncomfortable about your post, is the thought that my best defense is that locally no one decent steps up for me to follow? And the pit of my stomach discomfort – sorry no not me.

  7. pond

    2004, if you will think back to the big campaign issues of the day, was about homosexuals and whether they could get married. Massachusetts had seen its supreme court rule that gays could not be forbidden marriage in that state, and this sparked howls of protest from the Christian and far right. Many state initiatives redefining marriage were put up. Senator Kerry was an elitist from Massachusetts, who ran a terrible campaign.

    Imagine then the surprise of Christian voters who heard from President Bush, upon his re-election, “I don’t think I will do anything about gay marriage, but now I have political capital, I think I will abolish Social Security…”

    This brings up the chief defect of what passes for democracy in America today: with only 2 parties sharing power for over 150 years, nomination to one of these parties guarantees election. It is either the Republican or the Democrat who will win in almost all elections. And thus, for the nominees, the question of campaigning comes down to which lies will guarantee the base turns out, and which lies will appeal to most voters who don’t affiliate with either of the 2 parties.

    If you vote for a candidate because he says X, and upon election he does not-X but M, then who can blame you if you get so disgusted that next time you forebear voting at all? What do all the votes for Senator Obama mean, when those voters believed Senator Obama stood for the very opposite of President Obama’s policies?

    For that matter, what do the Swedish Royal Academy’s votes for President Obama mean as the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, when President Obama, accepting his prize, delivers to the Academy, to the face, a long speech glorifying and defending war, and promising them all that he means to wage as many wars as he sees fit, and that war is a very good way to settle international disputes?

  8. pond

    The big vote on the Iraq War (and torture, maybe) came in November, 2006. By massive numbers, American voters voted against the war and for the Peace Party, as the Democratic Party then represented itself. The Democrats gained control of the House and the Senate, and even managed, with Socialist Senator Sanders caucusing with them, a “super majority” in the Senate. The newly elected Peace Party Democrats had complete control of the legislative process.

    What did they vote for?

    More war in Iraq (President Bush’s so-called “surge”)
    More money for war in Iraq and Afghanistan
    Promises, never fulfilled, of investigations into torture and war crimes by the administration
    Immunity, after the commission of crimes, of the administration and the telephone companies, of illegal spying and surveillance on Americans

  9. Patricia

    Most of my friends who I met in college (and worked with happily for about 10 yrs afterwards) have markedly declined in critical thinking. I think the endless propaganda has simply chewed them up. So much of it that even the rumors of torture were not wholly believed, although they all voted Dem back then. They still vote Dem.

    The internet brought us alternate news sources and those of us who have taken advantage of it, send out the stories. And here is where, in my bunch, responsibility kicks in; they do not want to read these stories. When I sit with them over coffee/beer and relate the news, there is fear in their eyes and they pass me off as extremist, even now. They go sideways, sputtering about this/that and then an uncomfortable silence settles over all until another subject is broached.

    I think Silber’s latest article is pertinent here. These people are terribly terribly tired. They work hard in demeaned jobs (most are artists, teachers and adjunct profs) and are kept in constant stress. They have no idea where the truth lies anymore. Therefore, they simply choose what is most consistent with their college experiences (mid70s-early 80s), and we no longer live in that nation (or the illusion thereof).

    These are the people of the failed left, IMO.

  10. Patricia

    To add, my friends daily fight a corrupt economy and corrupt governance to which they have been constantly losing, for decades. It is the long slow path to exhaustion. When they look up and see that their harsh situation has become de rigueur for those parts of the world that had supposedly (sort of) triumphed over it, their courage fails.

    I do not explain so as to excuse them but because:
    1. Most people are not made for revolution. They are not by nature that free-thinking, bold and aggressive, yet that is what they must become if they face it (and they are not stupid). How do we help each other overcome ourselves?
    2. Understanding what underpins the various paralyzed groups of our society might help us find a way to activate. I have not yet discovered how to do that in my group except by use of speculative fiction. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, for eg, helped them see what the world might look like if formally run by corporations. In that context, mentioning the Transpacific Partnership was better received.

    Stories are hugely important, I think. But the ones on teevee are poison.

  11. Patricia

    One more thing to add in regards to doling out responsibility and finding solutions. We not only fight all-over corruption in our personal lives, but we do it alone. Linh Dinh: “We must be among the loneliest, most alienated population ever. We watch more TV than any other country, rank among the highest in porn consumption, which also means, by implication, that we’re among the most vigorous of masturbators, and our divorce rate ranks third in the entire world, behind only Maldives and Belarus.”

    These are not impossible things to overcome, and they are our responsibilities, but they are very difficult. I cannot see any other way to move us to take responsibility, and then to move on from blame to action, except via art. It is amorphous, I know, but to what else will people like this respond when they are always tired and alone?

  12. Seconding almost everything Patricia wrote, though she and I are clearly of different generations (I’m older).

    But I know plenty of people who aren’t tired, lonely, alienated, exhausted; they’re just clueless. They’ve swallowed the Dem/Repub false dichotomy hook, line, and sinker, and nothing will make them budge. No amount of information, empirical evidence, historical precedent, facts — or art — will get to them. (I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Michael Feinstein a few years ago; he really believes that art will set us free, so to speak. That the world will evolve to a point where art for art’s sake is appreciated, and therefore humanity will magically become better. I reminded him that the Nazis, after a hard day of murdering Jews, used to go home and sit around the piano playing Schubert.)

    As you say, there are plenty of alternative sources of info on the web, but they’re still stuck in their ‘New-York-Times-Washington-Post-Rachel-Maddow-therefore-I’m-informed’ rut. (If anything, I’m the one who’s alienated and exhausted from trying to wake them up.)

    As one commentator at another site put it, and I’m paraphrasing, Obama could set up camps and gas people, and his supporters would still deny it and claim that he’s basically a “good guy.” They’d also claim, as they do now, that the answer to everything is It’s All The Republicans’ Fault.

  13. Blizzard

    No doubt Americans bear the blame for losing our republic, and for the atrocities committed in our name. But our fate is no different than others that came before, than whom we’re certainly no better.

    And let’s face it, America was never all that great; at its best it was more Rome than Greece, putting into practice the ideas of its more cultured predecessor. It does not have a great artistic tradition, the kind which could mitigate the flaws in its national character by throwing them into stark relief.

    Americans see shades of gray in things that are black and white, like torture; meanwhile they see nuanced issues like sexual immorality only in black and white. And so they’ve become an easy target for predatory elites, who can destroy anyone for sexual infidelity. Apparently it never occurred to the pragmatic people of this great country, that drawing a red line there would have disqualified almost every historical person they themselves revere.

    They’re a target for predatory elites, who can hold their political candidates to a consensus in favor of atrocities, and differentiate them on trivia. Sure, torture is bad, but it’s so boring, and besides, Terrorism! But how could anyone be opposed to the true atrocity that is (insert divisive culture war trivia here). So says the American electorate.

    And where is the great art that would illuminate these national flaws and bring us to reflect on them, and on what is truly important? It is to be produced in the studios owned by the same elites. Right … good luck with that.

  14. S Brennan

    Lisa, I think I said that here?

  15. Patricia

    Lisa, I don’t mean Feinstein’s idea or Schubert/Mozart music. Art for it’s own sake can be gorgeous but it is inapplicable (except as a calming device, unfortunately). Besides, it has been reduced to a shabby hyper-individualist gesture by the creative left (all of/for/by itself). And the resultant high-art ghetto has drained social meaning and potency into commodity.

    I agree with Blizzard, we have a coarse culture. But we do have one, even if given to extremes, high speed, and shine. We are familiar with the eye candy of advertisements. Our teevee/movie actors are ultra-clean and beautiful, reminding me of the work of Bouguereau. (Weird how corrupt that can be!)

    Therefore, for this bunch, effective art can’t be classic, except perhaps in the manner of Dickens. Moreover, it needs to be overdone and slightly grandiose. Which may be why spec fiction works for my middle-aged friends. It doesn’t wake them up, of course, but it can help them entertain ideas that are going to slap them in the face (and their stomachs) not too far from now.

    Art can only give voice/form to concerns. Saving/changing is the job of responsible humans and it’s already been a decade since we crested the hilltop. Our decline gains speed. We desperately need art that is here/now human, such as the Social Realist movement but without the “Great Human Worker” hoohaw, which made it interchangeable with Soviet art. We have comics and graphic novels. We have young adult novels. There are some spec fiction and music. They are not enough. (I speak mournfully, as one who became too ill to teach undergrad art anymore.)

    I’m waiting for Goya.

  16. nihil obstet

    I don’t know that the U.S. today is any worse than it was during most of its history. As bad as what we’re doing in the Middle East is, is it really any worse than what we did in the Philippines early in the 20th c.? Or the actual genocide carried out against the Native Americans? Or slavery and its reimposition with terrorist lynchings up through the mid-20th c.? Or the massacres of working men trying to unionize? Is there more money in politics now than in the days of Mark Hanna?

    There were exceptional times. The New Deal generation was one of them. Its emphasis on good government, labor rights, practical freedom, and even non-imperialism set up how we’ve thought of ourselves since. The generally loathsome Supreme Court was transformed from a bunch of kangaroos hopping up and down for the elite into a democratic bulwark, first by FDR’s plan to pack the court (which failed, but scared them into good behavior) and then by some decent appointments: one man, one vote; civil rights decisions; Miranda; privacy rights. This is not to say that the U.S. lived up to its own self-regard even then, but it was a much-better-than average nation.

    However, for the most part, the people who run the U.S. government have had morals like the current crop. What’s different is the technological and organizational efficiencies that make the ghastly morals so much more deadly.

    I think people who spend time on political internet sites generally way, way, way overestimate how much the average person knows. When I was registering voters in 2004, I talked with a lot of people who didn’t know which party Bush or Kerry belonged to. You think they knew that the U.S. was torturing? I’d guess that a majority of voters knew that there had been some bad stuff at that prison in Iraq (I doubt many of them could name Abu Ghraib), but wasn’t it just a few low level soldiers and weren’t they punished?

    The point I’m rambling towards is about developing and maintaining an effective attitude. The “this is the worst of times because you sheeple are all so stupid and evil” of the left over the last 30 years has neither converted enough fellow citizens nor done much for mental health and generosity of spirit among ourselves. “I haven’t worked hard enough” turns us into Boxer in Animal Farm, with probably the same level of results. As several commenters above have noted, we need to look at explanations and strategies rather than just exhausting ourselves with guilt and failing activity.

  17. kcbill13


    I get where you are coming from, and agree, Bush43, second time, was a turning point not only for folks outside of America, but for many on the progressive/leftish side of politics. Most did not get past the advertising and public relations.

    But if we accept that our advertising and public relations industries are so very powerful, then does the blame lie with the targets of the advertising/brainwashing/propaganda/misinformation/disinformation, or with the people doing the advertising and the people paying for the advertising?

    I personally find myself wavering on this argument, do we blame the victims, or the perpetrators? But over time, I have come down to blaming the perpetrators. I mean, so many working folks are doing the best they can just to keep a job and survive, so it seems wrong to blame them for how easily manipulated they are. Corporations and Government combine to fool us all in the “Century of the Self”: See here:

    This one opened my eyes a bit, and my opinions have never been the same since. It also made me rewatch “They Live”, which almost says the same thing without the real education part, more of a statement.

    So can we blame the folks who actually are working to turn America into a fascist state, (if we are not already)?

  18. RJ

    Exhaustion is a very interesting way of understanding it. Thank you for that.

    Even people who realize something is wrong may still be exhausted and either give in to the mainstream or end up trapped in Alex Jones-style ideological spaces, or dogmatic Marxism, or right-Libertarianism, or some form of religious fundamentalism, etc.

    People seem to do one of three things: Get exhausted and just give in; push back and eventually move into a crazy, stagnant alternative; or push back and keep pushing/learning. That last one is the most exhausting of all, but also the most rewarding. I’d suggest any strategy include a way to make the cost of doing that much, much lower for the average person, and make them more inclined to try in the first place. I’m not sure how to weaken the attraction of the alternative crappy ideologies, other than through creating and building something much better to outshine them and make them look irrelevant.

    Eh, it’s getting late and I’m losing coherency…

  19. tc

    That is awfully generous of y’all to attribute “exhaustion” to the sheeple, and even fear. Really they are just intellectually lazy, go-along-to-get-along people. Just like most of the people anywhere in the world. The fear you see when you bring up the truth is not the fear that this nation does monstrous illegal things, it’s the fear of becoming what they see when they look at you – disillusioned and impotent (they may be impotent too, but that’s one of the many things illusions are good at hiding for them). They don’t want to know about complicated problems unless there is a very simple solution that most of their peer group can rally around (or that they can abandon safely, like Cronkite’s role in pop culture in changing the attitudes about the VietNam war, or the fairly rapid collapse of opposition to gay marriage, which was almost unimaginable in the US 10 years ago). Otherwise, it’s just easier for them to say, “well most of those homeless people are that way by choice”, or “we might have done some suboptimal things in that country, but the real problem is their Latin/Muslim/Asian/African culture” or “workers don’t get a fair shake, but we tried unions and they are just too corrupt, so whaddarryagonnadoo, that’s capitalism for you, it may not be perfect, but it’s what made us great”, and other absurd blame-the-victim attitudes. I hear that kind of crap from lots of very nice, very liberal people (I don’t even bother discussing things like that with conservatives, who really are a lost cause. Let the dead bury their own, as someone once said). For the most part, Pollyannas are just passive-aggressive versions of Freepers and Dittoheads (whom they enable) who need to think of themselves as nice people.

    There was a little outburst of protest in the months leading up to Iraq, and with Occupy. But those were a long way from anything that the DC borg had any respect for or fear of.
    And don’t count on younger immigrants, especially Latin Americans, to change any of that. They aren’t that different. They may be worse, considering they probably shared a lot of the same values as their political or economic oppressors back home. And their kids are assimilated into American mediocrity superfast.

    When Bush stole his first election with his judicial coup* I couldn’t imagine our economy not imploding within 2 years, or our military not going berserk and bringing the world to war within a few years, either. I was sort of right about the direction of things, but apparently these things take a lot longer than I used to think, even back in Sept 2007 (and it took a whole year from the “credit crunch”, when I started to brace myself for a doom, to full banking crisis). So take heart, it might be another 15 or 20 years before things get totally shitty for most of us, by which time we could be quite old.

    *(I think he *really* stole Ohio the second time around, and many more elections have been stolen via the paperless voting that was hastily imposed after BushvGore, in order to protect the ostrich sheeple from troubling their beautiful minds with another contentious recount. There is just too much funny stuff going on with those voting machines).

  20. Celsius 233

    If one understands responsibility as the ability to respond; then it becomes abundantly clear the American people are not a responsible population.
    That may seem a largely simplistic view until those with intact critical thinking skills put those skills to work and expand the above to it’s ultimate, myriad, possibilities.

    Echoing Lisa S.; my social in the states were a pathetic lot. If one could even discuss Iraq, the apologists neutered the attempt at speaking to realities. I have no friends back in the states (not a pity party unless referring to those left behind).

    @nihil obstet
    September 23, 2013
    I don’t know that the U.S. today is any worse than it was during most of its history.
    Agreed, and history would support that fact. And, I would say all of its history.
    I’m currently reading Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick; it’s pretty ugly starting before the Mayflower. Not to beg the obvious but, the pilgrims were far from the first westerners.

  21. Patricia

    Tc: Sure, there are people of the nature you describe. As I said, my group is of stand-alone artists, teachers, and adjunct profs, and in the Detroit area. Believe me, they are exhausted and afraid. But being in Detroit only shows it more clearly because I see subtler forms in friends on west/east coasts.

    We humans go through periods of unleashing terrible zeitgeists caused by a few at the top with a load of hangers-on and a bewildered preoccupied populace (a few aware/alert) who always pays the worst price. This is history. Most people are not made for revolutionary times. It is those who are alert, as perhaps yourself, who are responsible right now. As Celsius233, wrote, “able to respond”. This is not a cop-out for the populace. Their situation requires them to reach beyond themselves to meet the crisis but they have not yet been able to do so. They are slouching their way, though.

    It is a rotten place to be, to be aware, to go unheard, to have recourse only to small actions, to be required to wait. I disagree with nihil and Celsius233, that this round is no worse than others in US history. It’s the same but writ global, plus environmental with overpopulation. I don’t know how many of us and our fellow creatures will make it through this time. It is hard to endure. I wish I could move out of the US, not so much to escape from it (impossible) but to be relieved of the rotten tension at the center.

    BTW, conservative Evangelical pastors call their members “sheep”. “Sheeple” is of the same ilk: contemptuous, patronizing. It is another form of exceptionalism, even when used as a distancing device.

    I agree about voting fraud. I suspect that they are under-counting third party votes, too.

  22. Texas Nate

    I lean towards 2004 having been stolen as well but you’re right that it was inexcusable for it to be so close. Bush won re-election when the Democrats destroyed Howard Dean (and when he let them). Kerry was so obviously feckless that I’m almost relieved he lost. His performance as SoS has done nothing to change my mind in that regard.
    However I agree with the poster who felt that the repudiation of Bush came in the 2006 & 2008 elections. It’s just the genius of the patrician class in this country to have bait & switched everyone with Obama.
    I’m firmly in the “no-longer-a-republic” camp after working in politics & corporate public affairs for a decade. The game is fixed. Time to hunker down and prepare to ride out the storm.

  23. Celsius 233

    @ Texas Nate

    I agree; it was way too close to absolve the responsibility of the American people:
    I refer to my post above…

  24. Formerly T-Bear

    Jeff Wegerson September 23, 2013

    But what really makes me uncomfortable about your post, is the thought that my best defense is that locally no one decent steps up for me to follow? [sic the ?]

    You may have found one of the keys to the problem with “no one decent steps up for me to follow”. Wherever in the wide universe is it written that citizens of a republic are required to follow? That was what public education was for, so that citizens were given the tools with which to conduct public affairs, not whinge that no one ‘qualified’ is available to conduct those public responsibilities. Two generations have passed since the Soviet Union put a new moon into cold october skies and a national call went out for excellence. Public education has become an exercise in naught, not worth the proverbial bucket of spit. Schools teach popularity and jejune acquiescence to the herd and pretend their students are prepared to live in a complex world. Keep coding yourselves this is true, you have become the best argument against democracy there is. What you have become shows the rational power the founding fathers exercised in restricting citizenship to the widest and most rational class available at the time, those who owned (and used) property. I’m not so sure they were in error, certainly recent history shows those who function on beliefs and emotions haven’t the ability to find their collective ass with two hands, a flashlight, a diagram and taped instructions – hell, they need all that just to turn on the flashlight. The sad part is, that once the ability to function in complex environments is gone and the ability to educate the next generation in those arts and skills, it leaves a greatly diminished capability to carry on. When last did you have some conversation over something substantial? The likelihood is that some triviality occupies your attention from one moment to the next. How many rings occupy your circus before your attention is overwhelmed? How many weeks can you remember details of some involved event? When was the last time you voted for a candidate with ‘good hair’ and a charming countenance as opposed to some homely but erstwhile candidate. Do you know what qualities are needed to perform, direct and control a governing authority? What dangers those qualities present to the public welfare? Or what lies are to be accepted, what lies are told to deceive? When you vote, is it ‘because everyone else is doing it’, or do you, in the aloneness of the voting booth decide to exercise your own mind after analysis and consideration of what is best for your interests, to take command of one’s citizenship and exercise independent will against the gales of deceptions.

    That short phrase you used opens up a pandora’s box of questions and by doing so may better serve the public interests than anything else that might have been said in its place.

  25. dalepues

    I find it hard to blame anyone. Not that I wouldn’t blame myself, because actually I do. That guilt though may come from other sources that have nothing to do with society: family, for example, or my religious faith.

    I find it hard to blame anyone because it seems to me that we are hardwired for failure. It’s true that man has many noble qualities, but the perverse outnumber the noble, by billions apparently. Goodness cowers before evil.

    As our empire ebbs toward the dark days it will most likely carry the world with it. Every day I think humans as a species simply cannot be more idiotic, cannot be more cruel. But they are. The idiocy and cruelty grow equally in proportion to the population.

  26. human

    I don’t think it’s fair to blame people for how they have been manipulated and put down, but even more than that, it’s not constructive. What does that lead to? We just go around angry at our fellow citizens, who are themselves victims of terrible abuses from people with great power – and that will lead us to be hostile, contemptuous, dismissive toward them. What does that gain us or anyone? Nothing. It corrodes us and tears others down.

    The alternative is to understand and have compassion for the exhaustion and ignorance and fear that holds them back, but it doesn’t end there. How do we change this? My observation is that when other people observe me acting with courage and integrity, when they see me defending myself and others against the everyday manifestations of this abusive exercise of power — some of them are inspired to do the same. (I accidentally sparked a small rebellion at work this way, recently!) If we live our courage and show it to others, it spreads. And I’m no exception to the need for this because sometimes my courage fails and what I need more than anything else in that moment is to see others living their courage. Then mine returns. We have to have one another’s back in this way, it’s one of the fundamental ingredients that must be in place to organize successfully against the forces and people we’re fighting.

    And we mustn’t expect anyone, including ourselves, to always be perfect, to never fear, to always win. That way lies madness and self-defeat.

    Thanks for the really excellent post and discussion, Ian & commenters.

  27. Celsius 233

    September 26, 2013
    I don’t think it’s fair to blame people for how they have been manipulated and put down, but even more than that, it’s not constructive. What does that lead to?
    I see no evidence anyone is blaming people for being manipulated, put down, or lied to.
    The problem is one of responsibility or rather the lack therein.
    There are wrongs and criminal activity aimed squarely at “the people” by the government; where’s the response to these egregious violations?
    The irony of a democracy is; we get the thing (the government) we deserve.
    And some of us, who do accept responsibility, are pretty damned pissed off at the behavior (apathy) of the majority. We have, and exercise, our ability to respond.
    Apologists are the antithesis of responsibility.

  28. human

    First of all, I’m not an apologist – I’m an organizer. If I knew of a way to take on MORE responsibility than that, I would be doing it.

    I said what I said because I think that understanding why people do (or don’t do) the things they do makes me a better organizer. I think that having compassion for the fear and stress and other troubles that the people I organize go through make me a better organizer.

    I think that blaming them for “apathy” and being angry with them for not already knowing what I know and doing what I do would be utterly self-defeating for my efforts as an organizer.

    A lot of people don’t have an accurate view of the world they live in because they have been lied to. That is not apathy. A lot of people don’t have any understanding of what constructive actions they could take to change their/our situation. That’s not apathy either. And both those things are changeable if people like us exercise a little leadership.

    There are, of course, people who see the right thing to do and refuse to do it because it’s too hard or too risky or costs too much. But if assume that is the only reason for inaction, well, we’ll be wrong, but we’ll also be too angry and contemptuous of the people around us to do anything useful. And calling people “sheeple” and “lazy” as one commenter did is absolutely contemptuous.

    It sounds from your comment as though you don’t live in the US, is that correct? Are you a citizen? Did you leave? Because I haven’t. I’m still here and fighting.

    In order to do this, we have to first believe it’s possible. Which means we have to believe that people can and do make the right choices, if they have good information on which to base their decisions, and if they know they won’t be left completely alone and unprotected when they act.

  29. In fact, the most active and expressive part of the US citizenry is the one that does not want *any* kind of even *perceived* expansion of modern health care to *some* number of their follow citizens. It’s not a “either/or”, it’s a “both/and”. It’s not really a democracy, and *yet* the public is complicit.

  30. Celsius 233

    September 27, 2013
    First of all, I’m not an apologist – I’m an organizer.

    A lot of people don’t have an accurate view of the world they live in because they have been lied to. That is not apathy. A lot of people don’t have any understanding of what constructive actions they could take to change their/our situation. That’s not apathy either.
    No, it’s not apathy: It’s willful ignorance, IMO.

    There are, of course, people who see the right thing to do and refuse to do it because it’s too hard or too risky or costs too much.
    Indeed, there are such.

    It sounds from your comment as though you don’t live in the US, is that correct? Are you a citizen? Did you leave? Because I haven’t. I’m still here and fighting.
    Yes, you’ve made that clear (you are an organizer). And I’m not the point, nor are you (or maybe you are[?]). The occupy movement was organized; it didn’t turn out too well and it was probably garnering more attention than any recent “organized event” I can recall. They simply didn’t “get it”. They had no center by intention; and that naivete, done them in.
    Here’s a link that may serve you well, as an organizer. I’d suggest listening to the whole thing.

    Which means we have to believe that people can and do make the right choices, if they have good information on which to base their decisions, and if they know they won’t be left completely alone and unprotected when they act.
    I believe in nothing (but that’s a whole other topic). Not in my very long experience of protestation, protesting, and writing legislators; and, with my limited knowledge of human nature, are people going to make the right choices. But by all means; carry on…

  31. human

    So to sum up, you left the country, and you don’t believe other people will ever make the right choices, so you are doing nothing about the problems you see while loudly complaining that other people won’t take any responsibility to fix them.

    Have fun with that, I guess!

  32. Celsius 233

    September 29, 2013
    So to sum up, you left the country, and you don’t believe other people will ever make the right choices, so you are doing nothing about the problems you see while loudly complaining that other people won’t take any responsibility to fix them.
    Have fun with that, I guess!
    Remarkable response, somewhat full of assumptions.
    You don’t know me or anything I’ve done; but you speak down to me with condescension and arrogance.
    This discussion is finished.

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