In the time that has passed since Part Three of this essay, nothing has changed—except for one thing that may seem very small to most people, even unnoticeable. In actuality, though, it has enormous implications.
But let’s take the nothing-has-changed aspect of matters first.
Our unfinished business from last time, in fact even from the time before that, was to determine whether the piece by Missy Comley Beattie named “Big Greed” is or isn’t an example of what we have been calling “impotence-writing.”
And of course it is. Let me immediately add, however, that the point in saying so is not to denigrate Missy Comley Beattie but, instead, to show how much she, as a “liberal-progressive” observer and commentator, is like the dozens of others like her who, though they may not seem so, are producers also of impotence-writing and of impotence-thinking.
One helpful way to get at its true nature is to read through “Big Greed” again with this question in mind: How much of it consists of feeling and how much of it consists of thinking?
Obviously, no piece of writing—and not much thinking—can exist at all without being composed of both thought and feeling. But a revealing test of the nature and value of pieces of writing can be to identify what percentage of them consists of feeling as opposed to thinking, and then to identify to what extent the central, weight-bearing elements of the structure are made to rest on the sturdier foundations of thought as opposed to the less sturdy foundations of feeling, wishing, desiring, or wanting.
By both of these measures, “Big Greed” fares poorly—as do most of its counterparts produced by our small armies of “left-progressive” commentators. This doesn’t mean that a piece like this is “right” or “wrong,” but it will most likely determine whether it’s weak or strong—and therefore how “true” it is, in the sense of “true to life.”
Now. One of the signs of trouble in “Big Greed” is that the author is foggy as to whether the subject of the piece is herself, on the one hand, or something else. Let’s look and see how this works.
The first premise of “Big Greed” is that conditions for workers in China are wretched, deplorable, crushing. An ancillary, or simultaneous, premise is that this inhuman situation, the “Chinese labor model,” will arrive also in the U.S.—if nothing is done to subvert and disempower “big greed.”
As I said, there’s no question of the piece being “correct” or “incorrect,” but only of its being strong or weak, impotent or powerful. We get a hint as Beattie, in her third paragraph, switches subjects away from labor exploitation and to herself:
When someone asks what I do, I say, “Writer and peace activist.” Recently, I’ve written two articles about the plight of Bradley Manning. Last week, I focused on ocean health. My list of concerns is broad.
Some might ask, what’s wrong with that? Again, nothing is wrong with it. But, as an admission of over-extendedness and hence ineffectualness, it functions almost like a sign with the word “impotence” on it.
Caught between the subject of herself and the subject of labor exploitation, the author is forced to do some quick footwork to keep things under control. She tries to slow things down by making a generalization broad enough that it can’t possibly get out of her sight or squirm away: “But, really,” she says, “there is only one issue—Big Greed.”
Yet again, what’s wrong with that? And again, nothing—except that not even this generalization is wide enough to keep Beatty on track, as we can see by the way she flips back to the subject of herself:
I am keyboarding, now, on an Apple MacBook Pro. My iPhone is nearby. Yes, I’m a hypocrite. Because I know the conditions imposed on Chinese laborers at Apple factories, including the no-suicide oath and the nets to catch those who break their promise. Workers receive $8 for assembling an iPad that costs $500. This is the standard that’s at our threshold.
Hypocrite? How does using an Apple computer make you a hypocrite? If it’s a crime for the Apple company to exploit Chinese labor (I myself think it is, though the law doesn’t), then I suppose that a person, by using a MacBook, might be complicit in that crime. But why would the person be a hypocrite? I can understand someone feeling guilt (though Beatty doesn’t mention this), but hypocrisy is a harder notion. Suppose an epidemic of cholera were taking place somewhere in the world. Then suppose someone—you, me, Missy Beattie—lived in a land free of cholera and yet had great pity and sympathy for those suffering from the disease. First question: Would this make the non-sufferer a hypocrite? Second question: If it did make the non-sufferer a hypocrite, could that non-sufferer shed hypocrisy by choosing to be injected with the cholera strain, thereby becoming a sufferer and no longer a hypocrite?
Absurd, of course. But this question isn’t absurd: Is the author of “Big Greed,” in these opening paragraphs of her piece, thinking, or is she feeling? She’s doing both, of course, but which one (if either) is being done in excess of the other? And what should be the ratio of the two, the one to the other?
No need to answer right now, especially since the answer will become clearer as we go along. What happens next? Well, we ourselves, the readers, get accused by the author of the same guilt-trip she seems to be feeling: “Are you a hypocrite, too?” she spits at us. Well, um, I don’t know. I don’t use a Mac computer, so what is it, exactly, that would make me a hypocrite? Apparently there’s just one other thing, or at least that’s how many others Beatty cites, this one thing being “[shopping] at Walmart, the metastatic mega-retailer that’s choked small stores” and that doesn’t “pay employees a living wage” while itself gaining the wealth of Croesus.
Believe me, I’m a card-carrying, equal-opportunity despiser of Walmart, starvation wages, social injustice, exploitation of workers, corporatocracy, and the stealing blind of entire peoples and nations. But that’s not the point. The point is what are we going to do about it? The point isn’t to convince one another over and over that this is the way we feel, but the point is figuring out what’s going to happen next. The point isn’t to pat ourselves on the back every time we earn yet another self-serving empathy-badge to sew onto our Scout shirt. The point is to get somewhere. The point is to identify and address the enemy. The point, domestically, is to score against that enemy. The point is to restore the republic, restore the rule of law, restore the Constitution, and restore the commonweal; in world affairs, it’s to restore justice, the rule of international law, and respect for the sovereignty of peoples and nations.
Or at least, all along, that’s what I thought the point was, and still do. But where’s the program?
The program certainly isn’t in the hundreds of pieces like “Big Greed” that we see each month, touchy-feely camp songs of grievances that, valid as the grievances are, do more to make the collectors of them feel virtuous than they do to point a way out.
The truth is that “Big Greed,” like the legions of pieces it’s kin to, contains little thinking at all. The ratio of feeling to thinking in its makeup is—what—ninety-eight to one? Beatty herself, after all the tumult about “hypocrisy,” simply drops that subject and goes on to compose her list of ills. Yes, they’re major ills, all-important ills, grave ills—war, oppression, poverty, sickness, depredation of the Earth—but that’s all they are, and that’s what they remain—a list. What will happen as a result of their having been listed?
Nothing. Nothing will happen as a result of this piece’s coming into existence, existing, and then ending.
Look at the way it does end.
Beatty herself explains that what she’s doing is grist for the mill of our corporate dictators and thereby, it seems, pointless. “Big Greed,” she writes,
is especially ingenious in splintering those who slog for social and political causes, separating us as we advocate this or that, oppose this or that, protest, march, rally, rail, and rant. / The powerful want us to be fractured. They depend on it. Each time articles are published about the health of the ocean and the air we breathe, the confinement of a hero whistleblower who exposes war crimes, or any cause that detracts from their insatiable avarice, the uber-wealthy fill their champagne flutes and make merry.
And so it’s apparently a hopeless cause, then, a cause that’s so fractured and splintered and “spun” that “We really don’t have time to say, ‘I work for peace.’ Or, ‘I am devoted to civil rights.’”
Having said this, Beatty executes another piece of quick footwork like the one she did in dropping the subject of hypocrisy. This time, it’s not dropping a subject but changing one—and doing so without logic that I can follow. Peace and civil rights flutter away in the breeze as Beatty says “There is one issue, only. It is Big Greed.” Then this: “And we must unite to halt it.”
“Must”? “Unite”? A reader is called back to Part One of this essay, where William Rivers Pitt made his to-the-ramparts rallying cry, “Let us show them what real American courage looks like.” Like Missy Beatty, who cries out in “Big Greed” that “The Occupy Movement mustn’t be suppressed or co-opted. It’s all we’ve got,” Pitt, too, was urging that all energies be poured into Occupy Wall Street.
Both of these pieces, “Big Greed” and Pitt’s “The Finger of Fate Upon You,” appeared in March of this year and are now around six months old. Some people are sure to say that this puts them out of date and drops them into insignificance. Why waste our time, they’ll ask, analyzing these old relics that have nothing to do with what’s happening now?
But the truth is quite otherwise. These two pieces not only have everything to do with what’s happening now but also with what’s happened over the past half-year.
And what is that? What is it that’s happened, and what is it that’s now happening?
The answer is: Nothing. What we’ve had are six more months of stalemate. No progress. Nothing good. More drone attacks, more murders abroad, another Libya being perpetrated, this time in Syria, threats of war, more war, and total war, as all the while money and wealth continue to be stolen from our nation’s already-ruined people and continue to be directed either toward war or toward the pockets of the one percent.
That is, nothing has happened that’s good either for the people or for the republic. Nothing good has happened on our side. No kind of movement or step or method has come into focus that might bring clarity—let alone action—toward reclaiming the republic, toward reclaiming the Constitution, toward reclaiming the freedoms and protections once guaranteed by that Constitution, or toward challenging, let alone ending, the monstrous and despicable breaches of international law and committing of crimes against humanity and against peace that the U.S. and its “allies” have undertaken almost since the day of 9/11 itself and that they continue to undertake up to this moment.
And why has this juggernaut of hypocrisy, evil, murder, betrayal, crime, and ruin gone on for so long, and with virtually no significant impediment? I take this question to be one of the biggest and most important questions that we and the entire world face today. Answers to it are many and well beyond the scope of this essay, but at the same time I know with certainty that impotence-writing and impotence-thinking have done nothing either to provide answers to it or to suggest pathways of significant action or response to it.
Let me put the thought another way: Impotence-writing and impotence-thought show that, by and large, what we once may have called “progressive” or “liberal” or “left” thinking seems no longer to exist in ways capable of being helpful to the people or even potentially helpful to the people, given the situation we are now in.
As I asked before, where is the program? Who has it? Who is describing it, organizing it, naming it, implementing it? Who is behind it? Missy Beatty says that what we need in order to “[incapacitate] Big Greed” is “creative strategy.” That’s a help. Sounding a note redolent of Pitt’s “let us show them what real American courage looks like,” she adds that “we must be brave.” And then the excitement grows, and this “program” becomes applicable to every ill at once: “If we can accomplish this, there will be no need to write articles on behalf of Bradley Manning. There will be no war. No war crimes to expose. It will be unnecessary to work for a healthy environment, peace, income equality, or civil rights.”
That would be very nice, but we’re still lacking specifics as to what method we might use, or, for that matter, we’re still lacking the mention of any method at all. The feeling is there, the obvious and meritorious desire to do good. But where is the practical plan?
It’s time to end this section of “Dr. Judy Wood and the Future of the Earth,” and I’ll do it with a question—or with a question and then an answer in the form of a follow-up question. The question is this: Why is it, really, that we seem to be getting nowhere, to be gaining no ground, to be reclaiming none of our republic’s freedoms and laws, to be failing to defend ourselves almost entirely against thuggery, criminality, theft, injustice, and rapine?
And the follow-up question is this: This paralysis surrounding us everywhere, this unassertiveness, this absence of effective political-intellectual life or alertness or will or action—is it conceivable that the explanation for this lassitude is not that the progressive-left itself has failed, but, instead, that the progressive-left clearly understands that the situation we’re in really is hopeless, that the situation we’re in really can’t be effectively opposed, that the power-structure as we have it now really can’t be re-formed or re-shaped or re-invented in the interest of the republic, of the Constitution, and of the people? Has the progressive-life become flaccid, weak, and lifeless because it really has been defeated, because the political battle really is over and done with, and because the progressive-left really has been all but destroyed and now is simply being left to die?
A thought almost imponderably hideous. But take a look at another piece from about six months ago, “Zero Point of Systemic Collapse,” by Chris Hedges. For a number of reasons, I have very strong reservations about Hedges, though he does write a great deal and does reach what I assume to be a considerable audience. Put that aside for the moment. The “Collapse” essay is an ambitious one, and some quoting will be necessary for us to get up to speed with it. “We stand on the cusp of one of the bleakest periods in human history,” Hedges writes,
when the bright lights of a civilization blink out and we will descend for decades, if not centuries, into barbarity. The elites have successfully convinced us that we no longer have the capacity to understand the revealed truths presented before us or to fight back against the chaos caused by economic and environmental catastrophe. As long as the mass of bewildered and frightened people, fed images that permit them to perpetually hallucinate, exist in this state of barbarism, they may periodically strike out with a blind fury against increased state repression, widespread poverty and food shortages. But they will lack the ability and self-confidence to challenge in big and small ways the structures of control. The fantasy of widespread popular revolts and mass movements breaking the hegemony of the corporate state is just that—a fantasy.
So Hedges does suggest, pretty much unequivocally, that “the political battle really is over and done with.” Here’s more from “Zero Point,” equally dreadful:
Democracy, a system ideally designed to challenge the status quo, has been corrupted and tamed to slavishly serve the status quo. We have undergone, as John Ralston Saul writes, a coup d’état in slow motion. And the coup is over. They won. We lost. The abject failure of activists to push corporate, industrialized states toward serious environmental reform, to thwart imperial adventurism or to build a humane policy toward the masses of the world’s poor stems from an inability to recognize the new realities of power. The paradigm of power has irrevocably altered and so must the paradigm of resistance alter.
Hedges, then, not only thinks that the battle has indeed been fought and lost, but also seems to concur with our earlier conjectures about feeling versus thinking in progressive-left writers and commentators. After mentioning the “abject failure of activists . . . to recognize the new realities of power,” he continues by saying that “The cultural belief that we can make things happen by thinking, by visualizing, by wanting them, by tapping into our inner strength or by understanding that we are truly exceptional is magical thinking,” a kind of thinking that “allows men and women to behave and act like little children . . .”
Infantilism and “magical thinking,” paralyzing in themselves, wreak even greater disability when they are combined with pseudo-politics:
We live in a culture characterized by what Benjamin DeMott called “junk politics.” Junk politics does not demand justice or the reparation of rights. It always personalizes issues rather than clarifying them. It eschews real debate for manufactured scandals, celebrity gossip and spectacles. It trumpets eternal optimism, endlessly praises our moral strength and character, and communicates in a feel-your-pain language. The result of junk politics is that nothing changes, “meaning zero interruption in the processes and practices that strengthen existing, interlocking systems of socioeconomic advantage.”
I mentioned before that I have very strong reservations about aspects of Chris Hedges’ writing, and it’s almost time to mention one of them. First, though, let me invoke another major online journalist and commentator whose work I try to read just as regularly as I do that of Chris Hedges—and about whom I have equally strong reservations. That writer is the widely known Paul Craig Roberts. Why invoke him? His pessimism and Chris Hedges’ pessimism are pretty nearly equal in their gravity and severity. And I think that we might be able to learn something by putting the two briefly together.
Almost exactly two years ago, on September 25, 2010, Roberts posted a short piece called “It Is Official: The US Is A Police State,” in response to a report “on Antiwar.com that ‘the FBI is confirming that this morning they began a number of raids against the homes of antiwar activists in Illinois, Minneapolis, Michigan, and North Carolina, claiming that they are “seeking evidence relating to activities concerning the material support of terrorism.”’”
The raids themselves, along with the sinister notion of “material support” (“another of those undefined police state terms”), draw Roberts—understandably, in my own view—into a prognosis as negative and gloomy as any that might come from the pen of Hedges:
Americans are the most gullible people who ever existed. They tend to support the government instead of the Constitution, and almost every Republican and conservative regards civil liberty as a coddling device that encourages criminals and terrorists.
The US media, highly concentrated in violation of the American principle of a diverse and independent media, will lend its support to the witch hunts that will close down all protests and independent thought in the US over the next few years. As the Nazi leader Joseph Goebbels said, “think of the press as a great keyboard on which the Government can play.”
And then, having said all this, having prepared us—not unreasonably, in my own view—for a future of witch hunts, lockdowns, lockups, and much worse, Roberts, almost as an after-thought, adds this extraordinary sentence:
An American Police State was inevitable once Americans let “their” government get away with 9/11.
With this remarkable sentence, although it may not seem so at first glance, we are brought back to the starting point of this fourth section of the essay I am calling “Dr. Judy Wood and the Future of the Earth.” It becomes apparent, on reading Chris Hedges and Paul Craig Roberts, that “impotence writing,” as demonstrated in its way by each of these writers, occurs among ranks of commentators and analysts much more eminent than William Rivers Pitt, Missy Comley Beatty, and others I have named. How so? Let’s take the following few steps one at a time.
In their quite different ways, both Hedges and Roberts tell us that we are doomed. In Hedges’ version, we face “decades, if not centuries, [of] barbarity,” a condition that we have little or no hope of avoiding because “[the] elites have successfully convinced us that we no longer have the capacity to understand the revealed truths presented before us,” leaving us a “mass of bewildered and frightened people” who “will lack the ability and self-confidence to challenge in big and small ways the structures of control.”
Roberts’ view of our near future (or what may by now have become our present) derives from premises similar to Hedges,’ insofar as the fault once again lies not with leaders but with the plain American “people,” these being, for Roberts, “the most gullible . . . who ever existed,” akin in their depravity to those who “no longer have the capacity to understand the revealed truths presented before us.”
And so we’re headed ineluctably either to Roberts’ police state or to Hedges’ condition of barbarism—unless, as Roberts’ himself says all but outright, we decide, after all, not to let “our” government “get away with 9/11.”
And thus we see how wretchedly caught in the beguiling spell of highly influential impotence-writers we actually are: After all, why in god’s name should “we” let “our” government or anyone else “get away with” 9/11? The truth of what happened on 9/11 in the bringing about so dramatic an extent of destruction is known and has been known for several years, namely the truth that the buildings of the World Trade Center “were subjected to forces created by directed free-energy technology being used in a weaponized form,” as I myself wrote in Part Three of this essay.
I am referring, of course, to Dr. Judy Wood and to the proof she gives, in her textbook Where Did the Towers Go: Evidence of Directed Free-energy Technology on 911, that directed free energy in weaponized form was the means of destruction, and that nothing else either did or could have done to the buildings what in fact was done to them, namely, that they were caused to undergo a process of molecular dissociation such that they were turned to dust before they even had so much as a chance to hit the ground.
Now, I am myself a part of the group that Roberts refers to as “Americans,” the species that is “the most gullible . . . [that has] ever existed.” And I am a part, also, of the group that Hedges refers to as “we” and that he deplores for being victimized by the kind of “magical thinking” that imprisons its members and makes it impossible for resistance or rebellion to be anything other than a “fantasy.”
Three statements, each of a simple truth: One, I am an American. Two: I am an American who read the book Where Did the Towers Go? Three: I am an American who was able to understand the book that I read.
Why is it, then, that Paul Craig Roberts won’t read it, or won’t admit to having read it, but instead denigrates it implicitly every time he mentions 9/11, doing so, first, by ignoring it, and, second, by continuing to declare pseudo-science (the “science” practiced by the propaganda organization Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth) to be true science?
And Hedges? Like Roberts and me, he, too, is an American, another member of “we.” With so despairing an outlook in regard to the growing oppression and diminishment of “us” under the pernicious “structures of control,” wouldn’t he, logically, be enormously pleased by a proven set of facts that with absolute clarity reveal the criminality of the people and institutions who control those “structures,” that with equal clarity prove those people to be traitors, murderers, and war criminals, and that, finally, could and would be used against them, in hearings and trials aimed at bringing them to justice and thus at restoring a more just and lawful balance of power between those governing and those governed—wouldn’t he be uplifted and energized by this?
I understand very well the cultural and political ruins that we live among now, and that we live within now. I also I understand very well the extreme danger, in fact the near-probability, that our nation and laws will fall into even greater and more misery-producing ruination than has yet been achieved. But for the very life of me, I do not and cannot understand why any living person who is in possession of a sound heart, good mind, sound conscience, and a desire for justice and the commonweal would choose to continue thinking and writing in a state of impotence rather than turning to and embracing an opportunity, rooted in fact and truth, with the promise of helping in the gaining of strength toward healing and justice.
By turning away from a source of empowerment, or by denigrating or ignoring it, such writers would in fact or in effect be choosing impotence. They would be choosing to remain in a state of impotence when remaining in that state is in fact unnecessary. They would be, in effect, through choosing unnecessarily to remain in their cocoon of ignorance, making it appear as though they preferred the state of despair over the state of hope. It would be as though they preferred the police state they seem to fear; it would be making it appear as though they preferred the barbarism they seem so overwhelmingly to dread.
And such a thing as that, a preferring of that sort, a willful maintaining of impotence—it simply can’t conceivably be so.
At the beginning of this piece, I mentioned something seemingly small that might have great significance. We’ll take it up next time.
Eric Larsen is Professor Emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY. Novelist, writer, and critic, he is also the founder, publisher, and editor of The Oliver Arts & Open Press. Most recently, he is author of The Skull of Yorick: The Emptiness of American Thinking at a Time of Grave Peril—Studies in the Cover-up of 9/11.